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BLUE Art Supply Pigment Database for Watercolor Gouache Acrylic, Ink Pencil Color Chart Swatch
Artist reference guide to Blue pigments in art supplies. Color chart swatch cards of common pigments in watercolor, gouache, acrylic paint and inks. Includes brand lightfast ratings (plus notes if my independent test found the color to be fugitive), indexed by pigment number code, brand, manufacturer color name, how the color appears in masstone (full strength) or diluted (with water). Each image displays opacity, lifting (erasing with a damp brush), layering (a second coat of paint after the first has dried) and if the color is capable of holding a smooth gradient blend in wet.
Rare. Fugitive. PB1 has been rated as ASTM LFIV (poor lightfastness) and noted as prone to darkening. Offered by White Nights (or Yarka St. Petersburg as imported by Jack Richeson in USA) as "Blue Lake" watercolor. Some designer gouache and pastels also include PB1 in mixtures.
PB15 Phthalocyanine Blue:
Phthalo Blue is a lightfast, strong blue (often overpowering in mixtures) ideal for use as a cyan primary mixing color. Phthalo Green and Blues (with the exception of PB16) are copper based with reported toxicity in fish/marine life. This pigment is naturally flocculating, being prone to extreme granulation unless ground very finely and processed with certain additives. Most brands offer the staining, very smooth, non-granulating version. You may see notable texture in paints using slightly larger particle pigment powders (coarse/not quite as finely ground) which results in an easier to lift color. This far less-staining sky-blue version is typically labeled as Manganese Blue Hue. This pigment comes in various shades, sometimes labeled as as Phthalo Blue "red shade" or "green shade". You may see further classifications of Phthalo Blue pigments with a colon/secondary number, but not all companies discern which type of Phthalo Blue they offer. The colon number is an indicator that a different type of salt was used in the lake dye process and paint makers only sometimes specify. The red shade version is a touch too close to my preferred Ultramarine Blue PB29 for me to find it necessary, but those searching for a more lightfast alternative to Prussian Blue may appreciate this color. Phthalo Blue is an extremely useful pigment, I use two of the green leaning versions in my palette = PB15 "Manganese Blue Hue" and PB15:3 "Green Shade", which I elaborate on in my top lightfast palette picks).
"Manganese Blue Hue" by Daniel Smith is the closest replica of discontinued PB33 (the old, no longer manufactured, toxic Manganese Blue Genuine) I have ever seen. It also has an unusual bonus of being able to be used as a UV reactive paint which glows under black light. There is a clear/invisible optical brightener/fluorescent dye in this color that does not change the lightfastness of the underlying blue in normal light. I have not found this "glow" effect (refracting UV-A light) to occur in any other brand of PB15. This is an unusual choice by Daniel Smith which I speculate helps with the convincing brightness and texture match compared to the old genuine Manganese Blue. Both Turner and Winsor & Newton also make lovely sky blue options, but they lack the UV glow and granulation texture of Daniel Smith's version.
PB15:1 Phthalocyanine Blue RS:
See PB15, as many companies label their PB15:1 as simply PB15 "red shade". This is a deeper value Phthalo Blue that those looking for a replacement for the fugitive PB27 Prussian Blue may appreciate (also see PB60 Indanthrene/Indanthrone Blue). Instead of reaching for warmer blues for foliage greens, I find that I prefer the control of using the green shade PB15:3. I mix it with Nickel Azo Yellow PY150, adding just a touch of a red pigment (PR209 or PR254) as needed for warm olive colors.
PB15:2 Phthalocyanine Blue:
PB15:3 Phthalocyanine Blue BGS:
PB15:4 Phthalocyanine Blue NCF:
PB15:6 Phthalocyanine Blue:
PB16 Phthalocyanine Turquoise:
Metal free Phthalo - created without the use of copper making it less toxic for fish/aquatic life/environmental concerns. This is a slightly deeper valued green-leaning Phthalo Blue that has some desaturation wet to dry shift. Lightfast with minor bronzing/darkening over many years of UV exposure. Can be slightly granulating if the manufacture selected larger coarse pigment particles, but most brands offer a very finely ground non-granulating pigment.
