REVIEW: Peerless® Transparent Watercolors

Peerless Transparent Watercolor Dry Sheets

At first look, you might think these are paint chip samples, but Nicholson’s Peerless Transparent Watercolors are “DryColor Sheets”. Also called DrySheets, they are made of a proprietary fabric-based card stock coated with dry, concentrated dye-based color.

Peerless Watercolor Brilliant Yellow Sheet

These paints and DryColor Sheets are were invented 135 years ago and are still made using the same methods. The paints are all-natural and 100% non-toxic. Handy for travel, small spaces, and just fun to use.

I received a selection of the sets, booklets, and individual DrySheets for this review, but there are many other options available. These colors are also available as liquid watercolors.

Peerless Transparent Watercolor: The Features

Peerless Watercolor Sheets front and back views

The front of each DrySheet has dried concentrated paint. The back is stamped with the color name, and painted in a wash of the color so you’ll know what it looks like.

That’s good because the concentrated color often looks very different.

Peerless Watercolor spiral bound booklet

There are currently 80 colors, plus a metallic and metallic gold shimmer.

All the colors are available as individual DrySheets. There are several curated sets and booklets, with colors chosen to go well together.

With individual sheets you can customize your palette, but the sheets are cheaper when bought in sets or booklets.

Peerless Individual sheets for watercolor painting

The DrySheets come in different sizes.

The full-size individual DrySheets are approximately 2.5 x 6.5 inches. Many of the booklets and loose sheet sets have full-size DryColor Sheets. Other booklets and sets have DrySheets ranging from approximately 2 x 2 inches to 1.5 x 2.5 inches.

All the colors can be purchased as individual DrySheets, but you can also purchase refresher packs to replace all the colors in the sets and booklets.

Peerless Watercolors Summer Palette

There are two ways to get color:

  • touch a wet brush to the DrySheet
  • cut off some of the sheet, & soak in water to create a liquid paint

Colors can be placed on plastic or other non-porous surfaces in order to mix colors.

It may take some trial and error figuring out the technique you need, but it shouldn’t take you long. They’re pretty easy to use.

A great tool to use with these DryColor Sheets is a water-brush – one of those plastic barrel brushes that you can fill with water. They make it easy to control the water flow.

That said, I used my standard synthetic brushes, because I put my water-brushes somewhere safe. I remember that. I just can’t remember where the somewhere safe is. It’s a good thing that almost any brush will work with these DrySheets.

Peerless Watercolors Botanicals Palette

Touch and/or dab the wet brush to the DryColor Sheet, don’t drag it or scrub the sheet. You’ll get more paint than you need (thus wasting some of it), and may pick up tiny bits of the DrySheet.

The paints should be dry before you flip to a new page or close the booklets. The paint dries quickly but if you do get paint on the opposite side, you can still use it. The method is exactly the same as if you were picking it up from the DrySheet.

Messy alert!

Paint dust will rub off the DrySheets if you touch them, so I’d take some care not to get it on nice clothes. Once wet, the paint does not rub off.

The paint can activate from moisture, so they need to be stored in a dry place.

How Far Will the Paint Go?

The company will only say a lot. That makes sense. There are many variables — absorbency of the paper, the brush’s ability to hold pigment, the amount of water used, how much color you pick up, and the weather can all make a difference.

But I wanted at least a *ballpark figure.

*Ballpark figure — a slang term meaning you won’t get accurate results, but you’ll have some basis for scale. For example, is it as big as a thumbnail, a ball park stadium, or the Grand Canyon?

With all the sets and booklets I received there were several repeats of color, so I decided to sacrifice the approximately 2 x 2 inch Grass Green DryColor Sheet from the bonus pack.

I dropped the DrySheet into some water, let it soak a while, and then started painting some 8.5 x 11 inch sheets of paper. I covered the sheets completely. My water to paint ratio was highly in favor of the water.

Using a large synthetic squirrel brush, which holds a good amount of liquid, I managed to paint 14 sheets of the paper. The color was a nice intense green. I ran out of liquid at this point so I added more water, about the same amount as before.

This time, I was only able to get a faint green tint so light, it doesn’t really show in a scan. But I got another 7 pages of tint before I ran out of water.

This was with the 2 x 2 inch size. The individual sheets and most of palette and booklet sets come with 2 x 6 inch DrySheets.

You can do a LOT of painting with these paints!

My impression is that you won’t get as much mileage swiping color directly from the sheets as you will with the soaking method. However, painting directly from the sheets has advantages:

  • Easier to vary intensity of color
  • More compact for travel
  • More fun

The Peerless Watercolor Sets that I Received & Examples

The Complete Edition

Peerless Complete Edition Watercolor Swatches
  • 15 colors
  • Stapled booklet
  • Approx. 6.5 x 2.5 inch DryColor Sheets
  • These are the 15 original colors created 135 years ago, made using the same method.

The sheets are bound into a booklet that looks like and includes the text from the original publication, including the title ‘Complete’. Obviously, many more colors have been added since 1885, but with the exception of the introductory text, this booklet is the same booklet that was printed 135 years ago.

A little bit of history. It’s fun to read the old text.

— Reference photo by Erik_Karits

This painting was done on a smooth-surface but stiff sketch paper. I drew the picture with waterproof pen, and painted it color-book style, swiping color from the DryColor Sheets. This turned out to be my favorite way to use the Peerless colors.

Peerless Bonus Pak® – Small set

Peerless Bonus Pak Color Chart
  • Set of 40 individual dry sheets.
  • Approx. 2 x 2 inch DryColor Sheets
  • There is also a Large Bonus Pak. It has the same colors with larger DrySheets, approximately 2 x 6 inches
Sun-drenched Grapes – Reference photo by Moritz Knöringer

I went almost totally in the opposite style with this painting. It’s done on the same smooth sketch paper, but layered heavily. I think the Peerless sheets work to best advantage when used with only one or two layers, but they are flexible enough to use for more.

