Lightfast Tests, Art Supply Reviews and Color Charts for Watercolor, Acrylic, Alcohol Ink, Pencils.
Are your art and craft supplies fugitive? Find out which colors fade in window sun light. I test and review watercolor paints, acrylics, inks, color pencils, craft dye inks, markers, pens and more!
List of the most fugitive pigments commonly used in professional watercolor paints and other art supplies. These colors are not lightfast, having faded from extended UV exposure (fluctuating day time / indirect northern window lighting) over time. This list shows a variety of brands who use these colors, which ones lied or misrepresented their ratings, and which pigment code to avoid when it's written as the ingredient on paint tubes.
List of my favorite lightfast pigments! Set up a watercolor palette of useful primary colors and unique granulating pigments for maximum versatility. Color mixing recipes, swatch cards and example art. Easily replicate color separating convenience mixtures like Daniel Smith's Moonglow, Rose of Ultramarine, Shadow Violet, Cascade Green as well as Schmincke and Roman Szmall look-alikes. With a collection of single-pigment paints aimed at professionals and pigment enthusiasts, never find yourself tempted by a pre-made brand mix again!
Watercolor paint reviews, video demonstrations, swatch cards and lightfast tests BY BRAND:
Prefer to see all brand's color swatches side by side for comparison? You can find the swatch cards organized by pigment color instead of brand on the pigment database here. Learn more about lightfastness and how my testing is done further down this page.
Art Philosophy professional artist grade watercolor tubes review. This company previously branded as Prima Marketing aimed at crafters and students, has branched out to artists offering 15ml tube paints with a higher pigment load. See a video painting demonstration, lightfast information and compare these to other brands.
Prima Marketing student (now Art Philosophy) watercolor sets. These student grade 12 half pan sets are called "confections" and one larger 25 color "confetti" set. While artists are in the habit of calling them Prima watercolors, they changed their branding to "Art Philosophy" a couple years ago after establishing a foothold in the painting world by offering budget friendly art supplies for crafts like card making and rubber stamping.
Boku-Undo has lovely large gansai-style pan sets with unique color schemes, such as an all near-black neutral set, or their "aurora" interference mica 6 pan set made in Japan.
Coliro and Finetec are best known for their metallic mica watercolor sets that are likely the highest quality, most lightfast and reflective sparkly glittering paints on the market.
--- In Progress ---
Da Vinci Paint Co. is an American paint manufacturer offering professional quality watercolor, gouache, acrylic and oil paints. They have reasonable prices for their high quality.
Daniel Smith Watercolors 250+ colors tested, tube and pan sets, example art and video reviews. There's no hiding I'm a big Daniel Smith fan. While all their paints are high quality, due to price I mainly recommend the unique granulating mineral selection they have, also known as Primatek.
Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Review. This brand is one of the few companies manufactured in the USA and the only major one offering a student grade line. They also may be involved in supplying pigments to Blick art supply store for their store brand watercolors, as they share some uncommon pigments and large particle textural characteristics.
Holbein professional watercolor from Japan. They offer tubes and pans, both being more reasonably priced near Japan but suffers from severe price increases when imported to USA/Euro. Review, swatch cards, lightfast testing.
Kuretake Gansai Watercolors - A modern vegan twist on the Japanese traditional style animal-glue paint by the manufacturer Zig. Affordable, beginner friendly with a huge color variety in extra wide pans ideal for large brushes.
-- In progress --
Lukas professional watercolor review in progress
Mission Gold Watercolors - incredibly easy to re-wet, vibrant, highly pigmented watercolors, that can be found at an amazingly low bargain price in tube sets. From Mijello in South Korea, now distributed to the USA by the Chartpak company.
Paul Rubens Professional Watercolors - 24 glitter, new 24 phosphorescent (hint-of-glitter edition) and the 48 standard (non-mica) pan colors have been lightfast tested. One of the lowest priced professional grade half-pan dry set options on the market. These paints also come in tubes, with the sets being easier to obtain in the USA than individual colors. The company offers a variety of cotton and cotton blend watercolor papers.