PB17 Phthalocyanine Cyan:
PB27 PRUSSIAN BLUE. Fugitive pigment often mislabeled as lightfast in watercolors. Unfortunately PB27 always fades in sun, but might recover in shade. Manufacturers who are aware of the issue may mark it as lightfast due to it's ability to regain color after being removed from light. In my opinion, paint should not need to be taken off the wall for a nap in a dark corner for it to be considered lightfast. I avoid this pigment if planning to sell a painting or display it in a gallery, because a buyer is likely to hang it in a room with a window. It is only stable in indoor artificial light or museum low-light conditions. Artwork made with Prussian Blue can fade from nearby window lighting, which can become noticeable in rooms with large windows or in locations closer to the equator. For replacing PB27 in mixtures, I would use a Phthalo Blue PB15 (red shade) instead. For a deep dark blue replacement, Phthalo and black pigments like PBk7 are often offered as a convenience mixture to create indigo hues (which look similar to Prussian Blue). You may also appreciate the single pigment option - Indanthrene PB60 as a good lightfast alternative to PB27.
"BUT Kim, --- brand of Prussian Blue is lightfast!" I get this a lot because every manufacturer labels their paints as LFI. I'm sorry for the bad news, but it's chemically impossible for PB27 to be totally stable. It is produced by oxidation of ferrous ferrocyanide salts. Sun bleaches the FeIII (Iron) which requires time to re-oxidize away from light. Prussian has a reaction to UV light on a chemical level, which is only reversible over time in darkness. You don't have to take my word for it though, feel free to do your own testing. Cut a swatch card in half and tape one side to the window facing outward (make sure it's not UV-blocking glass, and it's a direction that gets several hours of daily direct sunrise or sunset light) for at least 1 summer month or 3 winter months. Compare the two sides of your swatch immediately upon removal from the window. Short duration tests may have the color recover within days in shade, but PB27 becomes irreparably faded when exposed to long term light (6mo-1yr). Winsor and Newton was one of the only major manufacturers to politely include a note about this on their past color charts:
I advise caution about trusting lightfast ratings in general, because some testing methods offer limited information. Read more about testing limitations and see a list of all the pigments that have been flagged for fading on my fugitive pigments list page.
Each Prussian Blue watercolor I've tested faded within 3 months. In comparison, extremely fugitive paints (such as opera/neon pink) fade at about the same rate, with some brands of Opera even outlasting Prussian. Totally lightfast colors can stay in direct sunlight for several years without signs of fading. PB27 is an interesting and unique pigment though, if you put it in a shady drawer for a while the color will almost regain full strength. The only variance between brands is how MUCH it will recover AFTER fading. Prussian Blue takes time to become darker again in the shade. Some brands can make a nearly-full recovery in several weeks to months. The variance may be due to the differences in pigment source, how long the UV exposure lasted, and any protection from binder additives. It's possible that the ASTM rating came from someone who collected results and let them sit in the shade before comparing them, or decided that since it was able to recover it was OK. To me this defies the definition of a "lightfast" rating.
PB28 Cobalt Blue:
PB29 Ultramarine Blue: Also known as French Ultramarine, Lapis Lazuli (genuine or hue), Cobalt Blue (hue) or Permanent Blue. Non-hazardous (low to no toxicity in humans). Typically lightfast (LFI / BW8) but care must be taken to use acid-free paper, as sulfur-based pigments will discolor when exposed to acids. Ultramarine Blue is a replacement for the chemically identical Lapis Lazuli (a semi-precious stone). Daniel Smith still offers Lapis Lazuli genuine, the naturally occurring version of this pigment used in many famous paintings throughout history. It used to be reserved for the very wealthy, until chemist Jean Baptiste Guimet came up with a formula to make it synthetically in France during the 1820s. This took a surprising number of ingredients including sulfur, kaolin clay, silica, charcoal, sodium carbonate and sulfate. The ratio and heat used to create the material, and the exposure to oxygen, results in a variety of deep blue colors.
Variants: Ultramarine comes in multiple shades such as "deep" and "GS" (green shade) and when further exposed to heat and ammonium chloride (Salammoniac) it turns slightly violet. It is then renamed Ultramarine Violet PV15. Winsor and Newton have made a color called "Smalt" without the word hue. Smalt is incredibly misleading to those seeking historical pigments, as it is actually made from Ultramarine Violet PV15 and NOT genuine Smalt PB32. When you add hydrochloric acid, Ultramarine turns into a delicate pale pink called Ultramarine Pink PR259. Be aware that all Ultramarines are generally regarded as lightfast. However, "Ultramarine Green" PG24 which may be found as a raw material pigment powder, handmade watercolor or from the company "Kremer Pigment" is not lightfast.
