Saturday, April 8, 2017

Watercolor charts

I have painted many watercolor charts over the years, from color wheels and mixing charts to explorations of various qualities, such as granulation, value ranges, and diffusion.

The main benefit of doing color charts is to get to know your colors and pigments in-depth. It is also a great way to get reacquainted with your colors after a period away from painting.

There are no hard rules for how to set up your charts as long as you learn something from them. I have experimented with numerous kinds over the years and keep trying out new formats.

As I recently purchased a few new colors, I decided to do drawdown charts of all of my colors, listing and comparing their characteristics.

Color chart
© 2017 Anna C./See. Be. Draw.

My color chart

I first wrote down the color name (for example Cobalt Blue), Color Index Generic Name (for example PB28, Pigment Blue 28), and chemical name (for example cobalt aluminate).

I then painted a square with the color as saturated as possible, to get a feeling for what value it represents. After that, I painted a drawdown sample where I kept diluting the color

Below that, I listed characteristics of each color that I found especially interesting:


W&N rates their colors as follows:
  • AA  Extremely permanent
  • Permanent
  • Moderately durable
  • Fugitive

Colors rated B or C should generally be avoided if you are concerned about durability.

The also have additions in roman numerals:
  • (i) ‘A' rated in full strength may fade in thin washes
  • (ii) Cannot be relied upon to withstand damp
  • (iii) Bleached by acids, acidic atmospheres
  • (iv) Fluctuating color; fades in light, recovers in dark
  • (v) Should not be prepared in pale tints with Flake White, as these will fade (not applicable to watercolors)
  • (vi) ‘A' rated with a coating of fixative (n/a)


ASTM rating, from I to V, both I and II are considered permanent for artists’ use.


Transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, or opaque.


Does it create a textured effect on the paper.


Can it be lifted without staining the paper.

Color temperature

Warm or cool, does the color lean toward blue/green or red/yellow.

Drying shift

How much does the color change in appearance when drying, in percent.

Active in wet 

Takes into account:
  • Backruns/blossoming, if the pigment particles move when rewetted.
  • Diffusion, if the pigment particles move when added to a wet sheet of paper, depends on pigment particle size and especially dispersants added to the paint.

Value range 

On a scale of 0-100, from white to black.


Includes any other interesting facts that I have found about the color!

Information sources

So where do you find all this information?

1) Well, begin with the watercolor tube itself! Here you can find the color name, color index name, and information on permanence, lightfastness, and transparency (as a graphic symbol).

2) The W&N Composition and Permanence Table includes information on color name, color index name, permanence, lightfastness and transparency, but lacks the chemical names and information on granulating and staining colors. Here is an explanatory key.

3) The W&N Color Chart includes the same information minus the color index name.

4) This W&N Artists’ Water Colour Leaflet dating back to 2005 can only be found if you search for it or have a direct link, but it is still one of my most important go-to sources! Download it before it is too late! However, I do wish they would update it.

Here your can find a lot of information, including lists of transparent and opaque colors, warm and cool colors, granulating colors, and last but not least, a chart listing the chemical name(s) of each pigment!

5) For more in-depth information, Handprint’s website on watercolors is worth a visit, especially his Guide to Watercolor Pigments, where he has listed pigments based on their color index name, then including chemical name, color name, and manufacturer.

He has rated thousands of colors based on his own tests, including transparency, staining, value range, granulation, blossom, diffusion, hue angle, hue shift, and lightfastness. In the text he also mentions chroma and drying shift. His ratings are explained here. Take the time to explore the rest of his site. You can easily spend hours here exploring all the in-depth information.

Your turn!

Off you go to have fun creating your own charts! Good luck!


Annika said...

Häftigt! Men så grynig cerulean är! Kanske inte är så konstigt att det blir lite märkligt när man försöker blanda den med annat (liksom flammigt när jag har försökt iallafall).

Anna C. said...

Ja, det är en av de färger som uppvisar mest granulering! Andra exempel är Cobalt Blue och French Ultramarine. Håller just på med ett inlägg om granulering som kommer nästa vecka, där kan du läsa mer om mitt detta! Och ja, när man blandar en färg som tex Cerulean Blue med en annan färg så blir resultatet en blanding av de bådas egenskaper, i det här fallet en ny granulerande blandfärg. Intressant, eller hur?!