Watercolour Black Compared

Here's a comparison of different black watercolour paint available from Daniel Smith.


We have

I've included a few greys just for comparison.


At a glance, it's pretty clear the greys I've included have a cooler colour temperature. Note that Daniel Smith has released many greys a few months or a year ago so there will be greys that are warmer.

The four blacks are surprisingly neutral. Maybe there's a hint of a warmer temperature with Ivory Black but it's difficult to tell unless you compare it with other blacks side by side.

Lamp Black (PBk6
Lamp Black is made from residual soot of burned fat, oil, tar, or resin. It gets its name from the soot of oil lamps. The pigments here are very fine and there's no noticeable granulation.

Lunar Black (Pbk11)
Lunar Black is sometimes called Mars Black. Mars Black is an iron oxide pigment developed in the 20th century. The pigment is ferrous and is supposed to react to magnets. This paint granulates heavily and looks very similar to Sumi Ink.

Ivory Black PBk9
Ivory Black is made from charred ivory but more likely from charred bone. The granulation is very fine and almost not noticeable.

Black Tourmarine
Tourmarine is a semi-precious gemstone that's available in different colours. It kinda looks like Ivory Black but with more noticeable granulation.

Neutral Tint
Due to the PV19 in the mix, there's a slight violet tint to this colour.

Sodalite Genunie
This is sort of the cooler version of Lunar Black. Granulation is intense.

Payne's Gray
This is a cool gray that looks black when used in concentration.

Jane's Gray
This is a convenient mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.


I don't have a black in my palette, nor do I use black often. The only black that I use often is actually WN's Liquid India Ink which is actually Sumi Ink. Yes, it's confusing to have India Ink used interchangeably with Sumi Ink.

Sumi Ink is ink made by grinding Chinese Ink sticks. These inks are heavily granulating. When used with Chinese brush, the brush strokes and ink work together to produce a very textural look.

Blacks or the grays can be used for quick tonal studies. Below are some sketches I've painted over the years with selected paint featured above.


Payne's Gray


This was painted with a mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. When you mix your own blacks, you have the option to push the colour towards the colours you use for mixing. In this case, I can make the wash look more blue or warmer.


Graphite PBk10 is a gray that's can get very dark but not black. If you look at your graphite pencil, which is already concentrated graphic, you'll notice that it's not black too.


This was painted on a Stillman & Birn sketchbook that has warm, creamy paper. The result looks warm even though Sodalite, as you see in the swatch above, looks like a cool colour.


And this was painted with Sumi Ink.

I guess I can get the same look from Lunar Black. There are differences between Lunar Black and Sumi Ink but it's really a difference of medium. Ink comes in bottles which are not as easy to bring around, and it's easier to use it with an eye dropper. Ink can dissolve very easily with water. Paint in tubes is easier to bring around but not as easy or quick to dissolve compared to ink. In terms of value for money, you can probably get more mileage from a large bottle of Sumi Ink.

I don't use black and grays to mix shadows. I find that they kill the vibrancy of the mix very easily. It's always best to mix your shadows from primary colours.

Let me know in the comments section if you use black and what type of subjects you normal paint with black. I'm interested to hear from you.

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3 Comments

I love the grainy blacks, and

I love the grainy blacks, and enjoy Lunar Black and Black Tourmaline, regularly. But for those times when I want _smooth_ & neutral black, thank you for reminding me that Lamp Black is a cheap & cheerful 'go to'. :^)

I thought this thread is for

I thought this thread is for me! Daniel Smith blacks. How cool. I am amazed to find that I only have two that you mentioned here. I love my Daniel Smith blacks: Hematite with it’s lovely tan under wash, Bloodstone genuine with it’s soft pink undertone. I also include Shadow Violet with my blacks because it looks that way even though it’s more grey. I do not really mix shadows from primaries as you said here. I have been looking at Brenda Swanson’s shadows and she drops in complimentary colors in her shadows and I think that looks so super. I have struggled with shadows before, but not after looking at Brenda’s paintings. I love you fourth sketch here, Teoh, because of the granulation. Beautiful color here. These are of Singapore, aren’t they? I would like Singapore because I ride a scooter too. Too dangerous to ride in large cities here in California, The trucks and cars run me off the road. I am blessed to live in a small town. I like to check in here with you, Parka, even though the books and digital devices don’t interest me. Warmest regards to your wee baby and family.

Thanks for the review! I must

Thanks for the review! I must say I find "Jane's grey" a little bit annoying - or at least the marketing around it. Calling the most common mix ever "unique in the market" and naming it after oneself is a tad over the top. Like people had never thought of premixing those two before into a pan. Especially if you're going to splurge on DS paint (very expensive where I live), I'll make sure it's not made of two pigments I already have on my palette!

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