PIGMENT DATABASE Swatch Card Color Charts for Watercolor Paint Ink Gouache Acrylic
Artist pigment database with swatch card images, color names, lightfast, opacity, staining and lifting info. Watercolor, gouache, ink comparisons of major brands including Daniel Smith, White Nights, Schmincke, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Paul Rubens, Kuretake Gansai, Winsor & Newton, Mission Gold, Sennelier, ShinHan, Lukas. Gouache by Holbein, Da Vinci. Acrylic paint by Liquitex and M. Graham. Copic markers and other dye inks such as Fountain Pen and alcohol inks. PH Martin's Bombay india ink, Daler Rowney Calli Shellac calligraphy ink. Colored pencils Luminance, Prismacolor, Polychromos + more manufacturers and art mediums!
Click any color tile at the top or bottom of this page to find swatch cards of that color.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT:
As a mixed media artist primarily working with watercolors over the past decade, I've accumulated a large number of art supplies. Some of these supplies have been a disappointment and some have faded (even when the manufacturer said they wouldn't). Some affordable products have blown my mind with unusually high quality, while some high cost products failed to deliver. It seems like a shame to keep all of my findings to myself... So I put together the art supply review and lightfast testing section, but I felt like looking at specific brands one by one was not enough. I really wanted to see how certain colors compare across multiple brands.
I've searched the internet for a complete pigment directory. I've found a lot of great resources over the years, such as the Color of Art Pigment Database along with Handprint which both offer vast amounts of TEXT information regarding pigments. Jane Blundell has a great blog where she shares her style of color swatch images, but there are only written notes about staining properties and no clear masstone to diluted range. Since none of that was exactly the mix of imagery and info I was looking for, I'm starting my own database. I'll be including detailed color swatches that show off each color and it's characteristics:
My swatch cards focus on visually displaying the paint properties, instead of just reading if a color is opaque or granulating. No more wondering just how intense the granulation in a certain color is, or how it might separate in a very wet wash. See the beautiful range of masstone (full strength), mid and pale diluted color for each pigment. Does it react to salt? Does it flow fast because of the brand's binder? How staining is "staining" anyway?! Let's find out while seeing how each color compares to the next.
If you would like to see one specific brand's color charts, review, painting demo videos and in-depth details about lightfast testing - go here. Continue below to compare colors across all brands of art supply materials.
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Are the colors accurate representations? As close as I was able to replicate on the monitors I am using. All swatch cards are carefully painted in the same way and scanned in the same scanner (all go through my HP copy/fax machine and are never photographed in variable lighting). I pay close attention to color comparisons, making sure that if a certain color looks dull or dark in person it is conveyed as such next to a brighter more vibrant color. If five reds all scan the same, but in person one is far more dull and desaturated, I will edit it to the best of my ability in Photoshop to best match it's actual appearance. In general most colors do not require post editing, but certain colors like neons/fluorescents and abnormally vibrant paints always require editing (opera pink, cobalt teal, some reds and magenta colors).
Technically no color you see on a monitor is accurate in regards to what you will see in person, the main reason is back-lighting. Each monitor/screen/tv/cell phone also has it's own personalized brightness and contrast settings. Paint on paper in person would not have any light passing through it, so it will be less "bright" in that regard. Keep these things in mind when looking at any swatches online.
Salt is a common texture trick to use with watercolors, but not all brands have a beautiful reaction. Some colors, especially those that granulate (have texture on their own) like certain brand's cobalt or ultramarine blue may not react at all. Granulating colors rarely react to salt due to their large particle size and tendency to clump / flocculate. This just means that they settle into the crevices of your paper in a textural pattern created by flowing in water. They are not as easily pushed or pulled by the salt drying reaction.
You may also see non-granulting colors have NO reaction to salt. Some brands have low quality binders or chalk filler that prevent a reaction, others have purposefully sticky or waterproof binders (like acrylic or oil) that limit this reaction. Some unique color separating watercolors, such as Daniel Smith's Cascade Green and Roman Szmal's Mineral Violet will show their hidden colors more prominently when salt is applied.
