Health & Safety

  • Health and Safety

    All Michael Harding oil paints have been tested and conform to the ASTM-D 4236 standards. The following industry-standard “best practices” should be observed when using any and all fine art oil paint products and media.

    Handling Paints and Mediums
    • Don’t smoke and paint. Paint on hands and fingers can make its way to the cigarette and thus be inhaled. This is extremely dangerous even with paints that are labelled non-toxic.

    • Don’t eat and paint. Again, paint can make its way from hands and fingers onto foods you eat with your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly to ensure there is no residue on your hands and fingers before eating. Don’t open food containers or bottles when your hands have paint on them.

    • As a general precaution, do not allow paint to come in contact with your skin in such a volume that might cause skin sensitivity.

    • Some paints contain metals such as lead. Keep these products out of the reach of children.

    Studio ventilation
    Studio ventilation is of utmost importance when using our mediums because some of them contain turpentine which can cause unpleasant headaches.

    • Ensure you have proper ventilation. No matter the size of your studio, you will need to ventilate your painting area. In smaller studios having windows open and an exhaust fan may fullfill ventilation safety practices. In any case, you want to make sure you are blowing air out of an enclosed studio space and have a source of fresh air at all times.

    • Don’t sleep in a room where paint, mediums or varnishes are stored or being used.

    Rags, paper and cloth with paint and/or solvents on them are combustible
    • Never leave rags, paper towels or material with paints on them in an indoor bin.

    • Remove waste from indoor bins to a proper outdoor metal waste receptacle: it should have a metal lid and be away from direct sunlight and/or high temperatures and be full of water.

    • If you must work in a studio where art material waste piles up throughout the day, be sure to “dampen down” the waste receptacle allowing no chance for any waste to ignite. This is accomplished by saturating waste bin contents with water.

    While linseed and other drying oils are not considered toxic, these oils may self-combust when on rags and placed in piles. Always dispose of rags by first soaking them in water then removing them from an indoor location to a secured outdoor location where they can be picked up by a professional service to be cleaned or taken to a disposal site. This is recommended with all brands of oil paints and solvents not just Michael Harding’s.

    Read and understand MSDS, Material Safety Data Sheets and SDS, Safety Data Sheets. Every manufacturer of paints, mediums and varnishes is required to provide MSDS and/or SDS to retail outlets when shipping products. Most often you will find the MSDS or SDS with the retailer or by querying the manufacturer for them on the specific product acquired. Michael Harding Artist Oil Colours will provide them upon request, and you can download them from the website.

    Cadmium colours are not officially subject to the same regulations covering lead-based products, however, this does not mean they are non-toxic. Treat all paint sensibly to avoid problems.

  • Travelling with Paints

    When flying with your Michael Harding oil paints, we always recommend you place a notice in your luggage for the airport security personnel to read, it will inform them that you are carrying oil paints and that they are safe to transport.

    The button below take you to a printable PDF that you can use when flying with MH paints.

    Please note this letter is intended to help clear your paints through airport security, but it is not a guarantee. If in doubt, we advise checking with your airline prior to your trip.

    Enjoy your trip!

  • What do the numbers in the Details and Descriptions of Individual Colours mean?

    Details and Descriptions of Colours

    The individual colour descriptions provide assessments for certain determinable characteristics of all the colours presently in the Michael Harding Artist Oil Colours range as well as a few informal remarks by Michael on their qualities and idiosyncrasies when used.

    The Colour Index Number:

    This is the international system for classifying and identifying pigments by their (some times complex) chemical formulae (e.g. P(igment) R(ed) is expressed as Pr 106, Mercuric Sulphide known as Genuine Vermilion). The use of vague traditional or invented colour names is thus clarified and so in theory at least is the vexed matter of what pigment manufacturers actually put into their paints. If a colourman is honest, each constituent pigment in a paint can be specified precisely, and the practice of secretly adulterating or even completely substituting cheaper alternatives is made impossible. Assuming, that is, the colourman is honest . . . I can certainly state that there are no secret additions to any of the paints in my range. What you read as the C.I. number on the label is what you get.

