Best Watercolor Paints for Professional Artists and Beginners

It seems like there are new watercolor paints that ate released every day. This can make it difficult for a professional or new artist to find the right paints for their budget and advancing their skill level. In the following buyer’s guide, we will help you weed through all of the watercolor paints available to find the best for your specific needs.

Best Choice
Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
Best Watercolor Paint
The paints are of exceptional quality and are fun to work with. They blend beautifully and dry smooth without granulation. Most of the pigments are vegan and contain only high-quality ingredients.
Check Price

Whether you are searching for lightfastness or vegan-friendly formulas, there is a watercolor paint out there for you and the following reviews will help you find it.

Selecting your Watercolor Paint

Less expensive and lower quality paints use synthetic colors and fillers to make the tubes less expensive. Fillers and synthetic pigments are found in student grade paints and are often identified by “hue” after the color name on the tube.

Professional grade watercolor uses pure, concentrated pigments, often created by using the namesake of the color in the blend. This creates a true shade and allows the watercolor paint to disperse evenly on paper and blend well. The more concentrated pigment also allows you to use less paint to achieve the desired effect.

Transparency

Watercolors are unique because of their transparency and luminosity. The more transparent a paint is, the brighter the color when you layer and blend it.

It also works better with mixed media. This is important for layering techniques and painting over other media, such as pen drawings. If you need to do either, you will need a fairly transparent paint. More opaque colors are used for depositing color on top of existing paint, such as highlights.

In general, watercolor is transparent to semi-transparent and can be reactivated easily and layered or blended with existing colors on paper. Opaque watercolor paints are usually a sign of the use of inexpensive pigment or too much binder.

Granulation

Granulation is the distribution of pigment in water and on paper. Finely milled pigments create the smoothest color distribution. Also, this varies depending on the underlying pigment used. Some pigments are notoriously granular, such as ultramarine blue.

Granulation leaves a texture on the page and makes brush strokes more evident. Less expensive paints are more granular because they are not finely milled and use pigments that are not as water-soluble, but it can also happen with some professional-grade products as well. It is up to the preference of the artist to determine which works best for you.

Blendability

The pigments and binders used in a paint will determine whether or not it blends well. This affects gradients, mixing colors on the page, and the color distribution. Better quality pigments tend to blend better and with less work.

This is also a preference. For example, you may not wish for your paints to over blend. However, most watercolor artists prefer paints that are easy to work with and blend easily and smoothly.

Best Watercolor Paints − Comparison Table

ImageProduct 
Best Choice
Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor review
Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
  • No granulation
  • Excellent blendability
  • Excellent Lightfastness

Check Price
For Beginners
M. Graham Watercolor Paints review
M. Graham Watercolor Paints
  • Vibrant, more traditional color
  • Easy to get a good result
  • Beautiful textures

Check Price
For Professionals
Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor Paints review
Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor Paints
  • Very blendable
  • No granulation
  • Signature shades

Check Price
Paint Tin Set
Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Set review
Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Set
  • Come in pans, available in tubes
  • Transparent and great for layering
  • Low cost per shade when purchased in the set

Check Price
Cheap Alternative
Arteza Watercolor Set review
Arteza Watercolor Set
  • Very Inexpensive
  • Decent Student Grade Set
  • Not lightfast or archival safe

Check Price

 

1. Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor − Best Overall

Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor

Daniel Smith is the best watercolor paint and at the moment and has a reputation for being smooth, richly pigmented, and lightfast. These paints are professional grade, very high-quality paints that many professional watercolorists prefer. They are individually sold in 15ml tubes.

Unpacking and First Impressions

The tubes are about what one would expect of a high-quality watercolor tube.

It is a standard and sturdy metal with a screw-on cap. It comes with an inner seal to keep the product fresh until you open it for use. The paint does not come in contact with air before opening, so your paints will retain their vibrant colors even after long periods of time unused. This also means you cannot save leftover paint from one session or project to another because there isn’t any extra left when opened!

On the front, the label includes the shade name in multiple languages and the amount of paint per tube. On the remainder of the label, you will find technical information, such as the pigments used and the permanence and lightfast rating. This information is easy to find and is helpful when planning a project.

