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

DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors, Part I

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.  The Daniel Smith watercolor 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 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.

You Can Find Part Two of my Daniel Smith Watercolors Review by Clicking Here! 

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews

75 thoughts on “DOODLEWASH REVIEW: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors, Part I

  1. Oh these are lush, I have a number of DS paints in my shopping basket, now added a number more, saving to purchase for myself on my birthday, nothing like a gift to yourself. Thanks for the intro to a few new colours which I had not fully appreciated, they will be mine soon I hope 😀😀😀😀😀

    1. Yay birthday paints! I had resisted that Cascade Green for a long time, forgot about it, then I rediscover it. I hope you fully enjoy what you get 🙂 so fun! :). And Happy Birthday to you Rebecca 🎂

  2. Jessica, reading your posts has become the favorite part of my Saturdays! I’m sorry I missed last week’s; I was traveling and haven’t had time to catch up on any missed blogs yet.

    The Dot Cards are such an amazing way to try paints! I’m going to order one and test DS myself. 😊

    So, sad to say, I brought a nifty travel kit after reading your blog posts and I never got to use it. 😕 I was either doing hikes/walks with my family or busy at the writing workshop I attended. I will have to make time to wander around our property and do landscapes at home instead.

    Oh, I haven’t checked to see if the feature is up yet but I was thinking that maybe Charlie could have a tab that collects all your posts or titles with links to your posts in one place so we won’t have to do a search for them?

    Thanks bunches yet again for another awesome review!

    1. Hi Teresa, sounds like you had a lovely trip. One of my favorite things about watercolors is that they keep, and patiently wait for your use :).

      There is a menu item where just these supply posts can be accessed it’s under the “Reviews” tab. After that, you may have to search for the one your looking for. I will do a better job of making sure that I put a tag in for whatever product or items I’m reviewing each Saturday. Some things I’m still figuring out as I go.

      Teresa, I truly appreciate your comment and appreciate connecting with you!

      1. Oh, awesome! Thanks for letting me know where to find your previous posts, Jessica!

        And, yeah, watercolors are great that way! I have some tubes of WN paint from back in 1987 that I’m still using. 😄

    1. Thank you for your comments and reblogging! I also appreciate the feedback, sometimes I worry that they get too long. I told Charlie that I’m not the chatty type in person, but I certainly blab on in these posts. Hehehe 😉 Happy painting to you!

        1. Thanks Laura! It’s interesting how different the brands look. I have a lucky north facing window to get the shots from. I try to take them all at the same time of day 😀

  3. I paint exclusively with Daniel Smith watercolors and you several of my favorite colors were listed. Lunar blue, Shadow Violet are amazing in mixes. They are expensive but I ignore that fact, I have to, I do buy the larger sizes 15 ml and that helps. Good post!

      1. Yes exactly! If compared to other brands I am sure it is not outrageously priced. I haven’t looked and I don’t plan to! I will paint for Daniel Smith watercolors! My daughter recently gifted me 4 tubes of 15ml for saying thank you for a painting. Can’t beat that!

  4. Thank you for such an informative post Jessica! I am such a fan of Daniel Smith watercolors and live near Wet Paint…now you know where my mad money goes! I love the colors you featured! You do such a great job informing us of wonderful products, your efforts are greatly appreciated. Now I’ll look forward to part 2!

    1. Thanks Charlie! I hope that you try some! If I didn’t already have Undersea Green, I would have snagged that secondary set. 😉

  5. Always great reviews Jessica thank you! I have tried Daniel Smith and I like it there are beautiful colors in their palette! I also like that you posted the Primatek and the Essential sets I love the colors in the Primatek both sets complete each other and is pretty much what is needed to get some good variety of paintings. Your great paintings are a beautiful illustration for this review! <3 Have a wonderful weekend! 😉

    1. Thank you Carolina! Both those sets are great! I’d like to start using my PrimaTek more. I’m visiting my parents and kind of wish I would have brought them with me. I hope your weekend is a good one 😍😀🎨

      1. I love the PrimaTek more too because the colors are more the palette that I like to use nice that we like the same 😉 Have a great day visiting your parents and yes I learned to carry my sketchbook also if I go in places where I don’t plan to use it…because you never know…lol creativity and inspiration can strike anytime and anywhere 😉 <3

  6. Wow, this was a huge subject to tackle…kudos to you. And you did an awesome job!
    I love DS but am integrating a few Graham (thanks to Charlie) Now I need to go for Dots. Sounds like fun trying all those colors.
    Thank you so much jessica for all the work you do on these reviews. A labor of love!

    1. It is a labor of love Teri! That is an excellent description, thank you 😍. I know you would have so much fun with those dots with all of the sketching that you do (and haiku).

      Teri’s bright paintings
      Flowers, scenery, beards, bees
      Daniel Smith paint

  7. Superb review of Daniel Smith Watercolors. Had I not updated my entire palette with Winsor & Newton colors, would have bought DS watercolors instead. However I did buy DS Quin. Burnt Orange, and Neutral Tint because my local art store did not have WN for those two colors. I also got a free swatch from my local art store of the Alvaro Castagnet palette and did my own swatches from that.
    DS are excellent quality, the tubes are bigger than WN, and often for a lower price…..you must try them.

