This page presents my observations on the brand standards and brand styles of commercial watercolor paints.
My approach was to sample widely from "artists' quality" paints focusing on the watercolor brands most commonly offered by retailers, recommended in art instruction books, used by professional artists, or claiming an unusual brand style. I sampled mostly single pigment paints from different paint brands, to get a sense for the variations in a pigment's quality and handling characteristics across manufacturers. I emailed or spoke with each manufacturer for technical information about their products, and compared this information to their marketing claims.
Along the way, I developed definite opinions about the quality of products and documentation offered by each company. I've put those comments here, separate from the guide to watercolor pigments where the focus is on the attributes of watercolor pigments.
My reviews are based on extensive product sampling and testing conducted throughout 1999-2000, with annual updates and quality checks since then, and a complete retesting for lightfastness in 2004. All watercolor paint brands are compared on the following brand quality criteria: the number and balanced distribution of "colors" around the color wheel, the paint color appearance (lightness, chroma, hue, texture), the proportion of paint "colors" made with lightfast (as opposed to impermanent or fugitive) pigments, paint handling attributes (transparency, staining, tinting strength or pigment concentration, and activity wet in wet), vehicle formulation and paint consistency, presence of fillers/brighteners (assessed by microscopic analysis), the proportion of single pigment formulations (as opposed to "convenience" mixtures of two or more pigments), the quality and functional convenience of the paint packaging, the accuracy of manufacturer technical information (specifically regarding pigment ingredients and paint lightfastness), the clarity and accuracy of paint marketing names, the presence of ingredient and lightfastness information on paint labels, and the paints' average unit price.
Paint Guides. My reviews, and the pigment information found in the guide to watercolor pigments, cannot be relied upon to provide accurate and up to date consumer information about the painting materials currently available for your purchase. Like The Wilcox Guide to Watercolor Paints or Hilary Page's Guide to Watercolor Paints, my reviews are based on an absurdly limited sample of a paint brand's total manufacturing output, and a brand can change its paint formulations in unpredictable ways, at any time, and without notice. I hope to clarify just three essential points: (1) the fundamentals of paint attributes and paint evaluation; (2) examples of the business issues that affect paint quality and the marketing information available to you, the artist; and (3) the importance of doing your own lightfastness tests and paint tests.
"Professional" and "Student" Paints. Some watercolor manufacturers, including Daler-Rowney, Da Vinci, Lukas, Maimeri, Rembrandt and Winsor & Newton, offer two lines of watercolor paints a "professional" or higher quality line, and a "student" line that is typically less expensive and comes in a smaller color selection and tube size. Because most painting instructors advise students to buy the best quality paints, and my interest was to examine pigments in the purest, highest quality form available, I have not evaluated any "student" paints for these reviews.
There are no industry or market standards for the use of the terms "professional" and "student" they are part of the marketing romance and nothing more. All that can be said is that a single manufacturer's "student" line is likely to be of lower quality, and therefore less expensive, than the same manufacturer's "professional" line. This cost difference is usually achieved by using less pigment or a lower grade of pigment, "hue" or substitution mixtures for expensive pigments, more dispersant (to reduce milling time), and the addition of brighteners or fillers.
As a rule of thumb, the "professional" paints made by some watercolor manufacturers can be of lower quality and less desirable than the "student" paints by the most reputable brands. Price is no indication of product quality. My advice: always buy the "professional" line and focus on value for your money: the tinting strength and lightfastness of the paints, the packaging quality, and the color appearance.
Pigment Suppliers. Art materials manufacturers have to cope with continuous downward price pressures and business uncertainties, with profit driven acquisitions and unannounced product changes likely to accelerate over the next decade. Out of competitive necessity, many art brands, including Winsor & Newton, are turning to India and/or China for both pigment stocks and paint manufacture. In many cases the reduced costs available from these new suppliers is due to government subsidies, lower labor costs, and lax environmental regulations, not reduced product quality ... but then, one never knows for sure. As always, I strongly urge you to make regular product quality evaluations of your own, especially for paint tinting strength and lightfastness.
Art Spectrum (reviewed August, 2002) - 66 colors, 64% of them single pigment paints. An Australian art materials company founded in 1966, Art Spectrum makes a single "Artists' Water Colour" professional line. These watercolors were among the most expensive in the USA, comparable to Winsor & Newton, Old Holland or Blockx in cost, but have come down in price. The paints are relatively inert wet in wet, so you can paint into or against moist areas without fear of bleeds or backruns, and they stain lightly, making them easy to edit as you paint. The color spectrum is well balanced, the earth pigments are nicely contrasted; the paints produce pretty mixtures and pleasing color relationships seem to happen by themselves. Lightfast pigments are used throughout. However, the quinacridones and phthalos are measurably lighter valued than in other brands, making rich darks harder to achieve, and the quinacridones are dull and not completely transparent, clouded with a whitish additive. Paint consistencies are wildly uneven: the chromium oxide and cadmium orange were so runny they literally poured from the tube; the manganese violet, viridian and cobalt turquoise (cobalt teal blue) were stiff and dried out; the aureolin spewed when opened because the paint had expanded after packaging. These problems occur because the vehicle formulations were not adjusted to different types of pigments, and/or the pigments were not allowed sufficient aging time to stabilize with the vehicle before or after milling. Several mineral paints form a whitish bronze in masstone, and microscopic analysis of draw down samples reveals a moderate load of fillers/brighteners. The paints look best when used close to full strength, but this means you go through a tube of paint pretty quickly helped along by the annoyingly large air bubbles I found in several tubes. The tubes are sturdy white metal, with a wide cap and average sized mouth; dry pan paints are not available, but most paints set up well in pans. In the USA, Art Spectrum paints are only available in a 10ml size, which inflates the unit cost of the paint. All things considered, the price seems unjustified in comparison to competing brands: with M. Graham, Da Vinci or Daniel Smith you get better quality, for a better price. Finally, the lightfastness of the Art Spectrum paints is excellent and accurately reported. I tested all the single pigment paints Art Spectrum makes. (Paint line minimally documented by manufacturer; the spec sheet emailed to me contained several errors. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is poor: meaningless marketing monikers such as "permanent," "spectrum" or "australian" clutter the names of over 20 paints, and the term "hue" is not used for imitation colors the rose madder and thio violet are made with quinacridone. Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name, lightfastness rating, and health warning as appropriate. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Pearl Paint was $0.65, and average unit cadmium price was $0.84, a decrease of -10% since 2004.)
