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Pigments and Paints: What you make art with

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The Stuff of Paint

Watercolor: What it is.

Traditional transparent watercolor is finely ground pigment in a water-soluble binder such as gum arabic. Gum arabic is water-soluble gum produced by a species of the acacia tree and is available in crystalline form or in prepared solutions. The gum arabic crystals or granules are transparent when pure, but less highly refined varieties can be yellowish to honey colored. Gum arabic is also used in inks, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, and confections (it’s non-toxic and tasteless).

Other binders used for watercolor paint have included Tragacanth, a gum optained from various asian shrubs, and fish glue. Glycerine, dextrin, crystallized sugar, syrup, or honey can be added to modify the working texture of the paint, counteracting the brittle quality of the gum arabic a bit. Ox gall can be added as a surfecant or wetting agent to aid the free flow of washes. (Think dishwasher soap’s “sheeting action”) Oil of cloves can be added to deter the growth of molds which can happen on cheap quality paints.

Which water?

Distilled or boiled water are said to give the best results when painting, avoiding adulterants that may affect certain pigments. I use tap water.

On Student Grades and cheaper paints

Cheaper paints tend to have excess binder that can result in a glossy sheen in a finished wash of color. Student grade paints use less refined pigments mixed with a neutral filler pigment. Some manufacturers offer “hues” of a color such as “cobalt blue hue” or “manganese blue hue”. These are mixed using a less expensive pigments, Ultramarine Blue and Pthalocyanine Blue in this case, to simulate the more expensive genuine color. They are a cheaper way to go but their tinting strength is generally poor compared to the “real” pigments. You can learn to mix your own “hue” colors from a rather limited palette.

Watercolor pigments are classified in two groups:

  1. Native earths: ochre, raw umber, etc.
  2. Calcinated native earths: burnt umber, burnt sienna, etc.
  3. Inorganic synthetic colors: cadmiums, zincs, etc.
  1. Vegetable: gamboge, indigo, madder, etc.
  2. Animal: cochineal, Indian yellow, etc.
  3. Synthetic organic pigments

Manufacturers Codes used in Color List

When only a few manufacturers make a specific color, their code will follow the color name. If a color is common to numerous manufacturers the manufacturer code is not listed and general color information is provided.

B Blockx (Belgium)RTRembrandt (Holland)
DA Da VinciSESennelier (France)
G Grumbacher (U.S.A.)SHSchmincke (W. Germany)
H Holbein (Japan)W&NWinsor & Newton (England)
M MaimeriVGVan Gogh (Holland)
RO Rowney (England)YYarka (Russia)

Color List

New pigments and dyes are formulated constantly. The following list, while not complete, illustrates the wide variety of colors currently available today. When direct information on the color isn’t available a best guess was made based on the name of the color and that name’s traditional use by artists. For complete toxicity information always check the manufacturer’s label. You are viewing digital approximations of real watercolor hues, so look at the manufacturer’s color chart before you buy.


 Alizarin Carmine – W&N
 See Alizarin Crimson
 Alizarin Crimson
A very transparent rich red with a bluish cast, made from anthracene, a coal-tar derivative.
 Alizarin Golden
A warmer alizarin crimson. Rose madder alizarin.
 Alizarin Orange
A warmer alizarin leaning towards yellow. Made from anthracene, a coal-tar derivative.
 Antwerp Blue – W&N
A pale variety of Prussian Blue. Low tint strength.
 Arylide Yellow FGL – DV
An Azo (monoazo) yellow, transparent, bright, pale
A bright, transparent yellow, sometimes a mars yellow and arylide yellow mix is substituted.
 Aurora Yellow – W&N
A proprietary name for cadmium yellow medium to deep.


