guide to watercolor pigments

The colored links at the top of the screen take you to detailed information on modern watercolor pigments, based on evaluations of over 750 commercial watercolor paints — the most comprehensive watercolor paint information available on the Internet. (If you don't see the color links, click here.)

The information on this site is built around a simple strategy for choosing watercolor paints:

• Identify the specific pigments (listed in the complete palette) that are most desirable for your style of work.

• Purchase these as single pigment paints (rather than "colors" that are imitation "hue" paints or convenience mixtures) from the most reputable manufacturers.

• Test for yourself the paints' handling attributes and lightfastness to ensure you are getting the quality of product you expect.

This guide is based on my best effort to consult authoritative sources, including the Colour Index International (4th edition online), the ASTM, extensive manufacturer and academic correspondence or conversations, and my own 2004 lightfastness tests of over 750 watercolor paint swatches. It provides information not available from any other source.

Within each color category, pigments are listed in order of color index name. The entry for each pigment gives its chemical name, the date of its chemical discovery and/or first use as an artist's color, and a list of paints sampled that contain the pigment.

Paints are identified by the manufacturer's marketing name (the paint's color name) and the item number. If the item numbers on your tubes of paint are different from those listed here, then you have a different size tube (for example, 7.5 fl.oz. instead of 14 fl.oz.) or the manufacturer has (1) redesigned the label or the packaging, (2) changed the paint ingredients, (3) changed the ingredient supplier(s), (4) changed the paint formulation, (5) changed the paint manufacturing methods — or any combination of these — and in those cases your paint may not match the descriptions given here. It is not unusual for art materials manufacturers to change the ingredients, pigment quality or formulation of a paint.



Each paint is ratings on five watercolor handling attributes (transparency, staining, granulation, blossoming when rewetted, diffusion when used wet in wet), with five measurements of the color's value range, CIELAB hue angle, hue shift between masstone and undertone, and lightfastness in masstone and in tint. All color measurements have been made with a GretagMacbeth spectrophotometer. These ratings are summarized at the bottom of each page, and explained in detail at what the ratings mean.

Below each pigment entry are notes on the pigment's appearance, history, manufacture and handling attributes, with a summary of notable differences among the paint brands listed. The spectrum is a clickable icon that links to the reflectance curve for a specific pigment ... it also indicates pigments that other artists have found especially valuable. The notes also indicate my recommendation of the "top 40" pigments that are the most important within their hue category and the most reliable and desirable in terms of pigment manufacturing quality, and paint lightfastness, color mixing and handling attributes.

Technical terms used in the notes are explained in the section on pigment attributes. The average J, aC and bC location of pigment masstone colors in the CIECAM color appearance space (under the D65 illuminant) are tabulated on this page.

Once I identified a pigment, I tested it in paints from at least three different manufacturers if possible; the most important pigments have been tested in paints by a dozen manufacturers. This was done to identify the underlying pigment attributes separate from the variations caused by pigment manufacture, vehicle formulation and paint milling methods.

I omitted "student" paints and most convenience mixtures (colors made by mixing two or more pigments together), and I have not reviewed all brands of watercolor paint. For these reasons, this guide is a partial list of paints, but a complete list of pigments currently used by watercolor manufacturers.

I hope these reviews and related materials help you to discover what is distinctive about the many paints available today and encourage you to explore their beauty by doing watercolor evaluations of your own.

DISCLAIMER: The information on watercolor products contained in this site is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. If you discover errors or omissions, please offer your guidance with an email. Thanks.