Orange is an extremely easy color to mix, so for most of the year, I don’t keep an orange watercolor (aka PO or “pigment orange”) in my everyday palette, but that tends to change in the fall. Hillsides infused with changing leaves, bonfires glowing with hot embers, and pumpkins peeking out from golden fields cause my heart to go pitter-patter for orange paints.
In the hopes that you’ll discover an orange (or two) that makes your heart go pitter-patter, I’m sharing and comparing six different orange watercolor pigments. I’m also including two earth oranges that are actually reds, or comprised of “pigment red.”
Along with the orange watercolor comparison, I’ll also show how simple it is to DIY your own orange watercolor paint along with a quick demo on how to paint a pumpkin. So let’s dive into orange!
Orange watercolors used in the lead photo: AJ Halloween Orange (PO62), DV Benzi Orange Deep (PO36), and DV Bt Sienna Deep (PR101). The other colors, including Halloween Orange, are from my 2018 fall palette. More on these colors below.
More on pigment names & numbers: If you’re confused by terminology such as PO62 and PR101, I explain those in this article.
Comparing Orange Watercolor Pigments
As I mentioned above, I don’t keep an orange pigment in my permanent palette except for a PR101, or pigment red 101. Again, this is actually a red pigment but it can be used to create an exceptionally beautiful earth orange watercolor paint, and I share more about PR101 here.
However, it’s currently autumn and pumpkin everything is everywhere, so who can resist orange? I’ll compare and explore common orange watercolors below, and I’ve also included a video with orange watercolor comparison swatches, information on mixing orange, and a simple paint-a-watercolor-pumpkin demo.
Though I’ve made all attempts to be accurate, oranges are extremely difficult to scan; please make allowances for monitor differences. Where applicable, I’ve included links that share more information, additional swatches, and current pricing; some links are affiliates.
American Journey’s Halloween Orange is comprised of a common yellow-orange pigment found under a myriad of names like Azo, Helio, Benzimida, Mono, or even the very simplistic Orange. Since this pigment is Benzimidazolone based, I call it Benzi orange. (This is really boring chemistry stuff, but PO62 is also Monoazo based which is where the Mono and Azo names come from.) But hey, who can resist the name Halloween Orange? PO62 was the orange star of my 2018 fall palette because it’s such a stable, midrange orange. It’s rather opaque and doesn’t dilute lightly, but it easily adapts in mixes. If you’re looking for a perfectly nice orange, PO62 may be it.
Though American Journey’s Transparent Red Oxide is technically comprised of a red pigment, it’s an absolutely stellar earth orange. This color was one of the picks for my 2018 palette and I’ve never regretted it. TRO has a nice amount of opaqueness for foreground landscape elements, but this PR101 readily dilutes to perfect transparency. It’s a juicy earth orange without being too brown or too orange. In other word, it’s perfect. If you want an all-purpose earth orange in your palette, put this one at the top of your list.
Da Vinci’s Benzimida Orange Deep is a gorgeously rich orange watercolor (another Benzi/Mono combo so there’s that nerdy name again) that nearly moves into an earth orange, but not quite. Though I love using it in landscapes, I think DV’s PO36 is the perfect “pumpkin orange”. It has a fairly strong drying shift and looks much brighter wet than dry, but patience pays off with this one because it develops a nicely neutral depth as it dries. If I had picked two oranges for my 2018 fall palette, this would have been my dark.
Da Vinci Burnt Sienna Deep is another color comprised of PR101, but it’s such a rich, orangey red that it’s borderline brown, and I absolutely love it! This color paints and mixes perfectly (pro tip: mix it with Ultramarine Blue for freaky gorgeous grays and blacks) and on some papers will display a surprising amount of soft granulation. It dilutes to more of a rosy hue than the other earth oranges, but if you want an orange brown that has a lot of depth and texture, DV’s Burnt Sienna Deep will satisfy all cravings.
If you only want one orange, Da Vinci Cadmium Orange is an excellent midrange orange that could easily serve as a staple palette orange. But that’s a bit too basic, because all exaggerations aside, this pigment has an ethereal beauty that seems to transcend the paper. Insofar as performance, it dilutes beautifully and mixes like it was made to mingle. It’s slightly more red than PO62 but not as opaque. This is one orange paint that I can’t wait to play with more, so I think you’ll be seeing more of this one around SJ in the future!
Note: Many worry about the toxicity of Cads. I’m a tree hugging, eco friendly, organic loving person, and I can honestly and educatedly say: Please don’t be. Most household cleaners are far more detrimental to personal health than any watercolors. There’s more in-depth information about Cadmium’s safety at my red watercolor comparison.
Pigment Orange 73 is Da Vinci’s namesake orange but it’s often labeled Pyrrol and has become a common lightfast Vermilion orange substitute due to its red undertones. PO73 is nearly peachy in dilution and is also fairly opaque. To me, this orange seems more reminiscent of summertime’s soft light than autumn’s deep glow, so I’m looking forward to testing out PO73 more this spring.
When I first began painting in watercolor, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange was the first orange pigment that I tried. Since then, I’ve tried several brands of PO48 yet have never enjoyed painting with it. However, I fully respect the thousands of you who consider Quinacridone Orange THE earth orange of choice. It’s a gorgeous color that’s highly transparent, and this transparency displays a nice glow which captures autumn’s light well. However, PO48 doesn’t settle well on many papers so it often looks streaky, and it can be finicky in mixes.
A friend (thanks, Jill!) sent me a sample of Schmincke’s Transparent Orange and I’ve really enjoyed trying to get to know it. Watercolors often have a slight color shift depending upon paper, lighting, dilution, etc, and I’ve found that orange watercolors shift more than most. But wow, Schmincke’s PO71 is highly variable. On some papers, it even looks iridescent! (Cool, right?) Unpredictable paints usually bug me, but PO71 is such a gorgeous color and solid performer that I love it’s capriciousness. Though I have trouble with Schmincke watercolors showcasing hard edges and Transparent Orange is no exception, It’s a beautiful orange that dilutes well and is a fine transparent choice.