Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Schmincke Watercolour Paints

Schmincke are the leading German manufacturer of watercolour paints, which they have been making since 1881. Their motto is "I strive for the  best" and they are still owned by the Schmincke and Horadam families, now into the fourth generation. Contrast that with Winsor & Newton, sold to a Swedish company, who have now sold them to a German company and recently moved manufacture of the paints to France!

Added 14/04/2017: The new enlarged range makes some of the following obsolete so read this in conjunction with the recent posts on the additional colours (35). A few of the existing range have been reformulated and some names altered. The updated brochure is on the Schmincke site (   in the same format. It does not say if this will be available in printed form. 

The above brochure I obtained some years ago, just after the range had been reformulated. It now comprises 110 colours and is available in both tubes, 15ml and 5ml, and full and half pans. It may no longer be available but have no fear it can be downloaded from the website as a PDF and studied at leisure. Details later.

The information presented for each colour is comprehensive and very useful. Information on transparency, and lightfastness is clearly stated and looking at the Schmincke ratings they seem to me to be pretty realistic and they also add that ...` no watercolour should be exposed to direct sunlight for a prolonged time due to the usually fine and thin and thereby light sensitive colour application'.... Pigment information is also most useful. 

Schmincke use Kordofan Gum Arabic from the Southern Sahara region as the binding medium which they say differs from year to year, depending on the crop - like good wine! They are therefore very selective in only purchasing the best available crop. They also state Oxgall is useful but only if carefully integrated. Schminke however are dead against the use of honey.due to it's propensity to attract flies.

What of the range? Of the 110 colours 70 are single pigment paints and the use of good reliable pigments is prevalent. Only three colours are given no ratings, Brilliant purple, Brilliant red violet and Brilliant blue violet. The latter two are dyes. The controversial Alazarin Crimson  (and Rose Madder) are given two star ratings - limited lightfastness. 

I don't have a great deal of experience with Schmincke, currently  using only Translucent Orange (PO71) and Translucent Brown (PBr41), both excellent paints. The orange is a favourite. Like most manufacturers they do have their quirks. For example `Ultramarine Blue' is a mixture of PB15:1 Phalo Blue and PB29 Ultramarine Blue. `Pure' Ultramarine Blue is called Ultramarine Finest. Cobalt Blue tone is a mixture of PB29 and PW4 (white). Cobalt Blue Deep (PB74) and Cobalt Blue light (PB28) are the correct pigments. This illustrates once again that you should buy paints by pigments not colours.  They also have a few four pigment mixes, mainly in the brown shades and  a number of three pigment mixes. If you lean towards single pigment paints there is still plenty of choice.

Current prices from Jacksons  range from  £6.50 (15ml) Series 1 to £12,00 Series 4.  Once again you have to be careful as there are not that many in series 1 and manufacturers differ in the way they rate paints (pigments). See `Watercolour Painting on a Budget Pt.2' April 2013  for an explanation. I tried to find them on the Great Art site but the recent revised one is far less user friendly and although they do sell Schmincke could I find the 15 ml tubes? No, nor the 5ml and pans. Ken Bromley introduced Schmincke watercolours a year or so ago but discontinued them almost immediately claiming there was `no demand'.   A few other suppliers sell them like Pullingers and I found them in a large art shop in Truro, Cornwall. They are freely available in the USA from some of the leading mail order suppliers.

What does Handprint say about Schmincke? Overall not a particularly flattering review although he raves about the `marvellous colour brochure' and picks out Translucent Orange as `unique'.  Following this review a number of artists took issue with him, primarily photo-realistic and botanical painters, who preferred the `consistent texture and less emphatic chroma'.  

As Schmincke have been selling watercolours for well over 100 years they must be doing something right and I suggest one keeps an open mind. The literature is certainly second to none. The details of the full range could hardly be bettered and include notes on each colour which go beyond the simple statistics. To get this information go to the Schmincke website and look up watercolours. As mentioned the full colour/pigment information and much else can be downloaded as a PDF. It is identical to the brochure. I should mention that a budget range called Akademie is also offered in a limited range of half pans, mostly in sets..


Gabi Stark said...

I use Schmincke watercolors since I started to paint. I like them very much. They are easy to mix and the quality is always on a high level. Since there are over 100 colors I miss some really dark greens. As you mentioned the cobalt blues are poor, I replaced them by LUKAS. Thanks for your blog. Gabi

Peter Ward said...

Welcome Gabi and thank you for your comment. I agree that Schmincke are excellent paints and likely to satisfy most people.

Kevin Franklin said...

Hi Peter,

An interesting read on this brand of paint. I have always been a Winsor & Newton man but have recently been giving the situation a rethink. I've never had any trouble with their pan colours but over the last 2-3 years have been using their tube colours to fill my various palettes. Quite a few of those colours have quite quickly turned hard and then crumbled to dust despite my best efforts to keep them alive and ticking with regular spraying from a water bottle. I read somewhere online that W&N deliberately formulate their tube colours differently to their pans intending them to be used fresh out of the tubes each time (a practice that I note from one of your recent blogs that Charles Reid is now advocating. This seems to be a change of tack from him and perhaps is due to his increased use of W&N colours over his previously stated preference for Holbein paints which he always said "wet-up nicely"). Whilst the idea of squeezing out fresh paint each time is not new, it does seem to fly in the face of the current way many of us load up our palettes. After all, why do I need a John Hurtley or Craig Young Roberson if I'm going to squirt out small dabs of colour each time? I really might as well use a plastic tray or an old plate. I therefore decided to try out Holbein paints and have been ordering them through Jackson's. As far as I can tell, Holbein do not make pans and specifically state that you can make your own pans from their tubes. I have been doing this for the paste couple of months and they do indeed seem to come back to life in the way that Charles had noted.

