Everything you want to know about Holbein DUO Aqua Watermixable Oils

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There is no colour medium that has made a greater impact on the advance of artistic achievement, particularly in the Western world, than oil colour. Our traditions over the centuries from the Renaissance to the present have placed the oil colourist at the forefront of those who have influenced the evolution of visual artistic expression.

For the manufacturer of artists’ paints, there has been an ever present challenge of improving the quality and performance of oil colour. It is a medium that has never been easy to use. Toxic solvents have been an important element in the use of the traditional oil medium. For many, the medium resulted in allergic reactions while, for others, the use of solvents in the painting and clean up process was offensive. The presence of oil and solvent in the process made use by the young difficult, if not hazardous.

There has always existed the need for an oil colour for the professional and for the student with all the handling qualities and characteristics of a true oil colour, but without the negatives of the traditional medium. Now technology has produced a solution through the use of the most logical of mediums.... water.

The production of a water soluble oil colour has been solved by different manufacturers in different ways, though not all seem to have the qualities of a true oil colour. Holbein’s objective in formulating DUO Aqua Oil Color was production of a genuine oil colour for the professional with the same qualities and characteristics of the traditional Holbein Artist Oil Colour, certainly one of the world’s finest. The pigments and densities are the same, with the same painting techniques, drying and permanency characteristics.

To make DUO identical to its traditional cousin, Holbein developed a unique additive which works as a surfactant, any residue of which loses its effectiveness once the oil colour is dry. The dictionary defines a surfactant as a surface active agent.

DUO is water soluble, but the oil is identical to that used in Holbein’s Artist Oil Colour. There is no special treatment, no modification or breaking down (cracking) of the oil. There is no water in the product, only the additive that is rendered redundant and of no effect in the drying process. The surface agent covers the pigment and oil, thus making both water sensitive or soluble. That is all. There is no other ingredient present.

When blended with water alone, DUO will dry to a slight mat finish. If the artist does not wish to use water, DUO may be used as a traditional oil colour and the result will be the same. This is the reason DUO blends naturally with traditional oil colour and mediums (although water solubility is lost if traditional oils or mediums exceed 30% of the mixture). Hence DUO cannot be classified as a true water base color, like gouache, watercolour, aqueous color or acrylic, all of which blend perfectly with DUO while wet (add a few drops of water when blending with acrylic). DUO starts to dry slowly and after the water dries out, the oil that remains continues to dry by oxidation in the same manner as traditional oil and with the same result.

Since the introduction of Holbein’s own DUO Water soluble mediums, the artist now has full command of their work.

A finished work should not, however, be varnished for 6 to 8 months, depending on climate, as is usual for oil color. Because of its versatility, the possibilities for special techniques and effects using DUO are limited only by one’s imagination.



Holbein’s Duo Aqua Oil is the only professional line of water soluble oil colors available to today’s artist. Painters and printmakers alike give it glowing reviews for superior quality and exceptional value.

Listed below are some of the specific reasons why Duo Aqua Oil has gained a loyal following among serious artists. 

  • Offers a great option for oil painting
  • Does not contain solvents
  • Cleans up easily with water
  • Dries faster than traditional oils
  • Easily mixes with traditional oils
  • Can be mixed with acrylics or watercolours
  • Has a smooth buttery texture
  • Offers a choice of 100 vibrant colours with full pigment load and excellent light fast ratings
  • Makes an excellent printmaking ink
  • Has an ideal texture—firm enough to roll-up on a brayer
  • Spreads easily on a printing plate, no need to add linseed oil
  • Allows for longer working time because of oil base
  • Works great for handprints, etching press, stencils, collagraph plate and    Intaglio/Relief printing methods
  • Produces outstanding monotypes—reveals beautiful brush strokes
  • Unlike good quality oil based etching inks, no harsh solvents are necessary. DUO cleans up with soap and water.

“Nice colours, clean roll-up with brayer, and easy clean up.”

John Greco, Master Printer
Josephine Press

“Being a mix-media artist I use different techniques to create my work. This can be costly and cause workspace challenges. I find that Duo saves me time and money by doing the work of two essential products. It is both a high quality paint and an outstanding printmaking ink.”

Pam Hudson, Artist

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