Daniel Smith Half Pan Travel Box

Daniel Smith “Sketcher” Half Pan Set Review

When Daniel Smith announced their hand poured watercolor half pan sets on Doodlewash in July, I knew in a heartbeat which one I wanted. The limited palette featured in the Daniel Smith Sketcher half pan set was developed by Liz Steel for urban sketching. Containing both a bright and earth triad, the savvy color choices combine to create a sophisticated palette ideally suited to quick sketching. I’ve used a slight variation of this set for over three years in my own nature and landscape sketching, and I was eager to take the original Liz Steel basics for a spin.

Daniel Smith Sketcher Half Pan Set Contents

Daniel Smith Sketcher Set Packaging

The display box for the Daniel Smith Sketcher set features a picture of the included colors in their travel case and labeled scans of color swatches wrap around the ends of the box. Cerulean Blue Chromium leans more turquoise than pictured on the box, and is suitable for a CMY (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow) triad.

A leaflet inside the box features full color pictures of each set on offer as well as scanned, labeled swatches. The pigment numbers and information are included for every color as well. Each set has an explanation either by the Daniel Smith team or a well-known artist to help artists use the colorways to full advantage.

The bonus travel case is made of the same plastic as the Winsor & Newton Pocket Sketch Box and has a large rose gold foil embossed logo. A card declaring “I’m Unique” adhered to the top informs the artist what to expect from Daniel Smith hand poured pans. The case closes securely, and can only be opened by lifting the corners. (The retaining tabs are directly beside the notch in the center front of the case; so you won’t be able to pop open the case from the front.) The lid doesn’t lie flat when open. The travel case cannot be used as a palette, so if you aren’t moving the colors into your existing palette, you may want to purchase a metal palette.

Watercolor Metal Travel Tin Meeden

Inside the case, half pans fit into a molded grid 5 across by 3 deep. Pans remove easily by tipping the case or using a dental tool to lift them out. The half pans are too large to fit in my Portable Painter or Winsor & Newton plastic palettes, but they snap securely into my metal palettes. Filled pans are not wrapped or labeled in any way, empty pans have a Daniel Smith logo embossed into the bottom. Loose flecks of dried paint give a dirty appearance to the case when first opened, but wipe out easily.

Daniel Smith Sketcher Half Pan Set Photo



The Daniel Smith Sketcher set contains six SINGLE PIGMENT colors: Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Rose, Cerulean Blue Chromium, Monte Amiata Raw Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, and Ultramarine Blue.

Liz Steel designed this minimal mixing palette many years ago to contain both a bright and earth triad. Her website and Instagram feeds provide substantial information on mixing and sketching with these colors. I choose to swap the blues from the way she designed the palette so I have a CMY triad and a Classical triad.

The bright triadHansa Yellow, Quin Rose, and Cerulean Blue Chromium form a CMY palette that can be used to mix clean colors around the entire color wheel. Both the Hansa and the Cerulean are semi-transparent and low staining. The Quin Rose is transparent and staining, but easier to handle than most Quins on the market.

The earth triad: While all of the earth colors can be mixed using the bright triad, three color mixes are tedious while sketching. That problem is solved by including a desaturated earth trio along with the high key bright triad. Monte Amiata Raw Sienna is more golden than brown, washing out to soft yellows. Transparent Red Oxide is the same pigment used by some brands for burnt sienna. A little more difficult to handle than the easy-going Pbr 7 burnt sienna, PR101 pays off with brighter, more transparent color. A centuries old favorite, Ultramarine Blue, rounds out this triad.

Used together, these six colors will create paintings with a strong sense of unity. Because I work primarily in pen and wash, I also appreciate colors that don’t drown out ink in sketches but can still mix deep darks when necessary. I’ve used variations of these six colors for several years, and have never been let down by this combination.

Daniel Smith Sketcher's Palette Swatch Example


The Paint

Daniel Smith has earned an international reputation for their exquisite paint line. They continue to dominate the watercolor sketching market as well. Why?

