Beautiful Browns – Spotlight on Uncommon Pigments

I am an admin for a Facebook group dedicated to reviews of watercolor supplies, and several members recently asked for comparisons of brown watercolors. It prompted me to make a swatch chart of some of my favorite single-pigment browns. Many of these pigments are rare and all of them produce excellent mixes.

This is my chart of 15 paints that I swatched in a Pentalic Aqua Journal. Although it isn’t cotton paper, it performs well and has a lovely texture. They are swatched in no particular order. I took closeups of some of the most interesting colors and describe them below.

You’ll notice that several Roman Szmal Aquarius paints earned a place on my list. They have an impressive selection of earth tones and many of them use uncommon pigments. Roman Szmal quickly became my favorite brand for a number of reasons: the colors are clean and vibrant; the majority of their range is single-pigment; they offer several unique pigments; they use a honey binder which makes them creamy and smooth; and they are handmade in small batches.

Schmincke is also well-represented because the colors I chose can be used to recreate some of their Super Granulating paints. I’ll go into more detail about those below.

Above is Schmincke’s Mahogany Brown (PBr33). Based on my research, they are the only company that offers this pigment. It was previously called Walnut Brown, but that version was discontinued and replaced with the color you see here. Interestingly, Walnut Brown was a deeper brown with a cool bias.

If you like Schmincke’s Super Granulating series but don’t want to buy the sets, Mahogany Brown would be a good addition to your collection. It is used in many of the Super Granulating paints such as Deep Sea Violet, Galaxy Pink, Forest Green, and others. This paint has earned a spot in my main palette because I’ve been trying to recreate some of my favorite paints in the Super Granulating series. Its heavy granulation and pinkish-red hue produces lovely mixes.

Schmincke’s Mars Brown (PBr6) can also be a useful addition to your collection. It is also included in several of the Super Granulating paints such as Glacier Brown, Galaxy Brown, Tundra Violet, and others.

Roman Szmal’s Aquarius Brown (PBr11) is possibly my favorite brown. It is extremely granulating and adds character to any paint you mix it with. It is a clean, earthy brown that can be used for riverbanks, mountains, trees, and more.

These two Roman Szmal colors shown above were released in 2022. They are both rare pigments.

Manganese Brown (PY164) is a warm, deep brown that is opaque in masstone. The only other company I could find that offers this pigment is Mameri Blu in their Sepia.

Iron Chrome Brown (PBr29) is a cool, deep brown that is also opaque in masstone. It is particularly useful in mixing greys or indigos. Currently, Mijello Mission Gold is the only other company that offers this pigment in their Van Dyke Brown Deep. I’ve only seen one swatch of it, but it leans more black than brown.

Winsor and Newton released a limited edition version of each of these in 2016, but they would be difficult to find now. I checked the websites of major US art supply retailers and neither of these are available.

Roman Szmal’s Van Dyck Brown (shown above) is considered the genuine version of this color, as it is the old formula used by the Masters. The “N” in the pigment index number stands for “natural.” It is derived from surface soil that is rich in peat or found near a deposit of brown coal, according to Handprint.  Essentially, you are painting with dirt which delights my inner child.

Because of its consistency, it doesn’t behave like synthetic watercolors. You need more paint on your brush to get good coverage and it doesn’t flow as well. It is also not lightfast, so it is best used in journals. I included a synthetic version of QoR’s Van Dyke Brown on my swatch sheet as a basis for comparison.

NOTE: NBr8 is not the same as PBr8, which is a synthetic pigment. Below, I have included a swatch of a paint that uses PBr8.

Winsor and Newton’s Gold Brown (PBk12) is perhaps the most fascinating color on this list. “PBk” is not an error – it really is a black pigment. The common name is “Iron Titanium Brown Spinel.” The pigment is manufactured by Ferro and according to their website, it is commonly used in plastics, coatings, and industrial items such as cement. I did research to try to learn why it is considered a black pigment, but I haven’t been able to dig up any info. If anyone knows more about this pigment, please let me know in the comments. I’m very curious!

