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10 Best Watercolor Paints in 2022 (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.

Last updated 09/26/2023
Susan Lucier-Ogawa
Expert
Oil Painter and Glassblower
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. 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.

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Table of Contents

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.

1

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.


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 GlassblowerSusan 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.

2

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 GlassblowerSusan 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.

3

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.

4

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.


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 GlassblowerSusan 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.

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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.
Popularity
Products
Image
Click to purchase
Key features
1

Daniel Smith

Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set285610005

Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set 1枚目

Best Set With the Only Colors You Really Need

2

Kuretake

Gansai Tambi

Kuretake Gansai Tambi 1枚目

Best Variety of Colors in a Pan Set

3

Dr. Ph. Martin's

Hydrus Fine Art Watercolor (Set #1)Set #1

Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Fine Art Watercolor (Set #1) 1枚目

Best Colors That are So Concentrated You Only Need a Drop

4

M. Graham and Co.

Basic 5-Color Set

M. Graham and Co. Basic 5-Color Set 1枚目

Best Paints With Honey to Extend Drying Time

5

Faber-Castell

Watercolor PencilsFC117524

Faber-Castell Watercolor Pencils 1枚目

Best Watercolor Pencils for Artists

6

Winsor & Newton

Watercolour Brush Markers290165

Winsor & Newton Watercolour Brush Markers 1枚目

Best Watercolor Markers

7

Paul Rubens

Watercolor Set

Paul Rubens Watercolor Set 1枚目

Best Set With a Useful Tray That Becomes Your Palette

8

FineTec

Pearl ColorsM600

FineTec Pearl Colors 1枚目

Best Metallic Paints That Shine on Light or Dark Paper

9

MozArt Supplies

Komorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set

MozArt Supplies Komorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set 1枚目

Best to Brighten Your Work With Glowing Paints

10

Caran d'Ache

Neocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels

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

Best to Unleash Your Inner Artistic Child

If you don't see the product you're looking for, you can request that it be listed.
No.1

Daniel SmithExtra Fine Essentials Introductory Set285610005

Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set Image 1
Source:amazon.com
Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set Image 2
Source:amazon.com
Reference price
$35.24
Reference price
$35.24

Best Set With the Only Colors You Really Need

Pros:
  • Seattle-based manufacturer known for high-quality watercolors
  • Artist quality, lightfast and permanent
  • Three warm colors and three cool colors, which means you'll be able to blend them to create any shade

Cons:

  • These are not full-size tubes

Renowned paint maker Daniel Smith doesn't sell many sets, preferring to focus on individual tubes (and they offer them in more than 240 colors!) but this set is perfect for any painter just starting in watercolor. You get one warm and one cool each of red, yellow and blue, so the full color wheel of possibilities is at your disposal.


Reviewers are almost universally pleased with this set. The only complaints are that the tubes are small, but considering their quality, a little will go a long way. Painters find the colors true and pure without being flashy. Even those who expected to be underwhelmed were proven wrong by the flow and pigment load. 

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No.2

KuretakeGansai Tambi

Reference price
$48.00

Best Variety of Colors in a Pan Set

Pros:

  • Removable pans of 36 colors, including rare ones
  • Paint is densely-pigmented and opaque
  • Large pans fit bigger brushes
  • Color chart and protective sheet included

Cons:

  • There were some stories of cracked paints, but that's not unusual with this type of product; it doesn't render the paint unusable

This set from Kuretake has removable pans of traditional Japanese watercolors. There are some rare colors, including pearl white and metallics, and the pans are only half-filled to allow for bigger brushes.


People who bought the set compliment not only the paint but the box as well! Reviewers used terms like buttery and creamy to describe them, and say they behave a bit differently than Western-style paints, but they are worth getting used to.

No.3

Dr. Ph. Martin'sHydrus Fine Art Watercolor (Set #1)Set #1

Reference price
$50.05

Best Colors That are So Concentrated You Only Need a Drop

Pros:

  • Lightfast, transparent (except the white), and permanent
  • Comes in a tray that can double as mixing wells
  • Two other sets available with more colors
  • Great for calligraphy and airbrushing, too

Cons:

  • Some artists may not need the black or white that this set includes

These are liquid watercolors that come with a dropper to dispense them onto your palette. They have a reputation for the intensity of their pigment, and most watercolorists may find they only need a drop or two to create vibrant, vast washes of color.


Some reviewers mentioned damaged or leaking droppers, but the majority say they had no issues. Others noted that these are so pigmented that they are may not work for lifting techniques because of staining. Most buyers say that seeing is believing, and now they're converts!

No.4

M. Graham and Co.Basic 5-Color Set

Reference price
$48.99

Best Paints With Honey to Extend Drying Time

Pros:

  • Artist quality and highly lightfast
  • Honey keeps paint moist and makes for easy rewetting
  • Their website explains each paint color in detail, so you can find out about staining, granulating and lightfastness

Cons:

  • This set doesn't have the most vibrant colors but is well-suited to landscape artists

This set includes five lightfast colors including permanent alizarin crimson. They're made with honey, which extends the drying time and keeps the paint moist on your palette. Reviewers like this aspect, as it allows for faster rewetting and suspension, and creates beautiful washes.


Some were not satisfied with the color choices, but each painter will have individual preferences. The pigments seem to be true to color and resist muddying. If you want different colors, M. Graham sells individual tubes, too.