Pretty Excellent & Caroline (Paul Rubens Student) MeiLiang or Lightwish 36 watercolor pan set review, 1 year lightfast test results and video demo. Notes about Paul Ruben's other student grade paints, the tube set called "Caroline". These paints are also sometimes labeled as Shanghai OWIN.
-- In progress --
Qor watercolor review - in progress
-- In progress --
Rembrandt professional watercolor is the pro line by Royal Talens (the same maker of the excellent student brand Van Gogh). An older, traditional painting company that has been making exciting and unusual recent additions to their line, including glass-based chameleon flip-flop and iridescent mica colors.
-- Renesans --
Renesans professional watercolors from Poland. This small company offers a catalog of 70 colors in tubes as well as 54 alternative mixtures in pans. This is one of the only brands that appears to change their pigment formula, but not always the color name, between tube and pan formulations. Overall a confusing brand on the consumer end.
Roman Szmal Aquarius professional watercolors A new brand from Poland, who has gained incredible popularity over the course of 2019-2020 due to their high quality paint, 140 color line up and low prices on full-size pans (no tubes or half pans, competing with White Nights).
Rosa Gallery professional watercolors made in the Ukraine. This brand has been around for several years but has yet to become well known or readily available worldwide, but it is definitely a beautiful and unique paint that I hope to see picked up by major retailers in the future.
Schmincke Horadam Professional Watercolors This world renowned German brand has a lot of fans for predictable high quality paint. With a large range that includes a couple of my favorite pigments that are hard to find, and rare granulating colors rivaled only by Daniel Smith (such as Potters Pink and Mahogany Brown).
--- Sennelier pro-grade in progress ---
Sennelier l'Aquarelle professional watercolor 98 color chart, swatch cards, lightfast testing, brand overview, top selections for unique and favorite colors.
Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle (student grade) watercolor pan set review, video demo.
Shinhan Art Professional Watercolor tubes (includes many paint types such as PWC, SWC, PASS gouache hybrid, KOREAN COLOR traditional gansai-like glue-binder vs. their standard gum arabic western style paints etc.) A competitor of Mission Gold from South Korea.
Superior Watercolor + other sets made in China appearing to be re-branded knock offs of Paul Rubens, Kuretake and other big brands. Artsy and Artify also appear to have bought palettes from the same factory and slapped their own label on it.
Van Gogh Watercolor - an awesome student grade paint by Royal Talens (the makers of the "Rembrandt" pro line). Van Gogh is one of the most reliable and highly lightfast student grade paints on the market. Affordable single tube colors for refills or picking and choosing pigments, as well as a large selection of various color travel sets and a mica metallic and interference pocket-box.
White Nights budget friendly professional watercolors also includes the USA import version of the Russian paints called Yarka St. Petersburg (Professional "Ultimate" set of 36 full pans imported by the Jack Richeson company).
Winsor and Newton professional Watercolor review, Swatch card color chart for full range 109 color catalog, pigment information, lightfast testing and fugitive color reports. Video overview of my top 20 favorite and unique colors from this brand.
Winsor and Newton Cotman (student grade) Watercolor Review, Swatch Cards, Lightfast Testing. A common entry level student grade paint frequently picked up in brick and mortar art shops, but is struggling to stay relevant in the competitive online market. Both price and quality is no longer as good as it was years ago. --- Cotman review is in progress ---
LIQUID "Watercolor" and "Watercolor" Brush Markers or Pencils:
It's important to note that many water soluble art supplies have the word "watercolor" on the package. This typically only means that they can be used like watercolors, not that they are made from the same lightfast quality pigments that most watercolor paints. Here I'll split up these products based on lightfast pigments or fugitive dyes.
PIGMENT BASED LIQUID WATERCOLOR:
Aqua Drop by Schmincke - Liquid Pigment Watercolor + Liner, Brush Marker, Technical Pen and Water Brush Tutorial Currently the highest quality pigment based liquid watercolor on the market. Easily works in fineliner technical pens, empty markers, airbrush, spray bottles and other unique applications.
