Ultramarine Comparisons

February 19, 2021 | 23 Comments

As mentioned in yesterday’s article, I decided to revisit my decision to use Schmincke French Ultramarine.

A little digging into my archives revealed that I started using it in place of Daniel Smith Ultramarine Blue around Dec 2018 because, to quote, ‘the DS version dries very hard in the pan.’

My good friend Jane Blundell had introduced me to the DS Ultramarine Blue (as opposed to French Ultramarine) a number of years before. There isn’t a great deal of difference between these two, but I thought Ultramarine Blue mixed slightly better greens. Also it was cheaper. More about that comparison here.

Even though I started using the Schmincke French Ultramarine purely because I was getting frustrated by the hardness of DS Ultramarine Blue, I soon discovered that it was more granulating. I fell in love with how it reacted with other pigments, particularly when I mix a pale neutral combining it with Transparent Red Oxide (my version of Burnt Sienna) and Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (my version of Raw Sienna).

I thought it would be fun to test the Schminke French Ultramarine against three other versions I have used in the past. The two versions by Daniel Smith as mentioned above and Winsor and Newton French Ultramarine.

The swatches of these three other versions were done with fresh paint, while the Schminke test was done using my current pan (dried tube paint).

It’s always hard to mix consistent washes when you do swatches like these (you can’t tell if the washes have exactly the same amount of pigment and water) but I did think at the time that maybe the fresh paint swatches would have an unfair advantage (more vibrant result due to a greater pigment load) but this was not the case.

Also the Schmincke swatch wasn’t pure (brush/pan not clean) so I tried again. Hmm, there still seems to be a trace of something in there (the golden edges in places) but at least it confirmed to me that the Schmincke French Ultramarine is not quite as vibrant as the other brand.

Anyway, I think you can see clearly why I’m in love with the Schmincke French Ultramarine! I don’t always go for the most granulating option (such as Turquoise) but for these mixes it’s what I’m after.

Note: I next want to revisit Aquarius’ version as I remember being really impressed with their version back in 2019 when I was extensively testing a lot of colours from this brand.

What brand of Ultramarine do you use?



  • Alison says:

    I love how the pigments separate a little bit in the mixes.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Me too Alison – I think pigment separation (what I call pigment party) is more exciting that just granulation

      • Regina Sielk says:

        Hi Liz,

        very interesting. As I often use ultramarine for mixing I prefer DS French Ultramarine and love it for being so pure. So the horadam would not be my favourite ?

        When I choose primary colours for mixing in a limited palette I only use colours with one pigment ,as I read they are better for mixing.

        Thank you for sharing your experiences

        Greetings from Germany


      • Liz Steel says:

        Hi Regina! Hope you are going well. I want to test the Sch once again … but if you want a purer colour the other options are better. I have more brands to test as well! 🙂

  • Hi Liz! Yes, I’d love to see your mixes with the French Ultramarine from Aquarius. I use 3 brands, Rembrandt, DS and Aquarius. I like the Aquarius French UM the better of the three. With DS I go for the normal UM, with Rembrandt the French one is more granulating than the normal one so I prefer it. Funny enough, my swatches for DS do not give me the same result as yours.. My DS swatches : UM is stronger than French UM, and French UM is a tad greener. I wonder if it is because I use the sticks?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Astrid – I have my Aquarius paint out at the moment so I will definitely test it. Interesting that you find the DS French greener… it’s supposed to be the other way… but really not much difference 🙂

  • Cindy Cali says:

    Greetings Liz…. what color is HYM?

  • Zoe says:

    As always educational and fun. I like the W&N clarity and use all three. W&N was recommended for florals in a course I followed.

  • Mihaela SAVU says:

    Hi, Liz
    Very interesting your insights, especially for me – not an advanced watercolour artist 🙂
    If you don’t mind, can you please tell me if there is a big difference, if any between DS tube colours and DS pan colours, I mean assuming that they are the same shades. I have DS only in pans, boxes of 15 colours and 12 colours and I am wandering if I should stay with them ir I should “upgrade “ to the tube version, which are quite more expensive than the pans. I guess, my question is actually two questions:-) Is the pigment the same in tubes and pans and is it as easy to work with either pans or tubes? Thank you very much!

  • Mihaela SAVU says:

    And I apologize that this question is not exactly on your today’s topic!

  • Terry James says:

    Another “Liztrick” to add to the growing list!

    I like that you are posting using the email distribution. Your’s are the emails that never get deleted to ensure inspiration is just an easy search away.

    You and Jane persuaded me into using DS paints. Nobody else does Monte, or Quin Gold like DS (still using some of the original version). But i still keep my old M. GRAHAMs for use in a pinch.

    Interested in your observations on the FUMB vs. UMB and brand. Likely this is an incentive to paint a bunch more to use up what I already have on hand before adding another blue!

  • Sharon says:

    Hi Liz! Is Schmincke’s Ultramarine Finest out because it’s not granulating? I prefer it for that reason. I’m studying botanical illustration so I prefer not to have my colors granulate, but I understand that you use granulating watercolors because it creates such dramatic skies.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sharon – sorry I missed your comment at the time. I don’t use Ultramarine Finest in everyday use as I want my Ultramarine to be granulating. But totally understand why it would be good for botanical. Thansk for reminding me about it!

  • Jamie A. says:

    These color and paint tests you do are always so wonderfully helpful! Certain aspects of Ultramarine frustrate me, including it getting too hard in the pan, and now I’m intrigued to try French Ultramarine instead. It may be just what I need!

  • Help!!
    I am posting here because this is a resent article and you are swatching both Daniel Smith and Winsor Newton
    I have just had the weirdest thing happen. I paint mostly with Winsor newton and/or Daniel Smith. I’ve never had a mixing problem until this morning. I was doing a 7 step mix between DS Ultramarine (PB29, purchased 2021) and WN Green Gold (PY129, purchased 2022).
    The DW Ultramarine didn’t granulate, it sort of flocked…formed weird very large partials, much larger than the granulation in the single pigment swatch.
    I re-did the 7 step swatch with WN Ultramarine (PB 29 gifted to me in the 90’s) and the WN Green Gold (PY129, purchased 2022). Some granulation, but the WN Ultra is not that granulating to start with.
    I have an earlier swatch DS PY 150 to DS PB 29 and no weird flocking.
    Oh, this is all on an Arches 140lb cold press paper.
    Any ideas?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Victoria – I have heard of other people having a similar flocking problem with DS Ultramarine – was it a new tube?

      • Victoria James says:

        The DS PB 29 was purchased in 2021, from Blick. I am guessing they move stock somewhat quickly. The WN PY129 was purchased 2021 in the fall from Jerry’s’

  • This drove me crazy.
    Here are some more pics, and info:
    I am not an accomplished watercolorist, but I’ve painted for along time, always mixing brands (that’s another story) and never experienced anything like this!
    I would appreciate any input you might have, Thanks

Leave a Reply