I’ve heard only good things about Da Vinci Paints line of watercolors, so since I’m a sucker for trying something new, I reached out to them and asked Da Vinci if I could take their paints for a test drive.
Da Vinci kindly sent me one of their sample dot palettes which I immediately put to good use. And wow! I was floored by how beautifully these paints performed in my hand.
Da Vinci watercolors rewet easily, flow well, work well on a variety of papers, and offer plenty of color choices.
In fact, this is one of the easiest reviews I’ve ever written because I’ve found very little not to like about these paints. These are exceptional watercolors at a fantastic price. What’s not to love?
I’ve tested Da Vinci paints nonstop for more than a month now, so it’s time for a full review! Below, I share my experiences with these watercolors along with their pros and cons. I also share swatches of color comparisons and palette possibilities.
And oh yes, there are also two giveaways! Continue reading to learn more...
About Da Vinci Watercolors
Though Da Vinci paints have been around for nearly a century, the official Southern California company was established sometime around 1975. Da Vinci is independently owned by the grandchild of the original founder and produces a range of products including watercolors, acrylics, and oils along with painting mediums and more.
Da Vinci currently offers 111 colors of watercolor and 71 of these are single-pigment shades, not counting 6 iridescents. Their tubes come in a standard 15 ml size, but DV also offers many of their watercolors in a value-oriented 37 ml size.
In addition to very affordable watercolor sets and other watercolorish things like mediums and signature colors, Da Vinci also sells an extremely handy tester palette filled with 24 popular colors. It contains enough standard colors to complete at least 2-3 paintings with plenty of paint colors leftover.
[I am proud to say that I am now an affiliate partner with Da Vinci Paint Co. Shopping via the links above helps support this website, so thanks!]
First Impressions of Da Vinci Watercolors
Da Vinci watercolors squeeze perfectly into pans and have a nice, creamy consistency. When painting, they flow nicely on a page but are easy to control. Granulation and transparency are typical with most of the pigments that I tested. Not too many colors shocked or surprised me which is very nice!
These watercolors also dilute beautifully and mix well with each other and other brands. Like most watercolors, there is a noticeable drying shift (i.e. watercolors lighten as they dry), but the paints keep their tone and vibrancy. I’ve noticed no dulling or separation during drying, and colors stay true.
In fact, I prefer Da Vinci watercolors when nicely diluted. DV watercolors contain a fairly high amount of gum arabic as a flow agent, and this ingredient adds a sheen to paints that can be noticeable in a painting. Some artists take advantage of the gloss and use it in various techniques, but I prefer to avoid it.
Also, some DV colors appeared slightly more opaque than my normal brand. The slight increase in opacity wasn't drastic enough to make a difference (especially in dilution) when painting, and I might have not noticed it if I hadn't tested the colors. However, this characteristic is worth noting.
My Da Vinci Tester Palette
When I test a brand of watercolors, I usually paint with that brand exclusively so I can accurately gauge its performance and pigments. Because I was so impressed with Da Vinci watercolors in the sample dot palette, I decided to jump right in and incorporate these colors as much as possible into my 18-color palette.
I wanted to see how Da Vinci reacted with a few colors that I consider essential to my palette, and I knew that I could better gauge these watercolors if I went ahead and set up my standard palette with as many of DV's colors as I could afford.
Da Vinci graciously sent me an assortment of tubes, but I also dipped into my pocket for more colors. Though I tried and tested as many Da Vinci colors as I could manage, my favorites made it into a tester palette (above) and mingled beautifully with my essentials.
All of the sketches/paintings in this post were painted with the 18-color tester palette.
Click on the palette to print and/or download a copy. You may download and/or print a PDF version of Da Vinci's complete watercolor color chart with pigment information here.
Review of Da Vinci Watercolor Colors
I lean toward transparent colors with slight to no granulation, and my color choices and palette will reflect that preference. Though I tried to test many of DV’s colors, the ones that I used daily and have the most experience with fit these characteristics. However, DV does offer a wide range of pigments that should please any artist’s personal preference.
I tested more than two dozen DV colors and never detected a performance or quality issue. Not once.
