You know I love a dot card, and I recently tried out the dot card for Van Gogh. Van Gogh is a student-grade brand by the Dutch company Royal Talens, which also makes the professional grade brand Rembrandt. Along with from Winsor & Newton’s Cotman line, Van Gogh is the other student grade brand that is often recommended, and I thought I’d check it out to see if (1) I should be recommending it to others and (2) I might want to consider supplementing my pro-grade collection with some student-grade paints if they are nice and/or unusual enough!
Here are my hot takes! I put a star (⭐) next to the ones I especially liked.
Single Pigment Warms: Yellow, Orange, Red, Magenta, Violet
I started by swatching out the colors I most interested in, which were the single-pigment ones.
Permanent Lemon (PY184): AKA Bismuth Vanadate Yellow. This is an unusual choice for a cool yellow. Hansa or Imidazolone colors are more common and, in my opinion, nicer. I find this pigment a bit too chalky/milky. I prefer Cotman’s choice of PY175.
Transparent Yellow Medium (PY128): Also an unusual pigment, Azo Condensation Yellow.. Overall I liked this. It’s a bright middle yellow, and it’s transparent. My main problem with this color is that it looks dull in the palette, but it looks nice on the page. Art Toolkit’s Explore Colors palette, which uses VG colors, has this as its main yellow, and I think that’s a good choice.
⭐ Indian Yellow (PY83): A nice super-bright and clean orange-yellow. This is the same pigment as one of my favorite gouaches, Holbein Marigold. It’s a rare pigment these days in pro watercolor lines, probably because it is not as lightfast as the very similar PY65. Still, I think this is a good choice for a student grade paint.
⭐ Pyrrole Orange (PO73): Nice and bold, easy to paint out. I don’t see a huge different from pro versions of this paint. A good choice.
⭐ Permanent Red Light (PR255): Also a surprisingly good pigment for a student line, same as Pyrrol Scarlet. I found this slightly dull compared to DS’s version of PR255, but overall really good for the price.
Madder Lake Deep (PR264): The same pigment as DS Pyrrol Crimson, but I found this version of it a bit weak/watery compared to the previous two pyrrol paints, which painted out so nicely. I had to take a few passes to get a deep color.
⭐ Carmine (PR176): I really liked this one; it would be my pick for a cool red or magenta in this line. It painted out nice and juicy. Like PY83, PR176 is a bit rarer in pro lines because it is not as lightfast as similar colors that can be made from PV19, but it’s still rated “good” (not fugitive) and lightfastness may not be something you care about as a student.
Quinacridone Rose (PV19): I found this disappointing! It was so weak, and I know Quin Rose doesn’t have to be like that. Unfortunately, Art Toolkit picked this as the rose in their Explore Colors set – I’d have gone with Carmine. If you want a student grade PV19 rose specifically, I’d go with Cotman Permanent Rose.
Permanent Red Violet (PV19): This was a better run at PV19. In hue, it is somewhere between a quin rose and a quin violet; it reminded me of Quin Fuchsia (usually made with PR202). Similar to Cotman’s Purple Lake (though I still think I might like that one better).
⭐ Permanent Blue Violet (PV23): A good dioxazine violet with a nice hue and intensity. Less wildly intense than pro versions, but since this is such a super-high tinting strength pigment usually, I think it’s actually a benefit that it’s a bit restrained. It’s easier to use than pro grade versions and matches other colors’ intensity more.
Single Pigment Cools: Violet, Blue, Green, Black
⭐ Quinacridone Purple Red (PV55): Van Gogh has two versions of Quinacridone Purple (PV55), a red shade and a blue shade. The red shade looks more like what I’m used to Quinacridone Violet (PV19) looking like. I like it!
Quinacridone Purple Blue (PV55): This is the hue I’m used to PV55 having, and I don’t like it as much as the red shade, though this is subjective. They seem to paint out about the same in terms of tinting strength and overall qualities.
Ultramarine Blue Deep (PB29): I found this pretty weak for an ultramarine blue, as well as being slightly on the dull side and more violet than I prefer. I would opt for either Cotman or professional grade for this one. It’s one of the cheaper pro colors, and I think it’s pretty important to get it right.
⭐ Phthalo Blue (PB15): As with Diox Violet, I found this slightly less high-tinting than a pro grade Phthalo, but I also didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. It’s a very usable color. This is a royal blue shade with cyan undertones, somewhere between the hue I am used to for Phthalo Blue Green Shade and Phthalo Blue Red Shade.
