Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Review, New Graphite Colors, 48 Pan Set, Fugitive Lightfast Test Results.
NOTE: UPDATE 8-2022 - NOT VEGAN, NOT LIGHTFAST. In the past, Kuretake had given all major retailers the standard statement that "no animal products" were used in their "modern version" of traditional gansai. There was no major reason to question this info, despite being called "gansai", since their paint binder does not smell like other animal hide glue based paints. It is likely that the binder primarily consists of other gums, sugars and starches. Vegetable glycerin is frequently used as a humectant in similar types of paints, but the type of glycerin (animal or plant based) is not always disclosed. Between 2017 to 2020 the company answers remained the same, as you may still see reflected on websites for major art supply retailers like Jet Pens and Michaels. However, Jackson's has now removed Kuretake Gansai from their "Vegan Art Supplies" list, after questions were raised in 2020 about cow fat (beef tallow) being the glycerin source. It was not until mid 2022 that a Kuretake representative provided Jackson's with the answer that the paints are currently NOT vegan.
It is unclear if they have always contained this version of glycerin and didn't realize this ingredient needed to be flagged as an animal product, or if this was a recent change. I can tell you that there have been other changes to their paints since 2017. My first Kuretake Gansai set from 2017 was more lightfast than the one I purchased in 2020 (fading results further down the page). This means that every website you see "all colors are lightfast" or that this product contains "no animal ingredients" is unintentionally providing incorrect (or outdated) false information. In general, never trust the lightfastness of a product that refuses to provide pigment ingredient codes.
Despite these problems, this does not change the fact that these paints perform well during art creation. They make products that are well suited for crafters, card making, sketchbooks and have a beautiful gift-ready presentation.
New product: 2022 release Kuretake Gansai Tambi Graphite Colors: A dark neutral palette of 6 colors best suited for muted art such as night scenes or abstract work. These paints are easy to re-wet with a touch of a damp brush and the pigment load is superb. Each one of these colors is heavily loaded with graphite, resulting in a very deep opaque masstone applied in just one layer. Due to the opacity, these colors are not ideal for glazing or layering unless heavily diluted with water. There is some minor granulation texture and color separation in wet washes.
- Graphite watercolor and fluid graphite video coming soon -
These multi pigment mixtures contain an undisclosed colorful pigment mixed with graphite PBk10. If you've ever pressed very hard while writing with a school pencil you may have noticed that graphite buffs to a subtle metallic sheen. This luster is a result of polishing the surface particles flat, so these watercolors can be gently rubbed with a smooth object such as a finger nail or the back of a spoon to provide this effect. You can also rub the dried paint with a cloth or paper towel to provide a slight reflection (not glittery or very metallic, more like a dull pearl or polishing shoes). Graphite is the main difference between these and similar looking muted color sets like Boku Undo shadow, Van Gogh dusk or Paul Rubens Shi Yun. Those other sets use PBk11 mars black with secondary colors, which results in similar looking mixtures that can not be given a buff shine.
If you're not sure if you will like this effect, you can test out this type of mixture if you have a pencil (common 2b school pencil works best) and watercolors from any brand. DIY replicate graphite watercolors by scraping the pencil against sandpaper to create graphite pigment powder - then mix it into your watercolor paints. More about that and how to make handmade watercolors from dry media like charcoal, pencils or powders can be seen in this youtube video.
Not available in your area or rather DIY? If you're looking for a graphite powder or watercolor to mix with your paints, be aware that there are multiple types of graphite mineral sources in nature as well as filtered purity levels. Some graphite products have been processed to provide a higher carbon content resulting in matte black instead of shiny gray. You can find other brands of Graphite as watercolor or powders to DIY replicate these colors, but each brand will vary in regards to providing a darker matte vs lustrous gray color. Jackson's has affordable dry pigment powder in Graphite SILVER or BLACK options. Schmincke and Daniel Smith have darker matte watercolors, but lustrous water-soluble graphite sticks, pencils and ArtGraf shiny gray water-soluble tablets also work well mixed with watercolor. All of which will allow you to create unlimited custom mixtures with your other paints, which will likely be more economical and UV durable.
Kuretake Gansai graphite watercolor swatch cards:
These are a modern spin on traditional Japanese paint called "Gansai" (which works similarly to most watercolors, but uses a slightly different type of binder than the common pure gum arabic formula). This version of gansai has a binder including animal glycerin (beef tallow), sugars, dextrin or starches in addition to gum. It does not appear to use a substantial amount of animal/hide glue like you might be familiar with in other brands of gansai, Old Holland watercolor, Paul Rubens Gucai or Marie's Chinese Painting Color. There is no strong smell in Kuretake Gansai, unlike the burnt glue type smell common in those other brands.
Normally their non-graphite colors promote lifting, so I use an absorbent paper like Arches to assist layering. These new graphite mixtures are very staining though, so these feel like a completely different type of paint. I've always considered it a downside that when using Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints thickly, you could get shiny spots after they dry (due to a build up of the glossy binder in masstone). This was not the case with the graphite colors set. The graphite mixtures dry exceptionally matte, even when applied thickly, unless purposefully buffed/rubbed to a polished sheen.
