Mash up Tools: Holbein Artist Watercolors Review

My Prang watercolor set was on the brink of complete consumption, so one day, I decided to do some online shopping for pigments. I’ve been hearing the Holbein brand from a few of the popular art/creative bloggers and  makers in Manila so I decided to get a set of gouache and watercolor paint sets together with a travel painting palette. I bought my Holbein watercolor set from Amazon for $24.75.


Before researching on the Holbein brand, I initially thought it was a European company taking after Hans Holbein from Germany. Turns out, Holbein was established in Osaka Japan since the 1900’s. That explains why it’s cheaper in Japan. I realized it too late when the set was brought by my sister from the US and when we checked out Lemon Gasui in Tokyo, it’s actually a few hundred pesos cheaper in comparison. Oh well, I can’t seem to have enough art materials anyway, so there’s always room for hoarding. Maybe on my next visit to Japan!

Of course I couldn’t wait to try out the pigments when they arrived, so I started with prepping the palette and added labels on each swell. I first experimented with the Holbein Artists Watercolor Set of 12, 5ml tubes and doodled aimlessly just to see how well they register on watercolor paper.

The Sampling:

So I have 4 watercolor sets being used in rotation these last several months:

  • HW – Holbein Watercolor
  • HG – Holbein Gouache
  • PW – Prang Watercolor
  • SK – Sakura Koi Watercolor

When I started sampling, I lined up the same shades side by side just to see the differences. Now each set has its advantages and disadvantages so I will just focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the Holbein Watercolor brand. I tried as much as possible to load the brushes with the same amount of water and pigmentation to ensure that consistency is achieved somehow.

Notice how smooth HW – Permanent green is compared to SK – green! There’s little granularity in most of their pigments.


  •  Dissolvability – coming out from the tube, the paints are of course moist and it’s so easy to mix it with water and achieve the right amount of paint + water ratio. But even when the paint has dried, it wasn’t difficult  to load the brush with color.
  • Smoothness and consistent finish – Compared to the Sakura Koi brand, Holbein watercolors have a smoother finish as there is consistency on the flat washes and the texture of the paper isn’t as obvious. This may have something to do with the granularity of the pigments as it is definitely finer compared to Sakura Koi and Prang.
  • Vibrance and intensity – The colors are of course lighter when dry, as expected but the colors are really intense and they really pop out in my paintings. The colors in the set of 12 are mostly primary colors and I especially love Vermilion and Viridian in this set.
  • Mix of opaque and transparent colors – I found that the warm colors are more opaque than the cool colors, perhaps this is just my own observation. The greens and blues tend to be transparent although I can imagine how this can be useful to paintings. Permanent yellow is the most opaque in the set, while the Prussian blue required more layers.
  • Highly pigmented – A little goes a really long way and I have not used up the squirt on my palette after several paintings. I love making graded washes using Holbein as the ombre effect is really apparent from dark to light.
  • Compared to the Holbein gouache set, the water colors are much better for travel because even if they dry in my travel palette, they remain very moist yet still solid. So even when being tossed around inside your bag, the paint doesn’t crack. I experienced paint cracking with Holbein gouache but that’s a different story.
Palette at the top is hobein gouache and you can see obvious cracking whilst the watercolors remain dewy and moist even after sitting openly in the palette for hours


I only bought the set of 12 to first test out the pigments so I have a limited palette. That said, I guess that can be considered a disadvantage. For instance, they have Crimson Lake as the deepest red and the next red available hue is Vermilion which is almost red orange. I couldn’t find a proper neutral red within the set so I went back to use another shade from Holbein gouache to get the right color into my painting. I also I tried to create a purple hue using the colors in the set of 12 but I wasn’t able to achieve the right mix (tried cobalt blue with crimson lake, but again, the reds and blues were too deep) so I still went back to prang and sakura koi for a brighter shade of purple. I know this limitation has nothing to do with the brand itself, but by the fact that I only have 12 colors in my current set. Holbein has a wide range of colors (Total of 108) being sold individually. They also have a set of 18 and 24.

The Holbein Watercolor set of 12 has the following colors:

  1. Crimson Lake
  2. Vermilion
  3. Yellow Ochre
  4. Permanent Yellow Light
  5. Permanent Green
  6. Viridian
  7. Cobalt Blue Hue
  8. Prussian Blue
  9. Burnt Sienna
  10. Burnt Umber
  11. Black

Here’s a sample of my work using Holbein Watercolors

This Sinulog Fiesta painting was colored using mosly of Holbein watercolors. I used a mix of holbein yellow ochre and flesh from Sakura Koi for the skin tones.
I used Daler Rowney white acrylic artist’s ink for the girl’s clothing and for highlighting some areas with white. For the Sto. Nino’s garb, I used Holbein gouache in Flame Red.

All in all, I think Holbein watercolors are artist-grade art materials and I definitely recommend the Holbein brand to anyone who wants to try it! Warning though, if you start with the set of 12, you’ll probably buy more paints for more choices, so the set of 18 is probably a more versatile set to start with.

Holbein Watercolors can be bought locally at Pens Galore

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