How to Activate and Use Face Paints Correctly

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Olga Murasev — 19 September 2017 —


I saw the topic of activating face paints recently in a Facebook group for new face painters. There were many questions on this particular post. While I was writing an answer, the thought crossed my mind to write a blog post as well to help many of the beginners (and not only 😉) work better with their paints and how to get the best results with the tools you own. Sometimes, a little trick can be a great life changer! Let’s begin!

Tip: Click here to download this super useful “Top 10 products a face painter needs” handout! It’s FREE!

Types of paints

Face paints are classified into three types, depending on their base ingredient.

Wax based paints include the following brands: TAG, Wolfe FX, Diamond FX, Kryvaline regular line, Krze FX, and Face Paints Australia.

Glycerin based paints are Superstar (FAB), Mehron Paradise, Kryolan, Snazaroo, and Graftobian.

Acacia Senegal Gum based paints include Fusion Body Art (except for some colors), Cameleon (except for some colors), Kryvaline Creamy Line, and Global Body Art.

These behave like an intermediate between wax and glycerin-based paints.

face painting brands

Why do we need this classification? Because the technique of activating and purposes of using these paints will depend on their properties.

By the way, did you know that you can learn more useful info in our FREE “Improve Your Linework in 3 Days” Online Workshop? 😍 Check it out here!

Regular waxy paints are usually drier and possess more elasticity, that’s why they work best for lines.

Glycerin based paints are softer and work better being applied as the background or blended.

There are some exceptions, though, between the glycerin-based paints. Some of the colors will work great for linework too. These are some of the dark colors by Superstar (FAB).

Acacia Senegal Gum based paints are thinner than paraffin wax based paints, yet not as soft and creamy as glycerin-based paints. They can work great for linework as well as very good opaque coverage.

More details about paints types and their properties are presented in Module 3 — About Face Paints. Review, comparison, and recommendations in our Professional Face Painting Course.

Activating a new paint

Most face paints, as you know, come in a dry cake form. All you need to activate them is to simply add water! See our complete beginner’s guide to learn more about how to properly make face paint.

New paints may need a little more water to activate. You may either spritz it with water or work the paint with a wet brush. The time of activation will also depend on the consistency you want to obtain. For instance, you will need more time to work on the paint to obtain a creamy consistency and less time if you need a watery one.

Wax based paints will require more water to activate, especially the regular and the neon ones. Glycerin based paint will require less water, because they are soft enough already and you can get creamy consistency almost immediately.

Rotate your brush on the paint surface and load it up to the ferrule. Be gentle to the bristles and try to keep the tip sharp.

White face paint activation
Tip: Make a little well down to the plastic in the center of your paint. Collect the activated paint in the well. This will let you have a good amount of paint to use during the gig without spending more time on reactivation. Also, it will prevent your paint from getting gooey, because you will have all the water in the middle, above the plastic and the dry paint around the well won’t absorb the extra water.

Reactivating your paint

At the beginning of each gig, spritz all of your paints with water and leave them to activate while setting up. Used paints will have a dried up cream on the surface that will reactivate pretty quickly once you add some water to it.

Vary the amount of water and the time of activating the paint depending on the desired consistency.

Watery consistency

This is the most diluted paint consistency you will work with. If you dilute it even more, you can also paint shadows with it.

Watery consistency is mainly used for creating splashes, drips, and drops, like the blood in the terminator design; as well as for the watercolor technique (belly painting).

Terminator face painting and bird belly painting

Inky consistency

Inky consistency works perfectly for linework with black or any other dark paint.

Inky consistency allows to drag paint for a long distance and have nice sharp tips at the end of your lines.

Tiger and butterfly face painting

Creamy consistency

This is the most used paint consistency, as it releases the entire vibrancy from the paint.
The creamy consistency is used for bright linework done with waxy paints (eye design) and for a thick coverage with glycerin based paints (husky design).

Husky and cheek art face painting

Once you’ve mastered creamy consistency, you’ll be able to paint vibrant and clean white highlights even over black like in this super cute Classic Minnie Mouse design by NataliSta!

Sticky consistency

Characteristic for wax-based paints, due to the wax that gives that sticky effect.

Dry consistency

This consistency is slightly dryer than sticky consistency and is characteristic for glycerin based paints (as they don’t have the sticky waxy ingredient in them). This consistency is perfect for blending and can also be used for stenciling.

Dry consistency can be obtained from creamy consistency in the dry brushing blending technique (leopard spots). Both sticky and dry consistencies can be used for stenciling (T-Rex skin texture).

Leopard and Dinosaur T-Rex face painting

Why do you need to know how to work with all these consistencies? Because for certain areas, paint types and techniques you will require different paint consistencies.

That’s why before moving on studying the designs in Part Three students from the International Face Painting School work hard on practicing all of these consistencies in all existing face painting techniques: linework, double dip, one stroke and blending.

I will show you a little bit from the inside of the School. 😉 Here’s how the students are training their homework on paint consistency.

paint consistency

And now, let’s take a look at this artwork and analyze what paint consistencies have been used here!

  • watery consistency — blood splatters and drops
  • inky consistency — black outline
  • creamy consistency — the body of the T-Rex, the teeth and the bones
  • dry consistency — skin texture made with a stencil

Dinosaur T-Rex face painting

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Did you enjoy this tutorial? Hit “SHARE” and let your fellow face painters know about it! 👇👇👇

 — Olga Murasev

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