Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor Review 109 Color Chart Swatch Cards Lightfast Test
Brand overview for Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolors. These paints are made in France (with the company headquarters in the UK). The watercolors come on a 109 color dot card, in 5 or 14ml tubes, half or full pans and various tin sets. This brand focuses on mainly lightfast pigments, with over 90% of their catalog being "permanent" and 80 colors being single-pigment paints. I'll be sharing details about my experience, good and bad, over the past 5 years of using their watercolors. The full range complete catalog has been swatched, you can view it in the video or at the bottom of this page.
Where to buy? These items were used in the video above. The color wheel palette can be found in my shop here. USA buyers - Individual tubes, pans or dot card available at Blick here. UK buyers - available at Jacksons here.
Unlike their popular student grade line called Cotman, these professional quality paints have a very high pigment load and vibrancy. There is none of the odd textures or dullness (likely lack of pigment load / extra binders) that you may have noticed in Cotman. The professional colors also have flow additives (animal based ox gall) and are not vegan like all but 3 colors in the Cotman range are. These professional paints offer more expensive pigment options as well as slightly toxic options like Cobalts and Cadmiums. Though, this line is overall limited in regards to unique pigments. They do not carry as many granulating or rare earth browns, like Roman Szmal paints, nor do they have an extensive mineral or gemstone selection like those found in Daniel Smith.
If you have a large paint collection, or have ever gotten a general pan set with basic mixing colors, you may not find it worthwhile to buy too many individual colors from this brand. A huge portion of their catalog is repetitive, similar looking pigments for you to pick and choose from. With a general lack of unique colors, and a fairly high price tag... I'll be selecting only a handful of favorites. After all, there are only so many shades of yellow I need to fulfill my color mixing needs. I personally can't see wanting to collect each and every color, as only one or two per dozen of a similar color really spoke to me. I've detail swatched all 109 colors towards the bottom of this page, and hope that it will help you decide if there are any specific colors that call to you.
My personal favorites: They do have some colors I feel are worth checking out. While some of these pigments can be found in a few other brands, these versions are notable. Their version of Potter's Pink (shown above) which is pretty rare (only Daniel Smith and Schmincke have a similar version). This color makes really visually interesting mixes with other granulating paints, such as Cobalt Teal.
The Cobalt Green Deep (shown below) and Cobalt Blue Deep are remarkably deep, dark and granulating. They also offer a few colors that, while also found in the top dozen or so other top pro-grade paint brands, are unique overall in the watercolor world. Rarely would you find certain pigments in student or general pan set selections. These pigments are typically a little unique between brands, with subtle variations due to the part of the world they were mined and manufactured: Ultramarine purple, Permanent Mauve (Manganese Violet), Cobalt Violet or the fugitive but well-loved Rose Madder Genuine. Rose Madder is a historical pigment created by grinding and laking the roots of the Madder Plant. It has a color that artists over the centuries have appreciated for being similar to rose petals. Winsor and Newton is one of the last companies to still offer it in watercolor form.
Changes over the years: The labels on tubes, pans and color charts have been changed several times in the past 5 years. There seemed to be some disruption to the way this brand was produced about 10 years ago when manufacturing moved from the UK to France. The Cotman student line also moved to China. Afterwards the paints got a new appearance, and several new marketing strategies that I think may have backfired judging by the general negative press this brand gets at times. Overall, there seems to be an opinion that manufacturing is not what it used to be, and that the formula has suffered.
The tube and pan formula is not the same for Winsor & Newton Professional watercolors. The company has stated that their pans will re-activate easier with a damp brush than the paint from a tube would, after dry. It was not clear if this is purely because of a more dense pigment load in their intentionally dry version. This can cause trouble when a certain type of pigment requires more or less binder, water, fillers or re-wetting agent to not become brittle in the pan. I've also had an issue where Indigo developed this odd white surface texture (I assume a type of mold?) when using the tube paints dry in pans. This happens soon after pouring it, after it dries, without any contamination of brushes/water. (Though, in general I use purified water when I paint anyway to limit mold exposure from tap water into my supplies.) I can't rule out that this is some sort of patina like reaction, there is copper in phthalo pigments, but this has never happened in any of the other paints I own. Even in the same palette container, no other colors I own have this speckled white affliction.
