Holbein artists' water color pans in bamboo green and raw umber

DOODLEWASH REVIEW- Holbein Watercolors

The first week of World Watercolor Month has started off with tremendous fun and enthusiasm with thousands of artists from around the world joining in!  Our stop today on the world tour of watercolors is Japan.

I have a thing for containers- jars, boxes, bags, pouches.  I’ve witnessed my mom and dad arguing over who’s going to get an empty peanut can container, and recently we were all eyeing the same empty jam jars.  I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I also have a thing for Japanese watercolors and art supplies.  Throw nice container + Japanese paints into the mix, and well, then there are definite impulse issues.  Hence this review of the Holbein Palm Box Plus.  I know, some of you are nodding your heads, the ones that have the container thing too.  My people. I warn that this post may bring up impulse issues for you too.  I’m issuing the warning first thing, in case you need to look away 😉 .

Holbein Palm Box Plus

Holbein Artist Materials makes artist quality paints.  It doesn’t sound like it, but this is a Japanese brand.  “With head offices in Osaka Japan, the company was formed just before the turn of the last century, and took the name of the much revered European artist Hans Holbein in the 1930’s. From that time, Holbein’s presence has been significant, not only in Southeast Asia, but also in North America, Australia and Europe.” They only manufacture artist grade paints, no student quality lines. We’ll take a look at the Palm Box set, as well as a set of 24 tubes and a few other colors.   

Holbein Palm Box Plus wrapped watercolour half pans

Their watercolors come in 108 colors, 5ml & 15ml tubes, 48 colors come in pans. Holbein’s Artist Watercolor Color Chart.  They are very transparent, and claim to be:

“More finely ground than any other artist watercolor, Holbein Artist Watercolor is produced without ox-gall, animal by-products or other dispersing agents. This affords the user greater control in the dispersal of their pigments, enhances handling qualities and delivers color of unequaled intensity, purity and reliability for brilliant transparent washes and/or powerful, clean darks.”

Holbein Palm Box Plus – 36 half pans. Dick Blick and Utrecht– $401. Yeah, that’s some shock and awe right there. The Holbein of America site only has the 12 and 24 sets listed for the Palm Box.

I might be a watercolor collector, but I would never pay what they are asking at those sites listed up above, ebay– around $152 with shipping, straight from Japan.  I have absolutely no issues importing from anywhere. Germany, UK, Japan, Philippines, Los Angeles- the world is my market.  That’s still one pretty penny though!  The good news is that if you really want to try this brand and don’t want to spend a lot, the tube sets are quite reasonable, and there are sets with a lesser number of pans.

It took me 22 minutes of dedicated unwrapping to liberate all of the cubes.  The paint packaging “smart” design, was a little tough to unwrap.   The brush holds a good amount of water, it’s pretty nice and feels like a size 6. Pans rewet instantly. The lid looks like shiny lacquer, but the entire box is made of durable plastic.  The mixing tray snaps into the lid and can be unsnapped to rest on the side, although it doesn’t feel super secure and it leans off to the side a little.  Once the mixing tray is removed, the lid is designed to hold a postcard sized paper.  I like everything about this, except that the swatch card does not fit into the box! I would think that it would fit into the lid or on top of the pans (after paints dry).  It would if the top part was trimmed off.   One of the colors that I’ve always wanted to try is Bamboo Green, which is an exotic name for PG36- Phthalo Green YS, this set didn’t come with it.


The swatch card that comes with it lists the paints by number in the order that they come in the case.

The pans are all labeled and they secure in by magnets.  Not super strong ones, just enough to keep them from rattling around. For experimental post purposes, I opened it, turned it over and gave it a slight whack- not recommend, they will fall out.

Holbein Palm Box Plus watercolor pans with printed color names

Swatches below are on Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor paper.  Row 5 colors are what I added in. I ended up getting the Bamboo Green. Colors listed in order of how they came in the box:

Row 1: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Carmine, Opera, Vermilion Hue, Pyrrol Red, Naphthol Red, Brilliant Orange, Lemon Yellow, Imidazolone Yellow

Row 2: Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Indian Yellow, Leaf Green, Viridian Hue, Emerald Green Nova, Cadmium Green Pale, Olive Green

Row 3: Sap Green, Shadow Green, Cobalt Blue Pale, Cerulean Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Ultramarine Light, Ultramarine Deep, Prussian Blue, Dioxazine Violet

Row 4: Quinacridone Magenta, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Indian Red, Sepia, Imidazole Brown, Ivory Black, Payne’s Grey, Chinese White

Row 5:  Bamboo Green, Raw Umber, Manganese Blue Nova, Bright Violet, Cobalt Violet Light, Lavender, Brilliant Pink, Shell Pink

Might want to click to enlarge this one.

Holbein Palm Box Plus watercolor swatches

Holbein Palm Box Plus open with paint pans added
Row 5 Supplemented Pans

I am in love with this box.  The only thing that I don’t like- the box is a little deep to be able to access the paints in the bottom row.  It’s kind of difficult to get a good angle without the brush hitting the edge of the box.  If you see little bits in the Bright Violet and Cobalt Violet Light pans, it’s sand from previous outings with those pans, which I filled from tubes.

