Sonnet 24 Watercolor Full Pan Review compare to Rosa Studio vs Paul Rubens LIGHTFAST TEST
Sonnet is a student grade watercolor paint made by Nevskaya Palitra - the factory that makes White Nights (pro) in Russia. There are also two other extremely similar sets to consider - Rosa Studio (from the makers of Rosa Gallery, Ukraine) and Paul Rubens 24 full pan set from China (this set is also student grade like their "Caroline" or "Pretty Excellent", but was not clearly labeled as different from their PRO grade Paul Rubens options). The Paul Rubens and Sonnet sets are nearly identical, but there are subtle differences between them. Any of these would be acceptable for young students, for card making or beginner practice. Some sets are easier to find in certain parts of the world (there are now severe import restrictions on Russian goods to the USA due to the war in Ukraine). Sonnet is the most economical in use (very vibrant, very little paint needed), but Rosa Studio has better lightfastness in the purples.
One year lightfast test results for all 3 sets side by side:
The main benefit of this type of watercolor set is the average cost (about a dollar per full pan, less than half the price of White Nights pro grade). None of these sets are ideal for creating art to sell. They may be a good option if you are feeling nervous about "wasting" more expensive paints and want a set to "play" with that behaves better than a kids set. Unfortunately even if you were to discard all of the fugitive colors, you'd still be left with colors that are not as smooth or pigmented than a pro grade would be. All of these paints suffer from a chalky, low flow, sludgy, harder to reactivate feel to their binder than their professional options. Because Rosa Gallery pro grade is actually quite reasonably priced for such a huge upgrade in quality, I would personally recommend the upgrade and just skip these sets. Even if it means buying a slightly smaller set to stay in the same price range. The exception to this is crafting/practice use where you really just need cheap color - not high performance.
All of these sets use cheap pigments, many of which are prone to fading (problematic for wall art in rooms that receive natural light). There is also slightly less pigment load and different binder properties (fillers, amount of binders or quality of gum arabic) than professional paints. This changes the way these paints flow and re-wettability is not as quick (some colors need scrubbing). These paints are offered by very few stores and lack individual replacement colors. They do not contain Cobalts or Cadmiums, so are less toxic than many pro selections (caution -certain pigments like PV3 and fluorescent dyes are toxic).
Availability: Sonnet is now harder to find in the USA as of 2022 due to the import restrictions on Russian goods. Rosa Studio was difficult to find in previous years, with no major art retailers stocking them. I found them on 3rd party seller sites like Etsy or Ebay, but this set is also available on Amazon in 2022. I am less impressed by Rosa "Studio" of these three, as it is an obviously less-pigmented paint. The mixtures were dull and many were too opaque, preventing rich deep values when layering. However, Rosa Studio is the only one to offer lightfast magenta-leaning purples (using PB29/PR122 in their Violet Light instead of the fugitive PV2 found in the other two sets). Paul Rubens can be found on Amazon or Ali Express.
You can check on purchasing options for these sets on Amazon USA below:
None of these sets come with an ideal primary cool red. There is no PR122 or PV19, which will limit your floral pinks and prevent proper color mixing. If you buy one of these sets intending to practice color mixing or painting botanicals, I suggest picking up a separate pan of White Nights Quin Rose PR122. A "permanent rose" PV19 from a brand like W&Newton or Van Gogh may also work better than the warmer reds in this set. I could see someone otherwise attempting to mix the white with "Carmine" to get a pastel pink, which will unfortunately result in opacity (will cover up line art or look cloudy in layers).
For those willing to make do with the Carmine in these sets (Sonnet seems to be the best and most pink-leaning) I was able to do some creative mixing with it. Carmine with Ultramarine Blue resulted in gently color-separating purples. Carmine mixed with Emerald (phthalo green) resulted in muted neutral purples and shadow grays.
