View Full Version : Daniel Smith Primatek Oil Paints Review

05-05-2014, 12:20 PM
Crossposted to Oil Painting from my art materials blog:

This is a review of Daniel Smith's Primatek line of oil paints, which I'll post in two parts. These are a set of natural-pigment paints, some of them quite unconventional. They have this line of oil paints, and also (and perhaps more popularly) watercolors. I haven't tried any of the watercolors yet; I probably will someday, some of them look amazing (the garnet (http://i.ytimg.com/vi/73CJwwtBVCA/0.jpg)!).

First, an overview. The colors I tried in oil are:

Sedona Genuine, a red ochre from Arizona;
Minnesota Pipestone (Catlinite), pink pipestone;
Rhodonite Genuine, a rose-colored gemstone;
Purpurite Genuine, a violet mineral;
Genuine Lapis Lazuli, natural ultramarine blue;
Natural Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine;
Amazonite Genuine, a lovely green stone;
Malachite Genuine, natural copper carbonate green.

Here are the swatches. Each color is painted from the tube (some with a bit of poppy oil added) and approximately 50/50 with zinc white (Winsor & Newton). You can see which ones are the strong tinters. There are also three other paints included for comparison.


The fastest driers were the Malachite (no surprise, as it's a copper pigment) and Rhodonite, both touch-dry after three days. The Amazonite, Lapis, Sedona and Purpurite were dry after five days, and the Turquoise after seven days. The Sedona, strangely, was the slowest dryer in the bunch, still slightly tacky after a week.

Some of these paints were very impressive, others not so much. I'll go through them individually here.

Sedona Genuine: red ochre, opaque, medium tinter. This is a pretty standard red ochre – perfectly serviceable and pleasant to use, but nothing out of the ordinary. What makes this paint fun for me is the same thing that makes Da Vinci's Arizona Red and Arizona Brown Ochre interesting for me: it's local to my region. I'll probably keep using it for that reason alone.

Minnesota Pipestone: red ochre with rose tints, semitransparent, weak tinter. I have to say, this one was disappointing. I've used a Pink Pipestone pigment from Rublev, ground into oil and tubed by myself, that is a delight - delicate pinks for skin tones or satin highlights on white fabric. I was expecting something similar here, but it was darker and significantly less saturated (and not NEARLY the color as shown (http://www.danielsmith.com/Item--i-284-300-109) on the Daniel Smith website!), both on its own and in tints. Here is a comparison of the Daniel Smith against my own:


Usable, I suppose, but not the exciting paint that it should be.

Rhodonite Genuine: rich rose color, transparent, strong tinter, fast dryer. This paint is one of the good ones. An amazing rose color that seems as if it must be an organic, it's so saturated - and yet it's ground from a stone. I immediately wanted to see if this could be used as an alternative to rose madder. It can't, not quite - it's a bit more magenta, and though it's transparent, it's definitely less transparent than madder, and therefore not as easy to glaze. But, as I'll show, it can be used for rich skin tones.

Purpurite Genuine: dark violet, transparent, medium tinter. As many are aware, violet is a color that has long been problematic for artists, as historically there just don't seem to be all that many usable pigments in this hue range. This one is an interesting attempt to provide another. As it turns out, purpurite is very nice for dark purples, but it loses quite a bit of saturation in tints. I was actually able to get better purple tints by mixing the Rhodonite with the Lapis.

Genuine Lapis Lazuli: natural ultramarine blue, transparent, weak tinter. This paint seemed not bad at all - until I compared it to another brand of natural lapis, Da Vinci:


Here you can see that the lapis from Da Vinci is significantly more saturated, both neat and in tints. Now it is possible, of course, that the Da Vinci has been enhanced with a bit of modern, synthetic ultramarine to increase saturation; I haven't had a chance to ask them about it yet. But, assuming that is NOT the case, then that means Daniel Smith is offering a lower grade of natural ultramarine at, as it turns out, about double the price (comparing Daniel Smiths's website (http://www.danielsmith.com/Item--i-284-300-102) against Da Vinci prices on Dick Blick (http://www.dickblick.com/items/01533-6420/)). Not a great value if so. I will contact Da Vinci at some point and post their response here.

Natural Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine: cyan, opaque, surprisingly strong tinter. I suppose the nearest modern color would be cerulean blue, but the Turquoise is lighter in value. I found this color to be most useful as itself –*painted directly onto the canvas without much modification, or as a cool modifier for other light-valued colors to achieve pastel blues, greens, or even violets. It's not much in the way of a general mixing color, but great as a cyan accent color.