This thing- the Holbein Artist Water Pan Color 48 Color Lacquer CUBE made me weak in my watercolor knees when I first saw it.  Look at the ceramic mixing palette!  They have other really appealing sets in nice plastic, porcelain, and lacquer boxes with 8, 12, 18, 24, 36, and 48 half pans.

The color this brand was known for is Opera.  Many manufacturers have introduced Opera to their lines. So garish- I love it!  But the lightfastness is questionable.  Those that paint mostly in journals might not be overly concerned about it, but for those that display or sell their work it might not be the best choice. From Handprint.com:

Holbein opera is a more intense bluish pink hue (chroma of 79), and has long been a favorite of botanical and landscape watercolor painters for its captivating, bright floral or flamingo color. It is unfortunately only marginally lightfast because the fluorescent basic dye rhodamine B (BV10) has been used. (The dye is formulated by dissolving it in an inert, insoluble resin, then crushing and grinding the cured resin matrix to the desired particle size.) In 2005 Winsor & Newton introduced their own opera rose, which has a slightly darker and less intense color and shows pigment separation (resin from quinacridone) in juicy, dilute washes. These paints should not be used in collectible quality artwork.”

This is the brand for Cobalt Violet Light.  I checked out Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, and M. Graham before buying this tube, they all cost less, but don’t look as good. The price is significantly more for Holbein- $23 for one tube! This quote is from Handprint.com:

“ Holbein cobalt violet light is the bluest in hue and one of my favorite cobalt pigments: lighter valued, more intense and more opaque than other brands, with a more homogenous, glowing purple color. Daniel Smith is in the middle of the hue range, but darker valued and less saturated than the others; the Utrecht paint is the same hue but is thinly mixed and even more unsaturated.”

Below is a swatch comparison of Holbein Opera with two other brands- Mission Gold (hold on to your retinas- POW!) and Daniel Smith.  Holbein Manganese Blue Nova compared with Manganese Blue Hue from Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton.  Holbein Cobalt Violet Light next to Daniel Smith Cobalt Violet.  The painting of the sheep is an example using Manganese Blue Nova and Cobalt Violet Light mostly surrounding the sheep.  There’s also Cobalt Violet Light in the body of one sheep.

Holbein opera, mission gold bright opera, Daniel Smith opera pink, manganese blue hue, cobalt violet light, manganese blue nova watercolor swatches
Opera, Manganese Blue Nova, Cobalt Violet Light

This practice example was a lesson of Jean Haines’.

Sheep painting by jessica seacrest in a pentalic watercolor journal using holbein cobalt violet light and manganese blue nova
Manganese Blue Nova, Cobalt Violet Light, Various Others

The colors like Lavender, Brilliant Pink, and Shell Pink have white as one of the pigments.  They are creamy pastel colors.  I used swatches from Dick Blick here, but you can also see them in the big panel swatch above for row 5.

holbein watercolor lavender brilliant pink and shell pink tubes of paint

A set of this brand in tubes is very reasonable on Amazon, about $49 for 24 5ml. tubes, and $33 for the set of 18 tubes.  Tube sets on places like Dick Blick, cost almost double over Amazon’s prices. Individual half pans and tubes, are around $9 and up, which is comparable to most artist quality brands.  Some pigments are way up there $18-$23.   My local art store, and many brick and mortar shops sell 15ml. tubes in this brand, as well as most online retailers.

Holbein Watercolor 24 tube watercolor set

My first palette set.  I squeezed paints in without putting much thought in.  They dried into these hard little lumps. It bugs me every time I use it, and I think it’s hard on brushes.  If you’re new to tube watercolors, please learn from my mistake.  Flatten and smooth the paints out with a palette knife and/or some serious tapping of the palette.

Holbein Watercolor 24 tube palette

The last seven colors in the palette and on the swatch below are other brands.  I left them in because if we are looking at paint, we may as well look at them all.  This set of swatches came out more intense than the pan swatches above.

Holbein Watercolor 24 tube watercolor swatches

Row 1:  Crimson Lake, Rose Madder, Vermilion Hue, Juane Brilliant #2, Permanent Yellow Lemon, Permanent Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre,  Yellow Grey, Cobalt Green, Permanent Green #1, Permanent Green #2

Row 2:  Terre Vert, Viridian Hue, Compose Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue Hue, Ultramarine Deep, Prussian Blue, Mineral Violet, Light Red, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber

Row 3: all but the first two in this row were added in: Ivory Black Hue, Chinese White, Lavender, Opera.  The other colors and brands: Schmincke Cadmium Orange Deep, Winsor & Newton Manganese Blue Hue, Mission Gold Permanent Red Deep, the rest are all W&N- Davey’s Gray, Sepia, Potter’s Pink, Magenta Permanent

One of my favorites from Holbein is their Brilliant Gold gouache.  If you would like to check it out, it was reviewed in the Gold & Luminous Paints post.

