Whether you’re enrolling in your very first art class or selling your watercolor paintings in galleries, you know that investing in good-quality equipment and materials is essential to your success. The best watercolor paints provide vibrancy, intensity, transparency, permanence, and a plethora of color options for your favorite art projects.
As you shop for watercolor paints, this guide may help you make the best choices. Depending on your preferred artistic style and creative habits, you may select dry cakes of watercolor paints in pans or sets of liquid watercolors in tubes. You’ll want to consider your budget as well. Less-expensive watercolor paints containing synthetic binders may be satisfactory for beginners and hobbyists, but if you’re a serious watercolorist, you may want to explore more expensive watercolor paints containing raw minerals.
With a wealth of available options, it can be time-consuming and confusing to decide on the best watercolor paints for your needs. The following list of recommendations will meet the technical and aesthetic needs of watercolorists at every level, from beginners to professionals.
- BEST OVERALL: AEM Hi Arts Watercolor Paint Artist Set – 24 Tube
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Artist’s Loft 36 Color Fundamental Watercolor Pan Set
- BEST COLOR VARIETY: union accessories Watercolor Set, 90 Vivid Colors
- BEST FOR BLENDING: Chromatek 54 Watercolor Brush Pens
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: MeiLiang Watercolor Paint Set, 36 Vivid Colors
- BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: SHINHAN Professional Watercolor Paint 7.5ml Tubes
- BEST PORTABLE: Sakura XNCW-24N 24, Assorted Watercolors Field Sketch
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Watercolor Paints
You can find sets of watercolor paints in pans or tubes at an array of price points for beginners, professionals, and everyone in between. Consider your needs as a beginning or experienced artist, and look for the best watercolor paints that offer features to suit your individual preferences.
If you’re just getting started with watercolors, you may want to invest in a student-grade set that provides good quality paints at a reasonable price. Manufacturers use synthetic binders and fillers in student-grade watercolor paints to produce a less expensive product.
As a beginner, you may welcome the inexpensive price of a student-grade set, but keep in mind that these watercolors are less permanent than professional-grade paints. If you see the word “hue” after the name of a pigment, it means that synthetic filler is present, and the paint will not yield fully permanent results.
On the other hand, professional-grade watercolor paints are more expensive because they contain more pigments, offer a wider array of colors, and produce more permanent results. They do not contain synthetic fillers. Instead, the pigments contain raw minerals; therefore, prices are higher due to the rarity of some of these minerals.
Mediums come in the form of gel or liquid additives that you can mix with watercolors to create textured, pearlescent, glossy, or transparent effects. Some mediums are added to the mixing water and work well with the dry cakes of paint in watercolor pans. Others require mixing directly with the liquid watercolor paint that comes in tube form. Examples of additives include gum arabic to heighten transparency and color intensity, oxgall to improve paint flow, and watercolor medium to add brilliant vibrancy to your paintings.
If you’re a beginning watercolorist, you may want to stick with simply mixing water and paint, as the overuse of watercolor mediums can ruin your paintings.
Both watercolor pans and sets of watercolor tubes include a variety of colors. With a plethora of available options, you may wonder what colors you should buy. Every artist has his or her preferred palettes, and choice comes down to individual style.
Must-have colors include the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, since these colors cannot be created by mixing other colors. Beyond that, you may want to buy a collection of both warm and cool primary colors. This will give you an enhanced range of options for blending paints to achieve new color choices.
The term “permanence” refers to the paint’s resistance to fading or deterioration when exposed to light and humidity. Also called lightfastness, the permanence of watercolor paint depends on the quality of the pigments and how much filler (if any) is used in making the paint. The more filler the paint contains, the less permanent it is. However, when the paint contains raw minerals instead of filler, it becomes more permanent.
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) provides a lightfastness rating scale that allows manufacturers to publicize the permanence of their paints. You may notice an ASTM rating of I (excellent) or II (very good) on the packaging of some watercolor paints. A rating of III would represent paints that are too low of quality for artists’ watercolors.
The quality of allowing light to pass through an object is called transparency, and it gives watercolor paintings the desirable washed-out effect. On the other hand, paints that do not allow light to pass through, such as acrylic paints, are described as opaque.
Watercolors are available in opaque and transparent forms, and manufacturers mark their packaging accordingly. You can also water down opaque paints to create a more transparent effect.
Pan vs. Tube
Watercolor paints come in two forms: pans, which are small cakes of dry paint arranged in trays, or tubes of liquid paint. Pan-based watercolors are activated when you add water from your brush.
Watercolor pans are convenient because they are neat and portable. Close the lid, and you can take your pan with you anywhere. The downside is that it takes time to dip your brush in water and mix it with the paint for the desired consistency. An advantage of watercolor pans is that if the cakes of paint dry out, you can achieve consistent results by reactivating them with water.
Tube-based liquid watercolor paints are messier, but the concentrated form produces more vibrant color, which is preferable for mixing and producing art on a larger scale. Unlike watercolor pans, liquid watercolor paints are ready to go right out of the tube. The downside is that if liquid paint dries out, reactivation with water is not always successful.
Our Top Picks
The top product picks have been selected to meet the needs of artists from beginners to professionals. Consider your needs and preferences in the areas of experience level, budget, color vibrancy, blending, and portability to help you choose the best watercolor paints on the market for your next artistic endeavor.
Treat yourself, or give this set from AEM Hi Arts as a gift to spark creative expression in a friend or loved one. It includes 24 tubes of vibrant watercolor paints, three brushes, a palette for mixing paint, and a pad of 20 sheets of watercolor paper. The sturdy box is perfect for storage and portability.