The Winsor and Newton version was released as a limited-edition color in 2014 as part of their Desert Collection. It is likely very difficult (or impossible!) to find in stores and I have not seen this pigment offered by any other watercolor manufacturers. I was able to locate an online retailer called that sells the pigment powder, however I’ve never ordered from them so I can’t vouch for the quality of their products. If you have the Winsor and Newton version, consider yourself lucky! And if you see it in a store, you should snatch it up!

Prodigal Sons Pigments has become my favorite small shop for handmade watercolors. It’s a one-man operation and he specializes in historical and rare pigments. He also offers some common pigments, like the one shown above. Their lovely Manganese Brown (PBr8) is similar in color to Roman Szmal’s natural Van Dyck Brown, but it is easier to use. As much as I love Roman Szmal, this paint is a better option if you are looking for a soil-brown color.

If you would like additional closeups or more details about the colors I didn’t specifically mention, drop a comment and I will update the post. I am working on a similar entry about my favorite reds, so stay tuned!

Spotlight on a Discontinued Pigment – Genuine Manganese Blue (PB33)

I collect rare & discontinued pigments and Genuine Manganese Blue (PB33) has been at the top of my “To Find” list. According to Handprint, this pigment was discontinued in the 1990s due to the tightening of environmental regulations. As such, all major watercolor manufacturers phased out production of the paint when their pigment supply ran out. Many manufacturers then started offering less-toxic formulations that approximate the original color.

After some hunting, I discovered a company on Etsy called Prodigal Sons Pigments that sells small, handmade batches of genuine manganese blue using PB33. It is pricey: $19 for a half pan and $30 for a full pan. They also sell pure pigment powder if you are interested in making your own paint.

Below are swatches of genuine manganese blue compared with some replacements, including Da Vinci’s version that is a combination of PB15 and PB33.

Without further ado, here are my observations…

The Prodigal Sons Pigments half pan of PB33 is loaded with pigment. Even a tiny dab on the end of your brush goes a long way. The color is what I would consider a perfect cyan and would likely be my go-to blue if it weren’t so precious (and toxic). It’s highly granulating, which is apparent in my swatches below (all done on Arches Cold Press).

The pan was securely packaged with a wax paper inner wrapper and a hand-painted outer wrapper.
Prodigal Sons Pigments filled the pan all the way to the top! This will probably last me a long time because I’ve been using it very sparingly.

This wet-on-wet test is a good demonstration of the color range. You can achieve a very light baby blue or the deep cyan of a vivid fall sky. This swatch showcases the beautiful granulating texture.

Below is a swatch of the Da Vinci Manganese Blue mixture that contains PB33 and PB15. It’s probable that the primary pigment is PB15 due to the mild granulation. It reminds me more of cerulean blue – both in color and granulation – than the genuine single-pigment Manganese Blue shown above.

This is a comparison of genuine Manganese Blue (top) and the Da Vinci Manganese Blue Mixture (bottom). The difference in the color and amount of granulation is quite apparent. While DaVinci’s is still a beautiful color, it is duller than the vivid genuine pigment and is far less granulating.

Many brands offer Manganese Blue substitutes, generally using PB15. Some brands add PW4 or PW6 to achieve a lighter cyan, but I didn’t swatch any of those. I stuck to single-pigment versions only.

The closest match to the genuine paint is Daniel Smith’s Manganese Blue Hue (PB15), although you can’t achieve the same color range as the original. However, it is the only version I tested that granulates. This paint has a permanent place in my palette because it is an excellent choice for a primary cyan.

Turner Watercolor also uses PB15, however it doesn’t granulate. It’s a very pretty color with a good range of light to dark. In that sense, I think it’s a good substitute if you prefer non-granulating paints.

The Winsor and Newton version also uses PB15 and it isn’t granulating. I found the color to be a bit weak and I couldn’t achieve a good range of light to dark. Out of the substitutes that I’ve tried, this is the least similar to the original.

Verdict: As much as I love the genuine Manganese Blue, I consider it a novelty because I use it so infrequently. Not only is it expensive, but it’s also highly toxic. The safer phthalo-based substitutes capture the essence of the original, especially the Daniel Smith version. If you aren’t a rare pigment hunter, PB33 isn’t a necessary addition to your palette.

