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Watercolor paints are essential to your work as a watercolor artist.
However, once you get down to actually buying them, you probably just go out and buy anything that’s cheap – this can be very detrimental to your growth as an artist.
Experienced artists know that choosing your paints with some degree of critical thought reaps large dividends later on.
So, to make life a little simpler for you, we have put together a review of fifteen of the best watercolor paints that are available on the market today.
Some cater exclusively to the student/budding artist crowd, while others are aimed squarely at the aficionados and the masters of the craft. No matter where you slot in, we feature the best paints which will take you and your art forward!
Best Watercolor Paints for the Beginners and Budding Artists
- Best Watercolor Paints for the Beginners and Budding Artists
- Royal Talens Van Gogh Watercolors
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors
- Reeves 24-Pack Water Color Paint Set
- Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections: The Classics
- Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor Paint Set
- Daniel Smith Introductory Watercolors
- Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint
- Daler Rowney Watercolor Paints
- Best Watercolor Paints for Professionals
If you’re just trying out watercolor paints, this set of watercolor paints is best. There aren’t too many paints to confuse you – just a set of 12 basic shades which bears the name of the virtuoso Post-Impressionist artist. But, rest assured that these are all incredibly high-quality paints – much better than a few more expensive ones, too!
- 12 pans of opaque watercolors
- Metal box conveniently doubles as palette
- Gives full and opaque shades
- Includes a tube of transparent mixing white
When it comes to watercolor paints, a few important factors you should consider include price, the number of colors and the volume of the tubes that you get, and the lightfastness. This paint delivers on all the fronts except the number of colors – you get a generous serving of the 12 colors on offer, which can be used to create some truly exquisite and subtle effects.
The paints that you get are fairly consistent in nature, and will give you the same shade over and over. You get 10 mL of paint in these tubes. You also get a Nylon brush and a palette to mix your colors on with this particular set. People are often surprised about this being a “student grade” paint – such is the quality of the paint in this set. You definitely won’t go wrong with this!
When people think of “student watercolors”, Winsor & Newton is the brand which is most likely to come to mind. Not just student paints – they’re an established name in the professional space, too. A number of factors are in play here – the high rating of lightfastness, the permanence of the paints, and the flexibility of getting these paints either as a tube or in pans.
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There’s a lot of flexibility involved with this set of paints. First, you’re not restricted to buy a particular number of paints only – you can choose from among 6, 10, 12, 14 or 24 best shades on offer. Further, you can buy in both pans and tubes as per your requirement. These happen to be very affordable, too.
The texture that these paints deliver on the paper surface is great. The colors are also vibrant and punchy – far from the color you’d expect an “entry-level” set to have.
Then we come to the lightfastness and permanence – both of which are rated as high as the ratings go. The lightfastness is rated at either I or II (excellent or very high) and the permanence is rated as AA or A (extremely permanent/permanent). If nothing else, this should have you convinced that these paints are the real deal on all fronts – not just one.
Coming from the same umbrella company as the set we’ve reviewed above, Reeves have been in the market since 1766. Like the one above, they’ve managed to put together a very convincing set of 24 paints with 10 mL volume each. However, here’s the USP: it is very affordable. It comfortably slots into the budget/entry-level paint category!
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You get a whole lot of paint for the money – and these are good paints, too. Though they come out of the tubes in a somewhat watery manner, that’s because they’re water mixable. This effect disappears once you mix them with water. They are known to dry very quickly and have no weird, strong smell. The colors are very consistent as well.
This set makes a lot of sense for someone wanting to try watercolors out – the price of admission, usually high, becomes much more manageable this way. Do note, however, that at this price it’s impossible for Reeves to give you a paintbrush for mixing and a palette – so you’ll need to spend a little more here. Otherwise, this set delivers the best on both quality and quantity.
There are some watercolor sets which you can’t go wrong with, even if you try. The artist grade Classics collection of watercolor paints offered by Prima Marketing is definitely one of these. You get pans and not tubes in this set- which works out well because tubes can get messy sometimes and risk spilling. The transparency of the paint itself is astoundingly good for starter paints.
- High quality
- Great for mixed media
- Professional grade
This set is again a steal at the bargain basement prices you get this set at. The lightfastness of the paints and the permanence is good enough for what you pay for, but the major kicker here is the color palette which comes with the set. You get 12 classical shades of blue, green, yellow, red, and a few other unique pre-mixed shades.
Another benefit of getting this set is that you don’t have to buy another set in order to replenish shades – Prima Marketing gives you an option of buying separate shades as well. This works out well in case there’s a particular shade you need – and is cheaper in the long run. A small disadvantage is that permanence and lightfastness information is all word of mouth.
While a number of paint sets focus on your own presence of mind to navigate color mixing, this one removes that pressure from you and lets you paint in peace. Sennelier La Petite brings to the table a wonderful, honey-based watercolor set with 24 unique shades which come with a palette for mixing these paints. Their palette even has a hand strap to keep it secure!
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- 24 Half Pan Set - Measures 9.25 by 4.75 by 1.5 inches.
- Includes 24 half pan colors
This kit, like the ones reviewed above, is unlikely to disappoint all but the very choosy artists. The colors are rated incredibly highly for permanence and most colors have excellent lightfastness ratings – your paintings will definitely last very long when you use these paints.
These are all pan watercolors, so you don’t have to worry about eking out the last drop of paint from tubes. The colors on offer include a number of Sennelier’s own shades, which are truly unique and beautiful. You can also purchase some of their other color pans as individual items.
The mixing area which comes with this set is large enough to accommodate a number of paints. This is useful for when you’re working on more complex tasks and you want to mix up multiple colors for this purpose. All in all, this set of watercolors is one of the best you can get as beginners!
Taking a radically new approach towards beginners, the Daniel Smith introductory watercolor paints rely on minimalism and your own presence of mind to create the artwork of your dreams. It comes with just three colors in two different variants, warm and cold – and the ball is now metaphorically in your court when it comes to mixing them up and creating custom shades.
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This paint set takes minimalism to a whole new extent. You get just six paints to play around with, and it’s up to you to determine how to make the best of these warm/cold paints. However, fret not – for one, they have around 238 shades on offer in their catalog, which you can order separately. Secondly, there are try-it-out charts available for the entire range of colors.
We recommend this artist grade set because on your journey towards being an artist, it’s crucial to understand color mixing and dealing with a paucity of resources. It’s best if you learn this skill right at the start – so you won’t be handicapped later. These colors are brilliant and priced very economically.
Further, there are some truly unique color gradients/mixes which no manufacturer offers right off the bat. Starting with just six paints will help you immensely later on!
Coming back to more generic student paint kits, this one comes with all the bells and whistles required for a student to get going with the process of watercolor painting. You get a stunning array of 12 colors, of which a few are standard and the rest are unique shades. These are also best for those who like pigment information – their website lists exact pigments of the paints!
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With this set, you really do get everything you need to get started – that includes paints, a mixing palette and a good quality mixing brush too. The colors are rated very highly for both lightfastness and permanence – which is why despite it landing in the beginner category, it’s used by professional artists widely.
This paint impresses on a lot of fronts – not just the measurable aspects. You’re going to see brilliant shades in your work, whether you go as is or mix considerable amounts of white paint for lighter shades. This is the perfect bridging product between those wanting to go for more professional paints.
The Daler Rowney Aquafine set of watercolor paints are aimed exclusively at the beginners. They are priced very inexpensively, come in around 48 shades and give good painting performance relative to their price. They are available in both half pans and watercolor tubes, so you can go for either depending on your personal requirements.
- Smooth, vibrant colours
- Transparent, free-flowing colours
This set comes in a number of varieties, perhaps the most we’ve seen in any beginner watercolor set we’ve reviewed. This includes the pocket set, which is best for artists who prefer plein air instead of their studio. You can go for just 5 paints in a set right to the largest set of 20 paints, which includes some of their most common as well as some unique shades.