⭐ Prussian Blue (PB27): Seems like a totally serviceable Prussian Blue, pretty similar to Rembrandt’s and other brands I’ve tried.
Viridian (PG7): Van Gogh has two versions of PG7. Viridan seems to be a deliberately weakened version, likely to mimic genuine Viridian (PG18). I wouldn’t go for this – it’s worst of both worlds.
⭐ Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7): This is a typical PG7. Looks good.
⭐ Azo Green (PY129): This is a color I really like that is quite rare in student grade! Known as Green Gold in other lines (or Rich Green Gold by Daniel Smith), it’s a fun, bizarre, luminous green-toned yellow that mixes very nice greens (indeed, VG uses it in their Sap Green mix).
Oxide Black (PBk11): Granulating black (equivalent to DS Lunar Black.) I found it a bit weak.
Ivory Black (PBk9): Fairly typical of this color – opaque black in masstone, warm gray in tints, slightly weaker than I wanted it to be. Fine if you want a single pigment black, but I think I’d go for a mix like Payne’s Gray or Neutral Tint.
This page contains both single-pigment and multi-pigment earth tones, since I ran out single pigment ones to swatch.
⭐ Yellow Ochre (PY42): Similar hue to Holbein’s Yellow Ochre, which is also synthetic yellow oxide. I like it, and it’s definitely VG’s best earth yellow. Note that VG’s info lists this as transparent, but it’s definitely opaque (as is typical of this pigment.)
Raw Sienna (PY42): I usually like RS, but VG’s is just a weak version of their Yellow Ochre. Totally misses the point of Raw Sienna.
⭐ Burnt Sienna (PR101): This is actually a Transparent Red Oxide, which is my preferred earth orange. I like this a lot. It’s a bright, very orangey shade, reminiscent of Quin Burnt Orange, but smooth and nongranulating. I could do a lot with this pigment.
⭐ Light Oxide Red (PR101): A redder shade than Burnt Sienna, somewhere between a typical Venetian Red and Indian Red. I think this could be a very useful color for mixing. It’s low-granulation, and has a nice coral tint color. Reminds me of Cotman Light Red. (Again, the printed material erroneously lists this as transparent. It’s definitely not as housepaint-like as Indian Red, but I’d call this at least semi-opaque.)
⭐ Burnt Umber (PBr7): A nice single pigment middle brown. Totally serviceable Burnt Umber. I think this is a useful shade because it’s neither orangey nor yellowy nor bluey – just brown.
Raw Umber (PBr7, PY42): Traditionally Raw Umbers are yellowish formulations of PBr7, but this appears to be just a mix of Burnt Umber and Yellow Ochre. It’s fine but you could DIY it. Still, it’s a reasonable color for tree trunks, and looks nicer dry than it did wet.
Titanium Buff (PW6, PBr7): While some Titanium Buffs are made from unbleached white pigment, this is apparently just a mix of white pigment with a bit of brown. A very little bit of brown, since it is hardly visible. Granted my paper was slightly ivory, but this paint seemed to be be the exact same shade. Just get white, is my thinking.
Naples Yellow Red (PY42, PO43): A mix of yellow ochre and orange to form a sort of peach color that doesn’t get very dark. This is much more orangey and less yellow than the Naples Yellow hue that I enjoy using in sunsets. It seems like it was formulated as a shortcut to light skin tones, but I think if you’re painting portraits you should mix your own specific shades.
Although I prioritized painting out the single-pigment paints that I thought would be most likely to appeal to me, I ended up deciding to paint out a bunch (most) of the mixed paints as well to see if I liked any from there.
Azo Yellow Light, Medium, and Deep: These are various mixes of PY154, orange, and white (PW6). First off, if they have access to Imidazolone Yellow, why didn’t they offer it as a single pigment paint???? That would have been my pick for sure! Oh well. Second, I’m annoyed that all of these contain PW6. You can tell! They’re weirdly milky and chalky. Do not like.
Gamboge (PY154, PO48): Weirdly weak. I recommend mixing your own from Transparent Yellow and Burnt Sienna instead.
⭐ Permanent Orange (PY154, PO73): This is kind of a nice middle orange. You can mix it yourself from yellow and Pyrrol Orange. But I like both of the components, and I think it’s a handy and fun shade to have.