PB29 Mixtures: An incredibly useful color for mixing and often included in both beginner and professional watercolor sets. Ultramarine Blue can be mixed with PBr7 to create an ideal neutral gray. Another popular mix is with PV19, where it makes deep royal purples. Daniel Smith's mixes have reliable texture effects in wet washes, as the PB29 granulates and separates from the PV19.
LFI, but can yellow due to the copper content (chemical discoloration when exposed to acids or sulfides). Sometimes called Mountain Blue, Blue Bice, Lapis Azurite. Naturally occuring basic carbonate of copper resulting in a slightly dull azure blue. Historically significant and still used in Chinese brush painting. The pigment powder is often turned into watercolor by handmade paint makers. Basic carbonate of copper has not been assigned a pigment code, but has been assigned a C.I. constitution number 77420. Semi opaque and granulating.
PB31 Egyptian Blue:
AKA Blue Frit or Copper Frit. LFII - Ancient Egyptian art made with this pigment is still a bright beautiful blue today, however preservation of this color may require dry climates free from certain acid or chemical interactions (as copper based pigments have been known to yellow due to acids or sulfides). PB31 is historically significant as the earliest synthetic pigment. Copper Calcium Silicate was synthetically produced for ancient Egyptian artwork. For another historically significant blue made in a similar way, see "Han Blue" used in ancient China/Han Dynasty. Chrysocolla, Cuprorivaite and Egyptian Frit have all been labeled as PB31 Copper Calcium Silicate based pigments from Kremer, however Egyptian Blue is man made (see greens page for the natural hydrated form - Chysocolla). You may also be interested in similar blue-greens that develop on copper ores such as the rare Dioptase and more common Malachite PG39. Egyptian Blue becomes very transparent in oils, but can be more opaque in water media. Highly textural. Increased amounts of water used and rough paper surface will accentuate flocculation clumping or granulation pattern. The pigment powder I tried from Kremer and the handmade watercolor from Prodigal Son's (English pottery pigment source) both appear to have a larger than average particle size. This notable particle chunkiness is likely due to the fact that PB31 is essentially copper glass and paints like a finely ground sand (hard, gritty silicate particles). It may initially appear streaky or gritty like pepper flakes in a wet wash, but generally settles into a strong granulation texture. It feels very similar to PB32 Smalt in texture, but is closer in hue to PB35 Cerulean Blue.
LFI / BW8*. Smalt is also called Dumont's Blue and is the oldest man made cobalt blue pigment. The artificial pigment manufacturing is done by coloring Potassium Silicate with Cobalt Blue to essentially create a Cobalt Glass. Blue Cobalt Glassware has been found in antiques from several ancient cultures, but it was not commonly manufactured as a pigment until 1820. Most pigment powder suppliers such as Kremer and Natural Pigments offer a lightfast Smalt in fine or coarse ground options. *Lightfastness is dependent upon getting the ratio of Potassium to Cobalt correct during manufacturing (minimum 1:1 ratio or more of Potassium). All samples independently lightfast tested have been stable for over 6 months of direct sunlight. This pigment's glassy sand-like particles cause it to have a gritty feel and it eagerly granulates in watercolor. Winsor and Newton pro watercolors offer a Smalt/Dumont's Blue, but it is not properly labeled as a hue (look-alike) since it is made from Ultramarine Violet PV15 and not genuine PB32. I have only found Smalt available in handmade watercolors from small businesses such as Prodigal Son's and Poems About You on Etsy.
PB33 Manganese Blue:
LFI / BW8. Barium Sulphate-Permanganate is toxic. This pigment should be handled with caution, especially to avoid breathing it in powder form. Do not airbrush/spray apply. A stunning, lightfast, bright blue falling between azure and cyan - making it a great primary mixing blue resulting in vibrant, textural, clean mixtures (emerald greens when mixed with yellows and lively purples when mixed with magenta). If you appreciate Phthalo Blue Green Shade, but want a similar intense blue that granulates instead of being smooth - this is it. Heavily granulating in watercolor (less notable texture in oil/acrylic and masstone, where the particles are not given the ability to separate in water). Discontinued pigment due to the toxic by-products created during the making of Barium Manganate. For environmental, health and cost concerns this pigment's production was halted in the 1970s. Paint production using existing stocks remained popular in Germany until the 1990s. In the early 2000s most independent paint makers that stocked up on it had sold out. Old Holland was the last larger company offering it single pigment, ending in 2016-17. DaVinci is still selling it as a small percentage of a mixture with phthalo blue as of 2022. I do not recommend Da Vinci's Manganese Blue Mixture, as it has none of the vibrancy and texture PB33 is known for. Vintage stock of PB33 powder still exists in very small amounts. In 2021-2022 I was still able to purchase PB33 as handmade watercolor from Prodigal Son's on etsy (highly recommended).
