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Watercolor painting is an art- form that gained widespread popularity in the 18th century. It’s a favorite for both beginner and professional artists. Watercolors are made from preserved, water-soluble pigments, which soften and become paintable with a bit of water.
They are easy to use and even easier to clean up. Watercolors are one of the first painting methods that people tend to learn about. Although watercolor painting is a good artistic option for everyone - all paint sets are not.
There are so many different options for beginner and professional painters alike. There are user-friendly pans that are great to any skill level, however, there are also watercolor tubes that are versatile and a little more mixable.
Some kits even come with paintbrushes and brush pens—just add paper (and water of course).
With so many available brands it’s hard to decide which watercolor paint set to get.
Winsor & Newton has been an established and regarded name within the art world for years.
The brand includes the Cotman Watercolor line which is more affordable compared to the Winsor & Newton sets.
Cotman is a great entry into the Winsor & Newton brand, they are made to the same high-quality standards, however, they’re more adorable because some of the more costly pigments are replaced with synthetic alternatives.
With Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colors you’ll get a palette with a multitude of colors. The Cotman color range is more uniform than other watercolors. This is a strong benefit to beginners, as there’s less to learn about each pigment.
These watercolors are long-lasting, strongly pigmented, and have good transparency and tinting strength.
Pigments are derived from several sources. Some are natural products - like the earth or metal compounds - these are termed “traditional” or “genuine.”
The Cotman line of watercolors is known to have a great lightfastness, with a rating of either I or II and permanence.
These paints come in a compact, pocket-size plastic box with a mixing palette within the lid. It includes 12 colors (unless you choose a larger palette), 1 brush, and a tray. This would be 14 pieces total.
They’re great for travel, art classes, or at home.
Each palette goes a long way, but Winsor & Newton paints come in both tube and pan form, so when you’re ready to expand your palette and experiment with more colors, you will be able to purchase colors that suit your goals.
The Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors were made in Japan. The set comes in 36 rich colors.
The Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors are well-crafted and have a greater opacity than European and American branded watercolors. They are a modern take on a Japanese traditional paint that works more like a watercolor.
It’s packaged in a green box with a color chart, making it a great watercolor set to give as a gift. These paints are not a portable set. It’s in a cardboard box and is a relatively large set. It is good to keep on your desk, but not a convenient paint if you are traveling.
Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors utilize colors that are based on those seen in nature - meaning the paint is vivid and opaque. The colors themselves are bold and vibrant.
The paint is ultra-smooth, has no granulation, and has a slightly glossy finish.
The pans are larger than standard watercolor pans, which means they last longer. These paints are also easier to paint with since you can saturate your brush much more easily.
The pans stay in place due to a protective sheet that keeps your pans from moving. This protective sheet is however removable and uses the tray as a mixing palette if you need to create new colors.
Gansai Paints are slightly pricey, but still reasonable for large pans. Keep in mind, if you are looking for a traditional watercolor then this may not be the best option for you.
M. Graham’s creates artist-grade watercolors and are incredibly transparent about their paint making processes.
M. Graham is dedicated to only using the finest natural pigments in their color selection. These colors come in pigmented tubes with a wide range of colors that you can buy in singles or sets.
M. Graham individually develops each color to bring out the pigments' unique qualities.
Color pigments are important because it means you’ll need less paint while still having greater range over the transparency of the layers you plan on painting in your piece.
M. Graham is one of the few manufacturers that use honey in their watercolor paint.
The benefit of honey is that it prevents the paint from fully drying out when placed on the mixing palette. That way, when you reawaken the paint after a few days of disuse there won’t be any issues getting your paint back to its original form - this is a common issue for student grade watercolor tubes.
M. Graham's paints last for months, even years. Which is favorable for hobby painters.
These watercolors are naturally vibrant and lightfast. The honey additive also is a great option for artists who prefer a thicker consistency to their paint.
Lastly, M. Graham's watercolor paints are for environmentally conscious artists. M. Graham paints have a completely non-toxic manufacturing process and it’s fully powered through 100% renewable energy.
Royal Talens Van Gogh watercolors introduced their new series of professional paints, named after the famed Dutch artist, Rembrandt.
This professional paint includes excellent lightfastness, transparency, vibrant, and well-saturated colors that are easily buildable.
Rembrandt's watercolors come in a half pan, making them a perfect high-quality paint for travelers. These paints are known for their smooth texture and transparency. This is a wonderful paint if you enjoy working in layers.
The paints are very fluid and have a syrup-like texture when squeezed onto a palette or pan.
Pro-tip: When pouring, keep your palette as flat as possible until the paint is completely dry. Once dried and set, you won’t have any issues with the paint staying put.
Rembrandt’s paints are better suited for someone who has a drawing or painting background, and you’re looking to get into the world of watercolors.