Side note: I’m going to make the “discontinued and rare pigment” series a regular feature on my blog, so stay tuned for other interesting colors!

Roman Szmal Aquarius Swatches

Roman Szmal is a relatively new brand of watercolors from Poland. I read many glowing reviews, so of course I had to try them myself. I can confirm: the hype is well-deserved.

Here are some reasons to add this brand to your collection:

  • The paints are made with a gum arabic and linden honey binder, which makes them smooth and creamy to work with.
  • They are some of the cleanest, most vibrant watercolors I’ve ever worked with.
  • Most paints in the collection are single-pigment, so there are endless mixing possibilities.
  • They offer pigments that are unique to their brand, such as PY168 (Aquarius Yellow), PBk32 (Perelyne Green Deep).
  • In addition to the unique pigments, they use other hard-to-find pigments that are only available from one or two different brands, such as Azo Red (PR144).
  • Each batch is made by hand and tested for quality and consistency.
  • The paints are very affordable, with most full pans costing around $5.

Below are sample swatches of a selection of colors I bought. I could fill up another page with the others! I chose these because they were the ones I was most excited to try.

They are available at Jackson’s Art Supplies in sets and open stock full pans. Unfortunately, the do not come in tubes.

* In February 2022, they added 12 new colors to their already impressive range of products. I will post swatches after I complete them but, I must say, the ones I’ve tried are exquisite! *

Introducing…Schmincke’s YInMn Blue!

Schmincke’s YInMn Blue

Schmincke just released a limited-edition YInMn Blue watercolor. The only drawback? A very hefty price tag. A 5ml tube will set you back $33 (or $23, if you are able to order from Jackson’s). In the US, there are seemingly only two retailers from which you can purchase: St. Louis Art Supply and Jackson’s. However, at the time I wrote this, Jackson’s was out of stock and only UK customers were permitted to reserve a tube.

This is a quick post to share my first impressions and compare it to the QoR version that was available in 2020 to early 2021. QoR has since run out of their limited supply but, according to their website, they will offer it again when they get more pigment from the manufacturer.

YInMn blue has been described as being in the middle of cobalt and ultramarine. Schmincke’s leans more toward cobalt. It’s granulating, but the pigment particles are smaller than QoR’s. In a pan, it dries a bit gummy and it’s not as easy to reactivate as other Schmincke watercolors.

Schmincke’s YInMn Blue swatched on Arches cold press.

QoR’s YInMn Blue leans more toward ultramarine than cobalt. It is heavily granulating and has a higher pigment load than the Schmincke version.

QoR’s YInMn Blue swatched on Arches cold press.

A side-by-side comparison highlights the differences between the two versions.

Wet-on-wet swatched on Arches cold press.

The difference in color is also apparent when dried in pans.

As a side note, YInMn Blue has been assigned a pigment number: PB86.

Stay tuned for a more detailed post. I’m planning to swatch this next to cobalts and ultramarines to see how it compares.

Schmincke 140-Color Dot Card

I completed the Schmincke 140-Color Dot Card with the exception of Payne’s Grey Bluish. They forgot to give me a dot of that. This was my first time trying this brand, so I had fun testing the colors. Here are a few quick observations:

  • The paint dots were less generous than other dot cards I’ve used. I tried to save a bit of each color for mixing experiments and small paintings.
  • Even with the small dots, I was able to get a good idea of the quality of the paint. It’s deserving of its good reputation.
  • Determining the performance of the paint, however, was a bit more difficult. I would have liked to have a larger sample to try different techniques on separate paper.
  • Based on my experience with the samples, I bought several tubes of the colors I liked best. There are some interesting ones like Cobalt Violet Hue (PV62), Cobalt Green Dark (PG23), Mahogany Brown (PBr33), and Quinacridone Red Light (PR207).
  • Unfortunately the pigment numbers aren’t listed on the card, so I had to look them up myself. I used Jane Blundell’s blog as a reference.

YInMn Blue: How Does it Compare to Other Blues?

In a previous post, I provided some background on this unique, limited-edition blue available from QoR Watercolors.

