The 9 Best Watercolor Paints for Beginners and Professionals Alike

Colorful kits for exploring your artistic side

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Watercolor painting (or aquarelle) calls for preserved, water-soluble pigments, which soften and become paintable with a bit of water. Relatively straightforward and easy to clean up, it's often one of the first painting methods many people learn. Novices, established artists, kids, and everyone in between can explore their creative sides with watercolor.

To start, "Spend as little as possible at first, so you feel free to explore and not like you have to ration your paint or your paper," watercolor artist Wendra Lynne says. Once you have confidence, treat yourself to expensive paints and papers because there is a huge range to choose from," she recommends. This way, you save money and only purchase a professional set when you are ready.

Here are the best watercolor paints you can buy today.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours 45 Half-Pan Studio Set

4.7
Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours 45 Half-Pan Studio Set

Winsor & Newton

What We Like
  • Great color options

  • Built-in palette

  • Lasts a long time

What We Don't Like
  • Colors could be richer

  • Easy to contaminate colors

For a high-quality kit that checks all the boxes, your best bet is the Cotman Water Colours Studio Set. You'll get 45 half-size pans in a broad array of colors, ranging from lemon yellow to mauve to indigo to lamp black. With so many stunning shades, you won't have to spend much time blending colors.

The set is great for beginners and advanced painters alike. These long-lasting watercolor paints are brilliantly pigmented and have good transparency and tinting strength. With a compact case and a built-in mixing tray, they're perfect for travel, painting classes, or at-home art. Our tester loves the variety of colors that appeared to last a long time in an artist's kit but noticed that the light colors can lose their vibrancy quickly, so be sure to add multiple coats.

Colors Included: 46 | Form: Pans | Brush Included?: Yes

Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours Half Pan Studio Set

 The Spruce Crafts / Erika Owen

What Testers Say

"This is a great set for beginners who want to learn how watercolors react to water and different types of paper. I liked the way this paint looked on paper the best out of all the sets we tested." — Erika Owen, Product Tester

Best Budget: Artist's Loft Necessities 36 Color Watercolor Paint Value Pack

Artist's Loft Necessities 36 Color Watercolor Paint Value Pack

Artist's Loft Necessities

What We Like
  • For beginners and professionals

  • Good for card making, illustrations, and calligraphy

  • Acid-free, washable, non-toxic paints

What We Don't Like
  • Small pan size

If you're looking for an affordable set that doesn't skimp on colors, we recommend the Watercolor Paint Value Pack from Artist's Loft Necessities. It comes with 36 highly pigmented pans, with good distribution around the color wheel.

The paint itself has a smooth consistency and offers great coverage on paper, glass, ceramic, wood, and a range of other surfaces. The pans are on the smaller side, so this pack isn't a great pick if you find yourself favoring the same colors over and over or you plan to do a lot of painting right away.

Colors Included: 36 | Form: Pans | Brush Included?: Yes

Best for Beginners: MozArt Supplies Watercolor Paint Essential Set

Watercolor Paint Essential Set

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Partitioned, 3-part lid can be used to mix colors

  • Small and portable palette

What We Don't Like
  • Only 24 colors

The Mozart Essential Set is ideal for those just beginning to explore the world of watercolor painting. With 24 go-to colors, a mixing tray, and a versatile paintbrush, you'll have everything you need to get started—except paper, of course.

The vibrant colors are easy to blend and offer a clear, crisp finish on the page. This set comes in a lightweight yet sturdy metal box, making it portable and easy to store away if you don't have a designated corner of your home for crafting.

Colors Included: 24 | Form: Pans | Brush Included?: Yes

Best Color Selection: U.S. Art Supply Professional Watercolor Paint 36 Colors

Professional Watercolor Paint

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Long-lasting paint tubes

  • Mixing wheel helps reduce paint waste

  • Good for beginners

What We Don't Like
  • Not professional grade paints

Advanced painters will appreciate this set from U.S. Art Supply. It comes with 36 high-quality watercolor paint tubes in a broad range of supremely pigmented, mixable colors. We're talking burnt umber, scarlet, viridian, and everything in between.

The set also includes a double-sided mixing wheel that helps you figure out what will happen if you mix certain tubes together. This tool can act as a guide for those who are newer to mixing colors to reduce paint waste.

Colors Included: 36 | Form: Tubes | Brush Included?: No

Best for Professionals: Arteza Premium Watercolor Paint 60 Water Colors

Watercolor Paint 60 Colors

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Choice of 60 colors

  • Easy-to-squeeze tubes

  • Good for all skill levels

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Watercolor paints can always be mixed to achieve the desired color, but with the Arteza Premium set, you can do less mixing and more painting. The box comes with 60 colors, each in a little easy-to-squeeze tube.

Information about the pigment, lightfastness and transparency are printed right on the sides of the tubes. All of that information might seem overwhelming for beginners, but it can help more advanced painters choose the right paint. As for the paint itself, you can count on a non-toxic formula that's easy to blend and suitable for all those just starting out.