Blockx (reviewed February, 2008) - 72 colors, 82% of them single pigment paints. Made by a venerable Belgian paint company, Blockx (pronounced "blocks") watercolors are, in the USA at least, the most expensive brand you can buy. One of the smaller watercolor lines, Blockx inorganic paints tend to have a larger particle size than other brands, which gives Blockx viridian ("emerald green"), cobalt violet and some "earth" (iron oxide) paints a distinctively assertive granular texture on paper. Aside from these gems, however, Blockx paints seem to me conventional as a series. Compared to other brands tested in 1999, the phthalos and earth colors were duller, the cadmiums duller and more opaque, and some of the synthetic organic colors (Blockx red, Blockx yellow) were made of inexpensive or less lightfast pigments; their synthetic organic range was extremely limited (no quinacridones!). The new line, launched in 2008, adds many of the now standard pigments, including pyrrole orange, quinacridone red, quinacridone magenta, cobalt turquoise and a delightfully varied selection of 16 "earth" (iron oxide) paints. Paints are packaged in sturdy black metal tubes, now in only one formulation the usual gum arabic vehicle with a small quantity of honey humectant. The vehicle has a smooth and fluid consistency, and I found vehicle separation was common in the granulating synthetic inorganic pigments. The previous double vehicle formlation (with or without the honey humectant) often failed as dry pan colors: the white cap cadmium paints dried into a rock hard block of resin; the honey rich (black cap) paints remained viscous even after twelve months of curing. (Blockx now makes dry pan colors in half pans, whole pans, and in enormous 3 inch tubs, available from Jerry's Artarama.) The manufacturer paint documentation has also substantially improved: formerly the pigment listed for Blockx yellow was "permanent organic pigment" (uh ... so which one of the 92 currently available synthetic organic yellow pigments might that be?) but now the pigment name and generic color index name are disclosed. This guide pointed out in 1999 that the Blockx signature marketing slogan I guarantee maximum stability against light of all my shades ... signed, Jacques Blockx and the claim that Blockx does not and never has prepared transient or unstable shades were both false: Blockx offered five watercolor alizarin lake formulations (all fugitive!), the impermanent Blockx red (PR3) and Blockx yellow (PY1), and their US$31 genuine vermilion (PR106), which promptly turned a scabby brown on exposure to light. All these paints, highlighted as impermanent in my 2004 lightfastness tests, are now gone. But I am still wary of a company whose quality standards and marketing accuracy were quite different just a few years ago. I tested about half the paints Blockx makes. Only certain colors recommended. (Paint line adequately documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is fair. Tube ingredient information lists pigment name and generic color index name. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Art Supply Warehouse was $0.91, and average unit cadmium price was $1.27, an increase of 18% since 2004.)
[Note added November, 2009] Jacques Blockx has emailed to me on three separate occasions, stating "painters astonished by your comments asked me the truth" and complaining about my "false comments about our paints". In my replies I have requested he identify the false information and even have sent him, in both English and in French translation, the text on this site that refers to his paints. However M. Blockx has refused to state which information is false or what comments have astonished painters. In fairness I record his objection here, and encourage interested painters to contact him directly for the clarification he declines to provide to me.
Daler-Rowney (reviewed May, 2000) - 80 colors, 66% of them single pigment paints. The student grade is marketed under the trademark "Georgian," the artists' quality (reviewed here) under "Artists'." The Rowney art products company has been making watercolor paints in England since 1783; in 1983 it merged with the Daler Board Company to form Daler-Rowney Limited (Daler is pronounced "dayler"), and opened USA distribution offices in 1988. In March, 2000 the company revamped and significantly expanded its watercolor line with the aim to improve the quality, color and lightfastness of ingredients. I have not used the old paints but am not much impressed with the new ones. Paint consistency varies from buttery to syrupy, depending on pigment; most dissolve moderately quickly and are well milled, although I found vehicle separation or air bubbles in several paints, especially the cadmiums and cobalts, and in other paints after a year or two on the shelf. The paints tend to stain more aggressively than other brands, and several colors have weaker tinting strength than usual (dioxazine violet, ultramarine blue, phthalo greens and quinacridone rose). The Rowney selection of single pigment hues differs from other manufacturers' lines, with uneven results. A few of the single pigment colors, such as warm orange (pyrrole orange, PO73), cobalt blue deep (PB72) or indian yellow (nickel dioxine yellow, PY153) are quite beautiful. But the cobalt turquoises (three in all) are unusually dull, the cobalt blue has a dark greenish cast, and several colors lighten and hue shift substantially as they dry, making finished mixtures hard to judge. The paints consistently present a subtle visual texture (almost like garnet paper) in granulating pigments (excepting the cobalts violet and green, which have coarse granulation) and slightly darker colors, and the vehicle often contains too much gum arabic, causing colors to blossom as they dry or glaze unevenly. My microscopic analysis of draw down samples, and the cloudiness of paints in diluted tinting tests, confirms that the paints are formulated with a heavy load of fillers and weak brighteners which don't do much to goose up the colors. Tubes are made of sturdy metal with a very sturdy black cap that seats firmly and unscrews easily without sticking. Most colors are available as whole, half and quarter pan paints (in the hard English style), and in a wide range of pan box sets; the tube paints also set up nicely in pans. Finally, I found several Daler Rowney paints with significant lightfastness problems (especially in the convenience greens) and this fact is not accurately reported in the marketing brochure. Overall, a second tier brand in price and pigment quality. I tested every paint in the Rowney Artists' line. Only certain colors recommended. (Paint line well documented by manufacturer, though in need of updating. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is fair: the term "permanent" and evocative but uninterpretable names such as warm orange or bright green are used too often, but "hue" is used consistently. Some tube ingredient information shows the pigment common name, color index generic name, and lightfastness rating; others show only a lightfastness rating. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Cheap Joe's was $0.64, and average unit cadmium price was $0.88, an increase of 47% since 2004.)
