Top Lightfast Watercolor Pigments! Build a professional quality versatile palette for unique color mixing.
A list of lightfast pigments that I highly recommend for watercolor painting. These colors are what I use most often in my palette. They are versatile for a wide variety of subject matter as well as capable of creating unique granulating and color separating mixtures for visual interest. I'll also include notes about harmony within this palette, such as complimentary colors and easy mixing of neutral near-black grays. I choose paints with ASTM ratings of LFI to LFII, with the exception of PR122 Magenta that is under-rated due to an older test marking it as LFIII in 1999 (likely an error since many brands have been thoroughly UV tested by myself/handprint resulting in LFI masstone II diluted/BW7-8). You can not always rely on ASTM or manufacturer ratings. For example, PR177 Anthra Red is being marketed as a replacement for the fugitive PR83 Alizarin Crimson, but it turns out that it fades just as much in tints or diluted (LFIV fading for a pigment labeled as LFI)! This is likely due to a masstone test in oil/acrylic, more on the fugitive list).
I'll be listing each color in order of priority for building my preferred mixing palette. I'll share my reasons for each color, but you may find that you require a different color priority due to the type of art you create (such as the needs of a botanical painter are different than a portrait artist). Where to buy, the benefits of buying watercolor tubes instead of pans along with other general advice for beginners is at the bottom of the page.
When brands create convenience mixtures, it's easy to be persuaded into buying them while assuming you couldn't re-create them at home. Daniel Smith makes a lot of beautiful color separating mixtures (Moonglow, Shadow Violet, Imperial Purple etc.) that are very tempting because they look so unique. The deep purple (when used on dry paper) of Moonglow or Artemis separates out into blue-green and red when it hits water (or when you sprinkle table salt onto it as seen in the swatch cards above). When I first started painting I had collected way too many colors made up of multiple pigments that I later discovered were easy to mix on my own. Having a decent collection of single pigment paints will give you the most versatility in the long run. If you spend some time mixing your own favorite colors, you may find yourself saving money over time by fighting off the urge to buy things you already have the core ingredients for. Here I've swapped out the fugitive Anthra Red PR177 they used (and misinformed customers that it was lightfast) with a more stable Quin Red PR209 instead:
--- LIST --- The following list of recommendations is a robust collection aimed at pigment enthusiasts, professional artists, granulation and color separation fans. I'll go in order of priority for those wanting a more compact limited palette, but I'll continue to add to this list for a MEGA palette for those who are crazy about color :D
Starting with primary mixing basics:
1) PB29 - Ultramarine Blue: My personal favorite is Schmincke's French Ultramarine, which provides the most extreme granulation resulting in interesting textures and color separating mixtures. If you prefer a smoother appearance, Schmincke also makes an "Ultramarine Finest". There is value in having both French Ultramarine and Ultramarine Finest in your palette since they have such a different texture with variable end results in mixtures. As seen in the swatch cards, you can tell when a color has smooth finer particles based on the salt texture reaction. Salt will easily push these lighter fine particles away causing a star/snowflake pattern, while heavier granulating pigments stay put and do not have any reaction. You can't really go wrong with other brands if Schmincke isn't an option for you, they are all just moderately granulating middle grounds of these examples though. In general, if a brand has a regular "ultramarine blue" and also an ultramarine "deep" or "french" ultramarine, then typically the "deep or "french" is a darker, slightly redder shade that granulates more. When using brands other than Schmincke (that have less differences between their versions of ultramarine) it is not as worthwhile to have two varieties in your palette. If you're uncertain which texture level you prefer, having ONE moderately granulating cheaper Ultramarine Blue Deep from White Nights or ShinHan would be a reasonable option while you discover your favorite uses for this color.
