Discover the best watercolour paint brands and the differences between each in this comprehensive guide.
Watercolour paint is a fast drying, vibrant medium. Pigment is bound in gum arabic and is thinned with water to yield transparent results.
With watercolour, you can achieve a controlled, delicate look or apply paint in layers to create bold and dynamic colours.
It’s easy to get started with watercolour, as you won’t need to many different supplies.
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Attributes of the best watercolour paint brands
The quality of watercolour paint can vary between brands.
Some brands will use cheaper pigments, or the pigment will be less concentrated. Other paint ranges may use fillers and extenders to bulk their paint out.
These are all factors you want to avoid when selecting a watercolour paint brand, even if the paint has a low price point. It’s possible to find a balance—paint that is relatively low in price but uses high quality pigments with few fillers.
Pigments used in the top end ranges of paint have a higher level of permanency or lightfastness. This means that over time, pigments won’t fade when exposed to light. If you want to keep your painting, frame it and put it on the wall, or sell it, then it’s important to consider the permanency of the pigments. ASTM ratings measure lightfastness. I is excellent and V is poor. You will be able to find this information on the side of the paint tube or on the watercolour pan pack.
Another way that paint can vary between brands is in the pigments used for each colour. Some brands will use mainly single pigment colours, which allow you to create more vibrant and cleaner mixes. When you are selecting your watercolour palette consider getting a versatile mix of single pigment paints, including the primaries that you can use to mix a range of tones.
An attribute to take note of when choosing a watercolour brand is whether the brand uses pigments that stain the paper, or dries as a paint film separately from the paper. If the paint dries on top of the paper, then this paint film can be rewetted and ‘lifted’ to create highlighted areas in the painting. Pigments that create stains on the paper cannot be lifted easily and will mix with other colours applied to the surface in consecutive layers.
Pans vs tubes
Some watercolours come in pans, some come in tubes. Tubed watercolours come in a liquid form and whilst they may not differ in pigment concentration to panned alternatives, tubed colours are less suitable for rewetting.
Panned watercolours contain more preservatives and are more suitable for travelling with. Pans are usually favoured more by beginners, as the colour is easier to control, but tubed colour can give more intensely pigmented washes, as you can load your brush with more colour.
Paint can vary in its texture. Some brands will make paint to be creamy and some, like M. Graham, contain ingredients like honey which makes the paint feel smoother and more viscous.
There are some watercolour paints that will be more granular than others, depending on the pigment and the brand. Certain colours will create textured washes and others will create smooth washes. You can use this texture to your advantage to create the illusion of detail in landscape painting.
One final attribute that professional grade watercolour brands endeavour to make a selling point of their paint is transparency. If paint is transparent, it lets through the white of the surface below. You can use transparent pigments to create light areas more easily, or layer them to make colours appear opaque.
I’ve ordered this list from the top quality professional grade brands, to the budget friendly brands at the bottom.
The best watercolour paint brands
Schmincke: Horadam Aquarell
Attributes: professional quality, highly pigmented, archival
Considered to be the finest quality watercolour paint, Schmincke’s Horadam Aquarell set of 48 colours are brilliantly intense. Each colour has a maximum pigment load and uses specially selected Kordofan gum arabic binding medium from southern Sahara.
The paint is fully reusable when dried on a palette, in both tube and pan paint. Expect a high control of paint flow, even on softer watercolour papers.
Schmincke uses only the most lightfast pigments, often making single pigment colours for optimum mixing results.
You can get 139 colours of Schmincke watercolours in tube and pan form.
M. Graham watercolour paint
Attributes: smooth consistency, pigmented
M. Graham tubes come in a vibrant range of 70 carefully selected colours, the majority of which contain a single pigment, giving you clean mixing results.
The colours are made with blackberry honey, which acts as a preservative and enhances the smoothness and brilliance of the paint. It acts as an additive to increase the longevity of watercolours and aids with their solubility—even colours that have been left for months to dry on a palette can be used again.
Expect smooth application from these paints, your colour will glide across the paper. The pigments used range in transparency and tinting strength, from delicate to highly concentrated.
Daniel Smith watercolour paint
Attributes: traditional pigments available, safer pigments available, popular professional brand
Daniel Smith paints are bold and vibrant, with a range of over 250 different colours to choose from, which is the most of any manufacturer. The purity of the colours and permanence of the pigments are among the best available to artists.
The cadmium hues that Daniel Smith supply are both safe and vibrant, that have the richness and density of the traditional cadmium colours without using the heavy metal pigment.
Some colours of note are New Gamboge, which is an orange-yellow, similar to yellow ochre but brighter. Mix this with Pyrrole Red to achieve intense fiery oranges.