Daniel Smith (reviewed April, 2005) - 199 (and still counting!) colors (with 19 "authentic mineral" and 47 interference, pearlescent or metallic colors), 86% of them single pigment paints. Made in Washington (USA) under the trademark Extra Fine, available only through Daniel Smith's catalog, online or retail store channels, these are high quality watercolors, esteemed by many artists (including me) as equal or superior to any other brand. The Daniel Smith brand style includes dense pigment formulations and a broad but discerning selection of modern synthetic organic pigments. Their quinacridone range is still the largest of any manufacturer (and without the color duplication one finds in Art Spectrum or Da Vinci), and they offer an extensive selection of blue, red violet and "earth" or iron oxide pigments. They've also innovated with a wide selection of interference (iridescent, pearlescent, duotone) colors, several metallic paints, and a large selection of PrimaTek® mineral pigments, including lapis lazuli, azurite, amazonite and malachite. They also offer a few antiquated pigments such as rose madder genuine or bohemian green earth (terre verte) that I find consistently dull and weakly tinting. DS now offers more watercolor paint "colors" than any other paint company in the local universe, all gathered by Daniel Smith's paint chemist Ron Harmon with the same enthusiasm that an entomologist collects rare butterflies. To put this selection on best display, DS is one of the few brands (with Kremer, M. Graham and Utrecht) to emphasize single pigment paint formulations, a plus for lightfastness, color intensity and mixing range. Most of the paints are made with high quality pigments and milled to a buttery or syrupy consistency; I rarely encounter vehicle separation or air bubbles in DS paints. The paints are typically more staining and more active wet in wet than other brands; they are also darker valued than equivalent paints by Winsor & Newton, Holbein or MaimeriBlu; but for many of the pigments nickel azomethine yellow (PY150), nickel dioxine yellow (PY153), isoindolinone yellow (PY110), perinone orange (PO43), pyrrole orange (PO73), perylene maroon (PR179), pyrrole carmine (PR264), dioxazine violet (PV23), indanthrone blue (PB60) or phthalo blue RS (PB15:6) the effect is very attractive and provides both a larger color range and clear, glowing tints. Microscopic analysis suggests that the paints contain little fillers or brighteners. Paints sometimes take a little longer than usual to dissolve in water (especially the "earth" colors). The tubes are sturdy black metal, with a small cap and mouth, and the caps rarely stick though they easily balk if not aligned exactly. Dry pan paints are not available, but the tube paints set up well in pans, though most shrink substantially (up to half their wet volume) on the first pour (I find that three pours are usually required to fill a pan). No artist should venture into a Daniel Smith catalog or web site without understanding the differences among pigments, paints and "colors" and with an incantation to ward off marketing romance. But DS publishes many useful "InkSmith" technical documents, including a cook's tour of their watercolor paints and a CIELAB paint color map (titled "The Study of Color"). Finally, the overall lightfastness of the Daniel Smith line is exceptionally good, and their lightfastness ratings consistently match the results of my own tests (they have their own in house fadeometer). Overall, these are exceptionally attractive and reliable products. I tested all the paints Daniel Smith makes, including a few discontinued colors. (Paint line well documented by manufacturer: the Daniel Smith web site provides pigment ingredient information on the watercolor paint page click on the icon for "show pigment info". The accuracy and clarity of paint names is good overall, but there is a creeping preference for the uninterpretable or misleading moonglow, bordeaux, carmine, potter's pink, undersea green, sedona genuine, cobalt blue violet, etc. Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name, color index number, lightfastness rating, vehicle. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Daniel Smith was $0.60, and average unit cadmium price was $0.83, an increase of 7% since 2004.)
Note added Jan. 2012: The Daniel Smith company is no longer owned or managed by Daniel Smith; his appearances in the marketing materials are of the 'Col. Sanders' and 'Betty Crocker' type, and his catalog letters are written by marketing staff. I have not bought paints from the company for several years, so the evaluation above may no longer be accurate.
Da Vinci (reviewed October, 2009) - 106 colors, including 6 iridescent colors, 67% of them single pigment paints; the entire line is available in 15 ml. and 37 ml. tubes. Made in California (USA), Da Vinci paints are sold under the Da Vinci label ("Professional," reviewed here, and the student label "Scuola"), and as manufactured for other brands, including the Michael Wilcox "School of Colour", Gary Spetz watercolors and Cheap Joe's "American Journey" paints. The entire line was reformulated and substantially improved in 2005; and again in 2008 to improve the rewetting properties of the paints when squeezed out and dried as dry pan paints. The Da Vinci brand style strives for bright color, homogeneous consistency and value at a low price. The paints have a uniformly smooth, syrupy texture across all pigments; they dissolve promptly in water. The paints tend to stay where they are put (diffusion wet in wet is subdued), they resist backruns when they are rewetted, and they are rather difficult to lift once they have dried. I also encountered large air bubbles in several of the tube paints tested. Though the "earth" (iron oxide) paints are lovely and well contrasted, the hue spacing of the enlarged color spectrum is not optimal (especially in the orange to magenta range, including three very similar cadmium reds and similar dark quinacridones). The latest brand revision has added many single pigment paints recommended in my previous review, including nickel azomethine (PY150), pyrrole orange (PO73), pyrrole red (PR254), dioxazine violet (PV23), indanthrone blue (PB60), phthalo turquoise (PB16), cobalt teal blue (PG50) and copper azomethine (green gold, PY129). The paints produce clear, saturated or dark color when mixed at optimal concentration, but I found some pigments (viridian, the cadmiums) used up more quickly than they do other brands, and appeared weaker in tinting tests. My microscopic analysis of draw down samples indicated very little transparent crystal content. Although I have not tested the new line for lightfastness, the lightfastness of previous Da Vinci paints was excellent and appears to be accurately reported in their technical literature. Overall this brand delivers consistent value for the money and is a pleasure to use. I tested only a limited sample of the 2005 Da Vinci paints, but received from the manufacturer paintouts of the entire line. (Paint line is well documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is only fair, due to antiquated "hue" marketing names (alizarin, bright red, emerald green, naples yellow, vermilion, gamboge, indian yellow, rose doré, rose madder, indigo etc.). Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name, lightfastness rating, vehicle. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Cheap Joe's was $0.39, and average unit cadmium price was $0.47, an increase of 11% since 2004.)
Holbein (reviewed June, 1999) - 106 colors (and 2 metallic colors), 52% of them single pigment paints, available in 5ml. and 15ml. tubes. Holbein is a Japanese manufacturer of good quality, moderately priced watercolors, formulated according to the company's somewhat maverick paint philosophy. The company claims that no ox gall is used to mill the paints (which may only mean that synthetic surfactants have been used instead), but these paints are certainly among the least active wet in wet that I have tried. Holbein is eclectic in its choice of pigments and manufactures some superb single pigment colors, particularly for granulating natural inorganics, the natural earths, and several synthetic organics, but unfortunately Holbein is also not especially discriminating, as the line includes several fugitive pigments not clearly identified as such in the technical documentation. Many colors the cadmiums and cobalts in particular are among the brightest of their kind and granulate more expressively than other brands, but the paints are also among the least concentrated when put through a tinting test, and microscopic analysis reveals that some colors contain a moderate load of fillers or brighteners. Paint consistencies are uniformly finely milled, thick and buttery (indicating the use of dextrin), and dissolve easily. Holbein paints overall are among the most saturated, most transparent and least staining of the brands listed here. Unfortunately, half the colors are convenience mixtures of varying utility. Some of these opera, permanent yellow deep, cadmium green #1, jaune brilliant #2 are the secret vices of many professional artists. The line has been revised recently, primarily by discontinuing a few costly or polluting pigments (such as manganese blue, PB33) and adding some stunning but typically fugitive "brilliant" colors made with basic dyes of poor lightfastness. These are intended for commerical (repro) art, but are worth trying if you don't feel lightfastness anxiety and get a buzz from dazzling color. The tubes are sturdy white metal, stocky and with a wider mouth than most. Dried pan paints are not available, but the colors set up nicely when poured from the tube. Finally, according to my 2004 tests the lightfastness of Holbein paints is only fair, with several fugitive or impermanent colors in the line and paint lightfastness not accurately reported in every case. I tested about half the paints Holbein makes. (Paint line adequately documented by manufacturer. The accuracy of paint names is poor: Holbein does not use "hue" to indicate substitute pigments, and relies too much on evocative but confusing names such as "permanent" (permanent what?), bamboo green (phthalo green yellow shade), cherry red (quinacridone red), and historical names such as carmine or rose madder (both actually made with alizarin crimson). Tube ingredient information shows color index generic name and manufacturer lightfastness rating. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Cheap Joe's was $0.64, and average unit cadmium price was $0.87, a decrease of -5% since 2004.)