PH Martins Hydrus pigment based watercolor has some quirks including limited re-wettability, fragile or leaky glass bottles, and an earth tone selection prone to sediment (permanent pigment separation and clumping in the bottle). --- coming soon ---
Daler Rowney Aquafine Ink - a student grade watercolor line that has been turned into a liquid "ink" format for use with dip pens and alternative painting techniques. They come in glass bottles and offer several colors unusual to find in any student grade painting product. --- coming soon ---
DYE BASED LIQUID WATERCOLOR:
Ecoline --- coming soon ---
PH Martins Radiant --- coming soon ---
Why bother getting an art supply that isn't lightfast? While dye-based products are almost always fugitive, the point of these products is to achieve effects not easily obtained by natural pigments. Bright, vibrant, neon, smooth blending in markers and certain special effects (see alcohol ink marbling below) can only be achieved by thin particle man made dyes. In watercolor painting, even respected professionals may use "opera rose", a color containing a fluorescent pink dye that allows botanical artists to closely replicate the color of bright flowers. These are ideally used in situations where you will be scanning your artwork for print reproduction, or for using in a sketchbook/personal use where fading will not be problematic.
Dye based inks, markers and stamp pads:
Alcohol Inks by Tim Holtz / Ranger - includes color charts, tutorial projects, and lightfast testing completed for 1 year.
OTHER IN PROGRESS TESTS:
Copic Markers --- coming soon---
Acrylic inks, paints and paint marker reviews and tests:
Acrylic paint markers - Which brands are lightfast? Learn about Liquitex, Amsterdam, Sharpie, Montana and Uni Posca.
Pens, color pencils, crayons and other drawing supplies:
Faber Castell Gelatos - 36 colors tested.
Drawing pens, microns, other fineliners, gel pens --- coming soon ---
LIGHTFAST FAQ -
HOW MY LIGHTFAST TESTS ARE DONE:
*Current tests include masstone and diluted color stripes. You may see older tests with only masstone (full strength) color results from previous years around this site. Many of those brands have current diluted tests being repeated at this time (about 50% water, which an also identify if the paint would be problematic in tints/mixes with other colors). Over time I have seen multiple colors be stable in masstone, but show signs of fading when diluted. There are also colors that fade either way, but show obvious signs of fading sooner allowing for quicker test results.
All tests are done in a careful controlled manner to avoid secondary causes of color changes such as being wet or hot. My control color strip is put away in a room temperature drawer hidden from light, while the fade test strip is placed behind a condensation-free glass window facing north. You can also mount the strips to a board and place a spacer between it and the glass to avoid window fog issues. This provides general daylight UV without the heat of direct sunlight. This should give a comparable time estimate for how quick artwork would fade on a wall in a room that receives general window lighting (not within beams of direct light). I use acid-free, 100% cotton, archival quality watercolor papers.
Because I do my tests the same way for all supplies used, it can be really useful to compare these lengths of time in fading results between brands. I'm able to determine if a company's colors fade abnormally fast compared to a different company's colors along with determining which pigments are the most stable across all brands. In general, I try to give all tests 1 year to fully complete so that sun exposure over all seasons are relatively fair.
HOW LONG DOES A LIGHTFAST TEST TAKE? / HOW FAST DO FUGITIVE COLORS FADE?
In general, fugitive colors fade in as little as several weeks up to several months of daily light exposure, while lightfast colors remain stable past the 1 year mark. This is especially good to know if you will be selling your artwork, displaying it in an office or a gallery that may have many glass windows. It also means that doing your own lightfast testing is very time consuming. Be aware that the amount of time someone says they tested their colors is very important. I've seen lightfast tests where the artist put something outside for several days or even a week before claiming there is no fading issues. Anything less than 3 weeks is not enough time to test most pigments, and only the very most fugitive dyes might start to fade in that time. Many colors that will fade over the course of a year will start to show signs of slight fading at about 3 months (6 months if you live in a northern state, further from the equator with less sunny days/less intensity of sunlight).
