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WHITE, MICA AND METALLIC Art Supply Pigment Database Watercolor Acrylic Ink Pencil Color Chart Swatch
Artist reference guide to White, Glow in the Dark, Mica and Metallic pigments in art supplies. Color chart swatch cards of watercolor, acrylic paint, inks and pencils. Includes lightfast or fugitive information, index by pigment number, brand, manufacturer color name, how the color appears in masstone (full strength) or diluted (with water).
Due to the opaque nature of white/mica pigments, many swatch cards on this page are done on 100% cotton BLACK watercolor paper. Links to materials shown at the bottom of this page.
PW1 Lead White:
PW2 Lead Sulphate White:
Uncommon. LFI. Toxic.
PW3 Basic Lead Sulphate White:
Uncommon. LFI. Toxic.
PW4 Zinc Oxide White:
Also called Mixing White or Chinese White in some watercolor brands. This is a less opaque white than PW6, often used to make tints and pastel colors that are more transparent than titanium white. It is possible for this white to lighten or have a yellowing color shift over time. Can cause cracking in oil paints.
An inexpensive, lightfast white, often added in cheaper gouache or bargain paints (similarly to PW18 chalk). PW5 is sometimes also called "mixing white" and used like PW4 as a less opaque alternative to PW6. Made from a mixtures of barium sulfate and zinc sulfide.
PW6 Titanium White: The most opaque, lightfast, non-yellowing, stable white pigment. Ideal for working on dark surfaces, when complete opaque coverage is desired. Valuable for highlights and as an integral mixing color in opaque mediums, such as gouache.
PW6:1 Titanium White Buff:
AKA Buff Titanium. LF1 / BW8. Natural titanium typically bound with other oxides.
PW6:1 Gray Titanium:
AKA Unbleached Titanium, Aquarius Grey. Note this version is darker valued and more neutral vs the warm sandy color of Buff Titanium. Contains Iron Oxides.
PW18 (literally chalk) as well as PW4 and PW6 are often used as filler. All of which can function as an opaque, cheap chalk-like substance in student grade paints and some gouache that have fillers. (Some brands of gouache such as Schmincke Horadam, not designers, and M.Graham do NOT use fillers, and instead make gouache opaque by thicker particle pigments and higher pigment load). The quality, purity and opacity of PW6 varies greatly. When used in professional grade paints they are typically more opaque, and used to create lighter pastel colors and add opacity similar to gouache. Over the past couple years more reputable brands have started making pastel convenience colors, such as Daniel Smith's Lavender and Wisteria. One of my favorite examples of this is the 2019 White Nights pastel colors. PW6 is used in each of these 6 colors, and this brand has such a nice pigment load that they can be used similarly to gouache on black paper. See the effect of PW6 in this video review:
PW7 Zinc Sulphide / Sulfide: Lightfast as a normal daylight visible semi-transparent white. Fugitive fluorescent properties are obtainable after a wet chemical process with trace elements (often silver, manganese or copper). It's detection with the naked eye is difficult. Very similar looking black light glow effects are possible with other types of dyes and pigments. "Sulphide" is the original British English spelling, but many parts of the world have adopted the American English spelling "Sulfide". PW7 is overall uncommon in professional paints, but is available in Amsterdam acrylic paint (by Royal Talens, the makers of Van Gogh/Rembrandt, which I have not yet tested for black light reactivity).
Phosphorescent vs fluorescent pigments:
Phosphorescent pigments are commonly made from Strontium Aluminate or Zinc Sulphide mixed with trace elements (silver, copper, manganese).The Strontium Aluminate is a stronger charging pigment, often resulting in several more hours of post-light glow effect. Phosphorescent means they absorb light and release it slowly over time, resulting in "glow in the dark" paint.
