DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors, Part I

Daniel Smith Extra Fine and Primatek watercolor Essential Sets with w Rosemary & Co Kolinsky sable series 323

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors.  Extra fine- truer words have never been said.  I’m not sure this brand needs much of an introduction. These are artist quality paints. I’ve spent more time looking at Daniel Smith (DS) watercolor swatches than all other art supplies rolled into one.  Their line is so extensive, I wasn’t sure how to begin to tackle this post.  I’ve decided to break it into two posts.  Part one, the Extra Fine line, and part two, the PrimaTek and Luminescent lines.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor tubes with a painted mandala stone by Elspeth Mclean

Center Stone by Elspeth McLean

Mr. Daniel Smith started the company in the basement of his Seattle, Washington home in 1976. The company is based out of Seattle, they also have a store in Bellevue, WA.

If I counted correctly- there are 247 watercolors in their line.  This number includes their Extra Fine, PrimaTek, and Luminescent varieties.  They all come in 15ml. tubes , 88 colors come in 5 ml. tubes, and 51 colors come in sticks.  Very few sets are sold, but there are a handful of starter sets and you can see them here.  I found this Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set of 6 on Amazon for about $28.  The Daniel Smith site has a $4.95 flat shipping rate, so does Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama.  Many local art stores sell this brand and these sets.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine and Primatek watercolor Essential Sets with w Rosemary & Co Kolinsky sable series 323

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors half and full pans in a bamboo palette with paint swatches and a Rosemary & Co sword brush, kolinsky brush and sable blend brushThere are so many colors, that the line seems rather overwhelming.  I decided to swatch the Extra Fine line that I have and highlight a few favorites. I took a lot of photos. I find their website a bit cumbersome to navigate, it could use an update. This is the key for lightfast ratings. Individual colors would need to be looked at to see where they fit on the lightfast scale.  That info is available on their website under the “Product Description” for individual paints or consult the DS Watercolor Chart here. The bamboo palette box pictured came from Dick Blick. Not the best thing, for mixing and it’s a little deep, but it’s what I’ve got. This small swatch is on Arches cold press watercolor paper. Please excuse the stray bits of sand in some of the pans.  I took them to Kauai in a GraceArt converted pallet.  When I wasn’t looking, some of the wild island chickens pecked and ran off with some of my paint pans.  I tracked down all but one pan.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors half and full pans in a bamboo palette with paint swatches and a Rosemary & Co sword brush

Guest Doodlewasher Jane Blundell has a lightfast test here.  The DS site features Jane’s Ultimate Watercolor Mixing Selection.

These swatches are on Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor paper.  There are better papers out there to paint paintings on, but I use it for swatches.  What seems to be a standard for me- my palette is not in the most correct order.  After Indigo, there are three additional colors on the swatch below that are not on the one above.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolor paint swatches on Strathmore watercolor paper

Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Gold, Pyrrol Scarlet, Quinacridone Rose, Quinacridone Red, Indian Red. Naphthamide Maroon, Phthalo Yellow Green, Undersea Green, Phthalo Blue, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Turquoise, Lunar Blue, Moonglow, Goethite, Payne’s Gray, Buff Titanium, Burnt Sienna, Indigo, Lunar Violet, Shadow Violet, Cascade Green

DOT CARDS!

Dot Cards are 238 dots of paint- these are like a gateway drug to these paints.  It’s amazing how much paint you can get off of a little dot.  Some art stores give out smaller versions of the cards.  My local art store gave me a small Dot Card of some of the PrimaTek line, after that, it was all over.  I went PrimaTek crazy.  Real ground minerals in paints?!  I was hooked. Eventually I got the entire four page Dot Card set.

Daniel Smith watercolor Dot Cards

If you are truly interested in this brand, get the Dot Cards– usually around $25 for the entire set.

Amazon has the 238 set for $22 and the 66 set for around $8.

Wet Paint has a 66 color try it sheet for $4.49 at the writing of this post. A good deal if you are planning on ordering some other things.

The MerriArtist– free smaller Dot Card with $15 DS purchase.

I always think- that’s it, I’m done- no more tubes of paint. Insert Jaws theme music.  Then just when I think it’s safe to let my guard down and go back into the water- paint shark!  I find one I must have.  Recently that was Cascade Green (PBr7 PB15 these are the pigment numbers that the paint is mixed from).  This is when the Dot Cards come in handy.  Looking at swatches on the screen is fine and all, but it’s just not the same as trying the paint out.  I find the dot of paint is enough to try the color in small paintings or sketches, along with doing a swatch.

