What are cadmium-free watercolour paints & should I buy them? Review

Many watercolour paint brands are releasing cadmium-free watercolour paints. They claim to have similar properties to the original cadmium versions but without the related health risks. But what is cadmium and do you need to buy these alternative colours for your palette?

What is cadmium and why is controversial?

Cadmium is a heavy metal commonly used in traditional watercolour paints to achieve vibrant, opaque colours. It’s mostly used in yellows, oranges and reds for punchy colours. However, cadmium is considered to be harmful to the environment and may pose health risks, particularly during production and disposal.

While cadmium poses minimal risks during normal painting use, artists may face potential hazards when inhaling or ingesting cadmium dust or particles. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t eat your watercolour paints, but some people prefer not to buy the cadmium versions at all.

cadmium free watercolour paints painting example

Why do we need cadmium-free watercolour paints?

For a long time, if you didn’t want to use cadmium, it meant that you had to do without strong colours, especially for yellow paints. However, many manufacturers are now releasing alternatives that have the same strong properties as the cadmium versions, but using alternative ingredients.

Cadmium-free paints eliminate the risk of exposure to cadmium. Artists can work without worrying about potential health hazards associated with cadmium inhalation or ingestion. It also allows for a more inclusive art environment and opens up opportunities for artists with sensitivities or health conditions.

These alternative watercolour supplies are also more sustainable. Cadmium may pose a risk to the environment during the manufacturing process and disposal of watercolour paints.

Are cadmium-free paints the same?

They’re not exactly the same as the cadmium has some unique properties, but you may find that they’re pretty close! It depends on what you want more – the opaque cadmium pigments or the ability to paint without using cadmium.

winsor and newton professional cadmium free watercolour paints swatches review

Review – Winsor & Newton cadmium-free watercolours

All my paints are Winsor & Newton Professional grade, and I do have cadmium pigments in my palette. I got hold of a set of testers for the cadmium-free versions.

You can see from the colour swatches that they’re very similar to the traditional cadmium versions. The colour match is very close and they have the same vibrancy which is beautiful, and unique to cadmium colours.

I find them slightly less opaque than cadmium paints, but the difference is relatively minor. If you do want to avoid cadmium, they’re a great alternative.

Are you going to switch to cadmium free paints?

Honestly, I’m not giving up my cadmium paints just yet. I think the cadmium-free versions are really good and certainly close to a colour match.

But for now, I don’t have any health concerns with regular cadmium paints and I like the way their opaque nature adds a punch of colour to my paintings.

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