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 faded in window sun light. I test and review watercolor paints, acrylics, inks, color pencils, craft dye inks and more! I'll be including demonstration painting videos, thorough in-depth reviews, hand painted color charts and organizing it all by company brand below.
Reviews, color charts and lightfast testing (click a brand name to see more):
Coliro and Finetec - various metallic mica watercolor sets - coming soon
Daniel Smith Watercolors - (250+ colors tested, tube and pan sets, example art and video reviews)
Kuretake Gansai Watercolors - coming soon
Mission Gold Watercolors - coming soon
Shinhan Watercolors - coming soon
Superior Watercolor (+ China rebranded knock offs of Paul Rubens, Artsy and Artify).
Acrylic inks, paints and paint markers:
Acrylic paint markers - Sharpie, Montana and Uni Posca sets - coming soon
Pens, color pencils, crayons and other drawing supplies:
Faber Castell Gelatos - 36 colors tested.
Dye based inks, markers and stamp pads:
Alcohol Inks by Tim Holtz / Ranger - coming soon
Copic Markers - coming soon
LIGHTFAST FAQ -
HOW MY LIGHTFAST TESTS ARE DONE:
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. 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.
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. Many colors that will fade over the course of a year will start to show signs of slight fading at about 3 months, which I recommend 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.
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). The effectiveness of UV blocking glass frames would vary by manufacturer and I do not have any testing data for that.
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. For my personal records, I keep swatch cards after testing my supplies with a simple "yes" or "no" for lightfast. You may see those in my videos or images around the site, it's my way of simplifying this mess!
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 green colors 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 recover when removed from UV, 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, as 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:
This has been a very expensive and time consuming project, that I hope will be found useful by many artists. I want 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!
There are also indirect, at no cost to you, ways to help. Without support, it is unlikely I will be able to continue posting new content. Sharing links to this website on your social media, adding watch-time, liking or subscribing to my YouTube channel, and using links around my site for purchasing products are all great ways to keep this content available and growing.
If you have suggestions on supplies you are interested in seeing reviewed, or wish to share with me, my email is email@example.com
Cookie, who oversees all lightfast testing, also hopes you found our research helpful :)
One of my favorite places to shop for 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.