Color Spotlight: Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PB15:3)

Daniel Smith – Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)

Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) uses PB15:3, a green-toned variant of phthalocyanine blue PB15. (There is also a more middle blue variant, Phthalo Blue (Red Shade), which uses pigment PB15:1 or PB15:6. See my post, What’s the difference between Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) and Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)?)

Every major manufacturer offers some variant of this pigment, and mostly they share some characteristics, like being bright, bold, and highly staining. Daniel Smith’s version is even more bold than usual/than the rest of its line, so expect LOTS of color from this paint! It’s super-vibrant and actually kind of hard to mix because it has a tendency to overwhelm whatever mix it’s in.

Experiment Results

Graded Wash: I just love the depth of color you get from this shade; almost navy blue in mass but when it’s diluted it’s just the loveliest glowing cyan, perfect for the sky on a clear summer day. In between it goes through a blue that rivals PB16 for how turquoise-toned it gets.

Opacity & Glazing: Truly transparent with an even deeper blue, almost black glaze.

Lifting: I added a new test for the blues: on the right side of the page, I did a wet-on-wet flat wash and lifted out a cloud using crumpled paper towel while it was still wet. Given Phthalo Blue’s reputation for staining, I was pleased with how easy it was and how cleanly it lifted.

[EDIT 3/29/2022]
Lifting 2: I’ve since learned that I did the lifting test wrong… or at least, incompletely. One way of lifting is the way I did it above – using a dry paper towel while the paint is still wet. Another way is to use a wet paper towel when the paint is dry. I did another test of Phthalo Blue Green Shade, both ways.

Lifting Tests: Wet Paint, Dry Paper Towel vs. Dry Paint, Wet Paper Towel

You can see that both methods work but create different results. The wet paint method creates a hard-edged cloud while the dry paint method creates a small, diffuse-edged cloud. Both methods leave behind a bit of blue speckling in the white. Again, I was pleasantly surprised that Phthalo Blue Green Shade lifted better than I expected in both methods.

Comparison to Other Brands

Here are some other brands’ single-pigment PB15:3 (or PB15 “green/yellow” shade) paint.

Da Vinci – Phthalo Blue

Da Vinci – Phthalo Blue

Though it is simply called “Phthalo Blue”, this is actually a 15:3 green shade. (Da Vinci does also offer a Red Shade.) Grades nicely, and it’s not quite as wildly dark as Daniel Smith’s. You can still get a dark shade from it but you have to try, unlike DS’s where it’s super-easy to do it accidentally. Makes nice bright mixes.

Holbein – Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade

Holbein – Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade

Very similar to Da Vinci’s offering. This one gets dark but not too dark, grades easily and is pleasant to use.

Winsor & Newton – Winsor Blue

Winsor & Newton – Winsor Blue (PB15:3)

Also extremely similar to the others. Maybe I just did a good job on this paintout, but I’m pleased with this nice, cheerful color and gorgeous gradient. Again, this one gets quite dark without getting as wildly dark as the DS one.

Schmincke Horadam – Helio Cerulean

Schmincke Horadam – Helio Cerulean

Schmincke’s PB15:3 is a lot less strong than the others I tried (or else I just failed to get deep color out of it). It was actually quite difficult for me to get a dark shade without glazing. I think they tried to make it more in line with the other colors by lowering the pigment ratio. This may make it easier to work with, especially if you use it as a sky color, but to me it’s less versatile if you can’t get those dark darks.

It’s confusing to me that they called it “cerulean” when that’s traditionally an entirely different pigment.

Mission Gold – Cerulean

Mission Gold – Cerulean (PB15:3)

An even more shameless use of the word “Cerulean,” without any qualifiers or even the word “Hue.” Another typical PB15:3, highly tinting but not as wildly so as DS.

Color Mixes

The main trick to mixing with Phthalo Blue is to be careful to add very little of the blue so it doesn’t overwhelm the other colors.

Lemon Yellow

Lemon Yellow + Phthalo Blue
Winsor Lemon (PY175) + Holbein Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:30 on Arches

Very bright and bold teals!

Rich Green Gold

Range of muted, granulating greens and turquoises.

Rich Green Gold + Phthalo Blue
Daneil Smith Rich Green Gold (PY129) + Da Vinci Phthalo Blue (PB15:3) on a Wonder Forest sketchbook

Lush, vibrant landscape greens and slightly muted turquoises.

Perylene Maroon

Perylene Maroon + Phthalo Blue
Daler Rowney Perylene Maroon (PR179) + Da Vinci Phthalo Blue (PB15:3) on Wonder Forest paper

Wide range of bold colors from reddish-peach through warm brown through gray to muted blues. Lovely combination for portraiture or oceanscapes.

Quin Rose

Quin Rose + Phthalo Blue
DV Red Rose Deep (PV19) + Holbein Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3) on Arches

For such a greenish blue, PBGS makes reasonable purples (though not as stellar as the purples with a more purpley blue like Ultramarine).

Indanthrone Blue

Phthalo Blue + Indanthrone Blue
Holbein Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3) + DS Indanthrone Blue (PB60) on Arches

Mix a true navy or deep-blue evening sky color. The gradient is also nice for a night sky that turns bright along the horizon.

Ultramarine Blue

Phthalo Blue + Ultramarine Blue
Holbein Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3) + Holbein Ultramarine Deep (PB29) on Arches

Similar value blues, but Ultramarine is more purpley (and granulating). The mix is a middle blue with granulation floating on top and staining light value aqua from the Phthalo Blue in the background.

Phthalo Green

DV Phthalo Green (PG7) + HO Phthalo Blue Yellow Shade (PB15:3) on Arches

The brightest, boldest, deepest peacock blues and teals!


A wonderfully color-packed and versatile blue with a ton of use cases:

  • Broad-value cyan in a Magenta/Yellow/Cyan primary trio, perfect for modern illustration
  • Mixes clean crisp greens with any yellow
  • Mixes nice purples with a cool red/magenta (even though it’s green-toned!)
  • Lovely glowing horizon sky color
  • Mute-able with an earthy red-orange, like Perylene Maroon or Deep Scarlet

In addition to finding it useful, I also just really like it! Green-blue is one of my favorite colors and I love vibrant, bold brights.

This color also has downsides:

  • It is is so strong that it can be difficult to mix without totally subsuming the other color. (Especially in the DS formulation.)
  • It’s extremely staining, so it can be difficult to lift (i.e. for clouds).
  • Its boldness can also have an “artificial” look meaning you have to mix it with muting colors before splashing it in a landscape if you want the overall color palette to be naturalistic. It’s not a “convenience” color unless you’re painting in a very bright palette.

I used this color in every palette I built (as my base primary cyan) for my first year+ of painting, but after challenging myself to build a palette without it, I did find myself leaning on and loving lots of other blues; e.g. Prussian Blue for dark green-blue tones, and diluted Cobalt Blue for skies. Mixing Ultramarine Blue and Cerulean Blue is another sky option, or even adding Cobalt Turquoise on the horizon. At various times, I also flirted with swapping out PBGS for other phthalos, such as Phthalo Turquoise or Phthalo Blue (Red Shade).

However, ultimately I did return to adding PBGS back to my palette. It is just so handy and useful, happy and cheerful, and brighter than any other blue!

On my palette? Yes!

Favorite brand: There’s not a huge difference between the brands, but right now I’m rocking Winsor Blue.

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