Face Paint FAQ

New to face painting? You probably have a lot of questions.

This Face Paint Quick Start Guide is a broad overview and outlines many of the questions a new face painter may have.

If you want to dive in deeper, and learn how to face paint like a pro, take a look at our online Crash Course for Beginners.

If you have a question regarding placing an order, delivery, tracking an order, creating or accessing your store account, etc, please visit our General FAQ page instead 

Q: What kind of paint do you use for face paint?

A: Most professional face painters use water-activated face paints.

Applied with a brush or sponge, water-activated face paints come in a huge variety of individual colours as well as rainbow or multi colour combinations.

Water-activated face paints are compact, easy to use, and a great choice for every level of experience, from complete beginner to advanced. A small amount goes a very long way.

They are comfortable to wear, and flex with the skin... plus they will be dry to the touch within a few seconds of application.

The most popular Australian-owned brands are TAG, Fusion, XO, Global, and Face Paints Australia. In fact, many of the world's most trusted face and body paint brands are Australian owned!

While the ingredients may differ slightly between these brands, the quality and performance is very similar. In a blind test, it's hard to tell them apart!

The biggest difference between these brands will be in the colours and combinations offered. You really can't go wrong.

They are an excellent choice for kid's face painting.

There are other options, of course.

Cream based face and body paints are similar in consistency to a tinted cosmetic foundation.

You might use a cream based paint or grease paint on occasions where water-activated paints might not perform so well eg. on stage, under lights - where water activated paints might sweat off.  

Then there's alcohol-based products. Many professional makeup artists use these with SFX, latex and prosthetics etc. This type of paint is also used by body painters and is applied with an air compressor and airbrush. Alcohol-based face and body paint is long-lasting and is water and sweat resistant. The main limitation for this type of product is the cost of a reliable, quality airbrush and compressor, plus access to power on site to operate. There can also be a steep learning curve, which is why we recommend beginners start with water-activated face paints instead - using the brush and sponge technique.

Finally, if you can remember back to the 20th century, you may recall liquid face paint.

Actually... liquid face paint is still widely available - often it's the only option in discount and craft stores. And most people who have encountered it will not enjoy using it or wearing it.

Liquid paint can be difficult to work with, and it generally doesn't feel nice on the skin. It also has a nasty tendency to flake off, especially if applied with a heavy hand.

The exception to this rule is airbrush and water resistant face paints, but if you don't have an airbrush and compressor, then we recommend you skip the liquid face paint and choose water-activated face paints instead.

As an end note, there are a variety of different water-activated face paints available, including regular (matte), pearl and metallics, and also neon, uv, or fluoro face paints.

The deeper you go, the more there is to know, but suffice to say - for beginners and experienced professionals alike, water activated face paints are the way to go.

Q: Is there a difference between face paint and body paint?

A: Face paint and body paint is the same thing. There are several different types of paints used for face and body paint (see above), but for all intents and purposes, face paint is body paint and body paint is face paint.

Q: Is it ok to use normal paint on your face?

A: If by 'normal' paint you mean craft, poster, or acylic paints - then no, it's not ok. These products are not designed for painting on skin.

Craft paints and other paint products will very likely itch, flake, and worse still - could contain toxic ingredients. Just don't do it.

Instead, use a product that's been designed especially for face painting, not canvas or crafts.

When you choose to shop with a reputable specialist face paint and body art supplier, like Face Paint Shop Australia, you can be confident our products are fit for purpose.

We've been retailing face paint and body art supplies online since 2013.

Face Paint Shop Australia is the preferred supplier for professional face painters, theatre companies, theme parks, schools and childcare providers, and educators.

Q: Which are the best face paint brands?

A: It depends who you ask. There are probably as many opinions as there are face painters, and to make it more complicated, the "best" face paint for one type of application is not always the best face paint for another.

And by what do we measure 'best'? Is it by popularity, ease of use, price, reputation? Something else?

As a professional face painter myself, and a mum to 3 boys, here are the features I look for in a quality face paint (for face painting kids)

      • Skin-Safe, non-toxic. Why? It's a made for purpose, cosmetic product - and that's the most important consideration when applying a paint to the delicate skin of children. Don't risk using craft paint or random discount store products;
      • Water-activated. Why? Because it's easy to use, and is the most popular type of face paint used by face paint professionals in the 21st Century;
      • Colours that I like. Why? Because if I like the colours, then I'm more likely to use the face paint. Simple;
      • Any brand we stock. Why? Because all the face paint brands we stock have been carefully selected to meet our high standards. Quite simply: we only stock the best.

You can be confident that when you choose to shop with Face Paint Shop Australia, you'll receive premium quality face paints and body art products, the same as the professionals use... at the best prices every day.

As a footnote to this common question...