2) PR122 - Magenta (note alternatives are PV19 or PV42): White Nights Quin Rose, Sennelier Helios Purple and Rosa Gallery Magenta make excellent versions available in both tubes or pans. Roman Szmal's Quin Magenta (not quin pink also made with PR122) is really nice, but available only in a dry pan. Some versions of PR122 are arguably a touch closer to blue on the color wheel than ideal. It's most important to avoid ones labeled as "opera, bright, opus, brilliant, neon or fluorescent" because those options mix in fugitive dyes (sometimes without warning that anything but PR122 is the ingredient). This beautiful pigment is just plain useful as a floral pink while also fitting the bill of a primary mixing magenta. There are actually several nearly identical pigments that can be used as a "cool red" to mix vibrant purples with ultramarine or phthalo blue. PV19 often called Permanent Rose as well as PV42 Quin Pink/Magenta are also solid choices. All 3 of these pigments can vary by brand/pigment source ranging from a near-purple to a warmer red. Often, the clean bright PR122 magenta color is difficult (impossible?) to recreate with mixtures of other colors. (Adding a yellow to PR122 can make it warmer to appear like many warmer versions of PV19, but those versions of PV19 mixed with blue do not quite look like PR122.) I will have to determine which PV19 of the MANY available is the most unique for color mixing and add this option to the list later on.
3) PY150 - Nickel Azo Yellow: One of the very few totally transparent AND lightfast yellow pigments. My first choice in yellow due to the realistic foliage greens it mixes when used with Phthalo or Ultramarine Blue. A slightly brownish yellow that dilutes to a mustard-like color, this pigment is a really strong mixer (a tiny bit goes a long way) and its masstone to diluted value range is huge for a yellow. When diluted with water it is capable of passing for a mid yellow, but never quite achieves the brightness of a cool lemon yellow in case that is important for your chosen subject matter.
4) PB15 GREEN SHADE (sometimes also PB15:3) Phthalo Blue: Available in many brands. Caution - some brands do not distinguish when it's PB15:3 (Blue-Green shade, not PB15:1 Red shade). The green-shade version of PB15 is the closest thing we have to digital cyan, capable of mixing the most vibrant purple and deep emerald green secondary colors. The red-shade variant is too warm, being just a touch closer to Ultramarine Blue's purple-leaning hue. As an alternate to mix things up sometimes, I also enjoy PB16 an even more green-leaning phthalo blue often called "Phthalo Turquoise". Another notable alternative for a quirkier palette would be Winsor and Newton's "Aqua Green" which has a touch of granulation and is made from a pigment with no code number called Palomar Turquoise manufactured for the automotive industry. Definitely check out the pigment database if you're interested in odd ball colors.
--- Cool yellow choice is currently pending on color mixing and lightfast test results ---
5) ***Cool Yellow - PY175 instead of PY3??? - Lightfast testing in progress. *** CAUTION - My go-to was PY3 HANSA YELLOW LIGHT until reading about lightfast issues with this color. I have yet to personally experience this, but am doing a thorough masstone and diluted range check for all brands at this time. Finding an alternate cool lemon yellow that is transparent (most versatile for mixing) AND totally lightfast is quite the challenge. PY3 Hansa Yellow Light is a bright yellow that feels quite perfect for mixing, but has less than perfect lightfast ratings. Often listed as LFII or 3 of 5 stars on Schmincke's scale. Golden, the maker of Qor watercolor, did a study about PY3's lightfastness which determined that it's SOMETIMES fugitive in one brand and lightfast in another. This was true even of batch to batch differences, which Golden discovered because one of their batches tested less lightfast than their previous batch. I'm going to gather all of my PY3 watercolors to do a side by side lightfast test to compare and see what I find.
The major problem with this is that there are very few transparent yellow pigments. Many are cloudy or totally opaque, such as PY35 Cadmium Lemon. When you use an opaque color for mixing watercolor it limits the value depth of color layering/glazing and can also give you unexpectedly muddy secondary colors. More about this to come! For now, Schmincke or Winsor & Newton's PY175 appear to be a decent alternative. I do not recommend Daniel Smith's Lemon Yellow because it is desaturated and dull looking compared to the brighter lemon of W&N's version. Sadly PY175 does not result in quite the same vibrant clean orange mixtures as PY3, but you have to ask yourself 1) do you use bright orange a lot in your work and 2) is there a single pigment orange that would replace the need to mix it?
