Information on Face Painting

Originally Written in 1999

This is my opinion  and should not be construed as the only input and suggestion to the topics of face & bodypainting. If you are a professional FacePainter and want to talk or ask questions, please contact me. This is FAR from a definitive study of facepainting and is meant mostly as a discussion for those looking at hiring facepainters.


Before you Hire a Facepainter
What you need to provide
Types of Art Work
Application Techniques
Types of Paint
Face & Body Paints
Other Paints
Special Effects

Before you Hire a FacePainter….

… talk to them live


This can be on the phone or in person, but I think it is important to do more than just accept a referral from a Party Store, Agency or Internet web site.


… get a “feel” for them

While talking to the artist, get a feel for them: are the friendly, professional and knowledgeable. Remember, this person is going to be interfacing with your children, friends or employees and is representing you so you should be comfortable with them.


… ask what type of paint do they use (see below)


Its your children’s skin: Make sure you know what is going on it. (see below)  Make sure that they are using FDA approved paints, whether Hand painting, Airbrush or Temporary Tattoo inks.  We use only FDA approved paints.  Except for the temp tattoo inks, they all wash off with soap and water.  The Temp tattoo inks are easily removable with alcohol.


… find out if they use airbrush or brush


This has an impact on the number of faces they can do in a limited amount of time as well as the type and style of work they are doing, It is also a consideration with respect to the age of the children (my opinion) and what you need to do to set up for them.

Hand painting is very unique and creative.  It is most appropriate for most venues.  Our artists can paint between 13 and 18 fullface or cheekart designs in an hour.  Each design is hand created.

Airbrush painting using stencils can paint upwards of 45 to 60 designs in an hour.  The designs are limited by the number of stencils the artists uses.  The amount of designs painted will also be limited by the number of airbrushes used.  We have 8 brush systems so that we do not have to flush an airbrush everytime we change colors.  If the artist only has 1 or 2 brushes, she will have to take time to clean out the brush every time she wants to apply a different color paint.  Due to the expense of the equipment ($1000’s) , airbrushing usually cost more than hand painting.


… ask for references if you don’t know them


If you haven’t seen their work and you don’t know them, ask the painter for references. They may be limited, as many clients don’t want to be bothered, but once again the purpose is for you to feel comfortable with the artist.


… ask them what type of work they do (cheek art, Full Face, etc)


You should have a clear understanding of what you can expect as far as the type of work they do. (See Below) 


… ask for samples of their work (website or pictures)


You have the right to see the quality of the work you are going to be paying for so take a look at their work.  Know what you are paying for!!!


… get a firm quote on the services and what is included


Make sure you have a firm agreement up front; it prevents conflicts and problems later on. Quotes can be on an Hourly Basis or as a Flat Rate. Typically Flat rate is based on the number of faces to be painted, the Type of Work or a Day Rate. Rates vary greatly based on where you are located so PLEASE don’t ask me what is fair. I can quote rates for my work only in the area in which I work. NOTE: After the Artist is finished, if you liked their work and their personality at your party or event, you can show your appreciation with a TIP… we always appreciate it.

Return to INDEX


What You Need to Provide

Space – Depending on the type of painting, airbrush or other, and the type of event – Party, corporate promotions, festival – you will need to provide a washable surface,  a couple of chairs, water, paper towels and something for the artist to drink (at least it’s a nice offer to make).

Activities – Facepainting is done one at a time. It can take a while (most of our designs take 3 to 5 minutes) so it is best to plan other activities for the children while faces are being painted. The best activities are the ones that allow children to pop in and out as their turn for painting arrives. Many children (and adults) can literally sit for hours watching the painting… but best not to count on it.

Supervision – Keep an eye on the children, including deciding the order for painting. The artist needs to concentrate on the painting and should not be expected to determine who is next nor keep the kids from getting unruly – WHICH, as the father of 5 children, I KNOW NEVER HAPPENS. Personally, I usually start asking the next child in line what they want painted a minute or 2 before I am finished with the current face just to minimize time by making certain the next child has decided what they want before its their turn.


Type of Art Work


Cheek Art – Things painted on cheeks, or portions of a persons face (and arms). My general rule is that up to ¼ of a persons face is cheek art, and anything over that is Full Face.

Full Face – Anytime a large portion of the face is covered, I call it full face painting. Also, if a base coat of paint is applied to the entire face, I consider it full facepainting.

NOTE: It takes about the same amount of time for Full Faces or Cheekart.  Many cheekarts actually take longer than full faces.

Parts – This is often rolled into cheek art category. It includes arms, legs, hands, neck, shoulders, backs, bellybuttons, feet, etc. Usually it refers to doing designs in a limited scale to these area.

Full body – Fairly obvious. This is where the entire body or multiple body parts are painted.

Character – So your kids want Mickey Mouse painted on their cheek or Elmo painted on their arms. This is character painting and the important thing to remember is that the characters image may be copyrighted and protected under the laws of the U.S. So what… well, just thought it is important for you to know that in case someone says, ” sorry I can’t do that because….”

