I was at a life drawing session and one of the artists mentioned that I should avoid using staining watercolors but instead use transparent watercolors because transparent watercolors could be cleanly lifted from the paper.

How do I tell the difference between staining and transparent watercolor paints by looking at the paint tube or pan packaging?

2 Answers 2


Usually you can't, as the packaging generally doesn't show this information.

What you can do, is

  • test the watercolour out in the store, which is often possible (if no direct means are given, you can ask an employee),
  • look up some reviews and see if they refer to the staining properties, or
  • look up or into the brand's colour charts:

    Some brands or ranges offer colour charts which tell you the staining levels using triangular symbols similar to the square shapes of the transparency level, like in the lower right corner here:

    Mijello watercolour paint chart


    Where △ = non-staining, ◭ = semi-staining, and ▲ = staining.

    Others might use numbers to indicate the level, as is shown here:

    Daniel Smith colour chart

    The four symbols underneath every colour indicate

    • lightfastness (using Roman numerals I - IV),
    • the staining level (using Arabic numerals 1 - 4, going from no staining to the highest level, respectively),
    • granulation (Y/N), and
    • transparency level (⚪, ◑, ⚫).
  • I don't understand what "staining" means in this context. Does it refer to how easily removed? I am an artist and I've never heard of "staining".
    – spring
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 3:12
  • 1
    @NoGrabbing, staining means that the pigment soaks into the fibers of the paper and stains those fibers with permanent, or nearly permanent, color. Which means that it is not easily removed, either with lifting or scrubbing techniques. When a staining color is used, it is almost impossible to get back to pure white paper.
    – camainc
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 0:29
  • the answer above is not accurate, most professional watercolor paints have staining and transparency rating on the tube or pan packaging. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 13:14

There are a few general rules of thumb if you don't have a color chart available.

(If you are in an art store that sells watercolor paints, they should always have a chart available for the brands they sell.).

The following colors are generally staining, regardless of the manufacturer:

Any phthalo-* color (phthalo blue, phthalo green, etc.) Note that these are called "Winsor" colors in the Winsor & Newton brand (Winsor Blue, Winsor Green, etc.)

Also, Alizarin Crimson, most of the Cadmiums, many of the "permanents" (i.e. Permanent Magenta), Prussian Blue, Hansa Yellow, Hooker’s Green, Indigo, Payne’s Gray, most of the quinacridone colors, and others.

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