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Artist, designer, and watercolor teacher whose work encourages a more intimate connection to nature and self. 
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Painting with watercolor pigments is something that can be truly satisfying and nourishing for the mind and the body. Through painting, a person can get creative and boost the creativity, as well as explore some artistic skills and work on them. Watercolors are one of the many different and available tools and options to achieve all of the above mentioned but some of them don’t last. Learn about fugitive watercolors so you never sell a lightfast painting.

But, when talking about colors, there is something important to know, which is their permanence. Some colors, from the wide specter of colors, are less permanent then the others. And over time, they might change their original color, which will reflect on the look of the painting that you have done. For those wandering what that is and what happens with such colors, the formal term in the art industry is the fugitive colors. Whether choosing to paint with them or not, here is a deep dive into what fugitive colors really are. 

Fugitive colors – what are they?

No matter if you are completely unfamiliar with the term, or you are part of the art industry, fugitive colors might appear confusing. Think of fugitive colors and the use of fugitive watercolors as temporary art. These paintings use colors that won’t last forever; they’ll fade away. Typically, artists use these watercolors with fugitive pigments. That are colors that change or vanish when exposed to sunlight. Frequently, these are used in sketches or outdoor artwork-paintings and are not meant to last. Even so, if the artist knows about the inevitable fading, they can use them for lasting works. Adding a soul to fugitive watercolors painting can be done using a fixative. This substance cements the pigments, defending them from fading away. Since they are temporary, they are a great option for non-professional projects and paintings. 

Why It’s Important

A fugitive color’s ability to stay the same depends on various factors. These  are factors like sunlight, humidity, temperature, or pollution. Over time, this color can change. It means it can get lighter, darker, or even disappear. When testing these colors for example a period over three months, the most fugitive ones fade based on their environment. Within a year, almost all colors will start to fade. One artist told me that when she was just starting out, she sold paintings with fugitive colors and here collectors were not happy. She had to go back in and repaint the area that faded – yikes!

Other common terms that are used alongside fugitive colors and fugitive watercolors painting are lightfast and archival watercolor paper. 

Lightfast Watercolors

Lightfast watercolors or lightfastness means how art materials’ colors stand up to light. It measures if a color can avoid fading or changing under normal conditions. Any sunlight or UV light counts. Showing lightfastness can be hard because it takes time to see how color reacts to light and then fades. Some low-quality colors fade fast, in weeks. Other can last up to a year. Both light exposure time and light power impact the speed of fading.

“Here are some pigments that are known to be relatively lightfast and resistant to fading when used in watercolors: Pigments from the earth: Pigments such as Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, and Viridian are considered to be very lightfast and stable in watercolors.”

Watercolor paper of archival quality is crafted specifically for use with watercolors. It boasts a unique blend of cotton and linen fibers that lends it exceptional durability and resilience against water. Additionally, this paper is commonly acid-free and lignin-free, ensuring that it does not discolor or deteriorate over time. While there is ongoing discussion about the archival nature of watercolor paper, it is generally accepted that it is not as long-lasting as other types of archival paper. Archival paper is a superior, long-lasting paper designed specifically to resist deterioration and yellowing. This makes it the perfect choice for projects that require exposure to light or moisture, such as scrapbooking and photo albums. In contrast to standard paper, archival paper is made with the highest quality materials to ensure its enduring quality.

Artist Jaime Reynolds paints a color wheel with fugitive pinks and reds - will it fade?

Now that we have covered the basic meaning of the terms surrounding the fugitve colors art, lets focus a bit on the pinks and reds as ones that fade the quickest. 

Fugitive Pinks and Reds

Fugitive colors usually come from organic pigments. These may be from plants, bugs, or minerals. Special chemical traits make these colors prone to fade or change. Light, moisture, or other environmental stuff can cause this. Runaway colors are different from stable inorganic pigments. The former can become less bright and change in shade over time. This may change how a piece of art was meant to look. A lot of new colors that are replacing the traditional ones have hues and saturations that are very similar, or the same, to the old colors. One of the most popular shades of red and pink are Windsor & Newton Opera Rose and Alizarin Crimson as well as some blues like Indigo, for example.

