Urban communication using eco-friendly milk paint

The City of Amsterdam is experimenting with using natural-media techniques and the public space to engage with the public. Amsterdam is one of the first cities to officially allow the use of natural-media for their own communication purposes as long as the materials used to produce the prints are sustainable, high qualities standards of the city are met and the prints are removed after an agreed upon period of time. 

Municipalities have a lot to say to the people who live and visit their cities. Whether it's helping people find their way from A to B, informing people about new initiatives or just generating public awareness, natural-media techniques are helping municipalities reach the right audience, at the right place, at the right time.

A path of prints that helps people with dementia find their way to the local shopping area and back to the day care center again.

A path of prints that helps people with dementia find their way to the local shopping area and back to the day care center again.


Natural-media are a collection of new eco-friendly outdoor media techniques that use natural materials such as water, sand, clay, chalk, milk paint and plants to create communication messages that have a low impact on the environment while having a high impact on the audience.

The technique used to create prints depends on how long the prints need to remain at a high level of quality. SandBossing for instance, is perfect for events that last only a few days. Chalk and clay paints are suited for campaigns lasting a week or two (two if it doesn’t rain too much). Milk paint can last 4 weeks or longer if the surface is properly prepared and they are placed strategically. 

I started using milk paint as a natural-media material in 2010 and have watched its use by natural media companies continue to increase and with very good reason. As a natural-media material it is hard to beat a eco-friendly paint that is 100% biodegradable, strong, not effected by rain and is easy to use.

Milk paint is one of the oldest paints know to man. It has been around for thousands of years. It is what we used to paint just about everything before petroleum based paints were developed. It is made form milk proteins and lime stone for the most part.

You can make milk paint yourself following any number of recipes on the Internet. I would like to try this one day but honestly, using the pre-mixed powders is just so much easier and saves time.

Milk paint prints are made using a template cut out of a thin sheet of material that is placed on a surface. Milk paint is usually applied using either a spraying system or by using a stencil brush. Creating milk paint prints with a spray system is much faster than painting with a brush. However, wind can make spraying messy and wasteful. If the wind is blowing hard enough at one point it becomes impossible. I have been able to create prints in force 6 winds using the stencil brush technique.

Creating a milk paint print using a thin template and stencil brush.

Creating a milk paint print using a thin template and stencil brush.


Spraying when there is a wind can result in overspray – paint that is spread down wind and lands on surfaces not meant to be painted. If surfaces are uneven, paint can also be blown under the template creating prints that are blurry and of a lower quality.

When prints are made with a stencil brush, they are sharper, the quality is higher and perhaps best of all it only uses about 40% of the materials of what would be used with a spraying system. Granted, the time it takes to produce a print using a stencil brush can be many times more but when quality is important, using a brush has several advantages.

Milk paint is a water-based paint. Milk paint from the The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company is 100% biodegradable and has been approved by the US FDA. Water based paints can take longer to dry than solvent or petroleum based paints. Working in dry, warm weather is not very problematic as milk paint dries quickly. When it is damp or cold, can be challenging, as drying times can be long.

Since it is a natural product, milk paint has a very short shelf-life. It can be refrigerated to extend its shelf-life but after a few days it will spoil just like milk will. 

Removing milk paint does require a little elbow grease. Any residue that is not captured when cleaning the print away will not harm ground water sources something Amsterdam and I would guess most other municipalities require.

You will find milk paint sold by a growing number of companies. I have used several brands but my favorite brand of milk paints remains The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company. Yes, this is a endorsement and one that is well deserved as the folks at The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company not only have great products but have also taken the time to work closely with me to adapt using a paint that is mainly used for furniture to paint on a large variety of surfaces from concrete to natural stone often submitting my question to their R&D department who actually get back to me with helpful answers or suggestions. Fantastic, friendly client service, something I deeply appreciate.

The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company manufacture two types of milk paint  – Old Fashioned Milk Paint and their newer SafePaint. In my experience, the Traditional Milk Paint seems to be a bit stronger but also is harder to remove. The SafePaint seems to dry faster. Both work great.

Amsterdam like most municipalities has city marketing guideline for how the public space is used and how it appears. Old faded prints of any kind do not meet those high standards so prints need to be maintained or removed when they begin to look worn. Municipalities can ensure their high standards are met by establishing simple standards and codes of conduct.

Milk paint is a perfect paint for municipalities to use for their communication messages. It is eco-friendly, easy to use, robust, and perfect for campaigns that need to last for longer periods of time.

If you are interested in how you could use milk paint in your municipality or community, please feel free to send me an email. 

Several years ago, I produce a campagn for a large dairy company Campina. We used milk paint to create a red carpet for the cows. Each year in the Netherlands there is a special day when the cows are let back into the fields after the winter. If you have never seen a really happy cow before, watch the video below. People come out by the thousands to watch.

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Dairy cows spend the the winter indoors. Campina produced a red carpet for the cows to walk down the day they got to go back into the fields. made. A very simple technique and sustainable as well.



Jim Bowes

Advertising professional specialising in Natural Media advertising techniques that have a low impact on the environment.