 Benzimida Orange DV
Benzimidazolone orange. Yellowish, transparent.
 Bright Red – W&N
A mixture of chlorinated para red and arylide yellow.
 Brilliant Yellow – SH
An opaque mixture of cadmium-barium yellow medium or deep and titanium white.
 Brown Ochre – SH
A mix of raw sienna and yellow ochre.
 Brown Pink – SH
Originally a fugitive yellow lake** made from buckthorn berries also known as Dutch Pink. One current mixture is of tartazine lake, ivory black and ultramarine  blue; another is of mars yellow, ivory black and raw sienna. Check the manufacturer’s labeling.
 Brown Madder
 An alizarin crimson and diarylide yellow mix. Somtimes anthraquinone red replaces alizarin. Sometimes burnt sienna or pyranthrone red are sold under this  name.
 Brown Madder Alizarin – RT
See brown madder
 Burnt Sienna
 A calcinated natural reddish brown iron oxide.
 Burnt Umber
A natural dark brown iron oxide.
 Burnt Yellow Ochre – SH
A calcined red iron oxide.


 Cadmium Green – SE
A convenience blend of cadmium yellow with viridian or phthalocyanine green.
 Cadmium Purple – SE
Information not available.
 Cadmium Red (Medium)
 These reds replaced the toxic chrome (lead based) reds. They are extremely bright, semi-opaque, and range in color from a blood red (deep), to a near orange  (light or vermilion). They are made from cadmium selenide and cadmium sulphide and are non-toxic.
 Cadmium Red Deep

 Cadmium Red Light (or pale)
 Cadmium Orange
 This semi-opaque orange falls between cadmium yellow deep and cadmium red light. It is made from cadmium suplhide and is non-toxic.
 Cadmium Yellow (Medium)
 These semi-opaque yellows range from a yellow-orange (deep) to a very pale yellow (light or lemon). They are made from cadmium sulphide and are considered  non-toxic.
 Cadmium Yellow Deep

 Cadmium Yellow Light (or pale/lemon)

 Caput Mortuum – SH
Mars black/violet.
 A pinkish red fugitive lake** made from cochineal, extracted from a Central American insect, or a synthetic variety. Winsor & Newton and Sennelier offer the  genuine color.
 Carmine Red – SH
See Carmine.
 Cerulean Blue
 A bright opaque sky blue. Originally known as Coeruleum from the Latin “caeruleum”, a sky blue pigment. Cobaltus stannate, a compound of cobalt and tin  oxides. Some manufacturers mix the hue from phthalocyanine blue and zinc or titanium white.
 Chrome Lemon – RO, SH
A Lead Chromate compound introducted in 1797. Not permanent, usually replaced by Cadmiums. Toxic.
 Chrome Yellow – RO, SH
A Lead Chromate compound introducted in 1797. Not permanent, usually replaced by Cadmiums. Toxic.
 Chrome Orange – RO, SH
A Lead Chromate compound introducted in 1797. Not permanent, usually replaced by re;atively non-toxic cadmiums. Toxic.
 Chrome Orange Deep – RO
A Lead Chromate compound introducted in 1797. Not permanent, usually replaced by Cadmiums. Toxic.
 Chromium Oxide Green
 Opaque, cool, pale willow green. Low tint strength. High Granularity.
 Cobalt Blue
 An intense deep royal blue. Cobalt aluminate blue spinel. True cobalt is expensive and is often replaced with a cobalt shade of Ultramarine. An ultramarine blue  and white mix is substituted by some manufacturers.
 Cobalt Green
 An opaque bright green with bluish undertones. Low tint strength. A Compound of cobalt zincate and zinc oxide.
 Cobalt Violet (or magenta)
 A bright semi-transparent reddish violet. The original French cobalt violet is cobaltous oxide arsenate, which is toxic. The original German formula uses c  cobaltous phosphate and is considered non-toxic. Different mixes of manganese violet, cobalt blue, cobalt violet, dioxazine purple, quinacridone red and zinc  white are sold under this name be a few manufacturers.
 Coeruleum Blue – RO
See Cerulean blue.
 Compose Blue – H
A mixture of phthalocyanine blue and titanium white.
 Crimson Alizarin – RO
See Alizarin Crimson
 Crimson Lake
 A lake** made from animal and vegetable matter.
 Cyanine Blue – B
A mixture of prussian and cobalt blue. Also an organic dye.


 Dioxazine Purple
 A transparent deep blue violet. Very high tint strength. Staining.