Amazonite Genuine: green-cyan, transparent, medium tinter. This is another of the good ones. (Don't be fooled by the photograph above - the paint out of the tube is much more saturated than that swatch looks.) Right out of the tube it looks very near to viridian. This works very well as a general mixing green, or as a glazer. An amazing (pun!) paint, really, especially for a natural pigment. On some research, I discovered that despite the name, amazonite is mined right here in the United States, making it almost regional to me. Cool.

Malachite Genuine: pale middle green, opaque, weak tinter, fast dryer. This must be a pretty fine grind of malachite, because it's high-valued and not very saturated. At the last minute I decided to compare it to my own synthetic copper carbonate green pigment in oil (this is why the swatch on the right is almost hanging off the edge of the canvas). As you can see, the synthetic one is a bit more saturated, both neat and in tints, as well as being slightly bluer (the difference is more marked in person).


I think part of the point of using natural malachite is that with the larger particle sizes you can get when grinding a color from stone, you can get a more saturated color than with the smaller particles of the precipitated synthetic malachite. On the other hand, I shouldn't forget that some of us feel a real pleasure in using a natural pigment, similar to the thrill I get when using a natural earth over a synthetic iron oxide. I also get a thrill from making and using my own copper carbonate pigment, of course, so this one is a toss-up for me.

To be continued!

05-05-2014, 02:10 PM
This is really great info and thanks for going to the time and expense to share with us.
I am leaning more towards going au naturel myself.
BTW, I gotta wonder what is going on with any supplier of real natural lapis, it can't be 34 bucks for a 37 ml tube and be the real deal genuine primo stuff, I suspect it is the dregs that can still be called lapis.

05-05-2014, 03:44 PM
Thanks Sid!

I think there's a lot of lapis being mined right now, in Afghanistan, Chile, etc. Presumably after those sources peak the price will skyrocket again.

I half-suspect Da Vinci of enhancing their Lapis with some synthetic ultramarine, it looks awfully high-quality for such a low price. I haven't asked them about it yet, I will at some point.

Also: a poster on my blog just pointed out that the Turquoise is not as saturated in reality as it is in that photo. As usual, I'm having a hard time color correcting the digital photo - I'll try to make a truer one and post it here.

05-05-2014, 05:35 PM
This is really great info and thanks for going to the time and expense to share with us.
I am leaning more towards going au naturel myself.
BTW, I gotta wonder what is going on with any supplier of real natural lapis, it can't be 34 bucks for a 37 ml tube and be the real deal genuine primo stuff, I suspect it is the dregs that can still be called lapis.

What happened is that Chile had a mine of Lapis for a while, which dramatically lowered the prices of the stone. This version is grayer and a bit greener than the Afghan (which was the standard being used for centuries.)

Eventually, the mine collapsed. Although everyone survived, they didn't reopen the mine as I last heard of, which made the prices of Lapis rise again. I don't know if it was reopened, though.

Here's what manufacturers can do:

Offer you the Chilean "ultramarine ashes" (i.e, lower-grade Lapis) on their stock. That's how I got my Lapis tube from Daniel Smith at $14.99 (if memory serves me right.) Mix it with synthetic ultramarine blue, and voilá, "high-grade" lapis.
Offer you "ultramarine ashes" from the Afghan mines. They are still lower in quality, but a bit bluer. They're also much more expensive, too.
Offer you high-grade Lapis. In this case, it'll be expensive as hell. It must be a bit coarse not to lose brightness, and it will still be duller than synthetic Ultramarine.
Offer you either a mix of synthetic Ultramarine and low-grade ultramarine ashes or high-grade ultramarine. Depending on the grade and amount of the natural stuff, they will be able to market it as "natural" Lapis and sell it much cheaper.There are other things they can do, too. It seems, for instance, sodalite – which Daniel Smith also sells – is the main component of natural Lapis. You could always mix the impurities of Natural lapis into synthetic ultramarine (i.e, iron pyrite, sodalite, quartz crystals, etc) and call it "Genuine Lapis," too, since the composition will be much closer to actual Lapis ground from the stone.

That being said, I mixed my tube of acrylic paint Lapis from Daniel Smith with the Synthetic Ultramarine from Winsor & Newton and got a result that was not too different from Da Vinci's paint. I wouldn't doubt Da Vinci themselves would be able to do their mixing and market it as "Genuine Lapis."

05-05-2014, 05:40 PM
llawrence, it seems there's a problem with Rhodonite Genuine in watercolor form: it tends to gray down.

Here's one link about it: http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.br/2013/10/lightfast-tests-seven-months.html

There are other links out there, but I don't remember them by heart.

I don't know how stable it is in oils, though.

05-06-2014, 04:22 AM
Mythrill, you beat me to it. I've got that link and another coming in part 2 of the review!

05-15-2014, 05:26 PM
Mythrill, you beat me to it. I've got that link and another coming in part 2 of the review!

Hi, Llawrence! Where's the second part of your review?

I can't wait to read it!

05-31-2014, 07:18 PM
Here it is Mythrill! Daniel Smith Primatek Oil Paints Review - Part 2, crossposted from my art materials blog and to Oil Painting:

Here is a somewhat better pic of the cool colors of the paint swatches (from left: ultramarine, turquoise, amazonite, malachite) from the last post:


Still having trouble photographing that amazonite - it's really quite saturated out of the tube, but you'd never know it from looking at this.

The paints themselves: overall they were fine to use. Upon first opening, some of them (especially the malachite) gave off a distinctly rancid oil aroma, even though they were bought directly from Daniel Smith. Not a big deal, of course, though the smell of linseed oil is normally one of the (many) pleasures of working with oil paint.

The paints are very smooth, which personally I don't particularly like; part of the joy of working with natural pigments is the sometimes grainier texture, which seems completely absent from these paints. I personally would like to feel the "naturalness" of these natural pigments under the brush; of course, other painters might disagree (in fact, I know at least one personally who does disagree). For me, missing out on that is missing part of the point of using natural pigments in the first place.

The vehicle for these paints is alkali-refined linseed oil (alkali-refined means it's chemically processed), with the exception of the two blues (Turquoise and Lapis), which use alkali-refined safflower oil instead. Again, the choice of binders seems to me to miss the point of the paints: if you're making a big deal out of using natural pigments, wouldn't you want to use a natural oil to go along with them? (It's not nearly as bad as wasting natural pigments in a thoroughly synthetic medium like acrylic, of course, but still.) Maybe it's just me, as an enthusiast of natural art materials: but having these paints in a natural, raw, cold-pressed linseed oil, along with some greater variation in pigment particle size, would make these paints much more exciting.

Lightfastness: For some reason, the only one of these paints that has lightfastness information listed on the Daniel Smith website is the Malachite Genuine, which is listed as having "Lightfastness Rating: I." Others of these pigments are available in watercolors and do have lightfastness ratings listed: Rhodonite Genuine, Purpurite Genuine, Lapis Lazuli Genuine, Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine, Amazonite Genuine, and Malachite Genuine are all listed as "ASTM Lightfastness Rating: Excellent" in watercolor. However, there have been some lightfastness problems noted by various artists who have done their own tests. Note the changes in the Rhodonite, for instance, here (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7755646&postcount=26) by annie.nz on WetCanvas. Again note the Rhodonite here (http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com/2013/10/lightfast-tests-seven-months.html) on Jane Blundell's blog, and also the Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. These two posts seem to indicate there may be some question about those lightfastness ratings provided by Daniel Smith. (At the same time, I'll note a general consensus that many pigments have greater lightfastness in oil than in watercolor, possibly mostly because of the thicker paint layers used).

Here are two test paintings done with the Daniel Smith Primatek paints. This first one is a sketch of some of the blue irises blooming in the backyard (the same irises from which I get the green ink). The background was done with some paints from Da Vinci and Rublev; the flower and plant parts were done with the Primateks, with some help from Rublev's Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre and Lemon Ochre.


I was expecting to be able to use the Purpurite for the flowers, but that color loses too much saturation in tints. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to get better violet tints with a mix of the Rhodonite and the Lapis. (I still had to steer the tints more toward the magenta, since the Rhodonite is so much stronger than the Lapis.) The Purpurite was fine for the darker violets. Amazonite, Malachite and a bit of Turquoise did a fine job for the green plant parts, and in fact were more saturated than I needed - except for the brighter chartreuse bits, which were helped along with some of that lemon ochre.

Here is another test, a portrait of my wife Joy. For this one I used the Primatek Sedona, Pipestone, Rhodonite and Turquoise; Rublev supplied the yellow ochre, black and white.


I went a bit mad with color on this one; it's actually quite scandalous for me, who usually uses just earth colors (and maybe a touch of madder) for skin tones. A bit of a color theory experiment, really, that was only partially sucessful. Early in the painting I got the urge to use some of the Turquoise for the flesh tones, and it worked very well for that. The Rhodonite worked fine as well, mixing nice oranges with the yellow ochre, and rose tints with white. You can see how rich the color is in the shirt; if it were just a touch redder in hue I'd probably use this paint regularly.

Overall these Primatek oil paints will be a welcome, if occasional, addition to my palette; and I have to give a lot of credit to Daniel Smith for choosing some of these unusual pigments. I've been wanting to try painting with natural turquoise for a long time, and it was a pleasure to finally do so, especially in the portrait. Along with that paint, the clear winners here are the Amazonite Genuine and the Rhodonite Genuine - both stunning paints that can actually compete with some of the modern synthetic organics. The Purpurite is also fun for those dark violets, and the Sedona Genuine is a good-quality, if fairly ordinary, natural red ochre. Even the three disappointments in my set - the Minnesota Pipestone, the Genuine Lapis Lazuli, and the Malachite Genuine - are still useful paints (although the Pipestone may be relegated to underpaintings, since it's such a weak tinter). At the end of the day, I can recommend Daniel Smith's Primatek line of oil paints for those interested in painting with natural pigments. Give them a try; and feel free to post the results back here!

Thanks for reading!

05-31-2014, 07:50 PM
Nice review, llawrence!

I suppose Daniel Smith has not rated these paints because they consider they haven't tested them enough in oils to get a conclusive result.

Regarding Rhodonite, I think it might be more stable in oils. Every pigment is at its most fragile state in watercolor, because the binder is almost non-existent. The paints are much more exposed to atmospheric pollutants, abrasion, and even sunlight. So it's pretty possible your Rhodonite won't darken.

Do tell us if you notice any darkening, however!

I'm surprised by how Genuine Turquoise looks on the tube. In masstone, it's almost like a Ceruleum Blue Chrome (PB 36.) Since the "turquoise" hue (blue-green) is very hard to hit and Cobalt Turquoise Light (PG 50) simply hits this place spot-on. I'd use it instead to paint tropical seas if I had to. I'm even more surprised by how Malachite tinted with white is closer to Cobalt Turquoise in hue than Genuine Turquoise is!

Regarding Lapis: it's a bit bluer and more intense than the version I have in acrylics. That's still quite grayish compared to synthetic Ultramarine Blue (PB 28,) of course.

I've found it does have some nice usages, though: as everyone says, this version is a great glazing color, creating very beautiful, subtle skies! Not only that: mixed with Light Red / English Red / Red Ochre (PR 102,) it makes almost complete silvery near-grays that seem to have that subtle magical tint of blue or red (depending on the color.) It just looks so perfect for cloudy skies that whenever I do this mix, I always think it's about to rain on my palette!

The secret on this kind of Lapis is actually not expecting it to behave like synthetic Ultramarine Blue (PB 29.) Of course, you can and should use it together with synthetic Ultramarine Blue sometimes to get some astonishing results!

05-31-2014, 08:06 PM
Mythrill, thank you for the response.

I agree that lapis is a very useful color - fantastic for glazes as you mentioned. I've gotten into the bad habit of rather exorbitantly using it as a mixing color (the one from Da Vinci). What I plan to do is to approximate the pigment by mixing synthetic ultramarine with calcite. I'll post the results to this forum when I do.

The turquoise: it's definitely one of my favorites of these. I guess I'll have to finally get off my duff and do some lightfastness tests...

Lightfastness: What bothers me is the ratings given by DS of the watercolors, which are uniformly given as "Excellent" - but that does not jibe with the images in the links given above. Makes me wonder if they actually did any tests, or if they just decided to label them wholesale regardless. Not necessarily accusing, just wondering....

06-06-2014, 01:41 PM
Wow. The overtones (hues that evolve when mixed with white) are incredible! The colors from the tubes on that first row of colors (Pipestone, Sedona, Rhodonite, and Purpurite) appear very close to each other in hue in the original state, but when mixed with white they change dramatically. I don't believe I've ever seen such vivid examples of overtones as this. Very interesting. That Rhodonite is astonishingly different than its masstone hue.

06-06-2014, 10:17 PM
Thanks for the comment Bill - yes, the difference between the rhodonite and the pipestone is pretty dramatic, isn't it?