6) PR209 - Quin. Coral, Red or Cherry: As far as the variety of "warm reds" go, this is about as cool-leaning (towards pink) as it gets. It is quite warm when compared to Magenta PR122, but with a pink undertone that makes it very useful for mixing. Your choice of red may vary by subject matter painted. I've found that PR209 is great for florals as well as portraits, mixing well with diluted browns for adding blush and lip color. Full strength it reminds me of the color of coral-pink make up products (blush and lipstick). This is one of the best reds for mixing with granulating pigments to create dramatic color separation. It is just cool (pinkish) enough that it mixes purples instead of dull wine/browns when used with cobalt teal, ultramarine blue or viridian. Its lightweight finely ground pigment particles allow it to spread out across the surface of wet washes, with remarkable smoothness particularly in Sennelier and Roman Szmal's versions. While warm in comparison to PR122, PV42 and many varieties of PV19, this red is quite cool compared to other standard "red" colors. It looks red in masstone and dilutes to a punchy coral pink-leaning color. It's a color that is so unique that I can spot it within a sea of other pink or red swatches, which only further establishes it's unique importance. The diluted pink range of PR209 makes it a perfect substitute for PV19 in replicating convenience mixtures like Misty Morning by Roman Szmal (see Cobalt Teal further down the page).
There is versatility to transform PR209 into a warmer red by mixing it with a tiny touch of yellow. It can be further mixed to make ripe orange colors when paired with lemon yellows such as PY3 or PY175. I prefer Sennelier's "Quin. Red" (tube) and Roman Szmal Aquarius "Cherry Quin Red" (pan) both are superbly smooth versions with fine particles. Sennelier provides amazing salt reactivity (snowflake-like, see swatch) and very flat washes with no texture issues like I noticed in M Graham and Mission Gold's versions. Daniel Smith's Quin Coral is a suitable option, being a bit of a balance between the oddly textured versions and the smoothness found in Sennelier/Roman.
*6b*) Let's talk about alternative choices for a warm red! Runner up? PR254 Winsor Red. Some artists may prefer an even warmer red or red-orange pigment in this palette slot. I chose PR209 as it is one of the only transparent and lightfast pigments fitting into the generally "warm" category of red pigments. PR254 (Winsor Red in W&N's pro watercolors) has a slightly deeper masstone and is a stronger mixer, but it is semi-opaque. It is a very acceptable alternative to PR209 with just a touch more warmth that takes away that coral/punch look that some may not appreciate. It's also a red that botanical artists may need for painting red flowers without the pink undertone of PR209. I can see value in having both PR209 and PR254 in this case. If you think you'll need stop-sign or fire engine reds, Pyrrol or Cadmium Red PR108 are options, but I do not reach for these colors often. Despite its opacity, Cadmium is notably unique. PR108 is a very powerful, solid matte red that dilutes to a peach color. Cadmium is opaque though, so mixtures with it are limited in value depth (reducing it's usefulness in glazing/layering). Some artists love deep rose reds, like Alizarin Crimson PR83 and Anthra Red PR177 - both of which are fugitive with severe fading issues. I am currently lightfast testing hundreds of reds in search for a good replacement. As an alternative to Alizarin, Perylene Maroon may be a valuable mixing color as a near-brown deep red.
7) PBr7 Burnt Umber: Da Vinci brand's Burnt Umber is by far my favorite version of this extremely useful brown. Besides the fact that it's super time saving to not have to mix all your colors together to get that perfect brown, this color can be used as a skin tone (dark skin in masstone or light when diluted) as well as being a great way to mix neutral near-black when paired with Ultramarine Blue PB29. This instantly adds a quick way to paint "black" objects that look more natural / realistic, while being much more versatile than adding a black pigment at this time. It can be used as a convenient brown for trees and branches, animal fur as well as landscapes.
--- burnt umber and ultramarine mixture cards coming soon ---
8) PG18 - Viridian: This seems to vary substantially in behavior between brands. M.Graham appears to make the most saturated and easily re-wet version. Daniel Smith and Schmincke also make good versions with a decent amount of granulation, but I think Daniel Smith wins for depth of masstone and less binder gloss compared to Schmincke. I did not like the weaker, less granulating, harder to re-wet versions from Winsor & Newton or Rembrandt, and DaVinci falls in the middle with good pigment load but no interesting granulation. Close in color to Phthalo Green (blue shade) PG7.
