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.
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.
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 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.
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
|Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor||
|M. Graham Watercolor Paints||
|Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor Paints||
Paint Tin Set
|Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Set||
|Arteza Watercolor Set||
1. Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor − Best Overall
Daniel Smith is the best watercolor paint at the moment and have 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.
The tubes are about what one would expect of a high-quality watercolor tube. 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 is innovative and tries to use 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.
If you insist on purchasing your colors individually, I’d recommend getting at least the following colors to start:
- Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)
- Hansa Yellow Light or Hansa Yellow Deep
- Permanent Red Deep or Pyrrol Red
- Permanent Green
- Titanium White
- Ivory Black
Or you can grab this set:
- 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
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.
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.
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.
2. M. Graham Watercolor − Best for Beginners
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.
The watercolor packaging is simple but effective. The tubes have a label that includes the color name and identification on the front, along with the size of the tube and the series.
This is definitely a pricier brand, but there is a reason for this. This company 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 in 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 ideal for beginners (e.g., for color theory classes):
- Ultramarine Blue
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson or Pyrrol Red
- Azo Yellow
- Sap Green or Permanent Green Pale
- Titanium White
- Lamp Black
This set is ideal for designers and more experienced artists:
- 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.
These paints activate like a dream. All you need is a small amount of water and you are set to go almost immediately. The pigments are concentrated, rich, and vibrant.
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. 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.
While some artists prefer a rich, smooth, transparent finish, these paints can be slightly opaque or semi-transparent and most of them do stain. When applied to paper, they are not all transparent and some can be grainy or blotchy. This is caused by the type of pigments and how they disperse in the water and means that you can see brush strokes.
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.
3. Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolor − Best for Professionals
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.
These 14ml 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.
On the tube are the color name, series number, and other pertinent information to help you quickly select the perfect shade. 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.
These paints are thick and creamy right out of the tube. You will barely need any water to disperse the pigment. However, these pigments are very rich, yet transparent. That means that if you want a thin wash of color, you will need to dilute them more than some other brands.
The colors blend beautifully together on the palette and on paper. They are incredibly easy to work with and make it easy to create beautiful effects without being chalky or blotchy in the least.
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.
4. Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Deluxe Set − Best Tin 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.
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 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.
The pigments activate quickly with a little water and apply and mix beautifully on a 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.
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.
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.
5. Arteza Watercolor Paint Set − Best Cheap 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.
All of Arteza’s products come in vibrant cardboard packaging. 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.
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.
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, very dry before layering.
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.
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.