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What is a staining pigment in watercolour paints?

Staining colours can be difficult to lift from paper. Let us tell you the differences between staining and non staining colours.

What is a Staining colour?

You might notice some colours stain your plastic palettes or that you have a hard time lifting certain colours from your paper. In this article, we're going to give you an insight into which colours are staining and non-staining because having control over staining colours and knowing which colours stain and which don't can save a piece of artwork.  

Staining colours are colours that can be difficult to remove or lift from the paper, as they tend to stain the surface. Lifting is a technique often used in watercolour painting, where the colour is gently lifted from the paper surface using a damp brush or sponge and blotted with a paper towel to correct areas or add highlights. 

Blue watercolour on watercolour paper

Manufacturers labels

Less or non-staining colours, such as Cobalts, can be lightened or lifted from the surface until little or almost no colour is left. Whereas staining colours, like Phthalocyanines, are difficult to lift and will leave some colour on the paper. Some manufacturers will tell you if the colour you're viewing is a staining colour or not. Staining colours are often noted on a colour chart or paint label differently by various manufactures.  

For example:  

  • -Non-Staining colour,-Semi Staining colour,-Staining colour 
  • 1-Non staining, 2- Low, 3-Medium, 4-High 
  • St 
HORADAM AQURELL Finest artists' watercolours Schmincke Transparent orange and Burnt Sienna

Gum Arabic

It's possible to reduce the staining properties of a colour by adding larger quantities of Gum Arabic to the paint or by using dedicated mediums such as Winsor and Newton Lifting medium, which must be applied to the paper surface first to allow colours, even staining ones to be lifted from the paper more successfully. 

Red watercolour paint on watercolour paper