Wednesday 10 January 2018

Holbein Artist Watercolour

Holbein from Japan has been making watercolour since the early1920s. They don't contain any ox-gall, animal products or dispersing agents so are easy to control. They claim that the pigments are more finely ground than in other ranges and describe themselves as "a European style transparent watercolor which preserves the brush handling qualities inherent in Japanese watercolor techniques". They generally rewet beautifully from the samples I have received so can be used fresh from the tube or dry in the palette.

The 2018 colour chart shows 108 colours, without the pigment information. They are available in 5ml and 15ml tubes and some pan colours. Note in this range there are only a possible three stars for lightfastness.  Many of the problem fugitive colours have been reformulated :-) but there are a lot of two and three-pigment mixes.

The colour chart also shows a series of symbols
T = Transparent,
N = Non stain
E = Easy lift
H = hard lift
X = granulating
B = Semi transparent
O = opaque
S = Staining
I = intense.
I've added this information to the swatches, though sometimes it seems contradictory.

2018 update
I was told about these dot cards being available so have been able to update these swatches to include the full current range. These charts also have pigment information so are really helpful. Where I have swatches of the old and the new colour I've included both. The swatches are arranged according to the 2018 colour chart. 
December 2022 update - the swatches were rescanned, and I've individually colour matched them as well as I can. All have been added to my website so you can compare the colours with other brands.

I always avoid PR83. The other less lightfast pigment, PR23, has been removed from the range. These swatches have been updated and are quite accurate in colour.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Crimson Lake, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Carmine, 
Rose Madder, Quinacridone Red.

These are also relatively accurate in colour, though the cherry red 'coral' is difficult to capture.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Pyrrole Rubin, Perylene Maroon, Pyrrole Red, 
Quinacridone Scarlet, Scarlet Lake

I find scanning can't capture the brilliance of Opera, so the photo is better here.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Opera, Brilliant Pink, Shell Pink, Cadmium Red Purple, Cadmium Red Deep.

Cadmium Red Orange is a really orange version of PR108! I suspect it is an error and it is actually PO20. 

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Vermilion, Vermilion Hue, Cadmium Red Light, 
Cadmium Red Orange, Brilliant Orange .

Cadmium Yellow Orange is listed as PR108. I think it is more likely to be PO20?
Holbein Artist Watercolour - Permanent Yellow Orange (old), Permanent Yellow Orange (new version), Cadmium Yellow Orange, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Pale.

These colours are reasonably accurate. PR110 is really difficult to match so this is a photo.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Imidazolone Lemon, Imidazolone Yellow, Gamboge Nova, 
Permanent Yellow Light, Isoindolinone Yellow Deep

Permanent Yellow Deep is brighter than I can capture it here, but a definite warm yellow hue.
Holbein Artist Watercolour - Quinacridone Gold, Permanent Yellow Deep, Aureoline, 
Permanent Yellow Lemon (old version), Permanent Yellow Lemon.

While these swatches are very close, Jane Brilliant 2 is slightly more peach pastel than shown
Holbein Artist Watercolour - Lemon Yellow, Naples Yellow, Jaune Brilliant 1, 
Jaune Brilliant 2, Greenish Yellow.

The new version of Permanent Green #1 with PY1 replaced with PY3 looks brighter.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Olive Green (old version) Olive Green, Leaf Green, Permanent Green #1 (old version), 
Permanent Green #, Permanent Green #2 ,

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Cadmium Green Deep, Cadmium Green Pale, Hooker's Green, Bamboo Green, 
Cobalt Green, Viridian.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Viridian Hue, Emerald Green Nova, Compose Green,
Sap Green, Terre Verte.

Marine Blue is very beautiful, however it is now made with PB16 + PG7 - perhaps a new version of PB16 since it is apparently the same hue.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Green Grey,  Shadow Green, Phthalo Blue Red Shade,
Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade, Marine Blue.

Holbein Artist Watercolour -  Turquoise Blue, Cobalt Turquoise Light, Peacock Blue, 
Manganese Blue Nova, Horizon Blue.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Compose Blue, Verditer Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue,
Cobalt Blue Hue.

Both ultramarines are rich and gorgeous.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Ultramarine Light, Ultramarine Deep, Prussian Blue, 
Royal Blue, Indigo.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Lavender, Permanent Violet, Mineral Violet, 
Cobalt Violet Light, Lilac.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Bright Violet, Bright Rose, Quinacridone Magenta (formally Rose Violet), 
Quinacridone Violet (formally Permanent Magenta), 
Mars Violet.