The following larger swatches are done in a Stillman & Birn 4 x 6 Gamma Series journal. The paper is ivory.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors paint swatches of Cascade Green in a stillman and birn gama series journal with a Princeton Neptune size 4 quill brush

Cascade Green

Most of the traditional colors in the DS Extra Fine line are single pigment, but they have quite a few fun mixes that usually have a separation and granulating effect.  I think some of the celestial names got me- Moonglow, Lunar Blue, Lunar Violet.  Who can resist a name like the mysterious Undersea Green?  I can’t.  Many of the multi-pigment paints can be mixed for from individual pigments.

Daniel Smith watercolor painting of a mermaid embroidery pattern by Aimee Ray

Pattern Drawing by Aimee Ray

Undersea Green– (PB29 PO49) this is my favorite paint. The lower half of the outside mermaids is Undersea Green.

“An artisan’s favorite, this exciting medium staining green blends French Ultramarine with Quinacridone Gold. The inorganic, sedimentary French Ultramarine settles and granulates while the organic, transparent Quinacridone Gold floats into a golden halo.”

Moonglow– (PG18 PB29 PR177 ) beautiful use of this paint, in a more traditional and an abstract painting here.

“Water frees this amazing three-pigment blend to perform miracles. Watch and wait as Anthraquinoid Red floats, Ultramarine Blue settles and Viridian grays the resulting violet color. Selectively blot and lift a surface wash to expose delicate blue-greens. A description of the fascinating light and dark washes can never match a personal experience!”

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors paint swatches of Moonglow and Undersea Green in a stillman and birn gama series journal

Undersea Green and Moonglow

Shadow Violet– (PO73 PB29 PG18), Shadow Violet is only one pigment different than Moonglow and looks very similar. Lunar Violet– (PV15 PBk11), Lunar Blue– (PBk11 PB15).

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors paint swatches of Shadow Violet, Lunar Violet and Lunar Blue in a stillman and birn gama series journal

Shadow Violet, Lunar Violet and Lunar Blue

Quinacridone Gold– (PO49) the pigment is exclusive to DS. Burnt Sienna– (PBr7) I’ve tried a few brands, this is the only brand that to me, looks the most natural (see comparisons below).

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors paint swatches of Quinacridone Gold and Burnt Sienna in a stillman and birn gama series journal

Quinacridone Gold and Burnt Sienna

I did another swatch comparing a few colors with other brands- Quinacridone Gold, Burnt Sienna, Pyrrol Scarlet, Indigo. These are the artist grade for all brands shown.

Indigo– (PB60 PBk6) neither of the other two brands are as deep and rich as the DS. Pyrrol Scarlet– (PR255) is also particularly nice in this brand.

Top Row: The first three are Quinacridone Gold- Daniel Smith, M Graham, QoR.  The next four in the top for are Burn Sienna- Holbein, Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, Mission Gold.

Bottom Row: first two are Pyrrol Scarlet- Daniel Smith, M. Graham, and I used Vermilion from Mission Gold.  The next three are Indigo- Daniel Smith, Mission Gold, MaimeriBlu.

Daniel Smith watercolors comparison swatch of Quinacridone Gold, Burnt Sienna, Pyrrol Scarlet, Indigo with M. Graham, QoR, Holbein, Winsor and Newton, Mission Gold and MaimeriBlu professional grad watercolor brands on Strathmore 400 series watercolor paper

Quinacridone Gold, Burnt Sienna, Pyrrol Scarlet, Indigo

If filling pans gets a little messy, I wipe the excess paint on a journal page and do these strange swatches, adding a paint name note on the opposite page- Goethite, Indian Red, Napthamide Maroon, Shadow Violet, Payne’s Gray.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolor swatches, Goethite, Indian Red, Napthamide Maroon, Shadow Violet, Payne's Gray

Goethite, Indian Red, Napthamide Maroon, Shadow Violet, Payne’s Gray

I found this Secondary Set of three on Amazon featuring Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Undersea Green, and Carbazole Violet.  When I first found it, it was $27, the next time I clicked to write this, it went up to $36.  The ways of Amazon.

There is a Primary set of three on Amazon with Perylene Red, Hansa Yellow Medium, and French Ultramarine for $36.  This made me think of an article I recently read: John Muir Laws- Reinventing the Wheel: Why Red is Not a Primary Color.  I recommend reading this before buying a primary set.  It’s not too long, a quick read.

This is a popular paint among guest Doodlewashers, check out Carol Hartman, Larry Marshall, and Cathe Jacobi.

