Tuesday 18 June 2013

Watercolour Comparisons 1 Ultramarine Blue PB29.

Ultramarine Blue

In the large Moleskine watercolour sketchbook I did a comparison of every Daniel Smith watercolour, with pigment notes, reviews from other sources, mixing charts, colour wheels and so on. I also added comparisons with other brands of the same colour or the same pigment.

Here's my page on Ultramarine blue - my favourite blue. There is more information on my website here. You can also see a huge range of different blues painted out here.

Watercolour Notebook page on Ultramarine Blue showing Daniel Smith, M. Graham, Old Holland, Da Vinci and Schmincke finest.
Ultramarine Blue is my fist choice for a blue in any medium. It is a warm blue, i.e. it has a purple bias rather than a green bias, so will mix to make lovely purples. It will also make great greens, though not as bright as a cool blue would produce. It works as a single blue in a limited palette as it can be cooled with a touch of a cool yellow or phthalo green to create a cool blue.

In watercolour it will generally granulate which can be disconcerting to the beginner. The least granulating version I tested was Schmincke Ultramarine Finest. Here are my test samples, painted first as a graduated wash to see how the colour behaves in water and then as a 'juicy' wash.
French Ultramarine W&N, Ultramarine Da Vinci, Ultramarine M.Graham, Ultramarine Blue Deep Old Holland, Ultramarine Finest Schmincke, Ultramarine Daniel Smith, Permanent Blue Daler Rowney, French Ultramarine Daniel Smith.

Update 2015 - since writing this post I have updated my website with hundreds of watercolour swatches but I'll also include them here. My colour reproduction is not even close to perfect and these samples have been scanned at different times and with different scanners, but you can see that there is some range of hue within the PB29 pigment. Some brands have a 'light' and 'deep', some a Red Shade and a Green Shade, some a regular and a French version. The subtle differences in hue will have an effect in the sorts of greys and greens the colour mixes. In some brands there may be enough difference to want both versions but I have used D.S. Ultramarine rather than D.S. French Ultramarine and don't see any point in having both in this brand.

PB29 is such a reliable pigment that you really can't go wrong with it whatever brand you use. For me, working with watercolour that I squeeze out of a tube into a palette and allow to dry, the best options are Da Vinci and Daniel Smith as they both dry solid but rewet readily, they also mix the exact shade of grey I love with Burnt Sienna. I also have the Schmincke version in case I want a less granulating colour for sky effects.

Ultramarine mixes with a cool red to produce purples. Try it with Quinacridone Rose, Quinacridone Violet or Quinacridone Magenta for the most gorgeous bright purples.
Quinacridone Rose mixed with Ultramarine Blue and other bright purple mixes.

Ultramarine mixed with Quinacridone Violet and other purples.
 With a warm red it produces reduced or dull purples and even Indigo, brick red and Indian red hues.
Cadmium Red mixed with Ultramarine Blue and other neutralised purple mixes.

Mixed with a warm yellow it produces a range of useful olive or neutralised greens.
Ultramarine with warm yellows - Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Deep Gold and Cadmium Yellow Deep

Mixed with an orange or burnt orange or neutralised orange such as Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine creates a huge range of browns and greys. I love this combination!
Burnt Sienna mixed with Ultramarine Blue as well as Phthalo Blue and Cerulean
Ultramarine mixed with Quinacridone Sienna, Quinacridone Deep Gold, Quinacridone Gold and Burnt Umber.

It is also great mixed with Umbers and earth pigments.
Ultramarine mixed with Burnt Umber, Raw Umber and Indian Red

...So a really fabulous blue in your palette.

Coming up - mid yellows.

For more colour charts with Ultramarine and many other colours, see my website here.

Watercolour Comparisons 1 - Ultramarine Blue here
Watercolour Comparisons 2 - mid yellows here
Watercolour Comparisons 3 - Primary Red here
Watercolour Comparisons 4 - Burnt Sienna here
Watercolour Comparisons 5 - Greens (Single Pigment, convenience mixes and special effect) here
Watercolour Comparisons 6 - Reds (Cool, mid and warm) here
Watercolour Comparisons 7 - Yellows (cool mid and warm) here
Watercolour Comparisons 8 - Blues here


  1. Jane, Thank You so much for posting this info. I love color and learning about color, especially with watercolors so your posts are timely to me. You do an incredible job, and it's greatly appreciated! Have a wonderful day!

    1. Thank you Jill. Let me know if there is a particular colour or pigment you are interested in!

  2. I was wondering what the difference is between the Daniel Smith Ultramarine Blue and the French Ultramarine? They are both made from PB29, so does one just have more binder in it or ????

    1. Hi Jill
      I have used the regular Ultramarine for so long that it is what I am used to.

      I tried the French Ultramarine as a watercolour stick but wasn't delighted - they don't work in Australia due to our humid climate.

      I tried the French Ultramarine as a tube colour out of curiosity. It is ever so slightly warmer than the regular version, and perhaps it granulates more? perhaps the pigment is more finely ground? but I don't see enough difference to justify getting a series 2 rather than a series 1. The W&N French Ultramarine is exactly the same as the Daniel Smith French Ultramarine by the way. All are lovely warm blues.