Every DV color that I painted with worked beautifully, but I did have personal preferences that dictated whether or not I thought that color was a keeper. (For example, Arylide Yellow constantly displayed a sheen, and since that's not my cup of tea, I'll probably avoid that color in the future.)
Below are a few of the more interesting and/or unique Da Vinci colors that I tested along with an overview (aka my opinion) of each. Also, if a DV color had an interesting or particular characteristic that I think worth noting, I'll list it also.
Da Vinci's basic colors that I used (e.g. Phthalo Green, Pyrrol/DV Red, Cerulean Genuine, Cobalt, etc) were all troopers and performed beautifully, so they aren't listed here. I'll be profiling DV in the future (like in my Indanthrone Blue post), so you'll being seeing more of this brand!
[Please make allowances for scanner and monitor discrepancies.]
These two look nearly identical on my monitor, but take my word for it: They're not. Permanent Rose (PV19) is electric but calms as it dries. Sort of. I used it daily for a week and never could grow accustomed to its initial shock. DV's Red Rose Deep, also PV19, looks much more like what I consider a traditional Quin Rose, so I highly recommend this one instead. (You can compare it with more PV19s here.)
A friend alerted me to this color, and I'm so glad that she did! Alizarin Crimson is another PV19 color, and it's fantastic. It looks a little off on my monitor, but this Alizarin version is actually a warm, transparent, deep red and a great substitute for the fugitive Alizarin Crimson pigment made from PR83.
Indian Red (PR101) is graded as transparent on DV's website and color chart, but in practice it's actually semi-transparent to semi-opaque. It's a gorgeous color with lovely granulation, so if you like this look, it’s a fine PR101 choice. Another PR101 option (yeah, I love this pigment and can't resist trying new ones) is Violet Iron Oxide. It's a light, cool violet with excellent granulation and would be a fun color to have in a palette.
I'm not a huge Natural Raw Umber fan (PBr7) because it can be rather granular or streaky, but this one is beautiful. It's nicely transparent without being weak, and it has a yellowish amber appearance that I enjoyed using sporadically in animal fur and landscapes.
I've always been smitten with M. Graham's Indian Yellow (PY110) but since our move to the mountains, I've had trouble with honey-based pigments. Hello, Hansa Yellow Deep! Made from PY65, it's very close to the color of my old favorite without the mess. And the transparency level of PY65 is superb, so this DV color is now permanently affixed in my palette.
DV's Raw Sienna (PBr7) has more of a red/orange cast than my favorite (American Journey). I found it very similar to Daniel Smith's Monte Amiata, but DV's 37ml tube cost less than half per ml as Daniel Smith. If you like the color of DV's Raw Sienna, it's an exceptional value! You can compare it to more earth yellows including Monte Amiata here.
Da Vinci has more great earth colors that are swoon and palette worthy. Their Yellow Ochre (far left; PY43) is gorgeous! Next is Burnt Sienna Deep. It's PR101 instead of the standard PBr7, but it paints like an intensified Burnt Sienna and is beautiful. Third from left is Terra Cotta (PR102). It's fairly opaque but lightens nicely in dilution, and Burnt Umber (far right; PBr7) is one of the loveliest that I've seen.
Da Vinci's Raw Umber (PBr7) is worth a mention by itself. Straight up, it can appear rather flat on a page, but it mixes to produce a wonderful range of earths, greens, and darks. When blended with blue, it often tries to go green (like a lot of earths) before it decides to go black, but I can always get it to behave. If you like to keep a deep brown in your palette, it's a fine color. And at less than 28-cents per ml in the 37ml tube, it's also an excellent bargain!
Video Demo of Da Vinci Watercolors
Comparing Watercolors: Da Vinci vs American Journey
When discussing Da Vinci and/or American Journey watercolors, a question always arises: Does Da Vinci make American Journey paints?
Before I dive into this hot topic, I will openly share that American Journey and Da Vinci have become my top watercolor brands and currently comprise 99-percent of my palette. In the States, it's hard to beat these brands' combination of price and performance.
However, they are NOT the same paints nor do they paint the same way. I’ve compared and tested both brands exhaustively, so I know.
Perfect example: American Journey's Transparent Oxide Red is my go-to PR101, but there's no match in Da Vinci paints. I've tried every one of DV's earth tones with no success. In fact, I've not been able to match AJ's TOR in any brand. It's unique to American Journey, and I use it so often that I purchase the big toothpaste-sized tube.
Art supply manufacturing works like any other product—cosmetics, house paints, or breakfast cereals. There are lots of brands but a limited number of manufacturers. Many different brands are made by the same manufacturer but on different lines with different formulas.
So who makes American Journey watercolors? As a Cheap Joe’s Ambassador, all I can say is that Joe isn’t talking. (I just saw him today, by the way.) Factory workers and employees who deal with these issues often have to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Cheap Joe’s official statement is that American Journey is an independent brand and is exclusive to Cheap Joe’s, and that's completely true. There isn’t another paint out there like it. Da Vinci is exactly the same—exclusive to their company and no other paint will match it.
(Think about it… if you owned a paint company, would you allow another company to sell your product and profit from it? No.)
Now for my personal opinion… AJ and DV tins and sample dot clamshells are the same, and so are their pans. Both companies offer the same tube sizes, and both are manufactured in America. Some of the colors look suspiciously similar, but I could say that about any two brands. That’s where most of the similarities end, so feel free to draw your own conclusions.
I see this all the time… lots of paints/brushes/sketchbooks are in the same or similar packaging but perform differently. What can I say? It’s a small world.
Overview of Da Vinci Watercolors
The true mark of a good art tool is that the tool disappears in the artist’s hand. In other words, the artist doesn’t have to adapt to or concentrate on the tool but can instead concentrate on the pleasure of the process.
I’ve only found a few paint brands overall that can do this in my hand, and Da Vinci is one of them. The best word I can think of to describe this watercolor is "compliant." Like the faithful Labrador or Golden Retriever, these watercolors are branded a certain way, but in my hands they cheerfully adapt to fit various moods and needs.
Since I love Labs and Goldies, I'm extremely pleased with Da Vinci watercolors, but I will always encourage you to pick the best tools for you!
Overview of Da Vinci watercolors:
High quality, artist grade paints
Great selection of colors
Very affordable, especially the 37ml tubes
Works well on a variety of papers
Creamy consistency that rewets easily
Can showcase a sheen if not diluted well
Slight tendency toward opaqueness
Expensive and/or hard to find outside of the U.S.
Where to Shop for Da Vinci Watercolors
Da Vinci is truly an American brand and is hard to find outside of the U.S. DV recently expanded to Australia, but if you live outside of the U.S., you'll have to be creative when searching for these paints.
Even in the U.S., Da Vinci is only available through a few distributors.
Da Vinci Paint Da Vinci has an online store and offers free shipping in the U.S. on orders totaling more than $50. Also, as far as I know, a direct order is the only way to purchase a sample set (shipping is always free on these!) and other speciality items.
Cheap Joe's Art Stuff I highly recommend this family-owned company, and Joe often offers sales and free shipping deals.
Amazon Da Vinci can be hard to find even on Amazon, but the popular colors are there. (Tip: To avoid scrolling through pages of brushes, search for the words "Da Vinci" and the color name.) I'm an affiliate partner with Amazon but always recommend checking prices and third-party ratings before ordering.
Dick Blick I'm not affiliated with Blick but have ordered from them for many years. I have no problems recommending this fine company.
To learn more about saving money on watercolor paints and download a free brand cost comparison chart, see this post.
Da Vinci Watercolor Giveaways! [CLOSED]
I'm partnering with Da Vinci Paints to give TWO lucky readers of Scratchmade Journal a chance to try Da Vinci watercolors for themselves... for free!
The first winner will receive a Da Vinci metal palette filled with 12 colors of Da Vinci watercolor paints. The second winner will receive a Da Vinci sample set filled with 24 colors of Da Vinci watercolor paints.
You only have to enter once to be eligible for both prizes. I'll draw two winners from all the entries, so good luck!