This brand may be the best watercolor brand, which tries to use innovative vegan and natural pigments whenever possible. They offer both Primatek and luminescent shades. Primatek shades are made from natural minerals, including semi-precious stones, which are ground ultra-fine.

It also has an extremely wide color gamut making it perfect for both amateurs and professional artists alike. The paint can be used wet or dry which makes them great for more experienced painters who use wet-on-wet techniques as well as more traditional painting styles. Due to this versatility, these watercolors are frequently recommended by instructors at institutions around the country including Pratt Institute School of Art & Design in New York City.

If you insist on purchasing your colors individually, we’d recommend getting at least the following colors to start:

Or you can grab this set:

Daniel Smith Alvaro Castagnet Master Watercolor Set (10 Pack) Daniel Smith Alvaro Castagnet Master Watercolor Set (10 Pack)
  • Set of colors that world-respected artist Alvaro Castagnet loves the most
  • 10 × 5ml tubes: Hansa Yellow Deep, Mayan Orange, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna Light, Neutral Tint, Deep Scarlet, and Pyrrol Red
Check Price

The only downside is that they are one of the more expensive brands on the market, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of quality and performance.

Performance

The Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor paints are hands down, the best watercolors on the market. They have a full range of transparent colors that blend with ease and create smooth gradients even when using multiple layers. The paints are also lightfast (meaning they will not fade over time).

 

These watercolors are very richly pigmented and have no granulation. This makes them a breeze to work with. All you have to do is apply a little water to paint fresh out of the tube or to dried paints in a pan and these paints activate beautifully and quickly.

These watercolors flow very smoothly onto paper without overaccentuating brush strokes as some cheaper brands do. They are richly pigmented and blend easily into other colors on the page as well as between layers while painting (with less chance of color muddying).

The colors are rich, smooth, and blend superbly. They are absolutely stunning in intensity. For more subtle shades or washes, you will need to significantly thin the paint, so keep this in mind if you decide this is the watercolor paint for you.

The tubes will last quite a while, even if you paint frequently. These paints can also be added to an empty tin with pans if you enjoy painting in a coffee shop or on vacation.

Pros & Cons of Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
Rich pigments
No granulation
Superb lightfastness
Large shade range
Most shades are vegan
High cost
Primatek and luminescent shades can be difficult to work with

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in investing in Daniel Smith watercolors, you may wish to purchase a Dot Card Sheet Set including samples of the full range of their paints on high-quality watercolor paper. This allows you to test out 238 shades in the range before you make your purchase.

The paints are of exceptional quality and are fun to work with. They blend beautifully and dry smooth without granulation. Most of the pigments are vegan and contain only high-quality ingredients.

Quality
5
Color
5
Transparency
5
Price
4
Easy to use
3
Result
4.4
These are the perfect paints for any commission work or artwork to be featured in an art show or showcase

2. M. Graham Watercolor − Best Watercolor Paints for Beginners

M. Graham Watercolor

M. Graham is best known for its oil paints, but they also make excellent artist-grade watercolor paints that are quickly becoming a favorite of many professional artists. Their paints are a traditional honey-based formula that is known for being easy to activate and use.

Unpacking and First Impressions

The tubes of this watercolor paint line come in a cardboard box. The tube lids have an inner seal, which is great for keeping the paints fresh and preventing any leaks.

Each tube has a plastic screw-on lid with a wide opening that makes it easy to get at the paint.

On the front, you will find a color swatch and the name of the color. There is also a lot number which can be found on the bottom of each tube.

On the back, there is some basic information such as lightfastness and permanence ratings, pigment type, and manufacturer’s contact information.

The colors are rich, vibrant, and heavily pigmented. We were really impressed by this quality. If you’re an artist who prefers muted colors, these probably aren’t the paints for you. M. Graham watercolors are produced using honey, which keeps paints very soft and ready to paint even when they’re dried in a palette.

This line is excellent for those just starting out with watercolors as they are easy to work with and produce great results. The colors mix well together and the paint dries slowly, giving you plenty of time to adjust your painting if necessary.