I have a DVD of Joseph Zbukvic where he says that he uses Schmincke watercolours again because they wet-up nicely.

Do you have any thought on this Peter? The inherent quality for paints to revive can be an important one for us part time painters who have frequent periods where we can't get near our paintboxes.

W&N's relocation of paint manufacture from the UK to France does not necessarily mean that the paints themselves will change. France after all has a great tradition in producing quality art materials and they can certainly follow a recipe (my wife is French). One wonders though what expertise goes from a company with a move like this as presumably few of the uk workforce make that transition. And the very 'Englishness" of W&N would also seem to have been be a big part of their appeal in the past. Ah well…

One last anecdote. I had a collection of small 5ml W&N tube colours that I bought in the early 90's. Three years ago I squeezed them all out into a john pike palette and then forgot about them. I checked recently and none had cracked or powdered and all had a fairly healthy waxy shine. This proves nothing as many of the colours were quite different to the ones I have bought more recently. It does though make me wonder if something has changed over time to make them more prone to the cracking and drying that I have experienced.

Many thanks again for all your efforts and hard work in creating and maintaining this extremely interesting forum. There is always food for the eye and food for the brain in here.



Peter Ward said...

Hi Kevin. There have been rumours about a deterioration in Winsor & Newtons quality for years, but how much is due to rivals stirring things is difficult to judge. I'm afraid these ownership changes and now moving manufacture can't be helpful in maintaining previous standards.
Beware well-known artists promoting products. Many are sponsored into doing so although I think the majority wouldn't recommend inferior products.

Charles Reid was using Holbein tubes on my most recent course.

Personal preferences apart I think all the leading makes are decent. I use several and buy when the prices are right. I also spray my paints each time I use them. I think the real problem arises when you have an extended period of not painting. They do dry up and some colours start to crack. Different colours(pigments)don't all behave in the same way.

Jane Blundell said...

I have tried a few Schmincke colours and compared the tube and pan versions out of curiosity. Their literature implies they use the exact same formulation in the pan colours, pouring in 4 stages and allowing to dry in between each stage.

Their 'Purple Magenta' is the best PV122 quinacridone magenta I have found. The Ultramarine Finest is the least granulating ultramarine and the Pure Yellow is a lovely mid yellow pigment with good lightfast properties. I bought these three to explore a primary triad - they work pretty well...

But the best I have found for setting and re-wetting in the palette is Daniel Smith. They have a huge range, and I have tried every colour, so I know that not EVERY colour rewets perfectly, but most of the classic colours do. They set well, dry with a lovely slight sheen in the palette - nothing chalky - rewet beautifully and dry on the page without any sheen....unlike some brands (such as Old Holland).

Hope that helps!


Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Jane. I think Schmincke are very acceptable overall. They do have some excellent colours.

Daniel Smith have some great colours and the paint works out well but they are so expensive in the UK. That's my main criticism.

I've used several brands and , although there are differences most leading brands are acceptable. Really it's down to personal preference and I don't tend to be too fussy.It is true though that certain colours in some brands become favourites. I tend to think that you need to keep the paint moist by spraying, even during periods of inactivity. If paint is allowed to get really dry some brands will crack and not re wet easily.

Kevin Franklin said...

Hi Jane & Peter,

Thanks for the very interesting thoughts. Going forward for me there is plenty to experiment with here, including getting my head around the non-W&N sounding colour names (Moonglow & Mummy Bauxite... two from Daniel Smith that I just spotted :)). For now I'll have to put my colour-lab experiments on hold. I've got a week of painting ahead but, unfortunately, it's the upstairs bedroom that needs it's long overdue new lick of paint :) Better get down to it...



Peter Ward said...

Thanks Kevin. I wouldn't get too hung up on names. Look at what pigments are in the paints. This is by far the best way to judge what to buy. Good luck with the decorating!

Jane Blundell said...

Most Daniel Smith colours are just the name of the pigment, which is great. Moonglow, that you mentioned, contains ultramarine, viridian and a crimson- anthraquinoid red. It's actully a gorgeous shadow purple that granulates showing green and rose. Quite lovely.

Peter Ward said...

I agree Moonglow is a unique shade and I've got it so you see I'm pragmatic when it suits me!

Kevin Franklin said...

The two of you make an irresistible sales team :) Moonglow is on my next shopping list. Maybe I should use some on my bedroom wall (joking aside I once had a friend who did a couple of paintings for me on my cream painted walls. She used watercolour and then sprayed with fix. The results were absolutely wonderful)
Thanks for the advice on checking pigments Peter. I have often seen your analyses on certain colours dotted through your blog. I'll give more thought and more attention to this on future purchases. Thanks againboth :)


Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Kevin.

Don Wood said...

Thank you everyone of you for your comments, being new to painting I discovered this blog looking to find why Schmincke was so expensive. I have only used WN half pan to date but after reading this blog I am going to experiment with some different makes.

Peter Ward said...

If you are new to painting you'll find some useful stuff in my earlier posts. See Index June 2014.

craftbygrace said...

Hi Peter,

This is a very interesting read, just in time when I wanted to try the small pans of Schmincke watercolor.
May I mention you in the upcoming blog?

Thank you in advance

Kind regards,
Grace syiariel

Peter Ward said...

Thanks for comments Grace. By all means mention the blog. Thanks for that.

Jane Blundell said...

Just an update - Schmincke has released 35 new colours and reformulated a few others so now have 139 watercolours available. I've added a blog post about the new colours and also the full range (showing the discontinued colours too) which people may find helpful.