Are Kuretake Watercolors Lightfast? Watercolor test

You may have heard about the Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors as they are a quite popular brand of Japanese watercolors. They are known to contain top student-grade paints, but one of the most frequently asked questions about this Gansai Tambi set is, are Kuretake watercolors lightfast?

The Gansai Tambi watercolor set is not very lightfast. While the box itself has no lightfastness rating, we had to test the paints to actually get this information. While these paints have amazing opaque colors and are suitable for beginners and hobbyists, we do not recommend them for professional artists as they fade over time.

This of course doesn’t apply to all the paints in the set, so keep reading if you want a more detailed answer to your question of are Kuretake watercolors lightfast. We also provide some insight into how these paints are made and some alternatives.

Kuretake Watercolors – What Are Gansai Tambi Watercolors?

Are Kuretake Watercolors Lightfast?

The Gansai Tambi watercolors are Japanese paints from the brand Kuretake.

The Gansai in the name states the medium of the watercolors and Tambi is the specific name that the brand selects.

Gansai watercolors are different from Western paints, specifically when it comes to the pigment and binder ratio.

The ingredients of course vary through brands and that provides the quality of the paint.

These watercolor sets include pigment and the binder Gum Arabic, much like Western watercolor paints.

However, Gansai also contains animal hide glue, beeswax, sugar, sugar syrup, and glycerin.

While some Western brands also use some type of sugar component, the animal hide glue and other mixtures are the key difference.

Kuretake doesn’t use low-quality fillers and each component that goes into these paints has its purpose.

This is why Japanese watercolors offer creamy paints, that are super easy to work with.

Gansai colors also have a higher pigment to binder ratio than Western colors, which is why the paints are so opaque and vibrant.

Japanese Watercolor Paints

It is worth mentioning here that these traditional watercolors have been formulated for Japanese rice papers and were generally sold in large pans to suit larger brushes for Japanese paintings.

They were generally used for quick sketches and underpaintings by professionals, but because they are a cheaper option, they are considered student-grade watercolors.

The Japanese watercolor paints itself are reflecting the natural colors that occur in the Japanese landscape, so much of the color scheme is different from the Western paint boxes.

The sets come with 36 or 48 pans, which provides a wide range of colors without mixing. This also has a purpose, as it makes the on-the-spot painting much easier!

Are Kuretake Watercolors Lightfast? Testing Gansai Tambi Watercolor Set

As I stated before, the Kuretake paints are a version of Japanese traditional paint.

The Gansai Tambi box is actually a vegan paint box, which means that it uses a vegan glue binder instead of the animal one.

This can lead to a slight build-up if you don’t use enough water with them or you use them too thickly. You can see some shiny spots when it happens, due to the glossier binder.

The box itself unfortunately does not come with any pigment information and therefore there is no information about the lightfastness rating of the paints.

We tested the Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors of 48 pans for one year of sun exposure to check the fading of all the colors.

Below is a table of the results, so you can have a better look, at which paints are actually lightfast (no fading on the sun over the year) and those which aren’t (extreme fading).

Extreme fadingModerate fadingMinor fadingNo fading
Rose M Deep (36)
Carmine (35)
Rose Madder (34)
Red (32)
Cad. Red (30)
Cad. Scarlet (31)
Cad. Orange (33)
Gold (90)
Cobalt Violet (38)
Purple (37)
Lilac (13)
Cherry Blossom (14)
Rose Beige (12)
Maroon (72)
Cad. Yellow (43)
Sap. Gr. Lt (51)
Hookers Gr. (52)
Forest Gr. (56)
Horizon Blue (69)
Prussian (66)
Indigo (67)
Natural Beige (11)
Indian Red (71)
Sap. Green (53)
Turquoise Gr. D. (57)
Bl. Gr. D. (68)
Raw Umb. D. (47)
Aureolin (43)
Lemon Yel. (40)
Greenish Y. (48)
Olive Green (54)
Lime Green (59)
Sap Green D. (58)
Viridian (55)
Malachite (51)
Ultra. Pale (61)
Turq. Blue (62)
Cerulean Bl. (63)
Cobalt Bl. (60)
Ultra Bl. (64)
Bluish Gold (91)
Imperial (38)
Yell. Ochr (44)
Burnt Sienna (46)
Black (20)
Gray (21)
White (10)
White Gold (906)

As you can see, the most fugitive paints (those with extreme fading) are shades of red, orange, pink, and purple.