Kremer Pan Watercolors (reviewed May 2005; updated May 2009) - 47 traditional and modern colors, all single pigment paints, and 17 pearlescent colors. In 2005 Kremer Pigments, long a source of powdered pigments and paint binders to the trade, launched their own line of watercolor pan paints, made in Germany. These are compounded from a selection of Kremer's stock pigments (the same as used by the more famous commercial brands) and a handmade gum binder developed by Carol Gillott (a painter who also authors the whimsical Paris Breakfasts blog). The 14 color set I purchased included whole pans of benzimida yellow (PY154), anthrapyrimidine yellow (PY108), titanium nickel oxide (PBr24), pyrrole red (PR254), pyrrole carmine (PR264), cobalt blue dark (PB28), cerulean blue (PB35), cobalt teal blue (PB36), phthalo green BS (PG7), chromium oxide green (PG17), venetian red (PR101), italian burnt sienna (PBr7), italian raw sienna (PBr7) and cyprian burnt umber (PBr7). There are now also 14 color "landscape" and "pearl luster" watercolor paint selections available. I was not enthusiastic about the prepackaged pigment selection the set should include a "red" quinacridone violet, a phthalo blue (both now available separately), and an ultramarine blue (still not offered). But on the whole the paints perform superbly. They leap from the pan when touched with a wet brush, a responsiveness that takes time to get used to. The two major drawbacks are that a brushstroke depletes this dense outer coating of paint and then transfers water from the tuft core, producing a fading color stroke and distinct brushmarks in the painting, and there is some kind of electrostatic cling of cobalt pigment to the enamel mixing wells, which the cobalt scratched easily and the pyrrole pigments stained. But brushes rinsed out or cleaned up quickly, even with the pyrroles and phthalo paints. Mixed violets seemed dull when wet but dried to a gently glowing color. The paints are powdery soft compared to commercial brands but are not sticky or gooey, and they dry about as quickly as the last brushstroke. Pigment load is high and all the paints can be easily applied up to a very dense, almost opaque layer. The earth pigments are bright and transparent, with very nice color contrasts. (Although Kremer has posted a pdf file of paint information, pigment information and prices are available only by clicking on individual paint listings at the Kremer web site.) Sets include a hand painted color swatch unhelpfully labeled only with Kremer pigment inventory code numbers. The fourteen whole pan sets with metal paint box cost $85 (basic or landscape set) or $130 (pearlescent set); refill pan paints can be purchased separately for $6, $9 or $11 (the pearlescent colors), Kremer also sells empty plastic whole or half paint pans and empty metal paint boxes (including the very hard to find 4 row, 28 pan box for $25). Available only from Kremer Pigments; call the New York store at 1-800-995-5501 for more information.
Lukas (reviewed October, 2004) - 67 colors, 46% of them single pigment paints, plus 3 metallic colors. Founded by Franz Schoenfeld in 1862 and run by the fifth generation family members today, Lukas paints are manufactured in Dusseldorf (Germany). The student grade is marketed under the trademark "Studio," and the artist's quality (reviewed here) as "Finest Artist's" or "Aquarell 1862," sold in 7.5ml and 24ml tubes and as whole and half pans. The paints have a uniformly smooth consistency, though I found watery vehicle separation in the first squeeze from many colors. The pan paints are hard milled, in the English style, but pick up reasonably quickly. Otherwise, I found the Lukas paints are a good example of the points to look for and avoid in watercolor paints. The paint description in the marketing brochure is intentionally obscure, but the vehicle appears to me to consist primarily of synthetic binders, not gum arabic: the colors rarely backrun and are relatively inert wet in wet, and the coarsely granulating pigments do not present a characteristic gum texture. Many of the paints are formulated as mixtures of three or four pigments, which generally reduces color purity and lightfastness and gives the Lukas line the lowest percentage of single pigment paints of any brand reviewed here. Several pigments used in the line monoazo yellows (PY1, PY74), naphthol reds (PO5, PR8,PR9) and disazopyrazolone orange (PO34) are relatively cheap pigments that are usually rated less lightfast; their cadmiums are the cheapest of any line reviewed here. The pigments are milled to a uniform, bland texture, which is possible because the paints contain a very heavy load of brighteners and fillers, visible as a whitish opacity across all the colors (even the normally transparent quinacridones and phthalos), and as a whitish sludge in sedementation tests. In addition, the cobalt blue is lightened with chinese white (PW4) and even the relatively inexpensive ultramarine blue is boosted with phthalo blue (PB15). The pigment load is relatively low, so the colors seem to wash out under even moderate dilution. Finally, Lukas does not consistently provide pigment ingredient information or health warnings on the paint packaging (as required by the ASTM labeling standards) or at the company web site; the pigment information is included in a marketing brochure which must be ordered from the manufacturer. (See the section on pigments, paints & colors for general information on this issue.) The ingredient information is clearly wrong in at least two instances: the cobalt violet is manufactured with ultramarine violet (PV15), not cobalt violet (PV14), and the burnt sienna is a red iron oxide (PBr7), not a yellow iron oxide (PY42). Finally, according to my 2004 tests, the Lukas paints include several fugitive or impermanent colors and paint lightfastness is not accurately reported. I tested all the nonmetallic single pigment paints Lukas makes. (Paint line inadequately documented by manufacturer. The accuracy of paint names is very poor, and there are at least two incorrectly described paints. Tubes either show no pigment ingredient information, or a generic pigment chemical description, or pigment color index name, depending on when the tube was manufactured; health warnings appear as a crudely printed adhesive label stuck on over the original label. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Art Supply Warehouse was $0.32, and average unit cadmium price was $0.42, an increase of 8% since 2004.)
[Note added September, 2006] Lukas reformulated their "Finest" line in 2005; it now embraces 70 colors, 69% single pigment paints and 1 pearlescent paint. All the paints I highlighted as fugitive in my 2004 paint tests and some of the dubious convenience mixtures have been discontinued. The replacement pigments are, to judge by the color index names in the marketing brochure, of excellent generic lightfastness; in fact, Lukas now conforms to the conservative pigment choices common to other manufacturers. Here Lukas illustrates the three paint manufacturing realities: (1) brand quality and paint pigment ingredients are continually moving targets, (2) the past quality standards of a paint company good or bad are no guarantee of current or future standards, and (3) the marketing claims of art manufacturers simply cannot be relied on. I have not tested the new paints, but as they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ...