      I haven't tested the Daniel Smith French Ultramarine as a dried out colour in my palette, by the way, only fresh from the tube.

  3. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the reply. You have a good point regarding the Series 1 vs. Series 2 cost. From your test sheet I couldn't really discern much of a difference either. I have the French Ultramarine in my travel palette and so far I've been happy with it. I live in a very dry climate (intermountain valley in California) so haven't had any problems. It came as part of warm and cool primaries set that I got when I was just starting so I've kind of stuck with it. Thanks again for all the great info!


  4. Your colour palette experiments have been invaluable for my research. Thank you so much for publishing them here

  5. Magnificent!! I'm thinking of trying to make some for my split primary acrylic palette. What paper size and weight did you use or suggest I use?

    1. The detail of the individual test swatches is here - http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/watercolour-swatches-on-my-website.html
      For acrylic I think you'd need to add more space if you also paint with black and white - one for mixes with white and one for mixes with black, even though you can create tints with water or a medium. You'd probably work larger if you are used to working with large brushes.

    2. For the more detailed cards I used A5 pre-printed cards on approx 180gsm watercolour paper, created by Wilcox. I picked up loads of them slightly water damaged ;-) You can see the rest on my website in the Watercolour Mixing Charts tab.

    3. I hadn't even factored in black and white paints and I should have since I have warm & cool versions of both. Thanks for telling me. By the way, did you use the Wilcox paper for the swatches as well?

    4. I used Cotman's 185gsm watercolour paper for the swatches. Thin enough to fit hundreds of them into a tin, just thick enough to function a watercolour paper.

  6. Thank you Jane for making these spectacular swatches :D I'm new to watercolor and have found their mixing is unpredictable (unlike oil/acrylic) :( though this feature makes watercolor more interesting, it's quite out of control for a newbie.

    1. Watercolour does take time to figure out. Where you generally use acrylic straight from the tube, you should never do that with watercolour. Where acrylic dries darker, watercolour dries lighter. Where you work largely from dark to light in acrylic and oils, in watercolour you work largely from light to dark. etc etc - lots to reverse and relearn. But the rewards are many - portability, fast cleanup, gentle on brushes, flexible with other media and just the joy of working with pure pigment. Well worth the effort :-)

  7. I'm looking for the explanation of the abbreviations on your watercolor charts. I am amazed at all the work you have put into this. I'm a newbie learning about watercolors.

    1. There are abbreviations for the brand - WN =Winsor & Newton, DS = Daniel Smith, DV = Da Vinci, etc. You can find all that information on my website in the Painted Watercolour Swatches section here - http://www.janeblundellart.com/painted-watercolour-swatches.html - this section has about 750 different colours and you can click on any to see the full details.
      The other abbreviations you may have noticed are the pigment numbers eg PB29 (which is Ultramarine blue), which are explained in the first page of this section too. PB = Pigment Blue, etc. It is very helpful to be aware of the pigment numbers as you choose which paints to buy as you are then able to choose watercolours (or acrylic/oil etc) that have the characteristics you are after. Keep in mind that a higher cost does not necessarily mean a better pigment, just a more expensive one. The earth pigments are usually series 1, quinacridones might be series 2 or 3, cobalts are often series 3 or 4, cadmiums are usually expensive though I suggest beginners avoid cadmiums and go for hansas for the yellows and pyrrols for the reds. More on those on my website...

  8. Genuine ultramarine has become very rare .It is produced from Lapis Lazuli and because it came from overseas was called in the French ' ultra marine ' (over seas) . So French Ultramarine is ultramarine ! People collecting minerals will have noticed the red specs in the sample of Lapis and because these are present in small quantities it leans slightly toward the purple side of blue . Its easy to make genuine ultramarine as it is a very soft mineral and easily ground with the muller.A good sized piece can be bought for very little money as means of transportation have become less time consuming .A shop selling crystals will sell a piece large enough for many years for 1/10 of the price of a small tube or pan of substitute .I have used this to good effect in miniature portraits on vellum glued to stiff card with rabbit skin glue.Good clean heavy linen rag paper and card can be had with various textures ,some barely finished but have an animal glue in the water and some are even flattened by ladies with hot irons like a good crisp collar !
    As there is no piece on black and generally those available are carbon based ,lamp or chimney soot , burnt ivory ,horn etc., they tend to be very granular,difficult to control or over powering and unnatural as no true blacks occurr in nature as there is always light as God has said.It is the translucency of the pigments that make water colour what it is . A non granular black in the darkest shade required (which is good for ink and washes too ,which I enjoy when travelling) , can be made from ground oak galls ,coperas , sweet thick spanish desert wine and a little gum arabic.All readily avaialable in London and other great cities of Europe.Grind roughly equal volumes of ground oak gall ,coperas crystals and wine together with a small quantity of gum .The mixture instantly turns black. Filter and dilute as necessary with wine.Drink rest of wine with a good pippin pie .For a thicker mix substitute honey for wine .Mixes readily with other colours but use a good goose or muscovy duck quill with a fine 3 cut point when inking .
    I am not sure what is meant by acrylic but have asked a much younger person here and he claims its like linseed oil based paint ?! He recommended Liquitex from the colonies which he thinks no longer exist !He is a merry jester.

