Paul Rubens Opaque Watercolor Gouache Hybrid Paint Review & Compare ShinHan Pass, Mission White vs DIY. Lightfast Issues Fugitive Color Chart.
Review of 3 watercolor-gouache hybrid paint sets including Paul Rubens opaque watercolor (China), ShinHan Pass (S. Korea) and Mijello Mission White Design Colors (S. Korea). I'll also talk about how to DIY mix similar looking paints by mixing paint brushed from any watercolor pan set in a mixing dish with regular white gouache.
These paints are made with unique formulas that break the standard rules for watercolor or gouache. They instead use a hybrid approach with binders, ingredient ratios, opacity and matte additives to make a paint that flows like watercolor but is opaque like gouache. ShinHan's "Pass" name is meant to imply that it can provide a smooth transition of color, passing between opaque to transparent as it is diluted.
Fugitive colors: All 3 tube sets are aimed at designers offering a wide color selection including vibrant and neon/fluorescents that can be used on light or dark papers. Each set includes many fugitive pigments (about a third of each set) best used for print reproduction due to their tendency to fade from nearby window light.
- video review in progress -
These products are advertised as either opaque watercolor, watercolor-gouache hybrids, or design color in an attempt to describe the paint. Compared to gouache or even regular watercolor that may use opaque pigments, this product is a true middle ground. It combines watercolor's thinness and flow with gouache's opacity.
In the Paul Rubens set, many pigments that are naturally transparent have had white pigments added (such as titanium white, chalk or talc) or similar matte fillers to make the colors more opaque (cover black paper). Paul Rubens has the most fully opaque colors of the three hybrid options. This is good for those who want solid coverage without much DIY mixing, but it's also the least versatile and cheapest to make. ShinHan Pass offers a balance - mostly opaque to semi opaque colors, but also a handful of pure semi-transparent pigments that require mixing with black or white to achieve opacity. Mission White offers many more transparent deep rich saturated colors with little to no opacifiers added. Some colors are semi transparent to semi opaque in opacity (some are pure single pigments with a simple matte binder) which can give you a broader color range. Mission White is the most transparent and semi glossy (containing the most gum arabic), leaning much more towards watercolor than gouache in manufacturing. While it may be the least beginner friendly, Mission White is likely the best value due to their tubes containing more higher cost pigments and dyes instead of cheaper white opacity fillers and matting agents.
These paints are all smooth like watercolor, not as pasty or gel-like as gouache. Because the paint is very thin and smooth it can be layered more without cracking. I wouldn't say "impasto" though, as they mention in the P.Rubens listing, since you can't build much texture depth with such fluid paint on your watercolor paper. It's NOT like heavy body acrylic or oil. They have less gum arabic and glycerin than watercolor, so they are more matte - less glossy and they crack more once dried in thick layers/in a pan. They crack slightly less than gouache though (since gouache contains even less gum binder). These hybrids all seem slightly finer in particle size with slightly more flow on wet paper than gouaches made from the same pigments.
You can find ShinHan Pass, Mission White or Paul Rubens tube sets on Amazon USA:
Individual colors vs sets: ShinHan Pass is also available as individual tubes through Jackson's worldwide here. At this time Paul Rubens appears to only be available as a set and Mission White has limited availability (some ebay sellers may offer the individual tubes, including the important black and white needed to mix with the set). Important: Mission White has less convenience mixtures, more pure pigment and dye colors which are semi transparent. They do not add as much white pigments or other opacifiers to their paints as the other two brands. In order to best compare these 3 brands you must mix Mission White colors with their black and white XL tubes sold separately OR mix them with any pro grade black and white gouache. This is intentional on their part, in order to give you the maximum amount of color versatility, purity of tone and less of the cheapest fillers.
Why use fugitive paints?
Who are these good for? A beginner learning how to paint, especially in a sketchbook for personal enjoyment, or if you're a designer/illustrator who scans their work for print reproduction/digital use (where lightfastness does not matter like it would if you were selling originals to hang on a wall) these sets may be cheaper than purchasing this large of a set of lightfast gouache. Professional designers may have access to special printers (ink types beyond our standard home inkjet/toner options) that make fluorescent colors easier to reproduce on product packaging. Most beginner artists will have a difficult time properly reproducing these bright colors for print reproduction.
Price consideration: While the per-tube cost is quite low in these sets, there are also very affordable smaller LIGHTFAST gouache sets (usually a set of 5 colors including primary cool red/magenta, yellow, cyan, black and white - a great place to start for learning color mixing). You can find those from brands like Holbein or Schmincke Akademie (Jackson's) for an average of about $20USD. If you're not quite sure about gouache, but know you like the feel and flow of watercolor, I would also consider just using a watercolor pan set along side a single tube of white gouache. This would allow you to most affordably practice the mixing of opaque pastel tints.