Daniel Smith’s PrimaTek range grinds traditional mineral pigments that have been used for centuries in premium binder. There are 35 of these colours, all with unique origins. For example, Lapis Lazuli, a colour similar to ultramarine comes from a blue gemstone mottled with golden specks found in Afghanistan. Other colours made from semi-precious gemstones include Amethyst, Serpentine and Rhodonite. These colours give a bright luminescence to your painting, that granulate, giving brilliant textural effects. They mix well with other colours too, so don’t be shy of including one of these unique pigments in your palette.
Isaro watercolour paint
Attributes: high end, high pigment load, quality ingredients
Isaro makes 70 colours in 7ml tubes. Each colour has maximum transparency, which allows for optimum layering capabilities and luminosity. Only the highest quality gum arabic and pigments make the cut.
Ingredients added to the gum arabic binder include glycerin and honey. They are added in tiny amounts to make the paint stable and malleable. The honey used in Isaro paint is from the acacia flower, as this honey is the clearest and lightest in colour.
The paint is on the more expensive end of the spectrum, but the pigments are so concentrated. This means that you will need very little paint to make a large amount of colour.
Old Holland watercolour paint
Attributes: strong pigmentation, expensive, more multi-pigment tubes than other professional brands, some colours have nice granulation
The range of colours in this professional quality watercolour paint is extensive, with 168 tubes to choose from. Each colour has the maximum pigment load, giving you the ability to mix clean, vibrant colours.
Some of the colours have been especially formulated to emulate the colours used by the old Dutch masters, such colours that you would not be able to find made by any other paint brand.
The colour sample presented on the tube is representative of the colour’s undertone (i.e. what the colour will look like when diluted). From this, you can see the true results the colour will give you when thinned with water on paper.
Old Holland was founded in 1664 and is one of the oldest running paint manufacturers. Famous artists such as Van Gogh and Vermeer used their paints.
Blockx watercolour paint
Attributes: high pigmentation, granulating colours give a pleasing effect
The clarity of the artist grade colours of Blockx’s paint is superb as only the finest, most lightfast pigments are used. Despite the high pigment load, artists have reported inconsistencies in the viscosity of the paint, with some colours coming out of the tube runny and others stiff. Some artists have also reported separation of the pigment and binder in the tubes.
The sets can omit certain essential colours that beginners would need to get started with watercolour. I’d suggest buying tubes of colours individually if you decide to buy some from this brand.
Some of their 72 colours have granular properties, including cobalt and manganese violet, which can give textural effects, brilliant for landscape painters who want to emulate the appearance of detail in their washes.
The paints come in either 15ml tubes, or in a giant pan. The giant pans are 3.5 x 2.25 inches—they contain a lot of paint and the pans themselves can be reused.
Attributes: brilliant granulation, re-wettable for many sessions, good mix-ability
Made in France, Sennelier professional quality watercolours have a smooth texture and are incredibly lively in appearance.
Sennelier have over 100 colours available in half pan. The bonding agent used in the paint is Kordofan Gum Arabic, with added honey to increase the longevity and radiance of the colours.
The paints offer watercolourists fluidity, transparency and intensity of colour, lending themselves to the spontaneous and delicate way painters quickly translate light and shape from their reference to their surface.
Holbein watercolour paint
Attributes: smooth finish, resistant to cracking
A Japanese brand, Holbein has incorporated the qualities of traditional Japanese watercolours. They are produced without dispersing agents, which give better pigment concentration and brush control.
The tube colour can be used like pan colour, as they can be rewetted once dry. You can put a little bit of the tube colour into your own ceramic pan and keep rewetting it for months.
The 108 colours dry to a smooth finish and are resistant to cracking and chipping.
Kuretake watercolour paint
Attributes: thick, vibrant, semi-transparent
Another Japanese brand, that can be compared to gouache paint in terms of their thickness and vibrance. They are ‘solid watercolours’ which means that they are more opaque than traditional European paints. The paints could be described as semi-transparent, rather than transparent. The paint comes out of the tube rich and dries to a slight sheen.
When thinned with water, of course the paints will appear more transparent as the luminosity of the surface will show from beneath.
Golden: QOR watercolour paint
Attributes: good flow, vivid, good resolubility
With 86 11ml tubes in their range, Golden has produced a modern formulation of professional watercolour.
The binder used isn’t gum arabic, but an exclusive medium called ‘Aquazol’. Although the binder is different, it seems to behave in much the same way as other artist grade watercolours. Golden claims Aquazol increases the versatility of each colour. The effects are smooth application, vivid colour, higher pigment density and resistance to cracking.
Some watercolour brands have a tendency to become less saturated as they dry, but Golden’s colours stay bright and high in chroma. They dry slightly more matte than other watercolours.