There are only a handful of reputable face paint manufacturers in the world. 95% of the professional* brands that are available today are manufactured in China or Taiwan, in the same factories. The formula is more or less very much the same.

In a blind comparison (without the label), it's my firm opinion that the majority of painters would not be able to tell one brand from another.

The main difference between most brands is the range of colours on offer.  

There are exceptions.

Mehron is made in the USA, and has a creamy formula, with a distinct coconut aroma.

Superstar (labelled as FAB in the USA) is manufactured in the Netherlands.

These brands are well-established and command a premium price.

Mehron (1927) is popular and well-known brand widely used by professional makeup artists in film, tv and theatre productions.

The Mehron Paradise Aquacolor range can be found in many professional face painter's kits, and is perfectly suited to blending and covering large areas. For this reason, it's very popular with body painters, too.

While Superstar, founded in 1947, has been developing face and body art products for decades. Considered to be a founder of the contemporary water-based professional face and body paints, the Superstar formula is much softer than the wax based face paints, and is considered a premium product. However, vegans should note that Superstar contains lanolin.

*there are many no-name or obscure brands of face paint that can be found on ebay, Amazon, and that pop up around Halloween, or you may find in your local discount store. I do not define these as professional quality products

Q: What do I use to apply the face paint?

A: Aside from adding water, you can use a variety of applicators for face paint.

Brush and sponge are the most popular face paint applicators.

We recommend using a purpose made face paint brush or sponge for the best results.

There are a huge variety of face paint brushes available.

If you're not sure where to start, we recommend our Essential Brush and Sponge Set.

It has everything you need as a beginner, just add water.

Q: Which are the best quality face paint brushes?

A: The answer will be different, depending on who you ask. There are probably as many opinions as there are face painters.

Here are the features I look for in a quality face painter brush that will last the distance

      • Synthetic bristles, either golden taklon or nylon. Why? This type of bristle has been used for many years by professional face painters and is proven to be a top performer, offering great results. It's easy to clean, holds the paint well, and with proper care, keeps its shape well over time.
      • Acrylic handle. Why? Painted handles deteriorate over time. The paint - especially on cheaper wooden handles - will often crack, peel or flake off. Sometimes this happens within a few uses. Acrylic handles will never crack, peel or flake.
      • Short handle, ergonomic and nicely weighted. Why? Some brushes have handles that are waaaay too long! It's totally unnecessary to have a super long handle on a face paint brush, and this tells me that the brush was not designed with face painting in mind... Instead, you want a nice, compact, short handle that won't get in your way (and also fits in a brush wallet). The handle and brush should feel nice in the hand, not heavy and not too light.

You can be confident that all the brushes we stock are quality-made brushes, designed especially for face painters.

Our own brand of brushes, XO Art Co, was designed in 2019, in consultation with 20 Australian Face Painters - that is, prior to production, we sent samples for testing and review to a range of professional face painters, and with the feedback we received, we created a range of brushes that we believe are second to none. Our XO brushes are assembled by hand with premium quality materials.

We offer the following brands, all very popular with our customers

Q: Is it ok to use face paint that is open after 12 months ?

A: Please refer to your product label for specific advice.

However, in general, manufacturers recommend the lifespan of face paint (once open and used) is limited and you should not continue to use a product (on skin) beyond the timeframe advised on the label.

This information will be indicated by a graphic icon eg "open jar" + 12m or 18m (12 months or 18 months).

You will find a similar icon/graphic and advice on nearly all cosmetic products, from face paints to eyeshadow, creams and lotions, etc.

Q: Why is the face paint dry?

A: Professional, water-activated face paint colours are compact and solid - that is, they are dry to the touch until they are activated with water.

You may come across the terms 'cake', split cake, one stroke cake, rainbow cake, combo cake... these all refer to this type of face and body paint.

Add a small amount of clean water to use them.

Take care not to overwet your face paints - and allow them to dry between use.

Q: Why is my pearl or metallic face paint soft?

A: Pearl and metallic face paints differ from matte base colours (aka regular, standard, prime etc) in a number of ways.

  • Pearls and metallics are easier to blend, and have a gentle sheen that makes them ideal for bases and very pretty!
  • Pearls and metallic face paints are less opaque than matte colours
  • The formula of a pearl/metallic face paint contains a higher proportion of glycerine, making the paints softer to the touch. This means you need to take a little more care when loading a brush or sponge not to push "too hard" into the paint surface
  • You may need to experiment with the amount of water to activate pearls and metallics. Many painters find that they need slightly more water to activate pearl and metallic face paints
  • Pearls and metallic face paints make great bases - we love them for full face tigers, butterfly masks, and forehead designs... but they aren't the best for brush work or linework. We recommend using matte colours for linework, instead.

Q: How do I activate the face paint with water?