Fluorescent pigments (sometimes laked dyes, where the non-substantial dyestuff is attached to a resin or salt and pulverized into powder) colors are visible in light, but not in the dark. These bright in daylight "neon" colors look like highlighter ink (or "opera" watercolors). While they don't glow in the dark, they are easily detected by using a UV "black light" bulb/flashlight, where the colors suddenly appear much brighter than non fluorescent colors. There are also daylight invisible optical brighteners (often found detergent/whitening products or UV effect black light party paints) which can look very similar to silver doped zinc sulphide, but the fluorescent "glow" is only visible under black light.
Silver doped zinc sulfide could be considered fluorescent, meaning it will "glow" BLUE under a UV black light, but ALSO phosphorescent, meaning it will continue to glow in the absence of light for a short duration. Copper doped zinc sulfide is phosphorescent, meaning it will glow GREEN after exposure to light. The copper can be "charged", allowing it to continue to glow after the lights are turned off. Fluorescent and phosphorescent glow effects are fugitive, wearing down over time. Manganese can be mixed with zinc sulfide in a wet chemical process to develop yellow to orange phosphorescent pigments. All of these effects have a limited life, becoming non-reactive (essentially fugitive) after several months of all day sun exposure (as in lightfast testing).
Optical brighteners (also called fluorescent brightening or whitening agents) are chemical additives (often the hydrocarbon "Stilbene" based) commonly used in goods where a bright white color is desirable. Most frequently this additive is what is responsible for printer paper being bright white and laundry detergent giving the illusion of cleanliness by visually changing how your eyes detect yellow leaning stains (light absorption) making the object appear more blue. The fluorescent property is fugitive, here's an example of a window lightfast test (1 year no sun vs sun exposure):
Daniel Smith's Manganese Blue Hue watercolor is a great example of independent fading of a fluorescent component in a mixture with a stable pigment. The underlying PB15 color is lightfast, but the fluorescent UV reactive glow no longer works after a lightfast test where it absorbed sunlight for several months. I could not find a single other brand that offers a pure, lightfast "PB15" that happens to also be fluorescent. It has a nearly identical appearance to fluorescent pigments, as well as optical brighteners used in invisible inks or UV black light acrylic paints. Similar to silver doped zinc sulfides when under the presence of black light, it glows bright blue. I do not believe Daniel Smith's Manganese Blue Hue uses a cyanine dye (commonly used in "fluorescent blue" paints) which typically fades completely including its blue undertones. The fluorescent effect of this paint fades, but does not notably change the appearance of the blue color visible to the naked eye in normal daylight. Because of these things, I speculate that Manganese Blue Hue's undisclosed ingredient is an optical brightener, a clear colorless additive and not a different type of dye or pigment. Coarse (not finely ground) Phthalo Blue pigment granulates and easily lifts without resorting to unusual additives. The fluorescent additive enhanced the lighter diluted PB15 hue and increased flocculation texture in order to create a convincing replacement for the original (toxic and discontinued) Manganese Blue PB33 genuine pigment.
The following picture shows several brands of paint in normal light (top) and under UV black light (bottom). The brighter glow of the Wildfire Lighting Invisible Blue acrylic (Modern Masters brand from Rustoleum) is due to the thicker application of this heavy-body paint. The glow effect is more intense with thick applications of paint, but even the Manganese Blue Hue watercolor (thin, watery) has an impressive glow:
PW8 Strontium Sulfide:
Uncommon. Known to be phosphorescent, but weaker than PW7.
PW10 Barium Carbonate:
Uncommon. Lightfastness not rated. Toxic.
PW11 Antimony White:
Uncommon. LFI. Toxic. Naturally occurring in the mineral Valentinite.
PW12 Zirconium Oxide:
Uncommon. Lightfastness not rated. Comes from natural mineral Baddelevite.
PW13 Barium Tungstate:
Uncommon. LFI. Toxic.
PW14 Bismuth Oxychloride:
Uncommon. Lightfastness not rated. Has pearlescent properties.
PW15 Tin Oxide:
Uncommon. LFI. Slightly pearlescent. Vulnerable to changes when mixed with an acid.
PW16 Lead Silicate:
Uncommon. Lightfastness not rated. Toxic. Comes from natural mineral Alamosite.
