Painting & drawing blog

WATERCOLOUR BRANDS COMPARISON

When choosing which watercolour paint to buy you’ll be faced with a bewildering number of different ranges and if you’re a beginner it can be hard to appraise and compare their quality with each other. Many big name art materials companies may make an ‘artist grade’ range and a ‘student grade’ range and you could easily get confused as to which you are buying. Price is a very good indicator of paint quality – but not a perfect one.

Watercolour paint samples

Probably the best way to compare paint quality between manufacturers and their ranges would be to analyse the ‘pigment load’ and amount to which the paints have been bulked out with fillers, and also the lightfastness of those pigments. For this you’d need a microscope and several months of research! There are also other factors however that provide a clue as to the quality of a paint range and below I’ve put together a list comparing the number of paints in different ranges, as well as the single pigment count.

The number of ‘single pigments’ colours that a company offers within a paint range – as opposed to colours made up from a mixture of two or more cheaper pigmetns – is generally a good guide to their quality (note that sometimes a company doesn’t provide this number so I’ve added them up from colour charts and they may contain errors! These figures are as of August 2020, but companies often expand their ranges) Again though it isn’t the absolute benchmark of quality, because there’s no point in having a single pigment paint if that pigment isn’t a good one, if it isn’t lightfast, or it is mixed with a lot of filler, etc. Daler-Rowney’s ‘Artists’ Watercolour’ for example scores surprisingly highly on the single pigment figure but I don’t rate all of its colours very well.

This is far from a complete list and it’s also very UK-centric as I’ve only included ranges that it’s easy to find here. I’ve therefore excluded Grumbacher, Kremer, American Journey, and the lovely Utrecht paints. Paint ranges will often label themselves as being of ‘artist’ or ‘professional’ quality or ‘student’ grade. I’ve divided them into my own categories, and of course these are highly subjective and just based on my own opinions….others will disagree!

Everyone has their own favourite paint, because everybody paints a little differently. For example you may prefer a very transparent range – if so try Winsor & Newton’s ‘Professional Watercolour’ which I downgraded from the exceptional category just because they use different formulations for pans and tubes and advise against pouring their wet paint into pans and re-wetting it, as many professionals do. If you like a paint where the pigment ‘granulates’ a lot, try Daniel Smith’s ‘Primatek’ colours or Schminke’s supergranulating ‘Horadam’ colours. If you paint with pans rather than tubes and want a paint that re-wets very easily and feels soft then look for one containing honey, which I’ve listed below. However if you want to paint outdoors and especially if you live in a hot climate then you may well want to avoid honey!

I haven’t given price brackets for all of these ranges since it depends so much on where you live: US paints can be very expensive when imported to Europe (or Australasia) and European paints can be very costly in North America. As you’ll notice the very cheapest paint ranges often don’t give any pigment information at all, and these are the paints I’d really avoid if at all possible because they won’t help you to produce the best work you can. As you get more experienced you may end up selecting a paint by the pigments they contain rather than by manufacturer (this is how to find out which pigments are in a paint)  and so this information is very important.

EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY

DANIEL SMITH WATERCOLOURS  (USA)  Range of 261 colours

Available in half pans & tubes of 5ml and 15ml

261 colours in 15ml tubes, 88 in 5ml, 37 in half pans

170 single pigment colours (65% of range)

No honey added

M GRAHAM WATERCOLOURS  (USA)  Range of 75 colours

Available in 15ml tubes

No pans

60 single pigment colours (80% of range)

Honey added

GOLDEN QOR WATERCOLOURS (USA)  Range of 83 colours

Available in half pans & tubes of 5ml and 11ml

83 colours in 11ml tubes. Small introductory sets only in 5ml. Half pan sets in range of 12 colours

66 single pigment colours (80% of range)

No honey added

MARIMERIBLU  WATERCOLOURS (Italy)  Range of 90 colours

Available in half pans & tubes of 12ml

90 colours in tubes, 76 in half pans

90 single pigment colours (100% of range)

No honey added

EXCELLENT QUALITY

WINSOR & NEWTON PROFESSIONAL WATERCOLOUR  (UK)  Range of 108 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes of 5ml, 14ml and 37ml

71 colours in full pans, 104 in half pans, 108 in 5ml & 14ml tubes, 18 in 37ml

79 single pigment colours (73% of range)

No honey added

SHINHAN PROFESSIONAL WATERCOLOUR PREMIUM EXTRA FINE  (Korea)  Range of 84 colours

Available in 15ml tubes

No pans

56 single pigment colours (67% of range)

No honey added

SCHMINKE: HORODAM WATERCOLOURS  (Netherlands)  Range of 139 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes of 5ml and 15ml