    1. Hi Terry and thanks for your comment😀. That’s fun that you got the swatch. It’s nice to be able to try different brands. I have a few favorites in W&N too, after I tried dot cards of a couple of their limited edition palettes. By the time tubes arrive, I had worn those dot cards out, getting every bit of paint off that I could for a few of the colors. Happy painting to you!

  8. I laughed out loud at the paint shark! Great review – I am just venturing into professional grade watercolors (doing Jane Blundell’s excellent Mastering Watercolors course) and I love Daniel Smith. Now I want to fill my whole palette with them.

    1. Ha! But it’s so true Ellie, sometimes that’s what it seems like…the paint shark lurking in deeper wasters just waiting to surface and start circling the artist with its glorious color temptations 😀. I live in paint shark infested waters, oye 😳. How wonderful that you are taking Jane’s class! Hmm…I might have to check that class out. Wishing you happy painting and the fun of choosing all of your palette paints!

  9. Great review, as always I love your color swatches and how you weave the use of the featured paint with painting examples and even adventures with feral chickens. It was fun seeing DS featured, a corner stone of my palette for years. I remember when Moonglow came out, I swooned, like a school girl crushing on a pop star…but with Quinacridone Gold the heavens parted and I heard the voice of angels. Thanks also for your informative links, the are always helpful. Reading this feature makes me think it might be time to swim with the DS paint sharks again. Peace.

    1. Immerse, I like that description. I sometimes refer to it as obsessive, but I think I just adopted your description- immersion 🌊🌊🌊. Life and art, we are made to fully immerse ourselves in them 💜, everything is one big experiment! Thank you for your sage words Sharon!

  10. I am with you Jessica, just when I decide I have enough DS paint, or watercolor paint in general I find more I want. Thanks for the information. I have enjoyed all your supply posts and look forward to the ones to come. Primatek paint is wonderful too.

  11. I do love my DS! I got the primary set and I thought it was the perfect first set as it comes with warm and cool version of the primaries. I have added a few more to my collection but I find myself going back to my primaries. But I think I have to get Moonglow as I love that smokey look! Can’t wait to read your review on brushes!

  12. I am not a painter…more of a dabbler but I love playing with colors. This was a very informative and helpful post! Thank you for all of the thought that you put into this post!

    1. Hi Lori, and thank you for the comment! I’m glad the post was helpful to you. I’m with you on playing with colors! 🎨💜💚

  13. Hi Jessica. Once again I am playing catch up on my blog reading, and this review is amazing! I can’t wait for part 2. I have the two sets you pictured and this weekend picked up a quinacridone gold and burnt sienna. I also have the smaller dot chart and use it very sparingly. Oh, the colors, minerals, granulation, and sparkle! They truly are exceptional, and I dare any chicken to try to run away with a pan of these beauties – lol! Thanks for the link to my doodlewash, too. That was very kind of you. Have a terrific week!

    1. Hi Carol! Oh the sparkle is right! I love that part the best :). Hehehe, I’m getting a funny visual of you running after the chickens. At first I wasn’t sure what had happened, until I saw the peck marks! I hope your seek is great!

  14. Great reviews!!! 🙂

    I can’t decide between “White Nights 36 pan set” and “Daniel Smith essentials + primatek sets”.

    …help* 😀

    1. Hi Sabel, what an excellent dilemma! If I had to pick, I would buy the DS sets. I’m coming from a personal bias of course, because I’m very found of DS, and the Primatek are an experience all their own. The White Nights are an excellent set, and a lot of colors. Plus full pans, an excellent deal! With the DS you can mix for colors and some people really enjoy that. One factor- with the DS you you’ll need pans to fill and/or a palette, so that’s an added expense. But, you may already have palette. I don’t think you can go wrong with either choice. Eeny meeny miny moe..hehe. I’m not sure this helped at all! I’m curious to see what you end up with!

      1. Thank You!!! I really appreciate your help 🙂

        And the winners are DS sets.. also includes a 238 color dot card (which i think is good) lol

        sorry for my english, and again THANKS!!!

  15. 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

  16. Unfortunately, the PO49 Quin Gold is now discontinued.

    I went to a lecture by the current owner (CEO, President, whatever) of Daniel Smith and learned quite a bit.

    Shadow Violet was a mistake. A worker was mixing Moonglow and accidentally added the wrong pigment. An orange I think. He caught it a bit late but brought a sample to whoever and they decided the color had merit and did a limited release. Then they added it to their line.

    While you can mix your own undersea green it will not behave the same. This is because of a proprietary mixing method when they mix two or more pigments. That’s why you see that granulation and separation as one pigment floats on top of another. It’s why there are certain colors I buy instead of mix myself. Moonglow and Cascade Green being two of them.

    The Lunar colors are designed to granulate. Their pigments are ground superfine so they flocculate.

    He also talked about the Primatek line, then we got to swatch a bunch of colors including the new ones they released most recently. His talk was timed around the time of that release.

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