Today I've finally finished testing 8 different brands of watercolours and it's quite interesting to notice the differerences. Some are quite noticeable, some are minimal. I've chosen the 6 hues I use most. Unfortunately, I didn't have the same hues from every brand, so I had to substitute some colours by the most similar ones available. Also not every brand I own comes in either tubes or pans, so I had to use a mix of them. Fortunately I like working with both versions, so it wasn't a problem.
The watercolour paper used was Canson Montval. [link]
Most of those brands are fairly to very expensive so I've added three less expensive ones to encourage beginners to give that medium a try. One of those less expensive ones is the LUKAS studio version. It's quite different to work with those and you will notice they don't alllow as much delicate "tuning" as the artists' quality.
The brands tested were:
Shinhan Watercolours (Korean Brand): TUBES - Affordable Permanent Yellow light 236, Vermilion hue 219, Permanent Rose 220, Burnt Sienna 334, Raw Umber 331, Ultramarine deep 294
They seem quite similar to the Holbein brand and they even sport the same names and numbers, but they handle quite differently. They are lovely to work with and perfect for somebody who would like to try out watercolours without paying too much. Some hues may be a bit more garish than the Holbein version. Very good for skin tones, btw! Online shop: [link]
Holbein (Japanese brand): TUBES - Very expensive in Continental Europe because they're usually not sold here. I had to purchase them online. Permanent Yellow Lemon 235, Vermilion hue 219, Permanent Rose 220, Umber 329, Ultramarine deep 294
They are less "liquid" than other brands. They are good for detailed work and they have a lovely delicacy of hues. I especially like the greys one can mix with their Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. Sadly I haven't got one of my favourites, the Raw Umber hue - I'm not very fond of the darker "Umber" version I've got instead. When one uses the undiluted colours and adds water on the paper, one gets that beautiful streaky effect I so admire in some works of Eastern artists. Online shop: [link]
Lukas Studio watercolours (German brand): PANS - Affordable - Even the Artists' quality watercolours are less expensive than Schmincke. The pans in that box of studio watercolours didn't have numbers on them. Genuine Yellow deep, Vermilion Red, Carmine, English Red, Yellow Ochre light, Ultramarine Blue
Those are more similar to gouache colours than to genuine watercolours. They definitely have fillers in them, that you can notice by the "scratchy" feeling you get when you mix the colours. They are quite opaque and don't allow much detailed work. You can safely use them as good gouache colours, and I'd say they're suitable for older kids who like to do watercolours and need nicer ones than those horrible generic cakes one gets at departement stores. [link]
White Nights (Russian brand): PANS - Affordable Those are supposed to be artists' watercolours, but some of the hues are definitely not lightfast. Some colours hardly dissolve when water is added, but they still have lovely hues, and they're VERY reasonably priced. IMHO they are nicer to work with than the Studio version of LUKAS. Medium Yellow, Vermilion, Carmine, Yellow Ochre, English Red, Prussian blue - (Sorry, I've run out of White Nights Ultramarine, and usually just use a Schmincke version for that colour. But as that wasn't an option I had to take the blue that still was there. )
Those colours are very pleasant to work with. They are reasonalbly transparent and have nice hues. The overall effect is a bit pale, but still beautiful. I would recommend them to somebody who just wants to explore watercolours without caring about lightfastness. They allow lovely skin tones. [link]
Now for the more expensive brands. (Although one can count Holbein as expensive, too, depending on one's residence.)
Schmincke-Horadam (German brand): PANS - Expensive Yellow 216, Red 349, Red 351, Burnt Sienna 648, Raw Umber 667, Ultramarine finest 494
Splendid colours for detailed work. They are very finely ground and lovely for layers. Their cool colours are amongst the best, and their Ultramarine Finest is definitely unrivalled. The very BEST Ultramarine I've ever worked with. And I also love their Raw Umber - my favourite hue for painting blond hair. Online shop: [link]
Winsor & Newton (British brand): TUBES - Expensive Aureolin 016, Cadmium Red 094, Permanent Rose 502, Burnt Sienna 074, Raw Umber 554, French Ultamarine 263
An excellent brand and my favourite for warm colours and reds. They allow lovely skin tones and are brilliant for layers. My favourites are their Permanent Rose and Burnt Sienna. Online shop: [link]
Sennelier (French brand): TUBES - Expensive Lemon Yellow 501, French Vermilion 675, Opera Rose 659, Burnt Sienna 211, Raw Umber 205, Ultramarine deep 315
They definitely are the Expressionists' paints, as they claim in their ads. They aren't made for detailed work because they are a bit pasty and gooey. But they do have splendid hues and they are perfect for loose techniques. I really like them, although I'm not very good at working with them. Online shop: [link]
Old Holland (Dutch brand): PANS - Most expensive! B12 Scheveningen Yellow light, E21 Cadmium Red light, B175 Brilliant Pink, A61 Burnt Sienna, A69 Raw Umber, B37 French Ultramarine
The most expensive brand I've ever bought. I gave back the tubes because I couldn't stand them. They have an unpleasant smell and you had to squeeze out almost half a tube to get to the actual pigment in some of the hues. However, the pans are OK. I quite like their colours but I still haven't made up my mind whether I like the work with them, or not. Some colours are really pleasant - I like the Ultramarine and the Cadmium red light (which I normally avoid in other brands). They give a kind of "splotchy" effect that might be favoured by some watercolour artists. I think they might be very good for scenery and nature paintings. Note the splotchy effect on the background of the test pic. Online shop: [link]
Thank you for your input. I've got a few tubes and pans of Lukas artist quality watercolours, but somehow I've never got the hang of them, that's why I didn't include them in my test series.
