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Best Overall: M.Graham Watercolor Tubes at Amazon
"The colors are intense, bright, and saturated."
Best Classic: Winsor & Newton Water Colour Box at Amazon
"One of the oldest watercolor brands and also one of the most popular."
Best Color Variety: Daniel Smith Watercolor Tubes at Amazon
"Top-quality watercolor paints with a range of more than 200 colors."
Best for Blending: Sennelier Watercolor Metal Box at Amazon
"Easier to mix with water, allowing for smooth, broad brushstrokes."
Best for Beginners: Daler Rowney Watercolor Tubes at Amazon
"Easy to blend and bind well with watercolor papers."
Best for Professionals: Schmincke Horadam Metal Paint Set at Amazon
"Stocked with 12 professional-grade colors that are deeply pigmented."
Best for Kids: Prang Watercolor Paint Set at Amazon
"The starter box comes with eight bold colors that are washable."
Best Portable: Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box at Amazon
"This kit can fit into a jacket or sweatshirt pocket, purse, or small bag."
Best Overall: M.Graham Watercolor Tubes
These watercolor paints are extremely pigmented, so the colors are intense, bright, and saturated. Their 70 colors have a high tinting strength, so a little goes a long way. M.Graham uses honey in the manufacture of its watercolors, in addition to gum arabic and glycerine, making their paints especially creamy and easy to mix with water. The result: smooth washes and blends that are exceptionally translucent.
Best Classic: Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Paint Sketchers' Pocket Box
Windsor & Newton is one of the oldest watercolor paint brands and also one of the most popular. You can find W&N paints at just about any craft or art store. Many art teachers recommend the Cotman line of student-grade watercolors because they produce richer colors than other student-quality brands. For serious artists seeking higher-quality watercolors, choose the Artist's Water Colour line, with nearly 100 colors available, including some in extra-large pans.
Best Color Variety: Daniel Smith Watercolor Tubes
These are top-quality watercolor paints with very pure pigments and an astounding range of more than 200 colors. Many of these are single-pigment colors, which makes them ideal for color mixing. The range includes some intriguing colors and special-effect watercolors like iridescent shades. Can't decide which colors you want? You can buy a Try-It Chart, which has small samples of 238 colors.
Best for Blending: Sennelier Watercolor Metal Box
French watercolor manufacturer Sennelier uses honey in its paints, giving its colors a rich luster. Honey also makes watercolors easier to mix with water, allowing for smooth, broad brushstrokes. More than 70 colors are available in 10 ml (0.33 oz) and 21 ml (0.71 oz) tubes as well as in whole- and half-pan sizes.
Best for Beginners: Daler Rowney Watercolor Tubes
Daler Rowney makes a great, affordable set of tube watercolors for first-timers with 80 colors available. If you're watching your budget, look for their student-grade line of watercolors, called Aqufine. These paints won't produce colors that are as rich or translucent as their more expensive artist-quality line, but they're still an excellent choice. The paints are easy to blend and bind well with watercolor papers.
Best for Professionals: Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Half-Pan Paint Metal Set
Schmincke is a German company that has been manufacturing watercolors, pastels, and pigments for the most prestigious artists for generations. This particular tin is stocked with 12 professional-grade colors and contains an additional 12 empty spaces, so you can expand your available palette with the colors of your preference. The colors supplied include yellows, reds, blues, greens, neutrals, and blacks.
Each paint cube within the tin is deeply pigmented—so just a little bit goes a long way, creating luscious, intense color on the page. Paints are easily diluted, allowing you to achieve your desired shade and transparency. Their texture is rich and creamy (not granular or chalky), rewetting easily.
The packaging of this set is also a delight: the sturdy and compact metal container is well-crafted, with a fold-out palette for mixing colors and a thumb indent so you can grasp it with ease.
Best for Kids: Prang Watercolor Paint Set
Arts and crafts projects with little kids are notoriously messy. Think: little hands that are a rainbow of colors, stained clothes, and inevitable drips onto floors and tables. So the washable quality of these paints is a major plus, making clean up easy.
The slim starter box comes with eight bold colors and a brush. The case has an area for mixing, too. All teachers or parents need to do is supply kids with water and some paper to get the creativity flowing. This starter set doesn’t skimp on quality, either—the paints are nicely pigmented, giving richly saturated and vivid results on the page, and long-lasting as well. That makes it ideal for little kids, as well as artists and visual journal keepers who are new to watercolors and just beginning to experiment with the technique.
Best Portable: Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box
Yes, it’s delightful to paint at home, with water and ample brushes and other supplies at the ready. But if you adore landscape painting—or travel frequently—you’ll want a set of watercolors that you can easily slip in your bag and bring along. After all, you never know where, and when, inspiration will strike!
The dimensions on this kit are 4.6 x 6.4 inches—petite enough to fit into a jacket or sweatshirt pocket, purse, or small bag—and just about the same size as a small sketchbook. The portable kit’s mixing palette can be anchored at the top or side of the case, and there’s a loop on the underside, which makes it easy to hold as you paint. Plus, if you put the palette at the side of the container, you can then anchor your paper on the top of the case, so you'll have a sturdy backing for your paper as you paint. The set comes with 24 rich, vibrant colors, a built-in sponge, and a travel water brush.
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.
Cost Watercolor paints can vary widely in price. In general, the higher the quality of paint, 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).