M Graham Watercolor Paint Review Color Chart Swatch Cards Lightfast Tests
M Graham Paint Co. is an American company making oil, acrylic, gouache and watercolor. While this page will focus on watercolor, I will say that I overall prefer their gouache and acrylic paints - both being some of the best paints I've ever used of those mediums. I have had more than a few problems with their watercolors over the past few years, but can't tell you if any of the issues have been resolved or caused by the new ownership (M.Graham changed hands somewhere around 2018, I believe as the Graham's retired). This company is not as open and transparent about their production, formulations or ingredients as informative brands like Golden/Qor or Schmincke. Questions I submitted through their website contact form have been answered promptly, but vaguely. Some questions creatively dodged to focus on something I didn't ask. I suppose this is better than no answers at all, which puts them above White Nights and Daniel Smith in communication.
M. Graham's watercolors are made with honey, which they claim also helps them avoid the use of chemical preservatives and other types of humectants (that retain moisture, for easy re-wettability). Unfortunately, their unusual high honey content results in a watercolor prone to strong smells and unusual texture issues. I was unable to completely fix this problem despite trying many types of water and paper (distilled, purified, tap, well and cotton or cellulose papers). There were extra reactions in hard/well water which I improved by using purified water instead (Aquafina solved a strange repetitive ripple-like flocculation). The worst issue was in the Quinacridone Quintet tube set, where each of the colors immediately had a curdled gritty texture reaction when hitting tap water on paper. I was able to only somewhat improve the texture (to what is shown in the photo below) by painting with distilled/purified water only with these paints. I assume that the minerals in hard water, tap or well, may be a problem. Considering that most other brands don't give me this much trouble, I decided to return this set:
The other colors I bought individually did not have this severe of a reaction, however I did still have some texture problems - especially when using them side by side with other brands. Honey paints require extra water. They re-wet easily, but the colors won't properly disperse without extra care. I find MGraham paints to not work well with other brands when setting up multi-brand palettes or custom colors made from multiple tubes into pans. MGraham and other honey-heavy paints like Sennelier, require above average mixing with water on your palette before painting. If going from pan to paper I saw spots of uneven drying and odd textures. This was likely from the honey drying at a different rate than areas that have more water. If thoroughly mixed with water the honey seems to disperse with the pigments better, providing more even washes. This requires the artist to have a certain technique (brush/water/palette habits) which may not be the same as other watercolors you own. If you would like to see more posts regarding similar problems reported by other artists using M. Graham, check out Lee Angold's blog post.
While the colors I tried did have a strong smell, mostly honey-like and sometimes earthy depending on the pigment, I have read artist complaints regarding the smells being so unpleasant to cause a headache. The paints often remain so sticky "dried" in the pan, so they aren't as convenient for travel palettes as other watercolor brands. Many artists who do urban sketching/plein air painting outdoors find that M.Graham watercolors can become liquidy and ooze around their palette, as well as attract bees or flies, so I would not use these for travel palettes.
They have a relatively small collection of about 70 colors, very little in the way of unique / unusual, focusing instead on single pigments and lightfastness. Some artists love their single-pigment focused line, others might miss inspiring or time saving convenience mixtures. For a professional quality paint, they have the high pigment load you'd expect at a reasonable price (often being cheaper than Daniel Smith, but not always as cheap as Da Vinci). There are a couple colors that they do particularly well, but I don't have many good reasons to recommend collecting a wide variety of colors from this brand. It appears that their pigment source is different than other American companies on the west coast such as Daniel Smith and Da Vinci. This brand tends to only be affordable within the USA, though prices have substantially increased over the past few years. With limited availability and high prices abroad, this makes an already quirky paint not worth seeking out in other parts of the world.
Are there any specific colors worth seeking out? While all of their colors are quite strong, their Viridian really stands out against the crowd. This normally hard to re-wet problem pigment seems to benefit from the extra honey humectant.
If I could recommend only one color to try from M.Graham it would be their Viridian PG18. It's the easiest to re-wet, heavily granulating, deep valued emerald green version of this color I've found.
Lightfast testing - I have not yet run into many fading issues with M.Graham paints, as they are quite careful about offering a limited selection of stable colors. I will update this page in the future as I try more colors. I currently own over 25 colors and have mainly found issues with only PR112. I will update this brand review section in the future once I return to further test this brand. I will be prioritizing their gouache and acrylics, which I feel are superior examples of their paint products.
-lightfast result images coming soon-
This company does NOT offer rare, unusual, uncommon or even many granulating pigments (beyond Viridian and several Cobalts - one of which was completely and repeatedly defective) limiting their uniqueness vs competitors. I have twice received a completely hardened PV14 Cobalt Violet, and I'm not alone in this experience (YouTube Oto Kano reported the same thing, where it's rock solid inside the unopened tube). I once thought that they offered the uncommon PR259 Ultramarine Pink. This would have been noteworthy since it's only available from a handful of brands world wide. Unfortunately their website and my tube I purchased were both mistakenly labeled as PR259 (Ultramarine Pink, like the name). It actually contains a form of ingredient PV15 (Ultramarine Violet). As someone who specifically collects colors based on pigment codes for comparison videos with the exact same ingredients from other brands, this mistake was quite a disappointment. I received neither apology nor refund.
M.Graham's Ultramarine Pink has always been made of PV15, the company has clarified that PR259 was a typo on my older tube. They had also temporarily typod this as PR258 (a completely different ingredient) for a time being, which you may see reflected on sites with outdated information such as Cheap Joes, Wet Paint and Jane Blundell swatch cards. I'm not that surprised this error occurred, as Ultramarine Pink and Violet pigments are chemically related (you have to specially treat PV15 with hydrochloric acid for several hours to achieve the red-pink tones transforming it into PR259). This color is definitely pink-leaning for something chemically identifying as PV15 without that special treatment, so it may be worth checking out if you enjoy either of those colors. However, if you want to try the altered lighter version - genuine Ultra Pink PR259 is now better sought out from Roman Szmal.
I purchase M. Graham paints at Blick USA here. Jacksons ships worldwide here, or Amazon USA may have them here:
Swatch cards that serve as a color chart with pigment info, lightfast ratings, masstone to diluted value range, flow, salt react and gradient wash:
Where do I shop for M Graham watercolors?
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.
Amazon USA continues to offer more and more art and craft supplies as well:
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Back to lightfast testing and art supply reviews, or check out the pigment database swatch cards.
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