PW17 Bismuth Subnitrate:
Uncommon. LFII. Historically used as antacid or wound dressing.
Lightfast, semi opaque white. Often used as a cheap filler in kids/bargain watercolor and gouache paints. This is often the reason for calling something "chalky" looking, though it is sometimes not what someone is intending to communicate. There are times when a paint is referred to as chalky because like a chalk pastel the color acts like dust that can be wiped off a page once the paint is dry. This cloudy dusty smearing of color can be referred to as chalky, causing confusion if someone assumes they just mean "opaque". It's better to use the word "opaque" especially when referring to paints that use a nice quality PW6, such as pastels made with finely ground titanium white.
Uncommon. LFI. Natural calcium carbonate
PW20: Mica. Non-toxic and lightfast in its pure form (as pearl white watercolor paint or iridescent medium). It's important to note that many colorful "mica based" paints are created by mixing mica with secondary pigments, often fugitive ones. Mica is a naturally forming reflective sheet silicate mineral, mined from large deposits mostly located in India, Brazil, China and Belgium. It can range from translucent white to clear like glass with varying degrees of reflective shine.
Because there are many grades of mica, the price range for this pigment can range from very cheap to very expensive. There are also ways to synthetically produce and alter mica, sometimes noted as Fluorphlogopite on ingredient labels. The synthetic variety, often enhanced by heating and coating with secondary pigments for interesting colors and chameleon shifting effects.
These shifting pigments, sometimes called two-tone or flip-flop colors in brands like Coliro/Finetec, can look like one color at a certain angle of light, but then shifts to a different color when light hits it another way. This type of mica based pigment is very common in the cosmetic industry and can cost hundreds of dollars for just a few grams / a handful of powder. Often sold as eyeshadow where only a small amount is purchased. A few major factories in China produce colorful mica pigments for use in make up, bath bombs, resin crafting and paint making. Calligraphy artists also use these shiny pigments for brush lettering or elegant writing such as wedding invitations done with a dip pen.
PW20 Mixtures:Lightfastness varies based on secondary pigment added. Any color other than pearl/white is a mixture of 2 or more pigments. Even pearl-white paints often include PW6 titanium white for better opacity to paint over dark surfaces. The additional pigment(s) are rarely identified on ingredient labels. Gold, Copper and Bronze colors of mica watercolor are typically made by specially coating the reflective pearlescent mica base with PR101 Red Iron Oxide.Silver is often made by adding PBk7 Lamp Black. Because of these lightfast secondary pigments, those colors tend to be lightfast in any brand. You can not count on other colors (pearlescent pink, purples, greens etc.) to be lightfast. Check the lightfast/review section for brand by brand testing and fugitive results. The way these are coated prior to grinding the pigment (think plating on jewelry) results in the shimmer reflecting a gold color instead of pearl-white. This is NOT like when you mix mica iridescent medium with your transparent watercolors in a mixing palette, which results in being able to see a white reflective sparkle in all of your color mixtures. Instead, watercolor companies like Coliro/Finetec, Paul Rubens, Kuretake, Superior and cosmetic products make specially prepared mica-based pigments that will appear colorful when they reflect light or when used on black paper.
WHY ARE THE SWATCHES DIFFERENT FOR THIS SECTION? Cataloging the large amount of metallic, interference, iridescent and other shimmer/glitter/sparkle paints made with a mica base is a tricky thing. The first mica-based paint swatch card I made (see Schmincke's Yellow-Gold below) demonstrated several problems. 1) Even the highest quality professional grade paint brands are vague about the ingredients used in mica-based paints. While I can say that they all have PW20 Mica as a base ingredient, often the second ingredient is a mystery. 2) Lightfastness ratings for many brands have proven inaccurate (I will be making notes about this as I post specific brands). 3) All mica based paints have a thicker particle size than most pigments, causing an uneven gradient similar to granulation. Due to said particle size none of them will have a pronounced salt texture reaction, causing that part of the test to be a waste of time. 4) The scanning method in which I record swatch card images does not work for metallic colors. The flat-scan method is a bad representation of their true appearance, as these paints require a photograph and specific lighting angle to see their shimmer.
