Prang watercolour sets review and lightfastness test

Last September I received as a gift a variety of Prang watercolour sets, sent to me straight from US. Prang watercolour sets are ( as far as I know) very popular school watercolour paints. They are not available though at European market and the sets that are retailed from European online stores are ridiculously expensively priced. ( but this is a subject for another post).

The Prang sets that I received where from various different production eras.

One vintage  metal box made in early sixties, two other sets of 8 and 16 colours made during the 80’s and an 8 colour modern one set.

Bellow are all the sets side by side

And here are opened.

Here are the boxes. Left is the metal vintage one, in the middle is the 80’s  one and on the right is the modern one.

I made some swatches from all the colours included in the boxes that you can see below.

What was impressive was the excellent quality of the colours inside the metal vintage box. The colours reweted instantly and all colours were heavily pigmented ( though staining). Mixing the colours gave the expected results, didn’t create mad and all colours were easy to work with.

Same characteristics had the rest of the colours of the other sets, though the modern one’s colours were  somewhat less pigmented.

Regarding the boxes. Well .. I don’t know what the designers or Dixon were thinking but the boxes’ quality downgraded over time. The vintage metal box is by far the most convenient and well designed of all the boxes. Second came the two from the 80s while the modern one is a complete an utter failure and I’ll explain the reasons below.

As you can see on the above scan, the metal box has a very compact design. The box is slim, light, and the separators on the underside of its lid are curved and can be cleaned easily with a tissue. Of course due to the age of the box, the enamel  turned yellow but this wasn’t that much of a problem as I re- enamelled the inside of the box with white enamel paint for kitchen appliances. The design of the box allowed me to add extra colour pans on its empty space.

The 80’s 16 colours sets has its lids opening in the middle. Very convenient and practical in real condition  painting and sketching  though I can’t see what exactly is the purpose of this almost oval wells under the separators that catch dried colours in the corners and are impossible to be cleaned with a tissue unless someone has long nails and time to waste to remove by scratching the dried paints from the corners.

The modern box’s design is a complete and utter failure in my not so humble opinion!

Thick and bulky it has all the wrong characteristics plus the narrowing part at the middle that catches fingers, the vertical separators that catch paint in the corners, the ditch like thing under the separators, plus the hanging hole on the top. Lot of space in the box goes unused and due to the narrowing middle part it is impossible for someone to add extra pans inside the box.

Tragic design, I don’t know who though that this sort of box would be practical by anyway.


I was curious about how lightfast these colours might be so I made two testing swatches. One for the 16 colours 80’s set and one for the modern one that I exposed for  three months under non direct natural light on my studio window. I didn’t test the paints of the vintage test because they are not produced any more and I didn’t test the 8 colours of the 80’s set because its colours were included in the 16 colours set.

Below you can see the results of my lightfastness test scanned at 150 dpi with my Epson V33 scanner.

Surprisingly both sets performed very well. Only one colour from each set faded slightly under indirect sun light  ( the colours that faded are marked with an x)  after three months.

At the modern set, that is the one that interests the most, only the cobalt like blue faded slightly. The rest of the colours even the red-pink one retained their saturation and colour strength.

So I think that these colours are perfectly safe for use for sketching and painting on sketchbooks, and safe enough to be used on paintings that are going to be framed and hanged on room walls keeping always in mind that these paintings will have to be protected by a glass and not exposed to direct sun light ( something that is a rule of course for retaining in a good condition all of your framed watercolour paintings regardless what kind of paints you use, professional or student grade).

The fellow painters and sketchers on the other side of the Atlantic are those who can take advantage of the very good quality and the super low price that these watercolour sets have.

Bellow is a sketch that I made with my Prang watercolours just to see what can be done with them on my Strathmore 400 CP watercolour paper sketchbook.

Plate with Fruits- Watercolour still life sketch- Artist Marialena Sarris- © 10-2016

You can comment or ask any questions at the comments section below.

