Daniel Smith Watercolor Lightfast Testing Reviews and Demo Painting Videos
Daniel Smith watercolor review and lightfast testing for all 260 colors. See my 1 year window test results to find out which colors are fugitive (fade with UV sun light exposure). I'll also share painting videos, color mixing ideas as well as scans of my masstone (fullstrength) and diluted (about 50% water) swatch stripes labeled with names and pigment codes to serve as a condensed color chart. Full detail swatch cards at the bottom of the page that elaborate on lightfast ratings, staining, opacity, salt reaction, granulation etc.
Before you get lost in the sea of 260 colors Daniel Smith makes, please note that there are several colors I would avoid. While this is one of my favorite brands of paint, there are a couple misleading LFI ratings that caused me a lot of problems as someone who has made paintings for wall display. MOONGLOW AND SHADOW VIOLET ARE NOT UV STABLE, DESPITE THEIR LFI RATING. Moonglow's fading is severe, as bad as LFIII to LFIV fugitive colors such as Opera Pink and Alizarin Crimson (it's the PR177 that fades when diluted). Shadow Violet contains an orange that is also stable in masstone, but fades when diluted or in small % tints/mixtures. Results are about LFII to LFIII depending on the duration of repeat sun exposure (such as being displayed where light shines in a window briefly each morning at dawn for a month or more). Good news is that you don't need a convenience mixture to achieve this beautiful color separating and granulating appearance. I highly recommend mixing your own.
This video shows you how easy it is to mix your own lightfast alternative to color separating convenience mixtures, such as Moonglow, using single pigment ingredients.
I will also caution you that sometimes LFI or LFII rated paints fade more than expected (I'll cover some brand specific issues on this page, but there's also a multi-brand fugitive pigments list here). There are times where two paints both rated LFII don't actually fade at the same rate either, such as the increased fading seen here in Mayan Blue:
--- 06-2021 update --- Here's a video covering the 6 month results (the halfway point of a complete test). This list should give you a good idea of which colors are the most fragile (I would avoid roughly 25 of 260+ colors offered).
Before buying random colors from Daniel Smith, I highly recommend investing in their dot card sampler offering an affordable way to try 238 of their colors. You can find this on Blick Art Materials store here or on Amazon below. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you :)
The following colors are on the 238 dot card, but be aware that they have released more colors in recent years and as of Jan 2021 are up to 260 colors. Blick also carries a dot set called "mineral marvels" which has a few of the newer colors to try more affordably than investing in their tubes. I have separated out the new colors in the images below.
My favorite color not present on the main 238 dot card is Purpurite. This is a natural form of Manganese Violet PV16. These minerals have not been purified to isolate Manganese Violet, so they include trace minerals and plenty of Iron particles which create a deeper value and near-black speckling throughout. Active granulation. Capable of unique color separating mixtures when combined with lighter weight pigments.
This painting of a Florida Panther with foliage is a good example of how I love to use Daniel Smith's granulating watercolors. I used Undersea Green for background texture and the animal's eyes:
Hematite and Hematite Burnt Scarlet Genuine for the fur:
You can find the colors I used for this painting below. I am not affiliated with Daniel Smith or sell their products directly, and my opinions are my own. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Many years ago I had tested the full range from the dot card in masstone strips only. Recently I have redone this testing to include diluted strips (some colors fade quicker when diluted). The following results are from my initial testing round.
These colors are fugitive with signs of fading starting within one month. Lightfast colors last for a year or more of daily light exposure, and I will expand on which colors faded by the 1 year mark below.
The small 5ml tube kits are ideal for beginners and artists on a budget, allowing you to get a good mixing color set at a lower cost than their larger 15ml tubes. The primatek set is a wonderful way to try out their granulating colors, especially for those who haven't decided if they enjoy texture in their artwork yet. The 5ml tubes can fill a half pan (standard tray size for travel palettes) more than a couple times, giving you plenty of paint to create dozens of small paintings (like artist trading cards or 5x7s) or a few larger pieces.
This was one of the first lightfast tests I ever did, before I realized the importance of testing both masstone and diluted ranges. I have since discovered the PR177 Anthra Red is extremely fugitive, which was very difficult to tell in it's full-strength masstone. It is easily damaged by UV when diluted. Because watercolorists rarely use their paints at full strength with barely any water, this is a real problem for PR177 and mixtures containing it such as Moonglow. I have since started running all tests to include diluted ranges and will update as new information is available (such as the video about Moonglow at the top of this page).