Paul Rubens Glitter Watercolor swatches: Shown full strength, then diluted with water (so you can see if they have a strong underlying color or dilute clear). These swatches are from the 48 pan set, but I have also marked which colors are shared with the 24 pan set. Roughly half of these colors are lightfast, and about half are mixed with fugitive colors that will fade if hung on a wall near window lighting. They use the word "glitter" to describe glittering / sparkly / shimmer. Glitter watercolor does not mean that they plastic-based like common chunky particle "glitter" products (such as glues and shaker jars). These are all mica-based. More info on the Paul Rubens brand review page here.
Coliro / Finetec swatches: This used to be one company, but they split into two to manage USA vs. international distribution of their paints. They have since added unique colors to their catalogs, but they share a decent amount of overlapping colors from when they first started. One such color is "Arabic Gold" - one of my favorite shiny gold watercolor paints that can be found in either brand. The main difference is one has rectangle shape pans and the other has circle shape pans.
AKA Synthetic Barium Sulfate. Uncommon. LFI. Can be used a base to make opaque lake pigments. Made from roasting Baryte mineral with Coal.
AKA Barium Sulfate. Uncommon. LFI. Can be used as filler to improve opacity.
PW23 Alumina Blanc Fixe:
PW24 Aluminum Hydroxide:
LFI. Has transparent or translucent properties. Can be used as a filler to dilute tint strength.
AKA Calcium Sulfate or Terra Alba. LFI. Historically was used in traditional gesso.
LFI. Hydrated Magnesium Silicate, commonly known as talcum or baby powder. Can have varying degrees of impurities such as Calcium and Iron. Note that this pigment is often used as an anti-caking agent and can repel water. Talc is frequently used as an additive in cosmetics, making cosmetic mica powder eyeshadows unsuitable for watercolor paint making (it won't mix into water and gum arabic, but clumps or floats on the surface instead). It's possible that a strong wetting and dispersing agent (surfactant / detergent) could help this pigment mix well into binder mediums.
AKA Diatomaceous Earth. LFI.
PW28 Calcium Silicate:
Uncommon. LFI. Calcium Silicate is the anhydrous version of PW28, off-white/cream. Hydrated Calcium Silicate is the hydrous version of PW28 and tends to be a brighter white.
PW30 Lead Phosphate:
Uncommon. Lightfastness not rated. Toxic.
PW32 Zinc Phosphate:
PW33 Calcium Sulfoaluminate:
Uncommon. Lightfastness not rated.
METAL POWDERS AS PIGMENT - While relatively uncommon in artist paints, real metal powders are sometimes used as a pigment. Some metals provide a highly reflective metallic effect (aluminum, bronze, gold), but others can be quite dull and nearly matte (pewter, iron, zinc). In recent years, the non-toxic silicate mineral mica PW20 has become the most common and affordable pigment to mimic any pearlescent / metallic effect in both art supplies and cosmetics. Metal powders are more expensive, sometimes water reactive / rusting / vulnerable to corrosion and sometimes even explosive, toxic or known skin irritants. These reasons make metal powders a less common choice for paint making than mica. Real metal is particularly uncommon in watercolor, where the metal isn't protected by a sealed coating, so it may tarnish / dull / discolor over time. I will elaborate upon any known recent or current commercial available source under each C.I.#, metal or metallic element name below. The following metals have been used for paint making at some point, but many of them are uncommon and had only brief / historical use:
PM1 Aluminum: LFI and stable when sealed. When a metallic paint uses real metal instead of mica, it's most often the common and affordable aluminum metal powder (assigned the color index # "PM1", which is often listed as the ingredient on paint tube labels). Aluminum provides a shiny metallic finish to paint products like Daler Rowney silver Aquafine watercolor and gouache, Finetec Premium watercolor "Real Silver". You can also find aluminum in "silver" acrylic paints by Old Holland, Blick, or in oil paints by Winsor & Newton, Holbein. I have also found aluminum powder available for sale at Kremer or Jackson's, but their smooth fine particle versions are nowhere near as glittery as the larger particle aluminum flakes present in Lefranc & Bourgeous Flashe Vinyl paints. The formulation of Vinyl (PVA glue, like Elmer's) provides a thin, less durable coating than acrylic, but PVAc has superior clarity in thin layers making it a great binder for preserving the shine of Aluminum powder. In watercolor the reflective shine is dulled with higher amounts of binders or any addition of dextrin or matte agents typically found in gouache.
