Review of Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks
by JL Farmer

Many watercolour artists have heard by now about how good Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks really are and some people might be thinking about buying a few colour sticks to get started, but where to begin when deciding on a limited palette?

First of all, I would like to say that these watercolour sticks are true working colours. Some people might buy them as a kind of "novelty" item in order to try them out - for as we know, in recent years, there have been many coloured sticks and pens that have entered the artist market, many of them containing a lot of very bright yet impermanent colours having little character - but rest assured that Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks are the Real Thing - real pigments in a non-waxy stick format, albeit some of the colours having a different pigment content to the tube range. It is with these aspects in mind that I have written this article. An article for artists that I hoped to find online but did not find; so I wrote this article to accommodate the deficit of information. Also an article of interest to artists who might be considering to use these watercolour sticks as their main palette of colours. That would be very easy as they are, overall, lovely. Just to add, all of the sticks cost the same price, irrespective of colour or series number.

Well, I don't have all of the range of colours, but I currently have 43 of the 51 sticks available, as seen above. Yes, I know my paint-out looks like a bit of a mess but I deliberately wetted the whole sheet of paper and quickly added the colours to be able to view the effects of dispersion and granulation when applied wet-into-wet.

All pigment colours mentioned below are actual pigment colours that are printed on the watercolour sticks.

I want to start first with the colours that I would not buy and to say why. The one colour on the graphic above that I don't particularly like is Opera Pink. At the bottom right of the Daniel Smith Watercolor Stick chart, it says that Opera Pink (along with Alizarin Crimson) are fugitive colours. It took me around ten minutes to get a very low amount of Opera Pink paint onto the paper (as seen above) and this is not what I was expecting. Even though I bought this as a "convenience" colour, I kind of expected it to be a little more "convenient."

I had automatically excluded Alizarin Crimson from my list of choice and don't have it in any of my watercolour palettes. We can read about Alizarin Crimson (PR83) on handprint's web site. If you do like an alizarin crimson, maybe Permanent Alizarin Crimson might appeal; it is a luscious colour, contains no alizarin crimson PR83 pigment and contains pigments PR177, PV19 and PR149.

I didn't care too much for Pyrrol Orange (PO73.) I found it to be too red in appearance - almost a scarlet, and a static, flat colour which much reminded me of the W&N Winsor Orange (same pigment, similar result.) I prefer the orange result I achieved by mixing Hansa Yellow Medium and Pyrrol Red (see mixing graphic, below.) Quinacridone Burnt Orange also gives a great result and complements well with Quinacridone Gold. I made the painting below using Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Indanthrone Blue, Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Quinacridone Violet, Sodalite Genuine and Lunar Black.

©Josie Farmer, 2017
"Gnawa" - painted with Daniel Smith watercolor sticks

I found Cerulean Blue Chromium (PB36) to be disappointing and feel that Cobalt Blue does the job much better because of its granulation properties. Having said that, the Cerulean Blue of choice for me will forever be the Winsor & Newton pan version.

So then, OK, what could be deemed necessary in this range? For people who like to mix their own colours, we will need to have a primary yellow, red and blue. Hansa Yellow Medium (HYM) (PY97) is a good choice as are Pyrrol Red (PR254) and either Ultramarine Blue (PB29) or Cobalt Blue (PB28) or both - cool and warm blues (good idea!) in this context. Of course, we will get different results when mixing either of the blues to yellow or red. I found that mixing the HYM to the Cobalt gives a more "sap green" result whereas mixing the HYM to the Ultramarine gave a more nuanced shade of "olive." The Cobalt Blue mixed with Pyrrol Red also gives a darker result than Ultramarine Blue mixed with Pyrrol Red.

Aside from the primary Hansa Yellow Medium, I found Quinacridone Gold (PO48, PY150) and Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150) to be very useful with lovely results. The transparent Yellow Ochre (PY43) can also be useful. I can instantly dispense with the semi-transparent Raw Sienna by using these three colours. I shall be using the excellent Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Quinacridone Sienna, Hematite and Piemontite Genuine as my "earth" colours.

Moving alone now to the red to violet ranges, as well as Pyrrol Red, I would go for Organic Vermilion (PR188,) Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206) and Quinacridone Violet (PV19.) The Quinacridone Red and Quinacridone Coral don't have very much going for them in terms of granulation, in my opinion. They are far too light for me and without much character, although floral painters might like them. I also love Carbazole Violet (PV23RS) and Moonglow so have no need of the more-static Imperial Purple.

In the blues, as mentioned, Ultramarine or Cobalt Blue as a primary colour, along with Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) (PN15:3) and the lovely Phthalo Turquoise (also PB15:3.) The latter colour is lovely in tints, especially when painting glass in a watercolour painting and has become one of my sure favorites.

For people who like to have an Indigo shade in their palette I would recommend Indanthrone Blue (PB60) as a near alternative. A stunning, deep, rich blue. And to take it a step further.. let's not forget the super Primatek colour - Sodalite Genuine - a deep blue/black colour that has terrific granulation properties. A must-have, for sure.

Moving along to the greens... the Primatek colour Serpentine Genuine always impresses me every time I use it. Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7,) Rich Green Gold (PY129) and Undersea Green would also be on my must-have list.

To finish off in the darks column, the Primatek colour Hematite Genuine and the nicely granulating Lunar Black (PBk11) both fit the bill nicely.

So, this is how I would turn a list of 51 options into a list of 25 working colours:

Hansa Yellow Medium* (primary) PY97
Pyrrol Red * (primary) PR254
Ultramarine Blue* (primary) PB29
Cobalt Blue* (primary)
Quinacridone Gold PO48 + PY150

Nickel Azo Yellow PY150
Yellow Ochre PY43
Quinacridone Burnt Orange PO48
Organic Vermilion PR188
Quinacridone Sienna PR209
Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet PR206
Quinacridone Violet PV19
Piemontite Genuine (genuine)

Carbazole Violet PV23
Moonglow PG18 + PB29
Phthalo Blue Green Shade PB15:3
Phthalo Turquoise PB15:3 + PG36
Indanthrone Blue PB60
Sodalite Genuine (genuine)
Rich Green Gold PY129
Serpentine Genuine (genuine)
Phthalo Green Blue Shade PG7
Undersea Green PB29 + PY150
Hematite Genuine
Lunar Black PBk11

Working with Daniel Smith watercolour sticks...

I enjoy the mode of working by extracting colour from the stick onto a wet brush and then adding it to wet paper, (and wetting the end of the stick that does not have the colour name printed on the end of it.) The sticks can also be used directly by drawing onto dry or wet paper, but be aware that the sticks may leave imprints in the grooves of the paper and it may not be so easy to disperse the remaining imprints, as I found out for myself, after much hard work in trying, unsuccessfully, as it turned out, on both Rough and Cold pressed paper. Maybe best then not to use the sticks directly onto paper at all, (unless it's Hot Pressed paper.)

Sometimes, a new watercolour product range requires a different way of thinking with regards to the composition of a palette and way of working. I certainly found this to be true with the Daniel Smith Primatek range, (a range which I love; I bought the whole range over an eighteen month period) and to some extent, also to this range of watercolour sticks. Using Primateks was a real learning curve for me and as soon as I realized that most of the Primatek colours, being specific mineral pigments, are not so useful for mixing in the usual manner, things started to move along nicely. My skies became Amethyst, my sunsets became Garnet, my seas became Mayan Blue and my walls became Minnesota Pipestone or Sedona.

Seeing that I have colours of many of the top brands of watercolour paint I then asked myself the question "why would I want or need to emulate the use of "regular" colours by using watercolour sticks?" It's a good question and it's also the main reason why I have left out several of the mainstream colours in favor of a palette that is more unusual and more subtle in content, imprinting more of its own colour characteristics and flow into my work in a different way than using "regular" colours, with maybe the "blues" being the overall exception on this point. When I discovered Undersea Green, Perylene Green and Serpentine Genuine a few years ago, "green" suddenly became a colour that I could actually get into experimenting with.

There clearly were reasons why Daniel Smith chose the specific 51 colours in this range while leaving out quite a lot of what may be called "regular" colours, by going towards a line that is somewhat more "edgy" in character. Not an accident then, and I am grateful for it...

This range could further be improved to make it even more edgy and inviting :-) Why not make the DS watercolour stick range as edgy as possible instead of duplicating a lot of "normal" colours over from the tube range into this range? Masses of watercolour artists around the world already have some Daniel Smith tubes of paint so encouragement to buy and use this range of watercolour sticks could be greatly enhanced by making it as edgy as possible. Daniel Smith could easily throw out the Sap Green and replace it with Cascade Green, throw out the (fugitive) Alizarin Crimson and replace it with Rose of Ultramarine, throw out the Phthalo Blue RS and replace it with Blue Apatite Genuine and throw out the Burnt Sienna and replace it with Burnt Bronzite Genuine. Gosh, sales of this range of watercolour sticks would surely rocket...

Plastic cases for storage of five sticks are also available, (see links, below.) These cases have four elevated plastic stumps that hold the wet stick away from the base. They are well thought-out and make such a big difference to storing the wet sticks. I am so glad I have them.

Overall, this is a high quality range of colours that just flow onto the paper in a wonderful way. They are worth every penny and will likely last for ages, depending on use, of course. I am so glad I didn't buy all of my watercolour sticks from the Winsor & Newton range - I was about five minutes away from doing so until I found and read this article. I had already bought the W&N Manganese Blue Hue from their range of sticks and was not happy with the quality. I don't want my paintings to come out looking like they have been painted with a cheap brand of watercolour pencils - waxy, pale and almost lifeless. Saved at the last minute then, so as to speak.

I hope that this review has been helpful and thank you for reading.

Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks
Review by JL Farmer
Saturday March 11, 2017
updated December 28, 2017

Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks Color Chart

Where to buy Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks

USA and Canada
Daniel Smith website
Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks
United Kingdom:
Ken Bromley Art Supplies

Daniel Smith Watercolour Sticks
also has plastic cases for the sticks

Le Géant des Beaux-Arts - Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks
(also has 14 shops in France, 2 of which are in Paris)
Plastic cases for watercolor sticks

Germany: -
Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks
  Plastic cases for watercolor sticks

Mondo Artista - Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks
Plastic cases for watercolor sticks

Spain: - Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks


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