Whether you’re a beginner or a professional painter, the watercolors you choose are essential to your work as a budding artist. For the record, I am a firm believer that your talent and creativity will shine through despite the use of crappy art materials. (Want to take the challenge with a $3 washable paint set from the kids’ section? You should! If nothing else, it’s a fun exercise.)
With that said, decent watercolor paints are a small investment that can and will make a difference. There are the famous A-list ones, and some lesser-known brands worth the detour.
Choosing the best watercolor paints for beginners – within the scope of your budget – sure, it takes a little effort, but it will make you feel like a kid on Christmas morning once you’re back to making art!
Many professional artists have spent years experimenting and searching for the ultimate paint to use for their masterpieces. Just because it’s a good idea to take some time out of creating to acquire the right tools for your trade doesn’t mean it has to take all day.
Actually, it doesn’t need to take you all day. For your convenience, here’s a compilation of the watercolor paint sets. Included are, of course, their pros & cons, to help you choose the ideal one for your purpose and budget.
Let’s dive in!
Things to Consider When Looking for the Best Watercolor Paints for Beginners
Before we head to the paint aisle, I’d like to go over some basic factors to consider before buying watercolors.
Artist vs. Student Grade
Artist watercolors, as the name suggests, are more commonly targeted towards professional painters. As such, watercolors of this range have a higher pigment concentration, contributing to better permanence rates compared to student grade watercolors.
Student watercolors, on the other hand, may contain a cheaper, synthetic pigment, with fillers and extenders, to maintain the color quality.
This isn’t to say that student watercolors are of bad quality – quite the opposite! While not as top-quality as artist grade watercolors, some student watercolors are actually good enough to be used by those who would consider themselves established artists. Their affordable price is obviously a welcome bonus.
Often called lightfastness, permanence is a watercolor’s ability to withstand exposure to light and humidity without fading. If you want your paintings to last years without changes in their original color, you’ll need to find a watercolor with a high permanence rating.
An ASTM rating can be found on the packaging/tube of every watercolor product. A lightfastness level of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’ is what you’ll probably want to go for.
Tip: If not too large, you can always scan your artwork in and freeze it in time in the form of bits and bytes.
Transparency is the capacity of light to pass through your painting and reflect back off paper.
This is important when it comes to layering watercolors and creating a luminescent effect to your paintings.
Pans vs. Tubes
Pans or Tubes; that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Let’s look at the differences between the two.
Pans are circular or rectangular trays with solid blocks of dry paint that can be used when sprinkled with water. They can be purchased individually or in sets ranging from as few as 6 to as many as 100 different colors.
- Great for using outdoors
- Zero waste
- Often comes with its own tin
- May cause colors to mix together and damage its original hue
- Aren’t suited to large washes
Tubes contain concentrated pigment inside individual containers. Most tubes range from 5ml-37ml. These are also sold in sets or individually. Tubes are favored by artists who make large paintings.
- Convenient for large paintings
- Colors appear very vibrant due to the concentration
- Can dry out and isn’t suited for re-wetting
- You may accidentally squeeze too much than what’s needed
A Quick Look at Our Favorites
|Product||Price||Palette Count||Grade level||Form|
|Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections: Decadent Pies||$30||12||Student grade||Pans|
|Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors||$26 – $69||12 – 45||Student grade||Both|
|Daniel Smith’s Alvaro Castagnet Master Artist Watercolor Set||$63.21||10||Artist-grade||Tubes|
|ARTEZA Watercolor Paint||$43.99||36||Student grade||Pans|
|Sennelier L’Aquarelle French Watercolor Paint||$223||42||Artist-grade||Pans|
Prima’s Watercolors are widely known to be one of the best water paints available in the market, from when they were established in the 90s.
This specific watercolor set stands out because of its unique selection of colors compared to the “classic” Prima version.
Despite being classified as student grade, this watercolor set can almost be considered as artist-grade as well. It presents you with 12 different high-caliber colors and each is exceptionally pigmented.