I found the Kuretake Gansai Graphite Colors on Amazon here. These are most similar to Derwent Graphitint pan sets, which offer a little more color variety are likely to have slightly better lightfastness. However, if lightfastness is what you're after, I recommend mixing graphite with any properly labeled lighfast colors you own. Neither Kuretake nor Derwent provide pigment codes, so the secondary color ingredients could be changed at any time without us knowing. Lightfast tests would need to be redone on a per-batch basis, so you'd have better control over knowing your ingredients in DIY mixtures.
Kuretake Fluid Graphite (water-resistant high viscosity ink):
The Gansai graphite colors pan set followed an earlier release of "fluid graphite". This thick paste is not really "fluid" by paint standards - it's thicker than most tube watercolor or even "heavy body" acrylic. I'm impressed with the density - they give you a lot of pigment in this bottle. It needs to be stirred before each use (it is too thick to shake, like sludge). I recommend taking a small paint brush scoop out onto the palette where it can be heavily diluted with water. You could use it as an "ink" with a dip pen only after transferring it to a separate container to mix with water. It comes in a screw-cap jar that has been designed wide with a large opening so it sits stable on your table, it won't be easily knocked over when using a brush while the container is open.
This thick creamy graphite paint uses a synthetic-resin binder which can be mixed with any of your colorful watercolors while wet. Once dry it is slightly water-resistant and may develop hard chunks (perhaps why it cautions you not to return unused partially air-dried ink to the bottle?). Fluid graphite is not great for lifting techniques in thick applications. It can be buffed to a shine, but this also means it can easily smear - so it's not ideal for line work before painting. I will mainly use the "fluid" graphite mixed in with other kuretake colors or different brands of paint. It can also be used to create monochromatic graphite paintings that look like smoothly shaded pencil drawings.
Lightfastness and DIY mixtures alternatives: Graphite is lightfast (aka the single pigment ingredient in the fluid graphite known as PBk10 - a lustrous gray-black commonly used as "lead" in pencils). Unfortunately the secondary color used in each gansai paint pan mixture is likely to fade. Kuretake Gansai paints do not include pigment codes or LF ratings. After testing their 48 color set (results below) I can confirm that many colors they sell include fugitive pigments prone to fading. Because of this, I do not recommend this brand for professional artists looking to sell their original artwork or those making art to hang on the wall for display.
Kuretake makes beautiful paints for sketchbooks and print reproductions. If you love the look of their new graphite color mixtures, but don't want your art to fade, there are pure single pigment graphite watercolor options. PBk10 is available as an ingredient in Daniel Smith, Schmincke and Viarco ArtGraf graphite watercolors, which can be mixed with any color you own. I want to stress that Graphite alone is lightfast, so by picking a different brand of LFI or LFII rated colorful watercolors you can use the graphite to mix much more UV stable mixtures than Kuretake offers.
Note to professional artists: AS WITH ANY FUGITIVE ART SUPPLY, YOU CAN USE THESE TO CREATE LOVELY ARTWORK, BUT I SUGGEST PLANNING TO SCAN THE ART FOR PRINTS / DIGITAL REPRODUCTION. This set is not very lightfast, with just about half of the colors fading over time. While the paints are definitely suitable for crafters and hobbyists, I would not recommend them for professional use (original art sold to be hung on a wall).
At one year the fading proved extreme, roughly LFIII to LFIV in about half of the colors in this set. The red, orange, pink and purple colors are the most fugitive. I was actually quite surprised that the indian red (normally a stable PR101 red iron oxide pigment in most brands) was actually made of a fugitive red-brown mixture, and that the maroon which resembled a stable perylene was also made using an even less lightfast red pigment. Gold darkened which is unusual for a mica based metallic, sun exposure resulted in a deep value hue shift similar to the bluish-gold. It's not all bad news though, some of the colors that were fugitive in older sets are now made with more lightfast pigments. The most notably improved color being number 57 turquoise. About 21 of the 48 colors appear to be lightfast LFI, which could be used in art to sell. Sadly this brand is unreliable about sticking to the same ingredients over time. They may decide to change things up again in future sets, this test was done on a set made in 2019. With no pigment ingredients listed you may not be able to tell which will fade in your set without your own testing.
Something has changed in their manufacturing over the years. My old set of 36 didn't have as much fading in the reds, but the new set has every single red, pink and purple show signs of fading within 6 months. Typically lightfast colors show no change in indirect window lighting for over 1 year. For reference, the majority of my 260+ Daniel Smith watercolors have been in the window for 2 years with no fading. It appears that Kuretake Gansai is best used for illustration projects meant to be scanned for print reproduction. It's also acceptable for painting practice, color theory, sketchbooks, card making and other indoor craft projects. I would not sell artwork made with these paints (especially without a note on how to care for fugitive colors). I expect any art hung on a wall in a well-lit room/with nearby windows will fade over time.
THE INFORMATION BELOW IS REGARDING MY OLDER REVIEW FOR THE ORIGINAL 36 COLOR SET.
Unfortunately, things have changed in Kuretake's ingredients or manufacturing techniques in the past 5 years, but for reference here is my original lightfast test for the 36 color set.
These are beautiful and affordable paints for anyone from card makers to beginners and could definitely be used for color theory and sketchbook practice. I just wish we could persuade Kuretake to share their pigment ingredients and throw in some general lightfast ratings so we knew what to expect!
You can find the 36 color set here:
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