Differences Between Lead White and Stack Process Flake White

The lead white pigment used in lead white artists’ oil paint (often called flake white) is a modern process of lead white with fine particle size (under 45 microns), which is also true of Rublev Colours Lead White Artists’ Oil. The median particle size is about 3 microns, which is typical of basic lead carbonate pigments used in all artists’ colors made today.

Natural Pigments manufactures stack process lead white and will soon manufacture Krems lead white. These lead white pigments have a much more extensive range of particle sizes and shapes than lead white pigments made according to modern processes.

Lead white can form soaps in drying vegetable oils, such as linseed oil, especially when free fatty acids are present in the paint vehicle and the dried paint film. This causes a certain amount of dissolution of pigment particles since the particles interact with fatty acids to form soaps (in a process known as saponification). This is the primary, although not the sole, cause of the increasing transparency of lead white paint films. Usually, the paint film achieves equilibrium, and the pigment does not entirely dissolve into soaps unless the equilibrium is disturbed during its life through other chemical and mechanical changes.

This means small particles may or may not dissolve completely, depending on the amount of free fatty acids in the paint.

The drying time of a pure lead white paint film is based on the type and amount of drying oil employed in the paint and the purity of the basic lead carbonate. In addition, the chemical composition of basic lead carbonate is somewhat variable, so lead white pigment containing a more significant amount of lead hydroxide than the typical amount for basic lead carbonate (usually 25–35%) will cause the paint to dry faster. The particle size will influence the drying rate to a lesser degree.

To test differences in drying times between stack process and modern process lead white, we prepared several samples of stack process lead white and modern lead white using the same oil and the same oil ratio to pigment. The modern lead white was obtained from a manufacturer in the U.S., and the stack process lead white was our make. We found a slight variance in the drying time between the samples of modern and stack process lead white. However, the drying time was more greatly affected by the type of oil and when we varied the ratio of oil to pigment, as one would expect.


For more information on how Natural Pigments makes stack process flake white, how it was made throughout history, and how it differs from modern lead white, please read Stack Process White Lead: Historical Method of Manufacture. Another article, Variations of Stack Flake White, examines the properties of larger particle size stack process flake white in oil paint.

Are you confused about the difference between flake white and Cremnitz white? The article Flake White and Cremnitz White explains the origins of these names and resolves the confusion.

For a complete description of white pigments used in artists’ paints, please read the article White Pigments.

Where to Buy

Lead White Pigment

Stack Flake White (Dutch Method) Pigment