No.5

Faber-CastellWatercolor PencilsFC117524

Watercolor Pencils Image 1
Source:amazon.com
Watercolor Pencils Image 2
Source:amazon.com
Watercolor Pencils Image 3
Source:amazon.com
Reference price
$38.66
Reference price
$38.66

Best Watercolor Pencils for Artists

Pros:

  • Thick cores with dense pigmentation
  • Acid-free and lightfast
  • Break-resistant leads
  • Permanent when dry

Cons:

  • It seems the tin gets bent up in shipping sometimes

These watercolor pencils are made of artist-grade pigments and a binder that's archival. They have excellent lightfastness, as well. They dissolve fully in water, and won't leave streaks behind in your washes.


Reviewers love how they don't break easily when sharpening, unlike many watercolor pencils. They also say all the pencils are vibrant, with no muddy or dull colors.

No.6

Winsor & NewtonWatercolour Brush Markers290165

Reference price
$38.95

Best Watercolor Markers

Pros:

  • Two tips, a flexible brush, and a bullet nib
  • Completely inter-mixable with regular watercolors
  • Highly pigmented and lightfast

Cons:

  • Available in other sets, but expect some repeat colors

These artist-grade markers from Winsor & Newton are lightfast and blend easily with traditional paints while providing versatility and portability. You can create a variety of strokes that can then be spread out with water. 


When using them, the type of paper is likely very important. We recommend checking art forums online to get tips on how to get the effect you're after. Most reviewers say after you work with them for a while, you'll appreciate their vibrancy and smooth application.

No.7

Paul RubensWatercolor Set

Reference price
$39.98

Best Set With a Useful Tray That Becomes Your Palette

Pros:

  • Replaceable pans in a tray that doubles as a palette with thumb ring for ease of use
  • Color chart and swatch card included
  • Good lightfastness

Cons:

  • A few reviewers said not all the colors are the same quality

This set contains 24 colors, of which 20 are single-pigment. The half-pan size includes many colors you won't find in other similar sets and is a mix of fully transparent and more opaque options. The metal tray has a thumb ring on the back so it can be used as a convenient palette to paint outdoors or standing up. 


Reviewers are impressed with the high pigment load and say to get the best intensity out of them you can mist them before painting. Some mention a few colors are more opaque than they like or feel gritty, but there is agreement across the board that this is a great set for beginners. Some say the tray itself is worth it!

No.8

FineTecPearl ColorsM600

Pearl Colors Image 1
Source:amazon.com
Reference price
$26.99
Reference price
$26.99

Best Metallic Paints That Shine on Light or Dark Paper

Pros:

  • Dense pigmentation from mica
  • Adheres to surfaces besides paper, such as wood and stone
  • Creamy and opaque
  • Work with dip pens as well

Cons:

  • Obviously, this set won't complete your palette, but it's a fun addition

This set of five golds and one silver contains mica for sparkle. They can be used as watercolors or for lettering, and are even pigmented enough to apply over black paper. They can also be layered with other paints to create shimmery effects. 


Reviewers note that they are more expensive than similar-looking colors from other brands, but say they are so dense that they will ultimately last much longer. They recommend misting them a few minutes before dipping your wet brush in to get the most intense shimmer.

No.9

MozArt SuppliesKomorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set

Komorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set Image 1
Source:amazon.com
Komorebi Neon Watercolor Paint Set Image 2
Source:amazon.com
Reference price
$9.29
Reference price
$9.29

Best to Brighten Your Work With Glowing Paints

Pros:

  • Highly pigmented
  • Glow under blacklight
  • Removable pans that are large enough for bigger brushes

Cons:

  • They're not very lightfast

This neon set is a great way to add some punch to your work, even if you don't care about the way they glow under blacklight. Reviewers say that when mixed, they can also create lovely pastels. 


There were complaints about how the smell of the paints, with some saying it was so strong they couldn't use them, and others saying they hardly noticed it. However, many think they're creamy and highly pigmented, and say they'll achieve maximum glow factor if you layer them.

No.10

Caran d'AcheNeocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels

Reference price
$51.16

Best to Unleash Your Inner Artistic Child

Pros:

  • Great for experimentation
  • Perfect for paper, but also work on unusual materials, such as glass
  • Most colors are lightfast

Cons:

  • They're fragile; expect a couple of broken crayons, unfortunately

These are more than just crayons for adults! You can use these water-soluble sticks by dipping them in water first or wetting your drawing afterward. You can do sgraffito (layering and scratching through the layers) and even use them on wet fabric because they can be heat set.


Reviewers note that not all of the colors respond the same way; some can produce light washes, others are very intense, and some blend smoothly while others leave lines behind. They are popular for the range of ways they can be used, and because honestly, there's just something about crayons that everyone loves!

Frequently Asked Questions

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?

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.

Top 5 Watercolor Paints

No. 1: Daniel SmithExtra Fine Essentials Introductory Set285610005

No. 2: KuretakeGansai Tambi

No. 3: Dr. Ph. Martin'sHydrus Fine Art Watercolor (Set #1)Set #1

No. 4: M. Graham and Co.Basic 5-Color Set

No. 5: Faber-CastellWatercolor PencilsFC117524

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The descriptions of each product are referenced from content available on manufacturer, brand, and e-commerce sites.
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