In addition to the fugitive colors incorrectly marked as lightfast (Anthra Red, Moonglow, Shadow Violet, Sicklerite, Prussian, Iridescent Sapphire, Aureolin, Rhodonite, Mayan colors etc.) there are other types of problems to be aware of. I have heard reports of an unusually intense bad smell coming from Garnet Genuine, which did not resolve once dried in a pan. Daniel Smith says that this is normal for that pigment, that it may be bothersome but it is "not toxic".
Some pigments are hard to rewet if you plan to make your own dry pan set from tubes. Some of these are common problems in any brand, such as the notoriously difficult Viridian Green PG18, Cerulean Blue PB35 and Potters Pink PR233. You may find that adding a drop of vegetable glycerin or honey to the pan as you fill it with tube paint (stir up with a toothpick) can help keep these paints more moist and workable.
There is also a problem with some pigments separating or having reactions in the tubes when stored for long periods of time. Moonglow will separate into layers of PR177, a lighter thinner particle pigment, away from the heavier sediment of Viridian and Ultramarine Blue. This can easily cause your next pan refill to be different in color in addition to being much more fugitive (containing more of the pigment that fades). It's not always enough to squish the tube. A long needle tool/skewer can be useful to give it the thorough mixing it likely needs.
Cobalt Green Pale PG19 and Manganese Violet PV16 reacts with it's binder. This appears to be due to a minor acidity change (reaction with the gum arabic binder) causing the binder itself to abnormally darken. This dark brown binder can stain all remaining pigment in the tube. This seems less severe if your fresh tube is promptly stored in a dry pan (rather than remaining wet in the tube) as was the case with PG19 swatches shown below. However, I have had this issue cause PV16 to become a hardened brown lump even in the pan in other brands (Da Vinci brand, over the course of 3 years). Most watercolor paints will remain stable for decades or more (even antique watercolor sets from the late 1800s have proven to still be usable). This is a pretty significant issue to happen within just 1 to 5 years (depending on your climate humidity/air pollution/acidity).
Tigers Eye Genuine: This lightfast, granulating brown is made from a natural mineral rarely used in paint making. It can be hard to rewet, requiring extra scrubbing when dried in a pan. Tigers Eye Genuine is capable of subtle color separation, it has a lighter pale brown element that separates out from speckles of darker brown in wet washes. When dried in a pan these different colors can separate out into sedimentary layers, like shells of varying browns. This can result in getting a different color each time you scrub a dry layer with a wet brush.
Below you can see that the heat treated variant, "Burnt Tigers Eye Genuine" is very dark. Some layers of standard "Tigers Eye Genuine" can also appear very dark, but when used fresh from the tube this paint normally appears to be a notably lighter brown than the burnt version:
Sodalite Genuine: It pains me to say something bad about this lovely color. It's been a favorite of mine for many years, but because I've owned it since 2016 I've seen some unfortunate color changes over time. This color is lightfast, but the unused paint may change hue (desaturate/gray) during long term storage. This is unusual and all 31 remaining samples of other colors dried into the same palette 4-5 years ago have not changed at all. Typically indoor storage of watercolors (in a normal temperature controlled room environment, away from light or moisture) results in stable colors indefinitely.
When making the swatches above, I had originally thought there were just batch to batch variations. Perhaps it was just differences each time they mined this mineral? Which is also possible in addition to this issue, BUT my original swatch on this palette color chart shows that Sodalite has changed in the stick itself, but NOT after painted on paper, over time. Sometimes certain minerals have chemical changes aided by humidity. That is why a color might be stable on the dry page but not when it's in a big chunk inside a pan or inside a tube. This can be due to humidity in your location (like Florida), your environment including air pollution, or other paints in your palette (ie off-gassing of nearby metals/tubes, Nickel Azo, Cobalts, Cadmiums, Ultramarine's Sulfur or even minor acidity present in gum arabic). This is a common thing to happen to other mineral paints like Malachite and Vivianite, but seemed to happen much more subtly and slowly to Sodalite. The paint still re-wet well and reached a dark masstone.
Below shows how the remainder of my watercolor stick appears as of 2020 vs how it looked when it was new in 2016. (Daniel Smith has offered "sticks" as a cheaper alternative to tubes since before they started selling half-pans. For anyone who hasn't seen them before, you can get them on Blick here.) When this stick was new it looked just like the half-pan I purchased in 2018... No changes yet in the half pan sample, but this is definitely an indicator that changes may happen over time. Unlike the layers problem with Tiger's Eye Genuine, this color change has completely gone through the stick to the center, with no change in hue by cutting the outer layers off.
Daniel Smith watercolor swatch card color chart: