REVIEW: Gansai Tambi Watercolors by Kuretake

Gansai Tambi Watercolor Main Image

Traditional watercolor, gouache, watercolor inks. Just when you think you know them all there comes yet another kind of watercolor! Like many ‘new’ discoveries, Gansai Tambi watercolor has been around forever. So what is it, and how is it different?


Gansai – A Little History

Gansai is a traditional form of Japanese watercolors based off of Sumi inks. They were poured into large pans suitable for the large brushes used in Japanese painting and formulated for Japanese rice papers. We’d probably call these paints student-grade because they were a cheaper form of paint, meant for quick sketches and underpaintings. They were and are used by professionals today, for that very same reason.

Gansai Tambi Full Watercolor Set PhotoA Little History

The colors were meant to match the natural colors of the Japanese landscape, and while most are very similar to what you would find in Western paint boxes, many are slightly different.

They were made in a wide range of colors, so that you wouldn’t have to mix your own. They were meant to be cheap, convenient and quick to use for those on-the-spot sketches.

These watercolors only come in the pans — that is part of what Gansai means.

Today’s Gansai

Gansai paints are similar to traditional Western watercolor, but they don’t act or look quite the same.
The binder used is different from the gum arabic commonly used in the Western world, and create a semi-glossy to glossy painting. Some people say they have a pastel-like finish, but to my eye, the finished paintings look more like acrylic.

Gansai Watercolor Pans View

But they perform like watercolor when you are using them.

They are easy to wet — it takes very little water to get them going. However, they perform better with wet-on-dry than wet-on-wet. Paints on rice paper can easily bleed, so Gansai were formulated to stay in place.

While the color flows easily from the brush to the paper, they don’t flow much once they are on the paper. You are less likely to get *blossoms or bleeding, but it’s also harder to get soft, blended edges or colors that mix by running together on the page.

*Blossoms, aka blooms, cauliflowers or backruns. When you add wet paint to paint that has started to dry, you get a liquid flow that pushes the paint into flower-like shapes. These shapes dry with hard edges (darker at the edges) and are difficult to remove.

At full-color the Gansai are opaque, but you can control that with the amount of water you use.

I have found the paper you use makes a big difference. I’ll talk about this later with my example paintings.

Today’s Gansai is still poured into those lovely, large pans and may be more lightfast than the traditional colors.

Gansai Tambi Watercolor Kuretake Pan Comparison

I grabbed a half-pan and a full-size pan from a couple of well-known U.S. watercolor brands, to show you a comparison. The Gansai pan is 48 mm x 28 mm (1.8 in x 1.1 in).

The Gansai Tambi pans can be bought separately and average about $8 to $10 USD. For comparison, I did a quick search on Amazon for half-pan paints, student grade, and found prices around $9 USD to $12 USD.

Dipping your brush into these smaller pans, especially the half-pan, can damage a larger brush by bending the bristles. So the pans themselves are almost worth the price, if you use larger brushes.

Gansai Tambi from Kuretake

“Gansai” means a solid paint made from pigments, and “Tambi” means aesthetics.
When these words are combined “Gansai Tambi”, they become Kuretake’s brand product name.

Grasai Tambi Watercolor Box

Today I’m reviewing Kuretake’s 48-color Tambi set. Kuretake also offers these watercolors in different sized sets, individual pans and as part of several kits.

The Tambi sets come in these distinctive green cardboard boxes.

They have a protective plastic insert.

Plastic Insert in Gansai Watercolor Box

The 48-color set includes an empty printed color chart on both the inside lid of the box and on a separate sheet. A full-color printed chart also comes with the set, in case you don’t want to paint your own.

The nice thing about the empty chart is that you can paint the colors showing masstone (the color with no water added) and also what it looks like at more watery tints.

I use the lid for identifying which color is where in the box because it stays with the pans. The extra chart is more helpful for deciding which color I want to use and how much water I’ll want to add to it.

Kuretake Gansai Watercolor Charts

The box is light, but has nothing to keep the lid closed, and the pans are loose, not fastened in any way. This and the overall size of the box, means this set wouldn’t be very practical for travel.

You might think, with loose pans, that they get jumbled up and out of order. But the bottom inside of the box lists the color name and a number associated with that color.

Bottom Box View

The bottom of each pan is labeled with its identifying number.

So it’s easy to keep them in the right order and you can easily take out a few colors for traveling. The numbers help you put them back in their proper place when you return.

Tin With Half Pans of Gansai Tambi Watercolor

The paints may be cracked or have bubbles when you open the box, but that doesn’t affect the quality. It’s just part of the pouring process.

Gansai Water Color ChartTraditionally, Gansai is not lightfast. Kuretake says Tambi are, but there is no lightfastness rating. There is no pigment information, either. It just isn’t part of the Gansai tradition.

The colors lift easily, even once they are dry.

The colors included in the 48-color set are Rose Madder Deep, Carmine, Rose Madder, Red, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Aureolin, Lemon Yellow, Greenish Yellow, Olive Green, Lime Green, Sap Green Light, Sap Green, Hooker’s Green, Sap Green Deep, Forest Green, Turquoise Green Deep, Viridian, Malachite, Horizon Blue, Ultramarine Pale, Turquoise Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, Indigo, Blue Gray Deep, Imperial Violet, Cobalt Violet, Purple, Lilac, Cherry Blossom Pink, Rose Beige, Natural Beige, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Maroon, Indian Red, Raw Umber Deep, Black, Gray, White, White Gold, Bluish Gold, and Gold.


Because Gansai colors were formulated to use on rice papers, they don’t flow like most Western watercolors.

They are also often used for underpaintings, where you want lighter colors because you’ll mostly paint over them.

My usual test worked well to create an underpainting.

Watercolor example

I wet down the paints and let them sit to moisten. This isn’t really necessary with these paints, but I wanted to be sure they were really juicy. I saturated the paper with water, until there were puddles. I wanted everything to be really wet. I dropped the colors on the sheet at random.

Watercolor Example

You can see that the colors have a limited flow. Gansai Tambi don’t usually have much color-shift*, but I knew there would be with this much water.

*Color-shift – Most paints in any watercolor medium tend to be lighter once dry than they are wet. Water is brighter than paint, so often the more water the brighter the color when wet, and the duller it will be once dry.

Once the paint dried I painted one of my loose and lovely gardens. I made use of the Gansai opacity, adding light color over dark. But in some areas, I used enough water to make the paints transparent.

Watercolor Example

Used with less water, the colors are bright, and vibrant. When this was finished and dry, there was very little color-shift.

I mentioned earlier that Gansai was formulated for Japanese rice paper. I happened to have some Etegami paper, which is card stock weight, so I used it for this painting.

Watercolor Grapes Painting Gansai Watercolor

There was almost no flow to the paint, which is how Gansai is traditionally used. It takes a little getting used to, but that’s what is fun about it!

I’ve used Gansai Tambi in the past, and already knew that I preferred using it on a harder surfaced, smooth paper. My tests for this review haven’t changed that preference, and this is probably the paper I’ll use most often when using them.

Nautilus Watercolor Painting With Gansai Tambi Watercolor

Not all papers accept wet mediums like watercolor. Gansai Tambi will work on more of these papers than most watercolors. This makes them a good choice for journaling of all kinds.

My last test was to try the Gansai Tambi on black watercolor paper. Since the colors are opaque, the lighter ones show up beautifully on black paper.


Kuretake’s Gansai Tambi dry with a semi-gloss or glossy finish. Originally used with large Japanese brushes on rice paper for quick and efficient paintings or underpaintings, they perform better when used wet on dry paper. The paints don’t flow like Western watercolors, giving good control but limiting wet-on-wet effects.

They are an affordable and interesting change from traditional Western watercolor, yet not so different that they are difficult to use.