  • Daniel Smith paints dry down solid without cracking and rewet easily to full, brilliant color. Relatively few artist grade paints behave well in all climates when dried down into a palette for sketching. Running, cracking & crumbling, fading, and over-hardening are common problems with other brands.  Daniel Smith hand poured half pans are the same formulation as the tube paints we’ve loved for years.
  • Daniel Smith colors have a full pigment load without overpowering small washes. Unlike Daniel Smith, many artist brands are challenging to use in sketching sizes because they overpower a wash when even the tiniest amount of pigment is used. Daniel Smith paints perform as well in small format sketches as they do in full sheet fine art. I’ve never had a Daniel Smith color creep backwards through my waterbrush and ruin the tank of water, either.
  • A wide range (238+) of standard colors, specialty mixes, and even gemstone paints allow for customized palettes.
  • Painting characteristics. Sketches are designed to be viewed from about 18”. While many watercolor paints appear flat at this close distance, Daniel Smith brings the magic. Pigments float, swirl, and sparkle in their washes creating mesmerizing effects. Texture techniques (water droplets, salt, gauze, cling film, and alcohol) work well, too.


The 6 half pan sets from Daniel Smith are much like a tasting menu in an upscale restaurant. Each collection allows you to enjoy a curated selection of six premium colors for about the same cost as four 15ml tubes.

Daniel Smith’s packaging choices for their half pan sets have drawn fire on social media. If you choose to order one of their sets, understand that the “Bonus Free Travel Case” is not a functional palette box.  Also, the included half pans will come unwrapped, uncovered, and unlabeled. 

Although the six pigments chosen for the Sketcher’s half pan set look unassuming, they mix an impressive variety of sophisticated colors. I hope Daniel Smith releases boxed sets of 5 ml tubes for the Urban Sketcher set soon — the color selection is so much more fun to work with than the classic split primary!

Not an urban sketcher? These colors work equally well as a starting point for landscape and basic nature sketching. Floral and fantasy artists may want to consider the Floral set instead. If you like to paint portraits, I expect you’ll want the Ultimate Mixing 15 pan set curated by Jane Blundell.

I want to know! Have you purchased a Daniel Smith Hand Poured Watercolor Set yet? What’s your favorite? Do you have one of the sets on your Christmas list? Have you ever tried the Liz Steel basic palette? Let me know in the comments.  

Daniel Smith provided the Sketcher set of 6 colors to me in exchange for my honest review.  I did not receive payment for this review, nor will I receive commissions from future sales of Daniel Smith sets, though this post contains affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. 

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews

18 thoughts on “Daniel Smith “Sketcher” Half Pan Set Review

  1. Hi Bekki!

    I pre-ordered the 15 pan set from Wet Paint Art and it arrived around Thanksgiving. My honest expectation was that a company like DS, would put out a quality product. I let my paint lust, override my logical brian in regards to foreseeing functionality. Most of the colors chosen for these palettes are designed to be mixed to achieve a wider range of colors, the lack of mixing area, and one that lays flat, is a big design oversight. I expected the palette to open with ease, but it is a cumbersome process. Plainly put, these palettes are awkward. Paints are of course, mighty fine. 😉 . Just look at your beautiful swatches! This experience was like watching a friend or someone you admire try, and then miss the mark a bit. You continue to love, appreciate, and support them, and hope they hit what they are aiming for next time. I continue to enjoy the use of the paints.

    Nice to read your review. Happy holidays to you!

  2. Thanks, Jessica 😁. I don’t believe they were trying to offer these cases as palettes (the word palette is not used anywhere on the packaging or promotional material), but it looks so much like a palette, we all expected it to function as one. Happy holidays to you!

  3. Thanks for the great review, Bekki! I agree with everything you said, and you hit a few points I wouldn’t have thought of. I have the Ultimate Mixing set, the Floral, the Blues, and the Earth set. I moved the paints around so I have them all in two cases. I had the colors from the Sketcher set in tubes, so I added those in as well. With all of these colors, I think I’m ready to paint anything under the sun – and possibly a few things beyond, too!

