Roman Szmal Aquarius Watercolor Review - Painting Videos, Color Chart Swatch Cards, Lightfast Test
Roman Szmal runs a watercolor company based in Poland. He calls his professional watercolors "Aquarius" and this part of the name indicates professional quality. It's possible they may expand to include a second name in the future for a student grade line. I'm excited to see what happens with this company, as they have had the most incredible success in the past couple years, rapidly gaining popularity with artists worldwide. These honey-based watercolors come in full pans (no tubes yet as of 2022). The price is low, similar to White Nights, but Roman Szmal offers more rare/unusual pigments as well as more granulating (textural) options. You can find Roman Szmal paints for sale worldwide at Jackson's here.
His catalog has been continually growing at a pace of 15+ colors per year. Here's a video featuring the late 2021 to early 2022 release, which included some uncommon, rare or brand exclusive pigments (PO82, PR290, PBr29, PY164). I highly recommend Quin Scarlet, a very orange-leaning red with no assigned pigment code (yet) made from a special blend of Quin and DPP (the same as Old Holland's Blood Red acrylic, but not the same as Winsor and Newton's more cooler pink leaning Permanent Carmine). It is incredibly useful as a completely transparent warm primary mixing red (in a roughly similar category as colors like vermilion, cad red light, pr242/255 - resulting in an intense black to paynes to brown neutral colors when mixed with phthalo blue pb15:3). Quin Scarlet is a warm tomato-like red with crystal clear layering potential:
LIGHTFASTNESS AND COLOR STABILITY NOTES: Lightfast testing on over 62 colors is in progress. I have purchased paints from Roman Szmal with a focus on their single pigment paints, rare or exclusive colors and several of the most color separating mixtures. Swatch cards for colors I own will be added to the bottom of this page. Once my tests are complete additional colors may be added to the problem list below.
There are problem colors in this brand, despite all of the paints being labeled as BW7-8 (LFI equivalent/blue wool scale 7-8 colors should not be prone to fading). I am concerned when a brand offers rarely used or newly released pigments, as there may not have been proper lightfast testing done for them. This inevitably means that the customer/artist's work is the true lightfast testing ground. We need to tell paint manufacturers that our art is not the place for fading experiments. No one wants to see their work fade over time (which sometimes happens very quickly, such as the case with PO64 a modern pigment new to the watercolor world as of 2017). RS has labeled his paints with ratings passed along from "trusted" pigment manufacturers (who don't usually test all mediums). The pigment source (who sells the ingredient to the paint company) typically only mixes the pigment into plastic, resin or acrylic binder before doing a short duration xenon light machine test. It is clear that any tests that were done only documented results for masstone/full strength paint swatches only. These ratings are NOT applicable to watercolor, where diluted washes are most important. Tests that use diluted paint (purified water on acid free cotton paper) over a long duration with natural sun light yields more accurate results that reflect real-life fading scenarios. I have found drastic fading or hue shifts in multiple colors including:
PR177 ANTHRA RED, which shows moderate stability full strength, but is very fugitive when diluted. Be cautious of convenience mixtures using this color, as PR177 can result in severe fading in mixtures. (This fugitive red was used in PRZYBYSZ'S GREY, a color very similar to DS Moonglow and DV Artemis.)
PO64 DEEP ORANGE is incorrectly labeled as lightfast, when similarly to PR177, it fades dramatically when diluted. I suspect that this color may have a high rating passed along from a pigment manufacturer who only tested it in masstone or acrylic/oil thickly, where diluted washes or tints were not evaluated.
MALACHITE and VIVIANITE (Blue Ochre) are lightfast, but can harden, darken and yellow over time due to chemical interactions such as with the honey based paint binder, acids and environmental factors (sulfides).
NBr8 Van Dyck / Vandyke Brown made from pigment Natural Brown #8, a rarely offered pigment composed of mixed brown earth (coal/lignite, iron hydroxide - goethite, manganese oxide - pyrolusite, peat and random other local minerals found in the ground). This color is fugitive to different degrees between sources (due to the varied chemical make up of ground minerals/coal in locations around the world). This pigment is available as powder from companies like Cornellisen and Son as well as Kremer. Holbein and Roman Szmal offer it in watercolor. Sadly RS rated this color as BW8 (max lightfastness / LFI equivalent), but it is fading substantially within 6 months. I'll be continuing this test for 1 full year (for fair all-season comparisons to hundreds of other colors I'm testing), but in the meantime wanted to warn artists about this issue since it's notable already. NBr8 is looking similar to LFIII rated paints after this duration of exposure (and in general LFI paints show NO signs of fading at 1 year+ sun).
PB27 PRUSSIAN BLUE has variable lightfastness depending on how it is stored. There is notable fading when stored in natural light, often recovering it's color when placed in shade (away from UV). There are some colors using PB27 in the mixture (such as when paired with PY150 for a botanical leafy green). These colors fade due to Prussian Blue's iron salts being effectively bleached by UV, but recharging their color when not stored in UV light. Because of it's tendency to recover color, it's considered a lightfast paint without permanent fading. However, those seeking to hang art on a wall in sunny office buildings or places with natural light from nearby windows may want to avoid it. I have seen irreversible fading that no longer reverts in shade when PB27 is extremely diluted.
