Paul Rubens Watercolor Review - Lightfast Tests, Tubes, Half Pan Sets, Standard + Glitter Mica
Paul Rubens is a company in China that offers a variety of pro and student grade paints (watercolors, acrylics, oils, pastels), papers and mediums. This page focuses on their Paul Rubens line of professional watercolors. For those in the USA I recommend obtaining these paints on Amazon, as it's much more quick and reliable than the Paul Rubens store on Ali Express. Be cautious if using Ali Express, as there are also shady 3rd party vendors who may not ship the goods, steal credit card info, and if everything goes well it often takes over a month to ship to many areas of the world.
Apologies for the overloaded mess of a page. I've used this brand for a few years now so this page has a lot of content added at different times. As of mid 2021 the most recent product review added is the Shi Yun tube set. This package of 6 watercolors uses highly lightfast pigments all mixed with PBk11 (mars/lunar/black iron oxide). They are very dark, muted and subtly granulating with slight color separation (not as dramatic as Van Gogh/Rembrandt's "dusk" series). As with most of Paul Rubens paints these have a high pigment load, a low price and reactivate from dry well when used in a pan. Overall the paint itself is worth the price, but the color selection they offer is vast and many are convenience colors. You may find that buying a single pan of PBk11 from any brand (such as Roman Szmal, which offers fine/less granulating OR coarse/more granulating options) may be more cost effective for occasional DIY mixing.
---shi yun video coming shortly---
Shi Yun swatch cards:
You can find this set on Ali Express or Amazon:
Pros: Performance. They make lovely paint that is highly pigmented, easy to re-wet, has a low-flow that is easy to blend and stays where you put it (but it's not sludgy/dead in the water like chalky bargain paints or Turner brand). Best of all the price is considerably less than almost every other pro grade on the market (other than the Russian brand White Nights, who also competes in this price range). Both Paul Rubens and White Nights are amazing entry level pro grade paints. These are ideal for serious beginners who do not want to waste their time and effort on paint of poor quality - these will not hinder learning watercolor techniques. For anyone learning lifting/staining properties, be aware that granulating colors lift easier than smooth non-textural ones. Paper sizing is very important for lifting (the surface coating on some papers will cause colors to sink into the paper fibers and stain worse than others). Most small pan set assortments focus on smooth, staining colors (colors like cerulean and cobalts are typically found individually or in very large sets, like the 48 pan option).
Cons: Typos - incorrect pigment codes provided for roughly 5 to 8 of the 48 pan colors. That's probably the most annoying to someone like me, who is trying to organize paint swatches by pigment codes. There are a few colors that I've had to give up on trying to figure out (sadly I wasn't able to put a few of them into the pigment database, to be compared to other brands). This was a major problem in the greens such as tree green, olive green, malachite (the "hue" pan version, not the genuine mineral version available in individual tubes) hookers green and several others. All of them had questionable typos which are noted on the swatch cards towards the bottom of the page. Several colors that were fugitive are marked as lightfast, and oddly enough several marked as fugitive performed quite well. This set is not perfect (and several of the colors that fade are available in other pro grade sets too), but the majority of the colors are very stable (see tests below). Several colors were suprisingly honest in their ratings (BW5-6 was noted for borderline colors, such as Lemon Sienna that are about LFIII equivalent).
While some carelessness was involved in the labeling, if you can get past these issues and refer to color charts and lightfast tests below you may still enjoy these paints. As much as the errors bothered me, I am appreciative to have such a high quality paint that doesn't break the bank. This was a welcome financial relief after buying sets from Schmincke and Sennelier that were 3x the price and did not perform significantly better to justify the price gap. Paul Rubens is my go-to practice paint, because I do not worry so much about wasting it. I have noticed some batch to batch color variances in the tube offerings and generally more questionable pigments being offered in their individual tubes (only available from China direct). Because of the variable nature of their tubes and difficulty obtaining them, I only recommend the pan sets. This is not a brand I seek out for reordering individual colors, I like them as a good deal on a big set, traveling or gift giving.