There are a handful of useful lightfast pigments in this set at a bargain price. More than a few colors are acceptable for wall art - ultramarine blue, phthalo green, phthalo blue, burnt sienna, english red, lamp black, raw and burnt umber would be great for landscape/animal/nature art that would not be limited to practice. Sonnet's ultramarine and burnt sienna are strong, allowing them to mix neutral grays (and even a more lightfast near-black replacement for their oddly multi pigmented black). The paint is just decent enough to help you produce nice looking artwork. It's mainly the red/orange/yellow/purples that you have to worry about fading.
I use white gouache for adding highlights, rain or snow splatters. The white watercolor in the Sonnet set is opaque enough (when used thickly) to add highlight areas as well. For light beams, I use masking tape and a paper towel to rub away stripes of dry paint layers. Use a slightly damp paper towel, brush or q-tip for "lifting" techniques, but only if you have strong cotton paper that isn't prone to surface damage (Arches).
Rosa Studio is the only one that provides pigment ingredients and opacity notes on the packaging. On the manufacturer website you can find further info on Sonnet, but I could not find any pigment info at all for Paul Rubens. All of them include lightfast ratings which appear to have a lot of errors. Be aware that when a brand does not include pigment codes on their pans, they may decide to add cheaper pigments or dyes to future mixtures without warning. I can only give you an idea of what my particular batches were like, which were manufactured in 2019-2020. This may change in future batches, multiple brands like Kuretake Gansai, Paul Rubens and White Nights have made random ingredient changes over the years.
Sonnet is the most vibrant option, along with having the most fully filled pans and high pigment load. Paul Rubens comes in a metal tin (the others are in cardboard) which may be considered an extra value. The paints all come in plastic pans inserted in a flexible plastic ice-cube style tray. Paul Rubens uses a few fluorescent dyes, which should overall matter very little considering the pigments used in these sets are already fugitive ones.
Paul Rubens appears to have blatantly copied Sonnet. It's not a problem to offer the same colors, but they seem to have borrowed everything from made-up color names, the order in which they are in the set, even the brand-specific pan numbers... It's such an unusual copy-paste situation that I decided to email the Sonnet distributors to ask if they were allowing Paul Rubens to re-brand/re-package their paints. I wanted to know if these were just made from the same materials, but with a Paul Rubens label instead of Sonnet. They said this was not the case and they were not aware of this "copy cat product". While this particular Paul Rubens set looks very similar to Sonnet, I was able to verify it is NOT the same. Several Paul Rubens colors are not the same ingredients (PR's Madder Lake Red and Yellow medium glow from a fluorescent dye additive. Their Violet Light also contains more fluorescent than the Violet Light in Sonnet. Paul Ruben's gold ochre also appears to use a stronger staining yellow in the mix (something like PY150) which gives it a more artificial hue than the Sonnet version. PR Raw Sienna is much weaker than Sonnet's.
Rosa Studio does not use fluorescent additives and is overall the least vibrant of the 3 sets. Rosa does not include white, which is fairly unlikely to be used often as you'd more likely mix watercolor with water to dilute it to pale pastel-like tones. Unfortunately Rosa has rather dull yellows, other fugitive pigments and a lot of opaque, smooth mixtures that are not ideal for learning paint properties. The browns are not transparent or granulating like you'd find in pro grades. Most of the warm colors will fade and the semi-opaque nature of the reds/yellow/orange will not be ideal for layering/glazing if doing botanical art.
My initial painting experience using the Paul Rubens set can be seen in the video below. I will be doing a video comparing all 3 against each other once the lightfast testing is completed.
I overall prefer Miya or Pretty Excellent, it has more color options and is also in this bargain price range. You may be able to find those other options directly from China on sites like Ali Express, or via Amazon USA below:
Simple color chart:
Detailed swatch cards for Rosa Studio:
Swatch Cards Sonnet:
I have added the swatch cards to the pigment database, where you can compare each color to the same pigment from another brand. I use affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you :)
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