Special effects makeup is an incredibly specialized aspect of makeup artistry, within film and television makeup.
However, they are also growing within the consumer market, due to the average buyer becoming more than a little more savvy about the best products they can use for their Halloween makeups as well.
You just have to watch movies from the last few decades to take in the realistic illusions and fantasy characters in movies, TV shows, and theatre productions that shaped our childhood (well, mine anyway!) and in turn, had a massive influence on my very own career choices as well.
One of the essential staples of a modern-day special effects makeup artist is undoubtedly the humble makeup palette.
There are plenty of high-quality options on the market these days when it comes to special effects makeup palettes. Palettes that us professional makeup artists trust and rely on to help create the effects for the characters we help create.
This blog post is a simple love letter to some of my favorite special effects makeup palettes.
I wanted to discuss their properties and uses. And also, share some solid must-haves you might not know about yet. So you might learn about some new palettes, too.
So here, for your pure enjoyment, are the ten most popular special effects makeup palettes. And how, when, and why to use them.
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The Top Ten Special Effects Makeup Palettes for Your Kit
This list could really be shifted around in any order. As could some of the more specific products within each line, so for now, let’s get to it.
Be warned – there may be some special mentions too. Because who can stop at just 10 palettes?!
1. Skin Illustrator FX Palette
- ten shades
- available in full-size and mini for your on-set kit
- matte finish
The P.P.I. Skin Illustrator FX Palette is a well-referred to must-have for film and tv makeup artists worldwide.
And what’s so great about it, and Skin Illustrator as a brand, is that the shades and shade names are industry standard, and so universal that you can refer to a shade that you used and a friend or fellow makeup artist on the other side of the world will know the exact same shade.
It’s that well-known.
Bruise tone is a favorite shade of mine in this palette. The variety of red tones – the aged blood and blood tone, plus your primary colors and black and white, guarantee that you can create any wound, cut, bruise or other skin injury effect with this one, single palette.
I have to make mention of the fact that there are at least 6 or 7 palettes in the Skin Illustrator range that I take with me EVERYWHERE. On every job, and in choosing just one to focus on, I’m tearing my hair out, well, because they are so good.
The pigments and shades are spot on, and as I mentioned the universal factor is so vital to communication between artists as well.
The Skin Illustrator Activator is the best solvent to use with these palette, but 99% alcohol will do the job just as well. And if this is all very new to you, you might want to read up a bit more on alcohol-activated makeup right here, as it does have a learning curve to it. And there is most definitely some safety information you should know before going anywhere near alcohol-based makeups without being well-informed.
Okay, now with that said, I have to give special mention to Zombie Palette, Grunge Palette (dirt palette), the Flesh Tone Palettes (Dark and Light skin tone), Complexion Palette and Necromania Palette. If you can only have a few of these palettes in your kit, pick from this collection. It holds basically all of my favorite Skin Illustrator colors.
Next in line of my faves are the Academy Award winner and nominees Ve Neill Pirates of the Caribbean Palette, the Bill Corso Character Contours Palette, and the Eryn Krueger Mekash Polychrome Palette.
With these, you are set for great work!
Okay, back to it.
Shop the Skin Illustrator FX Palette here.
2. Ben Nye Media Pro Ultimate FX Palette
- 18 shades
- use for beauty and corrective makeup as well as special fx
This cream makeup palette is perfect for makeup artists of all levels.
For beginners, this is a brilliant introduction. Creams are the perfect starting point to dabble with blending techniques. They can help you begin to learn just how little product you actually need to create simple makeup effects that these makeups are designed for.
There is no need for any kind of solvent or thinner to spread the product as the cream base is already blendable and buildable.
A setting spray or translucent powder will help keep the cream makeup in place after you’ve finished your makeup look with the Ben Nye Media Pro Ultimate FX Palette as well.
This is a fantastic palette to keep in your set kit for any unscheduled changes, quick touch-ups or character makeup alterations that can come up unannounced.
And, at a pinch, you could use it for corrective work underneath your beauty work if you didn’t have the right color corrector shades with you
Shop the Ben Nye Media Pro FX Palette here.
3. Makeup Forever 12 Flash Color Case
- cream-based makeup
- 24 shades
- soft, blendable texture
- can be used in beauty and character work as well as special effects makeup
I LOVE this palette.
And while at times, it may feel as if it belongs in your beauty makeup kit, this is a perfect special effects makeup workhorse as well.
As well as your standard primaries, this palette cleverly features your CMYK colors as well. For more on this, check out my introductory color theory post.
It also holds a silver and gold shade, black, brown, white, and peach.
Can we also talk about how much product comes packaged in each section of this palette? This is a solid palette, and its going to last you some time.
4. European Body Art Alcohol Activate Makeup Palette
- may as well call this makeup bulletproof, as it stays on that well!
- 10 shades
- alcohol soluble
- magnetic removable pans to mix’n’match
What started out as a small body art company has, over 20 years later, evolved into one of the most popular and relied-on special effects makeup brands in our industry.
European Body Art, or EBA has an impressive range of alcohol-based palettes, inks, and fantastic blood products for all your special makeup needs.
The palette inks are more highly pigmented than Skin Illustrator’s, so you can get more opaque results using less product.
That makes EBA the perfect solution for tattoo covering and corrective body makeup you may be required to apply.
This is also the first brand I think of when putting makeup on people to go underwater. It just won’t budge.