  9. What a great blogspot. I have been primarily an oil painter but recently started working with watercolors. Your website is very helpful - thanks for the hard work. I'm especially interested in transparent colors and was searching info on Maimeri Blue and landed on your site. You had some discussion on Maimeri - were you ever able to get a full color chart with permanence ratings ? Thanks much.

  10. Yes I have added the link to the Italian website here http://www.janeblundellart.com/painted-watercolour-swatches.html under MaimeriBlu. The number of starts indicates the lightfast rating.

  11. Thank you for your wonderful work! I was looking for the least granulating Ultramarine blue, and from your swatches it looks like being one labelled as M with 5 stars or so ... Might be a Maimeri or what? Thanks again

    1. Schmincke' Ultramarine finest would be the least granulating. You can see them in more detail on my website in the Painted Watercolour Swatches section.

  12. Thank you for such a delightful post, it's my introduction to your website and I'm eagerly looking forward to learning more. Now I want to do my own colour swatches to better learn how my pigments work together. I've only been painting for a few years and mainly with a very Australian colour palette. I was given two very generous gift vouchers for Parkers Art Supplies for Christmas and have bought up a stash of Schmincke colours that I'm eager to test with my Daniel Smith collection (I have a few W&N but as they've stopped printing colour charts I can't do my research before on them before shopping on a tight budget, but I love my Daniel Smith and Schmincke colour charts, notes all over them).
    I'm trying to figure out what colours to include in my local travel palette for urban sketching around Sydney. I have one for my Tasmanian trips but the new Schmincke colours have lit me up and I'm eager to test them - although I think it is more of a European palette I've bought with Viridian and Prussian blue etc.
    I think learning from you with testing and playing with colour swatches is a great way to build up my knowledge and skills with all these glorious colours so I can make an informed decision. Thank you. :)

    1. I'm glad you are finding it helpful. Remember both my website and blog are searchable. You can see the full range of many watercolour brands painted out, eventually I intend to show them all, and I'll add every swatch to my website by pigment numbers for comparison. I am aware I need to update some of these earlier comparisons and add the new colours that are now available.
      I print the colour charts from the PDF files (links on my website) if I can't get the original.
      For Sydney my general plein air palette is a pretty good option, adding some more convenience colours depending on the number you wish to carry. Viridian will mix nicely with warm yellows for Australian greens and Prussian blue is an alternative to phthalo blue as a cool mixing blue.

  13. Hi Jane, Michelle here from Goulburn, thanking you again for the two Sydney workshops in 2018. Was it that long ago? Hope you had fun in Amsterdam.

    Just wondering if you still find Schminke's Ultramarine finest to have the least granulating
    Could you please link or list non granulating blues from your swatches please?

    Looking for a nice smooth sky for washes to do a graduation with DS Nickel titanate light near the horizon line.
    Also would like to know what your choice/brand of non granulating watercolours, that are single pigment mixing colours, to mix with white gouache to become book illustrations, so originals need to be non fugitive...or do I need to jump to gouache products that are better recommended?

    Paint every day to keep the blues at bay!
    Regards Michelle x

    Regards Michelle from Goulburn.

    1. Lots of questions there Michelle! Schmicnke's ultramarine finest and I think Daler Rowney's Permanent Blue are about the finest or least granulating. If you switch to a non-granulating blue you also switch to a more staining blue, generally. So you can consider Indanthrone Blue (PB60) or one of the phthalo blues - green shade or red shade - but they are such fine particle size that they will stain on most papers unless you use a lifting preparation.

      If you transition in a sky using Nickel titanate, I would expect you'll get a green. Do you want that? The best way to avoid a green sky is to look at a raw sienna made with PBr7 as your golden glow colour.

      There are different types of gouache. Traditionally they were intended for very smooth design work. So they often had chalk or a binder mixed in. there are some brands still made like that but others are basically super concentrated watercolours. So it depends what sort of finish you want. for reproduction work, light-fastness is less of an issue, though most of the common blues are pretty good anyway.

  14. Frieda Kamstra28 May 2022 at 12:42

    Hi Jane, I have a question for you. I am a bit confused. In the recommendations for 12 colour palettes for Schmincke you suggest the French Ultramarine instead of the “normal” Ultramarine feinest. But I also read somewhere that Ultramarine feinest has got the less granulation of all the brands and mixes better greens then French Ultramarine. What to choose best? I can test myself of course.. maybe something has changed since you wrote this information. Thank you for your great website and information! It helps me a lot!

    1. I chose the newer French Ultramarine as it mixes a lovely versions of Jane's Grey with Maroon Brown. I like the granulation, but for those who don't, Ultramarine Finest is a great option. (I need tup update this post!)