Daniel Smith Gouache Review - 22 Lightfast Colors.
Daniel Smith has started offering gouache paints in late 2022. The initial launch includes a very small selection of 22 colors, all of which are made using the same pigments found in their professional watercolor line. Gouache has a higher pigment load, a velvety matte finish and is generally more opaque than watercolor. I purchased Daniel Smith gouache here (Blick).
OPACITY: Above chart shows colors mixed with just enough water to flow well, about 1:1 paint to water. CAUTION - The color swatches provided by Daniel Smith on their website have a full strength "masstone" stripe at the top demonstrating coverage over white and black papers. Their swatches show excessively thick paint layers, which are VERY misleading with many colors appearing far more opaque in advertising than they will be in practice. As you can see in the following close up of Buff Titanium PW6:1, their swatch uses too much paint (about 3 times as thick of a layer as an artist would apply in good practice). Applying gouache too thickly makes it crack and potentially fall off the page. This is not like acrylic or oil paints with a durable binder that allows for thick impasto effects.
While gouache is generally referred to as "opaque watercolor", technically each pigment ingredient has its own level of opacity ranging from semi transparent to fully opaque. Daniel smith's selection is primarily made up of opaque pigments (but some could be classified as semi/mostly opaque due to not providing full coverage on black paper - the least opaque being Magenta PR122 and the Burnt Sienna version of PBr7). These gouache do not include fillers (unlike some lesser quality brands packed with matting agents, chalk or other white pigments in order to force a color to be opaque). Any normally transparent pigment will be slightly more opaque in gouache form than watercolor form due to the extra pigment layer and matte finish. An opaque pigment (such as Cadmiums, Cobalts and earth oxides like English Red, Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre) will be opaque in any medium - easily covering black paper even in watercolor form. They will be at their most full strength in gouache form though (where they are less diluted by binder), helping you achieve fully opaque coverage with less effort.
-pan rewet image-
Like most gouache, these are ideally used fresh from the tube. These do reactivate from dry, but due to low binder may shrink/crack more if stored in a dry pan. For small paintings a dry pan set may be convenient, but there could be difficulty with achieving opacity as you add excess water (diluting the paint during re-wetting).
One of my favorite opaque convenience mixtures of all time - Cascade Green - has been chosen to be part of this small gouache catalog. Here's how the watercolor version compares to the gouache version:
-cascade green compare-
Both use the same opaque PBr7 ingredient, so both the watercolor and gouache versions have complete coverage when applied in full strength masstone. However, the gouache will always dry completely matte, in contrast to watercolor which can potentially leave a satin/gloss shine when applied too thickly. This is generally the same for all of the colors throughout this line, since more gum arabic binder is used in the watercolor formulation. There is more pigment load in gouache, which leaves a non-reflective matte surface. This powdery appearance is fragile, can be reworked/re-wet, erased or scratched. It has just enough binder so that the pigment does not easily rub off.
-example art coming soon-
Gouache is a straightforward, less time consuming paint to manufacture than watercolor, so generally it does not cost more despite being a higher pigment load paint. There's less milling (fine grinding), less binder and secondary ingredients such as dispersants/wetting agents required. Paint companies often use a lesser quality gum arabic (since the glossy highest transparency quality is not needed for gouache, some brands like Schmincke and Royal Talens even use the cheaper Dextrin/potato starch as a binder instead, resulting in even cheaper production). In comparison to watercolor, gouache does not flow as freely or smoothly in wet washes. Gouache can not replace watercolor for all wet in wet techniques, despite diluting to a very watercolor-like state when watered down. There's some clumping of pigments (unattractive flocculation vs gentle granulation texture) when painted on wet paper - notably in mixtures like Cascade Green.
EXPENSE: Many brands offer gouache for cheaper prices than their watercolors, but this does not appear to be the case with Daniel Smith. Overall this gouache is expensive - and due to the high price I can't justify buying the more common pigments. Some of these colors average $10-$15 a tube (depending on sale) and are too similar to options averaging $7-$9USD in Holbein, Schmincke, Maimeri, MGraham etc. New to gouache and not ready for a big investment? I recommend Schmincke's student Akademie set of 5 tubes (averages roughly $20) from Jackson's here. There's no fillers in them, so if total opacity for covering dark papers is what you're after, you may end up needing an extra tube of white for mixing (a small amount makes colors opaque without dramatic light value changes). Holbein, Schmincke, Maimeri and MGraham all offer a huge 60ml Titanium / Primary White made of PW6 (4 times the size of a regular 15ml tube) for under $20. Maybe one day Daniel Smith will offer a more competitively priced bulk size, until then shop around Amazon, Blick, Jacksons to price compare the other brands.