PM2 Bronze, Copper or Brass: LFI when sealed, but copper based metals are susceptible to corrosion (turning green or other discoloration) due to prolonged exposure to moisture or humid air. Copper based powders are much more suitable for long term display when sealed, varnished or in a paint medium like acrylic or oil where the binder provides protection. Paul Rubens, ShinHan, Schmincke's Aqua Bronze and similar bronze, golden or copper colored metal powders (like some sold for resin crafting) can all be used with watercolor, but fail to mention that they may discolor over time if not properly sealed. These powders do not tend to do well as dry pans in handmade watercolors, often being difficult to re-wet and having a larger particle size than desired for smooth paint application. The painting experience can feel gritty and watercolor binder ratios must be perfected to prevent the metal powders from being easily rubbed off the paper once the paint is dry.
PM3 Gold: LFI. Sometimes called Shell Gold or Painter's Gold (used to be sold in sea shells, now usually comes as tiny water dissolvable tablets from Kremer). Gold (pigment metal 3) is highly valuable and often cost prohibitive for use by the average artist. Real Gold is in high demand due to it's non-reactive nature (inert, chemical resistant), value as a currency and prized for the deep yellow-golden metallic color in jewelry and art. For particularly important artworks, artists may invest in real gold powder watercolor tablets or metal leafing foils for adhesive-applied gilding to provide gold accents in art (usually reserved for gallery / museum shows or heirlooms).
PM4 Lead: Toxic. LFI. Metallic gray. Not recommended as an artist pigment due to toxicity and potential discoloration. All lead based pigments can darken when mixed with sulphur based pigments or when exposed to atmospheric sulfides. Uncommon, no known commercial sources at this time.
PM5 Pewter: LFI. Dull silvery gray tin alloy with varying amounts of copper, antimony and in the past had high amounts of toxic lead impurities (modern pewter since the 1970s is most often lead free). Pewter powder is available from Kremer pigments and is recommended for use in acrylics or oils, but watercolor is not mentioned. I have not found any references of pewter in watercolor or gouache, nor could I find any warnings about potential discoloration or moisture sensitivity. I will be doing some independent studies, weatherfastness and lightfast testing in the future.
PM6 Zinc: LFI. Dull gray metallic zinc powder. Possibly also sold as PBk16 (Kremer Zinc Dust). Caution - can explode if ignited, avoid heat, flame and zinc metal pigment should never be stored together with oxidants, acids and alkalis. Potential toxicity. Can give off hydrogen gas as a reaction with water or acids. Generally inadvisable as an artist pigment, as the color does not provide a unique effect compared to more stable pigments.