For a more common, affordable, non-toxic look-alike that is easier to find, consider Daniel Smith's Manganese Blue Hue (see PB15 or my favorite lightfast pigments page here) as it is the closest match in color and granulation I have ever seen for this pigment. Turner offers a great color match, but poor paint performance. Winsor and Newton's hue is a lovely sky blue, but again fails to replicate the texture. Daniel Smith's MBHue is slightly weaker in both color intensity and texture than genuine PB33, but most other brands fail miserably to mimic genuine PB33 and have no texture whatsoever. After 5 years in tube storage, Old Holland's binder has slightly yellowed and also caused this pigment to granulate less than when it was fresh before I made this swatch:
PB35 Cerulean Blue:
PB36 Cobalt Chromite:
PB60 Indanthrone Blue:
PB66 Indigo (synthetic): Fugitive. A synthetic reproduction of plant based indigo, fades within several months of nearby window light. Given oddly good lightfast ratings in both Shinhan and Maimeri Blu, but fades at about LFIII-LFIV equivalent. It is likely that the Shinhan Indigo under mixtures below is also a pure PB66 color, but the tube also listed PB29. The color chart catalog and art materials stores have marked this as single pigment PB66, so it may have been a typo.
PB71 Zirconium Vanadium Blue:
PB72 Cobalt Zin Aluminate Blue:
PB74 Cobalt Zinc Silicate Blue:
PB82 MayaCrom Blue B2050:
PB86 YinMn Blue:
NB1 Indigo (natural) - This is a natural plant dye laked as a pigment (fermented leaves of the indigo plant adhered to a salt base). It is fugitive (just like the synthetic version, see PB66). It has fairly strong UV resistance in masstone, but fading easily when diluted. It is offered by only a couple major companies worldwide, including MaimeriBlu (Italy) and Kremer Pigment (Germany). More common paints that are labeled "Indigo" as a color name (without correctly adding the word "hue" to indicate it's not the genuine plant pigment) are usually mixtures made of a lightfast phthalo blue + black instead.
Blue Apatite Genuine: Lightfast mineral pigment. Daniel Smith offers this pigment in watercolor and it is otherwise rarely used in paint making.
LFI / BW8. Historically significant. Used during the Han dynasty in ancient China. Copper Barium Silicate. Chinese-blue's chemical formula is BaCuSi4O10. By altering the ratios of each chemical (barium from barytes, copper from malachite or azurite, sand/quartz) with high heat this combination can also result in purple to deep magenta leaning colors (like Chinese Magenta BaCuSi2O6, a ceramic material). Naturally blue pigments are scarce, so early chemists in parts of the world without access to Cobalt Blue became creative with altering copper ores. The green-blues from copper ores were turned into deep royal blues at temperatures over 1000 degrees when combined with barium and sand in ceramic kilns. Also see PB31 Egyptian Blue copper frit, a similarly man made pigment (Egyptian blue is much paler in hue with an appearance like Cerulean PB35 instead of Han Blue's deeper Smalt-like blue). Possible chemical yellowing common in copper based pigments has not been reported in Han Blue, but I would generally avoid acid and sulfides near your art made with this pigment. Eagerly granulating.
Kyanite Genuine: Lightfast mineral pigment. Daniel Smith offers this pigment in watercolor and it is otherwise rarely used in paint making.
Lapis Lazuli (genuine): This natural blue mineral is often a mixture of lazurite, calcite, and pyrite. The deeper blue the mineral, the more Lazurite, and more expensive it tends to be. This is offered by a few watercolor manufacturers including Daniel Smith, Paul Rubens and Roman Szmal. It is a weak pale pigment easily replicated by diluting ultramarine blue. Historically this pigment was very expensive, as one of the only natural blues available to artists before the synthetic version was created. Ultramarine Blue is the synthetically manufactured version of natural Lapis Lazuli.