Maimeri (reviewed June, 1999) - 72 colors, 72% of them single pigment paints. A well regarded art materials manufacturer in Milan (Italy), Maimeri (pronounced "my-merry") revamped its entire line of watercolors in 1995, adding several quinacridone and modern synthetic organic colors, and increasing the number of single pigment formulations. The student grade is marketed under the trademark "Venezia," but there is little need to try them, as the "MaimeriBlu" (artists' quality) paints are now among the most reasonably priced watercolors you can buy. In most cases the color appearance, pigment quality, lightfastness and handling characteristics rival the watercolors from Daniel Smith, M. Graham or Winsor & Newton. In at least one paint (cobalt violet) the ingredients are incorrectly identified on the packaging, and my 2004 lightfastness tests turned up a few convenience colors that are impermanent (PY35, naples yellow, permanent green light, etc.), so I suggest lightfastness testing on the colors you choose. Some well known workshop artists (Stephen Quiller and Zoltan Szabo among them) have recommended MaimeriBlu but their endorsements were part of an aggressive marketing campaign to gain market share in the USA. The paints generally have a finely milled, buttery texture and dissolve quickly in water. The brand style strives for a bright hue at the expense of pigment personalities (variations in granulation or staining), and the formulations are more opaque and more active wet in wet than other brands. They also exhibit more consistent (moderate) staining across colors, so mixtures and glazes are easier to judge. Microscopic analysis shows a moderate amount of fillers or brighteners. The sturdy black metal tubes have the widest mouth of any brand with a cap that unscrews easily in less than a complete turn. Tube colors set up well in dry pans, and all colors are available in half pan form, though these have often dried to a large dimple that delivers less than the full amount. Colors selected for the half pan sets emphasize earth tones at the expense of yellows and reds. Finally, the lightfastness of the MaimeriBlu paints is very good, with one or two exceptions that are not reported in the marketing information. Overall, MaimeriBlu paints are bright, sweet and beautifully formulated. I tested all the paints in the MaimeriBlu line. (Paint line adequately documented by manufacturer. The accuracy of paint names is good excepting the mislabeled paints. Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Cheap Joe's was $0.42, and average unit cadmium price was $0.52, an increase of 16% since 2004.)
M. Graham & Co. (reviewed February, 2008) - 70 colors, 80% of them single pigment paints. An Oregon (USA) manufacturer of intense, rich, finely milled and moderately priced paints, sold primarily through independent art retail stores. The paints have a thick, honeylike consistency (M. Graham is one of the few lines to use a honey humectant), and are formulated and milled to harmonize but not obliterate the pigment personalities (pigment texture is visible in several colors, such as the earth pigments, viridian, ultramarine blue and cerulean blue). The synthetic organics (especially the quinacridones rose and violet, phthalos blue and green, naphthol red and dioxazine violet) provide dark, deep colors, and the cadmiums, cobalts and earths are among the most opaque (concentrated) you can buy: in my tinting tests M. Graham paints usually came out on top. Because of the high pigment load, all the paints dilute out to glowing tints. The paints are apparently formulated with minimal fillers or brighteners, as confirmed by microscopic examination of draw down samples, but the heavy pigment load, use of humectants and presence of dispersants cause many colors to stain aggressively I needed soap and hard scrubbing to get the phthalo yellow green (PG36) off my hands. The line is still one of the smallest reviewed here, but was expanded in 2007 and now includes many of the pigments I recommended in my previous review, including nickel azomethine, isoindolinone yellow, pyrrole orange, gold ochre, pyrrole red, indanthrone blue, cobalt turquoise, copper azomethine (green gold), perylene maroon and transparent iron oxides. In addition, M. Graham is one of the companies (with Daniel Smith, Utrecht and the new Blockx) that emphasizes single pigment paint formulations, a plus for lightfastness, color intensity and mixing control. All in all, these paints reflect great care and craftsmanship, and I am always struck, when I come back to a painting I have made with M. Graham paints, by the clean, colorful harmony and unique mixing effects these paints create. Overall lightfastness of the line is excellent. Tubes are sturdy white metal with a medium sized mouth; the soft plastic cap always glides open without sticking, but may crack or split if screwed down too tightly. Because the vehicle includes honey as a humectant, some of the paints will dry to a hard cake when poured into pans, while others will not dry in pans or when applied as an undiluted impasto on paper. (Manufacturer dry pans are not available.) Finally, the lightfastness of the M. Graham paints is excellent and accurately reported. Overall, in terms of quality and value (rather than price and marketing romance), one of the most satisfactory brands of watercolor paints. I tested all the paints M. Graham makes. (Paint line is well documented by manufacturer: a complete list of pigments is available at the M. Graham web site and in the full color brochure. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is generally good, with a few exceptions (quinacridone rust, turquoise, terra rosa, and omission of "hue" in traditional pigment names gamboge and sepia). Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name, lightfastness rating, vehicle. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Dick Blick was $0.45, and average unit cadmium price was $0.65, an increase of 8% since 2004.)