While not as intense, and a weak mixer in comparison to Phthalo Green (more paint is required, as this color is easily overpowered) Viridian is still a vital part of my palette. When possible use it directly from the tube or mix it with a second pigment before drying in a pan. Because of Viridian's unique pigment particle size and weight, it behaves much differently than PG7 when used to make your own color separating mixtures. For instance, in Da Vinci's Artemis, or Daniel Smith's Moonglow (made of PG18, PR177 and PB29) the Viridian clumps closer to the also heavier/thicker particle Ultramarine Blue to cause a blue-ish green separation away from the Anthra Red. When using PG7 instead the mix becomes prone to creating a brown and blue separation (thin particle Phthalo sticks to the Anthra Red where they both separate from the Ultramarine Blue).
Viridian mixed with PR209 creates a variable range of gray, which can be extremely interesting in wet washes where granulation is encouraged. While PG18 is able to mix nearly the same masstone on dry as PG7, the differences are apparent when used on very wet paper.
9) PG50 AND/OR PB28 - Cobalt Teal / Turquoise (two pigment codes for extremely similar bright teal-blue colors). It's one of those colors that it's truly hard to pick a favorite. In all honesty, I prefer to keep two versions in my palette, because there are dramatically different granulation levels and slightly different hues (blue leaning or green leaning). Please note that the most common version of PB28 is Cobalt Blue, a near match for regular ultramarine blue, which I do not recommend. The ideal, brighter near-teal versions of PB28 are typically marked as "Turquoise". For example Rembrandt's Cobalt Turquoise Blue is made from PB28, but is a very similar hue to the PG50 versions of this color.
When mixing replicas / dupes of other brand's convenience colors you can get variable results using the same pigment codes from other brands, and remarkably similar results using different codes altogether. It's all about finding a color that is most similar, not just the same ingredient code. PR209 was a good replacement for PV19 and PB28 from White Nights is remarkably beautiful in the second mixture below.
You can decide, just like as in PB29 Ultramarine, if you want one certain type of teal or one granulation level or if you need one of each like me. The most granulating is Daniel Smith. A more subtle version that behaves uniquely in mixtures is White Nights Cobalt Turquoise, which also happens to be a very affordable version of this typically expensive pigment. The color varies between near-neon bright sky-blue to more green leaning teal. There are a LOT of GOOD options for these pigments. You are unlikely to go wrong with any reputable brand. Sennelier's bright blue-leaning "Turquoise Green" is also amazingly bright and I also love Winsor & Newton's near perfect balance of not too blue not too green but plainly a teal "Cobalt Turquoise Light". This color is ideal for painting the edges of tropical oceans and highlights on Robin's eggs.
10) PR233 - Potter's Pink. Creates an amazing mixture when combined with Cobalt Teal/Turq PG50 (as shown in the background of the bird painting below) where the darker vintage pink granulates and separates out from the bright blue. This pigment can be hard to re-wet from dry. If buying PR233 from Winsor & Newton, definitely get the pan version if planning to use it from dry which re-wets easier than their tubes. Right now Daniel Smith's is my favorite for granulation. Roman Szmal's has a more pale dusty version which is cheaper, but not quite as strong.
This list is not yet complete. In no particular order I'll be saving my progress for the rest of this custom palette below. These are pigments I've bookmarked as "must haves" for my work:
x) PV19 - Permanent Rose. This middle of the road cool red is often the top pick for artists sole primary mixing magenta/red. When picking multiple reds, as in a split primary system, it loses some of it's value in favor falling between the cooler PR122 and warmer PR209, PR254 or PR108. It's complicated though, because PV19 can actually vary dramatically by source. It ranges from a cooler purple leaning color to a warmer rose red. Figuring out which brand version will best fill the slot between the other 2 reds I've already chosen will be tough.
x) PBk11 - Black Iron Oxide / Lunar Black / Mars Black. This granulating magnetic black is available from most brands but varies greatly in particle size. Some brands grind this pigment down very finely resulting in tiny dirt looking particles vs chunkier thick flakes. Lunar Black from Daniel Smith is a very chunky black with a tendency to be overpowering and distracting in mixtures. Mars black in Winsor & Newton, Van Gogh or Rembrandt are all finer, which lends itself well to speckled fur patterns, stones/rocks/beaches as well as DIY replicating of the Van Gogh "dusk" colors. Commonly available from natural sources as well as being synthetically reproduced, all varieties can be moved with a strong magnet while in a wet wash. This allows for an odd ability to form the way the granulation is moving, such as into streaks and lines for fur.