Vibrant colors for design elements or fluorescent black light effects: These sets contain some neon vibrant colors that can only be achieved with fugitive dyes (effects not obtainable with more natural looking lightfast pigments). Fluorescent colors can be tricky to reproduce in computer scans or prints. Many cameras and scanners will not replicate the colors correctly, which may cause extra work in digital editing programs like photoshop in attempt to color correct the artwork.
This is mainly of interest to those making paintings for themselves, kids or party room decorations and possibly design additions that call for unusually vivid colors (such as painting neon lights on a store window at night in your painting). If you want the largest variety of fluorescent colors, ShinHan Pass purchased individually is the way to go. They have a neon green-yellow and yellow, where as the other two only have the pink-red-orange range.
Can you mix watercolor and gouache to make transparent colors opaque?
Yes! Adding black or white gouache to your transparent watercolor works great for achieving opacity in almost all colors (with the exception of neon/fluorescents). I do not recommend mixing non-fluorescent gouache with fluorescent/neon colors. When mixing Titanium White (PW6) with fluorescent colors, the white will block out the fluorescent black light reactive glow effect. If you want transparent neon colors to remain vibrant and black light reactive and cover dark papers, you could paint in layers. Try covering those areas of your dark paper with white gouache first, allow it to dry, then paint over the white spaces with your transparent neon watercolor.
DIY for superior lightfastness: Unless I specifically want to play with black light reactive fluorescent effects, when creating art to sell I much prefer to mix my own lightfast opaque colors using trusted pro grade watercolors mixed with a black and white gouache. A tiny touch of primary/titanium white PW6 gouache can create opacity with minimal color shift. When you mix more white into your watercolors you'll get more of a light valued pastel tint. To create opaque dark shades, I recommend Primary/Lamp black PBk7 which is very lightfast. Jet Black PBk1 is the most beautiful dark neutral black, however it is dye based and may perform worse in longterm lightfastness. My personal favorite gouache brand for this use (fresh from the tube) is Holbein (followed closely by Schmincke Horadam or Maimeri - all of which are very strong, opaque and lay down smoothly).
My favorite places to shop for economical large 60ml/2oz tubes of White (PW6) gouache by DaVinci, Maimeri, M.Graham or Holbein is Blick USA here. You can often find Holbein slightly cheaper and Schmincke Horadam much cheaper at Jackson's UK/worldwide here. These brands are often on sale between $12 to $20, usually much more affordable than purchasing 4 smaller 15ml tubes. There is a primary mixing set by Holbein available as a discounted bundle which may also be of interest if you'd like to more thoroughly test this gouache brand.
Shop around for the best price. Sometimes Amazon USA has a great sale:
Opaque pigments in regular watercolor: The following painting used single pigment opaque watercolors. Roman Szmal Aquarius Cobalt and Cadmium watercolors (available at Jackson's here) are naturally opaque, very strong and vibrant. These will give you superior lightfastness and saturation compared to lesser quality pigments mixed with white/fillers like those you'll find in Paul Rubens Opaque Watercolor or ShinHan Pass sets. Holbein's white gouache was a good compliment to these watercolors, which I used for highlights and mixed into the Cobalt Sea Blue for the clouds.
There are many pigments that are naturally opaque, regardless of medium. Usually paints made to any binder specification (watercolor, gouache, acrylic or oil) will all be semi to fully opaque when they include ingredients such as Cadmium Red PR108, Cadmium Yellow PY35/37, Yellow Ochre PY42/43, Cobalt Blue/Teal/Turq or Green (aka PB28, PG50, PB36 depending on the chemical variation), Naples PBr24, English Red/Caput Mortum (non "transparent" red iron oxides labeled PR101/102).
Color charts and notes BY BRAND:
Paul Rubens Opaque Watercolor:
-pr swatched images coming soon-
Paul Rubens Opaque Watercolor is by far the most opaque and the most affordable of the 3. Though it should be, considering the undisclosed additives used to make it so. There are more convenience mixtures instead of pure single pigments in this set. That can be a great thing for beginners who don't want to mix colors, or designers who are in a hurry to do an illustration project destined for print reproduction. This is probably the most enjoyable product to use, because little to no mixing is required to achieve opacity.
I have edited the following color cart to mark pigments known as fugitive, or colors that had an undisclosed dye additive (exposed via black light fluorescence) which will all be prone to fading.
