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Watercolor Paint

Which Watercolor Paints Are Transparent

I first learned which watercolor paints are transparent by reading Jim Kosvanec’s book, “Transparent Watercolor Wheel: A Logical and Easy-to-use System for Taking the Guesswork out of Mixing Colours” (affiliate link) first published by Watson-Guptill on May 1, 1994. They republished it in paperback on April 15, 2000. However, both editions are no longer in print. But, you can buy it from used book dealers on Amazon. You can also borrow a copy from your local public library.

Jim Kosvanec did extensive studies of watercolor paints and developed a color chart that categorizes color names into “rings” on a color wheel, as follows:

  • Ring 1 – Transparent Non-Staining
  • Ring 2 – Simi-Transparent Non-Staining
  • Ring 3 – Transparent Staining
  • Ring 4 – Semi-Opaque & Opaque
  • Ring 5 – Whitened & Blackened

Transparent Watercolor Colors

There are two groups of transparent watercolor colors. They are “non-staining” and “staining” found in Ring 1 and Ring 3 of Jim Kosvanec’s color wheel.

Ring 1 – Transparent Non-Staining Colors

Ring 3 – Transparent Staining Colors

Beware When Mixing Transparent Staining Colors

Transparent staining colors in Ring 3 only mix well with other staining colors in the same Ring 3. If you try to mix Ring 3 colors with Ring 1 transparent non-staining colors, the staining color will overpower the non-staining colors. They will also overpower other colors in Ring 2 and 4.

Mixing Ring 1 & Ring 2 Colors

To quote Jim on what colors mix well, he said:

Transparents mix or glaze with other transparents without restrictions. Transparents mix well with all others pigments except staining colors, which can “dye” them. Semi-transparents may be used like transparents but with more restraint.

~ Jim Kosvanec

Ring 2 – Semi-Transparent Colors

Here are the semi-transparent watercolors Jim Kosvanec classified as Ring 2 on his color wheel. These colors mix well with Ring 1 transparent colors identified above.

Recommended

I use Ring 1 transparent non-staining colors for glazing my first layers of color. Then I add colors from Ring 2 for depth and darker tones where needed. And, for my darkest darks, I use colors from Ring 3 sparingly. To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.