⭐ Vermilion (PR255, PO73): I actually quite like this scarlet. While you can mix it yourself from paints offered by VG (Pyrrol Orange and Permanent Red Light), I actually think it has a nicer hue than either of its components. I also think it would be unusual to put together a palette with both Pyrrol Orange and Pyrrol Scarlet, since they’re kind of similar, so this is a nice compromise that takes the best from both. I might suggest having this instead of either of its components. Weird huh???
Permanent Red Deep (PR149): Whoops, this is a single pigment paint that I forgot to include above! However, PR149 is not a lightfast pigment, so I’m still not sure if I’d recommend it. This painted out a bit watery. I also don’t find fire engine red to be a useful color, though some do. Generally this is one I’d miss.
⭐ Lavender (PB29, PV15, PW6): The same formula is uses to make lavender in the pro grade lines. I think PV15, which is otherwise not offered by VG, adds a nice level of granulation and violetiness to this. I like this just as much (if not more) than pro grade lavenders. Though it contains white, it doesn’t look too chalky. This can be a useful shade for distant hills or shadows.
Cobalt Blue (PB29, PW6): A hue made from Ultramarine Blue and white. Kind of looks like real cobalt, but also, you could just use Ultramarine.
⭐ Cerulean Blue (PB15, PW6): A mix of Phthalo Blue and white. Many brands offer something like this as their ‘cerulean hue.’ It doesn’t resemble genuine cerulean at all, but it can nonetheless be useful as a sky blue. More cyan-colored and pastel than Phthalo Blue, this painted out nicely with high strength, and I can see it being a pleasant color to paint with (though personally I’d DIY mix.)
⭐ Indigo (PB15, PBk6): A nice dark blue with high strength. This could be useful for dark greens and shadows, especially since this line does not contain Indanthrone Blue.
⭐ Turquoise Blue (PB15, PG7): A very pretty color similar to PB16, though it’s definitely mixable if you get both Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green. A high-strength, pleasant mixout.
Turquoise Green (PB29, PG7): Can’t say the same for Turquoise Green, which was insanely weak.
Permanent Green Light & Permanent Green Deep (PY154, PG7): Bright middle greens made from mixes of Phthalo Green and Imidazolone Yellow. This is a very on-the-nose, primary-school type green that is not very natural for landscapes.
Overflow: Green & Neutral
Here are some more mixes in green & neutral colors.
Hooker’s Green Light, Hooker’s Green Dark (PG7, PY154): Another mix of Phthalo Green and Imidazolone Yellow (PY154). Somehow, these are bit more naturalistic-looking than the Permanent Greens. The Light shade is a bit more yellowy and the Deep shade is a bit more bluey. IDK I wouldn’t buy these because they’re so easy to mix from yellow and PG7, but if you feel like your set needs a very basic green, they’re fine.
⭐ Sap Green (PG7, PY129): I really like this sap green and it’s a way that I would mix the shade myself. With that said, if you get Phthalo Green and Azo Green (both of which I recommend), you can mix the shade yourself.
Olive Green (PG7, PBr7): Feels very weak. Not recommended.
Van Dyke Brown (PBk6, PR101): A very dark brown. I’d probably go for one of the other browns over this.
⭐ Payne’s Gray (PBk6, PV19): I like this! It’s a nice dark gray with a bit of a blue tint that had nice high tinting strength and could be used in place of a black. I personally enjoy having a Payne’s Gray in my palette. Some PGs are granulating, but this one is not. I suspect the listed ingredients are wrong for this. I’m not sure how this looks so blue if it’s really just black and violet, but okay.
Davy’s Gray (PBk11, PG7, PBr7): A light gray-green. Despite having high-tinting ingredients, it’s been nerfed to be deliberately weak. I don’t get it.
Neutral Tint: Said to have the same ingredients as Payne’s Gray, but with a warmer hue so that it’s less blueish and more, well, neutral. I found it also slightly weaker. My personal preference is for Payne’s.
This dot card did its job! I came in having no idea which colors I’d go for in this line, and came away with a really solid opinion about which colors are worth it. In addition to starring my favorites above, I also noted them in my post Single-Brand Watercolor Palette Ideas.
While I’m not sure I’ll personally add any VG paints to my collection, since already own an overfull library of professional grade paints, I think VG is a very solid student-grade brand from which to select suggestions and gifts, especially for kids and beginners who may prefer to learn on a relatively inexpensive, all-nontoxic line of student grade paints.