I've been really impressed that at least 40 of 48 colors in the Paul Rubens pan set were LFI-II. With this set ranging from as low as a third of the cost, up to about half the price of a set of this size from other pro grade brands (Sennelier, Rembrandt, Holbein, Schmincke), I expected less of it. There are several notes on colors I would avoid and details about pigment code number issues (which apply to any brand) in this image:
Past info/work with this brand can still be found below:
The above video is an update regarding my initial review (you can see my first video on YouTube here if you'd like to see my first impressions. This also shows side by side swatches of Sennelier and Rembrandt paints, verifying they do indeed work the same as much more expensive pro-grade paints.
I was really happy to pull down the lightfast strips from the window to discover only minor fading in 6 of the 48 colors. I expected the Prussian Blue, and the other 5 had such a tiny amount of dulling that I had to look hard at them under a lamp to tell.
For those who may have gotten the 24 color set in the past year, here is a separated fugitive list. Below you'll find the expanded list covering the colors in the 48 half pan set:
If you are in the USA, Amazon carries this paint for purchase here:
The pearlescent / metallic "glitter" set is made with a sparkly mica mineral mixed with an underlying pigment. Most of these colors have an underlying tone (such as blue sparkle on top of blue watercolor) but several do not (such as royal gold, which washes out to clear, see color chart swatch below).
Color chart for the 48 pan mica-based glitter watercolor set:
Previous information from 24 pan set review:
They offer high quality pan sets with standard (normal) OR glitter (metallic) colors. The standard sets use the same quality pigments found in professional brands like Daniel Smith, Schmincke, Rembrandt etc. and perform just as well at a fraction of the cost. The standard sets have a high degree of lightfastness, while the metallic ones do not.
Here is the color name list and swatch chart for both the 24 and 12 color half pan sets. These are the "glitter" sets which have metallic mica shimmer colors and do not provide specific pigment information (typically a pigment or dye is bonded with mica for the different colors). They do not claim these to be lightfast, and many crafters will find use for these in card making and scrapbooking as will artists in sketchbooks regardless of lightfastness.
Here is how each color performed after 6 months of daily light exposure in a North facing window:
The tubes are harder to get in the USA, only sometimes being available in sets on Amazon. You can order directly from the Paul Rubens Ali Express store, but it will have lengthy shipping and import delays as it comes from China.
Typos on the color chart and the pan labels made me think there were 2 royal purples. This is not a duplicate, just one pan happens to be moonlight purple, the darker one, mislabeled. Aside from some other typos for pigments, they are nice paints. The tin is very durable, much deeper mixing areas, better enamel coating and some inserts to prevent pan wiggling. I just wish it had been more clear what I was buying. For those who like to keep swatch card records of their paints, I had to do some annoying fact checking for a few of these. It's a unique product, as most watercolors are either very metallic/glittery or just not at all, these are a new middle ground. Hopefully this helps clarify what, for me, was quite the mystery product!
The hint of glitter set has such tiny delicate particles that they do not appear on scans of artwork or swatch cards, unless blown up to a very large viewing size. Here's an example of the card showing the glitter particles:
From standard pan sets (48 colors offered, white PW6 swatch pending):
From the "phosphorescent" hint-of-glitter pan set:
From individually purchased tube paints (Paul Rubens direct): These colors vary by batch (sometimes looking substantially different upon reordering.) The moonlight/shadow purples are not lightfast (just like Daniel Smith's moonglow). Because of these problems I can't really recommend the tube mixtures below.
Fun fact - This brand is named after the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens born in 1577 (not the actor Paul Reubens who played PeeWee Herman).
*More sets on the STUDENT GRADE PAUL RUBENS PAGE* As this company continues to expand their offerings, they are getting more and more confusing to new buyers. They have several student grade sets, including the MeiLiang Pretty Excellent pan set, Caroline tube paints as well as the new Paul Rubens 24 FULL PAN tin set which does not clearly indicate that it is NOT the same pro grade as their other "Paul Rubens" named pan sets. There is also a neon/fluorescent set that has colors which "glow" under uv black light (review on the fluorescent paints page).
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Learn more about how my lightfast tests are done, or see other brand art supply reviews here: LIGHTFAST FAQ AND REVIEWS BY BRAND.