 Emerald Green
 An extremely brilliant light cool green. A mix of arylide yellow, phthalocyanine green and zinc or titanium white.
 English Red (Deep, Light) – SH
A synthetic red iron oxide.


 French Ultramarine RO
A semi-transparent deep blue. Originally made from ground lapis lazuli, a semi-precious blue stone. ‘French’ ultramarine is sometimes warmer in color that  regular ultramarine.


 Gamboge – G
A transparent pale yellow resinous gum originating from Thailand. Generally replaced with cobalt yellow.
 Gamboge Genuine W&N
Genuine gamboge pigment made from a transparent yellow resinous gum originating from Thailand.
 Geranium Lake – G
A vivid red synthetic organic pigment.
 Gold Ochre – B, RT, SH
A variety of yellow ochre
 Green Earth
 See Terre Verte
 Green Gold – W & N
Information not available.
 Green Yellow – SH, H
Information not available.
 Green Lake (Deep, Light) – SH
Similiar to Hooker’s green in hue and composition.
 Grumbacher Red – G
Proprietary label for Cadmium Red.


 Hansa Yellow Light – DV
A light, bright yellow, sometimes refered to as Lemon yellow.
 Helios Green – SH
Information not available.
 Helios Purple – SE
Information not available.
 Helios Red – SE
A brilliant bright red. A coal tar lake substitute for vermilion.
 Hooker’s Green (Light)
 Usually a yellowish or bluish green made from a mixture of phthalocyanine blue and cadmium yellow.
 Hooker’s Green #2 (Dark)
 Usually a yellowish or bluish green made from a mixture of phthalocyanine blue and cadmium yellow.


 Indian Red
 A bluish synthetic red iron oxide. Originally a natural red iron oxide.
 Indian Yellow
 A transparent bright Hansa, Napthol or Cobalt yellow. Originally made by heating urine of cows fed a diet of mango leaves and extracting the pigment.
 A deep transparent blue derived from coal tar. Not lightfast. Originally a plant-based natural dye.
 Italian Earth – B, NB
A red iron oxide. Raw Sienna.


 Juane Bril (#1&#2) – H
See brilliant yellow


 Lemon Yellow
 Barium yellow, or a general name for any pale yellow shade.
 Light Red
 A red iron oxide.
 Light Oxide Red – RT
A red iron oxide.


 Madder Carmine – SH
A beautiful transparent red. A natural rose madder. The dye is extracted from the root of the madder plant. Fugitive in nature
 Madder Lake Light – SH
A natural rose madder. A plant-based dye.
 Madder Lake Deep – RT, SH
A natural rose madder. A plant-based dye.
 Magenta – SH
A fugitive lake made from a synthetic dye, also a general term for deep violet red.
 Magnesium Green – G
Information not available.
 Manganese Blue
 A bright greenish blue, lighter that cerulean, low tint strength.
 Manganese Violet – DV
A cool, opaque color, strong but not bright in color. A permanent mineral violet.
 Mars Violet – H
An iron oxide pigment. Similiar to Indian red but more bluish.
 Mars Yellow – SE
A synthetic iron hydroxide pigment, similiar to ochre or raw sienna.
 A fugitive organic synthetic lake made from coal tar. Color ranges from reddish to bluish.
 May Green – SH
Information not available.
 Mineral Violet – H
Ultramarine violet.
 Mono (Monastral) Blue – RO
Phthalocyanine blue
 Mono (Monastral) Green – RO
Phthalocyanine green
 Mountain Blue – SH
Azurite blue or Bremen blue, made from copper carbonate and copper hydroxide.


 Naples Yellow
 Antimony yellow. A dull opaque yellow.
 Naples Yellow Reddish – SH, RT
Antimony yellow. A dull opaque yellow leaning towards red.
 New Gamboge – W&N
A synthetic variant of bright transparent yellow.


