Review of Daniel Smith Primatek Watercolour paints
by JL Farmer

From the article "Primatek: Where Nature Meets Art" by Daniel Smith: "DANIEL SMITH PrimaTek paints are literally made from the ground up. From prehistoric times to the Renaissance and beyond, artists have relied on pigments mined from the earth, and we are truly proud to have revived these time-honored colors for today’s painters.

Our PrimaTek line began in 1998 with a cache of Lapis Lazuli—the gold-speckled blue gemstone seen in King Tut’s mask—that we found, ground and formulated into artist-quality watercolor paint. The response was great, and soon we hired a mineralogist to travel the globe in search of other exciting natural pigments.

Finding these pigments involves Indiana Jones-worthy journeys by plane, jeep and even mule to remote locations, identifying high-quality veins of ore and then negotiating procurement from local miners. The large minerals or “massive” as they are called are then processed to reveal the color within. From this pigment, our chemist and paint makers blend it with the perfect ratio of medium, grind and re-grind it to bring out the natural beauty of each color, then hand-package and hand-label each tube."

Three samples of my paintings with Daniel Smith Primatek paints

"Djem el Fna, Marrakesh"
June 2013
(with cabin colour detail from DS Finest range)

"Pottery from the Rif" March 2013

"Aswan Rocks" May 2013
I was at the Temples of the Nobles in Aswan, looked down and saw a bunch of real mineral stones in the earth. So I painted them in DS Primateks. Sea salt added to surfaces for added effect.

As at October 2017 there are 35 Primatek colours available in the Daniel Smith Primatek range.
Three colours - Vivianite-Blue Ochre, Azurite Genuine and Malachite Genuine were discontinued earlier this year.

Outside of the USA, Primatek paints are somewhat expensive, but if you can afford them you can have a great time with these paints and I can highly recommend most of them.

Primatek paints are most certainly a new learning curve for most watercolour artists. This is new territory which takes watercolour painting to another level in that the use of Primateks is conducive to leading the artist to reconsider many aspects concerning the way that they work, with emphasis on the composition of the painting. One of the main adaptions to be made is the amount of water that is added to the paint, as most of the colours are quite strong in pigment. Another adaption concerns the achieved tonal quality, which, in effect, is covered in the last sentence.

Another aspect of the paints is that they introduce extra meaning to the word "unpredictable" in a way that did not really exist before the Primatek range was introduced and this is to be attributed to the highly-granulating characteristics of the minerals used in the making of the paints. Some of the achieved effects of these paints are only really noticeable when the paint has dried - and (for most of the time ;-) the results are fantastic. This range certainly takes watercolour painting to new heights...

All of these issues certainly necessitate extra thought on the composition of a painting before setting out. I have come to the conclusion that the very few complaints I have read about these paints come from people who are stuck in an old-fashioned mindset and are unable or unwilling to adapt to the challenge of Primateks. These tend to be some of the artists who complain about honey being used in some brands of watercolour paints, as well as their overall use of paint brands only from their own country, so I'm guessing that there will always be people who will choose to remain as what they regard themselves to be as "purists."

On the other hand, as an artist, if you like the idea of unpredictable elements in your paintings and can accept - and even anticipate - the challenge then you will love Primateks. After all said and done - and this is something we may like to remember - art is the process of creation that flows through the artist. The finished painting is the end product of the art process, which is open to both objective and subjective criticism by any viewer.

My palette of 38 Primatek colours - 15 of them in whole pans

I find the best uses for Primatek paints are for painting still life and abstract works of art. I know artists who use Primateks for fantasy painting, but I honestly do not see very much advantage in using the highly-granulating colours for general landscape painting (except maybe Amethyst Genuine, for evening skies) as the high mineral granulating effects don't quite seem to fit the bill for landscapes in detail because once a highly-granulating mineral colour is introduced (with the exception of painted sky) it seems to set the tone for the rest of the painting, which then, of necessity, demands consideration towards adding yet more highly-granulating mineral colours which will complement the overall effect. Too much hard work then in organising a composition of mixed media, so I try to keep them separate. This, then, is how I have been able to adapt to using Daniel Smith Primatek paints. Painting by numbers, village scenes with duck ponds - this is not.

These comments are just my opinion, of course, and I quite often use the Daniel Smith Extra Fine range of colours for landscape painting which are of excellent quality. There are no fixed rules here and each artist is sure to have their own preferences in respect to use of their materials.
One thing for sure, there has been much positive discussion on the quality and effects of Primatek paints since their introduction by Daniel Smith in 1998. For more details, check out Bruce MacEvoy's link at bottom of this page.

