Here is our review of the best watercolor paints for artists.
The best watercolor paints are pigmented and easy to blend. They also tend to have no granulation and can last a long time.
As an artist, it’s always frustrating to buy paint only to find out that the quality does not live up to its name. That’s why I spent some time to research the best watercolor paints to help save you some time.
I found that the M. Graham & Co. Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set is a great overall choice for most artists. The colors are pigmented, vibrant, and do not dry out on your palette.
But, you might have other preferences or needs so I’ve included different options as well.
Let’s dive right in!
Table of Contents
7 Best Watercolor Paints
Here are 7 of the best watercolor paints for various levels of artists.
1. Best Overall – M. Graham & Co. Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set
The M. Graham & Co. Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set is an excellent choice for most artists that are looking to get into watercolor painting. This set comes with 10 different colors in 15 ml (0.5 Fl Oz) tubes which would last you quite a while. It’s also slightly cheaper when you compare the per-unit price to other options with smaller tubes. These are artist grade paints which are higher in quality than student grade paints. They feel smooth on the paper and are pigmented and vibrant.
The special thing about these paints is that they’re made with honey which prevents them from drying out. This can be great if you paint in a studio because it’s easier to rewet and get right back to painting. However, some people don’t like that they don’t dry out because you can accidentally smudge it if you’re not careful. While the paint is of high quality, they’re not as versatile because you can’t use it to fill pans (since they don’t harden).
|Does not harden||Not for filling pans|
|Feels smooth on the paper|
2. Best for Beginners – Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 Color Set
The Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 Color Set is an excellent choice for beginners that are looking to dabble in watercolor. This is a traditional Japanese watercolor set so the color names don’t really match up with Western brands. But, a lot of the colors are very similar. The paints in this set are vibrant and come in a wide range of colors. This saves you a lot of time from mixing colors and allows you to try out a lot of different colors. The set is also quite affordable which is great since you don’t have to spend much to try out watercolor painting.
While the paint is good enough for beginners, these are not artist grade paints. You will definitely notice a difference if you compare them side by side. Also, keep in mind that the actual paint you get is more like a half pan instead of a full pan since the pans aren’t filled up all the way.
|Very wide range of colors||Not artist grade paint|
|Great for beginners|
3. Best Budget – MeiLiang Watercolor Paint Set
The best budget option is the MeiLiang Watercolor Paint Set which is made with Arabic gum and comes in 36 colors. The paints are vibrant and have a wide range of colors. This allows you to try out a lot of colors as a beginner. This set is cheaper than a lot of other options while having decent enough quality to make good paintings.
The main downside of this set is that the tin is a bit flimsy and low quality. Some people find that the pan tends to fall out which can be troublesome if you’re planning to travel with this set.
|Vibrant paint||Tin is a bit flimsy and low quality|
|Great for beginners||Not artist grade paint|
|Wide range of colors|
The DANIEL SMITH Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Watercolor is a great set for artists that are looking to try artist grade paint. The set comes with six 5 ml (0.17 Fl Oz) tubes of colors (three cool primary colors and three warm primary colors) which are all of the colors you really need to make most of the colors you would use. Many artists find that the paints are very pigmented and that a little paint goes a long way. Another set that is quite popular among artists is Daniel Smith’s Jean Haines Master Artist set which comes with 10 interesting colors. But, those colors might be a bit more limiting if you don’t have the other primary colors.
The main downside of this set is that it is a bit expensive since they come in smaller 5 ml tubes. While all artist grade paints are quite expensive, it might be more economical to buy larger tubes if you often paint in watercolor. Be sure to look at the per-unit price when you’re comparing different products and brands.
|Great intro set for high-quality paint||A bit expensive|
|Vibrant pigments||Small tubes|
|Artist grade paint|
|Great set of primary colors|
The Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paint Set is also a great set if you’re looking for artist grade paints. The set comes with 12 different colors in 5 ml (0.17 Fl Oz) tubes. While the tubes are a bit small, the set has all of the colors you really need along with colors like green and brown that you’ll be using often. The set comes with a box that is great for traveling or painting at home. In the same product series, you can also opt for the pan option instead of tubes.