x) PY43 - Goethite. Available from Daniel Smith (tube) and Roman Szmal (pan). Varies by batch from more yellow to more brown, but always makes a lovely beach sand color when diluted. Other versions of PY43 and PY42 Yellow Ochre are not as granulating as this "Goethite" color (which is labeled as "PBr? Natural Earth" on the Roman Szmal Aquarius label, but has been established as PY43). When mixed with blue it creates a lovely gently granulating succulent type pale green.
x) PBr33 - Mahogany Brown only available from Schmincke, this intensely granulating brown has a unique color separation offering multiple hues in a single pigment paint. Ideal for complex neutral mixtures with other granulating pigments such as ultramarine blue.
x) Daniel Smith PrimaTek genuine mineral paints - single pigment ground stones with intense granulation and sometimes color separation. Purpurite, Blue or Green Apatite, Serpentine, Zoisite. Mixing tests are currently being performed to determine which ones of these are the most versatile.
x) PR101 Caput Mortuum (PR102 in some brands) - Specifically the deep granulating red-brown version of red iron oxide. Often opaque to semi-opaque and has color separation in wet washes. Makes magic when mixed with other granulating pigments such as Ultramarine Blue or Violet. Winsor and Newton and Sennlier both make excellent Caput Mortuum. Not to be confused with english red, burnt sienna hues and other non-granulating versions of PR101. This pigment has a huge color variety between deep red-brown to terra cotta orange, it can also be manufactured as transparent to opaque. It's an inexpensive pigment that is often mixed with black iron oxide PBK11 to create "Burnt Umber" (a hue for the traditional PBr7 version).
x) PV15 Ultramarine Violet - Winsor and Newton has a great version which is granulating and clearly defined as a purple (unlike some brand's blue-leaning versions that are too close to Ultramarine Blue, or even mixed with PB29 instead of pure PV15 like Schmincke brand). Rembrandt's version seems to have some unusual color separation, slightly tinged with pink around the edges of a wash and slightly blue under salt reaction. Since that was so unusual compared to other brands, I'll be testing a second batch in the future to make sure that this was not a batch to batch anomaly.
x) NOTES ABOUT POPULAR OPTIONAL COLORS I PERSONALLY AVOID. I have seen these on other artists palettes. Intense Cadmium pigments such as red PR108, orange PO20 and yellow PY35 and PY37 have minor toxicity and are very opaque (limiting their usefulness in mixtures and layering). They have a lot of covering power for use as highlights and blocking in large areas of masstone. Gouache (in essence, opaque watercolors) may also be a non-toxic, more environmentally friendly alternative. Neon or Opera pink (a fugitive version of PR122 combined with fluorescent dye) is the only way to achieve some bright floral colors otherwise impossible to replicate. They don't scan well (cameras do not read the light reflection correctly) so either way you'd have to adjust it to bright pink in photoshop for prints. If selling original art, only certain types of museum dark lighting would be suitable for displaying fugitive dyes... and if you're going to make prints you could have painted in any close color and just adjusted the brightness in software...So I've decided it is not worthwhile to use neon colors myself outside of sketchbooks for fun.
--- IN PROGRESS NOTE ---
As time goes on I'm adding more and more hand painted swatch cards to the pigment database which is helping me narrow down which brand makes my favorite version of a specific color. I'm also running lightfast tests on over 1,000 colors by dozens of companies at this time. As results become available, verified UV stable choices will continue to be added to this page.
Happy painting :)
---------- Tubes vs pans and other tips for beginners ---------
Tips for beginners starting their first professional palette on a budget: If you want to start off with the smallest number of useful colors, buying a primary mixing trio made up of Magenta, Yellow and Cyan will allow for countless combinations from just 3 colors. Ideally expand this to a group of 6 "split primary" colors which includes a warmer and cooler version of each primary color (a "cool" lemon yellow being closer to green on a color wheel compared to an orange-leaning warmer deep yellow, a cool phthalo/turquoise leaning blue, a deep ultramarine purple-leaning blue, a cool purple-leaning magenta that dilutes to pink as well as a warmer red that is capable of vibrant oranges in mixtures.) If you're new to all this, it may be easier to buy a pre-made set such as this split primary tube set by Daniel Smith and spend a little time playing with mixing your own colors.