These earth colours are nice. Less granulating than some brands.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Indian Red, Imadazolone Brown, Light Red, 
Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Raw Umber, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Yellow Grey, Umber.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Van Dyke Brown (this is the real vandyke brown pigment), Sepia, Ivory Black, Lamp Black,
Peach Black (old version), Peach Black.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Neutral Tint, Payne's Grey, Davy's Grey, 
Grey of Grey, Chinese White.

Holbein Artist Watercolour - Titanium White, Gold, Silver.

A few extra swatches of discontinued colours.


Holbein Artist Watercolour - Permanent Red (discontinued), Permanent Green #3 (discontinued),
Compose Green 3 (discontinued), Mineral Violet (discontinued)

Use the search button to see other watercolour ranges. See each swatch compared to other brands in the 'Painted Watercolour Swatches' section of my website.

Happy painting!


  1. I've been waiting for your thoughts on these. I bought a 30 tube set for a really good price on Amazon when I recently got back into watercolors. I bought it before reading about pigments and many in the set are multi-pigments mixes, not their single pigment colors. I was really disappointment by the yellows but really pleased with the blues! Mineral Violet is a color I read about frequently online. I enjoy using it, but my tube lists PB 29, PR 122, and PBr25. Thanks for your awesome blog!!

    1. Yes I have changed the pigments for that colour in the caption on the bottom - the sample certainly didn't look like PV15!

  2. Did anyone notice the red undertones in the silver?

  3. Hello Jane, may I ask how these paints compare to Mijello? They're equally priced for me and both easily available.

    1. Holbein has been around a lot longer. They used to have a lot of very fugitive colours (they still have some) but have revamped their range. If you choose the single pigment colours and avoid any with PR83 you could do fine.
      Mijello paint out very strongly and in many ways handle in a similar manner. They are a newer player and have a lot of quite fugitive pigments and lots of mixes, however once again by picking and choosing from the range I am sure you can set up nicely. I haven't tested how the two interact with each other.
      Keep in mind I am testing from small dots of paint I have been sent, not whole tubes. I don't know what the consistency is like straight from the tubes.

  4. Hi Jane, thank you for sharing all this information. I am doing an online class and note that a colour used by the tutor, Holbein's Jaune Brilliant 1, only has a 2 start lightfast rating. Would you use that colour in a piece you might sell?

    Also, I followed your link to the Holbein chart, which seems to have been changed since you did your review; some colours (eg.viridian, yellow ochre) have a four star rating, which makes 2 seem worse!

    Thanks for your gelp,

  5. Where can I buy Holbein ‘s products?

  6. Hello.. thankyou for the review! Anyway, I wanna know if the gold one is kind of glittery or pearly, or it just gives a shade of gold color without any pearly pigment? Thankyou!

  7. Great swatches and reviews! Holbein is the only watercolor brand on my region that I can select individual colors. So far I am using Holbein only. I like to use primary color triads with single pigments Holbein to create a myriad of color transitions. I am slightly regretful about purhasing rose madder long ago, not knowing that it is actually the original alizarin crimson known for its fugitive properties. Otherwise the whole experience with Holbein is good.

  8. I’m trying to decide between purchasing a set of Holbein half pans versus sennelier half pans. How would you compare them in relation to the brightness of colors, transparency?

    1. I've largely tested both brands from tube colours and sometimes the experience using the pans is different. I know Sennelier tubes tend to be quite runny due to the honey content but their pans are not. Perhaps choose the colours you prefer from each range and make up your own set.

  9. I just bought the new tubes (with the new package label) of raw Sienna and raw umber; they are both mixes of PBr7 and PY42. However, on the dot cards, raw Sienna is PY43 and raw umber is PBr7. Does anyone know if it's a misprint on the label or on the dot card, or have they changed the formula after they introduced the new label design, so the tubes I have, though they have the new design, have the old formula? Thank you!

    1. My guess is that they have changed their formulation. The website doesn't list pigments so it's hard to know.

    2. And to make it more confusing, Holbein did not change the number of the paint when they changed its formulation. Even though the raw umber formula changed to add PY42 to PBr7, Holbein didn't modify the paint number. If you want the new formulation of any of their paints, make sure you buy the paint with the new tube style. If you order online, make sure you give special instructions and specify that you want the new paint tube style as some formulas have changed.

