Best Watercolor Paint Brands
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What is the best watercolor paint? If you are looking to buy some new watercolor paints here are some of the best paint brands on the market for beginners and professional painters alike. If you are a more advanced painter looking to try new brands, read on for some of the best watercolor brands out there. Try a few to find the ones you prefer!
Best Prices on Watercolor Paints
Most large cities will have at least one local art supply store, and often small towns do too. I like shopping locally for paints because art supply shopping is my favorite kind of shopping! I can spend hours browsing. But if you are looking for the best prices on watercolor paints these can often be found online.
I recommend shopping at Dick Blick for watercolor paints. They have an excellent selection with good prices and often offer free shipping and other terrific discounts. Best of all you can view lots of reviews and even painting samples by other artists. Just click on the top tab that says “reviews”.
I usually also shop at Amazon for paints, depending on the brand you might find a great selection and excellent prices. Read on for links to good deals found on Amazon.
Finally sometimes I check eBay for watercolor paints. You might find gently used tubes or brand new sets. Shop for watercolor paints on eBay here.
Best Watercolor Paint Brands for Artists
Once you have played with watercolor for a while you might be looking for the best brands on the market. The truth is that there are many excellent watercolor paint brands, and their special properties and your painting style is what will determine your favorites.
Here are the best watercolor paint brands and some explanation of why artists like them.
Winsor & Newton
Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolors are some of the best watercolor paints for beginners. These typically come in sets of removable half pans or full pans which you can swap out with more expensive professional paints as you learn and progress. You can also find cotman watercolors in tube form if you prefer working with the wetter paint. Almost every art store has a selection of these paints and they are easy to find.
If you are looking for professional level watercolor paint Winsor & Newton is a great choice. They are very high quality, with intense pigments and a huge range of colors. The company has been making watercolor paints since 1835. The “Professional” or “Artist” quality of paints is slightly more expensive than the “Cotman” or student brand, but the colors are usually more pigmented and are more lightfast.
Most professional level watercolors come in tubes but Winsor & Newton also make them in pan form which is great for travel.
This watercolor brand is very special. Their paints are only available in tube form and they are made in the traditional way using honey as a binder. They are very pigmented and intense.
While I love the amazing paint on the paper, I find the M Graham watercolors are not so great in my palette. The honey means that they are sticky and never fully dry so the paint can run everywhere. In other words, it can be messy. However, if you do not travel with your paints and don’t mind if they never dry on the palette I highly recommend trying these gorgeous paints. You can use them straight from the tube as well similar to gouache. And if you don’t use a travel palette they will sit nicely on a palette in the studio.
I would say that this brand of watercolor paint is best suited for intermediate and advanced painters, or those who love unpredictable paint. Daniel Smith uses natural pigments made from finally ground minerals. This means the colors are highly variable and settle in patterns on the paper – something called granulation. It is not the kind of paint where you get a flat smooth field of one single color. Instead you will have surprising mixing results, iridescence and variation where the pigments settle into the lumps and bumps of the paper. I love it!
I have a huge collection of Daniel Smith paints. There is an amazing range of colors in the red, orange and brown earthy hues. Some of my favorites are the grayish tones because they are excellent for painting shadows or mixing with other colors to get interesting granulation. Shadow Violet is a popular favorite and I like Moonglow too. To be honest, I am kind of obsessed with these paints. The colors are just so fun!
Check out this swatch of some of the Daniel Smith colors. See the interesting patterns and granulation?
You can buy this brand at Blick and on Amazon. They come in big 15 ml tubes and are great on a travel palette, just be sure to let them dry for a day or two while the palette is open and sitting on a flat surface.
As many of the top watercolor brands only come in tube form, if you prefer pans you might want to check out Schmincke Horadam. This German brand makes lovely watercolor paints in tubes and pans, they are one of my favorite pan paints. The pigments are rich and intense which sometimes is harder to get from pan paints. Schmincke uses the same formula for their pan watercolors as they do for the tube paints.
Schmincke is a family run business, and has been since 1881. They make some of the best watercolor paints for artists.
Sennelier is a favorite watercolor paint brand for artists around the globe and has been for years. Did you know that Picasso used Sennelier paints? They still grind their pigments on a granite surface for extra-fine consistency. Sennelier also uses honey in their recipe for super smooth texture and luminosity, but usually there is not a problem with them remaining sticky on the palette. Check to make sure before adding one to your travel palette though.