-color cart pigs prubens-
ShinHan Pass Watercolor-Gouache Hybrid
-shinhan pass swatched chart-
ShinHan Pass is likely to be the easiest to find of these three paint sets. It's also the only one that I have seen stocked on major online art store websites that ship worldwide (like Jackson's). The colors can be individually replaced. Most tubes are very affordable, just a few dollars. There are a couple of expensive pigments (like cobalt colors) that can be over $10USD/tube. Because I generally prefer the quality and smoothness of Holbein gouache in comparison to Pass, if I were going to purchase a high price pigment I may get it as gouache instead.
- problem pigments on chart -
They have a superb selection of daylight neon (unusually vivid in normal light, like highlighter markers) and also fluorescents that appear to glow under black light.
Mission White Class Design Colors
- mwhite swatch chart-
Like the other brands, this set also includes several fluorescent dyes and futigive pigments. However, they really stand apart in a couple ways: more gum arabic (more gloss, less cracking), more pure colors (less opacifiers). The 36 set come in nice metal tubes (unlike PASS in plastic), but the separarate large black and white tubes are plastic which I found to leak and dry out over time. I ended up transferring them to a plastic squeeze bottle with an eye dropper style tip ( you could use metal tubes for handmade paint making). If I was making this purchase again, I'd just mix Mission White with a pro grade gouache instead (such as the 60ml metal tube of white from Holbein, MGraham or Schmincke).
Mission White has many semi transparent colors including very dark pigments and saturated vibrant bright ones. These colors become more comparable to ShinHan Pass and Paul Rubens Opaque once combined with their intended pairings - black and white. These two tubes of PW6 and PBK7 are HUGE, because they are meant to be used frequently to DIY mix with the colors in this set. Mixing the colors with white gives you opaque, light valued, pastel-like tints. Mixing the colors with black gives you opaque, dark valued, neutral shades. Using the colors alone without adding black or white gives you the ability to use the paints like watercolor, or appreciate the versatility of the deepest tones that particular pigment can offer. This is the most versatile set of the three sets (with the exception of neons, which ShinHan Pass has the best variety).
- mwhite problem pigments chart-
Pro: Mission White is not much more expensive than Paul Rubens, yet it contains far more colorful pigment and less opaque white and other cheap opacity fillers. It may be the best value of the three, but also the least beginner friendly. It can be a beautiful set for those who are comfortable mixing their own colors and understand how to reach their desired tint, tone or shade.
Con: the set can be found on Amazon USA, but the individual tubes of black and white can be much harder to find. They aren't even mentioned as being a recommended pairing in the listing. I got mine on Ebay from a seller in S. Korea several years ago. It's likely that most people reviewing this set are unaware that these exist. If you decide to try Mission White, but can't obtain the black and white then I highly recommend using them with your favorite brand of gouache instead. They mix well with all of them, but I especially like the smoothness of Holbein's Permanent White and Primary Black. Because Mission White has semi-transparent to semi-opaque colors, you may find their paints to appear streaky unless properly mixed or diluted down.
My only other complaint with Mission White is that the gum arabic content is a little high for this type of design color. This can result in a slightly glossy shine on some colors, not ideal for design scans for print reproduction like a completely matte gouache. The bright side to this is that this set performs more like watercolor in travel pans, less cracking and easier to re-wet than the other two brands.
Other notes/myth busting that may be of interest on this subject:
NOT ALL GOUACHE IS OPAQUE. Opacity is mostly determined by pigment, not by paint type. One of the biggest complaints I see in reviews for paint online is that some colors in a gouache set are not fully opaque. Opacity is only somewhat improved by the gouache formulation in comparison to watercolor (increased pigment load, less binder, matte additives and sometimes larger pigment particle size in gouache). Learning which pigment numbers or types (like cobalts, cadmiums, ochres, titanium white etc.) are the most opaque can help you avoid frustration. However, the most important thing to check on paint labels is the opacity icon. Usually the paint company has a color chart on their website where you can see this information before purchasing. Normally this transparency/opacity indicator is a square (on rare occasion a circle) which is an empty outline to indicate transparency. If it has a line through it = semi trans, half filled icon = semi opaque, or completely filled in = fully opaque. Gouache can be considered overall more opaque than watercolor due to the difference in how it is made, but to say all gouache colors are fully opaque is a myth.
Tips for using from dry: Watercolor, gouache and hybrids can be re-wet from dry. That includes paint left on your mixing dish/palette as well as purposefully filling half pans for convenience or travel sets. I recommend using paints straight from the tube if you paint large. It would take a lot of time and scrubbing to reactivate enough paint to cover large background areas from dry. I personally paint small, normally 5x7" and paint fine detail strokes (not large filled areas) so working from dry is good for me. Using these paints in a dry pan is perfect with a small round brush for adding final highlights to your paintings. If I'm drying DIY mixed pastel tints in a pan (white gouache + a brush load of color from a watercolor pan stirred with a toothpick) then I use M.Graham gouache. Due to a tiny amount of honey in their binder, M.Graham gouache tends to dry with less cracking.