A: Our Learn to Face Paint - Crash Course for Beginners covers all the basics plus 10 fast and fun designs you can learn to face paint kids.

Below are two videos lessons from inside the course that explain how to activate your face paints with a brush, or sponge.

The first video shows how to load a round brush (and activate the paint with a few drops of water),

The next video demonstrates how to load a face paint sponge, using a water spritzer and a rainbow cake with a half round sponge or a petal shaped sponge.

Q: Is it normal for the surface of the face paint to be cracked?

A: Yes. Cracking of the paint surface is normal and will not affect the performance of the product. When you activate the paint with water, the cracks may disappear.

Q: Is it normal for the multi-colour face paints to 'bleed' in the jar?

A: Yes. Bleeding, blending, or the overflowing of one colour to the next in a multi colour face paint cake is normal and will not affect the performance of the product.

In fact, blending the colours is generally considered desirable as it soften the overall look and creates a pleasing gradient as two colours intersect

Q: I already have a basic kit... what should I get next?

If you have one of our face paint kits, or you're considering buying one, then you should have all the essentials covered to paint a wide range of designs.

But... we often get asked... what should I get next?

There are a lot of nice to have extras that will make face painting easier, and uplevel your designs. Here's what I use frequently and recommend:

  • Extra sponges. We recommend using one sponge per child (ie don't share sponges between clients). Sponges are washable and reusable, so having more on hand makes good sense.
  • Extra white and/or black. You'll go through these colours faster than any other. Also, having a second white allows you to rest one and minimises the risk of overwetting your paint.
  • Face Paint Stencils - these are very popular for fast face painting, and adding interest and patterns to your designs. We have hundreds to choose from, noting that mermaids and fairies are the most popular
  • Glitter Creams - so pretty, and these can be applied over the top of face paint without smudging
  • Glitter Tattoo Set - these are a fun alternative to face painting, easy to apply, tha tattoos look awesome, and they last for days. Great for pool parties as they are water-resistent

Q: Why has my face paint gone gooey? Can I fix it?

A: If you're face paint is gooey (kinda like toothpaste), then it's probably been overwet.

That is, you've added more water than the paint can handle, which affects the consistency.

Take care to add only a small amount of water, enough to make the paint creamy but not runny... and allow your paints to dry between use, with the lid off for evaporation.

Gooey face paint can happen with any colour and any brand, but is most likely with a small container (or pan).

And also with white - since this is the colour that face painters use most often, the chances of adding too much water are a lot higher.

Read our detailed article on Gooey Face Paint here.


Q: I'm concerned about the safety of face paints made in China, do you have any alternatives?

The fact is, nearly all professional brands of face paint are manufactured in China or Taiwan, and have been for nearly 20 years.

As a specialist retailer, we are very selective about the products we offer.

We only offer products that are made by reputable, established manufacturers and that meet current Australian Standards. Material Safety Data Sheets are available for download

If you're looking for a USA-made brand, then you may like to consider Mehron Paradise Aqua Colours. There is also Superstar, made in the Netherlands.

As a footnote: you should be aware that the quality of face paints purchased from discount store, craft store or non-specialist retailers, office supplies store, supermarkets etc is unlikely to be professional quality and the results will vary, often leading to disappointment.

These generalist retailers often import a lot of cheap no-name face paints for Halloween season, or to fill out their party supplies range. Strict quality control is not always present.

Q: When can I call myself a professional face painter? Or at what stage can I begin using that term?

The dictonery definition of professional is a person who is paid for their skills or services.

"Participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs" eg a professional golfer (Merriam-Webster)

That means, you may consider yourself a professional when you make the transition from hobbyist (volunteer or at home painter) to paid face painter.

Basically, if you are accepting payment in exchange for providing face painting as a service, then you are a professional face painter.

At the same time, accepting payment is only part of the equation.

The alternative definition of "professional" is:

(1)characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession
(2)exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

And that means, acting like a professional face painter.

This would include your personal presentation, and your workspace (eg clean, tidy, organised), using proper tools of the trade, quality professional face paints, arriving on time (or early) to your gig (paid event), and generally behaving in a professional manner.

Of course, face painters can be both professional and fun at the same time!

There's no need for boring business suits and polished shoes are not required.

Instead, we can be a little more flamboyant... wear bright clothes and glitter shoes... and still be a professional face painter!

Likewise, being a "professional face painter" does not require passing an exam. It's not necessary to have several years of experience in the field, either.

An amateur or hobbyist face painter can become professional within weeks or even days of picking up their first paint brush.

However, being professional doesn't necessarily mean the face painter is skilled or experienced.

These things only come with time and practice.

Q: Any recommendations for face painting chairs? I used a camping chair for the children, which caused me backaches.

Choosing the equipment for your workspace is critical to ensuring you have a comfortable, safe and productive environment so you can be your best face painter and avoid pain or long-term injury.

