Finding Lightfast Gouache Pigments

As I transition from a watercolor-only artist to watercolor-and-gouache, I’m finding that it’s harder to find lightfast pigments in gouache, even in professional/artist lines. I love Holbein and Winsor & Newton’s gouache, but I’ve seen so many pigments in their lines with super-low ASTM lightfastness ratings – not just the typical fluorescents (which are also much more widespread in gouache), but stuff like PR1 or PR60 that are uncommon in watercolor because they’re notoriously fugitive. What gives?

Does lightfastness matter in gouache?

First, you’ll have to decide if lightfastness matters to you at all. If you’re making practice pieces destined for the recycle bin; if you post things on social media right after you make them and don’t care what happens to the original; or if you work primarily in sketchbooks that stay closed, it might not be something you need to care about. To be honest, all of the above mostly describe me, but I like to hold out the possibility of framing my artwork and hanging in a sunny room, gifting it, or even selling it at some point, and I don’t want to have to pick and choose colors based on my intended future use for the painting.

Note that some pigments that are considered iffy in watercolor are actually more lightfast in gouache. This is true of pigments that tend to be lightfast in masstone but fugitive in dilute. In gouache, you are less likely to paint tints by diluting, instead you’ll add white. Since you’re using or mixing the paint at full strength, it’s always masstone, so it’s more lightfast. This includes pigments such as PY74 (Brilliant Hansa Yellow), PY84 (Diarylide Yellow), and PR176 (Benzimidazolone Carmine).

However, other pigments are fugitive no matter what strength they’re painted at. This includes the fluorescents and anything with an ASTM rating of IV. I’ve found plenty of these in gouache catalogues, even colors with more lightfast alternatives available. They’re not necessarily cheaper tubes than lightfast pigments, either.

Why is this? I wonder if people find gouache a more inherently temporary medium because the paint can be reactivated, or because it cracks if you apply it too thickly and bend the paper. But if you paint in thin layers and treat the final product with respect, it’s my understanding that gouache can last just as well as any other painting.

It also seems to be true that people simply don’t tend to take it seriously as a medium; they think of it as a way of throwing together quick designs, or a craft project, rather than a fine art medium. This reputation feels undeserved to me! Gouache is extremely versatile and can be used with similar techniques as acrylics, or a combination of acrylic and watercolor. Then again, watercolor also used to be considered a non-serious medium, so maybe gouache is the next to be rehabilitated.

Lightfast Pigments List

It’s not impossible to source lightfast pigments in gouache: they’re just a bit harder to find.

I compared the catalogs of five top gouache lines – Holbein Artists’ Gouache, Winsor & Newton Designers’ Gouache, Schmincke Horadam Gouache, M. Graham Artists’ Gouache, and Daniel Smith Extra Fine Gouache – to bring you this list of decently-lightfast paints. I’ve limited myself to single pigment paints for simplicity, but many mixes are also lightfast (e.g. M Graham’s Payne’s Gray is a mix of PB29 and PBk9; Holbein’s Brilliant Pink is a mix of PR209 and PW6).

PigmentHolbein ArtistWN DesignerSchmincke H.M GrahamDaniel Smith
PW4/PW5Zinc White (PW5)Zinc White (PW5)Zinc White (PW4)Zinc White (PW4)
PW6Primary White, Perm. White, White (Irodori)Perm. WhiteTitanium WhiteTitanium WhiteTitanium White, Buff Titanium
PY3Lemon Yellow, Lemon (Irodori)Lemon YellowLemon YellowHansa YellowHansa Yellow Light
PY184Vanadium Yellow
PY35Cad. Yellow Lemon, Cad. YellowCad. Lemon, Cad. Yellow PaleCad. Yellow Light, Cad. Yellow MiddleCad. Yellow Light, Cad. Yellow
PY151Azo Yellow
PY154Cad. Yellow Tone
PY74Canola Yellow (Irodori)Spectrum YellowHansa Yellow Medium
PY65Perm. Yellow DeepHansa Yellow Deep
PY153Indian Yellow
PY83Marigold
PO20Cad. Yellow OrangeCad. Yellow Deep, Cad. OrangeCad. Orange
PO62Cad. Orange Tone
PO73Pyrrol Orange
PR255Vermilion TonePyrrol Scarlet
PR242Cad. Red Tone
PR108Cad. Red, Cad. Red Deep, Cad. Red PurpleCad. Red, Cad. ScarletCad. Red Light, Cad. Red Middle, Cad. Red DeepCad. Red Light
PR254Scarlet (Irodori)Winsor RedScarlet RedPyrrol Red
PR209Quin. Red
PR176Perm. Alizarin Crimson
PV19 RosePerm. RoseCarmineQuin. Rose
PR122Primary Magenta, Rose VioletQuin. MagentaPurple MagentaQuin. Magenta
PV19B VioletQuin VioletQuin. Violet
PV23Winsor VioletVioletDiox. Purple
PB29Ultramarine Light, Ultramarine Deep, Ultramarine (Irodori)Ultramarine, Ultramarine (Green Shade)Ultramarine Deep, Ultramarine LightUltramarine BlueUltramarine Blue
PB60Deft Blue, Dark Blue Indigo
PB28Cobalt BlueCobalt BlueCobalt BlueCobalt Blue LightCobalt Blue
PB15Primary Cyan, Pure BlueIntense Blue, Winsor Blue, Primary BlueHelio BluePhthalo Blue
PB35 or PB36Cerulean Blue (PB35)Cerulean Blue (PB35)Cerulean Blue (PB36)
PB16Helio Turquoise
PG7Phthalo Green, Patina (Irodori)Winsor GreenHelio Green BluishPhthalo Green
PG36Helio Green Yellowish
PG17Oxide of ChromiumChromium Oxide Green
PG50Cobalt TurquoiseCobalt Turquoise LightCobalt Turquoise (Limited Edition)
PBr24Naples Yellow DeepTitianium Gold Ochre
PY42 or PY43Yellow Ochre (PY42)Yellow Ochre (PY43)Yellow Ochre (PY42)
PR101Russet Brown (Irodori), Iron Oxide Red (Irodori)English RedIndian Red
PBr7Raw Umber, Burnt UmberRaw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Burnt UmberRaw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber
PR179Perylene Maroon
PV29Perylene Violet
PBk31Perylene Black
PBk6Ivory BlackIvory BlackIvory BlackLamp Black
PBk7Primary Black
PBk9Lamp BlackLamp Black