Bismuth powder, metallic and other Bi related mixtures: LFI. Uncommon. Bismuth is a spectacularly unique metallic element (known as Bi, atomic number 83 on the periodic table). Bismuth is incredibly beautiful when melted, it transforms from a molten silvery metallic color into rainbow colored geometric patterns as it cools. Depending on the temperature of the Bismuth when exposed to oxygen, a different color oxide layer forms on the surface (resulting in varied color, repeating square shaped crystal formations). A pure (99.9%) Bi powder is sold by Kremer pigments for use in ceramics or acrylic paint making. Bismuth also plays an important role in the creation of other, more commonly used, pigments (chemical compounds made by combining Bismuth with other elements). In PY184 and PO86, Bismuth has been combined with Vanadium to create strong yellow and orange colors. Bismuth has also been used to make white pigments (PW14 or PW17). The pearlescent properties of PW14 Bismuth Oxychloride can create a stunning mirror-like reflective finish in paints. Tri-Art acrylic uses PW14 as a base for their "liquid mirror" paint which is more white than the darker silver color of Kremer Color Paste - Biflair® 83. You can also find PW14 mixed with black in Liquitex Professional Acrylic "Rich Silver" where they have made an interesting choice to offer the more expensive Bismuth based metallic pigment (instead of PW20 mica which they use in their "basics" student grade line silver colors). When sealed (acrylic) metallic Bismuth is lightfast, however I have not yet seen any mention of testing done in watercolor. While Bismuth is typically regarded as stable under exposure to moisture/oxygen/normal atmospheric conditions, it would still be prudent to do an acids/binders/weatherfastness study to make sure Bismuth powder is stable over time (especially in more fragile mediums like gouache or watercolor).
Iron: LFI if sealed, but will rust and darken when exposed to moisture (water in watercolor, or humidity in air). Kremer sells iron metal powder, cast iron powder and iron filings in addition to many non metallic varieties of iron oxides. Iron powder is sold with the warning "fast rusting" and only recommended for use in ceramics or acrylic.
Silver: LFI. The high cost of metallic silver makes this an uncommon choice for artist pigments, especially considering the similar appearance to the much more affordable aluminum PM1. Sometimes offered as water dissolvable tablets, or as thin metal foil sheets for gilding, similarly to PM3 gold.
Stainless Steel: LFI. Provides a dark silvery metallic effect, available as coarse or fine ground particles in acrylic paints by Golden. Also available as rustable, finely ground, dull "steel powder" for DIY paint making from Kremer pigments. Ideal for acrylic paints, but not recommended for watercolor. The way this powder is processed makes it vulnerable to quickly discolor upon exposure to moisture.
Where to buy art supplies used on this page: Each brand has a complete review and list of one or more places to compare pricing on the lightfast testing and art supplies review page. You can also check my most frequently shopped stores below.
Swatch card template available for download here, or get the rubber stamp here. Swatch cards were painted on Legion Black or Arches Cold Press 100% cotton watercolor paper. Paper and brushes are available at Jackson's or Amazon here:
I use affiliate links to places I have purchased my art materials. When available I'll include multiple reputable stores so you can compare and decide where you'd like to shop. Dick Blick ("DB" links below) is a large art supply chain store here in the USA that ships worldwide. Jackson's ("Jack" links below) is a great UK based art supply store which also ships worldwide, but carries some harder to find European products with quick low cost shipping to the USA. Amazon USA ("Ama" links below) often offers unique brands, including small business and Chinese off brand watercolor sets, that can not be found anywhere else. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Arches 100% cotton cold press 140# watercolor paper is one of the most durable surfaces for technical pen, scrubbing and lifting. It's surface sizing (coating) and texture is a good middle ground compared to the extremes of different brands. Due to these traits, and it being around for long enough to be the most commonly recommended paper for professionals, all of my swatches are done on this paper for consistency. Only white (and mica paints that do not show up on white) use the Legion Black paper instead. I buy my arches paper at Blick, and if you are in the USA this is likely the most affordable place to buy it:https://shrsl.com/2765w
Daniel Smith watercolors -- available onDB,JackorAma.
Interested in other ways to help this project? Visit me at Kimberly Crick Art on YouTubeor Patreon. If you have supplies that you would like to donate (such as watercolor dot cards or samples from your company or personal collection that you would like reviewed or displayed in this pigment directory) please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form with details. Thank you :)
Note: this page contains affiliate links. All product opinions are my own. I am committed to honest reviews showcasing both the pros and cons of each product. I have not received payment from any brand for a review. I earn a commission from sales made through this web page's clickable banners or links to Amazon, Arteza, Scrapbook, Jackson's or Blick Art Materials websites.