This is definitely a pricier brand, but there is a reason for this. This company has the highest pigmentation possible for its shades and tries to pull colors from natural sources. They also mix their paints in small batches. The results are very traditional, textured, and crafted watercolors that many artists love.

They also use blackberry honey as a binder. This is a classic binder, but it does come with some interesting side effects. Honey is used in watercolor because of its humectant characteristics. It pulls in moisture and distributes it evenly. This makes it very easy to activate the pigment.

We recommend starting with the set below. This set of primary colors is ideal for beginners (e.g., for color theory classes):

This set is ideal for designers and more experienced artists:

M. Graham Intermediate Watercolor Paint Set M. Graham Intermediate Watercolor Paint Set
  • 10 tubes, 1/2-Ounce each
  • Set includes: Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Sap Green, Burnt Sienna, Azo Yellow, Pyrrol Red, Phthalocyanine Green, Azo Orange, Nickel Quinacridone Gold and Dioxazine Purple.
Check Price

Performance

M. Graham offers an impressive range including both natural and synthetic pigments.

These watercolors are very richly pigmented and have no granulation. This makes them a breeze to work with. All you have to do is apply a little water to paint fresh out of the tube or to dried paints in a pan and these paints activate beautifully and quickly.

Some of the paints are runnier than others due to the pigments and binders used and may run or mix if used in a travel tin. This is important to note, especially if you prefer to keep your paints stored in a tin to be used on the go.

Many artists support that the paints are too fluid to travel with. We didn’t have this problem but perhaps if you left them there for a long time on an edge, maybe they would start to slip down.

Also, keep in mind that any moisture can activate the pigment. That means that you will have more issues in a humid environment. So, these might not be the best paints to use if you’re painting in damp locations. They behave similarly on paper as for other traditional honey-based brands but produce slightly wetter results because of the humectant properties of honey.

The colors are rich, smooth, blend superbly, and dry without any weird texture (e.g., chalkiness). They also produce vibrant washes when fully activated by an ample amount of water; however, for more subtle shades you will need to significantly thin the paint down before use because they can be quite strong straight from the tube.

When applied to paper, they are not all transparent. This is caused by the type of pigments and how they disperse in the water and means that you can see brush strokes. A lot of the warm reds are going to be very opaque compared to other watercolor colors.

The tubes will last quite a while, even if you paint frequently. These paints can also be added to an empty tin with pans if you enjoy painting in a coffee shop or on vacation.

Pros & Cons of M. Graham Watercolor
Vibrant, more traditional color
Rewets quickly and easily
Beautiful textures
Blends beautifully
Some colors are too thin for a pan
Not vegan

Final Thoughts

These paints are deservedly second on our list of the best watercolor paints. The colors are rich and vibrant and they definitely have a classic look and feel due to the formula and pigments used. They are not vegan due to the honey base but don’t state that they contain animal-based products in their pigments.

If you are a painter that loves to use a more traditional paint that has a rich texture and shows the artist’s brush strokes, you will love these paints. They are easy to work with and are fun to play with and discover how the colors blend and dry down.

Quality
5
Color
4
Transparency
3
Price
4
Easy to use
4
Result
4
Watercolorists that prefer lifting techniques may not like these paints, especially when used on cotton paper. The cotton absorbs many of the pigments and makes it difficult to use those techniques.

 

3. Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor − Best for Professionals

Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor

Winsor and Newton is a well-respected name in the art world and their watercolor is one of their most loved products worldwide. Their professional watercolor paints are some of the best available and are known for their rich pigment, archival quality, and are easy to work with.

Although this company offers both professional and student-grade lines in their watercolors, the professional products are where they really shine. They started manufacturing paints in 1853 and have many signature colors, which are very popular among artists.

Would you like to try something new? We’ve thoroughly and honestly tested the best watercolor pencils. You can use these for either fine details in a combination of watercolor paints.

Unpacking and First Impressions

The tubes are simple but elegant with a white base color and clear labeling. The colors are identified by both name and number, which can be helpful when you’re mixing colors. The paint inside is also labeled as “permanent” or “non-permanent.” The archival rating is clearly labeled for each pigment and is the highest available for that pigment. That means that any work of art if cared for properly, will last.