In paints that have a multi-pigment mixture, salt can quickly identify if a paint is capable of color separation. Salt creates a quick, reliable reaction showing what might occur if you practice severe wet washes, purposeful back-runs/blooms, dropping water onto drying paint and other techniques that are not as easily replicated on swatch cards.
I've heard you shouldn't use salt on watercolors: There are many judged, high-end gallery type groups, that frown upon the use of salt as a texture "trick" like cheating. This attitude is of very little importance to the average artist. If you sell your original paintings, be aware that salt can change the PH balance of your work over time - possibly causing the paper to age more brittle over the next century. If that is not a concern for you, then there is no reason to worry about it. As one of the most unique texture tricks to watercolor painting, it would be a shame not to experiment with it if you find that you enjoy the effect. Regardless of it's use in artwork, salt on swatches tells us valuable information about how paints perform.
If you'd like to see some beautiful examples of using salt texture a painting, try this lovely video about using salt and water blooms for creating a dapple gray horse by Emily Olson. A more broad video about using salt in your art by Louise De Masi here https://youtu.be/we9SH-hRvTk and see a beautiful example of salt as fur texture in this precious bunny painting here https://youtu.be/XNHXJxmsprg
UNDERSTANDING LIGHTFAST RATINGS:
My swatch cards include the manufacturer / brand's independent, ASTM, Blue Wool or star system rating if they supplied it. The common system in the USA is the ASTM I-V (American Society for Testing and Materials uses roman numerals), where I is the most lightfast, and V is completely fugitive. Note that all III to IV ratings should also be considered to fade too much for use in professional art (for sale).
In Europe, a popular system is the Blue Wool scale from 1-8. This goes in the opposite order from the ASTM roman numeral system. In this scale 8 is the most lightfast, and 1 is totally fugitive. You may see swatch cards written with notes like "BW8" meaning lightfast, equivalent to LFI.
In other parts of the world, brands like Shinhan/Mission Gold Korea or Schminke in Germany, you will have star rating systems out of 5 stars that work just like Amazon reviews. 1 star being poor, 4 to 5 being lightfast. Sometimes the max amount of stars is less, such as the 3 star system of White Nights, Royal Talens/Van Gogh, Arteza etc.. In this case, the number of stars AND how many stars it is out of (ie. *** of 3 stars) is written on the swatch card.
WHY DOES A CARD SAY LIGHTFAST (manufacturer rating) BUT YOUR PIGMENT INFO PARAGRAPH SAY IT'S FUGITIVE?
In addition to that rating, the pigment info paragraph above the swatch cards may include a note about lightfastness (typically with an explanation along with "LF? Yes" or "LF? No" ) when I have run an independent study myself. My system is simplified from the mess of 4+ common (and very different) rating systems. I've boiled it down to an important consumer artist distinction = Did it fade from UV exposure (indoor window lighting) in 1 year or less? If it faded/changed, then it is marked as NO it is not lightfast. If a watercolor product is too new to have a self study completed, the manufacturer rating will be used IF the color contains reliable pigment ingredients.
In general only extremely fugitive colors fade indoors near window lighting in under 3 months. These reliably include all neons / flourescents including "Opera Pink", all "Prussian" colors (which can later recover in shade and therefore commonly mislabeled as lightfast by paint manufacturers) and all dye based inks (such as those found in alcohol inks and markers). These colors can still be used in work that you plan to reproduce digitally or for prints, but caution is advised when selling your originals to buyers planning to hang your artwork on their walls.