- Comes with a metal tin, that can easily cost around $30 if bought separately
- Great set for a hobby watercolorist
- The paints are of great quality with a lovely array of warm hues
- Doesn’t come with a brush
- The colors available restricts you from painting wider themes
First established in 1835, Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors has consistently produced top-notch paints for both amateurs and professionals alike. As such, this specific brand was often described to be the base of every great canvas.
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors are always known to have high-quality products and wouldn’t settle for less.
Their paints have great transparency, astounding coloring quality, and come in practical sizes. This watercolor set contains 12 8ml tubes and a brush, whereas this one has a multitude of shades in the form of 45 half pans. Prices vary, so it depends on what you’re looking for. Being a lazy mixer, I’d recommend the 45 half pans!
- Colors are easily mixed
- Glides well
- Easy to add or replace pans
- Individual tubes can be bought at a good price
- Comes with a brush and tin pan
- High-quality colors
- Pigments are synthetic
- Only the pans come with an actual box (tubes do not)
Daniel Smith Watercolors are another global favorite. Founded in 1976, they sell watercolor paint, oil paint, and acrylic paints of various quality.
The set we’re going for today comes with 10 colors in 5ml tubes.
If you find this a little lacking, fret not; Daniel Smith has over 240 different tubes to choose from, which you can buy individually. Many of these colors are unique and can only be found within this line of product.
Personal preference ultimately determines whether the selection of hues in any set is a good fit for you. With color, you use what you like, and develop your own palette after you’re painting for a while. In the process, you begin to see what colors you prefer and what colors you don’t really care for.
That’s the beauty of the journey. Learn by doing, by experimenting.
- Doesn’t easily dry out
- Individual tubes can be bought separately, with over 240 colors to choose from
- Smooth, creamy, and blends beautifully well with other colors
- Colors are rich and wonderfully vibrant
- The tubes are quite small
- Doesn’t come with a brush or tin
ARTEZA’s watercolor paints are the ultimate watercolor for students. It comes with an assortment of 36 colors, a tin, and a brush. This allows you to paint straight away if you’re a complete beginner.
The watercolors are rich and vibrant and tint well on paper. The palette selection is great and gives you the freedom to paint anything you put your mind into. It mixes really well, and the hues have just enough variation to create a new color of choice.
These watercolors are student grade. Despite some less than positive reviews, an overwhelming number of amateur and aspiring artists rave about their experience with this set.
- Colors are vibrant
- It comes with a mixing tray and a good quality brush
- A great practice set before moving to the more expensive watercolors
- The colors tint well on dark paper
- The metal casing is very well made
- Isn’t highly pigmented
- Doesn’t include the color white
- Other watercolor sets have a better lightfastness
The last item on our list is the artist-grade watercolor favorite among professionals. Sennelier L’Aquarelle has been in the market for over 125 years and has gained the admiration of artists of all kinds.
Sennelier L’Aquarelle only uses the finest, highly lightfast pigments, which explains the high price tag. It uses honey as an additive, which is suitable for those who prefer a thicker consistency to their paints and adds to the longevity of the colors.
It comes with 48 different palettes, a mixing tray, and a brush. With Kordofan Gum Arabic as a bonding agent, Sennelier L’Aquarelle uses only the top quality pigments for their paints.
- Beautifully brilliant and pigmented colors
- Comes with a high lightfastness and transparency properties
- Colors layer easily and remain fairly moist after it dries due to the addition of honey
- Remains vibrant even after it dries
- Might be a little bit pricey for some
Each of the listed watercolors above is a great choice. It goes without saying that the professional-grade will always outperform the student/amateur versions. This is true for pretty much anything. As true as is the fact that professional gear or tools cost an arm and a leg. For good reason – but still.
My personal recommendation, in the category under $50-$100, would definitely be Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors. The colors are beautiful and its quality greatly overshadows the price, which is quite affordable, to begin with!