One thing to note: Winsor & Newton changed their numbering system a few years ago, so if you have older tubes of paint, they may not match the newer paints that we mention here.

These tubes are slightly smaller than other comparable products and are very pricey. However, they are very high grade and contain permanent pigments, so that is to be expected.

Performance

As Winsor & Newton offers some of the most vibrant and intensely pigmented paints on the market, it’s no wonder that so many professional artists swear by their products! Their transparency/opacity, quick drying time, vibrancy, and intensity are all perfect for creating beautiful watercolor paintings.

The pigment quality is exceptional. The colors are rich, intense, and bright with no dull spots. They also have a good range of hues that can be mixed to create other shades. All in all, Winsor & Newton offers some of the most vibrant and intensely pigmented paints on the market.

These paints are transparent when wet but become more opaque as they dry. This can be helpful if you want to layer colors or build up color washes because it allows you to see your progress as you work. However, keep in mind that opacity can also lead to unsightly brush strokes if not applied carefully.

The paints have a quick drying time, which is ideal if you don’t want to spend too much time in the studio. The paint dries quickly when applied so there isn’t enough time for it to run or mix together in a way that makes your color scheme look muddy and dirty. When painting with W&N, dry colors will keep their vibrancy and intensity while still being easy to blend into other areas of the artwork.

However, this also means that they may not be suitable for use on damp papers since moisture can activate pigment – especially when combined with the fast-drying nature of these pigments! This issue may present problems during travel due to high humidity levels but shouldn’t pose a problem during regular painting sessions.

Unfortunately, some colors can stain even after they dry. Keep this in mind if you intend to use them on light paper or paint with very thin washes of color since the stains may be difficult (or impossible) to remove and will leave marks that affect your final piece of artwork.

Pros & Cons of Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor
High pigmentation
Signature shades
No granulation or chalkiness
Very blendable
High cost
Not vegan

Final Thoughts

These paints are a favorite among professional artists for a reason. They are consistently rich in color, creamy in texture, and smooth. There isn’t any granulation or chalkiness and all you get is a beautifully blended color that is incredibly easy to work with. Whether you are using a wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry application, you won’t be disappointed with the performance of these paints.

The downside to these paints is that they are not vegan and use animal byproducts. So if that’s important to you, these might not be the paints for you.

Quality
5
Color
5
Transparency
4
Price
3
Easy to use
4
Result
4.2
These paints are so pigmented that they will last for years. So, it could be a great investment and save you money in the long run.

 

4. Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Deluxe Set − Best Tin Set

Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Deluxe Set

Tin sets are universal and make painting on-location possible. This list wouldn’t be complete without a professional-grade pan set. Rembrandt’s watercolor paint sets are well known and loved throughout the artist community. Their various palettes are perfect for experienced or new artists.

If you want to expand your watercolor collection with a great professional pan set, this one is a great way to do it and save money in the longterm.

Unpacking and First Impressions

The Rembrandt 48 pan deluxe set has everything an artist could possibly need in a compact tin palette. This tin comes in a beautiful box that you can use to keep your tin safe and stored when it’s not in use.

The case is very sturdy and compact. There is also an extra compartment for water if you don’t want to carry around a separate container.

The tin includes half pan pigments that are individually wrapped in wax paper with the shade information labeled clearly. The wax papers are easy to remove and can be stored away for future reference.

Also, the pan holder itself can easily be removed to clean beneath the pans without removing them from the holder. This is a really nice feature since a little splashing can happen in a tin as you travel. In addition to the paints, the tin includes a nice number 4 size travel brush that is great for most uses.

They are labeled “student grade” but we’ve used them for years and they have never failed to produce vibrant colors every time. The pigments are incredibly concentrated – you only need a drop or two to get intense color!

Performance

These paints are incredibly creamy, smooth, and blend together beautifully on paper! They work well even when wet-on-wet so they’re perfect for beginners! You can achieve both thin washes or thick colors that will cover almost any surface in just one coat of paint which makes these paints excellent value for money because you won’t need as many tubes to get full coverage.