They’re also great for gift giving. They’re packaged in a beautiful wooden professional box with a red sable brush.
Grumbach Gesso has a wide array of art supplies including their watercolor set - the Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint.
These are a student rage watercolor paint. It has a low price point and comes in small tubes. These paints are aimed at students who are interested in learning how to watercolor paint, while still saving money.
This paint set comes with everything that you’ll need - a plastic palette for tube storage and assorted brushes. Grumbacher wants to provide everything you need to get started painting immediately.
This kit includes 12 watercolors that have a buttery texture and produce vibrant colors that are highly pigmented. These watercolors are lightfast and have great consistency.
The Grumbacher website is incredibly helpful. It includes a color guide that shares the lightfastness rating for ASTM but also shares the pigment information.
This is helpful because if you were to run out of a particular color mid-painting, you would be able to go to the store and cross-reference the color code with other brands to find a close match.
Once you feel comfortable you can upgrade to their professional level paints.
The Finest Watercolor series will have all the professional qualities you look for in paint. It has better transparency and a higher pigment density. You can buy these paints individually at select art stores or online
Whether you’re seeking out professional or student-quality paint, there are aspects of watercolors that you’ll want to be aware of.
How do you choose what’s best for your needs? There are so many different brands, colors, and characteristics to this medium that it can be really confusing.
Here are a few things to pay attention to when choosing your watercolor paints. Understanding this will help you feel more confident when choosing the watercolors that best fit your needs.
Watercolor paints can be sold in individual tubes or sets. The tubes allow you to select the colors you want whereas the sets have predetermined colors. For sets, you’ll want to evaluate which colors are included to make sure they meet your needs.
A perk of watercolor paints is that they’re mixable. Meaning, you can extend your color palette without investing in a large set. That way, if you decide you want to upgrade to artist-quality paint, you can start with a smaller set or fewer colors before making the bigger investment. This will really depend on your style and what you are attempting to achieve.
The beauty of watercolor paint is its ability to create a washed-out effect.
Watercolor paints come in opaque or transparent - manufacturers will typically write on the tubes or the pans if the paint is opaque.
Of course, all watercolors can be made transparent by diluting them with water, however some pigments hide the underlying paper more than others. Paints are usually categorized as “transparent”, “semi-transparent”, or “opaque”.
Watercolors vary greatly by price. In general, the higher the quality the higher the cost. Your experience and your watercolor goals will help you determine what price range you’ll fall into.
You’ll notice that professional watercolor paints have different pricing depending on the minerals used. Some minerals are rarer than others and this impacts the overall cost.
Student-grade watercolors have more standard pricing because these paints substitute rare pigments for synthetic fillers. You’ll notice the word “hue” after the pigment name - this is an indication that a filler was used.
Texture, granularity, and staining can make a big difference in the paints you choose.
Beyond color, the texture of the paint can make a big difference. Some watercolors are creamier which makes them more blendable than others.
The texture of the paint also affects how it spreads on a canvas - this is called granularity.
Granular paints tend to have a grainy texture when it dies. This is due to an uneven distribution of pigment particles on the paper. This happens because the pigments are larger, heavier, and more irregular than small, fine pigments. This is a pigment characteristic.
Lastly, some watercolor paints penetrate the paper, creating a “stain.” Other paints tend to lay on the surface of the paper. Again, this is impacted by the pigment. Staining becomes a factor when layering colors.
Non-staining paints become muddy when mixed.
Lightfastness is important in different types of paint. It’s a rating of how much a particular paint will fade or discolor over time when exposed to light.
These paints are rated using the American Standard Test Measure (ASTM) which ranges from excellent to very poor.
The two common ways to buy watercolors are in tubes or trays of solid paint - also known as pans.
Pans are great for portability as they are only activated when touched with a web brush. They are good for small projects as the amount of pigment you can take is limited.
In comparison, watercolor tubes are filled with liquid paint. Tubes are slightly messier to travel with but great for mixing and painting larger projects. It’s easier to use more paint with tubes, so you may find yourself buying paint more often.
If you’re unsure about which type of paint will work best for you - they are sold individually. This way, you can mix and match until you find the perfect combination.
There are so many in’s and out’s of watercolor paints. There are so many different brands and then thinking about color, transparency, cost, texture, lightfastness, and so much more. It can be overwhelming for professional and student artists combined.
For now, let's put that aside. A good watercolor painting all starts with practice, and if you’re a beginner artist you will need a lot of it.
There are so many great options for beginners that are easy to use, good quality, and affordable. For beginners - Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Box or Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint are a great starter.
They come in different quantity sets and are great for learning. You can start with a smaller set and continue to upgrade while you start learning and experimenting.
All you need is a quality paint palette, a brush, water, and don’t forget the paper!