Safety in the studio: decoding hazard symbols

Studio image depicting safe use of artist materials in the studio

Do you need help deciphering what hazardous paint symbols signify? Small tubes of paint often illustrate a hazard label pictogram, and to help decode these we’ve got a safety data sheet available on our product pages. For an overview of the most common labels you’ll find on artists’ material packaging, read on.


This label means avoiding contact with heat, sparks or any open flame. It’s also recommended that you don’t smoke while using the paint product. An example of this hazard label can be found on a can of Winsor & Newton Professional Fixative – it’s best to use this in a well-ventilated space so that you can lower the risk of ignition.

Exclamation mark

hazardous material sign

This safety sign is used to indicate a risk of milder health hazards. The symbol indicates that a material can cause irritation to the skin or eyes, or sensitisation. This includes acute toxic effect that might arise through ingestion, dermal contact or inhalation. The exclamation mark appears on the packaging of Professional Fixative, and includes helpful information about first-aid treatment if irritation does occur.

Health hazard

health hazard warning sign

This relates to longer term health hazards, such as respiratory sensitisers, and can be found on dusty materials such as charcoal. You will also find this symbol on the packaging of oils, mediums, varnishes and solvents. When using such products, it’s a good idea to avoid inhalation and wear suitable protection, such as a face mask.

Environmental hazard

environment hazard sign

Any packaging with this symbol needs to be disposed of responsibly – your council can advise you on where to take all types of hazardous waste in your area, and they can sometimes collect the waste from you. Alternatively, you may be able to deliver the used packaging to a household recycling or civic amenity site free of charge. Just make sure to avoid disposing of it in a mixed waste collection such as household and garden waste.

This pictogram will appear on materials that contain substances such as turpentine and zinc oxide – found in Artists’ Oil Colour Zinc White.


We try to reformulate away from allergens where technically possible. In the cases where we can’t, and you already have a known sensitivity to a chemical, it’s a good idea to look out for a safety sign that will read as follows: Contains [NAME OF SUBSTANCE]: May product an allergic reaction.