Colors Included: 60 | Form: Tubes | Brush Included?: No

Best Pan: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor 36 Colors Set

Gansai Tambi Watercolor Set

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Slightly glossy finish

  • Large watercolor amounts

  • Palette and color chart included

What We Don't Like
  • Some may not like finish

The Gansai Tambi set from Kuretake comes with 36 watercolor pans in rich, striking hues. The paint itself is ultra-smooth, not at all granulated, and opaque with a slightly glossy finish. It comes in a pretty green box with a color chart.

The pans stay in place thanks to a protective sheet. However, you can also take them out individually and use the tray as a mixing palette if you need to create new colors. The pans themselves are larger than standard watercolor pans, which means they last longer. And they're easier to paint with since you can saturate your brush much more easily.

Colors Included: 36 | Form: Pans | Brush Included?: No

Best Tubes: M. Graham Artists' Watercolor Tubes

3.6
M-Graham Watercolors

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Colors are super-rich

  • Large paint tubes last a long time

What We Don't Like
  • Only five colors

You can't go wrong with M. Graham Artists' Watercolor paints. The impressively pigmented tubes come in a wide range of colors, which you can buy in singles or sets. Each color is individually developed to bring out the pigment's unique qualities.

The super-rich yet easily dilutable paints are produced in small batches and formulated with honey to prevent drying out. You can count on them to last for months—maybe even years—a quality hobby painters will appreciate. Because of this, a little goes a long way, and you only need a little bit with an even amount of water to make an impact on paper, according to our product tester.

Colors Included: 33 | Form: Tubes | Brush Included?: No

What Testers Say

"If you aren’t an experienced blender—like, ahem, myself—the M. Graham option is great for experimenting because you get a hefty amount of paint in each tube. The colors are rich, but possible to blend even without an expert touch." Erika Owen, Product Tester

Best Vivid: MeiLiang Watercolor Paint Set

Watercolor Paint Set

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • 36 vivid watercolors

  • Arabic gum increases gloss and transparency

  • Portable with box lid as a mixing palette

What We Don't Like
  • Small color pans

MeiLiang Watercolor Paints are extremely pigmented, not chalky or grainy, and glossier than most other formulas. This set comes with a user-friendly waterbrush and 36 intensely vivid colors, all set in pans within a cute teal case.

The sturdy metal box is small enough to take on a trip or to a painting class but also big enough that it doubles as a mixing palette. Paired with the waterbrush, this paint set is incredibly portable, so you can take it outside and be inspired by nature while you paint.

Colors Included: 36 | Form: Pans | Brush Included?: Yes

Best for Kids: Crayola Washable Watercolor Set 16 Colors

Washable Watercolor Set 16 Colors

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Great for all ages

  • Includes paintbrush

  • Very affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Limited color range

The Crayola Washable Paint Set is the best option for kids. It comes with 16 watercolor pans in all the essential colors, plus a paintbrush designed for small hands. We like that the semi-moist paint is easy to lift onto your brush and that the non-toxic formula easily washes off skin, clothes, and furniture.

The color range is limited, but this set will keep any kid who loves to paint or color happy. It even comes with a paintbrush, and the clear lid can be used as a palette if your child wants to experiment with mixing colors.

Colors Included: 16 | Form: Pans | Brush Included?: Yes

Final Verdict

The best watercolor paints overall are Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colours. The Half-Pan Studio Set comes with 45 high-quality paints, each with impressive pigment, tinting strength, and transparency (view at Amazon). However, if you prefer tube paints or want even more colors, you can't go wrong with the Arteza Premium 60 Water Colors set (view at Amazon).

What to Look for in a Watercolor Paint

Color

Some watercolor paints are sold in individual tubes, allowing you to select exactly the colors you want. Others are sold in sets, so you’ll want to evaluate which colors are included to make sure they meet your needs. Beyond that, consider the pigment of various paints, as more heavily-pigmented paints will produce brighter, more intense colors. 

"Different colors have different names between brands, or some will be the same color but have a different name, so it's best to stick to one brand in the beginning," says watercolor painter Grace Scharr McEnaney. You could even start with the three primary colors and mix every other color you need from there, she suggests. This may be more suitable for experience painters.

Price

In general, the higher the paint quality, the more expensive it'll be. Your expertise—as well as how you intend to use the paint—will help you determine how much you need to spend to get the effect you want.

Texture

Beyond pigment, a paint’s texture can make a big difference—some are creamier than others and easier to blend with water. The texture can also affect how the paint goes on the canvas (or any other material).

Experience Level

Watercolor sets are often labeled in a way that makes it easy to know who they are targeted towards. Professional sets will include that word in their packaging or the term "artist's quality." Less expensive options with fewer color options are more suited for beginners. And it will be easy to spot a set made specifically for kids.

"I feel that even a kid's set is a great way for adult beginners to feel relaxed to explore, play and not feel intimidated," says Lynne. She uses kids' watercolor paints with higher-quality brushes at her painting events. "I think this combination is the best for building confidence. You can get a kid's set for under $5," she shares.