Colours that don't mix well with other colours - (think sparkly nail-polish colours here) but are nice colours in their own right (good for fantasy and special-events painting):

Burnt Bronzite    Fuchsite    Kyanite    Red Fuchsite   Sugilite
Daniel Smith colours I don't like? Lapis Lazuli Genuine and Smalt Genuine (not a Primatek colour.) Why not? The tubes have an exceptional amount of gummy vehicle which prevents true colour performance
and being two of the most expensive colours in the DS range they are not exactly good value for money, IMO.

My favourite colours?

Amethyst Genuine (use with plenty of water for better granulating effects)
Garnet Genuine - lovely, rich granulating colour
Blue Apatite Genuine - rich blue, a gorgeous colour
Jadeite Genuine, rich granulation, best used with a lot of water
Minnesota Pipestone (used with a lot of water for best effect)
Piemontite Genuine - a beautiful and richly granulating colour
Sedona Genuine - gives a somewhat lighter result to that of W&N Burnt Sienna but with better granulation - great for a large wash
Serpentine Genuine - interesting and unpredictable colour results
Sodalite Genuine - fabulous granulation
Zoisite Genuine - fabulous granulation

Similar to other brands at less cost? All results below will depend on the amount of water added

W&N Van Dyke Brown gives a similar result to Burnt Tiger's Eye Genuine
W&N Cobalt Turquoise gives a similar result to Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine
W&N Prussian Green gives a similar result to Mayan Blue Genuine
W&N Indigo gives a similar result to Blue Apatite Genuine (but with less granulation)
Sennelier Caput Mortum gives a somewhat similar result to Red Fuchsite Genuine (but without the sparkle)
W&N Burnt Umber (with little water) gives a similar result to Mummy Bauxite

Daniel Smith Primatek Colour Chart 2017 - there are currently 35 colours
(Vivianite - Blue Ochre, Azurite Genuine and Malachite Genuine are now discontinued)

Primateks Paint Out page 1
Primateks Paint Out page 2
Recommended Starter Palette of Primatek Paints

Where to begin? We know these paints are fabulous, so what would be a good starter set?

Below, I offer my recommendation for a starter palette of 12 colours. I recommend these colours because I think that they offer the biggest learning curve in the range of Primatek paints - as well as being beautiful colours. There are no "yellows" in the Primatek range; the closest we get are pale ochre colours, painted in tints.

Garnet Genuine S4   Rhodonite Genuine S2    Amethyst Genuine S4   Mayan Blue Genuine S3    Blue Apatite Genuine S4   Amazonite Genuine S2   Jadeite Genuine S4   Serpentine Genuine S4   Hematite Violet Genuine S3   Mummy Bauxite Genuine S1   Piemontite Genuine S4   Hematite Genuine S3   

I have found that the best way to use Primatek paints is straight from the tube. If they are stored in a plastic palette without a cover, the paints tend to fall out when they are dry. I found that dried Primatek paints need (at least) a five to ten minute awakening time after being sprayed with water before they are used.

Painting and Cleaning Tips

I have found the best way to use Primateks paints is directly out of the tube using a squirrel mop brush. I find that my paints last a lot longer that way. I wet my brush and gently dab some of the water off, then put the point of the mop brush directly into the tube and paint from there. I find the pigment goes onto the paper very smoothly and is also very easy to manipulate with more water. I use an Arches squirrel small-size (000-0) mop brush for general painting and a size 4 or 5 for washes.

After finishing painting with a tube, gently squeeze the sides to make the paint descend lower into the tube. I also find that paint very easily clogs-up the metal thread around the top of the tube. This is probably because of the mineral deposits that can become a very frequent problem if left unattended. If the thread is not cleaned quickly, then it might become difficult to clean later on. I clean the cap thread every time I use the paint, which enables it to go back on correctly. I also clean inside of the black plastic tube cap, using a heavily-wetted paper tissue, for both thread and cap areas.

Tip: Don't throw away the cap from any tube when the tube is finished - you may need it sometime in the future if a cap gets really hard to clean, or breaks, or refuses to go back onto a tube. Wash them out in hot water and store them away for a rainy day. This tip applies to any brand of tube watercolour paint.

I hope this page has been of interest to you. Thank you for reading.

JL Farmer
January 13, 2013
updated October 7, 2017

Some Interesting Links

"Celebrating Autumn in Watercolour Class in Seattle" by Liesel Lund
Absolutely stunning

"Daniel Smith PrimaTek Watercolours" by Linda in Texas

"Daniel Smith Watercolours colour Map Set" by robertsloan2art

"I Wet My Apatite" by Franklin Einspruch

An interesting colour analysis page "daniel smith primatek™ watercolors" by Bruce MacEvoy
The section "Reducing the Vehicle Concentration" is especially informative

Daniel Smith Prima Tek Watercolours
by Quinn McDonald

"Watercolour: Who's a purist and who's not ?" howtodrawandpaint

"What is watercolour?" by Katherine Tyrrell

Aquarelle Maroc Established January 2013