Each face painter will have their own preference - developed over time and with experience,

Personally, I prefer to stand while I paint (as do many other professional face painters). And that requires a high chair for the children, so they sit at a comfortable height.

The IKEA Franklin chair (bar stool) has always been my go to. I have replaced it only once in over 10 years, and when anyone asks, it is the chair I recommend. This chair is available in 2 heights, I have the taller one. Children can be boosted higher with a bum cushion, if needed.

Other painters use a makeup / director's chair. However, I've tried these at various times and found that the arms (of the chair) get in 'the way'. I didn't like using them, and so felt no need to change.

I make it a habit to pause and stretch my legs, feet and back regularly throughtout the gig. Unfortunately as I'm not getting any younger, I am feeling it more at the end of the day, but generally, a good night's sleep (or afternoon nap) fixes most of the muscle fatigue!

For my table, I have been using a camp kitchen for almost my entire career. You can see it, and my workspace, in this video. It is a great working height for me (as a stand up painter), and the perfect size.

My workspace (without the gazebo) takes less than 10 minutes to set up and pack down.

If I'm in a hurry, then I can set up and pack down in half the time... but generally, I allow 10 minutes (in situ, ie this doesn't include unloading the car)

The gazebo takes 10-20 minutes to set up and the same to pack down. It's quicker with help, but I can do it on my own if needed.

Q: How much water do you bring to your gig?

How do you bring it—any good size of water bottle? Also, is there any recommended container or bucket for collecting dirty water?

For a busy 4-5 hour gig, I usually bring 4L of clean, fresh water.

This is stored in 2x 2L juice bottles (washed, cleaned and recycled).

I prefer 2x 2L bottles as a 4L bottle can be heavy when full.

This is nearly always more than enough for my needs - keeping in mind that I use fresh water for every child or person I paint (I've never measured the amount but it would probably be between 50ml - 100ml each time).

If there's a bathroom or tap close by (and there usually is), I can refill if needed.

To empty my water, I have a rectangle shaped tub, it's probably about 15L capacity. I keep this under my table and it's become a habit to tip out the water as one child leaves the chair, and the other gets ready to be painted. A 10L bucket would do the job just fine. I like the rectangle tub so I can clean it out and pack my gear into it for storage and transport (that way it serves 2 purposes).

At the end of the gig, I empty my dirty water in the garden, down the sink, or in a toilet. It doesn't look pretty... but it's not harmful in any way to the garden. It's just water and face paint!

Q: What do you use for shade?

I've been using an Oztrail Deluxe Gazebo 3x3 for several years. It has never let me down, and when another stall holder reversed into it (snapping one of the legs), it was an easy replacement with a screwdriver, parts are available online no problem.

I bought my Oztrail Deluxe Gazebo after my first gazebo, no-name brand, failed after about 3 years. The canopy tore... and the legs/frame never felt that sturdy, so I decided to try something different.

I chose my next Gazebo (the Oztrail Deluxe) carefully, after taking a look at what other stall holders were using. This seemed to be a popular choice, and the frame was better built, as was the canopy.

This gazebo is still functioning after 7 years of regular use. The canopy is looking a little tired, so I may need to replace that eventually, but I am happy to recommend this brand to others, based on my personal experience.

As a tip - choose a white canopy. A coloured canopy will tint your photos (eg a red canopy makes your photos look pinkish, blue canopy = blue tinted photos etc). A black canopy is hotter underneath than a white one. Choose white, trust me!

Q: Are invoices and receipts required?

The ATO (Australian Tax Office) requires proper record keeping and reporting for any income you receive.

Therefore, it is a good idea to get into the practice of keeping records from day one.

A simple spreadsheet will suffice, recording income and expenditure.

Not all customers will request an invoice, but it's a good practice and will also assist you in your record keeping (book-keeping).

You can find more info on Invoicing and Receipts via the Australian Tax Office website

Q: I want to start a business, and I have lots of questions. Where do I find help?

Starting a new face painting business is both exciting and overwhelming. There are so many questions - including those you haven't thought of yet.

Unfortunately these questions are outside the scope of a Quick Start FAQ like this one.

If you'd like help to kick start your face painting business - or power up and existing one - then you'll love our private online learning community. Face Paint Club is a world-class learning platform packed full of value.

We have a free trial, join Face Paint PRO Club today

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Since 2013, more than 37,000 Australians have made Face Paint Shop Australia their first choice for quality face paint and body art supplies. We have built our reputation on premium products, fast order processing, and 5-Star customer service and communication. With a massive range of over 1500 quality face paint and body art products, and more than 3500x 5 Star reviews, you can be confident that when you shop with Face Paint Shop Australia, you're shopping with Australia's leading specialist retailer of face paint and body art supplies.