Best Watercolor Paint Sets for Artists of all Abilities

Watercolor set on table

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When it comes to painting on of the most accessible disciplines is watercolor. Easy to start but hard master. We are taking a look at the best watercolor paint sets for artists of all abilities. Trying to find quality beginner (student) grade paint at a reasonable price. While also showing you some of the professional paints that could help take your art to the next level. 

In a hurry? Here are our favorites

Best Watercolor Paint Sets for beginners

Royal Talens Van Gogh Watercolors

Van Gogh Watercolors Set - Assorted colors, Set of 12, 10 ml tubes

The Van Gogh Watercolors are part of the entry level range of Rembrandt, Royal Talens. This is a set of student grade paint that consists of 12×10 ml tubes. These are paints that are often said to offer the vibrancy, transparency and tinting strength of a professional set.  

The paints come in a handy box that can be closed tight to prevent spills. Though not marketed as leak-proof or water-tight, the case does a good job. The case also has a half pan for each color. Unfortunately, the plastic palette leave little to desire, but this small downside is eclipsed by the overall quality of the paint. 

The paints prove to be consistently easy to work with and easy to mix. All for a reasonable price. 

Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor Set

La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor, Set of 24 Half Pans

This Sennelier product is a handy little travel companion containing student grade paints. The set sports a little elastic strap that allows you to easily support the palette on the palm of your hand.  This allows for easy access to plenty of mixing wells with a range of sizes.

It’s a shame that the set doesn’t come with a brush, but it more than makes up for it with a plentiful range of colors. The set contains 24 half pans of paint in the travel box. These act as a great entry point to the Sennelier system using the same numbering and naming as many of the colors as those found in their more premium lines. 

This is generally a great set for sketching and practising me techniques. The case also offers the flexibility to add and extra row of half/full-pans if you are so inclined (or to store a brush). 

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Sketchers Pocket Box

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher's Pocket Box - Set of 12 Half Pans

The Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor sketchers pocket box is one of the most popular student watercolor set.  This set is made up of 12 Cotman watercolor half-pans. The plastic case is sturdy and functional containing three mixing palette. The set also includes a handy little brush.

The range of colors and the quality is exactly what you would expect from a company like Winsor and Newton. This is a set with a well thought out range of colors all of which a of a good quality. The colors have the traditional names a labeling. All contained in a sturdy box.

Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections: The Classics

Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections: The Classics

These Prima Marketing Watercolor come in a particularly handsome metal palette box. First things first, for a set this price the colors are intense. This set really packs a punch. The set comes with 6 colors in half-pan for. The tin has 2 mixing well at the top and four at the bottom. There is also plenty of room to fit two pocket brushes which is handy.

The highlight as of this set is indeed the colors. The full range of colors give a particularly strong and vibrant color. This makes them a joy to paint with. They also work well in a multimedia setting such as a journal. 

There is a nice selection of colors that are easy to mix. The only real downside of these paints is the lack of information with regards to the pigment used. 

This Prima Marketing set is just a great deal all round. A well thought out case and handsome and some beautifully vibrant colors. 

Reeves 24-Pack Water Color Paint Set

Reeves 24-Pack Water Color Paint Set

The Reeves watercolor set is another popular choice. This particular set contains a wide range of colors, with 24 tubes. These are very much student grade paints. They won’t blow you away with the concentration of pigment or their vibrancy. But they are more than adequate for a beginner or even more proficient painters who want something to mess around with.  

The colors mix well so they are a great means by which to learn. This is set perfect for beginners to make mistakes and learn new techniques, all without breaking the bank.

Unfortunately, these paints don’t come with a palette, so that is an extra cost the you should consider before making a purchase. 

Honorable mentions

As with many things there are just so many options when it comes to beginner paints. We can’t talk about them all in detail but we thought that the Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint were definitely worth a mention. This is another great option that will allow you to start honing your craft in watercolor painting.

Best Professional Watercolor Paint Sets

Holbein Set of 24 Artists’ Watercolor Tubes

Holbein Artists' Watercolors - Assorted Colors, Set of 24, 5 ml tubes

Holbein are another mainstay of the watercolor world. This 24 set of watercolor tubes is one of their offerings at the artist grade level. The set contains an extensive range of colors, which when used are bright  and vibrant. The colors do lack staying power of some other products at the same level and see some fading over time. The paints are generally tacky when “dry” and take a long time to dry out properly. This is not an issue for most but may be an inconvenience for those who travel often. 