Demonstration painting videos and other thoughts:
These affordable colors come in dry full-size pans (no tubes at this time) and are available in 165+ colors. For those in humid climates, these paints will remain sticky and are often problematic to unwrap (placing the paint in a freezer for n hour may help reduce fluidity while peeling labels off). My first purchase to test the brand was their set of 5 basic starter colors:
The following colors are included in this set:
Here's my first impressions video using this set:
Roman Szmal has created a few paints that are similar to Daniel Smith (imitating Imperial Purple, Moonglow and Shadow Violet colors). These dupes are close, but not exact, so it's personal preference if it's worthwhile to own both company's mixtures.
Some of the 25 new colors added in 2020:
In September 2020 I purchased 16 of the 25 new colors (shown in the video above or swatch cards below) making a total of about 165 colors in their catalog. This includes more convenience mixtures similar in appearance to Daniel Smith's Moonglow and Shadow Violet, but with slightly different pigment ingredients, as well as genuine mineral paints that were otherwise only available in Daniel Smith's line. There are also some nice new cobalt blues (an alternate to the original pg50 teal, now a brighter more blue leaning cobalt PB28) as well as a lovely PBk32 perylene green DEEP which I haven't seen anywhere else. More and more this brand is appearing to be an alternative to Daniel Smith, with a specialization in full size pan form (no tubes at this time) with easier, affordable distribution throughout Europe. Regarding the colors not shown in the video above - five similar oranges released at this time (I prefer to mix red/yellow and I will cover some issues with these orange colors later on). There's also a new convenience mixture for sap green "light", a common indian red and a muted PR202 alternative for magenta (I prefer PR122 instead).
Roman Szmal now has a couple rare minerals that Daniel Smith used to make, but were discontinued years ago including Malachite and Vivianite. These pigments are both technically lightfast, but unfortunately it's not just UV you have to worry about. Malachite and Vivianite are both chemically unstable and when exposed to acid, sulfides and certain watercolor paint binder ingredients like honey. I can not rule out further issues due to air pollution, humidity, variable ph and other chemicals/pigments in your palette. Both Malachite and Vivianite can turn yellow and harden over time. Because of varied reports from fellow artists in different climates, I believe humidity/air quality may speed up yellowing over time (a waterfront/humid area artist may see issues quickly, while others are see no changes). These problem-prone paints were discontinued by Daniel Smith several years ago and they are more frequently found by handmade DIY paint makers who use pigment powders (dry ingredients sourced from companies like Kremer).
I have heard from other artists that not only did the old DSmith Malachite have unusual hardening within their metal tubes, but that these paints became unusually difficult to re-wet over time. The only Malachite I have yet to see discolor or harden is a Paul Rubens tube, but it has remained well sealed for the past year. I'm going to leave it that way a bit longer to see if I can determine if storage in a metal tube itself is a problem long term. I do not have an old DS sample to say if their gum arabic binder caused the same yellowing reaction as seen in honey based paints. Unfortunately even if you tried to make Malachite without honey, Malachite is still chemically vulnerable to yellowing due to interactions with other paints on an artists palette (which may include honey based ones). Overall I prefer to use Viridian PG18 or Cobalt Green PG50 diluted when looking for a pale granulating green.
One of the great benefits of watercolor is that they typically have no expiration date. I have dry pans from many years ago, and have collected antique watercolor sets that are over 70 years old, that still re-wet with a touch of a damp brush and have remained their original color. Three times from three separate manufacturers I have bought Malachite (I love the color) and all of them were stored differently hoping to find a way to preserve them for longer. I've tried storing them sealed in a ziplock, the other in a tube, the other in a palette next to other paints. Most have turned into yellowish chunky gritty messes within 6 months to a year. It appears Kremer, RSzmal and the handmade one (PoemsAboutYou etsy) were all made with honey in the binder, which likely caused the quick yellowing inside the pan. If you're going to buy Malachite or Vivianite, I would plan to use it up quickly before it changes.
Another problem color for me is Lazurite / Lapis Lazuli, it being too weak to be useful. It's always a gentle, hard to re-wet pigment, but I had hoped maybe it was as strong or stronger than the pale diluted ultramarine blue appearance of Daniel Smith's Lapis Lazuli. Unfortunately this is less than half the strength, looking very diluted. It is a much more dull, desaturated gray-ish blue - indicating cheaper mineral (it's more expensive the more deep blue and pure it is). I would pass on this one since it's so easily replicated with a diluted ultramarine blue mixed with dirty palette water.
There were many colors that were near identical to Daniel Smith paints. Goethite (same name in daniel smith) was just a touch more yellow than brown. The aquarius brown (lunar brown), aquarius grey (gray titanium), potters pink (a touch more pale than DS version) and Hematite Violet Shade is beautiful and similar in hue but with far less color separation and dramatic black granulation than DS version. In general I found the Roman Szmal versions to be slightly weaker and paler than the DS equivalent, with the exception of the very lovely and useful Goethite. *NOTE If you live in a dry climate and you use DSmith in pans, they will not be as easy to re-wet as the honey-based Roman Szmal. In certain climates this means your results would be better with RS, keep this in mind if you frequently struggle with needing to scrub your watercolors for good color payoff.
Where to buy?
Roman Szmal Aquarius Watercolors available here.
Swatch cards for the colors I own:
I recommend buying Roman Szmal's Aquarius watercolors from Jackson's below:
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