WANT TO DO YOUR OWN TESTING?
I recommend to start checking for fading at 1 month. I recommend a total of 3 months (6 months in northern/cloudy environments) as the minimum amount of time for window tests. A year or more is ideal for professional artists who want to be confident in selling their work to collectors, or having their pieces hung in galleries, office buildings, shops etc.. If you have windows that experience condensation / fog (especially common in places where the indoor and outdoor temp is dramatically different, or you have a lot of snow in winter) you may want to place your lightfast test strips on a board with spacers (such as a domino game tile, or a thick piece of cardboard) around the edges to avoid getting the paint strips damp.
CAN'T I JUST PUT UV PROTECTOR SPRAY ON MY ART?
You can, but it's not likely to help much. Sadly every test I've done has only resulted in the colors fading slightly less, and in some cases has actually made the color change unexpectedly. UV blocking particles in sprays are not very efficient in thin layers. Thick applications help a little by bending the rays of light that hit your artwork. It may buy you some extra buffer time if your art is spending a couple days in a bright room, such as a gallery with a lot of glass windows. On average Krylon's UV spray made my colors change about 1 week later than they would have without the spray. I've had a lot of alcohol ink customers tell me that they have had the most success with thick applications of resin (like "art resin" or "ice resin" brands).
What about UV glass frames? It's an expensive and hard to find gamble which should be compared to the expense of just buying a nice lightfast paint set instead. Most UV glass has just a thin coat of the UV spray on normal glass. This does not work for long term protection. The effectiveness of UV blocking glass frames vary by manufacturer and I do not have any testing data for that. Judging by the fact that most serious applications of UV glass are thick, dark tinted windows for cars or homes, I would assume that thin clear glass offers little to no protection.
LIGHTFAST RATING SYSTEMS AND WHY YOU SHOULDN'T ASSUME THEY ARE RIGHT.
In the USA it is common to see lightfast ratings go I-IV (1 - 5) with the idea that #1 is the best (stable) to #5 being the worst (fade). Brands like Daniel Smith and M. Graham use this scale. Other countries follow a 1-8 blue-wool scale where 8 is the best, 1 is the worst. European brands like Derwent and Daler Rowney use this scale. If that were not opposite enough, there are also star rating systems that vary between having 3 stars or 5 stars which work similarly to amazon reviews (1 of 3 stars is fugitive, 3 stars being lightfast). Brands like Royal Talens/Van Gogh and Arteza use this scale. When you see a star system from other companies, you can't be immediately sure if it's out of 3 or 5 stars until you see if any of their products have more than 3 stars or have a disclaimer. When the information is available, I include the manufacturer's lightfast rating along with any note about the amount of stars:
If that wasn't bad enough, companies can simply make up their own rating (though the larger, and older, reputable companies tend to be more trustworthy). Some companies don't do their own testing, but rather trust their ingredient to be a pre-determined rating. For example, if 5 different manufacturers make an Ultramarine Blue color paint, but they all get the raw material from a different supplier it may not all be the same quality. Yet all of these brands may label it lightfast, because it has been generally proven that Ultramarine Blue is a lightfast pigment. There is also the possibility the company will lie. I'm unsure if that's the case with Faber Castell in the example below (in reference to Gelatos, a water soluble crayon similar to Neocolor II, from the company best known for pencils like Polychromos and Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils):
Some pigments also fade faster when highly diluted/watered down (vs being full strength, also known as masstone). So if a company adds just a tiny amount of this color to a paint mixture, it would be more prone to fading than if it was 100% that one color. I've gotten to the point where I do not trust manufacturer's lightfast ratings at all. One too many labels have said lightfast, just for me to find the colors fading within weeks (looking at you Faber Castell Gelatos and every Prussian paint ever made). It's often better to go by pigment ingredients if you learn which ones tend to be stable across all brands. Though even that can be unreliable due to the masstone vs diluted fading problem (looking at you Daniel Smith Moonglow and Shadow Violet).