These paints are also made without animal by-products and are therefore vegan (except the ivory black).

This is a top quality set and has a price tag to match. This is ultimately just a set of tube paints, so if you are starting as a painter you will also have to factor in cost of a palette and brushes. 

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Watercolor

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor - Essentials Set, 5 ml Tube

Right off the bat, it should be said that the naming of this set of tubes is a little confusing. These paints are of a professional grade, the “introductory”, refers to the range of colors which where chosen to be included. These colors are three cool primary: Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Rose, and Phthalo Blue, and three warm primary colors: New Gamboge, Pyrrol Scarlet, and French Ultramarine. The colors were chosen specifically to allow you to mix to produce a range of colors. 

The paint itself comes in 5 ml tubes which are packed with extra fine pigment. This gives the watercolors a bright and vibrant color when used, even in small amounts. This is good as the 5 ml tubes are particularly tiny.

In all this set work just as intended. It is a fantastic introduction into the world of Daniel Smith watercolor paints and quality at a reasonable price. Well worth the try.

M. Graham Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set 

M. Graham Artists' Watercolor - Intermediate Set of 10

This is a set of 10 watercolor tubes from another mainstay of the word of paints. Made in the USA this M.Graham set would feel at home in the in the palette of any professional painter.  As one would expect for a professional grade paint these watercolor paints are highly pigmented leading to sting and vibrant colors.

A point of note is that these are made with pure gum Arabic and natural blackberry honey. This is yet another testament to their quality but also means that the paints never full dry. This means that they are not the best paints for filing your pans and taking around. This is more a point of preference than a criticism but is definitely worth being aware of. 

Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Paint Tube Metal Set 

Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Artist Watercolors - Assorted Colors, Set of 12 , 5 ml tubes

From a brand that has been making traditional formulas since 1881, this Schmincke set is class all over. The set contains 12 tubes of watercolor paint in a lovely metal box. There are plentiful mixing well and generally good craftsmanship all. 

This set is a good way to test the more high end paints that are out there. They are pretty great all round and you won’t be disappointed. 

Note: the picture is somewhat misleading in terms of scale. The tube are 5ml, about enough paint to fill a whole pan. 

Rembrandt Artist Watercolor

Rembrandt Artist Watercolors - Set of 24 colors, Pans

As you would expect from a brand as well renowned as Rembrandt there offering comprehensive, quality and a little pricey. This is a set for those of you that know what you are doing and exactly what you want (or maybe a gift for someone you really like). The set contains 24 pans of color in a large metal box. The box itself has 4 large in mixing wells in the lid with 10 small ones also available. The set also comes with a lovely Sable Brush, which is a nice addition. 

As these are professional paints of the highest class you get all the things you would expect to come with that title. Paints made of the purest pigment and gum Arabic. Paints with fantastic transparency as well as vibrant and constant colors. Lastly, these paints feature the highest degree of lightfastness.

If you want to go all out, then this Holland made set is for you.

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Lightweight Sketchers’ Box

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Lightweight Sketchers’ Box

The Sketchers’ Box is a hugely popular set of watercolor paints from Winsor & Newton. And for good reason. The set contains 12 x 5 ml tubes of Professional watercolor paint. This paints case comprised of a balance choice of pigments which grant the paints the greatest possible permanence as well as a wide spectrum of available colors.

The paints come in a lightweight box with a 10 small and 4 large mixing well available. These are paints that should be considered by all, beginners and professionals. With quality that will help ease the learning process or elevate the work of a practiced artist. 

Honorable mentions:

Once again, there are just to many great options for us to cover. If none of the one we cover in  detail jump out at you then you may like to take a look at the SHINHAN Professional Watercolor Paint 7.5ml Tubes. This is a great set of watercolor paints from a quality brand..   

How to Pick the Best Watercolor Paint Set for Your Artistic Needs

As with most things, there are some things you need to know when looking for the best watercolor paint. There are the obvious such as the colors and quality of the paint. However, there are  also one or two terms that may be new for beginners.

Quality 

In most cases, “quality” is most cases quality is a pretty subjective measure. It’s the same case with watercolors but with you do have a grading system to help you out. Paint is generally categorized as either student or professional grade. It is however, not that simple. With paints filling the full spectrum of quality. 

