Posts Tagged ‘comparing watercolor paint’

Comparing similar colors – part 1

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Have you ever wondered which of two or three similar watercolor paints to buy?  Many manufacturers sell several different but similar colors, and it can be hard to know which would best suit your needs.  What qualities should you look for in the paint that’s right for your use?

I’d like to use these last three blogs of the year to shed some light on this question, using two of my favorite brandsWinsor Newton Professional Watercolors and Golden’s QoR Modern Watercolorsas examples.  I’ll be looking at a few frequently used browns, as well as several versions of the primary colorsyellow, blue, and red.  I will not try to cover all the choices of these hues by these manufacturers, but just what I have on hand to use as examples.

This time I’ll be focusing on some frequently used browns and yellows.

Some of the qualities I’ll be considering are whether they are staining or not (whether they can be easily lifted off the paper), whether they are permanent or fugitive (having a tendency to fade or change color over time), how transparent or opaque they are (evident by how well the underlying print shows through the paint layer in the chart), their comparative chroma (how “pure” or muted each color appears), and whether they have a warm or cool bias in comparison to other similar colors.

Browns:  Comparative-chart---browns Inorganic, earth pigments, such as umbers, siennas, and ochres, made from ground stone, tend to be non-staining, resting primarily on the surface of the paper, rather than soaking deeply into the fibers.  This means that most of the pigment can be lifted back off the paper, if desired. However, PR101, from which both the WN burnt sienna and transparent brown oxide colors are made, is a synthetic red iron oxide.  It behaves differently from the QoR burnt sienna (which is based on PBr7), and is more transparent.  Although most of the QoR paints are very difficult to lift, the PBr7 pigments are a notable exception, lifting easily off the paper’s surface.  (Note:  Golden has recently introduced a QoR “Lift Aid” medium to apply to the paper before painting to help in lifting other pigments.  It helps, but don’t expect to regain the original white of the paper.  One of the benefits of the QoR colors is the strong pigmentation that fades less than traditional colors do as they dry.)  Umbers tend to have a cooler bias than siennas.  Another option with a cool bias, VanDyke brown, tends to be fugitive, fading or changing color over time and exposure to light.

Yellows: 

Comparative-chart---yellowsAlthough the colors of the first few yellows shown here are similar, notice that yellow ochre is semi-opaque, so is not as good for mixing or glazing as the more transparent colors are.  And quin gold is dual-toned, leaning toward a transparent brown when applied densely, but a somewhat cooler, transparent yellow when well mixed with water, providing greater flexibility for mixing a variety of greens. The coolest yellow shown here is Winsor lemon.  Another cool alternative, aureolin, is not lightfast, so is not a good choice if longevity is a concern.  Indian yellow and new gamboge (which replaces the original, fugitive version of gamboge) provide warmer alternatives.

Notice that the same pigment is often used for a variety of colors, dependent on the processing method used.  Different manufacturers may use very different names for the same color, or the same name for very different colors; so when selecting paints, you should rely more on the pigments used than on the name, although the name may offer some clues.  As a general rule (though with exceptions) although the coloration may vary, other characteristics of the pigment will generally tend to be pretty consistent.  Some traditionally used pigments tend to be fugitive, while the more modern pigments that replicate them are usually more permanent.

Such reformulated colors are often (though not always) referred to on the label as “hues.”  (Some “hues” are also formulated to replicate colors that traditionally relied on pigments that are either very expensive or are no longer available.)  Other terms in the name, such as “permanent” or “new,” usually indicate that this formulation replaces a similar but more fugitive color.  So if you see a color labeled as “permanent,” it’s wise to avoid paints using the same name without the “permanent” designation unless you know that, like quinacridones or phthalos, the pigment used is indeed permanent.

I generally prefer to avoid cadmium colors.  Several manufacturers, including Winsor Newton, have recently introduced some cadmium-free formulations as alternatives to their traditional cadmium colors–primarily yellows, oranges, and reds.  I have been content with my existing palette so haven’t felt a need to try them out yet.  If you’re interested in them, you may want to do some of your own comparative testing against similar colors already on your own palette.

Keep in mind that the paints discussed here are limited examples of only two brands of watercolor.  Similar colors of other brands will vary, depending on the pigment(s) used, formulation, and processing.  Read the labels or manufacturers’ information sheets for clues regarding transparency, permanence (lightfastness), and whether they are staining or non-staining.  Only direct comparison will determine temperature bias and chroma as related to similar colors.

-Lightfastness is often noted as ASTM I, II, III, or IV (the lower the number, the better—look for ASTM I or II), but not all pigments have an official rating.

-For clean mixing of colors (to minimize “mud”) look for transparent paints.

-For glazing, look for transparency, which allows underlying layers to shine through.  (Take note of how well underlying marks show through the paint in the chart.)

-Many organic pigments (quinacridone, phthalocyanine, indanthrone, etc.) tend to be transparent and have strong, staining characteristics.  Many (though not all) also tend to be more lightfast.

-Inorganics, such as cadmiums and earth colors (ground stone) are generally easier to lift off the paper but, because they are often granular, they tend to be somewhat less transparent.  But don’t expect any paint to lift entirely off the paper without leaving some color influence behind.

Only you can determine which qualities are most important to you and your working methods.  I hope these comparisons and tips help you in making wise selections for your own palette.

In part 2, I’ll be comparing some popular blues.