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Watercolor paint is very popular amongst both beginners and professional artists. Maybe because it’s so different from oil and acrylic paint, both in terms of painting techniques and colors.
But if you are just starting out, it might be difficult to find the best watercolor paint amongst all the options available.
In this article we’ll go over all the things you need to know when choosing and we share our recommended watercolor sets.
Finding The Best Watercolor Paints
There are many personal factors that will influence which paint you will like the most. However, there are also some objective factors by which you can judge the quality of watercolor paint.
Here are 5 things you want to keep in mind while judging the quality performance of watercolors.
#1 Student-Quality Vs Artist-Quality
Like other types of paint, watercolors are also come in two different varieties; student-grade and artist-grade quality.
Student-grade paint generally contains less pigment and more filler, which makes the colors less vivid. Whereas artist-grade, also known as professional paint, has more vibrant colors due to the high amount of pigment and has better permanence as well.
If you are just beginning and want to practice some basic techniques student-grade will do. But for more serious painting I would recommend choosing artist-grade quality.
#2 Permanence & Lightfastness
Permanence, also known as lightfastness, indicates how well the paint withstands exposure to light and humidity. Low permanence paint will start fading, darken or even shift color over time.
The permanence of a paint is normally indicated by the ASTM scale. I would suggest choosing paint with either a I (excellent) or II (good) rating. Fortunately, most good watercolor brands easily meet this criteria.
Transparency is what gives watercolors their unique look compared to oil and acrylic paint, and is needed to achieve the layering effect you can find in many paintings.
However, not every watercolor paint is transparent. Besides transparent you can also find opaque watercolor paints, so check the label to know what you are buying.
This doesn’t mean that opaque watercolors are useless. There are definitely times were they are preferred over the transparent version. But if you can only afford to buy one set of paints, I would go with the transparent ones.
In theory, you are able to obtain any color by mixing red, yellow and blue, but this obviously takes a lot of time. Moreover, mixed pigments normally have the tendency to look duller and lifeless compared with single pigment colors.
That’s why it’s nice to have a wide range of colors available to you while painting. If you are buying watercolor paint for the first time, I would recommend buying a set with at least 10 or more different colors.
Also, keep in mind that even though different brands might name their colors the same, they often look different because they contain a different pigment. Similarly, the same color might be named differently by two brands. So if you are looking to expand your paint set, it’s best to stick to just a single paint brand or check the colors out in person before buying to see if they fit nicely with what you already have.
What Is The Best Brand Of Watercolor Paint?
If you are having a hard time choosing a suitable paint set, you can simple buy from one of the best watercolor brands, since you can’t really go wrong with them. Some of the best watercolor brands include:
- Winsor & Newton
- Daniel Smith
- Van Gogh
- M. Graham
Keep in mind that most of these brands offer both student-grade and artist-grade watercolor paint. For the best paint you want to go with the artist-grade one.
It is no problem to mix watercolor paints of different brands together and some brands are better at producing some colors over other colors. But keep in mind that even though different brands might name their colors similarly, they can still use different pigments and thus the resulting watercolors might be very different.
Best Watercolor Paints for Beginners
Watercolor Pan Set
The Cotman watercolor sets by Winsor & Newton are great for beginners. They are made with synthetic pigment to keep the price low, but the colors are still pretty vibrant and transparent.
The 12 different colors it comes with are enough to get started with and the plastic box can function as a mixing palette as well.
This watercolor set is the best you can get for a cheap price, so it’s a great option for beginners.
Watercolor Paint In Tubes
These watercolor paint tubes by Van Gogh are considered to be student-grade, but the intense colors would make you believe they are professional-grade.
They are easy to work with and blend together, and the colors have a very good lightfastness.
Maybe the best thing is that you can choose out of several sets that come with different colors. This let’s you choose a color spectrum best suited for your projects
Best Professional Watercolor Paints
Watercolor Pan Set
This set by Rembrandt is all you will need if you are looking for high-quality watercolor paints. These are made with some of the purest pigments and gum Arabic, which gives them great transparency, a high degree of lightfastness, and brilliant colors.
The set comes with 48 different pans so you will have a wide variety of colors available to you. Some colors might look identical when dry, but if you apply some water to them you will see that they are different hues.
If you are a serious artist looking for the best watercolor pan set out there, you will be hard-pressed to find one better than this.
Watercolor Paint In Tubes
Schmincke is another brand that is well-known for its excellent paints. Their watercolor paint in particular was first formulated in 1881 and they have been steadily improving it ever since. So it’s no surprise that many profession artists use their paint.
Almost all the watercolors by Schmincke are made using only a single pigment (rather than a combination of different pigments). This makes their colors like a little more vibrant than most other brands, while maintaining the characteristic translucence of watercolors.
Which Is Better Watercolor Tube Or Pans?
There are two types of watercolor paints come as either pans or tubes. Pans are the small rectangular or circular solid blocks of paint that you mix directly with water. Normally pans are sold as a set containing a variety of different colors but some of the best watercolor brands also sell pans individually.
The tubes contain watercolor in a paste-like consistency and come in sizes containing 5ml up to 37ml. It’s easy to squeeze the paste out of the tube on a palette, after which you can apply water to dilute it.
The physical paint is in both cases is very similar, and indeed most brands offer their paints in both forms.
That being said, I personally prefer to use pans myself because they are easier to work with and the box they come in often functions as a palette as well. Moreover, once you squeeze out the paint from one of the tubes you can’t put it back in again, so you have to be more careful.
While pans can be rewetted and dried many times without problems, the color of the paste from the tubes might become dull and start to crumble after drying several times.
What Paper Is Best For Watercolor?
If you have ever spilled a drink on a newspaper or book before, you know that the pages will stay wrinkled even after dying. That’s why you don’t want to use watercolor paint on printer paper. Instead, specialized watercolor paper is used, which is thicker than normal paper and thus can absorb the water without any problems.
Read more in our article on paper for watercolor paint.
Using a regular canvas normally doesn’t give very good results because it doesn’t absorb the watercolor paint very well. Fortunately, there is a special type of watercolor canvas that you can use instead. Alternatively, you can apply a layer of watercolor ground to any canvas to make it more absorbent. Some people like to use a watercolor canvas with a painting easel because it allows them to stand while working.
What Are The Best Brushes For Watercolor Painting?
Watercolor paint is very different from oil and acrylic paint. Most importantly, they get diluted with a lot of water to get a very thin liquid. That is why you need to use special brushes for watercolor painting, that can absorb more water than standard brushes. Normally these watercolor brushes are made out of natural hairs, rather than the synthetic fibers just for acrylic paint brushes.
For more information, read our article on the best watercolor paint brushes.
How To Use Watercolors For Beginners?
Now that you have all your watercolor supplies, it’s time to learn how to paint with watercolors. Every type of paint has dozens of different techniques that you could use. Knowing the technique is just as important as knowing when to use it. Since we can’t possibly cover everything there is to know about painting with water. Instead, we’ll mention a few resources to get you started.
If you prefer to read books take a look at The Complete Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook by Gorden MacKenzie. In his 288 page book, he clarifies and simplifies the basics of painting with watercolors and shares a bunch of useful tips and techniques.
As always YouTube is a goldmine for learning, including learning how to watercolor. You can find many tips and tricks that can help you improve your painting. Start for example with this video created by a channel called Kelogsloops, which gives a small watercolor tutorial.
However, if you are a complete beginner, a structured lesson plan might be better. That way all you have to do is follow the instructions one by one without having to worry you missed something. Nowadays, you don’t even have to leave the house to follow a class, thanks to all the online watercolor courses that are readily available.