You can also press down on your paint during the hours it is drying to condense it and reduce cracking (flaking into tiny pieces). If you live in a very dry climate, test a small amount first to make sure you can reactivate the paint easily with a wet brush. Re-wetting can be difficult in dry areas (no problem here in humid Florida). Pre soaking with a drop of water for a minute may help. I decided not to add a drop of glycerin or honey to these, since that will change the gloss or transparency level of this intensely matte opaque paint. If you find a color that seems semi glossy, make sure to stir the tube since there is a minor amount of shiny gum arabic in the binder that can separate from the pigment. You can re-wet these with a damp brush later for convenience, but it's easier to maintain opacity if you use them straight from a tube where you can more cautious about adding too much water. More water = more transparent.
Binder types and additives can vary between brands of watercolor or gouache (and similar water soluble paints that re-wet from dry). I do not believe that any of these particular products use animal hide glue, but it is possible that glycerin is added as a humectant (for easy re-wet or flow/disperse benefits). The hybrid paint vegan status is unknown. Glycerin can be made from animal fat (beef tallow glycerin) or plants (vegetable glycerin). While gouache often uses gum arabic, the same as watercolor, it can also use different types of gum or starches instead. There is usually more pigment, less binder in gouache (a reason why handmade watercolors often look more matte or opaque than big brands that use more binder). Gouache can also be made using a cheaper, more matte, cloudy, lower grade, less transparent version of gum. Only the highest grade, very transparent/clear/colorless and glossy (dries shiny) gums are usually used in watercolor where transparency is prized. In addition, there may be other types of binder used instead - such as dextrin (hydrolysis of starch and glycogen, sometimes a type of potato starch) that provides a much more matte (non-glossy) glue.
Pro/student/designer/pigment notes: Professional grade does not mean lightfast. Though I could see these watercolor-gouache hybrids being considered a sort of middle ground between pro and student grade paints. Pro grade (sometimes vaguely written as "extra fine" or my least favorite "artist grade" which is a term widely abused by bargain quality sets) is a label used when a company believes their art supply is made using a high pigment load and is properly labeled with ingredients/LF ratings. Many brands will offer a student grade paint line (such as cotman or van gogh) where the main difference between the colors in their pro grade is pigment load being decreased to cut cost. Most pro grade paint companies will not use quite so many fugitive pigments and dyes in their selection. Keep in mind that even Schmincke and Daniel Smith offer some fugitive colors, and nearly all brands sell Opera Pink with fluorescent pink dye in it (due to artist demand). This tendency for pro quality paints to offer lightfast pigments that won't fade has lead to some misunderstandings regarding "designer" paint lines. Some think they're student grade, others assume anything labeled "designer" means fugitive across the board (when usually it only implies that they have a broad color selection for design freedom) They typically are made with just as much pigment and care as pro paints and often less than half the colors offered will fade. In pro grade paint lines, fugitive colors should always be properly marked with a low lightfast rating to warn the artist. Paul Rubens has failed miserably with their opaque watercolor in this regard (since their ingredient cart only available separate from tubes online and all LF ratings are incorrect).
Looking for fluorescent blue or white? It's rare to find a high quality blue fluorescent. Try Etsy handmade paint sellers or Kremer Pigments for watercolor. There are more options in acrylic ink (Daler Rowney and Liquitex both make neon blue inks that glow vibrantly under black light). White fluorescent pigment (like those in Lefranc Flashe or Turner Acrylic Gouache) will often look bright blue under black light (due to seeing the blue-violet hue of your ultraviolet light bulb). Despite the fact that white and blue fluorescents can look similar under black light, white has the added benefit of looking invisible on white surfaces in normal daylight/under non UV lamp bulbs. You have the ability to make hidden glowing effects that magically appear when a black light is turned on.
Warning: Paul Rubens neon watercolors are superbly vibrant in daylight as well as glow under black light (except for their blues which do not fluoresce). You may be interested in the fluorescent, but not neon (not bright in daylight) manganese blue hue from Daniel Smith (or other neon options talked about on the fluorescent paints review page).
Favorite paint brushes for watercolor gouache hybrid paints: Princeton Neptune for washes and broad strokes. These soft synthetic-squirrel brushes are capable of holding a lot of water or paint. You can find individual brushes on Jacksons here or Blick here.
My favorite brushes for tiny detail strokes are small round Princeton Heritage brushes (usually 3/0 or 0 size) and a flat brush when making fabric-like dry-brush marks to imitate cloth/stitching/canvas texture (fine line strokes vertical then horizontal to make plaid-style marks).
I shop for my art supplies at:
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.
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. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
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