Sennelier paints are available in tubes from 10 to 21 ml. I recommend buying a smaller tube of a new color to test whether you like the brand before purchasing a full set, unless you don’t already have a basic collection of paints. A great option is this small test pack with five primary colors in 10ml tubes.
If you prefer pans to tubes, check out the Sennelier half pans! They are excellent to put in your travel palette as they won’t get as messy as possibly runny paint from the tube. You can even buy a complete set in a metal palette here.
The watercolors are made in France but you can purchase Sennelier paints online. Check Dick Blick for a huge range of colors and good prices or shop Sennelier on Amazon.
Are you looking for something unique? Check out these independent brands of handmade watercolors made by artists for artists. Here are some of the best handmade watercolors available.
- Greenleaf & Blueberry hand make their limited edition watercolors and travel sets from pigments they grind in their Colorado studio. You can buy them on Etsy too. I suggest following the shop so that you can find out when new products are available. They sell out quickly!
- Letter Sparrow makes limited edition handmade pan watercolors, you can buy them in individual full or half pans or in sets.
- Ruby Mountain Paint Co sells handmade watercolors as well as custom made watercolor mixing trays.
- Sea of Grass Studio sells handmade tube and pot watercolors for those who prefer wet paints. They are beautifully packaged and would make an amazing gift.
- Case for Making is an art supply shop and studio in San Francisco that sells hand made watercolor paints
Best Watercolor Paint Set
Are you looking for a full set of watercolors? Here are some of the top watercolor paint sets. If you’d prefer a custom mix in your watercolor paint set you can make your own set by purchasing an empty palette and filling it with paints from the tube or loose pans. Check here for some of my favorite empty watercolor palettes. This is my preferred method, but if you are just starting out you might like the ease of buying a complete set.
If you are a beginning watercolor painter you might want to start with the least expensive set you can find to try out the medium and see if you like it. That being said, there is a huge difference between the $2 paint set you can get for children and professional level paints. So much so that it might be the deciding factor whether you enjoy painting or not.
The typical children’s watercolor set has round pans or cakes made of pigment and binders. The pigments are not very dense so the colors come out quite light and not very vibrant. The colors also do not move well and often do not mix together nicely.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money you can still get a decent beginners watercolor set for a good price and upgrade when budget allows. (Be sure to check out these top watercolor classes too)
Check out these beginners watercolor sets:
Do you prefer something small and light? Check out this super travel friendly Winsor & Newton pocket set of 12 half pans. I have this set too and it is perfect for those days out painting in a cafe or in the park. It really does fit in your pocket! Add a waterbrush for the perfect urban sketching kit. Find it here on Amazon.
Sakura Koi makes some of the best student watercolors on the market. Their vibrant paints are popular for classrooms and you can buy travel sets in tubes or pans. Check out these sets of 12 or 18 tube paints or this 48 pan set at Blick. What about an astounding 72 color set? They also comes in smaller sizes of 12, 24 or 36 paint pans. Sakura is one of the best watercolor paints for beginners and is easy to find on Amazon too.
Are you looking for higher quality, professional level paint sets?
My first Winsor & Newton paint set was this professional pan set of 24 half pan colors. I love it! Not only are the paints terrific but you can easily swap them out for other half pans if you wish. A few years later my metal box is now filled with a random messy mix of pans and favorite colors from different brands. It packs small and is not too heavy but I like that it is made of metal. I bought mine in London but you can find it here on Amazon as well as at Blick. The paints also come in a small plastic travel size of 14 half pans.
Sennelier also makes palettes perfect for taking with you. Check out this metal half pan set with 12 paints. It is sized to easily fit in your bag on the go!
Lots of brands also sell their tubes in sets. For example, check out this five tube basic set from M. Graham with primary colors plus an earth tone, or shop for the themed sets below. Daniel Smith also offers a similar set with six tubes in both warm and cool primaries.
There are many other brands of watercolor both large and small, these are just some of my favorites. What are yours?
You might want to try watercolor inks as well. Take a look at this article to read about the different brands of watercolor inks. And be sure to read our post about the best gouache brands as well. If you are wondering about the differences between watercolor, watercolor ink and gouache, click here for more info.
Finally, if you are wondering about which watercolor paper is best for you, check out our guide to some of the best watercolor papers and sketchbooks for both beginners and experienced artists.
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