The pigments activate quickly with a little water and apply and mix beautifully on high-quality watercolor paper. It’s a pleasure to blend and play with these paints and find out exactly which shades work together and the pans make it very easy to switch between colors.

The pigments in this set are beautiful and rich. Although they are richly pigmented, most of them are transparent and bright. Some of the shades do have some granulation, which can be nice, depending on your preference.

The colors layer very well. This is great for building up the color or overlapping shades. This ability makes these paints very versatile for any watercolor artist.

These watercolors also tend to dry out quickly which makes them difficult to work with if you’re going back over previously painted areas unless you plan ahead by adding some watercolor medium.

Pros & Cons of Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Deluxe Set
Transparent and great for layering
Low cost per shade when purchased in the set
Rich color and dense pigments
Upfront cost is greater
Reds are not as lightfast

Final Thoughts

This is a great set for professional artists who like to paint on-the-go or spontaneously. The tin would fit easily into a bag or backpack with a sketchbook and has any color you could possibly need.

The set would also work well if you prefer the convenience of painting out of a pan in your studio. The quality of the paints is high enough that you shouldn’t have any issues with professional work.

This set really needs a color swatch chart with the color information. Once the wrappers are removed, you won’t know the exact shade information. It is also worth noting that keeping a shade chart with the swatches will help you tremendously while you travel.

Also worth noting, the reds are not as lightfast as other shades. So it might be worth purchasing reds in another brand for any professional work and commissions that you plan to create with this set.

Quality
4
Color
4
Transparency
4
Price
3
Easy to use
5
Result
4
This is a great set for professional artists who like to paint on-the-go or spontaneously. The tin would fit easily into a bag or backpack with a sketchbook and has any color you could possibly need.

5. Arteza Watercolor Paint Set − Best Cheap Watercolor Paint Set

Arteza Watercolor Paint Set

Arteza is a fairly new brand of student-quality art supplies that has grown rapidly and expanded over the past several years. Among their awesome range of products are their watercolors. These student-grade pigments come in at a very cheap price but pack a lot of colors and are of decent quality.

Unpacking and First Impressions

The Arteza set comes in vibrant cardboard packaging that is great for storing your paints when they’re not in use. This set contains two plastic trays with 12 tubes per tray. You can easily arrange the shades so that you fit the tubes that you need on a single tray to keep on your workspace, saving you from having to carry the entire set with you.

The tubes are very similar to pricier professional grade paints in that they include color and pigment information right on the label. This is nice to have in an inexpensive student-grade tube set. Overall the set has a nice selection of colors, although many include white pigments.

The Arteza watercolor paint set is a great option if you’re just starting out with watercolors, traveling frequently, or have an artistic budget because it’s much cheaper than other brands but still has good pigment quality that lays nicely on paper.

Performance

These paints are not bad at all for a student-grade set. In fact, for the price point, it is very good. The colors are rich, bright, and solid. They are easily activated and reactivated once dry.

The colors blend decently well, although the fillers prevent the smooth blending one experiences with professional-grade paints. This is to be expected for the type of product that it is though.

The paint dries quickly on the palette (within minutes) and also on the paper. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your painting style.

One thing to note is that the shades can be somewhat opaque and don’t layer well. This can be a challenge for certain types of projects. Also, the color beneath can be picked up quite easily and blends unevenly unless the paint is very dry before layering.

This is not as high quality of paint as some other brands on this list, but it is still very good for the price. The colors are vibrant and mix well together to create many different hues. They also layer nicely to give more depth to paintings. One downside is that they can be streaky when applied heavily, so you have to be careful how much water you add.

Another issue with this set is that the tubes tend to dry out quickly. So, if you’re not using the paints often, it’s a good idea to keep the caps on tight and store them in a cool, dry place.

Pros & Cons of Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
Very Inexpensive
Decent Student Grade Set
Plenty of colors in kit
Paints are chalky and some shades are quite opaque
Not much variation in the original pigments
Not lightfast
Not vegan
Not good for use in a pan

Final Thoughts

These paints are not ideal for use in pans or while traveling. When they dry they will crack and fall out of the pans. Once again, this has to do with the use of fillers to reduce the cost.

