Turner Watercolor Review, Artists Color Chart Swatches and Lightfast Tests
Turner Colour Works LTD. is a paint manufacturer located in Japan. They make professional "Artist's Watercolour" paints and gouache (normal water soluble form) as well as acryla-gouache (acrylic polymer waterproof form). Their acrylic gouache is similar to Holbein's Acryla-Gouache (both of which I will review separately on the art supply reviews page). This page will focus on their quirky watercolor paint available in 15ml tubes.
Turner watercolors are described in their sales blurb as "finest pure pigments with gum arabic to achieve the highest of lightfast ratings and superb transparency and flow. The pigments are painstakingly ground to a uniform fineness and are blended without any fillers." This broad generalization does not set up the right expectations. They do offer some fugitive pigments such as Natural Rose Madder, Opera Pink, rare "Maya" colors and Alizarin Crimson. If their binder truly is just gum arabic (no starch, sugars or animal hide glue as is common in Japanese paints like Gansai) I am surprised by way these stick to my brush and refuse to flow onto wet washes like my other watercolors.
Other than their solvent-based "Maya" colors, this brand has a high pigment load in most of their paints, offering many strong colors that re-wet well in a pan. That being said, I am overall NOT a big fan of Turner's watercolors. Price wise, they are in a bargain group with a low price point appealing to those starting to branch out from student grade to professional grade paints. They are roughly within the cheapest half of all options when comparing professional watercolor brands, BUT they are not the most affordable. They are not the highest quality within this price bracket. I have had much better success with Roman Szmal and White Nights which average only a few dollars a color - often half the price investment of Turner. ShinHan is also a good tube option in a similar price range to Turner, with both brands offering some fugitive pigments you may want to avoid if fading is a concern.
While all companies tend to offer a couple pigments that are problematic as far as being weak or hard to re-wet after being allowed to dry in a pan (the nature of the ingredient, such as Viridian PG18, Green Earth PG23, Potter's Pink PR233, rare minerals such as Glauconite etc.) I found problems with some Turner colors that are not normally difficult in other brands. Because White Nights has added superior quality lightfast pigments to their catalog in recent years (such as a remarkably affordable bright Cobalt Teal, Nickel Azo Yellow, Caput Mortum, Perylenes etc.) you may find that White Nights has become too competitive to ignore. Roman Szmal beats them both in granulating paints, offering an amazing selection of textural earth browns, cobalts and cadmiums.
Turner does not have a Cobalt Teal, but rather a "Turquoise Blue" PB28 that is a very good match for the discontinued Manganese Blue PB33 in hue. However, its lackluster granulation does not perform as well in color separating mixtures, like you would see in brands like Roman Szmal. This lackluster texture was the case in a few "granulating" Turner's watercolors (Ultramarine Violet, Cobalt Turquoise, Manganese Violet) which had a weaker, oddly clumping / flocculating effect that was not the normal type of granulation found in other brands. Because I can never be sure what to expect from them, I find Turner to be on the lower quality end of paints marketed as "professional" grade. The color to color consistency is hit or miss, some tubes have been shipped to me leaking (Mars Violet), liquidy (Rose Red), completely dried out (Cobalt Green).
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My first order from Jerry's Artarama had a manufacturing issue where the tube buttom was never rolled up, instead held together by dry paint. Thinking this was a fluke I tried again from other big retailers with high traffic (to help avoid getting old stock) like Jacksons and Amazon, only to be met with paints that had odd textural issues (Evergreen and Sap Green) or streaky gel-like binder. Often colors had little to no salt texture reaction even if I expected they would (that lack of reaction is normal in granulating colors indicating coarse or heavy pigment particles, but some of these appear to be a binder issue preventing flow).
RARE PIGMENTS: They offer some pigments that are hard to find elsewhere. As much as I like to collect pigments, there are some that should never be used to make paints. This includes the weak, gummy Maya Yellow, Maya Red, Maya Blue PB82, Cobalt Violet PV47. The "Mayan" pigments all had a jello-like consistency that does not work well for setting up half pans from your tubes. They were also the weakest and hardest to re-wet of the colors I tried. While I was on Jackson's art supply site I noticed that under Maya Blue's reviews several people have described these paints as "Soapy, too much binder, glue-like, not worth it, weak." etc. and I agree.
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Like most Eastern watercolors this brand lacks flow, but over half the colors I collected are unusually dead in the water - almost gouache-like. This causes difficulty achieving smooth blending, often resulting in streaky washes with visible brush strokes. I can appreciate brands like Holbein, ShinHan, Mission Gold and traditional Gansai paints that intentionally lack the more intense flow of Western watercolors to stay where you put them... but Turner's have an unpleasant workability much like trying to get sludge to cooperate with your brush. They seem to have an unusual gum arabic ratio and possibly cheap fillers that make them perform differently to any of my other pro grade paints. Turner's watercolors can be more time consuming when painting large area washes since the paint needs to be guided with your brush instead of flowing across the wet area of your paper.
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That being said they are a very affordable paint and not every color is bad. It's just a game of roulette if the color you pick will be good. I received a dry dot card sampler from someone who had a good experience with turner, and the colors they chose seemed to flow better than the pigments I bought myself. It's not clear if this was simply due to it being a different batch. Since pigment and binder ingredient sources periodically change, it's possible I got a bad batch. I would not buy this brand again knowing that it's a game of chance if you're going to get a good color or a bad performing color (even when researching and avoiding normally difficult pigment ingredients). Personally, I don't think this level of uncertainty is acceptable in a "pro" grade paint (especially considering it is not the cheapest option on the market).
In my swatch cards on the top right you can see the distance the color travels in a very wet wash. This rectangle is shiny with a visible layer of water when I add a dot of color to the left side of it.
Turner watercolor swatch cards:
Turner's metallic colors are pearlescent, but not as reflective as higher quality mica-based watercolors. If you're looking for more sparkle try Paul Rubens, Coliro, Finetec or Van Gogh's Metallic and Interference pocket box. Mica pigment (PW20) is a translucent white reflective mineral commonly used as a base in pearl and metallic paints.
Are metallic watercolors lightfast? In general, silver, gold and white metallics tend to be more UV stable than colorful (sparkly pink/greens/orange) colors in any brand. Aside from pearl white, colorful pearlescent paints often include an undisclosed second pigment which may be fugitive (ie pearl pink may be mica + a mystery red pigment). Gold and Copper metallics are most often made by mixing PW20 with PR101 red iron oxide (a lightfast pigment). Silver/gunmetal is usually mica + a black pigment like PBk7, also lightfast. Learn more about mica in the pigment database.
Metallic Turner watercolor swatches:
Most of their metallic colors are lightfast, with the exception of "Pearl Red" (not shown here, made with mica + the fugitive red PR9).
Lightfast test results:
You can find these available individually on Jackson's art supply shop here:
You can also find sets available on Amazon. They carry the watercolor, gouache and acrylic gouache sets. I use affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you :)
You can see how these colors compare to paints from other brands in the pigment database.