I recommend researching color theory to understand mixing relationships. To avoid accidentally mixing "mud", it's good to know that complimentary colors (across from each other on a color wheel, such as red and green) will mix brown to near-black gray. That can actually be useful when creating "neutral" and shadow colors.
Buying tubes vs pans: Some brands only offer pans, some only tubes. When possible I'll list multiple brands that offer a good version of a specific pigment, so there may be a choice to be made on your part. Buying paints in tubes is ideal - especially for colors you see listed as a base ingredient in multiple of your favorite mixtures (such as PY150 Nickel Azo Yellow being present as an ingredient in a huge variety of pre-made "green" paints on the market). Having a tube allows you to pre-mix your most-used colors into pan trays (use a toothpick or needle to stir). Tubes costs more upfront, but is a better deal over time (you get more paint for the money) and it can save you from buying extra pre-made pans of those go-to convenience mixtures. You will find that you use up less paint at a time and have better control while painting if you allow your tube paints to dry in a pan before re-wetting them with a wet brush later. Pre mixing your frequently used colors can save you time if you find, for instance, that you are constantly mixing a purple. You can mix a cool red (base ingredient PV19 or PR122 for instance) and blue (PB15 or PB29) together for your perfect custom hue of pre-made purple with your chosen amount of pink or blue hue.
I've seen people recommend pans so that you can afford to collect more colors. This is OK advice when applied to single pigment paint, but it may cause you to buy extra pans of pre-made mixtures and/or cause more work to create complex mixtures like Moonglow (shown below). With dry pans you'd have to re-do your favorite mixtures in a palette with a brush each time you paint. You won't need as many pre-made brand mixtures like "Moonglow" (often called "convenience colors") in the long run if you can mix your liquid paint into your own pans. If you aren't sure how dedicated you'll be to watercolor painting, it would definitely be cheaper in the short term to buy a pre-made pan set (such as a 24 to 48 assortment by Paul Rubens on Amazon).
If you do not enjoy granulation (texture and color separation effects) you may still find some good options within this list. Some pigments have smooth or rough texture choices. This is the case in pigments such as PBK11 Daniel Smith's Lunar Black (thick particle) vs most other brand's Mars/Black Iron oxide (fine), PR101 Red Iron Oxide/English Red are often smooth while Caput Mortum can be granulating as well as color separating, and most commonly - the widely variable PB29 Ultramarine Blue. Each pigment code (ingredient number) can vary from extremely granulating to only subtle minor texture depending on how fine the pigment powder was ground up before being turned into paint. This is particularly important to know for choosing your primary Ultramarine Blue - such as Schmincke's "French Ultramarine" heavily granulating vs "Ultramarine Finest" with very minor texture.
If you love granulation texture you can encourage it the most by using very wet washes, allowing the pigment to flow over the surface of water. This works best on textured paper like cold press or rough press (not smooth hot press) where the pigment particles can settle into the tiny dips and valleys of the paper surface.
Where do I shop for art supplies?
Rosa Gallery brand from the Ukraine is available from Spain at Artmiranda, USA on Etsy or OmniaPro and on rare occasions they list sets on Amazon. Most other companies can be found at Blick or Jacksons below. Jackson's has the best price on Schmincke, Blick has US brands like Da Vinci and Daniel Smith. Both have great prices on Sennelier, M. Graham and watercolor paper (Arches or Winsor and Newton Cold Press is great!) and brushes (Princeton Heritage for point/spring, Neptune for holding a lot of water).
My favorite American art supply chain store is Blick Art Materials. They have a massive catalog and competitive prices, with quick shipping options here in the USA. Best major retailer for Da Vinci.
One of my favorite places to shop for a world-wide selection 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. Only major retailer for Roman Szmal.
Amazon USA continues to offer more and more art and craft supplies that can be found no where else. They often have import sets, such as Chinese brands like Paul Rubens, that are not available in the more common art stores. This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
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