The only downside I found with this set is that it’s a bit expensive. Like other sets with smaller tubes, the price per unit will always be higher than buying larger tubes. But, it can be worth it if you’re not sure what colors you want and you just want to try a wide variety of colors.
|Artist grade||A bit expensive|
|Great for traveling|
|Wide range of colors|
|Option of tubes or pan|
The Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paint Set is a great set of high-quality student grade paint. In this set, they’ve replaced expensive pigment with less expensive alternatives which makes the paint more affordable. The set comes with 12 different colors, including black and white, which covers pretty much all of the colors you need. This set is great for beginners that want to try watercolor but have a lower budget. This set also comes in the half pan format.
The only downside I’ve found with this set is that the paint is not as good as artist grade paints. Like other student grade paints, you are sacrificing a bit of quality for a more affordable product.
|More affordable||Not as good as artist grade paints|
|Wide range of colors|
|Good for beginners|
The ARTEZA Watercolor Paint Set is a good set if you’re looking for a more affordable watercolor that comes in tubes. The paint is non-toxic, blends well, and contains a good amount of pigments. The set comes with 24 colors in 12 ml (0.4 Fl Oz) tubes. With this set, you can pretty much mix all of the colors that you really need to use. If you’re a bit hesitant to buy more expensive artist grade paints, I definitely recommend this since it’s quite affordable.
The downside with this paint set is that it tends to crack when you let it dry. If you let it dry on palettes, the paint might crack and fall off so it’s best not to squeeze out too much paint at one sitting. The paint is also not meant for filling pans since they can crack and fall out when dried.
|Good for beginners||Not meant for filling pans|
|Very affordable||Dries and cracks on palettes|
|Wide range of colors|
|Pigmented and blends well|
How to Pick the Best Watercolor Paints
Here are a few things to keep in mind when picking the best watercolor paints.
Beginners are often confused about what colors to pick when buying paint for watercolor. In my experience, it’s essential to start with the warm and cool hues of primary colors (6 colors total: cool yellow, warm yellow, cool red, warm red, cool blue, and warm blue). These colors would allow you to mix most of the colors you need.
The actual name of the colors depends on which brand you decide to use. You also might want to stick to one brand after you’ve found a brand you like so that you can remember the color names.
Aside from the primary colors, you can also buy secondary colors (orange, green, purple) to save yourself some time from mixing. You can also buy browns and dark blues for earthy colors and backgrounds.
Keep in mind that some sets already have a wide range of colors you can try before you start buying individual colors.
The amount of pigment inside the paint often correlates with the quality/price of the paint. Higher-quality paints usually have more pigment which makes the color more vivid and intense. The colors also tend to fade less over time. Cheap paints often have less pigment and use other substitute materials to cut costs.
Lightfastness refers to the ability of the paint to resist fading when exposed to light. This is important if you want your painting to last a long time in a museum or up on a wall. Look for “excellent” or “very good” lightfast ratings on the paint. However, you don’t need to worry about lightfastness if you’re just painting for fun or practice.
Viscosity is how thick or thin the paint is. Paint that is high in viscosity is easier to control flow and coverage. However, if it is too thick, it’s hard to make the colors seem even. Medium viscosity is the best in most cases.
Transparency is important when it comes to layering. You want more transparent paint if you want multiple layers. Transparency comes with three ratings: “transparent”, “semi-transparent”, and “opaque”. If you’re buying individual paints, I would opt for “transparent”. In my experience, transparent paints with a single pigment can give you the most saturated and intense color. They also mix quite well. Opaque paint is suitable for highlights or when you want to have a more solid color.