Full range available in all sizes

95 single pigment colours (68% of range)

No honey added

HOLBEIN ARTISTS’ WATERCOLOUR  (Japan)  Range of 108 colours

Available in 5ml & 15ml tubes

Full range available in both sizes

55 single pigment colours (51% of range)

No honey added

HOLBEIN HALF PAN WATERCOLOURS  (Japan)  Range of 48 colours – different colours/ pigments to Holbein’s tube range above

Available in half pans

 (as sets only in the UK)

No information on single pigment colours

No honey added

DA VINCI WATERCOLOURS  (USA)  Range of 113 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes of 8ml, 15ml and 37ml

45 colours available in 8ml, 113 in 15ml and 87 in 37ml. Pans available in sets of up to 24 colours

71 single pigment colours (63% of range)

No honey added

ROYAL TALENS: REMBRANDT WATERCOLOURS  (Netherlands)  Range of 120 colours

Available in half pans & tubes of 10ml and 20ml

Full range available in all sizes

86 single pigment colours (72% of range)

No honey added

BLOCKX WATERCOLOUR  (Belgium)  Range of 72 colours

Available in giant pans, half pans & tubes of 15ml and 35ml (latter not found in UK)

72 colours available in giant pans, half pans and 15ml tubes

59 single pigment colours (82% of range)

Honey added

GOOD QUALITY

LUKAS AQUARELL 1862  (Germany)  Range of 70 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & 24ml tubes

Full range available in all sizes though complete range of full pans may not always be stocked in UK

48 single pigment colours (68% of range)

No honey added

SENNELIER L’AQUARELLE  (France)  Range of 99 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes of 10ml and 21ml

99 colours available in 10ml tubes, 98 in 21ml and pans

57 single pigment colours (58% of range)

Honey added

JACKSONS PROFESSIONAL WATERCOLOURS  (UK)  Range of 48 colours (made by Sennelier for Jacksons)

Available in full pans & 21ml tubes

Full range available in pans and tubes

26 single pigment colours (54% of range)

Honey added

TURNER ARTISTS WATERCOLOUR  (Japan)  Range of 148 colours

Available in 15ml tubes

No pans

65 single pigment colours (44% of range)

No honey added

OLD HOLLAND CLASSIC WATERCOLOURS  (Netherlands)  Range of 168 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes of 6ml and 18ml

168 colours available in 6ml – numbers hard to find for 18ml and pans

93 single pigment colours (55% of range)

No honey added

DALER-ROWNEY ARTISTS WATERCOLOURS  (UK)  Range of 80 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes in 5ml and 15ml

Full range available in all sizes

55 single pigment colours (69% of range)

No honey added

‘STUDENT’ GRADE

ROYAL TALENS: VAN GOGH WATERCOLOURS  (Netherlands)  Range of 72 colours

Available in half pans and 10ml tubes

Full range available in pans and tubes

41 single pigment colours (57% of range)

No honey added

WINSOR & NEWTON COTMAN WATERCOLOURS  (UK)  Range of 40 colours

Available in half pans and tubes of 8ml and 21ml

40 colours available for 8ml and 21ml tubes, 39 for pans

18 single pigment colours (45% of range)

No honey added

SHINHAN PROFESSIONAL WATER COLOUR  (Korea)  Range of 30 colours (note despite the name this is not a professional grade range)

Available in 7.5ml and 12ml tubes

30 colours available in 12ml. 7.4ml tubes come in sets only

14 single pigment colours (47% of range)

No honey added

DALER-ROWNEY AQUAFINE WATERCOLOURS  (UK)  Range of 48 colours

Available in half pans and 8ml tubes

Full range available in all sizes

31 single pigment colours (65% of range)

No honey added

ST PETERSBURG WHITE NIGHTS WATERCOLOURS  (Russia)  Range of 103 colours

Available in full pans & 10ml tubes

83 colours available in full pans, 95 as 10ml tubes

45 single pigment colours (44% of range)

Honey added

SENNELIER LA PETITE AQUARELLE  (France)  Range of 24 colours

Available in full pans, half pans & tubes of 10ml and 21ml

Half pans in sets of 24, full pans and 10ml tubes in sets of 12, 21ml tubes in sets of 10

Information on pigments not available

Honey added

DERWENT: ACADEMY WATERCOLOURS  (UK)  Range of 24 colours

Available in full pans & 12ml tubes

Pans in sets of 12, tubes in sets of 24

Information on pigments not available

No honey added

DALER-ROWNEY: SIMPLY WATERCOLOURS  (UK)  Range of 12 colours

Available in half pans

No tubes

Information on pigments not available

No honey added

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