PIGMENT CODE BASICS: The main ingredient of a paint is pigment, often a crushed up and finely powdered mineral. Many of which are clays and dirt (looking at you earth browns). To identify which pigment is the ingredient in a specific color of paint, the label on professional artist quality supplies will say something like "PV19" identifying it as "Pigment Violet #19". After "P" for pigment comes the color type, such as V=Violet (including purples through magenta), R=Red, O=Orange, Y=Yellow, G=Green, B=Blue, Bk=Black, Br=Brown, W=White (and clear/sparkly as the case with Mica PW20). In each color section I will elaborate on the full name of the pigment (for instance the code PG7 is used for Phthalo Green).
Some gemstones and rocks are not commonly used enough to have a number code. If a color does not have a manufacturing code (as in the case of Daniel Smith Primatek mineral paints) the mineral will be written and the swatch can be found at the top of the appropriate color section.
How are mixes organized? WHERE TO FIND MULTI-PIGMENT MIXES:
If a tube of paint is a multiple pigment mix, it will be shown in the "mixes" section of each applicable pigment. For instance, if a purple is made from PV19 and PB15, the swatch card will be in the "mixes" sections of both of those respective pigments.
The pigment database list includes: Yellow, Orange, Red, Violet, Blue, Green, Brown (Earth Pigments), Black, White / Mica / Metallic / Iridescent, and Dye-Based products.
Note: PW20 MICA based watercolors often include mixed pigments (the pearl white "mica" base may include coating from any other pigment). Gold, bronze and copper watercolors are commonly made from Red Iron Oxide PR101 + Mica base. Mica paints will not be displayed on other pigment pages "mixes" as often mica paints do not clarify their full ingredients.
Dye-based products are typically thin particle (lakes) bound to a substrate, often fugitive, man made and used for marker, pen and craft inks. This section also includes some natural dyes such as Indigo NB1 (commonly used for clothing and blue jeans) and other plant materials.
OTHER MATERIALS USED:
My swatch template = rubber stamp here, digital download here. I use a 1/4" flat and a size 4 round Princeton Neptune brush to complete each card. I use any firm flat shape synthetic brush (typically called "bright" brushes) for watercolor or acrylic to do the erasing/lifting. Very cheap brushes for beginner acrylics are often perfect for this abuse on the bristles.
Because of the excellent capacity of neptune brushes, I typically use the following set for all of my artwork. Neptune is a very limp/floppy brush that holds an extraordinary amount of water for being synthetic faux squirrel. When I need a fine point and spring/snap, I use their Heritage brushes for details.
Brushes and Arches paper are also available on Blick, which also usually has quite nice pricing on it here.
All swatches are completed on Arches 100% cotton cold press #140 watercolor paper. This paper has a good middle ground sizing (the gelatin coating on the paper), allowing for a reasonable assessment of staining and lifting properties of each paint. I typically use Bee #140 cold press paper when I want a brighter white paper that allows for glazing without lifting previously dry layers. However, because Bee paper is an easily stained paper (the sizing is more absorbent) I can not use it as an accurate example for lifting in the swatch cards.
PURIFIED WATER: Did you know that your water can have a visual effect on your paint? I use purified water for all of my painting. Granulation and unwanted texture effects can be caused by hard water, well water, ph level and minerals. Mold and fungus spores in your tap water can lead to your paint getting moldy over time. If you ever experience issues like that, try changing your water. You can also go through far less water while painting by making sure you have a towel nearby to wipe your brush on between rinsing.
How can I support this project? This has been a labor of love that I hope will be found useful by many artists. The materials have been very expensive and the time involved is greater than initially anticipated. 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!
Or join me on Patreon:Become a Patron!
There are also indirect, at no cost to you, ways to help. 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!
Cookie, who oversees all lightfast testing, also hopes you found our research helpful :)
Where do I buy my art supplies?
This page includes affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Check out their growing selection of art and craft supplies below.
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.
For craft supplies, such as Prima watercolors and inks aimed at card makers, rubber stampers and other crafters I typically shop at:
Scrapbook.com: Thousands of scrapbooking supplies. HUGE daily discounts!
Click any color to see all the swatch cards in that pigment category: