• 10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 1
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 2
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 3
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 4
  • 10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 5

10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed)

There's something fascinating about the way water and paint combine to produce beautiful effects. Whether you're a lifelong painter or looking for a new way to express yourself, a professional artist or hobbyist, watercolor paints provide a satisfying creative outlet.


There are not only many brands, but many types, from pans to tubes to even pencils and markers! We researched what goes into choosing the best watercolor paints and created a buying guide to help you out, all written and reviewed by an artist. And we chose 10 great products, including our favorite, Daniel Smith's Essential Set. It has six of the basic colors you need to mix and make any other color, and the brand is well-known for making great watercolors.

Experts featured in this article

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
  • Last updated: 11-11-2021
Table of Contents

In Collaboration With Artist Susan Lucier-Ogawa

In Collaboration With Artist Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Susan has a Master of Fine Arts in Oil Painting, has been a glassblower since 1998, and is a former drawing professor. So naturally, we thought to ask her to help us write and review this article.


Her "painted drawings" are oil on paper and employ cartoon imagery to explore issues, ironies, and paradoxes in modern societies, often inspired by urban life in Tokyo. She has participated in juried exhibitions in the US and Japan. You can check out her work on Behance!

How We Chose Our Products

How We Chose Our Products

To choose the best watercolor paints, we took into consideration the following:


  • Making sure they are artist-grade
  • Choosing from a variety of formats, like tubes, pans, pencils and more

Don't forget to check out our buying guide after the products to make sure you have all the information you need to make a good decision about watercolor paints.

Compare the 10 Best Watercolor Paints

Image
Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set 1

Daniel Smith

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Set 1

Kuretake

Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Fine Art Watercolor 1

Dr. Ph. Martin's

M. Graham and Co. 5 Color Watercolor Set 1

M. Graham and Co.

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artists' Watercolor Pencils 1

Faber-Castell

Winsor & Newton Promarker Watercolor Markers Basic Tones 1

Winsor & Newton

Paul Rubens Artist Grade Watercolor Paint Set 1

Paul Rubens

FineTec Coliro Mica Pearl Colors 1

FineTec

MozArt Supplies Komorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set 1

MozArt Supplies

Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Water-Soluble Wax Pastels 1

Caran d'Ache

Name

Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set

Gansai Tambi Watercolor Set

Hydrus Fine Art Watercolor

5 Color Watercolor Set

Albrecht Durer Artists' Watercolor Pencils

Promarker Watercolor Markers Basic Tones

Artist Grade Watercolor Paint Set

Coliro Mica Pearl Colors

Komorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set

Neocolor II Water-Soluble Wax Pastels

Features

Best Set With the Only Colors You Really Need

Best Variety of Colors in a Pan Set

Best Colors That are So Concentrated You Only Need a Drop

Best Paints With Honey to Extend Drying Time

Best Watercolor Pencils for Artists

Best Watercolor Markers

Best Set With a Useful Tray That Becomes Your Palette

Best Metallic Paints That Shine on Light or Dark Paper

Best to Brighten Your Work With Glowing Paints

Best to Unleash Your Inner Artistic Child

Price$35.24$48.00$50.05$48.99$38.66$38.95$39.98$26.99$9.29$51.16
Colors6361252412246640
Contains opaque colorsNoYesYesNoYesNoYesYesYesYes
FormTubesPansConcentrated liquidsTubesPencilsDual tip markersPansPansPansCrayons
Size5ml eachAbout 1 x 2 in. each pan0.5 fl. oz. each0.5 oz. each3.8mm thick leads-Not provided30mm diameter each panAbout 1 x 2 in. each panAbout 4 in. long
Link

10 Best Watercolor Paints

We've chosen these watercolors with a variety of artists in mind, so you're sure to find something that will spark your creativity. All products were hand-picked by Susan. These are high-quality watercolor paints for beginners and experienced painters alike!

Daniel SmithExtra Fine Essentials Introductory Set

285610005

$35.24

Colors6
Contains opaque colorsNo
FormTubes
Size5ml each

KuretakeGansai Tambi Watercolor Set

$48.00

Colors36
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormPans
SizeAbout 1 x 2 in. each pan

Dr. Ph. Martin'sHydrus Fine Art Watercolor

Set #1

$50.05

Colors12
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormConcentrated liquids
Size0.5 fl. oz. each

M. Graham and Co.5 Color Watercolor Set

$48.99

Colors5
Contains opaque colorsNo
FormTubes
Size0.5 oz. each

Faber-CastellAlbrecht Durer Artists' Watercolor Pencils

FC117524

$38.66

Colors24
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormPencils
Size3.8mm thick leads

Winsor & NewtonPromarker Watercolor Markers Basic Tones

290165

$38.95

Colors12
Contains opaque colorsNo
FormDual tip markers
Size-

Paul RubensArtist Grade Watercolor Paint Set

$39.98

Colors24
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormPans
SizeNot provided

FineTecColiro Mica Pearl Colors

M600

$26.99

Colors6
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormPans
Size30mm diameter each pan

MozArt SuppliesKomorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set

$9.29

Colors6
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormPans
SizeAbout 1 x 2 in. each pan

Caran d'AcheNeocolor II Water-Soluble Wax Pastels

$51.16

Colors40
Contains opaque colorsYes
FormCrayons
SizeAbout 4 in. long

How to Choose Watercolor Paints - Buying Guide

One of the first questions beginner watercolorists ask themselves when choosing paint is "What's the difference between pan paints and tubes?" This is a good question, but there are many more you should consider to find the right paints for your needs.

Single-Pigment Paints Give You Reliable Results

Single-Pigment Paints Give You Reliable Results

Let's look at what watercolor paint actually is! All paint is made up primarily of a pigment and a binder. In the case of watercolors, the binder is gum arabic, a tree sap. It allows washes with water while ensuring that the pigment stays adhered to the paper. There are also usually wetting agents and preservatives added to prevent mold.


Pigments are what give the paint its color. These are what you need to pay attention to when choosing paints. A single-pigment paint will be easier to blend and mix because the results will be reliable. Paints with more than one pigment could be unpredictable when mixed with others.

Single-Pigment Paints Give You Reliable Results

Many pigments come from traditional, natural sources, although some are heavy metals and not non-toxic. The names of pigments can vary by manufacturer, so watercolors often have codes; if you find a pigment you like and want to buy it from a different maker, look for this code.


Keep in mind that all paints, depending on quality and ingredients, may be more fugitive or lightfast. Fugitive means the color can easily fade over time and when exposed to UV rays, while lightfast paints stay true to their original appearance.


Therefore, this is another thing you should look for on the paints. Manufacturers will use different types of marks, like + to +++++, or numbers and so on. You'll need to check each color, as lightfastness varies even within sets.

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Some brands offer special colors, like fluorescents, metallics, or pearlescents, which can bring another dimension to your work. If you're looking for some unusual effects, seek out these. Keep in mind, though, that many "special effects colors" may be less lightfast because of the pigments they use, so make sure to check them if this matters.


Other pigments that tend to be more fugitive are reds, pinks and purples, although this is a bit of an overgeneralization. Opera rose or opera pink and alizarin crimson are some that are notoriously weaker against UV rays. You can look for designations such as "permanent" before these color names to hone in on ones that are formulated to last longer.

Watercolors Range From Transparent to Opaque

Watercolors Range From Transparent to Opaque

Manufacturers list whether the color is transparent, translucent, or opaque using symbols. Although some watercolorists obsess about the differences, for the most part, if you add enough water, you can get a transparent application from an opaque color.


One exception may be white. All whites are opaque, and using them will often dull the color they're mixed with. In fact, many watercolorists never let white paint touch their palette, preferring the luminosity of using the white paper instead. It should also be noted that gouache is merely a term for opaque watercolors.

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

There are two properties of watercolors you may encounter as you try different paints: staining and granulating. These aren't necessarily good or bad, and you may not be able to notice them until you use the paint for yourself, but here's a run-down.


Staining refers to whether, and how much, the pigment permeates the paper. This is important if you intend to employ lifting-off techniques. The amount of staining can vary by pigment and manufacturer, but paints having a high pigment load tend to be more staining. The best way to check this before buying is by seeing what other artists thought.


Some colors are described as granulating, which means their pigment particles will be more visible in thin washes and may leave a pattern when dry. Whether you like this or hate it really depends on the effect you're after. Some may find it nice for adding texture in landscapes, for example.

Choose Between Pans, Tubes, Liquids, and More

In theory, all you need to paint any color you like are three warm and three cool colors of reds, blues and yellows. That's why we chose our Daniel Smith set as our top pick. But in reality, there are SO many fun watercolors to choose from! Why stop at six colors, and why stop at tubes or pans?

Pans Are Traditional, Tubes Are Modern, and Liquids Are Intense

Pans Are Traditional, Tubes Are Modern, and Liquids Are Intense

Most people think of pans when they picture watercolor paints. Indeed, even children are familiar with these. They come in sets or as individual cakes which can be removed and replaced or refilled from a tube color. They are easy to re-wet.


Tube colors are a good choice for people who use larger amounts of paint. They can be squeezed onto a palette, and can be re-wetted, although it may take a bit longer to activate them. A sponge laid on top or a few spritzes from a spray bottle, plus waiting a few minutes, will save your brushes from scrubbing to moisten dry paint.


Liquid watercolors, not to be confused with dyes or inks, are true watercolors with intense, vibrant colors. Think of them as concentrated colors that are ready to be diluted further. These are a great choice for techniques such as airbrushing, too.

Watercolor Pencils Can Combine Your Love of Watercolor With Your Love of Drawing

Watercolor Pencils Can Combine Your Love of Watercolor With Your Love of Drawing

Why limit yourself to using brushes? Watercolors are available in the form of drawing media, too! These aren't just gimmicks, either; you can find high-quality artist-grade materials with exceptional lightfastness and responsiveness.


Watercolor pencils, sticks (also referred to as crayons or pastels) and markers are a ton of fun and can be used in a myriad of ways, from drawing and then wetting to drawing onto pre-wetted paper. You can also find these products made for children, however, so make sure you're buying the right quality for your needs.

Decide Between Student and Artist Quality Based on Purpose and Budget

Decide Between Student and Artist Quality Based on Purpose and Budget

In addition to paints for kids, there are two grades of watercolors. You may not need to spend a lot depending on the results you want. Student quality watercolors are usually chosen because they're cheaper, although still a step up from kids' paints. The Cotman line from Winsor and Newton is probably the best-known. 


Student paints contain a higher percentage of the binder, gum arabic, and possibly also fillers. They often use cheaper modern alternatives to expensive traditional pigments, are therefore classified as "hues," and may not be as lightfast or intense. Hues can also produce unreliable results when mixing.

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Hues aren't pure pigments, and there's no way to know their exact ingredients, so there's no way but trial and error to see how they mix. For example, we all know yellow and blue make green, but which green? It depends on which yellow and which blue! If you can't control that, you can't predict the results will be what you intended.

Decide Between Student and Artist Quality Based on Purpose and Budget

Artist-grade paints use quality ingredients and have a higher pigment load. This means there is more pigment in proportion to the binder, although the percentage varies by manufacturer. 


The difference in price between student and artist quality is not as vast as with oil paints, and a little watercolor goes a long way, so it's our opinion that most people should purchase artist-grade paints. That's why we chose those for our product list.

Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Oil Painter and Glassblower
Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Watercolor is not the most forgiving medium. Unlike oils or acrylics, where you can simply paint over dried areas to change them, if you don't like the results on your watercolor, there's no way to cover it up. So, if a paint looks right on your palette but dries different, you're stuck with it! Choosing quality paints is the best way to reduce the chance of unwanted surprises.

Frequently Asked Questions

We asked Susan to help us solve some of the mysteries surrounding watercolors, so before you start your Internet search, read on!

Is watercolor paint toxic?

As was discussed in the guide, watercolor paint is made of pigment in a gum arabic binder, sometimes with preservatives and agents to improve flow. In children's watercolors, all of these will be non-toxic. But some traditional pigments are highly toxic. Lead can be used to make white, cadmium for red, and so on.


These are not dangerous to paint with, however! The particles of these heavy metals are not absorbed into the skin. You don't want to ingest them, so wash your hands after painting, and don't eat snacks while painting as a safe practice. And, while it won't kill you, be careful not to mistake your beverage for your brush water (we've all done it once!).

Is watercolor paint washable?

For the most part, yes - especially paints designed for use by children. On fabric, laundry detergent or bleach will usually take care of it. If you happen to get some spatters on the wall and they've dried, try rubbing alcohol, dish detergent, baking soda, or a melamine sponge ("Magic Eraser"). 


If a paint is highly staining, you may have more trouble, though, so try to get to spills before they dry. Even better, use a drop cloth when painting!

Can watercolor paint be used on canvas?

You can paint on raw, unprimed canvas with watercolors. However, the canvas will suck up most of the paint and it will be impossible to control. Most people probably want to know if you can paint on primed canvas.


Oil painters prime their canvasses (usually; Helen Frankenthaler was famous for not priming hers) with acrylic gesso. The reason for this is that the solvents used with oils will eventually eat away the fabric, and the gesso creates a barrier to stop this.


However, you can't really put watercolor on most gessoes with good effect. A general rule is "fat over lean." Oils can go over acrylics, and acrylics over watercolors; but going the opposite direction, with thinner media on top, doesn't work well. Lean media won't really stick to fat. So your best bet is to get a canvas that's primed with a ground specifically for watercolor, like ones made by Fredrix.

Need More Painting Supplies?

Need More Painting Supplies?

We've picked out some other great art materials for you to stock your studio with. Check them out while you're waiting for your paint to dry!

Amazon's Best Selling Watercolor Paints

Want to see what Amazon shopper like when it comes to watercolor paints? Check out which products are most popular.

Author: Susan Lucier-Ogawa

Updated by: Susan Lucier-Ogawa, 11/11/2021


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