Winsor & Newton Cadmium-Free Professional Water Colours

Julie Collins reports on Winsor & Newton’s innovative new environmentally friendly cadmium-free watercolours, concluding that they’re a pleasure to paint with

Over recent years there has been a lot of discussion about the environmental safety of cadmium pigments. With this in mind, Winsor & Newton have developed cadmium-free pigments and introduced their exciting cadmium-free range of watercolours.

Cadmium pigments have been used by artists for many years; when I was an art student ‘the cadmiums’ were important pigments and were among the first colours that we had to buy. Cadmium pigments are brilliantly coloured, have good permanence and excellent lightfastness. The main pigments form a family of yellow, orange and red.

Cadmium safety

Cadmium pigments have cadmium as one of their chemical components and at this point I think it is useful to discuss the safety issue of traditional cadmium watercolours.

During the paint-making process the cadmium pigment is fused with sulphides and coated in the watercolour binder, a process that renders the cadmium insoluble in water, and therefore the human body. We can’t absorb it and cadmium paints don’t give off any dust or fumes. The paint-making process makes cadmium paints safe.

However, as cadmium is a heavy metal you should not pour your dirty brush-cleaning water, or any unused paint on your palette, down the drain or onto the ground. Doing so would introduce cadmium to the water system and possibly create problems such as cadmium being absorbed by crops. Instead, it’s recommend you use paper towels to soak up your dirty water and left-over paint on your mixing palette, then put them in your waste bin.

Environmental issues are increasingly important. In fact, there has been some talk about a complete ban on cadmium colours. This hasn’t happened so far but the good news is that you now have a choice: continue to use cadmium paints or swop to Winsor & Newton’s cadmium-free watercolours. Winsor & Newton Cadmium-Free Water Colour paints are part of their Professional range and are easily identified by the green band on the label.

Questions about Cadmium

Q Should I be concerned about cadmium?

A Cadmium itself is a heavy metal. The new Winsor & Newtoni Cadmium-Free paints give you an alternative choice so you can decide which paint is right for you.

Q What are the pigments used in Cadmium-Free paints?

A The pigments cannot be disclosed as these are proprietary formulationis. Only the highest quality pigments are used, not alternatives such as lakes or dyes.

Q Why are these paints called Cadmium-Free and not Cadmium Hue?

A Cadmium colours are very difficult to replicate. For many years attempts have been made by manufacturers to replace cadmiums with alternatives known as cadmium hues. Unfortunately, cadmium hues have not fully replicated the characteristics and performance of genuine cadmiums. With the introduction of Cadmium-Free, Winsor & Newton is introducing the first paints that really give the same level of quality, permanence and lightfastness as their cadmium equivalent. To reflect this level of high quality, they have called them Cadmium-Free.

Q Is Winsor & Newton going to discontinue cadmiums?

A There are no plans to discontinue the existing Winsor & Newton cadmium colours at the moment. They believe that by offering Cadmium-Free colours they are giving you a choice: you decide what works best for you.

Useful facts

Not everyone will be familiar with cadmium-free paints, so here are some useful facts about Winsor & Newton Cadmium-Free Water Colours:

  • Innovation No other cadmium-free watercolour or gouache has been developed yet.
  • Performance These paints provide the same great performance as genuine cadmium paint: colour strength, vibrancy, transparency, lightfastness and colour mixing.
  • Colour An artist’s main focus when using watercolours is colour performance, and the highest quality pigments are used in the Cadmium-Free Water Colours.

The Cadmium-Free Water Colour range

The Winsor & Newton Cadmium-Free range includes the following colours: Cadmium-Free red, Cadmium-Free red deep, Cadmium-Free scarlet, Cadmium-Free orange, Cadmium-Free yellow pale, Cadmium-Free yellow, Cadmium-Free yellow deep, Cadmium-Free lemon.

All the Cadmium-Free watercolours are bright, fresh and mix beautifully with water. Each colour has a good level of transparency and I am really impressed by the way these paints flow. They settle evenly on the paper and are a pleasure to paint with. I particularly like the way they work when laying down a watercolour wash.


For this painting I used Winsor & Newton and Cadmium-Free Water Colours on a Winsor & Newton CP watercolour paper block 140lb (300gsm), using Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II (101) sable/synthetic brushes, sizes 1, 4, 6 and 12 and a Winsor & Newton Fine Liner size 0.3.

To make the background wash I used all four colours. The pot was made from Cadmium-Free red, Cadmium-Free lemon and permanent rose.

The Winsor & Newton Fine Liner pigment ink pens are excellent to use with watercolours. As they are water resistant I painted first and then used the pens. You need to take care that your painting is thoroughly dry before you use them on top of the paint, as any dampness will ruin the pen. I tried sizes: 0.8, 0.3 and 0.1. They’re all excellent and my personal preference is the 0.3 as it produces a good fine line without being too delicate. I advise you to try a few to see which you prefer. It’s also worth mentioning that they’re ‘non fading’ which is very important.

Mixing with Cadmium-Free Water Colours

Chart B gives examples of mixing with Winsor & Newton Cadmium-Free colours. I experimented by gradually adding one colour to a Cadmium-Free colour. The two aims were to see how well they mix with other colours, and to discover new colours by mixing. I particularly liked the greys I made from the Cadmium-Free red and cerulean blue, and the deep orange made from the Cadmium-Free lemon and permanent rose. I could have continued experimenting with the mixing all week, but unfortunately I don’t have the space here to show the results. As always, I encourage you to try your own mixes as well as the mixes illustrated here.

In conclusion, I am really impressed with this range of watercolours and how they mix with other colours in my palette, and it is great news that we now have a Cadmium-Free option.



For this painting I used Winsor & Newton and Cadmium-Free Water Colours on a Winsor & Newton CP watercolour paper block 140lb (300gsm). I also used Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II (101) sable/synthetic brushes, sizes 1, 4, 6 and 12. They are a good alternative to pure sable brushes, hold a decent amount of paint and have a good point at the end of the brush.

This test report can be found in the September 2019 issue of The Artist

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