YInMn fills a gap between cobalt and ultramarine blue that I didn’t know existed. It is an ultra-granulating, transparent watercolor that runs the spectrum from a light blue-gray to a rich lapis blue. However, due to the semi-weak tinting strength, it doesn’t quite reach the level of saturation as a strong cobalt or ultramarine.

For the wheel below, I chose some ultramarines and cobalts that I thought would offer a good basis of comparison. I used Arches Rough watercolor paper to showcase the granulation of the paints used.

The colors I used are listed below. YInMn fills the center of the wheel.

  1. QoR: Ultramarine — PB29
  2. Daniel Smith: Ultramarine Blue — PB29
  3. Daniel Smith: French Ultramarine — PB29
  4. Winsor & Newton: French Ultramarine — PB29
  5. Winsor & Newton: Ultramarine Green Shade — PB29
  6. Mijello Mission White: Ultramarine Deep — PB29/PV15/PV3:2
  7. Sennelier: Ultramarine Deep — PB29
  8. Sennelier: Ultramarine Light — PB29
  9. White Nights: Ultramarine — PB29
  10. Daniel Smith: Cobalt Blue — PB28
  11. M. Graham: Cobalt Blue — PB28
  12. Winsor & Newton: Cobalt Blue Deep — PB74
  13. Sennelier: Cobalt Deep — PB72
  14. White Nights: Cobalt — PB28
  15. Mijello Mission White: Cobalt — PB28

YInMn looks similar to the colors on this wheel but is different enough to create mixes I have not been able to achieve with any ultramarine or cobalt I’ve used. In a future post, I will be writing about mixing with YInMn. Stay tuned!

Two New Sizes of Sakura Micron

Recently, Sakura celebrated their 100th anniversary by releasing two new sizes of Micron pens:

  • Micron Size 10 – 0.60mm
  • Micron Size 12 – 0.70mm

Previously, the largest Micron size was 08 (0.50mm).

Here I compared the two new sizes to the Micron Size 01 (0.25mm) for reference.

Here is a side view of the nib size of Micron 12:

And a side view of the Micron size 10:

I think both of these new sizes will be helpful for creating watercolor swatch cards Since I’m a perfectionist, these provide a generous barrier that will prevent me from painting outside the lines. Also, the thick nib on the Size 12 can be used to make lines to test opacity.

Microns are the gold standard of drawing pens and the two new sizes are a great addition to your collection. Whether you are using them for watercolor or sketching out a picture with bold lines, these will open up new possibilities.

Spotlight on a Discontinued Pigment — PB17, Paul Rubens Peacock Blue

I recently bought a set of Paul Rubens Artist Watercolors and, as I was browsing the pigment list, I got a very pleasant surprise. Their Peacock Blue is made with PB17, a pigment reported to have been discontinued years ago.

Here is a screenshot from the Handprint entry on PB17.

The Handprint entry can be found here.

I got out my brush and swatched it immediately.

Paul Rubens Peacock Blue (Product Number A194)

This semi-transparent, non-granulating blue is a perfect cyan reminiscent of single-pigment versions of manganese blue hue but it’s much less saturated than the high-chroma phthalo blues. As noted in the Handprint entry, the tinting strength is rather weak. Paul Rubens assigned it a lightfast rating of 5 on the Blue Wool scale, so it’s significantly less permanent than its phthalo cousins, which are generally rated as 1 on the ASTM scale.

As I was looking through my collection of blues, I found another surprise: the Mijello Mission White Class Cerulean Blue is a mix of PB17:1 and PB15:3. (Note that Mijello does not use an actual cerulean pigment in their “cerulean blue,” but that’s another story for another day.) You can read my review of Mission White Class here if you are interested.

I compared PB17 to some of its green-leaning neighbors to see how it relates to other phthalo blue pigments. I also included a swatch of Holbein’s new formulation of Peacock Blue since it used to be made with PB17. I wanted to see how close their mix is to the original pigment.

Full page of swatches. The long strokes at the bottom and top are Paul Rubens Peacock Blue.

My swatch abbreviations are as follows:

  • H = Holbein
  • DS = Daniel Smith
  • W+N = Winsor and Newton
  • PR = Paul Rubens
  • S = Sennelier
  • MG = M. Graham
Top portion of swatches.