With vibrant, high pigment content, and an exceptionally user-friendly system, you must check out the EBA range if you haven’t already.
Shop the European Body Art Palettes here.
5. Kryolan Aquacolor Professional Makeup Palette
- glycerin based
- safe on children
- 24 shades
Kryolan is a long-time favorite makeup brand for me. The smell alone instantly takes me back to my high-school years, face-painting with it for school performances. And this water-based gem of a palette features 24 vibrant colors that are perfect for creating beautiful body paint and unique designs.
Whether it be intricate body painting, stage makeup, beauty, and avante-garde fashion looks, or something a little closer to home.
Safe for use on sensitive skin and children, and it washes off so easily as well.
Shop the Kryolan Aquacolor Palette here.
6. Graftobian Sever Trauma Bruise FX Makeup Wheel
- wax-based cream makeup
- 6 shades
- easy to use
I love a good makeup wheel. I had quite a few in makeup college many moons ago. And they are just perfect for starting out with.
And speaking of that – I do recommend beginning with cream makeups as opposed to alcohol-based ones, which can take some getting used to. And let’s not deny it – are generally more expensive as well.
So if you’re just dying to try to create your first bruise, or your first black eye makeup, this is the perfect place to start.
7. Mehron Paradise Makeup AQ Palette
- magnetic pans to mix and match
This iconic kit is a favorite among makeup artists, body painters, and cosplayers alike. It includes your standard primary shades, plus tertiary colors orange, green, and brown, and black and white.
A perfect, high-quality, water-based makeup for you to begin your theatrical makeup journey with, for sure. All from a makeup company that has been in business for almost 100 years now!
8. Wolfe FX Essential Color Palette
- 12 shades
- wax-based water soluble makeup
Another high-end, top-quality water-based makeup palette for you to add to the collection.
Wolfe Fx is a fantastic theatrical makeup brand to look into if you’re starting out and just getting a feel for makeup. How it applies, and how to blend colors and textures.
Their water-based makeups are as good as it gets. Go on smoothly, dry quickly, don’t crack and are easy to remove.
Perfect for fancy dress, Halloween make-up, or any other times you might feel the need to paint your face!
The Hydrocolor Palette is perfect for creating beautiful and realistic animal-inspired designs kids face paint looks, and so much more!
Shop the Wolfe FX Hydrocolor Palette here.
9. Ben Nye Bruise Wheel
- easy to use
- 6 shades
- cream based
- user-friendly and perfect for beginners
I couldn’t take special effects palettes without mentioning one of my longtime faves, the Ben Nye Bruise Wheel.
While this makeup allows me to indulge in sentiment (it was one of the first makeup products I owned almost 30 years ago!) I can’t help but delight in the fact that the packaging has hardly changed in that time as well.
Nor has the quality. This is an easy-to-use, easy-to-blend, fine-milled, pocket size palette that can create film-quality bruises, cuts, black eyes, and more various wounds out of the kit.
Yet another perfectly affordable, beginner makeup artist-friendly, high quality product from another industry veteran in our business of making up.
Shop the Ben Nye Bruise Wheel here.
10. Graftobian Appliance Wheel
And last, but certainly not least (in my mind anyway) is the still relevant rubber mask grease paint.
Now, if this term is unfamiliar to you, let’s take a step or two back in time.
Before silicon was the most popular material to make your prosthetic appliances from, foam latex rubber, polyfoam (ugh!), liquid latex, mortician’s wax or scar wax, and other household products such as tissues, cotton wool were used to create three-dimensional makeup on the skin.
At least as far as foam latex and latex appliances and bald caps are concerned, your everyday makeup won’t adhere or blend onto these materials.
Perhaps you have tried to put regular foundation onto a latex bald cap. You’ll see it dries up instantly and grabs.
To make it work, the layman’s technique would be to add castor oil to the makeup and it will then blend with ease and work with the latex-based material harmoniously.
So, in a nutshell, a rubber mask grease paint is a castor oil-based cream makeup.
That is, it works harmoniously with foam latex appliances and latex bald caps.
So if you are starting out with basic foam latex appliances – and I suggest you do (you’ll become a way better painter, and when you’re ready to step up to silicon, it’ll be a breeze!). You should definitely invest in a basic range of rubber mask grease paint.
I may be in the minority, but I still use them today. Albeit with solvents and thinners such as isopropyl alcohol, 244, isododecane, and other such solvents to create washes. But you can even mix it with more castor oil and buff it over your finished foam latex makeup to create a wash (like an overspray with your airbrush).
There is also a dewy softness that comes with a final, minimal coating of rubber mask. It’s truly a great product to have in your back pocket (so to speak 😉
I love it.
it’s just very hard to come by these days, due to the demand for it dropping as the popularity of silicon is on the rise.
Anyway, I still do use these wheels from Graftobian, and if you want to have a play, and check them out, I suggest you do too.
Shop the Graftobian Appliance Wheels here.
As makeup artists we often use special effects makeup palettes for so many reasons.
The versatility of these makeup palettes I’ve chatted about makes them all favorites among professionals. But don’t forget. They are easy to use for both beginners and experts in the oh-so-popular field of makeup.
I hope you’ve had a blast walking through these 10 fantastic products with me, and I hope there’s something there just waiting for yu to pick it up and get creating!
What’s your favorite Special Effects Palette? Let me know in the comments, or DM me @themakeuprefinery