Some of their sets come with a brush – great for beginners. Their metal box set is crafted to perfection and includes a mixing palette as well. When it comes to lightfastness and permanence, Daler Rowney’s set is good but not quite among the best – which is excusable given how little they cost compared to the competition.
Their transparency and lightfastness is also very compelling. All in all, this set is a great for beginners, even though there are some obvious compromises here.
Best Watercolor Paints for Professionals
Now that we’re done with the best starter paint kits, we move on to proper professional watercolors. Here, the permanence and lightfastness of the paints is all but guaranteed – instead, the onus of the conversation will be centered around the look and feel of the paint, as well as other such important factors.
The quality of colors and how well they mix, their opacity and their granularity become much more important as you become more experienced at painting with watercolor paints.
Holbein has been around on the watercolor paint market long enough to realise what professional artists need from their paints. Hence, this paint comes with literally everything you could want from your watercolors, and then delivers a superb painting experience on top of it. Good things come in small packages, and so does this set of paints.
- Holbein Professional transparent watercolors
- More finely ground than any other artist watercolor
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- Set of twenty-four 5ml tubes
With 24 superb quality paints coming in to the picture (pun unintended), you’re unlikely to go wrong with it. Holbein’s paint quality is fastidiously maintained, and this is visible right on their website. You can easily see in-depth details about each shade of paint that they sell, including the pigment information – crucial for large scale pieces which require multiple paint refills.
You can achieve a number of crisp, subtle transparency effects using these paints. Even the 5mL tube runs through a number of painting sessions because of the incredible paint quality Holbein gives you. You can easily get refills for the exact pigment and shade on a number of online retailers as well as in your local art supplies store.
All in all, Holbein delivers a wonderful experience with paints which are vibrant, don’t crack and last a long time – and are also affordable (compared to a vast variety of paints on the market).
This set comes from the antique German company Schmincke Horadam – who have over 130 years of experience in creating some of the best artist supplies. The paint is without fault – but at the same time, it comes with an incredibly detailed color guide as well. Containing detailed descriptions of the opacity, permanence, granulation, color indices and much more, it is a stunning color guide.
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Some paints wow you by not just the quality, but how much easier they make your career as an artist. This paint set does exactly that – not only does it deliver on each and every front as far as professional paints are concerned, it also excels at describing all the paints that they have on sale. They have a total of 139 paints on offer – and many of them are truly unique.
Their production processes are such that these paints are created fastidiously over a time span of four months. The thing about German engineering is that while it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but there will never be compromises on quality.
The box which this set of paints comes in has exactly the same situation – it is rounded instead of edged, and will last much longer than your generic steel box. This set also comes with a half-pan paint option, which means you can either go in for watercolor tubes or pans as per your need. This is one of the very best watercolor paint sets money can buy – hence the cost.
While we already went through one set of colors by the brand, it’s the Professional set which has put Winsor & Newton on the map when it comes to watercolor for painting. This set is best renowned all over the world for its permanence, the texture of the paint, and usage of environmentally friendly and non-toxic materials to produce stunning paint shades.
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This paintbox is very different from the Cotmans which are the first thing which come to mind when one thinks of the brand. This paint comes with a number of striking characteristics which set it apart from the crowd. First off, there are no toxic paints in this set – even those which were generally manufactured using heavy metals are made using the nearest nontoxic substitutes.
Then we come to the permanence ratings – which are second to none. An awe-inducing 98% of paints in their entire collection are rated either excellent or very good (A or AA) for permanence. For lightfastness, opacity and texture, the story is pretty similar as well.
You get small watercolor tubes of paint in this set, but you can easily buy extras. You also get a mixing palette and a good quality brush – which is best for intermediate painters looking to go the professional way. All in all, this set is a wonderful addition to your repertoire.
