Daler Rowney Aquafine Watercolor Pans Inks and Tube Paint Review
Daler Rowney makes quality watercolor paints for both their professional and student grade lines. The professional grade paint line is called "Daler Rowney Artists' Water Colour" and are roughly double the price of their student grade called "Aquafine". This is an interesting student grade range made with less expensive, non-toxic pigments (no cobalts, cadmiums, nickel azo etc.), but they do have a few pigments rarely found in student grade paints. Aquafine is available in an unusually wide variety of formats. This includes dry pans sold in both metal or compact plastic custom palette sets (including a unique color wheel style circle tin), "ink" (liquid state) glass bottles of their pigment-based watercolors (not fugitive dyes like ecoline), or individually in tubes. They are overall the most comparable to Van Gogh by Royal Talens in both price and lightfastness. The quality for a few colors is lower, with issues similar to Cotman in weakness or texture.
The Aquafine catalog has changed over time. Daler Rowney has removed fugitive pigments from the Aquafine line to make them more reliable for serious students. This allows those who are learning to paint, but serious enough to consider hanging their art on a wall/giving gifts to friends/family, an affordable watercolor option that will not fade over time. My older sets contained two fugitive red colors, which have both been replaced by the new formula for "Cadmium Red Hue" containing PR242 instead of the colors shown in the swatches below:
CAUTION: Between 2018 and 2020 stores started shipping out updated products with new pigment ingredients. These newly reformulated paints contain lightfast pigments for old fugitive ones. There are also some new hues because of the old PY153 being discontinued as well as simple single pigment ingredients to replace complex mixtures. In one instance a color did become even more complex = Burnt Umber. It is normally a semi transparent granulating single pigment PBr7 in most brands, but Aquafine's old version was an opaque two pigment mixture (PR101, PBk7) which has been changed to a three pigment mixture (PY155, PR176, PBk7). This may appear to be a strange decision, but the new version is more transparent making the color more comparable to what you'd expect from other brands. I feel like these types of mixtures should be labeled as a "hue" (just generally a look-alike color instead of the common PBr7 version paints of that name). The following color chart is the updated pigment list as of 2020:
Because some stores with less turn over may still sell old stock for several years, be cautious that some may still sell pan sets containing "Scarlet Lake" (old). Unfortunately in older sets that contain Scarlet Lake it's hard to be sure if any of the other colors had been updated to their new formulas yet, so my pan set swatches further down the page do not specify pigment codes due to this uncertainty (pigment numbers were not included). In the case of Cadmium Red Hue they kept the name and item number but simply changed the ingredient from PR112 to PR242 and did NOT label the pigment on the pan set packaging. Inks and tubes are well labeled.
PROS: The company plainly cares about making improvements to their paints with the effort to simplify and replace fugitive colors. They perform well, with many of the pans and inks feeling just like professional paints in smooth gradient blending, salt reaction or binder issues like residue/rubbing off the page when dry. Many transparent and single pigment paints are offered, which layer or glaze well. The ink bottle option is versatile, allowing you to use a dip pen for using the watercolors to draw or write calligraphy. The inks can be easily re-wet if you have some dry in your palette. CONS: There are some colors with texture issues. AVOID Prussian Blue PB27 is not only fugitive in all brands (it is often labeled as lightfast due to its ability to recover in darkness after UV exposure, read more about PB27 in the pigment database).
Ultramarine Pink PR259 is also a very weird pigment in any brand and is generally a weak color (not a strong mixer) with an unusual texture. It is prone to binder separation (partially due to how heavy of a pigment it is) as well as suffering from a milky white chalky appearance in the ink format. Overall Aquafine contains more binder to pigment ratio (compared to the more expensive brands). This is particularly notable in the tubes, where it hinders the ability to easily re-wet old dried paint.
These tubes crack (excess drying shrinkage from extra water/binder) when put into a travel palette. This happens even when doing multiple thin layers. I could try to fix the cracking with a drop of glycerin stirred into the paint, but I hesitate to add more binders. Overall if you want to collect a broad range of colors I feel it's better to look at their pan sets, formulated for easier re-wet from dry (but still requires a few extra swipes with a wet brush, definitely more scrubbing than pro-grade watercolors). As an alternative, I have been the most impressed with Miya brand for a low cost student pan set that re-wets easily. Some colors (like Ultra Pink above) are prone to separating out with a shiny glaze of binder on top making them harder to re-wet than paints formulated for dry pan use. Even if you do use tube colors directly, without drying them, you may still notice binder separation or odd gel-like paint consistency that requires stirring with a toothpick.
Those binder issues are more likely in their granulating (thick pigment particle and textural) paints like Ultramarine Pink PR259, Ultra Violet PV15, Raw Umber PBr7. The ink bottles need to be shaken up frequently because pigment-based watercolor liquid/inks always settle and separate. This is minor and each color has quickly returned to normal without pigment sludge being stuck at the bottom like some brands (PH Martin's Hydrus for example).
Even with the Ultramarine quirks, it's really interesting and notable to even find PR259 and PV15 offered in a student grade. Normally these pigments are rare even in pro grade brands and I haven't seen them in any other student line. Same with PB16 Transparent Turquoise, a variant of Phthalo Blue which Daniel Smith only recently added to their catalog. RECOMMENDED: While the pan sets are affordable and convenient if generally testing out an assortment, I definitely would only recommend Aquafine pan sets for those who want an overall lightfast set on a budget (if you do not mind a few fugitive colors, which could always just go unused, I recommend Pretty Excellent or Miya's 36 pan sets instead which are cheaper). For those who already have a core collection of watercolors (or are used to pro-grade quality paints) and are just curious about Aquafine, I would advise collecting just a few specific colors: the tube PB16 Transparent Turquoise is just as beautiful as my pro grade versions. It's easy to ignore the lesser pigment load, mostly because Phthalo is an intensely strong pigment. It's a great primary mixing blue as well as a strong option for creating dark neutrals. It looks particularly beautiful when paired with Burnt Sienna PR101.
The ink Quin Magenta PR122 was also a very bright clear version ideal for primary mixing. The tube GOLD metallic color is also lovely. It is a PW20 mica based textural gold that makes beautiful sparkly trails of glittering particles in mixtures. It's also great for solid line highlights or accents:
Note that it appears the gold and silver inks vary from the tube version in color. The inks appear lighter, more pearlescent, but the tubes look more like metal (deeper gold and silver).
Swatches for metallic/mica based colors:
Swatch Cards for Aquafine TUBES:
Swatch Cards for Aquafine INKS:
Swatches for Aquafine PAN SET:
This 18 color set has recently changed (it has been improved for transparency and lightfastness). The old Scarlet Lake has been replaced by a more lightfast Cadmium Red Hue PR242. There are also pigment ingredient changes to colors of the same name (for instance Yellow Ochre should now be PY42 instead of a complex mixture of yellow, black and white pigments as shown in the INKS). I highly recommend purchasing Aquafine from a large retailer with more traffic, such as Blick, Amazon (non 3rd party) or Jackson's to avoid getting old stock.
Where to buy? You can find a wide variety of Aquafine products on Blick USA below. They also carry dip pens and empty paint markers by Daler Rowney if you're interested in using the inks for drawing/writing.
Tubes here: https://shrsl.com/2q6cn
Pan sets here: https://shrsl.com/2q6dc
Ink bottles here: https://shrsl.com/2q6da
Some sets are also available on Amazon. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you :)
Jackson's also carries a smaller selection of Aquafine.
If you'd like to see how each color compares to the same pigment from a different brand - check out the pigment database full of swatch cards!