Old Holland (reviewed June, 1999) - 168 colors, 57% of them single pigment paints. Made in Driebergen (Holland), this is a bewildering line of antiquated ("since 1664" but actually launched in the late 1980's) watercolors that in basic ways falls short of the needs of today's professional artist. By sifting through the Old Holland line you will find a handful of unique single pigment paints, mostly among the earth colors and synthetic organics. Among these, you'll have to discard several fugitive pigments, such as their benzimida yellow (PY120), isoindoline orange (PO69) or anthraquinone red (PR177). All the remaining colors are amateurish convenience mixtures (flesh ochre, flesh tint, 35 varieties of "green" stuff) that any professional painter will avoid they are absurdly expensive and contain as many as five pigments! Several of the paints are also not at all what they seem: the cobalt violet paints (light and deep) are actually mixtures of cobalt blue deep (PB74), dioxazine violet (PV23) and quinacridone violet (PV19), a combination that is much less lightfast than genuine cobalt violet; viridian green deep is actually a mixture of viridian (PG18) with ultramarine blue (PB29); and 28 (!) of the colors are formulated with white pigment (PW4), because all the pigment formulations were originally developed for oil paints and simply thrown in with gum arabic when the brand extended to watercolors. But it seems unfair to criticize Old Holland for their paint formulations, when their true expertise is in dreaming up idiosyncratic paint names. These are either uninterpretable (indian yellow-green lake extra is a dull mixture of nickel dioxine yellow, PY153 and copper azomethine, PY129 that has no greenish hue) or are idiotically pretentious (rose dore madder lake antique extra is a dull and impermanent mixture of benzimidazolone scarlet PR175, anthraquinone scarlet PR168, and alizarin crimson PR83). In the Old Holland labeling fairyland lake supposedly means "transparent", extra means a "hue" or imitation paint, and antique means ... well, who knows? The paints are uniformly well milled to a creamy consistency, and microscopic analysis of draw down samples shows little or no use of fillers or brighteners. However, the vehicle is unusually dense, with a sticky, stringy consistency similar to taffy, making the paints so gummy that they take longer to dissolve in water than any other brand. The benefit of this gummy consistency is that almost all OH watercolors stain much less than other brands and often lift completely from the paper, making them convenient for a variety of editing techniques. The drawback is that, in several paints I tested, the vehicle instantly dissolves and blossoms if rewetted accidentally, making adjacent colors bleed at the edges or causing foundation colors to splotch or discolor when glazed with other mixtures. In masstone concentrations the paints often dry with a leathery bronze and are among the dullest paints I've seen, and in my 2004 lightfastness tests I found the vehicle in several mineral colors had a tendency to turn brown under light exposure, which makes me reluctant to put them to paper in the first place. The three or four pigments used in many of the convenience paint recipes strike me as amateurish and fussy, because the general rule is: more ingredients, less lightfastness. And finally, these are now the most expensive absurdly expensive watercolors you can buy after all, you can't buy rose dore madder lake antique extra or indian yellow-green lake extra anywhere else, you have to pay extra for extra! Paint tubes are bare metal with a gummed paper label, available in 6 ml. and 18 ml. sizes; both sizes have a very small mouth and cap, and OH paints are very susceptible to ooze paint from the crimped end of the tube. Tube paints set up in pans to a hard, resinous finish; half pans are available from Old Holland, and while these contain slightly more paint than other brands, they also do not fit into standard field paint boxes. Finally, the lightfastness of OH paints is not reliable and in some cases is inaccurately overstated (I suspect because the company just quotes the lightfastness of its pigments as formulated in oil paints). Overall, this is a poorly designed, bloated and grossly overpriced line of watercolors, ripe for acquisition and aggressive revamping. I tested about a third of the single pigment paints Old Holland makes. (Paint line inadequately documented by manufacturer: neither the packaging nor paint brochures provide paint lightfastness ratings, the paint marketing names completely fail any standard of accuracy or consistency the meaningless proprietary names "schevenegen" and "old holland" abound. Tube ingredient information shows only generic pigment categories "contains arylide," "contains naphthol AS" which are useless to identify the specific pigment used; color index information is only provided in the paint brochure or by clicking on individual color swatches at their web site. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Art Supply Warehouse was $0.97, and average unit cadmium price was $1.30, an increase of 19% since 2004.)
Rembrandt (reviewed June, 1999) - 80 colors, 53% of them single pigment paints. Made by Royal Talens of Apeldoorn (Holland), Rembrandt paints are relatively inexpensive and of very good, consistent quality. The paints seem to me more active when rewetted than other brands, but less active wet in wet; the colors are slightly darker and more intense than other brands, giving the whole palette a sense of weight and depth, yet the cadmiums are very lustrous, particularly the orange and reds. To economize on manufacturing costs, the company mixes a wide range of colors from a relatively limited number of paints various combinations of just five pigments (phthalo green, phthalo blue, pyrrole carmine, synthetic red iron oxide and benzimidazolone yellow) by themselves account for 37 different colors! However these pigments are all very lightfast, which makes the mixtures more permanent than other brands, even in the greens. As you would expect in an "economy" brand, microscopic analysis of draw down samples shows transparent crystal content in some paints (the cadmiums in particular). Paints are uniformly well milled with a creamy consistency, but I was very disappointed to encounter several tubes with vehicle separation and/or large air bubbles. This won't cause much anguish about lost paint, because the painted metal tubes hold 20ml. of paint and for that reason are also a little too soft and easy to dent (don't drop them!). Caps are very wide with a grip serration but the tube nozzle is slightly narrower than normal. All colors are available as half pan dried cakes, and half of the colors are available in whole pan; the pans are slightly shallower than usual but the paints are all crisply milled and handle superbly. The tube paints set up well in pans, too. The company recently published a full color paint brochure with complete pigment ingredient and lightfastness information. Finally, my 2004 lightfastness tests show that Rembrandt paints include a fugitive color (PY184) that is not reported in the marketing information, perhaps a quality control lapse by the pigment manufacturer; otherwise the lightfastness of the paints is excellent and accurately reported. Overall, a good line of well manufactured, low priced paints manufactured with a limited selection of high quality pigments, made somewhat less attractive by reliance on mixed hues. I tested about 75% of the paints Rembrandt makes. (Paint line adequately documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is poor there's a disappointing preference for the antiquated terms of paintmaking, and lots of "permanent" colors. Tube ingredient information shows color index generic name, lightfastness rating. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Cheap Joe's was $0.47, and average unit cadmium price was $0.61, an increase of 16% since 2004.)
Robert Doak & Associates (reviewed May, 2003) - A line of 27 genuine liquid watercolors (pigment in a diluted vehicle rather than dye dissolved in water), most of them single pigment paints, manufactured by Robert Doak in Brooklyn, NY. Doak is a self taught and highly opinionated supplier of artists' products "you know, I'm famous for my oil paints" and he has arrived at his paint formulations through more than 30 years of testing, experimentation, and manufacturer dialog. I suggest you call him (the phone number is on his web site) to hear about his products firsthand. The Doak watercolor line comprises transparent, non toxic, lightfast and saturated synthetic organic paints the few inorganics include ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, titanium white and several iron oxides (no cadmiums, no viridian), and even these pigments have a very fine particle size. Paints have the consistency of cream straight from the bottle, and a little goes a long way: the colors do not gray when heavily diluted. The vehicle is clear and nearly colorless, made with a synthetic paper sizing rather than gum arabic and glycerin, and pigment choices are limited by the liquid format. Oddly, the paints bronze if applied thickly; when used wet in wet, they seem to sink into the paper and almost never show backruns. Doak's colors are as bright and concentrated as any line I have tested, with one or two exceptions. In one instance, the paint is perhaps too good to be true: his copper azomethine (green gold) retains its green hue yet achieves a chroma above 90 (!) atypical for the usual green gold pigment (PY129) which displays an average chroma of 60 across other brands but is quite typical for a mixture of phthalo yellow green (PG36) and a saturated yellow pigment. Even so, the "earth" colors a rich, dark burnt umber and genuine transparent red and yellow iron oxides are perhaps the crown jewels of the line. About the watercolor line I have four reservations. (1) Pigment lightfastness is only certified by the pigment manufacturer at a blue wool lightfastness of 7 or better in masstone and 6 or better in tints. Doak does not himself test the paints for lightfastness, I have not tested his paints, and most pigment manufacturer tests overestimate the lightfastness in watercolors. (2) Because the vehicle contains no gum arabic, the paints stain very aggressively: applied to dry paper they accent even slight imperfections in surface sizing, show the first brushstroke imprints or edges, and are difficult or impossible to lift from many papers. (Precoating watercolor papers with a layer or two of gum arabic will help somewhat.) (3) Doak withholds the minimum pigment information required on packaging by ASTM standards. His watercolor price list (and web site) does not show color index information about the pigments; pigment specs are not available online, and he failed to send me pigment ingredient information after three personal requests, and assurances from him that he would. The pigments are provided in small plastic squeeze bottles; pigments settle out in the bottles if the paints are left undisturbed, but they quickly remix with a vigorous shaking (which should be done once every few days), although paints left sitting too long unshaken can show a stubborn flaking or clumping (flocculation) in solution. (4) At last review, Doak offered 36 different paints, but has reduced that number by deleting important colors such as azo orange, azo red, quina red rose, etc., implying an even greater emphasis on his oil line. I've tried 16 of the 27 odd watercolors Doak manufactures. Only certain paints are recommended, and I suggest Doak be considered a (high priced) source of raw pigments rather than finished watercolor paints. (Paint line undocumented by manufacturer: the handprinted labels only give Doak's address and a cursory, uninterpretable paint marketing name azo alizarin, thalo turquoise, etc. The paints cost $4.50 a fluid ounce in the smallest (4 oz.) containers, and prices go down for larger sizes.) Available by contacting Robert Doak & Associates at 718-237-1210 or by writing to 89 Bridge St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA.