What is unusual is the low lightfastness of the gold paint, which normally doesn’t change after time, but the Kuretake one actually darkened with sun exposure.

All in all, the set is not too bad, with 21 out of the 48 colors appearing to be lightfast and therefore could be used as reliable paints for professional artists.

Apparently, the Kuretake brand changed the ingredients a bit over time, as the sets have previously been more lightfast.

As the box does not indicate the pigment ingredients, it’s hard to tell when the company changes the manufacturing without testing.

Overall, I think these watercolors are best used for sketches and illustration projects. If you are planning on digitalizing your art and scanning them for reproduction, these will work fine.

If you’re a beginner, these are actually perfect, as they are a cheap option with vibrant and opaque colors, so perfect to practice your art techniques, study color theory, and use in your sketchbook.

The Gansai Tambi paints will also work well, if you make cards or other craft projects, that are either disposable or will have no direct sun exposure.

Which Kuretake Watercolor Sets Are Lightfast?

The sets from the brand Kuretake do not include any pigment information, and the brand has actually been changing the ingredients quite a bit during the years, so there is no real information about which sets are in fact lightfast.

As of now, the lightfastness is different through various colors. The best way to know is to actually test the watercolors yourself. 

So to answer your question “are Kuretake watercolors lightfast?” – no, not really. They are perfectly fine to use if you’re not planning on hanging your art in a sunlit room, but they are not made for artists.

Which Watercolor Sets Are Lightfast?

When we’re talking about art supplies, we need to mention that they generally fall into two categories – student-grade and artist-grade.

Student-grade and artist-grade watercolors are differentiated also by their lightfastness. The lightfastness of a pigment is its ability to withstand exposure to light without fading or discoloring.

Artist-grade watercolors are made for professional artists, and they often use higher-quality pigments that can withstand aging better than student-grade paints.

They also tend to be more expensive than student-grade paints because of their quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all student-grade paints are not lightfast.

Below are a few of my recommendations for cheaper options, which still hold well through time and the effects of the environment.

Lightfast student-grade watercolor sets:

  • Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Sketchers Pocket Box
  • Daniel Smith Essentials Introductory Watercolors Sets
  • Van Gogh Watercolor Pocket Box Set

Kuretake Watercolors VS. Daniel Smith Essentials Introductory Watercolors

One mentioned paint box that is indeed lightfast is the Daniel Smith Essentials Introductory set. Why have I chosen this set next to the Kuretake one?

The two sets, despite one being Japanese and one Western, both have highly pigmented paints that produce amazing bright colors.

However, there is one major difference between the two, and that is how long the paintings with their colors last.

Within 2 years of testing the Daniel Smith watercolors, I have noticed almost no fading in all the paints, which puts this set way above the Kuretake one.

The downside is the number of paints, as you only get 6 colors, but these are great for mixing even if you’re a beginner. The quality really is top-notch and almost professional-grade.

If you can spend some extra bucks, I really do recommend you to try the Daniel Smith ones, as the art you will produce will last you much longer. 

This again depends on your needs. If you are only starting and wish to practice, buy the cheaper option, which is the Kuretake watercolors.

If you are further along with your hobby and you want to display your art, the Daniel Smith box is the one for you.

AttributesKuretake WatercolorsDaniel Smith Watercolors
QualityStudent-gradeStudent-grade
IntensityHighly pigmentedHighly pigmented
TransparencyOpaqueTransparent
LightfastnessNoYes
Pans or tubesPansTubes

Conclusion

To sum up, are Kuretake watercolors lightfast? No.

While some colors hold up pretty well, the majority don’t, and with the manufacturer constantly changing the ingredients list it’s hard to tell without testing it.

However, these watercolors are perfect for sketching and practice runs, if you’re a beginner artist. As they are really cheap, you won’t worry about how much paint you use!

Have I answered your questions? If not, leave me a comment below and I will get back to you soon!

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