You can’t go wrong with the price of this set though. The colors really are beautiful and with the right techniques, you can create some beautiful paintings and effects. However, the layering ability is just not the best. This set may not be for you if you are working on layering and blending pigments.

Quality
3
Color
3
Transparency
3
Price
5
Easy to use
5
Result
3.8
A new artist could definitely get used to the basics of watercolor with this set and won't be too disappointed with the results.

Choosing the Right Product for You

If you still feel overwhelmed, write down the qualities that are the most important to you. Review the pros and cons of each product and compare it to your list and use the above chart as a guide.

The right watercolor paints can make all of the difference in advancing your skills as an artist. It can also help you create works of art that last for decades. If you are purchasing professional grade paints for the first time and you are on a budget, consider purchasing the primary and secondary colors first and purchase more shades as you are able.

Also, consider purchasing a high-quality watercolor paper. Paper can make even inexpensive paints look amazing. This can help you advance your skills, even on a tight budget.

People Also Ask

How do you use liquid watercolor paints in tubes?

To use watercolor paint in tubes, you'll need a mixing surface. An artist's palette is the best tool for this, but there are other options. Simply squeeze a small bit of the paint onto your mixing surface and mix with water. You can do this one color at a time, but it usually works best if you mix all the colors you plan to use before you start painting. The more water you add to the paint, the lighter your color will become, so mix with less water for darker, more vibrant colors and more water for paler, more pastel-like colors.

Are watercolor paints toxic?

As a general rule, watercolor paints have very low toxicity levels, but that doesn't mean they are entirely safe. Some paints, including those made from natural ingredients, contain certain metals or other agents that can be mildly toxic. There are handy guides all over the Internet that tell you which ingredients and agents in paint can be toxic or irritating to the eyes or skin. If you're ever in doubt, check out one of them. To be safe, never ingest paint, and if a child or pet does ingest your watercolors accidentally, seek assistance from medical professionals right away. It's also best to wear a protective apron or other items of clothing while painting and clean your skin thoroughly after each session.

Can watercolor paints be used on canvas?

Yes. Watercolor paints can be used on canvas. They work on any canvas with a little work, but they work best on specially-made canvases for watercolors simply called “watercolor canvas.” If you want to use your watercolors on regular canvas, you'll need to take a few steps first. First, coat your canvas with two coats of gesso at minimum, letting each dry 100% before putting anything else on the canvas. Then apply between four and six thin coats of a watercolor ground. Let each coat dry. After the last one, let the canvas sit for a minimum of 24 hours before doing any actual painting.

How are watercolor paints made?

All watercolor paints have two main ingredients: the pigment and the binding agent. The pigment provides the color and comes from any number of natural or synthetic ingredients. The binding agent is almost always gum-Arabic; this binds the paint together into one cohesive unit. After the two primary ingredients are mixed together, they harden into a solid block. At this point, a plasticizer and glucose-based moisturizer are added in to soften the paint and help extend its life. Brighteners and fillers are often added as well.

Which watercolor paints are transparent?

The colors that are generally transparent are as follows: lemon yellow, new gamboge, transparent pyrrol orange, quinacridone rose, quinacridone violet, French ultramarine, phthalo blue (GS), phthalo green (BS), Prussian blue, yellow ochre and quinacridone burnt orange. There are other colors considered to be semi-transparent, as well.

How long do watercolor paints last?

Watercolor paints generally last two or three years. Dried paint, though, can be reconstituted. If you choose to do this, you can extend the life of your watercolors by over a decade.

Can watercolor paint expire?

Watercolors don't actually “expire”, but as already discussed, they can dry out in the tube. This can be fixed, however, with a little work.

1 thought on “Best Watercolor Paints for Professional Artists and Beginners”

  1. I am brand new to oil painting and wanted to really give it a try. I was using a friend’s old supplies and wanted to get my own oil paint set new to work with since most of the tubes are nearly empty now. This page helped me a lot to compare prices and details, ultimately helping me find the best paint choice a s beginner. Thanks!

    Reply

Leave a Comment