Watercolor’s Best Brands!

When you begin to paint with watercolors, you might think you need to decide on just one brand of watercolor paint.  You don’t, however, need to limit yourself to one manufacturer only.  Most brands combine and work well with each other.

No one brand of paint manufacturer provides the perfect collection of paint colors.  But a number of reliable, reputable companies are doing a very good job.  I will share my favorites below.


Keep in mind that pigment name and number are more important than choosing a brand of paint or purchasing simply by color names.  The actual pigment used indicates the character of the paint color and determines how long it will last.  Certain pigments used in formulating paints are fugitive (colors will fade over time and with exposure to light) but are still used even by more reputable companies. A color pigment, which has its own specific identifying name and number, is the actual substance that produces the paint color and, along with other ingredients, the characteristics of the paint. The color name on the tube can vary by company.  For instance, Pigment Blue #15 (PB15) is Winsor Newton Winsor Blue AND Phthalo Blue from many other companies.  On the other hand, Sap Green characteristics and pigments vary wildly by manufacturer – from a dark, dull olive (which contains these pigments PG7PO49PB15:4PY150) by Grumbacher to a brighter, medium green (containing pigments PV49P67) made by Maimeri.

Common pigments NOT recommended but still in production include:

*Alizarin Crimson (produced by Daniel Smith using PR [pigment red] 83) will fade.  You could instead use Permanent Alizarin Crimson  (produced by Winsor Newton from PR 206).

*Do not use the fugitive Gamboge Genuine (produced by Winsor Newton from NY24).  Try instead Gamboge Hue (by DaVinci made with PY42PY43).

*Don’t buy Rose Madder Genuine (by Winsor Newton, made with fugitive red pigment NR9).  A better choice is Quinacridone Rose (from Daniel Smith manufactured with PV19).

*Similarly, I would not recommend Dioxazine Purple (produced by M. Graham with PV23).  Mauve (produced by DaVinci from PV19PB29) is a transparent, reliable choice.

Paint color names are often confusing and can be extremely misleading, even in the more reliable paint manufacturing companies.  Many fantastic, silly names can describe the same pigment.  For example, PB60 (Pigment Blue #60) has been recently called Delft Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Indanthrone Blue, Indian Blue, Faience Blue, Old Delft Blue, and Royal Blue by various companies. Same paint pigment, but different names!

Conversely, different pigments (which determine the character and color of a paint) may share the same color title (name).  Magenta can vary from the reliable Schminke Magenta (containing PV 42) to the fading, unsuitable Daler-Rowney Permanent Magenta (with PV23PR122 pigments).  DO NOT rely on color names!

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Now, for my recommendations:

*Several companies produce watercolor paints that I prefer.  My favorite brand, Daniel Smith, began in 1976.  This company provides more than 200 pure colors, many of which are single pigment colors and thus ideal for mixing.  Daniel Smith offers pigments that no other company has for sale.  Prices are moderate to high.

*I also like the reasonably priced watercolor paints from DaVinci.  The company was founded in 1975 in California and offers 106 mostly bright, smooth colors.

*M. Graham, begun in the 1990’s, offers 70 well-made watercolors.  The colors are intense, bright, saturated, especially creamy, and easy to mix (perhaps because of the addition of honey along with the more usual gum Arabic and glycerin in their mixtures).  M. Graham paints are more affordable than Daniel Smith or Winsor Newton watercolor paints.

*Winsor Newton began producing watercolors in 1832.  They were the first to publish a complete list of the colors they offered with details of their chemical composition and permanence.  Winsor Newton offers 96 colors that are widely available.  These paints are among the most expensive on the market.  I also find that caps on the paint tube tend to stick if not cleaned carefully before recapping.

*Two other companies offer some good choices of watercolor paints.  Holbein, based in Japan, began in 1900.  They offer 106 colors, which mix easily.  Some fugitive colors are offered; other colors have deceptive or confusing names, or unusual color mixes.  Maimeri, an Italian company, was founded in 1923.  They sell 72 colors at a reasonable price.  Buyers should check light fastness, however, before purchasing their paints.

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Let’s simplify!  You don’t need to start out painting with a lot of colors.  Perfect starter colors include both warm and cool primaries.  In other words, start with seven colors:

*Cadmium Yellow (warm) and either Azo Yellow or Hansa Yellow Light (cool);

*Cadmium Red (warm) and Quinacridone Red or Permanent Alizarin Crimson (cool);

*Ultramarine Blue (warm) and Phthalo Blue or Winsor Blue (cool);

*And add a convenience earth color like Burnt Sienna, for fun.

You can buy tubes individually; try jerrysartarama.com, dickblick.com, or cheapjoes.com.  On the other hand, if you like, you can purchase Daniel Smith’s excellent Essentials Kit of six 5 ml. tubes.  This kit is available from dickblick.com ($34.76) and amazon.com ($34.74).  Colors included are Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Pyrrol Scarlet, Phthalo Blue, and French Ultramarine Blue.

I’d also recommend the DaVinci Scratchmade Eighteen-Color Pan Set available from davincipaints.com ($79.00).


The Wilcox Guide to the Best Watercolor Paints (2001-2001 Edition) by Michael Wilcox.