Holbein Artist Watercolor Chart has ratings for the permanence of the pigments and codes for other properties, scroll down to the bottom for the key.  Colors like Bright Rose, Bright Violet, Opera, and  Compose Blue are not completely lightfast.   The classification they use do describe this is “Moderately Durable.”  For a more technical look at this brand, see Handprint.com.   He talks about lightfastness and fugitive pigments.  His initial review was done in 1999, changes to the brand could have happened since then, but I’m not sure on that. This site is a great resource! Guest Doodlewasher Jane Blundell also has some pigment info and swatches on her blog.

Painting examples on Arches cold press paper.  More Jean Haines’ lessons on the right.  Do you see a shadow of the head and back of a man in the fish?

You Can Paint Vibrant Watercolors in Twelve Easy Lessons by Japanese artist Yuko Nagayama


You Can Paint Vibrant Watercolors in Twelve Easy Lessons by Japanese artist Yuko Nagayama.  If you want more fruit and flowers in your painting diet, this book has wonderful step by step instructions and some pointers on how to paint glass and water.  It shows how to start with pencil sketches of objects and then the painting of them.  She has a very three dimensional style and walks a nice line between lose and realistic.



World Watercolor Month is also a non-profit initiative.  The Dreaming Zebra Foundation is an organization that brings art supplies to underprivileged kids in need.  Please click image below or here to donate!

Art Room Aid Promo Banner with Dreaming Zebra Foundation for World Watercolor Month 2016

Holbein watercolor shell pink, sea shells and da vinci travel watercolor brush


This is an ongoing Saturday series of watercolor and art supply reviews.  All previous review posts can be found under “Reviews” on the menu or click here. If you haven’t already joined the Facebook group for this first ever celebration of World Watercolor Month, come join us, we are having a lot of fun over there! The rest of the Saturdays in July, we continue on with the world tour of watercolors, next stops- Russia, Germany, France and the UK!

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27 thoughts on “DOODLEWASH REVIEW- Holbein Watercolors

  1. Wonderful and informative. I sure wish you’d done these reviews for yarn back in the day! I think we should look into the manufacture of teeny tiny bento boxes for watercolorists-we’d make a killing!!

  2. Thanks for another great review! I’ve seen Holbein and been tempted to try them and now I can see which ones I would start with. I am really wanting some of those brights – OPERA! – and the pastels are gorgeous. And of course, the containers……sigh.

    1. Go for the Opera Ellie! All that color, so joyous! And it seems you are one of them too, hehe, the container people ;). Yesterday I was at Whole Foods and there was this nice tin- really nice tin, of Reed’s crystallized ginger. I kept thinking, what paint tubes can I store in this? I had to force myself to put it back. Ha!

  3. I love Holbein, but hate half-pans. Being a container person, this makes me sad because I simply know I won’t use them That said, I buy Holbein in tubes and love them as much as DS paint. I’ll give you a tip but you can’t share it. Halloween and Xmas there are tins of ALL KINDS not just holiday and I am buying them and gifting the insides to whomever while i use the tins. M&M is one of my favorites.

  4. Thanks for all the details. I love that opera color. I will have to seek some out. I’ve been mainly using Schminke Horadam pans and Sennelier and love both, but it’s nice to learn about more. I have to stay within a budget (as do we all) but I am a junkie for art supplies, too (and containers…….oh the art clutter!)

    1. Oh, the art clutter! Looks like I am in good company Cathy :). I justify my art purchases by not spending on cable TV and a few other vices. But honestly, I’m happy to have a hobby that I’m super into, and joining in with a lot of other people that are super into it too! Schmincke and Sennelier- so nice! I hope you get the Opera!

      1. Thanks Jessica. I don’t wear makeup or do lots of other costly things. I feel like art supplies are essentials so that’s how I justify it to myself, and watercolor lasts a long time! I just bought a split primary pallet from Schminke….will look into getting some Opera from one of the purveyors of it. I love bright colors!

    1. I know, I know! Sorry ;). Is your birthday coming up anytime soon?? Hehehe. I always think I would like to start a watercolor pan swapping group. Takes a long time to use a whole tube, would be nice if people could fill pans and swap and share.

  5. Great review Jessica, I too am a container person. I also see some possible new paint selections. I have Holbein Antique Pink and Antique Magenta. I like pink and magenta a lot. Then there is turquoise! Thanks for the post.

  6. I forgot to add, I just recently got a book by Jean Haines that I have been using for some of my watercolor month work. I had been wanting to get a book of hers for awhile but could not decide on which one. I got the newest one, Paint Yourself Calm. Highly recommended. I have been doing abstract landscapes for now. I also put the other book you list in this post on my Amazon list.

    1. Hi Nancy. Those Irodori colors are very appealing! I’m checking out the library now to see if they have that new book! They have it on order, so I put it on hold. I have two of her other ones, but just recently started looking in them. Happy painting 🙂

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