The 6 Best Watercolor Paints to Buy in 2018

Pursue your hobby with the right fit for you

Caucasian artist painting watercolor tree
Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz / Getty Images

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Whether you're an experienced artist or just looking for something to keep the kids entertained, there's a watercolor paint for you. Choosing the right kind of watercolor paint depends largely on your needs and how much you want to spend.

Watercolor Basics

Watercolors are translucent paints with pigments suspended in water. As a medium, they can be used for anything from simple illustrations to elaborate murals. Unlike oil or acrylic paints, you don't need harsh chemicals to clean your brushes or thin the paint. All you need is water. Whereas an artist working in oils or acrylics can paint on a variety of surface, watercolor requires special paper that will allow the pigment to bond to the surface as it dries.

Buying Watercolors

You can find watercolors sold in tubes and pans. Pans are small square cakes of pigment cut into either full-pan (20 x 30mm) or half-pan (20 x 15mm) sizes. The pans are packaged in small plastic or metal boxes with lids to keep the paints fresh when they're not being used. Basic pan watercolor sets usually contain six to 10 colors, while artist-grade pans may have 36, 48, or 60 colors.

Tube paints contain more glycerine binder than pans. This makes them soft, creamy and easier to mix with water. Tubes come in three sizes: 5 ml, 15 ml (the most common), and 20 ml. Because you can squeeze out as much paint as you want, tubes are good if you want large areas of color. Tube watercolors can be purchased individually or in kits of 12 or more colors.

Pan watercolors are easier to take with you than tubes because all of your colors are contained in one small kit. They're also a better choice for beginners because you can get a range of colors for relatively little money. But if you want a wide range of shades of one color, then tube watercolors are a better choice. For example, Windsor and Newton offer more than a dozen shades of blue alone.

Ultimately, the right watercolor for you will depend on your needs and your budget. These are some of the best watercolors available.

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  • 01 of 06

    The Classic: Winsor & Newton Watercolor Tubes and Pan Sets

    winsor watercolor paints
    Photo from Amazon

    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.

  • 02 of 06

    For Bold Colors: M.Graham Watercolor Tubes

    M. Graham watercolor
    Amazon

    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.

  • 03 of 06

    For Color Variety: Daniel Smith Watercolor Tubes

    Daniel Smith Watercolor
    Amazon

    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.

  • 04 of 06

    For Easy Blending: Sennelier Watercolor Tubes and Pans

    My pocket Sennelier watercolour set and sketchbook
    Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

    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.

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  • 05 of 06

    Good for Beginners: Daler Rowney Watercolor Tubes

    Daler-Rowney Artists' Watercolor
    Photo from Amazon

    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.

  • 06 of 06

    For First-Timers: Anything Cheap

    Watercolour palette including shades of brown, red, yellow, green, blue, grey
    Andy Crawford / Getty Images

    If you'd like to try watercolor painting for the first time but don't want to spend a lot of money, a cheap set of six pan watercolors is all you need. Buy based on price, not brand. The perfect starter set should include six primary colors, a warm and cool version of each:

    • Cadmium yellow and azo yellow
    • Cadmium red and quinacridone red
    • Cerulean blue and phthalocyanine blue or Prussian blue

    You need to work sensibly with cadmium pigments because they are toxic, and you may prefer to use colors based on other pigments.