As mentioned before, “red” colors tend to quickly fade. Certain favorite colors fade fast including opera, alizarin crimson, anything labelled madder, or even gamboge. Opera Rose is a vivid magenta rose color that is notoriously fugitive. Alizarin Crimson is a vivid red color with a blue undertone. 

It is important to look for terms like “new” or “permanent” on color labels. These words indicate that the pigment has been changed to be light-resistant for that specific shade. No matter how much you like a color, if it fades quickly and you’re aiming for a long-lasting artwork, it’s best to steer clear of it. 

Jaime Reynolds holds up a bucket of red and yellow poppies she is about to paint with watercolor.

Are all colors fugitive?

Most manufacturers have their method of indicating the level of fugitive properties for each color in their paints. This is commonly referred to as permanence or lightfastness. A word of caution, paints labeled as fluorescent or neon may also have a higher likelihood of fading. To truly determine the fugitive properties of paint, it is best to consult the classification symbols and ratings. Typically, these important characteristics can be found on the label of the tube. However, the information may be presented in symbol form, which may not be very helpful unless you are familiar with the classification system used by the manufacturer.

Not all colors fade over time. A color’s lightfast rating, brought by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), stands for its lastingness and chemical steadiness against the environment. Different brands might use unique labels like numbers, alphabets, or dots. For all those willing to create more permanent art, it is best to stick to artist-grade paint. This type of paint has a lightfast rating of l or ll. On the other hand, the student-grade hues aren’t as lightfast.

These are the universal ratings:

I = Excellent

ll = Good

lll = Poor

lV = Fugitive

What to look for when buying watercolor paints if you want to only buy non-fugitive colors?

Looking for watercolor paint can seem tough and puzzling. These are the most importantaspects to consider, including the the fugitive feature. 

1.1 Quality

1.2 Pigment

1.3 Form


Watercolor paints are available in two distinct quality levels: student grade and artist/professional grade. Generally, the artist’s grade is more acclaimed, resulting from watercolor paint’s combination of ground pigments and binders. For high-quality paint, manufacturers use more pure pigments. In contrast, student grades comprise a smaller pigment percentage to keep costs low.


The key component of watercolor paint is pigment. These usually have a letter and a number label. Single-pigment paints are often favored over multi-pigmented ones. 


Watercolors come in different forms. The most common and available ones are tubes, pans, sticks, and pencils. 

Liquid Watercolor?

Seeking something equally lively but not fleeting? Well, consider watercolor inks. These inks are bright and swift on paper, with stunning opacity. You’ll find the grace of watercolor truly shines with these inks.

Watercolor inks are exciting to use! Especially when mixed with watercolors, they spark life into your artwork. Their brilliant shade outshines regular watercolors and comes in handy for brightening dull spots. Graphic designers and creators often use them, ensuring their work pops under the camera! Remember though, watercolor inks are different. They won’t blend like watercolors, and lifting them can be tricky. Once on paper, it’s there for good. So, it is best to test them on throwaway sheets before applying them to a final paper or canvas.

Learn more about liquid watercolors in this video

Artist Jaime Reynolds paints with liquid watercolors

Is Liquid Watercolor Fugitive?

Watercolor ink is made of pigment and binder. The ink can create many effects. In its basic and core, the ink is very strong. A small amount goes far, so start it is best to small and add more if needed. Also, watercolor ink can act in surprising ways. I recommend practicing on spare paper before starting on your final piece.