Palomar Turquoise: This pigment is Phthalo based, developed by Sun Chemical company for the automotive industry. Winsor and Newton has used this ingredient for their watercolor paint named "Aqua Green". It is similar in blue-green hue to Phthalo Turquoise PB16, but due to larger particle size this color also has a subtle green granulation particularly apparent in wet washes.
Sodalite Genuine: Lightfast mineral pigment. Daniel Smith offers this pigment in watercolor and it is otherwise rarely used in paint making. Caution - I have seen some color changes in the wet tube/stick form over a period of 3 or more years in humid environments. This appears to desaturate the blue hue to a flat gray-black, but not in thin layers already painted on paper. This pigment appears to be stable once used, but left in larger clumps with internal humidity and environmental factors it can change color. There have been reviews where people have gotten a "new" tube and it was darker gray, no blue to be seen, but I can't be certain they didn't get old stock that sat at a store for too long vs. there being natural batch to batch differences in this mineral. I can tell you that my single stick (like a dry pan) sample changed color over a period of 3 years in humid Florida - resulting in the exact same paint swatching blue when new and gray when old.
Sugalite: Lightfast mineral pigment. Daniel Smith offers this pigment in watercolor and it is otherwise rarely used in paint making.
Vivianite (Blue Ochre): AKA Blue Ochre. Natural mineral, Ferric Phosphate. LFI but prone to discoloration from causes other than UV/sun. Vivianite can yellow over time, likely due to a chemical process involving interactions with other pigments, acids (possibly honey in watercolor binder) or atmospheric sulfides. When fresh or well preserved, Vivianite provides beautiful deep muted blues with superb granulation texture. Despite requiring special care and not being recommended for permanent works, this pigment is a joy to use and can provide unique effects for use in sketchbooks or art destined for print reproduction. It is likely that the pigment is more prone to yellowing while in a damp/regularly re-wet pan or in a tube. Vivianite's color is far more likely to be stable once painted onto dry, acid-free paper.
VB1 - Vat Blue 1 - Appears to be the older name for PB66 Synthetic Indigo. Some pigment manufacturers (like Cornelissen established in 1855) as well as watercolor companies like MaimeriBlu and Utrecht (now owned by Blick) still label this pigment as Vat Blue 1. It appears that a mistake was made on Blick's website under Utrecht Indigo Blue watercolor's pigment tab, marking VB1 as PB1 (Victoria Blue) on accident. However, that is a different pigment (likely a typo). Vat Blue 1 is reflected on the paint label itself. The reason I have separately listed Utrecht's version here (instead of under PB66 with Maimeri's version) is because there is something substantially different about the way it was made.
UNLIKE natural or synthetic indigo (NB1 or PB66) or even Victoria Blue PB1, this "Indigo Blue" by Utrecht IS actually lightfast. It appears that something was manufactured completely differently for this version of Vat Blue 1.
Swatch card template available for download here, or get the rubber stamp here. Swatch cards were painted on Legion Black or Arches Cold Press 100% cotton watercolor paper. Paper and brushes are available at Jackson's or Amazon here:
I buy most of my supplies online at Blick or Jackson's art materials.
I use affiliate links only to stores I have personally purchased art materials. When available I'll include multiple reputable stores so you can compare and decide where you'd like to shop. Dick Blick ("DB" links below) is a large art supply chain store here in the USA that ships worldwide. Jackson's ("Jack" links below) is a great UK based art supply store which also ships worldwide, but carries some harder to find European products with quick low cost shipping to the USA. Amazon USA ("Ama" links below) often offers unique brands, including small business and Chinese off brand watercolor sets, that can not be found anywhere else. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Arches 100% cotton cold press 140# watercolor paper is one of the most durable surfaces for technical pen, scrubbing and lifting. It's surface sizing (coating) and texture is a good middle ground compared to the extremes of different brands. Due to these traits, and it being around for long enough to be the most commonly recommended paper for professionals, all of my swatches are done on this paper for consistency. Only white (and mica paints that do not show up on white) use the Legion Black paper instead. I buy arches paper at Blick, and if you are in the USA this is likely the most affordable place to buy it.
Daniel Smith watercolors -- available onDB,JackorAma.
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