Schmincke (reviewed October, 2004) - 105 colors (and 5 metallic colors), 65% of them single pigment paints. A German manufacturer, Schmincke (pronounced "shmink-uh," not "shmink-ee") paints are moderately expensive but uneven in quality. Most Schmincke watercolors have a syrupy consistency and most can be used straight from the tube with little added water. Many of the tubes I tried (both 9ml and 15ml sizes) contained large air bubbles, and there's an annoyingly frequent separation of ingredients out comes pigment, then watery vehicle. This kind of separation can happen when opaque pigments are left hanging for a long time in retail paint racks, and it happens sooner when the paints have a thin consistency. Separated vehicle is clear and colorless, and paints crack excessively when dried, suggesting the vehicle is formulated with glycol rather than gum arabic. The color formulations are sometimes second rate their "ultramarine" color is ultramarine mixed with phthalo blue! and microscopic analysis of draw down samples confirms that some paints contain a significant amount of colorless particles. But the paint documentation is excellent so you won't be confused about pigments, and Schmincke's marvelous full color brochure includes extensive information on the individual paints and different paint box palettes. Paint tubes are unpainted metal with a paper label and larger than usual mouth; the caps are faced with a coin/screwdriver slot to assist in opening when stuck (though I find this rarely happens with the syrupy consistency). All colors available as half or whole pan dried cakes, poured out and slightly smaller than other brands. The line includes a few beautiful, unique colors, such as their translucent orange (pyrrole orange PO71). Other interesting single pigment paints, like their permanent red (pyrazoloquinazolone scarlet PR251), were discontinued when the line was revised early in 2002 (which may have included changes in pigment suppliers). To my eye, most of the Schmincke paints lack personality and do not yield the best chroma in bright pigments. However, I've learned that some "photorealist" and botanical artists prefer Schmincke paints exactly for their consistent texture and less emphatic chroma. Finally, my 2004 lightfastness tests indicate that the Schmincke line includes several impermanent colors but in general this is accurately reported in the marketing information. I tested over half the paints Schmincke makes. (Paint line well documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is poor: proprietary marketing names and antiquated pigment names abound, the label "chrome" is used for paints that contain no metallic pigment, etc. Tube ingredient information shows generic color index name only. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Art Supply Warehouse was $0.80, and average unit cadmium price was $0.92, an increase of 36% since 2004.)
Sennelier (reviewed June, 1999) - 80 colors, 48% of them single pigment paints. A French line with a marked preference for convenience mixtures, Sennelier (pronounced "sen-nel-ee-ay") offers several fugitive colors, including fugitive purples, a few different formulations of alizarin, and the antiquated and highly fugitive pigment cochineal (genuine carmine), which since the 19th century has been appropriate only for food coloring. Because the Sennelier marketing department claims that all their rated colors are lightfast, they just leave the fugitive colors unrated ("NR", just as they do with movies that want to avoid an "X" rating!). Paints are mixed to a creamy consistency and some colors, such as their French vermilion (disazo condensation scarlet, PR242) are delightfully vivid, but the color appearance of most of the paints strikes me as unremarkable. Tubes are bare metal with a paper label and sometimes contain air bubbles. Honey and gum arabic are used as the vehicle, so the paints will not completely dry when applied in thick or undiluted concentrations on paper, and most paints will not dry as pan colors; however half pan cakes (fully dry, in the English style of preparation) are available from the manufacturer. Overall, a disappointingly substandard line of paints, with significant lightfastness and labeling problems. I tested about a third of the paints Sennelier makes. (Paint line adequately documented by manufacturer, mislabeling aside. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is fair. Tube ingredient information shows color index generic name, lightfastness rating. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Art Supply Warehouse was $0.41, and average unit cadmium price was $0.51, an increase of 10% since 2004.)
Utrecht (reviewed June, 1999) - 42 colors, 90% of them single pigment paints. Manufactured by the Utrecht art retail company in New Jersey (USA), these are among the prettiest and most economical paints I have tried finely milled, with a honeylike consistency and no air bubbles. The pigments are high quality: cadmiums are bright and sweet, ultramarine and cobalt blues are rich and clear, the earth colors are warm and nicely spaced along the spectrum from a sunny ochre to a purplish venetian red. Utrecht paints are among the most lightfast, most transparent (evidently because the sedimentary and staining pigments are less concentrated), and least staining (excepting only Old Holland) of the paints I tried. The vehicle is unusual, containing only gum arabic with much less plasticizer (glycerin or honey) than other brands, and no wetting agent (ox gall). This gives some colors a chalky appearance in masstone and a tendency to bronze or dry out on the palette, and even diluted solutions have a slightly gooey thickness but a few drops of glycerin solution remedies all that. The benefit is that the paints blossom and diffuse less expansively or energetically than other brands, yielding more consistent control from full strength to tints. (Utrecht paints are good student colors for that reason.) Unfortunately a few paints dioxazine violet, prussian blue and phthalo blue in particular are excessively diluted with vehicle in order to lighten the color, making the paints unexpectedly weak and lowering lightfastness, but the tonal values are easier to match across paints. (However, microscopic analysis of draw down samples showed little or no evidence of transparent crystal content.) The 7.5ml metal tubes are distinctively longer and narrower than usual, with a small cap and mouth. Utrecht does not have a watercolor brochure. The print catalog and web site do not list the pigment ingredients, but the paint naming conventions are very accurate (cerulean blue chromium, quinacridone magenta, dioxazine purple and hooker's green really is PG8!) Utrecht is one of the few companies (with Kremer, Doak, Daniel Smith and M. Graham) that emphasizes single pigment paint formulations, a plus for color intensity and mixing accuracy. Finally, with two exceptions the Utrecht paints have excellent lightfastness and this is accurately reported in the marketing literature. Overall, an attractive line of paints, a pleasure to use, but with a vehicle formulation you may need to adjust to use satisfactorily. I tested all the paints Utrecht makes. (Paint line minimally documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is excellent. Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name, vehicle, lightfastness rating, and detailed health warning as appropriate. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Utrecht was $0.60, and average unit cadmium price was $0.76, unchanged since 2004.)
