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Product Review – Holbein Artists’ Watercolors Set of 24 (5ml) Tubes

Despite the German-sounding name (taken from the German artist Hans Holbein), Holbein the art supplies company is from Japan, headquartered in Osaka, and founded over 100 years ago as Japan was rushing headlong into its first period of modernization.

Holbein paints, pencils and art supplies are ubiquitous in Japan, but are more of a cult favorite in other parts of the world, with Holbein never having properly established sales channels overseas. Most brick-and-mortar stores and online art shops in the West tend to sell Holbein products for multiples more than the same items cost in Japan. The fact that Holbein products are still popular at these high prices speaks to their high quality! At the end of this blog post I will link to what I think is the best price source for Holbein if you live outside of Japan.

Today I want to review one of the most popular Holbein products, Holbein Artists’ Watercolors Set of 24 5ml Tubes. Holbein offers its artists’ watercolors in sets of various sizes, ranging from 12 colors all the way to the full 108 colors. For most people, 24 colors seem to be the perfect balance of color range and affordability. The 18 and 60 color sets are also quite popular though!

There are a bunch of factors that distinguish Holbein watercolors from their European and American competitors, and make them unique and worth the effort of finding and buying.

Firstly, Holbein watercolors are made without ox-gall, animal by-products or other dispersing agents. Because of this, the paints move slowly, which allows the artist more color density and greater brush control compared to watercolors from other manufacturers.

Partially because of the lack of dispersing agents, you can expect more vivid, intense colors that are also more opaque. I think that when you come down to it, this is the reason why Holbein is popular and tempting to many artists: the colors themselves. There are a lot of beautiful colors with these characteristics of intensity and vividness that you don’t quite find elsewhere.

Another good point is that the colors fix (dry) with almost no change in brightness and hue. What you see while you are painting is what you will see after you finish. There is also little fading over time, and excellent light resistance.

The paints are very easy to rehydrate, with a few drops of water being enough, and no need to wait for the water to sit on the paint. I would describe Holbein paints as smooth and creamy, not grainy.

The colors included in the 24 color 5ml tube set are:

Burnt Sienna, Chinese White, Crimson Lake, Permanent Green #1, Prussian Blue, Viridian, Burnt Umber, Cobalt Blue, Ivory Black, Vermilion, Yellow Ochre, Compose Blue, Jaune Brilliant #2, Permanent Green #2, Permanent Yellow Deep, Rose Madder, Mineral Violet, Permanent Yellow Lemon, Yellow Gray, Terre Verte, Cobalt Green, Light Red, Ultramarine Deep, and Cerulean Blue.

Overall, because of the quality of the colors themselves, Holbein paints are definitely worth exploring, and I’ve heard more than one Japanese artist take pride in the fact that Japan can still produce things of high quality like Holbein, while complaining about this or that bad thing happening in the country.

One thing to note if you are new to watercolors is to make sure to use a palette knife (from Holbein or elsewhere) to flatten and smooth the paints after squeezing them out of the tubes, or they will turn into lumps that are hard on your brushes.

If you are looking to buy this set, keep in mind that the large art stores charge very high prices online and offline. You are better off going to Amazon, or to our own site Allegro Japan, where we try to always keep our prices below what you will even find on Amazon. Don’t forget shipping fees either, since some sites and sellers quote a low price and then tack on a giant shipping fee right before you are about to check out. We include free international shipping on all our items, so the price you first see is always the price you will pay.

Thank you for reading this far, and please take a look at my other blog posts on a wide variety of topics related to Japan, if you have time!

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