I swatched Holbein’s Peacock Blue because I wanted to see how the new formulation of PB15 and PG7 compares to the original pigment. It’s a pretty close match, although it doesn’t have as much depth as the single-pigment Paul Rubens paint.

Mijello Cerulean Blue is slightly more saturated than Paul Rubens Peacock Blue, owing to the addition of PB15:3. Since Mission White Class paints are billed as bright paints for illustrators, I’m guessing they didn’t opt for a single-pigment PB17:1 paint since the tinting strength of PB17 alone is a bit weaker than PB15:3.

The other swatches are various of green-leaning phthalos and two examples of PB16. The paints using PB16 aren’t a very close match since they lean more teal than cyan.

Bottom portion of swatches.

Overall, PB17 is closer in color to manganese blue than paints using PB15:3. It is also a pretty good match to Sennelier’s Phthalocyanine Blue.

I’m not sure why this pigment was discontinued so I feel lucky to have found this gem. It’s not as practical as a PB15 or PB16 due to its relatively low lightfast rating but I will use it often because I like the color. It’s weaker than phthalo blue green shade but stronger than manganese blue hue. For that reason, I think it would be a good choice for cyan in a CMY palette.

Perhaps PB17 will start to make a comeback! I would love adding a another cyan to my palette.

Introducing….YInMn Blue!

In September of last year, I was able to snag two tubes of QoR’s YInMn Blue. Several years ago, I learned about the fascinating history of the pigment and was hoping that I could get my hands on it someday. Thank you, QoR, for making my dreams come true.

The interesting story of this new blue pigment began in a lab at Oregon State University. It was discovered by accident by chemists who were working on an unrelated project. It took several years for companies to start producing artists’ paints because the materials (Yttrium, Indium and Manganese) are expensive to procure. An Artnet article explains the history in more detail if you are interested.

Fast forward to 2020 — QoR announces that they are producing a limited quantity of YInMn Blue watercolor, acrylic, and oil paints. As soon as the announcement was made, I called them to reserve 2 tubes. It took a couple months, but they finally showed up at my doorstep.

As far as I know, they are still producing the color in small batches. It is not available in stores, so if you are interested you have to contact QoR directly. You can call them at 800-959-6543 to try to order. The tubes are a little pricey ($14 for a 5ml tube), but they are worth it.

In future posts, I will share my thoughts on the paint but in the meantime, here is a swatch so you can see how beautiful it is.

My very first YInMn splat, fresh from the tube.
Look at that dispersion!
This is definitely one of the most granulating blues I own.
There’s magic inside!

If you are going to try to get some from QoR, I wish you the best of luck! I heard the waiting list is long, but it’s worth it!

Discontinued Pigment — PR168

UPDATE 05.28.2021: QoR announced that they have received a new supply of PR168 so their Permanent Scarlet will continue to be produced. I’m not sure if other paint makers will follow suit, but I noticed that several online US retailers have Daniel Smith’s version of PR168 (Anthraquinoid Scarlet) in stock. Hopefully they found a long-term solution to keep producing these paints.

Fans of the pigment PR168 will be disappointed to learn that the pigment has been discontinued by the manufacturer. After the announcement was made, it became difficult to find single-pigment versions of the paints. If you love this pigment or just have been wanting to try it, now is the time to snatch it up before it’s gone forever.

This post from Just Paint that explains the discontinuation in further detail.

Here is a list of some single-pigment PR168 watercolors from (If you’ve never visited this website, you should check it out, especially if you try to collect mostly single-pigment paints).

This isn’t an exhaustive list. It doesn’t include some lesser known/lesser used brands.

I own two brands of single-pigment PR168 — QoR’s Permanent Scarlet (listed as “Golden” in the above screenshot and Daniel Smith’s Anthraquinoid Scarlet. They are both vivid colors that are useful for mixing.

I’m in the process of identifying similar colors to use as replacements. Currently, Sennelier’s French Vermillion (PR242) is at the top of my list.

Stay tuned! I’m going to do swatches of other possible replacements and will post them when I’m finished.