Thank you for reading my review and I wish to each and everyone of you, to have a very happy and creative 2017.


6 thoughts on “Prang watercolour sets review and lightfastness test

  1. André Jute

    Super article. I’ve long wondered about the Prang watercolors but had the same problem getting them across the Atlantic. Now I know. Thanks, Marialena.

    • The easier way to get them somewhere in Europe is to find someone who lives in US to send them to you. All my friends who travelled recently there and I asked them to bring me one set, were not able to bring one with them for the one or the other reason. Buying them now from European art stores was out of question as these stores price them double and triple their real price and charge the shipping too.

      BUT if you manage to find on ebay or somewhere else the vintage metal box, get one. It worths every cent you are going to pay for it.

      Now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps it would be good idea to make a post about the design of watercolour boxes.

      • I have a lifetime supply of M. Graham and Winsor & Newton Artist’s watercolors in 14mm tubes, so I’m not keen on buying more colors, even superior student level colors. But your remark about boxes rings a bell with me.
        Normally I make my own watercolor boxes inside cigarette or vanity cases, and I have the smallest Fome box (made for Winsor & Newton, sold by Hermes in Paris a few years ago, now unobtanium), and also a plastic Winsor & Newton Field Box with a water bottle. But all of these are for half-pans, and I’m not keen on using expensive, possibly irreplaceable sable brushes in half-pans, as that’s likely to accelerate wear on the brushes. Full pans would be better for the brushes, especially if you fill them at an angle, so I was thinking of buying this watercolor box for full pans:
        What do you think?

        • Happy New Year Andre!!
          If you want it for your studio it is ok, but if you want it for outdoor sketching and painting, I think that it is not that good. It is too big, too bulky and when it is filled with the paints it will weight too much to hold it on your hand and carry it in your bag. The metal tray for holding the full pans in place adds extra weight.
          Don’t forget that you hold more equipment than a single watercolour box.. It is wise to cut weight from wherever you can.

          Another problem with some of these metal boxes is that their inside mixing flap opens up in an angle and not flat as the lids’ mixing space ( on the underside)


          Your mixes will run off this flap so it looks to me not that well designed. What is the point of a tilting mixing space?!

  2. Mark Field

    Greetings. Do you have any idea how old that vintage metal watercolor box is, when it was made? I recently bought a similar (16 color) box and I’m trying to determine it’s age. Thank you.

    • Hi Mark,
      On the box’s lid and under the logo it says that it was made by the American Crayon Company at Sandusky Ohio New York. Now according to this article (that is the “official” version of Prang watercolors history) the American Crayon Company was merged with Dixon back in 1983.
      In this article though it says that these two companies merged back in 1957 and that the Art Deco logo was used at least from the early 40’s and up to the mid 50’s, obviously up until the companies merged and they had to change the logo.

      I can’t tell which of the two versions of the story is accurate, as this box doesn’t have any manufacturing date printed on the box or elsewhere .

      The logo though is indeed in Art Deco style and I find it hard to believe that American Crayon Company designed an Art Deco logo in the 40’s. They probably designed the logo at some point during the 1930’s or earlier and kept using it until they redesigned it probably after they merged with Dixon. So it would helped a lot if we knew when exactly these two companies merged.

      It would also help you to determine your own box’s age, if you could find out when exactly the American Crayon Company launched the 16 colour boxes.
      My personal opinion is that they didn’t offer such large sets back in the 1930’s or 40’s as Prang watercolours were marketed as affordable basic school watercolour sets and the 16 colour set looks to me a slightly more expensive option. It seems to me a bit difficult to have launched them for the first time, during the Great Depression years or afterwards during the war. But this is just my assumption based on how companies are marketing their products.

      I would definitely ask someone older, a grandad/grandma uncle or other relative to tell me if they remember these boxes. It seems that they were very popular and so the people that are now in their eighties might have used them back in their school days.

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