 Olive Green
 A general term for olive green hued color mixtures, also chromium oxide green.
 Opaque Green Light – SH
Information not available.
 Opera (Rose) – H, W & N
Information not available.
 Oxide of Chromium – W&N
Chromium oxide green


 Paris Blue – SH
Prussian blue.
 Peacock Blue – H
See phthalocyanine blue.
 Perelene Maroon – G
Information not available.
 Permanent Blue – W&N, RO
See ultramarine blue.
 Permanent Green – H, RT, SH
A premixed variety of permanent green color. Various strong, dark shades.
 Permanent Green Olive – SH
Information not available.
 Permanent Magenta – H, DV, RO
A bright purplish-red form of quinacridone red.
 Permanent Mauve – RO
Usually manganese ammonium pyrophosphate or dioxazine violet.
 Permanent Orange – H, SH
Information not available.
 Permanent Red – H, DV, RO, SH
A napthol red.
 Permanent Rose – H, DV, RO, SH
Usually Quinacridone Red.
 Permanent Violet – H, SH
Usually manganese violet
 Permanent Yellow – H, RO, SH
Usually barium yellow or a synthetic semi-permanent pigment.
 Pozzuoli Earth – SH
A red iron oxide, natural or synthetic.
 Prussian Blue
 A deep intense cyan or greenish blue. Extremely high tint strength, somewhat grainy. Composed of ferric-ferrocyanide.
 Prussian Green – W&N, SH
Brunswick green, a chrome green made from prussian blue and chrome yellow.
 Pthalo (Phthalocyanine) Blue – DV
Dark, intense blue, usually on the cool side. High tint strength.
 Pthalo (Phthalocyanine) Green – DV
Dark intense green. High tint strength.
 Purple Lake – W&N, RO
A mixture of magenta and phthalocyanine blue or alizarin crimson and dioxazine purple (Winsor & Newton); or alizarin crimson and quinacridone violet  (Rowney).
 Purple Madder Alizarin – W&N, RO
A mixture of alizarin crimson and dioxazine purple or lamp black.
 Purple Violet – SH
A mixture of rhodamine red shades (towards magenta). Fugitive Color: Bright and transparent but fades rapidly in strong light.


 Quinacridone Rose (magenta)– VG, RO
A bright, clear violet red. Quinacridone violet.


 Raw Sienna
 A natural earth color. Color similiar to Yellow ochre but much more transparent. Sometimes called Italian earth.
 Raw Umber
 A natural earth color. A medium yellow-gray brown.
 Rose Dore (Madder Lake)– W&N, RO
Winsor & Newton is a mix of quinacridone red and arylide yellow. Rowney uses a alizarin crimson/chlorinated para red mix.
 Rose Madder
 See Madder lake or Madder carmine.
 Rose Madder Alizarin – W&N
See Madder lake or Madder carmine.
 Rose Madder Genuine – W&N
Genuine Rose madder. Color is extracted from the root of the madder plant. A rich, transparent red.
 Rowney Vermilion– RO
Information not available.


 Sap Green
 A bright, pale yellow green. Usually a mixture of Prussian blue and yellow.
 Scarlet Lake
 Toluidine red, Organic.
 A dark, warm brown. Originally taken from the ink sacs of cuttlefish.


 Terre Verte
 Green earth. A transparent pale green slightly olive in tone.
 Thio Indigo Violet – DV
Information not available.
 Thio Violet – G
Information not available.
 Transparent Oxide Brown – RT
A natural iron oxide.
 Transparent Oxide Red – RT
A natural iron oxide.
 Transparent Oxide Yellow – RT
A natural iron oxide.
 Turquoise Blue – H, G
Information not available.


 Ultramarine Blue
 A deep, rich blue made by heating clay with sulpher, carbon, and Gauber’s salt. Varieties range from greenish to reddish. Originally color was extracted from  pulverized lapis lazuli, a natural semi-precious stone.
 Ultramarine Violet – B
Ultramarine blue exposed to hydrochloric acid gas. Weak tinting power.


 Van Dyke Brown
 Cassel brown, cologne earth, brown coal. A natural medium dark earth brown.
 Venetian Red – SE
A brownish red natural iron oxide. Semi-Opaque.
 Verditer Blue – H
Information not available.
 Cinnabar, Chinese vermilion, a toxic compound of mercury and sulpher. True vermilion blackens in sunlight. Cadmium red light is usually substituted for true  vermilion.
 Violet – G
Information not available.
 A strong, cold green. Very transparent. Some manufacturers use a phthalocycnine green tint.
 Viridian Glowing – SH
A mix of viridian and phthalocynine green.


