Preview: Cobra Water-Miscible Oil Paint

January 31, 2011
I’ve been using various brands of water-miscible oils since the late 1980s, soon after Grumbacher’s MAX came on the market. I continue to use regular oils as well. I recently received several Cobra water-miscible oil paints and mediums from Royal Talens, and plan on doing a few tests to see how they compare to other brands I have.

The paints shown above are:
Titanium white (PW6,) Indian yellow (PY110,) transparent red oxide (PR101,) cadmium red deep and medium (PR108,) madder lake (PR264,) burnt sienna (PR101,) permanent lemon yellow (PY184,) cadmium lemon yellow (PY35,) chromium oxide green (PG17,) phthalo green (PG7,) cobalt blue (PB29+B15,) cerulean blue (PB35,) and ivory black (PBk9.)

The mediums are Painting Paste (to increase paint volume,) Painting Medium (“oil, synthetic resin, and water,”) and Glazing Medium. I’m not entirely certain what’s in the Glazing Medium. The brochure says it’s just an oil base, but it has a  slight chemical odor, as does the Painting Medium. Neither is supposed to affect paint drying times, so apparently no drier is added. The paste is odorless.

Some information I have on Cobras, directly from Royal Talens:
70 artist-grade colors, 32 of which are single pigments, including cadmium, cobalt, and genuine cerulean.
The oil vehicle is a mixture of partly modified (miscible) linseed oil and regular linseed with an emulsifier added. I don’t know if the whites use safflower oil or not (waiting for an email response.)
Cobra is a replacement for their H2Oil brand, which I understand has now been discontinued.
The pigment load is higher than H2Oil, but slightly lower than their Rembrandt line of regular oils.
None of their earth browns contain PBr7, but instead are PR101 or mixed substitutes. Their Rembrandt earths are made the same way.


First impressions:
They all dilute easily with water. Good to know.
The pigments all appear to be what they are supposed to be. Also a good thing.
All the paints are consistently creamy. No grittyness or badly mulled paint. No odd odor.
A few had the dreaded oil separation problem that occurs sometimes with tubed paints This causes the oil to puddle out ahead of the pigment from the tube (notice the stains around some paint swatches in the image above.) It’s annoying but not a big deal. I typically touch them first to a paper towel before I squeeze them on my palette.
I was expecting the transparent red oxide to look more “transparent” than the burnt sienna (described as “semi-transparent”,) but they look identical. Both are PR 101.
The metal tubes feel a little bit flimsy so I hope they don’t puncture easily. I like the caps.

Royal Talens has a large presence in the artist’s market, and Canson is their distributor in the US. This should make the Cobras, hopefully, almost as easy to find as Winsor & Newton’s Artisan paints. I doubt these will replace Holbein Aqua DUO as my preferred water-miscible brand, but they may turn out to be a close second.



  1. This is really interesting David. I’m consistently looking for ways to avoid solvent odor. I’m own of those fair skinned people who seem to absorb solvents right through their skin, as well as breath it in.

    Do you think they will paint as well as regular oil paints?

    • The oil in them handles like any other oil, Nancy. I would recommend mixing water with them carefully, since they are emulsified paints. Stir it in first and then apply. I have more tests I’d like to do with them, but so far they behave very well.

  2. I just found out about these newly offered paints, i have not tryed them yet, but good to get some first feed backs… since i love the results with oil paints, yet are eager to paint with some waterbased mediums again, just being able to get projects done faster….and,
    of course without the danger of combust…
    Thx, i will try ,

  3. Hi,
    Enjoyed reading your preview on the Cobra Miscible Oil Paint. I’m thinking of trying some of these as well as Holbein Aqua DUO for underpaintings. Has your opinion changed any since this writing in 2011?

    Any advice on using these for faster drying underpainting?

  4. Chris, some of the Cobras are little oilier than the Duos and not as pigmented, but are a decent alternative. The titanium white seemed to dry a bit more quickly, I noticed, than the Duo one I have, but is also a little stiffer.

    They work well for undertones, just don’t thin it too much. Winsor & Newton makes a water-soluble Thinner product that some artists say works better than just water, but I haven’t really noticed a difference.

  5. Hello, I use H2Oil for years and I was stunned when I heard from my supplyer that they didn’t sell them anymore. Now you say they are replaced by the Cobras. That’s what my supplyer said, too, but I was so surprised that I felt unsafe to try them. You say they are really as good as the H2Oil ones ?
    You should then greatly reassure me.
    Thanks for your answer !

    • I believe you will find the Cobras to be better than the H2Oils were. They have more pigment by volume and a better range of color choices.

  6. I have used both H2Oil and Cobra extensively.
    Although the manufacturer states that Cobra is improved, I noticed almost no difference in my own dilution tests on both products. (Mind you, I only use single pigment paints, and these tend to be better than mixed pigments, so the Cobra might be better in the latter).

    I loved H2Oil and also love Cobra.

    In the single pigments, it seems to me it is as good as anything else I have used in Artist grade, and of course you can wash up with water. You can also mix it with regular oil if you ever want to, and all in all I love the bright colors and quality of the product.

    Cobra is just great. I also use other paints too, some regular oil, depending on the look I want. But Cobra could be my one and only paint, and I am actually using more of the stuff, so maybe that will become the case.

  7. My first experience with WMO is with the WN Artisan. I have been painting for over thirty five years with professional grade oils (e.g. Talens Rembrandt) and find that the WN Artisan WMO is definately not any where near a professional grade oil even though it washes up nicely with soap and water etc. The one redeeming quality it has is price. I find the product inconsistant from tube to tube and somewhat sticky to use.

    I don’t have the time to doctor up the paints out of the tube when I travel so the WN Artisan is not going to be my go to brand for sure. Fortunately, I have lots of experience with a pallette knife and can get a pretty good result from the knife/brush combo versus the brush only.

    I haven’t given up yet on WMOs and have an order of Holbein Duo Aqua coming.

    • I have read comments from Winsor and Newton representatives that their Artisan brand paints have a lower pigmentation than their “Artist” grade oil paints. I have also had problems with consistency in the past; some are okay, some are too stiff or oily. It’s not the brand I would recommend of this type of paint. I think you will be pleased with the Holbeins as they are my favorite of the miscible oils. Cobra works well as a second choice, in my opinion.

  8. Daniel Smith (of Washington State) has a new line of water soluble oil paints which are excellent quality. Until now, I have used primarily Holbein Duo Aqua because they are professional quality. But Daniel Smith is now my very favorite. Because Daniel Smith paints are not sold in stores (except in Washington state), many artists don’t know about them. Their watercolor line has become world renown for quality and selection of Quinacridone pigments. Their water soluble oils are excellent too. I’m recommending them to all oil painters.

    • It’s good to hear a positive recommendation of the Daniel Smith paints, Gary. Thanks. I was happy to hear awhile back that they had entered the water miscible market, but haven’t tried their paints yet. They have a decent pigment assortment, including true viridian (PG18), but it’d be nicer if they had real cadmiums, too.

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