5 Things You Need to Know Before Buying Watercolor


The following guide will explain what the numbers and symbols mean on your tubes of paint. Being able to understand how to read these, will save you time and money. Please note this article refers to professional grade paints.

1. Manufacturers color name:

This is the name that the manufacturer calls the paint. Sometimes it is like the actual pigment name or can be something the manufacturer made up, for example, Winsor Red.

Note: Not all paints with the same name have the same pigments. For example, Lemon yellow by Winsor & Newton is made from PY53 and Lemon yellow by Sennelier is made from pigment PY3.
Also paints with different names can be the same pigment, for example, Winsor Red by Winsor & Newton, Pyrrol Red by Daniel Smith, and Permanent Red Deep by Rembrandt are all made with the PR254 pigment.

Watercolor paint tube legend

2. Transparency:

This tells us if the paint is transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, or opaque. The more transparent the paint the more you will see the white of the paper below. I use mainly transparent colors as my paintings look more vibrant and there is less chance of getting mud.

3. Pigment name and CI number:

This is the actual name of the pigment used to make the paint and its corresponding color index number. For example, I use PY3 as my primary yellow. Sometimes you will see two CI numbers on the tube, this means that the paint is a mix 2 pigments. I make it a rule to use only paints made with one pigment. I get much cleaner colors and better results when I follow this rule.

Watercolor paint tube legend 2

4. Lightfastness:

This is how long the paint can withstand exposure to light before fading or discoloring. You want to make sure you buy only lightfast paints.

Different paint brands can have different wording and symbols. Check the paint manufacturer’s documentation to know that you are buying lightfast paint.

5. Health and Warning Label:

Manufacturers by law have to list if there are any health concerns. You should always read the label as there are still paints made with heavy metals t toxic pigments. For example, Cadmium red, orange, etc. are made with cadmium a toxic metal.

Watercolor paint tube legend 3

Before you go to buy another tube of paint check your CI numbers and make sure you don’t already have it. Once I learned how to read my paint it turned out that I had duplicates of the same pigment. I have also had paint of the same name that was not the same color. I hope this saves you some time and money.

I hope you have enjoyed this article.



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2 thoughts on “5 Things You Need to Know Before Buying Watercolor”

  1. #1 is sort of confusing. Normally the term “manufacturers name” would mean name of manufacturer. Might be a bit clearer if #1 was called color name instead. Great information though. What brands do you use to bet single pigment paints without breaking the bank?

    1. Hi, Donna thank you for pointing that #1 is confusing after I fix it I will have to fire my editor lol (JJ it’s me). M. Graham watercolors are one of my favorites. They are very well priced and come in a 15 ml tube and are very saturated, a little goes a long way. They are made with honey and rewet wonderfully. Most of their paints are single pigments but you can make sure by checking their color chart, I will add a link below so you can find it. Thank you so much for the comment I always love to hear feedback and get questions. Have a wonderful and creative day!

      M. Graham Watercolor Chart

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