Typically most brands use the same formula in their pans as their tubes. Thus creating products that customers can freely decide how to use - such as deciding to squeeze out a little tube paint into a travel palette for use from dry. This is the economical way to buy watercolors in the long run. The tubes are more of an investment up front, but typically go a long way. For instance I can get a roughly 3ml full pan for just under the cost of a 14ml tube. Even considering shrinkage from drying, you can typically fill 3 full pans from a single tube. Other artists have told me that their tube filled pans have over time cracked and become hard to re-wet, after repeatedly being wet and dried over painting sessions. Again, this is not something I have experienced in other brands. If that's a concern for you, Mission Gold may be the easiest to re-wet paints I own, fresh as the day I poured them even over 5 years and dozens of uses later.
Aqua Green is a phthalo based color called "Palomar Turquoise" created for the automotive industry. Because it is not widely available as an artists pigment, no pigment code has yet been assigned to it. To be clear about what it contains, Winsor & Newton's labels do say "Ingredient: Phthalo". Unlike most Phthalo colors in other brands, this version has a nice subtle granulation. Fun fact - Phthalos have a natural tendency to granulate, but typically manufacturing efforts are made to smooth them out including grinding the particles very small. This version likely granulates because the automotive paint manufacturer did not create this pigment with thin applications like watercolor painting in mind.
Misleading names: Smalt and Cadmium Orange are not the pigments their names imply. I was frustrated to find out that Smalt lacked the word "hue" on the label. Smalt genuine (PB32) is a toxic ingredient common in historical paintings. W&N's version is actually a version of Ultramarine Purple (PV15), a blue-shade fairly close to regular Ultramarine Blue. Cadmium Orange also does not say hue, but is actually Cadmium Red and Yellow mixed. Technically it's still Cadmium based, and I assume that may be a reason they don't consider it a Cadmium hue/look-a-like, though it's still misleading. I had assumed that Cadmium Orange would be pure PO20, since they plainly do have that ingredient since it's mixed into one of their yellows. Their are also colors with names like "Winsor Yellow" that force you to look at the pigment ingredient for clarification.
Regarding the great "CADMIUM-FREE" marketing disaster, frustrating artists worldwide: You may notice a handful of colors without pigment information - the CADMIUM-FREE line. These colors mimic genuine Cadmium colors, though it's not really clear why they aren't just labeled "hue" (AKA the standard wording for a look-a-like). I found that they dried slightly less opaque than their genuine counterparts, felt a bit less thick and creamy, but that the color was overall very similar. Since no pigment ingredient is given for them, you can't really be sure that they are a totally lightfast or non-toxic alternative to regular Cadmium. It's very unclear if these paints are just mixtures, such as a similar looking red with some chalk filler to help it be more opaque (or even ground to a thicker particle size) like gouache.
You won't have to look far online to find a slew of reviews questioning the secrecy behind these paints. While it's possible that they wanted to keep the formula a trade secret, or that their chemists truly came up with something new that just doesn't have a pigment code assigned to it yet... the problem is the vague marketing and lack of clarity provided by the company. Along with the fact that these cadmium-free colors are priced just as high as their genuine cadmium counterparts, without us knowing if they are just charging us a premium for a generic "hue" or being certain the ingredients are safe. Considering a huge part of what sets pro grade paint apart from lower cost brands, is reputable lightfast ratings with a full disclosure of pigment ingredients, this hurts the company's image. I would have respected it more had they been transparent about it, even if it was just a note of "ingredients: trade secret mixture" on the tube.
Swatch Card Color Chart for all 109 Winsor and Newton professional watercolors:
Want to see how each color compares to the same pigment in another brand? Check out the color you want to compare on the pigment database pages.
Where to buy? I bought the full range dot card, sets or individual tubes and pans from the following online stores. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
USA - Blick carries individual tubes and pans for both Cotman student and Professional version:
UK / EURO - Jackson's is a great place to shop: