Kuretake Gansai Tambi Japanese Watercolors – Product Review

I have been painting for most of my life, using mostly watercolors and acrylics. I had not used watercolors regularly since my fine-arts days (ahem, way back in college) but rediscovered my love for the medium again, so I started to paint almost daily on some occasions. I bought my Lukas Aquarelle Studio 12-Color Set travel kit way back in mid-2015 and was packing them for local and international trips. The smaller case and pans (5/8″ wide x 3/4″ high) are a convenient size and will even fit inside my purse—fantastic for long layovers or even flights! I still use the set to this day and the pans are surprisingly still 90% full, aside from a few colors that I guess I used a lot of. My Lukas professional watercolor set did and still do a wonderful job…but I was ready for the next big step in investing in medium that I know I am quite enamored with.

What Are Kuretake Gansai Tambi

I did extensive research for the style of watercolors I wanted. The key-points I had in mind are quality, rich, vibrant, high-pigmentation, and large palette. I was thrilled when I found this. I will warn you there are quite a few companies (especially if you shop on Amazon) that will mislead you with their marketing schemes, making you believe what you’re about to purchase are true Japanese watercolors. Just be sure to read the reviews; never just “trust a label.” That said, the Kuretake Gansai Tambi are indeed true traditional Japanese watercolors. 

  • Kuretake – A Japanese company that was founded in 1902, and specialized in ink manufacturing at the time. They now offer a variety of quality arts and crafts products for both hobbyists and professionals.
  • Gansai – Japanese word meaning “vibrance”
  • Tambi – Japanese word meaning “aesthetic”

Characteristics

Why Japanese watercolors? Well, for starters, they have different characteristics and qualities than their “western counterparts.” The Kuretake description for their Gansai Tambi states “By using original colors instead of mixing with other colors, the colors obtain a higher brilliance.” It’s true. These highly pigmented colors are intended for solo-use, meaning you apply a clean brush to each pan and clean the brush again before selecting another color. Other artists have stated that mixing the colors tended to create muddy colors. We don’t want that! I chose to not test that because I don’t to “contaminate” my beautiful colors. Haha. The western watercolors seem lighter, more translucent. The idea with western colors is you buy a few essential colors and mix them to achieve a vast array of colors. That’s easier said than done for anyone you as attempted this. Mixing colors to achieve a purple or green that is just the right hue and depth is hard! And if you don’t mix enough, good luck reproducing the exact color the next time around!

Each set comes with a small printed pamphlet with the colors and corresponding numbers and Japanese, along with Chinese, names. 

  • colors are deceivingly different in hue, saturation, and opacity when dry and wet
  • creamy, smooth texture
  • highly-pigmented
  • vibrant, brilliant
  • a little goes a long way – some colors require very little water to achieve saturation – view the subtleties here
  • easy lift 

COST and QUANTITY

I bought my beautiful 36-colors, the largest set available, on February 01, 2021. The cost was $33.99, including local sales tax and free shipping, so that would total $36.79 for 36 high-quality colors, which is quite a good investment! I have seen the same sets go for $60 at some art supply shops…don’t worry, I did not unknowingly purchase a “knock off.”

The palette pans are the largest I’ve seen thus far when shopping for watercolors. The pans measure about 2″ wide and 1″ high. Each are replaceable and can be purchased separately.

Do and Do NoT

DO

  • paint on the inside of lid so that you know how each color appears on paper, compared to dry-in-pan
  • always use clean brush for reactivating each color
  • wait for the paints to dry completely before storing
  • always put the plastic cover back on the paints
  • always store the paints flat/horizontally; I like to secure mine with a thick rubber band or elastic hairband (this is better option)
  • use all the colors available in the palette
  • store in a cool, dry place
  • HAVE FUN! 🙂

DO NOT

  • mix the colors – they will likely become muddy
  • not use the same cup of water for numerous brush cleanings, as the muddy water will likely transfer to your painting
  • set in direct sunlight or extreme weather conditions

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