There are definitely some some amazing quality paints that are described as student (like the Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint), that provide great value. By the same token there are some lesser “professional grade” paints, that should be avoided.

Color

Color is of course an important consideration when purchasing paints. There is always the opportunity to mix, but this can sometimes produced muddied colors (especially for the inexperienced). For this reason, it’s often to pick sets that have been well thought set when starting out. Paying attention to whether all the primary colors are present, maybe in a light and dark variant.

Be careful not to be seduced by very large sets. Often times they contain essentially redundant colors that can be easily reached by mixing and therefore remain unused. Constraints are particularly useful for beginners. So if you’re just starting out, a set of around 6-12 colors should me more that enough.

Transparency

Transparency is the trait the gives watercolor paintings their distinctive look. With the paint allowing light to bounce back off of the page and give the painting a luminescent look. Transparency is more of a consideration when you get painting i.e. when layering. It is however useful to be aware of which colors are transparent and which are not. This is often noted on the tube of the paint. 

If you already have some paints and aren’t sure if they are transparent, there is an easy test you can do. Using a black marker pen draw a wide line on a piece of paper. Using your range of paints paint a stroke across this marker line. If the paint is “transparent” when dry the paint will seem to disappear when it crosses the line. 

Staining vs Non-staining

The staining characteristic of the paint refers to how deeply the paint penetrates into the paper fibers. Paints the penetrate deeply and bind to the fibers are staining, while the inverse is true for the non-straining paints. This isn’t something that beginners need not worry about. If you are more advanced and foresee yourself using techniques that involve scraping of lifting of paint the it will be useful to know the staining characteristics of the paints you purchase. 

Pans or Tubes?

Watercolor paints can typically be bought in two forms, pans or tubes. Pans contain solid cakes of paint that require the addition of water to allow you to paint. Tubes contain paint with a paint like consistency. The painting with each is often down to preference, though there are some small benefits or drawbacks to consider.

Pans are probably better for those that are likely to travel with their paints, as their ability to dry solid reduces the chances of making a mess. Tubes shine  particularly in the studio, they are perfect in scenarios which require you do washes that cover a large area.

If you’re unsure of what’s best for you, it may be worth giving it a go with some inexpensive student paints that come in both forms. 

What about Watercolor Brushes?

You will have noticed that most of these sets don’t come with brushes. This is another area where some decisions need to be made. Synthetic or natural bristles? What size brush and what type of tip to go for. These are all things that will be covered in our upcoming round up of watercolor brushes. 

Understanding Student vs Professional (artist) Grade paint

When it comes to buying watercolors you’ll often see the paint described as student or professional grade. But what exactly does this mean?

When it comes to student vs professional grade paints there are a few things that you need to be aware of. Student paints are designed to be entry level tool for those that are still learning their craft. For this reason manufacturers make some compromises to lower the prices. Generally, you can expect a student grade paint to be less pigment dense, less granular and less vibrant than their professional counterparts. This is due to the use of inexpensive pigments in the paints. This means that there is often a smaller variety of colors on offer in the student ranges. High end qualities light lightfastness are often omitted in these products.

There is still a definite value to be found in student grade paints. They are great for those still learning  or trying out new things as they won’t break the bank. Also, as the paints generally share characteristics with their more expensive professional version, student paints are a great way to get a feel for the characteristics of the paints made by some of the world’s best manufacturers. All while on a budget. 

Professional paints are exactly what you would expect. THe very best of the best. Pigment rich paints made with natural pigment. VIbrant colors and fantastic transparency. All with the attention to detail such as the colors in the range and more professional requirements such as lightfastness. These paints also come with a price match this quality, and often for a small amount of paint. THerefore, if you’re unsure of what you want it may be worth trying a few students ranges to see what suits you best. 

What Is Lightfastness?

Simply put lightfastness is a measure of how resistant a pigment is to exposure to light (sometimes referred to as permeance).  Paints with excellent light fastness will be able to withstand direct exposure to light for several months and last in normal display conditions for over 100 years without fading. 

Naturally, this is a property geared to professional artist. If you are doing commissioned paintings for customers you want your are to last. However, if your doing art just for yourself or sketching for practice, this is an area where you can save some money. 

Your Journey as an artist

As we always like to remind you. Though it’s great fun to look for all of the best kit. Iin your journey as an artist, it’s important to remember that the only way you’ll improve is practice

So get out there and get painting!!

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