Reviews of Interest
REVIEW: Stonehenge Aqua Black Watercolor Paper
REVIEW: Hahnemühle Sketchbooks & Paper

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, 48 Colors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, 36 Colors
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Set Of 12
Legion Stonehenge Aqua Cold-press Black Watercolor Paper
Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketchbooks
Akashiya Etegami Postcard Size Paper — Pack of 10 Sheets

Disclaimer: I received this 48-color set of Gansai Tambi watercolors from Kuretake for the purpose of this review. I received no other consideration, though this post contains affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Art Supply Reviews
  1. Mugdha 2 years ago

    Hello Ms. Sandra,

    How are you? I hope you have been well and safe. 🙂 Yet another big thanks for one more thorough review-cum-lesson (that’s what I call your reviews). The newly unboxed Gansai Tambi set looks so gorgeous just as it is! I probably wouldn’t have used it at all for fear of spoiling that candy-like look. But the paintings are gorgeous. I didn’t know that watercolor worked so well on black paper too. Thanks especially for that and for explaining terms like blossoms and color shift. Do please continue to be well. 🙂


  2. Author
    Sandra Strait 2 years ago

    Thank you, Mugdha! I’m glad you found my review interesting. Your comments are appreciated.

  3. Walter F Pierluissi 2 years ago

    Sandra, another of you informative and delightful reviews…. I have use these Gansai and I like them a lot, specially when I want to achieve that oriental look into my pieces…. But your review has been very educational, like always… Thanks.

  4. mjmarmo 2 years ago

    These look like such fun! Thank you for the information!

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 years ago

      Thank you, Jean! The Gansai Tambi paints ARE a lot of fun!

  5. Marlena Amalfitano 2 years ago

    I have used these for quite a while and have no trouble with wet on wet on cold-pressed paper. They also blend well with others. I love the colors!

  6. Victoria Marie 2 years ago

    Thank you Sandra. You’re a life-saver. I bought Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolours (36) about 8 months ago and dropped the box, mixing everything up. Until you review, I had no idea the numbers were on the bottom of the pans. Thanks to you, I was able to put them all back in order. A thousand thanks to you.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 years ago

      Yay! It’s annoying when you aren’t sure which colors are which, so ‘m glad I was of help.

  7. Zoie McIntyre 2 years ago

    Sandra, oh my gosh I absolutely love your reviews. You are such an incredible artist – I love seeing your work and I am constantly amazing how you do those dribbles and see such beautiful things that come out above those splotches (sorry – lol – I’m not saying any of that correctly). To me it is absolutely amazing how you are so creative. I can’t believe I have such an awesome mentor and once my world quits falling apart … lolol … I will be back here posting again ;). Maybe I’ll try next what you do and see what happens 😉

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 2 years ago

      Thank you, Zoie! The Loose & Lovely drawings are great fun to do. I did do a tutorial video of my process. Unfortunately, the process is hard to show because you could do it a thousand times and it would never come out the same way. That’s half the fun, but also makes it harder to teach because you can’t do it as a step-by-step.

  8. Alice 2 years ago

    Great review, Sandra! I learned several things I didn’t know about these paints.

  9. Mary Roff 2 years ago

    Good review, Sandra! Thank you.

  10. Dominik Neuffer 1 year ago

    This is a wonderful explanation of how these colors work. I guess that type is mostly misunderstood.

    • Author
      Sandra Strait 1 year ago

      Thank you, Dominik! The Gansai Tambai are just different enough that many people are surprised with the way they work.

  11. Brighid 11 months ago

    Thanks for your review, I hadn’t realized they were made for rice paper, I’ll have to try that!
    What sort of tin do you have pictured which fits them so nicely? I haven’t found a western palette that they fit in well.

    • Patty 4 months ago

      Your review was very helpful, and I use the Gansal Tambi colors on Rice paper, but I am still wondering what the pigments are and how lightfast they are. Do you know of any resource guide that could help me with these questions? Thank you

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