I discovered the colors are staining, and don’t lift very well. If you blot them up almost immediately after applying, you can lighten the color a little. Just a little.

It’s important to know that the colors are staining because it does effect how you choose your paper, and how you handle the paint. I used what I learned with this paper for my next painting. It’s also important because staining colors are usually very beautiful, brilliant and transparent, so you know to expect that, too.

Peerless Transparent Watercolor: The Sidekick

Peerless Watercolors Sidekick color chart
  • Wire-bound booklet
    • 9 sheets, 5 colors per sheet
    • Total of 45 different colors
  • Approx. 1.5 x 2.5 inch DryColor Sheets
  • Each color is on a perforated section, so you can remove them for convenience or to reorder the colors in a different book.

The wire-bound cardstock pages allow you to easily flip through the colors and the booklet is easy to set down on a surface or to hold in your hand while using.

Peerless considers this a compilation of greatest hits, because the colors were chosen from their best selling colors over a period of years.

The last page of the booklet has space for you to write notes.

You can buy replacement packs of all 45 colors, or buy full-size sheets as needed, and cut to size.

The replacement pack for the Sidekick comes with a double-sided tape dispenser so you can easily replace any DrySheet with the new one.

Chaffinch – reference photo by AvinaCeleste

Knowing the colors didn’t lift well, I wanted to see how they mix with gouache. I used white gouache to lighten some of the colors, and add some texture to the feathers. I was pleased with the result.

This painting was done on Bamboo mixed media paper. It is a little more absorbent than most watercolor paper. The color didn’t move quite as well, and wasn’t as bright. It’s not bad, just a different look.

Peerless Watercolor: The Botanical Palette

Peerless Watercolor Botanical Palette Color Chart
  • Set of 14 full-size individual DryColor Sheets

As the title indicates, the colors in this set are chosen for botanical paintings, but can be used to paint a wide variety of subjects.

It contains all the greens available in the Peerless line.

Zinnia – reference photo by AvinaCeleste

This set was created with botanical paintings in mind, and it doesn’t have any blacks, so I wanted to see how easy it would be to create darks.

It was almost too easy. I managed to get the lower petals too dark. They needed to be lightened but  I didn’t want to use gouache again. I had painted this zinnia on rough watercolor paper, which has lots more texture than the smooth paper I’d used before. I decided to try lifting color again.

This time, I could lift more. Just a little more. But once the paper dried completely, I added a wash of light red and between the two, it brightened up considerably.

Peerless Watercolor: Summer Palette set 2022 – Seasonal Palettes

Peerless Watercolor Summer Palette 2022 Color Chart
  • 12 Individual Full-size DryColor Sheets

Each year, seasonal palette sets are created, with 12 colors chosen for each season. The sets are different each year, and only available as a set for that season. You can buy the colors as individual DrySheets at any time.

Sunrise Sailing – photo reference by Jarrett Fifield

For my last example, I went back to the smooth sketch paper because I like the bright color it gives. I had done most of the testing, except for the metallic shimmers, so this example shows how you can use the Summer Palette colors (which probably will not be available as a set by the time this review goes live) and shows how the shimmers add to the overall look.

As usual, the scanner and camera are not able to show the shimmers well, but you can see that it gives the water a wet look.

In real life it does more.

Peerless Watercolor Metallics – Metallic and Gold Metallic

Rather than being colors, these two add a subtle metallic shimmer, and are meant to be used over other colors. They aren’t glitter so they won’t flake off. They can also be used over colored pencils, markers or acrylics.

As usual with shimmers, glimmers and pearlescents, they don’t show up well on camera or scanner, but they are spectacular in real life.

I used the metallic shimmer on the water to make it look wet and moonstruck, and the gold metallic on the sail to help give the impression of light shining through.

As with most shimmery colors, the amount of shimmer changes as you move the painting around in the light.

Learning

The company has a great FAQs page, as well as tutorials at both the Peerless website, and on YouTube. You are automatically sent emails with tips and techniques.

There is also a Private Community for sharing your work. This requires a paid subscription, but currently you can get a month free to see how you like it.

About Nicholson’s Peerless Transparent Watercolors

Started in 1885 by Chas Nicholson, Nicholson’s Peerless® Transparent Watercolors is still a small family run business.

The original use of “The Complete Edition” of 15 colors was colorizing and retouching black and white photos. It was unique because the DrySheet paint delivery system made it incredibly portable.

Dalton Scolman and his wife Cassie bought the company from her aunt about 2 years ago.

Tools

You can purchase Nicholson’s Peerless® Transparent Watercolors here.

Other Tools Used in this Review

Disclaimer


I received one each of the Complete Edition and Sidekick booklets, one each of the Summer, Botanical and Bonus Pak Palette sets and one individual metallic and gold metallic DryColor Sheet from the Nicholson’s Peerless® Transparent Watercolors, for the purposes of this review. I received no other considerations, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Recommended1 recommendationPublished in Art Supply Reviews
8 Comments
  1. JA Wilson 2 months ago

    Very interesting!

  2. Jean Marmo 2 months ago

    Thank you for this comprehensive review! Love your paintings and the test of how long they last. Thank you for sharing this information.

  3. Delores Azary 2 months ago

    I have used Peerless watercolors for years and love them!

  4. alice 2 months ago

    I love using these colors! and I enjoyed seeing all the ways you used them. thanks, Sandra, as always a great review.

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