-swatch images coming shortly-
Worth it? Daniel Smith has a few pigments not commonly found in gouache (but may be common in watercolor, acrylic etc.). This includes PW6:1 Buff Titanium (a beach sand beige version of titanium white with iron oxides) and PR255 Pyrrol Scarlet (an orange leaning vermilion red, the most lightfast alternative to Cadmium Red Light PR108). I'd also consider the semi-common PR122 Magenta (an ideal primary mixing color which is often substituted with PV19 or fugitive cool reds like PR83, PR170 or dyes in cheaper brands). There are a couple pastel colors (Wisteria, Lavender) if you find yourself reaching for these often enough to warrant the expense of an easily replicated convenience mixture. Otherwise it's less expensive to just add Titanium White to your primaries, or just buy similar mixtures from Holbein or ShinHan.
Cascade Green is a unique convenience mixture that can be tricky to replicate. You can DIY a similar color gouache (try Holbein Gouache Primary Cyan PB15 + Raw Sienna PY42 which will also create color separating effects on wet paper). For DIY watercolor you can mix any brand Phthalo Blue PB15:3 + Natural Sienna Monte Amiata PBr7 (I prefer Roman Szmal). However, it can be tricky to get the ratios right and achieve the beautiful color separation that so easily comes from using the Daniel Smith mixture. If you love this color, I overall recommend DS Cascade Green watercolor because it flows much nicer for more active granulation and two tone effects than the gouache. If you just like the solid masstone, then it's easy to just mix brown and blue instead.
Cons: Aside from price and limited selection, these paints tend to lay down less smoothly (more brush drag) than my Holbein or Maimeri gouache. This may cause the need for more water to be mixed in for flow, which can reduce opacity quickly. I find that it's generally easier to obtain smooth opaque coverage with Holbein (followed by Maimeri, Schmincke and MGraham). Dry pans: For those who wish to use these from dry, MGraham brand has the least cracking due to a small amount of honey (humectant). My PR255 Pyrrol Scarlet had dramatic shrinking as it dried over a few days and easily fell out of the pan (despite being in humid Florida). Binder separation: I can not yet comment on long term storage for this product, but two of my tubes did have some minor clear binder separation. In general separation of pigment and binder happens with all brands, but least of all in Holbein (part of why I love Holbein regular and Irodori gouache lines). You can use a bamboo skewer/toothpick/needle tool to stir separated gouache back together in the tube. I expect this in most brands after 3-6 months of tube storage.
ALTERNATIVE: Holbein makes incredibly beautiful gouache. Both Holbein's regular and "Irodori" line offer highly pigmented, shelf stable (little to no binder separation - even in my lesser used color tubes, which I've had for 4-5 years), smooth flowing gouache for a lower price than Daniel Smith. For the best price check UK/World: Jackson's or USA: Blick for Holbein Gouache standard line or Irodori line here). Holbein has many lightfast options suitable for long term wall display (just be sure to check the pigment code and LF ratings as you choose colors, since they have a huge catalog including both lightfast and fugitive options to suit all artists needs). Daniel Smith gouache is focused on fine art (primarily originals to hang on the wall or to sell), so it is less of a "designer's gouache" where you may find extra vibrant colors meant for design freedom/print reproduction/temporary projects. This may change in the future, but typically DS only supplies the popular "Opera Pink" watercolor as their completely fugitive neon type option. You'll find a wider variety of convenience mixtures and bright vibrant fugitive colors throughout the Holbein line.
Beginner gouache care: The matte finish of the dry painted surface is very fragile, easily scratched or made glossy if touched. I've heard this powdery-matte finish referred to as looking "chalky" (I prefer the terms matte or velvety, but it's probably common because chalk is known to be powdery and matte like gesso). Rest assured high quality gouache doesn't include cheap chalk filler, nor does it rub off like sidewalk chalk or chalk pastels. Once dry you won't get color on your hand from touching the dry paint, but be aware that accidentally "buffing" the surface with pressure or hard objects can also cause glossy streaks or scratches. Be careful with sleeve buttons or nails while handling. When shipping or gifting art, place the wrapped painting between two pieces of cardboard to keep it from scratched, buffed or bent. Storage/long term display should be far away from heat and humidity (windows/bath/kitchen). That is even more important than it is with watercolor, since the thicker layers of paint can reactivate when moist, more eagerly rubbing off on nearby surfaces. Once your art is dry and scanned/photographed, place it between archival white tissue paper sheets (or the clear plastic envelope bags made for holding photographs in a hard protective tub/case/tupperware to avoid damge until you or your customer can frame the art). Consider recommending a mat board or spacer border along the edges of the frame to keep the art away from glass.
My favorite American art supply chain store is Blick. They have a massive catalog and competitive prices, with quick shipping options here in the USA.
One of my favorite places to shop for a world-wide selection watercolor paint and brushes is Jackson's. They have affordable shipping to the USA and a lovely selection of items not easily found in American stores.
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