The nontoxic paint mixes easily, spreads smoothly, and does not emit a chemical smell. It has been tested on sensitive skin for safety and comfort. Blend and hold your paint in the handy palette as you work. Another perk to this set is it cleans up quickly for storage and travel.
This portable set contains all you need for hours of enjoyable artistic activity. The entire set weighs 1.5 pounds, and the storage and travel box measures 9 inches by 8.4 inches by 1.5 inches.
Experiment with a broad assortment of colors and color blends in this 36-color set with the included brush. At a budget-friendly price, this set from Artist’s Loft offers a solid value in both the quantity and variety of paint colors. Artists from beginners to professionals can use these watercolor paints to produce illustrations, design greeting cards, and create calligraphy lettering.
The paint is acid-free and nontoxic, making it safe for use by children and adults alike. It’s washable for quick and easy cleanup as well. Planning on painting on the go? Simply close the set’s plastic case for convenient portability. It measures 10 inches by 5.51 inches by 0.71 inches and weighs only 8.8 ounces.
Broaden the range of color options for your next watercolor painting with this set of 90 watercolor cakes set in a compact carrying case with a clasp. The set from Union Accessories includes 50 conventional colors with vibrant pigments, 36 glitter colors, and 4 neon colors. You’ll also receive a paintbrush, two water brush pens, and eight sheets of watercolor paper.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, the wide array of color choices and premium quality of this watercolor paint set should add to your enjoyment of painting. The metallic glitter and neon colors can bring visual excitement and reignite your interest in creating your next masterpiece. Each of the 90 watercolor cakes measures 0.59 inches by 0.43 inches by 0.28 inches. The set weighs 1.36 pounds and measures 7.95 inches by 3.23 inches by 1.3 inches when the case is closed.
Learn to blend watercolors for beautiful effects in your artwork with this paint set from Chromatek that features 50 individually named and numbered watercolor pens plus four brush-tip water brushes with real bristle tips. The brilliant pigments in these watercolor pens blend well with each other and with water. To mix and blend colors from the watercolor pens, simply fill the water brushes with water.
This versatile paint set includes a 15-page watercolor paper tutorial pad as well as access to Chromatek’s online watercolor video tutorials. And for those just beginning with watercolor paints, they include a seven-part beginner’s video tutorial series. Despite the large number of pieces, the entire paint set measures just 9.72 inches by 6.89 inches by 2.36 inches and weighs only 1.59 pounds.
Even as a beginner, you can achieve professional results from the watercolors in this paint set from Lightwish. The 36 high-pigment watercolor cakes are infused with gum arabic to increase glossiness and transparency as well as color intensity. The paint mixes well and does not leave a grainy or chalky feel after it dries.
Certified safe and nontoxic by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), this set of watercolors, with the included brush, makes an ideal gift for introducing children to the joy of artistic expression. The cover of the sturdy metal case boasts the versatility to be used as a mixing palette, and the set becomes portable when the lid is closed. It measures 9 inches by 3.7 inches and weighs only 8 ounces.
In this paint set from Shinhan, you’ll receive 30 7.5-millimeter tubes of intensely colored watercolor paints. Pure pigments (without fillers) and high-grade gum arabic bring exceptional vibrancy to each of the named and numbered colors. In fact, a team of professional artists selected the colors to give you limitless blending possibilities.
If you like to paint at the beach, in the park, or in the countryside, you can take this set of watercolor paint tubes with you anywhere for painting on the go. The tubes rest in perfectly fitted grooves inside a convenient lidded box measuring 13.26 inches by 5.46 inches by 0.81 inches.
Slip this watercolor paint set from Sakura into your pocket or bag to engage your creative impulses on the go, or just use it at home for rewarding artistic results. The plastic case contains 24 watercolor cakes, a brush, a sponge, and a built-in palette for blending and holding your paints.
The student-grade watercolor paints blend easily to create an abundant variety of colors, while a detachable palette provides space to mix and hold the paints. Fill the included water brush with water to make this set even more convenient and portable. This diminutive watercolor paint set measures 4.6 inches by 1.3 inches by 6.4 inches and weighs only 9.6 ounces.
Tips for Using Watercolor Paints
The most important tip for using watercolor paints is to acquire quality materials, including paints in pans or tubes, brushes, and watercolor paper or sketchbooks. With good quality equipment and materials, your painting results will be rewarding. Here are a few additional tips to remember:
- Too much water makes the paint spread out more and causes the colors to mix and become muddy.
- Too little water makes the paint too thick, leaving visible brush strokes.
- Only use watercolor paper for best results.
- Work from light to dark as you paint.
- Assemble a collection of brushes in assorted shapes to produce various effects.
FAQs About Watercolor Paints
If you’re a beginning watercolorist, you may have a few questions and concerns. Review these answers to a few frequently asked questions about painting with watercolors.
Q. Are watercolor tubes or pans better?
Watercolor pans are neater and more portable, but liquid watercolor paint contained in tubes offers greater color intensity and is easier to manage on large products.
Q. Which is better, watercolor or acrylic?
The answer depends on your project. Acrylic paint is opaque and dries fast. Watercolor paint is more transparent, and you can build up layers of color.
Q. Can I mix watercolor and acrylic paint?
Yes. You can achieve beautiful, mixed-media effects by mixing watercolor and acrylic paint on a palette, or you can use both directly on your painting for added dimension.
Q. Are watercolors toxic?
In general, watercolors are nontoxic, but children should not swallow watercolors from pans or tubes.