  10. I love reading through your pages! I have been a strictly QoR painter for a year plus, and after scoring a couple tubes of PB33 from Holbein, I had to see how they compared as a brand. I wish they had a dedicated PY150, but the PY110 was a nice find, as was PB16. I do like how these paints hold their ground, vs rocketing across the page like QoR. They (Holbein) are an excellent brand for anything, but I like the wet on dry applications when I am charging a bead or stroke with additional color, because I can mix and mingle in a little more controlled fashion. If one can find an open stock store, that is the way to go when purchasing these. On line can be hit an miss, with old stock mixes being sold using current names that are reformulated single pigment colors. That PB33 though!!!

    1. The nature of the QoR binder does make their paints explode on the paper at a pretty wild pace. Holbein uses the traditional gum Arabic, as to most other brands, so behaves like traditional watercolour.

  11. Thank you so much for this! This was extremely helpful and informative! I used your swatches and info to pick out my own tubes, and so far i could not be happier with the end results. Thank you!

  12. Hi! I am confused by some pigment codes. Like W370 what is AB83 or BV11:1? My brilliant pink has BV11 and AB83. You have PW6 and PR209 for Brilliant pink. Thanks hope to understand more. sincerely, Laura

    1. BV11:1 means basic violet 11. These are lake dyes, these are not pigments. The colon after 11 means version 1 with a specific chemical structure, so if there is BV11:2 it will have a different chemical structure to the first one. I am sorry for what AB83 is, I am assuming it is another type of dye which is red based. Brilliant pink should have PW6 and PR209 only. The one you said had BV11 and AB83 is bright rose.

  13. I'm looking at purchasing select tubes of Holbein, but couldn't find pigment information on the company's website. Then i found an online source. Pasting a link here for some of your blog followers. I'm not sure if ALL the info is still relevant or have undergone certain changes.

  14. Holbein pan watercolors and tube colors use different pigments and are not identical. Holbein has an eventual plan to synchronize the half pans to the tubed product.

  15. Very nice review, when it comes to color review, I consider you as the authority.

  16. Hello, I have just started to practice watercolor, your blog is really helpful to me! For the light blue choice, which one is better, Horizon Blue or Manganese Blue Nova?

    1. I would always recommend a single pigment over a mix for a basic primary colour. However you could also consider getting the Phthalo Blue yellow shade - it is stronger but can be diluted for a light blue.

  17. The raw umber pigment written on the dot card is pbr7 while your swatch is pbr7 and py 42. Which one is correcr?

  18. OMG this review was so great you help me so much thank you from Bangkok Thailand

  19. Can you suggest an alternate colour for bright rose...holbein not available where we live

  20. The Holbein Marine blue is no longer a single pigment color. Now its pb16 ans pg7 !!!! I bought it few weeks back , disappointed. Because they changed it so silently .

    1. dang, i wondered if that might happen! i never even heard of PB16 before i saw it on that color, but depending on your reference source, some cite just that pigment vs two. it's hard to know what is REAL with this brand... : ( though i really like some of the colors, this is a bit frustrating. it's not very transparent on reformulations, even though many of them are GOOD, like upgrading to more LF pigments....

    2. I bought about a year ago... but absolutely love it! I'm not so familiar with pigment info, as I am a beginner. I'd like to buy more Holbein but really would like a watercolor dot chart like WN & DS.

  21. Ive been using Holbein for 3 years. They rewet nice and nice cosistency from the tube. No seperation from the binder and I have over 50 tubes(!).
    Also nice pigment load in almost every color. The cobalts blues paint out rich and deep, which I miss from most other brands.

  22. The Holbein Mineral Violet is the only mixed-pigment violet out there worth buying in my opinion. It's perfect for botanical works, and looks way more natural than dioxazine or quinacridone violet. Older tubes show ultramarine violet as the pigment, but I agree that it doesn't look like it. I like that even though it contains ultramarine blue, it never separates or granulates (unlike DS Imperial Violet), though some might want that effect.

  23. Amazing that you've rescanned these! Thanks so much for all your hard work. Hey I see that you haven't noted that Holbein Marine Blue has now been changed - I think they must have run out of their beautiful old stock of PB16 - it's now a mix. I hear it's the same hue, but haven't checked myself or seen a swatch.

  24. One of the best professional artists in my city recommended Holbein when I started painting. I ought to have listened to her but being the know-it-all i am, i spent hundreds of dollars on various sets and other makes before finally trying holbein. Its good stuff.