    Estimated Drying Speed:

    Keep in mind that all drying speeds are affected by: temperature, humidity and light levels. The aforementioned conditions provide for a broad calibration of comparative speeds from: Very Fast, such as the Umbers, many of which if used neat (unmixed with other colours), will be touch dry within a warm summer day, to the Very Slow, which in an unmixed state, might take up to a week to cure. This is governed by how thickness of the paint layer. Please remember the thicker the layer the longer it will take to cure.


    This gives some indication of the resistance of a pigment to fading when exposed to very high light levels. Though the commonly used numerical system for this is the scale devised by the American Society of Testing and Manufactures (ASTM I-V), in practice the fade resistance of pigments is greatly affected by their concentration, or lack of it, in paint mixes. Thus an excellent lightfast pigment (ASTM I), if dispersed in a paint by the addition of fillers will in consequence show increased tendency to fade. As I have said before, there are no fillers added to the pigments in my oil paint range.

    Tint Power and Transparency:

    This characterizes the ability of a given paint to cover over the substrate onto which it is painted. Cadmiums are the most opaque and Indian Yellows are the least opaque. Transparency should not be confused with sheer strength of colour or Tint Power as it is revealed in mixes. Some transparent paints, e.g. the Phthalo Lakes, are ferociously strong when mixed with sturdily opaque hues.

    Oil Content:

    This indicates broadly how much oil has to be ground in with the dry pigment or the lake dye in order to make it into a workable paint. Paint with high oil content will generally, but with exceptions, dry to a glossier surface and that with low oil content will be leaner and tends to be less glossy.


    This subject must be taken seriously if you want a long and healthy relationship with oil paints.
    More advice is given in the Health and Safety section of the Michael Harding website.


    All Michael Harding Artist Oil Colours conform to ASTM D-4236 (always read the label).

  • Toxicity of Oil Colours (Always Read the Label!)

    Ways you can approach the subject.

    1. You can assume all paints are toxic, and never paint.
    2. You can attempt to take a well balanced view, rather as any competent motorist does when driving a vehicle which could prove potentially lethal.
    3. You can stop caring; after all we all have to die sometime. Take religion more seriously instead.

    It may seem to some that the contents of this page are obvious but I have to start from the assumption that some people are either misguided, incompetent or stupid.. So let us also assume option 2 is the most reasonable.

    I have no medical or toxicological qualifications, so all advice I give is with the best intentions but with no guarantees. Just take it as axiomatic: ALWAYS CHECK, NEVER TAKE A CHANCE. Just as a sensible motorist does every day, and lives.

    Linseed and Poppy Oil are not considered toxic. The wildly eccentric have considered them edible, but I do not recommend them for culinary purposes. Vegetable oils, however, can self-combust (slowly ignite into fire) when on or in rags particularly. Always dispose of with care by soaking in water first.

    Flake White / Foundation White / Cremnitz White contain Lead , which can kill or harm an unborn child, even immediately after conception—so if you considering pregnancy, avoid contact. Lead is also known to be toxic for children and adults. Keep these products away from children, even if they are the constituents of a dry, finished painting. Do not eat or smoke while working with these paints. (Do not smoke anyway, it smells and it stains paint surfaces.). Do not sand surfaces containing these or any paints where you can inhale the dust. The alternatives are Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide.

    Lemon Yellow must be treated in the same way. It contains Chrome and Barium; both real nasties that cause a lot of other problems. These are several Lake Yellows which can substitute for these when mixed with Titanium White.

    Cadmium Colours are not officially subject to the same regulations covering lead-based products, but in my opinion this does not mean that we should dub them “non- toxic”. I am told that if they are burnt. cadmium is released in a form which is highly toxic.

    As a general precaution, do not allow paint into contact with your skin in such a volume that might cause skin sensitivity. There are also possibilities that some toxic pigments might be able to enter through the skin when used in conjunction with solvents.

    Always wash well after use and before eating. Make sure your studio is well ventilated. Please call if you need more help.