"Student grade paints don't perform anywhere near what a professional watercolor paint does," says McEnaney. "They don't blend the same way, and the colors aren't as vibrant." So if you are serious about your hobby and don't mind spending a few extra bucks, opt for professional-grade picks.

Fellow watercolor painter Janet Meinke-Lau agrees. "If you want a good painting, you need to purchase high-quality, artist-grade, moist paints—even as a beginner painter. Perhaps especially as a beginner. If you purchase student-grade paints which are cakey and dry, you will be frustrated with your artwork and might get easily discouraged and stop painting altogether," she says.

FAQ
  • How long do watercolor paints last?

    Watercolor paints last for two to three years on average, but the lifespan depends on the type, formula, and how it's stored. Lynne has a set that has lasted 25 years! Pans tend to last longer than tubes; in some cases, you might get a whole decade of use out of them. However, many watercolor tubes are formulated with ingredients like honey and glycerine to prevent them from drying out, and they can also last for years. 


    Be sure to always clean your caps and close your tubes tightly.

    To help your watercolor paints last longer, make sure you seal them in an airtight container and store them in a dry place. While you don't want them to dry out, too much humidity can soften and ultimately dissolve the water-soluble formula.

  • Are watercolor paints non-toxic?

    Most watercolor paints are non-toxic, meaning they don't contain high enough quantities of substances that are harmful to humans. In most cases, you shouldn't have to worry about getting it on your skin or inhaling fumes.

    That said, formulas vary among brands. Check the ingredients list or look for an option specifically labeled as non-toxic. Kids' watercolor paints are often formulated to be safe on the skin. And even if small amounts are ingested or touch the eyes, they're usually unharmful. Having said that, you should always call poison control or a medical facility if paint is ever swallowed.

  • Can you mix watercolor and acrylic paints?

    Since watercolors and acrylics are both water-based paints, they can be mixed together. Just bear in mind that acrylic paints have a waterproof finish once dry, so you won't be able to use watercolors over them, as they won't stick. Your best bet is to start with watercolors and finish with acrylics.

    You can also apply an acrylic glaze over your watercolor painting. This will dry the paint underneath and seal your masterpiece with a waterproof finish.

    If using both, a layering technique is often best, says Lynne. "You can easily layer acrylic over watercolors but you can’t layer watercolors as easily over acrylics," she says. She also shares, "It’s important not to use acrylic paint with your watercolor brushes because the acrylic paint leaves a residue on the bristles that takes away their softness."

    McEnaney suggests mixing watercolors with gouache paints for a new texture and style to your artwork.

  • What watercolors do professionals use?

    Professional artists all have different brands, pigments, and textures that they prefer, and there is not one specific product that all works for everyone. Lynne offers advice for picking high-quality paints. "Professional paints often have pigment ratings on them or will be marked as extra fine. The higher the number, the higher ratio of pigment—1 being less intense," she says.

    Meinke-Lau prefers tubes when painting professionally. "Tube paints give deep, luscious color," she shares.

  • Are watercolor tubes or pans better?

    Both watercolor tubes and pans have their strengths and their purposes. Pans are often more convenient and come in compact sets with plenty of colors that are easy to travel with. "Tubes are great for saturated colors. Pans are great for being spontaneous and painting on the go," says Lynne. It depends on the artist's preference and which option is more budget-friendly and accessible.

    "Pan paints are better for starting or building a sketch practice," says Meinke-Lau. "In the beginning, you start with a few pan paints, and you begin getting to know your paints. Eventually, you may accumulate a collection of tube paints at home and just refill your pans with them, having the option to use paints that are dried in your pan or moist straight from the tube," she says.

  • What are the best watercolor brushes?

    Again, brushes are a very specific preference depending on the artist. "A brush that can be used for many techniques is the mid-size round brush, size 7 or 8. The barrel should be about as wide across as a crayon," shares Lynne. Another helpful hint she shares is, "Look for a synthetic brush with soft bristles that bounce back when held down and come to a point when wet." These will be useful for those starting out as they begin to understand which brushes work best for them and build their collection. 

    McEnaney adds that most watercolor artists like a brush that comes to a really nice point, as well as flat brushes that will come in different sizes. "A good brush holds a lot of water, so you're not dipping it all the time," she says.

    "The most important quality about a brush is its absorbency. A good watercolor brush can hold a lot of water and a lot of paint," says Meinke-Lau.

Why Trust The Spruce?

Lifelong arts and crafts enthusiast Theresa Holland has been contributing to The Spruce brands since 2019. She has an appreciation for watercolors and enjoys painting with her son. You can check out more of her writing on MyDomaine and Byrdie. To make this list, she considered each paint's color, cost, and texture. Additional reporting was done by Julia Fields, a lifestyle writer for The Spruce brands covering all things surrounding toys, gifts, and the holidays. She's also covered similar topics in other roles, including toy reviews, product round-ups, expert-focused articles, and more.

Expert advice was provided by watercolor artists Wendra Lynne, Grace Scharr McEnaney, and Janet Meinke-Lau.

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