 Warm Sepia – W&N
See Sepia.


 Yellow (Deep, Light, Medium) AZO – VG
Arylide yellow, a monoazo pigment. Medium and deep tints have added red pigment.
 Yellowish Green – RT
A mixture of arylide yellow and phthalocyanine green. Use lemon yellow and phthalocycnine green to mix your own.
 Yellow Ochre
 A natural earth color. Warm brownish yellow, semi-oqaque.

Blacks, Grays, and Whites

 Charcoal Grey – W&N
A semi opaque gray made with charcoal black.
 Davy’s Grey
 A middle toned gray with a greenish cast. All manufacturers use their own mix of existing colors to get this gray.
 Grey of Grey – H
A semi-opaque mixture of titanium white and aniline black.
 Payne’s Grey
 A very transparent bluish-purplish gray. Originally made with Indigo, Crimson Lake and Lampblack. Now it consists of a blue such as Phthalocyanine,  ultramarine deep, prussian; a black such as ivory, carbon or lamp black and a red, maroon or violet pigment such as alizarin crimson.
 Violet Grey – H
Information not available.
 Yellow Grey – H
Information not available.
 Neutral Grey – SH
Information not available.
 Neutral Tint – W&N
Mixtures range from black to dull violet to a bluish black. Winsor & Newton uses a mix of lamp black, quinacridone red and phthalocyanine blue; Rowney’s is  simply mars black.
 Blue Black – WN, OH
Proprietary name for lamp black. Sometimes prussian blue is added.
 Ivory Black
 A warm black made from charred bones and/or horns (don’t ask). The purest black for watercolor.
 Lamp Black
 A cool black made from wood smoke soot.
 Peach Black – H,SE
A mixture of blacks (ivory, lamp, or aniline black.)
 Vine Black – SH
A bluish black mix of indigo blue, mars black and ivory black.
 Chinese White
 Zinc white
 Opaque White – SH, OH
Titanium dioxide
 Titanium White – DV
Titanium dioxide

**Lakes: an intert pigment or lake base colored with dye. Originally a red dye made from shellac (lac) processing residue.

Proprietary Names

Manufacturers sometimes assign their own names to standard pigments or mixtures of standard pigments. This can get confusing when you have to buy a certian color but your favorite brand is not available. Always read the manufacturer’s content labels to find out what you are actually purchasing.


  • Blockx Blue (Phthalocyanine blue)
  • Blockx Green (Phthalocyanine green)
  • Blockx Red (Toluidine red)
  • Blockx Yellow (Arylide yellow)


  • Grumbacher Red (napthol red)
  • Thalo Blue (Phthalocyanine blue)
  • Thalo Crimson (Quinacridone violet)
  • Thalo Green (Phthalocyanine green)
  • Thalo Purple (Dioxazine purple and ultramarine blue)
  • Thalo Red (Quinacridone violet)
  • Thalo Yellow Green (Arylide yellow and phthalocyanine green)

Winsor & Newton

  • Winsor Blue (Phthalocyanine blue)
  • Winsor Emerald (Arylide yellow, phthalocyanine green, zinc white)
  • Winsor Green (Phthalocyanine green)
  • Winsor Red (Napthol red)
  • Winsor Violet (Dioxazine purple)
  • Winsor Yellow (Arylide yellow)

Transparent Colors

Transparent colors appear more intensely hued when laid on white paper. They are excellent for working in layered washes where the transparent qualities can create jewel-like tones. You can only glaze and tint darker washes with a transparent color. Whatever is underneath will show through.

Transparent colors include: Phthalocyanine blue, phthalocyanine green, phthalocyanine green, phthalocyanine violet, scarlet lake, rose madder, permanent rose, new gamboge, Hooker’s green, cyanine blue, indian yellow, coral.

Opaque Colors

Care must be used when using opaque pigments in transparent watercolor painting. Using Opaque colors on top of other washes can result in a chalky appearance and can muddy up underlying colors. They are good for initial washes on white paper, in mixtures, creating skin tones, and accenting a painting.