Price and Experience Level
In most cases, higher-quality paints are more expensive. Paints can be divided into two main grades: artist grade and student grade. Artist grade paints are great investments if you are serious about watercolor painting. They are meant for artists with more experience or art professionals. You can also consider getting artist grade paints even when you are a beginner if you have a bigger budget so you can get used to the higher quality paints.
Student grade paints are usually cheaper because they use fewer pigments by substituting them with cheaper materials. The quality is not as good, but it is a good start if you want to dabble in watercolor painting. I recommend picking something affordable to see if you like the medium before upgrading to artist grade paints if you have never painted with watercolor before.
Some paints are more creamy and easier to blend with water than others. Paints also come with a smooth, matte, or glossy finish. The type of texture you want depends on the effect you want to achieve in your painting.
Granulation refers to the distribution of pigment in water and on paper. Some paints are more grainy which leaves a rougher texture on paper and leaves a brush stroke. This can be good or bad depending on what you’re trying to do. Usually, less expensive paints are more granular because the pigments are not finely milled so they’re not as water-soluble.
The blendability of the paint depends on the pigment and the binders of the paint. Better quality paints are easier to blend in most cases. As stated before, cheaper paints can sometimes be granular and harder to paint.
Tubes or Pans
Watercolor paints come in two main forms: tubes and pans. Each type has its pros and cons so you should pick the type that best suits you. Pans are dried paint with a higher concentration of pigment that comes in little pans. They are more portable and easy to store. However, you need to reactivate them with water before you paint. You can do this easily by spraying water on them with a little spray bottle.
Tube paints come in a tube with liquid color that resembles a toothpaste-like consistency. The main advantage of tube paints is that you can mix a large amount of paint with them. You can also use it to fill empty pans and let them dry to make pan paint. If you’re using high-quality paint, tube paints are often more economical in the long run.
From my research, I found that most artists prefer paints from brands like Daniel Smith, M. Graham, and Winsor and Newton. However, you can also consider other well-known brands such as Sennelier, Holbein, Da Vinci, Schmincke, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt.
If you’re looking for a budget option, Arteza, MeiLiang, and Kuretake are great options. But, brands don’t matter as much at this level as long as you’re picking a paint set that most people find acceptable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions when it comes to picking the best watercolor paints.
How long will my watercolor paint last?
Watercolor paint can last about 2-3 years on average, but it really depends on how often you paint with watercolor. In general, full pans last longer than tubes since they have more pigment in them and you need to use a lesser amount. However, some find it more economical to use tubes to fill pans since you can fill a pan 2-3 times with a 15 ml tube.
Be sure to clean the cap of your tube and close it tightly to ensure that they don’t dry out. You can also place them in an airtight container in a dry place to keep the moisture out.
What’s the difference between pan and tube watercolor?
As stated earlier, pan and tube paints both have their pros and cons. Pan watercolor comes in a dry cake and contains a higher concentration of pigment. It’s a bit inconvenient in that you have to reactivate it with water. You can simply spray it with water from a small spray bottle to reactive it. Watercolor pans are also more portable and easier to travel with.
Watercolor tubes are liquid paints that come in small tubes. The main advantage of tube paints is that they can be used to mix a large amount of paint. They can also be used to fill pans which can be more economical in the long run.
Which brand of watercolor should I buy?
It depends on the quality that you are looking for. If you’re looking for artist-grade watercolor, I recommend Daniel Smith, M. Graham, and Winsor and Newton. Although artist-grade paints are more expensive, you’ll be able to see the difference when you compare them to student-grade paints.
Arteza, MeiLiang, and Kuretake are also great options if you’re looking for more affordable options.
Picking the best watercolor paint can be difficult when there are so many choices. Hopefully, this article helped you pick the best one for you.
Most high-quality watercolor paints are vibrant, pigmented, and easy to blend. However, they’re also more expensive than the more budget-friendly student grade paints.
From my research, I’ve found that the M. Graham & Co. Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set is a great set for most artists.
But, I’ve also included a few other alternatives and budget options for you to consider.