A palette is a tool on which a painter keeps and mixes paints while painting. It can be a board of wood or of plastic, and can be held in the painter’s arm or on the ground, a table, or a wall. Palette sizes, compositions, and uses can be varied endlessly, though the most common perception is of a thin, curved wooden surface held in the hand, with dabs of paint around the edges and a mixing area in the center. A palette is convenient because it offers the painter the needed paints and the mixing area for quick application to a brush.
Generally, a palette features a sampling of the colors needed by the painter. Often around the edges or in separate compartments, the painter pours or squeezes paint onto the palettes as needed. A palette can contain as many as a few dozen colors, and offers areas and surfaces for mixing the paints. The artist has only to dab the brush in one paint, apply it to the mixing surface, then dab the brush in another paint and mix the two on the surface.
The conveniences of the palette make it an almost essential tool for all small-brush painters. The palette is often held in the hand to offer quick access while directly in front of or over a painting, but can also be stored on a desk or away from the painting. It can be small enough to hold or too cumbersome to be held easily with one hand while working.
A popular 21st century palette is composed of sturdy plastic about the size of a large notebook. It features around sixteen large compartments suitable for many brush strokes worth of paint; a large mixing area; and a plastic surface easy to clean and wipe free with water and a sponge or towel. The palette is generally lightweight and thin, making for easy storage and transportation.
Other modern palettes are made of metal, glass, or ceramic, and can be specialized for certain types of paint. The wet palette is a moistened palette used for acrylic paints to keep them from drying out. Ceramic has become popular as a tool used to keep paints from sticking to the palette, and often common dinner plates can be used. A palette can also come with many accessories, such as palette cups, which hang from the sides and allow further space for mixing and thinning of paints.