PIGMENT DATABASE Swatch Card Color Charts for Watercolor Paint Ink Gouache Acrylic
Artist pigment database pages include swatch card images, color and chemical names with pigment number ingredient codes, lightfast ratings and fugitive test reports, opacity, staining, lifting info as well as video painting demonstrations. Watercolor and gouache comparisons of most 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, Daler Rowney etc.
Click any color tile at the top or bottom of this page to find swatch cards of that color.
What is a pigment code number? In summary, it's an ingredient number instead of a complex chemical name for quickly identifying what was used in your paint. You can usually find this code on the label of professional quality art supplies. It will look something like P.B.36, PBr7, PR242, PY150 etc. When there are multiple codes on your paint, it means it's a mixture of all of those pigments. This is extremely good to know, because it's a recipe for how you make that color. I highly recommend owning a smaller core selection of single pigment paints so you can mix your own convenience mixtures yourself.
How can learning pigment code numbers help you save money? Pan sets and tube assortments are often full of convenience mixtures that are essentially duplicates of a few core colors. You can save money in the long run on duplicate colors you could have mixed with your single ingredients (much like having an individual salt shaker and a pepper shaker, instead of buying a combination salt WITH pepper shaker that may never give anyone exactly what they wanted). It can also help you avoid buying duplicate colors between brands that may have been labeled with different "fun" made up names, like "mango orange" or "lipstick red". Even proper names like "Cadmium Orange" can be misleading, because PO20 means Cadmium orange pigment, but a company might mix PR108 (Cad Red) and PY35 (Cad Yellow) together instead. If you wanted the PO20, but bought one based on the "Cadmium Orange" color name instead of ingredient code, you may not actually get the genuine single-pigment you were looking for.
The main ingredient of a paint is pigment. This is often a crushed up and finely powdered mineral. Many of which are clays or dirt (looking at you earth browns/iron oxides), burnt vegetation (coal, lamp black), and modern pigments which can also be chemically man made. Each have a unique chemical composition and assigned number.
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 (as well as translucent or sparkly "white" Mica, the sheet silicate mineral known as 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). In certain rare instances gemstones and rocks not commonly used do not have an assigned number code. This is the case in some Daniel Smith Primatek mineral paints (specially mined gemstones rarely used in other brands) so the mineral name may be written instead of a number.
In this website's database you will primarily see each color organized by number code. This is a more reliable way to identify an ingredient than the color name on your paint (which could be made up descriptors like "sunshine" or "lemon" even though it that yellow might technically made of the chemical identified as PY35 Cadmium yellow). For yellows, the list may start with PY1 and count as high as PY216. P stands for pigment, Y for Yellow, # for the identifier of chemical. There are over 200 ways to make a yellow pigment. You assign each chemical / mineral / natural plant a number code to identify that it's the one you used to create that yellow paint. ("PY150" for example means Pigment Yellow 150 - Chemically known as "Nickel Azo Yellow".) As time goes on more and more numbers are added as modern pigments are invented. You may see gaps in pigment code numbers, where pigments have stopped being made or the assignment process skipped a color to be closer to another similar color. Because this code means chemical properties, and not always color hue, you may notice some colors vary wildly by code. PV19 can be rose red, magenta pink or even near-purple. PG50 can be green to bright teal blue, but any PG50 color contains Cobalt Green with a variable amount of other trace minerals that change the color hue.
ABOUT THIS MODERN, UP TO DATE, ARTIST PIGMENTS 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 outdated TEXT information regarding pigments. These older websites have not gotten recent updates, and as such some of the information is incorrect or incomplete (modern brand options are not accounted for, or lightfast testing results that weren't available at the time were not included). 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? (Which pushes lighter weight and finer particles away from it in a snowflake pattern.) 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.
Regular fine particle table salt is a tool that quickly identifies pigment particle size and weight. It pushes away light and super fine particles to create a snowlake-like pattern. In heavier or thicker particles, particularly opaque or granulating (clumping / textural colors), the pigment settles into the texture of the paper, remaining unmoved.
This can help those who like to use this effect as a texture trick in their watercolor paintings to identify good choices for the technique. Not all brands have a beautiful reaction. You will not see a reaction in paints with thick binders (particularly acrylic or oil), gouache or watercolors that contain too many additives, dextrin, starch or opaque fillers (chalk).
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. 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. Below you can see how Ultramarine Blue PB29 is heavier than PV19, and the PBr7 is heavier than PB15, so they separate from each other:
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.
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!
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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: