What Is a Palette Knife Used for?

Last Updated: April 4, 2022

While there isn’t a huge difference between palette knives and painting knives, being aware of their subtleties can spell a new technique or skill for you. In this article, we’ll be discussing just what these art tools are. We’ll also go into detail about palette knives and how you can use them to level up your crafting skills.

A four-piece set of palette knives with black wooden handles

Mixed Media Palette Knife Set (4-Piece Set)

Difference Between Painting & Palette Knives

A palette knife is used for picking up, applying, and mixing paint onto your palette. It’s also used for other mixed media as well as paint and can also be used for cleaning your artist/mixing palette.

Painting knives are used for painting just like you would with art brushes. They’re used as an alternative to achieve effects different from using a brush. Not that you can’t do the same with palette knives, it’s just that the way painting knives are designed offers a much more comfortable experience. This will be explained further below. Painting knives are also great for techniques like layering, lining, pointillism, and impasto, to name a few.


Both painting and palette knives look like mini spatulas, they are normally made out of metal— usually, steel or stainless steel— and typically have wooden handles. Some are made with steel with a plastic handle or can be fully made from plastic.

Painting and palette knives are best when they have flexible or springy blades and smooth, comfortable handles.

A four-piece set of palette knives with black wooden handles laid out in a straight line

Palette Knives for Mixed Media Art

Painting Knife

Painting knives typically have blunt edges that won’t cut or slice your canvas while painting.

The key difference between palette knives is that they are cranked, hooked, or bent on the handle. This allows for more ergonomic control while using them to paint on a canvas. The crank design also keeps the knuckles or other parts of your hand from touching the canvas as you paint.

They come in a variety of shapes and styles:

angled square spreaders

rounded trowels

bladed versions

Fun Fact: Renowned painters Leonid Afremov and Vincent Van Gogh extensively used painting or palette knives in some of their famous paintings - Leonid being a more avid fan of the tool.

Palette Knife

Palette knives are also blunt tools shaped like a spatula and used for mixing large batches of paint like oil and acrylic. They can also be used for other media like such as clay, resin, and embossing paste to name a few. They are usually longer, straighter, and have rounded tips as opposed to being angular.

Fun Fact: Aside from the classic spatula shape, there are knives molded with fascinating jagged-shaped blades called Special Effects Palette Knives.

Cardstock with embossed design laid flat on a white surface together with palette knives and an embossing paste

DIY Journal Page with Mixed Media Palette Knives and Embossing Paste

Palette knives originally didn’t come with cranked handles, however, newer palette knife sets have been made to look much closer to painting knives. Now they have angular blades and slightly hooked handles.

Did You Know? Traditionally, palette knives were mainly used for cleaning palettes. Artists would use them to scrape off dried paint and mix new ones so that their painting knives wouldn’t get mixed with other colors.

How to Use Your Palette Knives

  1. With a clean palette knife, scoop up your first paint color and apply it to your mixing palette.
  2. Wipe the spatula with a clean cloth and scoop up your second color. Repeat this step accordingly with how many colors you plan to mix.
  3. On the palette, dab, blend, stir or flatten your chosen colors to produce your desired mix.
  4. On the canvas or paper, slightly angle the blade to spread your paint. Use the edges for finer layering and drawing straight lines. You can also use the tip for creating shapes and textures.

Using palette knives with an embossing paste is similar. In this case, you can also use the whole blade to apply the embossing paste onto your cardstock or canvas.

A four-piece set of palette knives with black wooden handles organized in a container next to a plastic jar embossing paste

Create Mixed Media Art Easily with This Palette Knife Set and Embossing Paste Bundle!

Something to Try! Because palette knives come in a wide variety of shapes, they can be used for stamping too! You can create custom geometric stamp designs with the palette knife blades.

How to Add Color to Embossing Paste

Here are a few ways to color embossing paste with the help of palette knives:

  1. Scoop up some embossing paste using a palette knife and apply them onto a mixing mat.
  2. Depending on your project, scoop up batches of the paste and make sure to separate them.
  3. Next, you can add your coloring medium. You may use an ink spray, watercolor brush refills, or alcohol ink with your choice of colors.
  4. Spray or drop your colors on the batches of paste laid out on the mat.
  5. Use a palette knife by dabbing and folding the mixtures to blend them together.
  6. You may also use dye ink stamp pads to color embossing paste. Stamp on color on the same mat where your paste batches are, and combine the paste and ink using a palette knife.

We have a detailed video demonstrating this plus some exciting card ideas and inspiration for you to try along the way.

Fun Fact: Palette knives are kinda like jacks-of-all-trades. They can turn into a brush, a stamp, a paper holder, and even a sharpener!

Tips & Techniques for Using Palette Knives

Clever paper crafters also have other uses for palette knives!

  1. Palette knives can be used to mix colors on embossing paste. Simply add inks and other coloring media to the paste, then mix and apply onto stencils.
  1. They are also great for mixing melted wax seal beads and marbled effects. Additionally, when the wax has dried, you can use the knives to gently scrape them off.
  1. The edges of a palette knife can be used to sharpen woodless coloring pencils.
  1. A similar use would be for distressing the edges of your cardstock. Use the knife to scrape along the edges of your card for a textured look.

Boxed four-piece set of palette knives and boxed four-piece set of mini blending brushes laid out on a pink-colored surface

Mixed Media Palette Knife Boxed Set + Blending Brush Set

  1. Because palette knives come in a wide variety of shapes, they can be used for stamping too! You can create custom geometric stamp designs with the palette knife blades.
  1. Thanks to the handles, they can be used as a handy holder for your paper and cards as you heat set your designs or apply other media on the project.
  1. Palette knives can be used as an alternative to bone folders! Press the flat blade against the fold and slide to create a seamless divide.

Overall, using palette knives allow for mastering and exploring different types of arts and crafts. For a better demonstration of these uses, check out our crafting inspiration video below:

Time to Use Palette Knives on Your DIY Crafts

The terms painting and palette knives are commonly used interchangeably. Whichever it is, the uses and results that you get from both are almost the same. In paper crafting, palette knives are multi-functional tools every crafter must have. And with modern palette knife designs offered at Altenew, there isn’t much discussion save for looking at newer, clever ways to use them! 

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