Example below- Undersea Green, Naphthamide Maroon, and Buff Titanium.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolor painting using Undersea Green, Naphthamide Maroon, and Buff Titaniuml, paint tubes and Rosemary & Co brushes

Undersea Green, Naphthamide Maroon, and Buff Titanium

One artist I seriously enjoy is Emil Nolde.  This is me tipping my hat to him using- Lunar Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, French Ultramarine, and Moonglow.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor Lunar Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, French Ultramarine, Moonglow and a rosemary & co kolinsky sable series 323 brush

Lunar Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, French Ultramarine, Moonglow

Example below is in a Handbook Travelogue Watercolor Journal, Grand Portrait size- using Moonglow, Undersea Green, Cascade Green, and Payne’s Gray.  The sky is DS Payne’s Gray and two Holbein colors- Cobalt Violet Light and Manganese Blue Nova.  If it looks familiar, this is the same subject I used in the Greenleaf & Blueberry post. Sometimes comparisons are nice.

Desert Painting of the Tucson Mountains in a Handbook Travelogue Watercolor Journal in Grand Portrait size- using Moonglow, Undersea Green, Cascade Green, and Payne's Gray. The sky is DS Payne's Gray and two Holbein colors- Cobalt Violet Light and Manganese Blue Nova.

Tucson Mountains

One thing missing from this post is pronunciation help! Anthraquinoid, Phthalo, Quinacridone, Indanthrone, Naphthamide. I’m glad I’m writing these to you, and not pronouncing them.  I attempted to put some links to pronunciations, in case you are at the art store and wanting to ask questions.  But, those all pronounce them differently, or they added a weird statement at the end. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Dot Card swatches video- I did not watch this entire thing, but I’m passing it along.  It is an hour of one dot card worth of swatches.  She has three other videos for the other Dot Card sheets.

There is an insanely wonderful amount of information available on Handprint.com about this brand and many others, as well as tons of other info on color theory and palettes. Some people like a lot of info like this, some people find it overwhelming.  I link to this a lot, and will continue to do so.  The info on DS is a dated- 2005, but this guy is thorough.

I also link the Guest Doodlewasher Jane Blundell’s blog a lot because she has a comprehensive amount of swatches and info on many brands.  This is a link to all her Daniel Smith posts.

I’ll make a general statement about most of the brushes in the photos- they are from Rosemary & Co., a mother and daughter operated company in the UK.  I have always had a good experience ordering from them, and using the brushes.  I will be doing posts on brushes and sketch/watercolor journals in the next few weeks.

Look for Part Two of Daniel Smith Watercolors next Saturday.  This post is kind of long, I’m hoping that the next one will be shorter.  This is an ongoing series of watercolor and art supply reviews.  Your comments are appreciated.

Profile photo of Jessica Seacrest
Hi I’m the Doodlewash Supply Blogger and offer reviews of various types of art supplies, watercolors, and helpful tips. I approach artistic expression with a light-hearted point of view. I love to see, and support others opening up to, and embracing their creative process with any medium or creative expression. Follow me on Instagram!
Published in Art Supply Reviews
90 Comments
  1. Watercolorsfromholland 2 months ago

    I bought my first tube two years ago, Smalt blue Genuine color, I could not paint with it, it powdered after drying from the paper. After a complain to my distributor I received a new tube, same problem. I complained by DS I received 2 tubes Smalt with the difference I still could not paint with it, but it dried on the watercolor paper. So now I did have 4 tubes Smalt for the price of one! So I decided to buy a Payne’s grey to make sure only he Smalt was bad luck. After drying the Paynes grey granulated so heavy and separated from the mix with raw sienna decided to stick with my normal brand. I did spend 24 euro and I didn’t want to test more DS pigments. I see friends painting really good watercolors with the paints of DS.
    I paint with all sorts of brands, once I did have a nap of Prussian from W&N that didnt do what it supposed too!
    After reading your review, I must confess I want to tryout some more from DS. But something strikes me….

    Thanks best regards Edo

    • Profile photo of Jessica Seacrest Author
      Jessica Seacrest 2 months ago

      Thanks for your comment Edo. Sometimes certain things just work better for us than others don’t they? No matter what anyone else says 🙂 Happy Painting.

      • Watercolorsfromholland 2 months ago

        Well it is something that bothers me, it must be good, cause a lot of artist use this. I ca imagine that 270+ colors is a bit overwhelming for a lot of us! happy painting Jessica!

  2. […] Or use those pastel colors that contain the white pigment in the mix, which professional brands Daniel Smith and Holbein both carry.   Aren’t we told to never mix white in with other colors?  […]

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