The Brightest Neon Watercolors I Could Find

Neon color mixes
Neon color mixes. The top row is Opera Pink; each column adds more and more of another color: Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine, and Cobalt Turquoise. Bottom right shows the mix of Lemon Yellow and Cobalt Turquoise making an electric mint.

I have a fondness for extreme bright neons, Lisa Frank style – the brighter the better! (This post is an antidote to my last post about grays.) One of my watercolor goals was to find a primary triad that was as bright and neon as possible.

Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Mission Gold – Brilliant Opera. This is the brightest Opera Pink I could find! Like most Opera Pinks, this is a combination of PR122 magenta and BV10 fluorescent pigment. The BV10 is fugitive, so eventually, exposed to sunlight, your Opera Pink will fade to PR122. If you want lightfast and/or single pigment paints, just skip the BV10 and pick up a bold PR122 magenta. My favorite is Holbein – Quinacridone Magenta.
  • Winsor & Newton – Winsor Lemon. I love Lemon Yellow (PY175) because it’s slightly green-toned (so a bit more “highlighter yellow” than your typical banana yellow), and it’s transparent so it glazes and mixes really well. The W&N version is the boldest PY175 I’ve found (Daniel Smith’s is much weaker, for example). However, more opaque pigments, such as Hansa Yellow Light (PY3), can be even bolder, and about the same hue. With the Opera Pink, both Lemon and Hansa Light make wonderful neon oranges.
  • Schmincke Horadam – Cobalt Turquoise. The most neon cyan, in my opinion, is Cobalt Turquoise (PG50). With Lemon Yellow, it makes the most neon mint colors possible! Schmincke Horadam’s version is the boldest and brightest I know. (Daniel Smith and Winsor Newton’s PG50s are weaker.) A limitation of PG50 is that it’s opaque so it has a limited range (doesn’t get that dark); if you want a color that gets darker, Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PB15:3) mixes wonderfully and makes nearly as neon colors.

All of these colors are fairly light and don’t get very dark, so an optional add-on that I enjoy for adding dark values is Ultramarine Blue (PB29), especially the deep or French varieties, which are sort of an electric violet-blue with lots of lovely granulation. (Many companies make great Ultramarines.) With the Opera Pink, violet-toned Ultramarine makes electric purples, and with the Cobalt Turquoise, it makes a brighter sky-blue than you’ll ever get from Cerulean.

Neon Palette
Full paintout of color mixes with Mission Gold Brilliant Opera, WN Winsor Lemon, SH Cobalt Turquoise, Holbein Ultramarine Deep.

The Ultramarine is a bit of a ‘spoiler’ in that its mixes with yellow are rather dull, but the purples from Ultramarine and Opera are unbeatably purple!

Here’s a psychedelic sunset painting I did with this neon palette.

Neon Skyscape

Tell me if you’ve come across other great neon colors!