Application Techniques

Brush – this the the most common method of applying face paint. It provides fine detail work, is flexible easy to use and transport. One nice thing about the Brush is that is also provides a unique piece of work each and every time. The biggest disadvantage of the Brush is that is takes longer than some other methods to apply.

Sponge – Sponges are excellent for covering large areas quickly such as faces, arms, etc. The sponge is also good in blending colors together to soften lines. The sponge can also be used for special effects such as beards and bruises. Application over stencils is also possible with sponges which can increase the speed of application.

Airbrush – This is an excellent tool for rapid application of standard designs when applied using stencils. The airbrush also allows for beautiful designs and blending effects as can be seen from the beautiful effects that airbrush artists create on paper, t- shirts, etc. The considerations concerning airbrushes are the entry cost ($100 to thousands of $$$), compressed air from a compressor (you’ll need a plug and be stationary) or canned air (be prepared to freeze your canvas), the paints can be very expensive and the noise from a compressor can be distracting. (we use compressors specifically designed to run quietly)  The effects and speed can be awesome but the limitations can be prohibitive for certain types of facepainting events.

Finger Painting – Can be fun but generally not meant for professional facepainting. (however, if you are married and have a fun loving spouse……….)


Types Paint

Note: Almost any paint that hits clothing, fabric, or other porous material may stain that material so be careful.

Face & Body Paints


Water Based Cakes – this is an excellent paint for brush and sponge work. It is water soluble, washes off easily with soap and water, and cover very well. Some of the colors are not as vibrant as can be seen with other types of paints but the over all advantage of these paints make them, in my opinion, the best choice for almost ALL face painting requirements. I use this for base colors, detail work and all applications on children. There are several manufactures of this paint and some have FDA approval. These paints dry well, although if the skin moistens again, perspiration, rain, etc.. the paint will re-wet and is subject to smearing.

Water Based Liquids – These are good paints for face painting. They cover well and can be applied with brush, sponge or even airbrush (some will need diluting to accomplish a smooth application) This paint is water soluble and washes off easily with soap and water. This is a good choice for facepainting and a definite consideration is you are using an airbrush. I have noticed that depending on the brand and thickness of liquid paint used, there is a tendency for the liquid paints to crack as they dry and the “canvas” moves.

Crème (Water Base) – These paints are used to create blended effects that rival airbrush work.  The catch is that they take longer to dry (which is necessary for the blending effect) so on small children, they can smear the creation before it fully dries.

Crème (Grease) – This is the traditional “stage” makeup. It is not good for most facepainting such as parties, festivals, etc. The colors are very vibrant and they resist smearing from perspiration. Crème colors require a setting agent to reduce smearing as they do not dry in air. Removal of crèmes (regardless of what is claimed) really is done with cold crème. It comes off easy with the cold crème.

FacePaint Markers – These are markers,  which is an applicator of liquid based facepaints. They can be either water based and remove simple with soap and water or alcohol based which last up to several days yet remove with alcohol or lotion.

Commercial Makeup – Lipstick, Blush, Eyeliner, Foundation, etc. Don’t forget that regular makeup can be used to great or enhance the effects of facepaints.



Other Paints


This paint is used by a LOT of facepainters. It is relatively cheap, good coverage, readily available and vibrant colors. There is also a wide variety of colors and special effect paints (glittery, pearlescent, semi transparent..) These are the same paints artists use to paint on canvas, on fabrics or walls, etc. It is not designed for use on human skin. It does wash off pretty easily although you can see it come off like pealing paint off your wall (which is what it is). I do not use acrylics for facepainting as it is not intended to be used on people and I am concerned with reactions on a child’s sensitive skin. 

Airbrush Acrylics – Another very common paint used especially by airbrushers is fabric acrylics. All the considerations, pros and cons, of above are similar.  DON’T USE THEM>>>>> PERIOD

Markers – Often times Water Soluble markers are used for painting. I have never tried them so I can’t comment on them

Aerosol Spray Paints – DON’T USE THEM>>>>> PERIOD

Tempera Paints – Some people have used them. They are NOT made to be put on a person’s skin so don’t do it.  They do not have a FDA child safety rating.

Henna – Not really a paint but in a parallel field. It provides a semi permanent “Tattoo”. In facepainting, as defined as parties, street work and festivals, it really does not fit. For a long term, up to 3 weeks, temporary tattoo, it is pretty cool.


Special Effects

Glitter – Fun stuff for kids especially. Just avoid application very close to the eyes. Glitter MUST be the polyester type and NOT metallic.  For parents, it is the hardest thing to wash off because the glitter, especially fine grain, likes to stick onto the skin.

Banners – If you’re a face-painter hired to work at a carnival or large event, make your presence known! It doesn’t hurt to include contact information or your website address on yourbanners.



ã Copywrited 1999 by Thomas Engel