WHY "ARTIST QUALITY" OR TYPE OF PAINT IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD INDICATOR OF VALUE OR LIGHTFASTNESS:
"Artist quality" typically means that the company feels they used quality ingredients, which does not mean lightfast, but often implies that it contains a good amount of the main ingredient instead of binders/fillers. Not all products will disclose their ingredients, and some even intentionally try to be misleading. "Liquid watercolors" is a particularly bad label, because almost all of them are actually dye inks (often man-made, bright and thin liquids that stain) and not actually the quality pigments (often thick-powder particles mined from real minerals) found in professional watercolor paints. Dyes often fade, and a great many artists have been sad to find that their very expensive "ecoline", "PH Martin Radiant" "Viva" (and other color sheets that are dye-soaked papers that can be rewet with a brush) will often disappear in room lighting within weeks. Sometimes these types of re-branding schemes also come with a huge price increase (such as the dye inks being called liquid watercolors or fountain pen inks, when they are exactly the same type of product as craft sprays like dylusions/scrapbook color misters that come in much larger containers).
SPECIFIC COLORS MADE BY ANY COMPANY WILL BE FUGITIVE:
Almost every "neon", "Fluorescent", "Opera Pink" or "Highlighter" bright color will fade within weeks of indirect minor sun exposure. Many dye inks like copic markers, fountain pen inks and alcohol inks that were man-made to be very vibrant will fade.
All "Prussian" blue (and colors mixed with PB27) will fade with light exposure, but do a very odd thing in shade - recover. Prussian pigment was a chemistry accident that resulted in a very nice blue, but the colors react very oddly to light. Prussian will fade in the sun, but later the color can restore itself to the original state if left in shade for several weeks or more. Because Prussian colors (due to a bleaching effect chemical reaction of iron salt + UV light) recover when removed from light, many manufacturer's will tell you that it is a permanent and totally lightfast color. I don't use Prussian for art to sell. Who really wants to worry about moving their painting off the wall and into a closet to wait for the colors to recover?
JUST BECAUSE IT FADES, DOESN'T MEAN IT IS A LOW QUALITY PRODUCT:
There is a lot of demand for bright colors in the art and crafts industry. Even the highest quality paint manufacturers will offer fluorescent pink made with the same care and quality binders as their other paints. Many companies are supplying colors that people want to use for sketchbooks, indoor crafts and for art that will be photo-copied/scanned for book illustrations, magazines, prints or displaying online. Unfortunately, sometimes artists who want to use these products for art to hang on a wall find out later that all their hard work has faded away. These products should not be judged harshly for their poor lightfast results. They do what they were made to do (be vibrant, unique colors, fit a certain type of use or ease of blending etc.). Copic markers and Alcohol Inks are good examples of quality products that fade, but many artists still use them because they provide effects other art supplies can not.
HELPFUL? IF YOU'D LIKE TO HELP KEEP THIS PROJECT GOING:
I hope that this project will be found useful by many artists. I would love to be able to continue to provide thorough, helpful information on this topic in the future. If you have found any of this information valuable, please consider leaving a donation of any size to help me cover the costs of supplies. This donation button uses PayPal to safely process cards worldwide for any amount you wish to contribute. Every dollar is greatly appreciated!
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Cookie, who oversees all lightfast testing, also hopes you found our research helpful :)
Where do I shop for art supplies?
My favorite American art supply chain store is Dick 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.
Amazon USA continues to offer more and more art and craft supplies that can be found no where else. They often have import sets, such as Chinese brands like Paul Rubens, that are not available in the more common art stores. This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
For craft supplies, such as Art Philosophy and Prima Marketing watercolors, alcohol or dye inks, stamp pads, markers etc. I shop at:
Scrapbook.com: Thousands of scrapbooking supplies. HUGE daily discounts!