There is a clear distinction between watercolor ink and liquid watercolor. While both are used for painting, they differ in their composition. Watercolor ink is primarily made up of pigments and a binder. The liquid watercolor is made up of dyes. This difference in ingredients results in varying characteristics between the two. Watercolor ink’s higher concentration of pigment gives it the ability to produce more vibrant and intense colors. The translucent nature of liquid watercolor allows for delicate and softer hues. So, even though they may seem similar at first glance, these two mediums offer unique qualities that make them suitable for different artistic purposes.

Dye-based inks

Dye-based inks are created by blending a colorant with a liquid. This liquid can be water but sometimes alcohol or other chemicals that enhance the performance. These inks are widely available in a variety of vibrant colors and produce impressive visual effects. However, they can be vulnerable to external influences. A helpful analogy is to think of dye-based inks as being like saltwater – the salt dissolves in the water and travels with it, unable to separate. This means that anything that affects the water will also impact the dye ink in a similar manner. Designed specifically for graphic arts projects on paper, these inks are perfect for reproducing various forms of artwork – think cartoons, illustrations, or anything you would want to scan into your computer instead of selling. Their popularity skyrockets when it comes to airbrushing.

India ink

India ink produces bold lines and offers a rich, velvety black color when used with various tools like brushes, dip pens, bamboo pens, etc. One of the biggest features of India ink is water resistance. That makes it suitable for works where water comes into contact with the painting. When painted with India ink, the results are permanent.  

Acrylic ink

Acrylic inks, a kind of water-based paint, are made for use with acrylic paints. They’re meant to last longer and be tougher than standard watercolors, so it can be uses on different surfaces. These acrylic inks make it possible to make a range of visual effects. That is why they are popular among both artists and craft-making lovers. Ink offers the deepest shade that can be squeezed from a bottle. By diluting the ink, the pigment changes showcase intricate visual qualities. When it comes to monochromatic ink drawings though, there’s a catch. It requires many layers to deepen the color enough to make a shadow. The result is ultra-rich, with smoother washes.

Hydrus liquid watercolor

Hydrus watercolor uses pigment, is lightfast and transparent, and comes in a glass bottle. Artists find it ideal for professional work because it’s non-fugitive and archival. However, it’s not waterproof, so artists need to lay down a Hydrus wash carefully before glazing.

Should you avoid fugitive pigments? 

The purpose of the painting is the first thing to think about when it comes to fugitive color and pigment. As mentioned above, fugitive colors are not permanent. So, all those who are painting as a hobby or maybe you are going to scan and digitize your artwork can use the fugitive colors. These are the colors that will disappear after some time and under different influences. Those who are looking for a more professional approach should definitely use lightfast watercolors. 

Tips on protecting fugitive colors

If you paint with fugitive colors and want to sell your artwork, these tips will definitely come in handy.

Halting the natural process of aging of the fugitive colors is almost impossible. However, it is possible to minimize and slow their deterioration. Here is how to do so:

  • Avoid direct sunlight to protect watercolor paintings from color fading. Hang them on a wall adjacent to a window and away from direct sunlight.
  • Use varnishes or UV-filtering glazes. Using these protective layers will protect the color from the harmful rays of the sun. Not only that, but it will also block the UV light and provide protection for the art piece. 
  • Another great way to make the piece last longer is to control the environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity. Maintaining stable temperature and humidity in the display area will prolong the longevity of the fugitive colors. 
  • Best practice is to use lightfast colors when producing artwork to sell.

Fugitive colors and painting with such watercolors is definitely a good option for all those who want to explore art as a hobby, for cartooning, illustrations, etc. These colors are not very suitable for fine art paintings. No matter the purpose of the paintings, it is essential to preserve the piece that you have painted. With that said, this is a delicate medium. Some fading will naturally occur with any watercolor painting, even with lightfast pigments, so don’t hang a finished piece on a wall in direct sunlight and will have some natural fading.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use watercolors and all the details on watercolor supplies check out my beginner course on intuitive watercolors here.

Fugitive watercolors - your complete guide


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