What are poster paints?

Poster color or poster paint is a really vague category:

  • It’s a water-soluble binder-based medium, similar to gouache.
  • It’s cheaper than gouache.
  • It’s either used for art for reproduction or school projects where lightfastness is not required.
  • And to make this category even more confusing, poster paints are often referred to as “tempera paint” in the US (poster paints are much more different compared to egg tempera or traditional tempera paint)

What’s the difference between poster color, gouache, and watercolor?

All three are water-based mediums and they all share more or less the same ingredients: water, binder, pigment(s) (and additives). The most significant difference is in the ratios (and the pigment selection). The watercolor meant to be transparent, gouache, and poster color are more opaque.

Good quality watercolor are made of pigments gum arabic as a binder, and some additives to help to re-wet (honey or glycerine) or flow (ox gall). Manufacturers usually select transparent pigments with fine particles for watercolors.

Gouache, in general, is more opaque. Made of pigments and gum arabic. The ratio is slightly different from watercolors: more pigment, less binder. Cheaper brands can add some opaque body (for example, chalk) to increase the volume and save on the pigment price (usually the most expensive ingredient).

In general speaking poster colors are also made of pigments (usually ground to bigger particle size) and some opaque body, and of course some binder (gum arabic, starch, cellulose, or dextrin). The consistency is similar to gouache but even more creamy.

The following table is just a rough comparison of ingredient ratios. The actual proportions could vary depending on the pigment or the manufacturer.

  Pigment Binder Additives Water
Watercolor ▲▲▲ ✱✱✱ (◼︎) ▼▼
Gouache ▲▲▲▲ ✱✱ ◼︎ ▼▼
Poster color ▲▲ ✱✱ ◼︎◼︎ ▼▼
  Transparency Pigment Size Binder Price Range Packaging
Watercolor transparent + gum arabic €-€€€€ pans, cakes, tubes
Gouache opaque ++ gum arabic €-€€€ tubes
Poster color opaque (matt) +++ gum arabic, dextrin €-€€ tubes, jars

Poster color brands

There are some well-known poster color brands, most of them from Japan. Maybe the most famous one is Nicker Poster color, but many Japanese companies have poster colors: Holbein, Turner, Sakura, Pentel.

We can also mention some designer gouache brands (although these are not called poster colors): Royal Talens Plakkaatverf Gouache Extra Fine or Schminke HKS Designers’ Gouache.

Many other companies have their poster color products, usually made for kids.

Nicker Poster color

This brand is (or was) used to paint many Japanese animation movie backgrounds, mainly because it was available locally, in larger quantities, and was much more affordable than traditional gouache.

The paint comes in tubes (20ml) or plastic jars (40ml, 140ml). Pigment and lightfastness information is available on the manufacturer webpage (which is not that common for poster colors).

In general, reds (as expected) are less lightfast, and they use some inferior pigments (PR5).

You can (depending on your country) order from amazon.jp through their global shipping program. It’s pretty convenient, at least to Germany, since Amazon handles all the customs.

Shinhan, Camel, Turner

Shinhan and Camel both provide pigment information about their paints, for Turner, there is no pigment information, but you can check the color’s Munsell codes.

Royal Talens Plakkaatverf Gouache Extra Fine

This range is much more similar to a regular gouache range, much more lightfast than Nicker Poster color. The paint comes in tubes or glass jars in 2 different sizes.

Schminke HKS Designers’ Gouache and other Schmincke speciality gouaches

Schmincke HKS Designers’ Gouache is by no means cheap. I mention them here because there were also used for reproduction and it matches the HKS colour system. Nowdays the range is more limited as was before. Schmincke also has (along with the regular gouache ranges) some special gouaches, like the Calligraphy gouache.