There's something about them that I personally didn't quite like, compared to other brands. (The guy on handprint [link] doesn't seem to like them, either, lol. Although I must admit that I don't agree with everything he says, anyway.)
If I had to choose between the two big German brands Schmincke and Lukas, I'd definitely go for Schmincke.
They do take a bit of getting used to but I came to them from oil painting so perhaps that is the difference.
I am definitely going to get a few pans of Schmincke and check them out. I've heard a lot of good things about that brand.
My biggest issue ( as an artist in the US) is finding good watercolour paper. I've started using printmaking paper lately, expensive but much better for a lot of the techniques I like to use in watercolour.
There is an amazing brand of paper from Japan that I adore for watercolours but sadly they do not ship outside the country. I wish artists had more shops that ship world wide.
Ah, I see! I suppose you're more into stronger colours and heavier layers, then. Lukas watercolours are indeed almost too strong in their hues imho. Maybe it's because they concentrate on oil colours?
Schmincke have more delicate hues, they're very good for layering techniques and details.
Ah, yes, the watercolor paper issues, lol. Don't I know them. *sigh* There isn't THE watercolour paper, but rather a different paper for each purpose. I personally quite like the Canson Montval and Fontenay ranges. They're quite common here, in Europe, and easily available. They also seem fairly priced compared to the Arches or Fabriano brands. I almost always use 300 gsm NOT paper, but I've been experimenting with hot pressed and torchon on lately. As for far Eastern paper, I've only tried out those very thin Chinese ones that are used for sumi-e. I've never used printmaking paper, I guess I'd find it a bit too absorbing for my kind of technique, but I honestly cannot say.
Yeah, sadly there are even less Japanese art materials available in Europe. It's very difficult to get Japanese watercolours, let alone paper.
I've been using Aqvarelle Arches, both hot and cold press, and Stillman & Birn's beta series sketchbook (heavy watercolour paper with a light textured surface).
Both have their advantages and drawbacks. Arches tends to absorb a LOT of liquid which can be good at times but can also be a big negative if you like to use more fluid techniques.
Stillman & Birn's make a fantastic line of sketchbooks and though (for various reasons I usually avoid spiral bound books their binding is solid and holds up far better than most. The paper is available in various press varieties and in two colours, artic white and natural ivory. The paper has a nice tooth in my opinion and works with everything I've tried, from ink to watercolour, even markers.
I haven't had the money to really try a lot of different papers though I would love to do just that.
Oh, Fabriano ... Don't get me started. Their watercolour paper was such a disappointment. I used to like their pastel paper so I made the mistake of buying some of their sort of pricy watercolour paper in a block. Three ruined pieces later... Such a disappointment.
The Japanese brand is Muse Cubi Watson fluid watercolour paper, it's approximately 140lb paper with sizing on it that works amazingly well with wet on wet painting.
I haven't tried it yet but I know several watercolour artists here who swear on it. I would love to try it someday.
The newest deviations in my gallery were all done using the Lukas artist grade watercolours if you are interested in seeing how I use them.
*chuckles* Fabriano isn't my watercolour paper either. But I must say I do prefer it to the Arches paper. That one's sizing's smell makes me want to retch. It also tends to be quite abrasive, which ruins my precious sable brushes.
I'd love to try out that Japanese brand, but there's no chance I'd find it anywhere here. The newest paper I tried and quite liked was the Schoellershammer #10[link] . It's made of esparto grass pulp and takes wet-on-wet very well without buckling. It also allows good scanning, that normally is quite a problem with watercolours, and even the blues come out surprisingly well. That pic [link] might give you an idea of the paper's structure.
I've had a look at your watercolours, they are lovely!
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More