If it’s the final word in fastidiousness and attention to detail which you’re seeking, you’re looking at the perfect product for you. This paint is also sourced and produced responsibly. Their pigment loading process proves that their manufacturing standards are second to none. Further, their paints are unique in that they’re made out of honey!
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These products have an ASTM lightfastness rating of either I or II – you’ll never have to worry about the longevity of your work! Out of the 70 paints they have on offer, 61 score in the highest category. Permanence is pretty much the same story. M. Graham provides detailed hue information so you can mix and match between a number of brands, should you need to.
As for the inclusion of honey in this paint set – this comes as a result of products which tend to dry out easily if left on their own for some time. M. Graham decided that this problem should not plague paints meant for professionals – and hence, these paints last for ages and ages without fail. There are no problems with the texture that you get either – you get your money’s worth.
They’re also committed to giving you 100% non toxic, renewable energy-produced products – for an industry which has traditionally been associated with toxic waste, this comes as a breath of fresh air.
This set is the professional variant of the La Petite student watercolor paint kit we reviewed earlier on. The basic formula stays the same – however, keeping in mind the professional nature of this kit, the pigment loads have been jacked up. It comes with a honey and Kordofan Gum mixture in the paint – leading to improved control over transparency and a better texture.
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This paint comes with the same benefits we established in the earlier review – Sennelier produces some of the best and most unique shades on the market today. The honey and gum mixture make sure that you’ll be able to use these paints for much longer periods of time than most other varieties. Plus, the work won’t crack over time due to dryness.
In their solid repertoire of paints, nearly every watercolor paint has an excellent lightfastness rating, and the same goes for the lightfastness. The opacity control is always in your hands with this set, and the texturing results in some beautiful work. The pigment concentration is also appreciable compared to a number of other water colour paints.
The only problem is that this French brand is a tough find – only a few art stores keep stock of them, and it’s even harder to find particular shades because Sennelier is not a mass producer of the best watercolor paints. However, if you do find them, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
This belongs to the same manufacturer whose Van Gogh set we reviewed a little while ago. While that set featured amazing units, when it comes to beginners, this set contains some of the very best paints, period. This set features a staggering 48 half-pan paints, which all have excellent lightfastness, transparency and permanence.
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This box of watercolors opens up in a three-way manner. One side contains the 48 half-pans, one has four different areas for mixing paints (it is very generously sized too), and there is one side which covers it all. Royal Talens include a red, sable paint brush for mixing, but we believe most professional readers already have a few sets they’re comfortable with.
When it comes to the colors, these paints are on a different plane altogether. The ratings for all parameters you can think of, as well as the texturing of the paint, are absolutely spot on. A few products we review are good enough to be called faultless – and this happens to be one of those very few paint sets. It’s a great set, but also mightily expensive.
The last item on our list is the more professional variant of the Aqualine we reviewed a while back. This set of products is Daler Rowney’s absolute best – in terms of lightfastness, permanence, opacity and the overall feel of the paint. These also come in a variety of packs and sizes as per your requirements – should you need more or less, there’s an option ready.
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Instead of the 48 colors the Aquafine variant provides, you are given a much more exhaustive choice of (still less than competitors) 80 colors. The outside box is available in plastic, metal and wood – the wooden variant is our pick, simply because they’re much rarer to see. The quality of the paints is right up there with the best, too.
You can buy the best watercolor either in 5 mL or 10 mL tubes, and the ratings for the products on their website shows that their colors all have very good ratings for all parameters you can think of. The pigments are also visible, which means you can easily mix colors from various sources (though certain textures will change). This is one of the best watercolor paints for a great price!
Wrapping it up
This wraps up our discussion about the 15 best watercolor paints on sale today. Whether you’re a beginner just starting out with painting with watercolors, or you’re someone with years of experience behind you – these paints are unlikely to disappoint. Filtered from among a vast number of paints on offer, you won’t go wrong with them.
Pair them up with a great watercolor paper, and your artwork will definitely shine. All the best with your artwork, and have fun painting!