White Nights / St. Petersburg (reviewed June, 2003) - 24 colors, 71% of them single pigment paints. A Russian line of inexpensive paints, formerly sold under the "Yarka" brand name but now marketed as "White Nights." The White Nights were somewhat messily poured out as "semi-moist" (in the French Russian style) whole pans. (Tube colors were available in the USA as a "student" set of twelve colors but have been discontinued.) The White Nights pan sets were advertised as "professional" watercolors but inspection of the product suggested something far less ambitious. The finished appearance of the White Nights paints varied with the color: the scarlet, madder lake (alizarin crimson), carmine and ultramarine blue were rich in masstone; the cadmiums were thin; the cobalt blue was cut with additives; the earth colors were grainy and, like the phthalo green and red violet, rather dull. The paints dispersed well in washes but the earth colors were hard to moisten and tended to streak. According to manufacturer technical data (prepared in 1995), the scarlet, madder lake, carmine, red violet, golden ochre, sepia and russian green (hooker's green, PG8) formulations all used fugitive pigments, and for that reason alone could not be considered "professional" quality. The St. Petersburg line is expanded to include 56 colors, yet at least 12 of these new shades use pigments that either I or the ASTM has found to be marginally lightfast use with caution. The oversized white plastic paint box, which accommodates all 24 whole pan colors with a lift out mixing tray, is well manufactured but not particularly convenient to use. Overall, the coloristics of these paints do not compare even to the best "student" grade paint lines, and the pleasingly bright colors will fade rather quickly. I tested all colors in the box set. Because these paints are not professional quality, and use no pigments not available elsewhere, I haven't included White Nights or St. Petersburg in the paint evaluations. (Paint line inadequately documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is poor; pan sets only give vague and nonstandard lightfastness ratings.)
Winsor & Newton (reviewed May, 2005) - 96 colors, 79% of them single pigment paints. The English Winsor & Newton (in the USA, a subsidiary of ColArt Americas, which also holds Liquitex) has long been the standard for watercolor paints and the brand professional artists recommend most frequently. Student paints are marketed under the trademark "Cotman." The "Artists'" paints are often said to be most expensive you can buy, although they are not that distinction goes to Blockx or Art Spectrum (compare the average unit price information at the end of the brand reviews). They have also been considered the highest quality brand of watercolor paint available, although their quality is now matched by Daniel Smith, M. Graham and Maimeri, and at a lower price. The Winsor & Newton quality is still good: pigments are often as saturated as any available, though they typically stain more than other brands and are not always the most concentrated when put through a tinting test. The dried colors are bright and clear from masstone to tints; average transparency is second only to Utrecht. After the major brand revision in 2005 the paints have a more syrupy texture and are slightly faster drying than before, but seem as easy to rewet or lift. The raw paint dries to an unfamiliar smooth matt sheen, and some paints have a vague but bitter chemical odor. (The new pan paints dissolve more easily and are a joy to use under field conditions.) They also deleted some unpopular yellow paints and convenience mixtures, added several new colors (among them a few ceramic colorants "earth" pigments), replaced two dark convenience mixtures with dark synthetic organics, and made pigment substitutions in response to pigment manufacturing changes most important among them quinacridone gold (PO49), which is now a convenience mixture of three paints. The Winsor & Newton range is smaller than Daniel Smith's, but it is still comprehensive and well balanced, with the exception of an odd emphasis on muted yellows and ochres. Microscopic analysis of draw down samples reveals moderate use of fillers and/or brighteners in some colors, the cadmiums in particular. Tubes are sturdy metal, painted white with a medium sized mouth, but unfortunately the hard plastic cap sticks eagerly to the porous metal of the tube, and this happens across many different types of pigments and even when the paint is used daily. (When watercolor books explain how to open a stuck cap, they are almost certainly talking about Winsor & Newton tube paints.) Shielded from heat and temperature variations, the tube paints even the cobalt pigments stay usable for years without hardening or drying out. Paints also come in half and whole pan dry cakes. The whole pans contain more paint than other brands, but have no labeling on the pan itself; the newer half pans are labeled on the side with the paint name and product number. Finally, the Winsor & Newton paints have excellent lightfastness, with three exceptions that are accurately reported in the marketing literature. Overall, Winsor & Newton paints are a pleasing and reliable product. I have tested every paint Winsor & Newton makes, including several discontinued colors. (Paint line well documented by manufacturer. The accuracy and clarity of paint names is poor: "permanent" and "winsor" are used too frequently, and historical names such as scarlet lake, turner's yellow, rose doré or caput mortuum are uninterpretable to today's artists. Tube ingredient information shows pigment common name, color index generic name, lightfastness rating. The July, 2007 average unit price* at Cheap Joe's was $0.66, and average unit cadmium price was $0.88, an increase of 4% since 2004.)
*AVERAGE UNIT PRICE is the U.S. retail price of a milliliter of tube paint (obtained by dividing the price of the largest available tube size by the number of milliliters in the tube) averaged across a shopping basket of 18 standard colors (cadmium yellow, arylide yellow, cadmium orange, benzimida orange, cadmium red, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, prussian blue, phthalo blue, cerulean blue, phthalo green, viridian, sap green, burnt sienna, raw sienna, yellow ochre, lamp black). Prices current as of July, 2007.
Note on Prices and Price Changes: All "manufacturer suggested prices" are the basis of substantial "price discounts" by retailers, so I use the standard USA retailer prices (not the sale prices) for comparisons. I compare prices within the same USA retailer, but other retailers may offer different prices and show different price changes from one year to the next.
For imported products or products purchased abroad, price changes over time will partly be the result of fluctuating currency exchange rates.
Price changes reflect brand competitive pressures. Steep discounts often indicate an effort by a brand to hold or gain market share (especially when losing market share); while price increases suggest a business trying to recoup previous discounting or advertising costs, a business milking a secure niche market or devoted customer base, or a business coping with sharply increased labor and/or materials costs.