  4. After seeing many reviews from artists I respect, I concluded that DS made a big mistake when designing this product. The palette box is cheap and useless as a mixing palette. Especially ironic is the Liz Steele set – she’s known as an urban sketcher so one would assume this palette could be used outdoors. I contacted Liz about this, and she told me the artists picking the colors were not consulted with regard to the palette. I also emailed DS, and after a week, they have not replied. I used to buy their paints, but I doubt I will anymore. The company seems more interested in profits than producing products that are of practical use for artists.

    1. Hey, Sharon. Thanks for your input. I was going to comment with something similar to what you said, but I think you hit the nail on the head. I once loved Daniel Smith but now feel the same way. (Btw… they have rarely responded to my emails either, or if they do, the emails don’t make any sense in light of my inquiries and sound more like rote responses.) And what??? DS didn’t consult the artists about the palettes that carried their names??? I’m saddened that such a once-great art supply company no longer seems personally interested in artists. I sincerely hope they readjust and focus on what’s important once again. It’s possible to be *big* and still care (maybe – ha!), so maybe they’ll figure that out before it’s too late.

    2. Thanks for leaving your thoughts here, Sharon & Tonya. I’m glad I only had to review one 6 pan set, not an entire company!
      The travel case with this set was unexpected, and mostly unloved by consumers. The logistics of having a custom plastic case produced are farfbeyond my skill set, but I know from friends in my sons’ engineering/maker world that this was not a small undertaking. I would love to see Daniel Smith hire someone with 3d printing skills to create free plans for a smokin’ hot palette that we could have printed at a local maker space.
      Based on their social media presence, website, and market leadership in dot palettes and custom sets, I think Daniel Smith still cares deeply about artists. I’m sorry you haven’t heard back on your email, Sharon, and hope you’ll get an answer soon.

  5. I bought 2 sets, the floral and the blues from my local art store as soon as they unpacked them. I haven’t used them yet though as they are my Christmas present to myself. They were sale priced and the lure of new colours reeled me in. Sleeping Beauty Turquoise is not normally stocked here at all, so this was the only way that I could try it without an international order. Of the 12 colours in the sets that I picked, I only had one already, so that helped me to justify them. The lack of mixing space isn’t a big deal as I usually use a white china plate. I like to support my local store, and when I did order my Schminke special edition palette, the price after shipping and exchange was shocking. I think it was a reasonable price to pay for me for these two sets, and I have lots of half pans to fill with my tube paints. Here’s my Canadian perspective.

    1. Thanks, Julia 😊. Sounds like you were their exact target audience for these sets. The paints in the half pans I had rewet and painted just like the tube paints. I hope you enjoy trying all the new colors–Ive had my eye on Sleeping Beauty turquoise for a while now! I placed my set on a china plate as a mixing surface for this review, and it worked fine. Happy holidays!

  6. I appreciate both the review and the comments. It’s nice to be part of a community who can share honest opinions graciously while disagreeing just as graciously. If only the rest of the world could do the same.

  7. Hi Bekki, I appreciate your review. I am a retiree just getting into sketching and watercolor. Why are there 15 places for pans if only 6 colors are supplied? Thank you.

  8. Complete rip off! Bought one {Sketchers} at my local art store. $50 for less than 1 15ml tube of paint! And a piece of shite garbage box that looks like it was 3D printed for pennies! Box doe’s not open properly, hinges snapped off after a couple of days. D.S. has decent paint, but this is a complete joke. Wake up, DS, you owe your customers an apology, and you should do a recall, but I know you won’t, Because you have manufactured an unbelievable number of these things, and are laughing all the way to the bank.

  9. The bonus travel case is made of the same plastic as the Winsor & Newton Pocket Sketch Box. False. The WN
    box is far superior. I have one I’ve used for years. The DS one is garbage. And that’s where I put it.

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