What Are The Very Best Watercolor Paints?
Which watercolor paints are the best watercolor paints? It’s a question with a few different answers. Sorry, I know that’s annoying when you’re looking for a quick, definitive answer to your question. But since there are so many different types of watercolor paint, I would be doing you a disservice to give a single answer.
To make it a little easier to choose, I’ll break down the types of watercolor paints, and then give 3 top picks for each kind. With any of the choices I provide, you will have the tippy top, highest-quality watercolor paints you can buy. And we all know how freaking fantastic it is to work with high-quality art supplies: sometimes it can be the difference between whether you love or hate a medium.
Related: Best oil pastels (and paper, too!)
The Best Watercolor Paints
There are 3 main types of watercolor paints, which makes the world of watercolor painting a bit confusing, but it’s a good idea to try all of them to get a good feel for how they work. Here is what they have in common:
- Watercolors are mostly made of finely ground pigment and a binder (used to hold the paint to the paper and brighten the color.)
- They are mixed with water and dry quickly.
- Watercolors will be reactivated if you add water to them, even after they dry. This includes on the paper and also on the palette.
- Watercolor paints usually come in small containers. Most people don’t make huge watercolor paintings, and now I’m sort of wondering why this is the case. Huh.
Let’s explore the watercolor paint types:
Pan Watercolor Paints
Pan watercolors are the kind in a little box, with each color snug in its own well. You take your brush, wet it, mash it right on into the paint, and start painting. Brilliantly simple. Many pan watercolor container lids have slightly separated areas for color mixing if you are feeling so bold.
This is the type of watercolor paints most of us grew up with, and they are perfect for kids since they are less messy than other paints, and easy to use.
If your only experience with pan watercolors stops at Crayola or Prang, you have not experienced the buttery, luscious bliss that pan watercolors can be. The best pan watercolors are highly pigmented, with lots of color choices. The difference between using these and the cheapo student pan watercolors is mind blowing! 🤯
Best Pan Watercolor Paints
Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Half Pans and Sets – Winsor & Newton watercolors have been around since 1835, so they have been through (literal) centuries of use and scrutiny by artists and remain a favorite. They are dedicated to finding the perfect balance of technological advancements in paint production while maintaining their high standards in paint quality.
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolor Pan Sets – These paints are maybe less well known than other brands, but they have their converts! Many artists who had been previously sing another top watercolor brand made the switch to Schmincke after trying them out.
Sennelier French Artists’ Watercolor Set – Metal Case, Set of 48 colors, half pans – These paints are honey-based, giving them that soft, slightly sticky consistency, and great smoothness while painting.
A common high point I read about these paints is how well they layer and blend. Something to keep in mind because I know some of the more opaque watercolors aren’t really made to layer or mix as well.
ALSO CONSIDER: Kuretake Gansai – When I discovered Kuretake pan watercolors, I nearly fainted. I splurged on one of the sets with more colors, and couldn’t get over the range of colors and straight up lushness of paint consistency.
What I didn’t realize is that ‘Gansai’ paints refer to traditional Japanese watercolors, and are formulated differently than western watercolors, resulting in the colors being more vibrant, and the finish being a little less transparent. (Read more about Gansai here.)
Tube Watercolor Paints
Daniel Smith – I have to admit, I have never used Daniel Smith art supplies, despite the rave reviews I’ve heard over the years from professional artist friends. Based on the reviews alone (including those on Blick), I can still confidently recommend Daniel Smith tube watercolors as some of the best available.
With a wide range of colors, a good offering of granulating colors, artists love these paints for their rich saturation and smoothness.
Holbein Artists’ Watercolor Paint Tubes and Sets – Holbein Artists’ Watercolors are imported from Japan, and include some colors that aren’t usually found in western watercolor paints. These are vibrant, clear colors and keep their vibrancy when dry, even when taken very transparent.
M. Graham Artists’ Watercolor Tubes and Sets – Okay, so these bad boys include honey as the binder, which, coupled with the pigment quality, makes these paints a favorite with a lot of artists. Honey keeps the paints wet and soft longer, so you can rework them easily, but they will also take longer to completely dry!
Liquid Watercolor Paints
Liquid watercolors are a different beast than pan and tube watercolor paints. They come in small jars, usually with droppers, and are VERY pigmentally concentrated. Pigmentally is not a real word. They are already very thin and liquidy, and you can add more water to them on the palette if you wish, you can use a pen with them to get fine lines, or you can drip them for more fun effects. I would compare them more to inks than watercolor paints.
I wanted to add them here, just because there can be some confusion as to where they fit in with the other types of watercolor paints! If you’re looking to find a good brand of liquid watercolors to play around with, try Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art Liquid Watercolors and Sets.
I do hope this didn’t overwhelm you in your quest to find the best watercolor paints, but as you can see there really are some factors to consider with each of the paint brands. If you’re undecided, you can always try a few colors in each brand and see which paints you end up reaching for the most.
Check out these handmade watercolors, or find the best online stores to buy art supplies