Opaque Colors include: Cadmium Yellow, cadmium red, cadmium orange, venetian red, yellow ochre, emerald green, cerulean blue, naples yellow.

Reflective Colors

Due to their innate molecular structure, reflective pigments are rather chalky and tend to “ride the surface” of a painting. This is true physically as well as visually. I’ve found the cobalt family to be difficult to record accurately with a digital camera. What looks fine to the naked eye can be reflected back into the camera with greater luminosity than other colors in your painting.

Reflective colors include: Cobalt violet, cobalt blue, raw sienna, viridian green, aureolin yellow.

Sedimentary Colors

The materials of these pigments have a higher specific gravity than other pigments. This added weight will cause washes using these pigments to settle out into the texture of your paper, creating a texture of their own. The heavier pigments have a coarser grind due to their nature. Many are from the clays and stones beneath our feet.

Sedimentary colors include: Ultramarine blue, raw sienna, raw umber, sepia, cobalt violet, cobalt blue, viridian green, manganese blue, sap green.

Staining Colors

Man-made dye-based pigments stain your paper the most. Many are intense in hue and have a proven track record for greater permanence. In general, mineral based, and natural plant and earth pigments have less staining power.

Heavy Staining Colors: Phthalocyanine blue, phthalocyanine green, phthalocyanine violet, dioxazine purple (Winsor violet), alizarin crimson, scarlet lake, sap green, Hooker’s green.

Light Staining Colors: Gold Ochre, raw umber, cadmium orange, cobalt blue, gamboge yellow, cerulean blue, magenta.

Non-Staining Colors: Emerald green, permanent rose, manganese blue, aureolin yellow, cobalt violet.

Fugitive Colors

The pigments in the “fugitive” class of paints have the unfortunate characteristic of looking beautiful and unique when first painted but show bad side-effects over time. Side effects include fading to non-existence, changing color, darkening to black, and other fun stuff. Many in this class of colors were organic plant materials first used to make pigment for watercolor paints, like the madders. Unless you’re planning on hermetically sealing your paintings and viewing them in a low-UV climate controlled room, skip them. Use paints with lightfast ratings I or II (AA or A) when possible.


Tube and Pan Sizes

Being as there is no real set standard for tube sizes they can vary in size from 5 ml up to 37 ml and more. Liquid watercolors also have a wide range of product sizes and strengths. I’ve always looked at them as small (5-8ml) and large (10-15ml) and “Should I be painting more?” (21ml and larger)

Brands and General Sizes: Blockx 15ml; DaVinci 37ml; Grumbacher 7.5ml; Holbein 15ml-#5; Rowney 15ml; Rembrandt (Talens) 5ml; Schmincke Horadam 5ml-#2, 15ml-#6; Sennelier 10ml; Van Gogh 10ml; Winsor & Newton Cotman 8ml, 21ml; Winsor & Newton Artist’s 5ml-#2, 14ml-#5;

Approximate Pan Weights and Sizes:
Half Pan: 1.5ml – 1/2″ x 5/8″ x 1/4″
Full Pan: 3ml-4ml – 1″ x 5/8″ x 1/4″

Basic Color Palettes

The following palette is suggested by Ralph Mayer’s “The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques”

White: Chinese White (Zinc White), Titanium Oxide
Black: Ivory Black, Mars Black
Red: Cadmium Red Light, Pure Iron Oxides (Indian Red, light red, Mars red), Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Red Deep
Yellow: Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Orange, Mars Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Cobalt Yellow
Blue: Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Manganese Blue
Green: Viridian, Chromium Oxide Green, Green Earth, Cobalt Green
Violet: Cobalt Violet, Manganese Violet, Mars Violet
Brown: Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Mars Brown

19th Century Color Palette

In David Cox’s 1816 “A series of progressive lessons in watercolor” the following palette is suggested:

Gamboge, Light Ochre, Light Red, Lake, Vermillion, Burnt Sienna, Vandyke Brown, Prussian Blue, Indigo, Sepia, Black

A Typical 19th century palette may have contained the following colors:
Chrome Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna, Rose Madder (Genuine), Burnt Umber, Venetian Red.