Mijello Mission Gold watercolours
Attributes: smooth, less granulating than other brands, low price but high quality, perfect for beginners and intermediate painters
A South Korean brand with 105 colours available, Mijello provides more colour options than some other brands. Mijello has created a natural palette of colours, as they are supposed to emulate tones we see in the natural world. Autumn Red and Leaf Green are two examples.
The paints are transparent and smooth. Mijello sells a single pigment set of their paints, but some colours that are single pigment in other brands aren’t in Mijello, Burnt Sienna is one example.
The price point is fairly competitive for artist grade watercolour. This is great for those progressing to intermediate level of painting who want to spend a bit more on their art supplies to get the quality.
Winsor & Newton: Professional Watercolours
Attributes: mid-range, good pigmentation
Winsor and Newton are a popular mid-range brand that supply watercolours suitable for professionals and beginners alike. You can get over 100 colours in a range of different sizes, from 5ml to 37ml.
Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolours was actually the first watercolour paint range ever to be made.
The permanence of the pigments selected are excellent and each colour in the range has been made with a unique formulation to optimise its individual working properties. For this reason, the working properties of the paint depends largely on the pigment you have selected.
A pigment may give you a smooth wash, while the other gives a textured wash. Some colours will be more transparent than others, but because of the manufacturing process—in that all pigments are finely dispersed in the gum arabic binder—all colours will have a relative transparency. Read the information on the tube to find out about the pigment you are using, or get the Professional Watercolour chart. For example any pigment that has staining properties will be labelled with ‘St’ on the chart.
Mainly single pigments are used in the Winsor & Newton Professional range, mixed pigment tubes (called hues when referring to pigment mixes) are used where the single pigment may either be toxic (in the case of cadmiums) or not have a high level of permanency (in the case of traditional Alizarin Crimson).
Lukas 1862 watercolour paint
Attributes: vegan, large tubes, not widely available
Lukas is a relatively inexpensive and less well known compared to some other brands. Watercolour paint is manufactured in 24ml tubes and the average price for this size is around £9.75. However you can often find them on sale from suppliers like Jacksons. The large tube size is great for artists who use a lot of paint—you won’t need to worry about running out quickly.
48 of their 70 colours are made with single pigments, these will give you clean mixes. All colours are made with maximum lightfast ratings.
Lukas provide a large range of blue and green colours, with two different types of turquoise. They also label their primary colours, so if your approach to painting is to buy a limited palette of colours in larger tubes (so you can mix all of your shades and tones) then Lukas could be a great choice.
Attributes: pearlescent properties, artists can create shimmery effects
Something a little different for the list as these watercolours all contain mica. Mica is a mineral dust—paint makers add it to the watercolour binder to create opalescent and shimmery effects that appear metallic.
Use these paints in exactly the same way as regular watercolours, just apply them, thinned with water to paper with a brush.
The colours are opaque for watercolour, they’re lightfast, pigment rich and come in pans. They’re relatively cheap as well, so if you want to add some sparkle to your palette, these should be your go-to.
St. Petersburg: White Nights watercolour paint
Attributes: good value for money, smooth consistency
These paints are excellent value for money but also offer artists with a fine painting experience. They are suitable for beginners, students and intermediate painters on a budget.
The Russian made paints use pigments, bound in gum arabic, with honey to make the paint application smooth and vibrant.
The majority of the paints (three quarters to be precise) are made from single pigments, giving you a clean and pure mixing ability when you come to combine colours.
The average price for a pan is £1.80 (around $2.30), making them much more affordable than other artist quality paints. Compared to a range like Winsor & Newton’s Cotman, however, they are a little more pricey.
Daler Rowney artists watercolour paint
Attributes: runny, free-flowing, spread well
Daler Rowney make their watercolours in the UK. The quality is good, but not as high as other professional ranges.
In terms of price relative to quality, they are a good choice. They would be apt for a beginner or intermediate painter. Daler Rowney watercolours have reasonable permanence and performance while painting. More runny and free flowing than other paints, they spread and blend well on paper, without leaving hard edges around the colour.
By mixing colours with titanium white, you can increase the opacity.
Royal Talens: Rembrandt watercolour paint
Attributes: affordable, sets provide good range of colours
This brand is accessible and affordable for students and complete beginners who have only just started on their painting journey.
Royal Talens provide transparent paints with intense colours with a high degree of lightfastness. This brands offers great introductory sets that can serve as a basic palette to get started with.
Winsor & Newton: Cotman
Attributes: affordable, sets provide good range of colours
One of the most affordable watercolours on the list, Winsor & Newton’s Cotman watercolours have been a favourite of students for decades.
The quality is up to the normal standards of Winsor & Newton, but costs have been reduced by replacing some of the more expensive pigments with inexpensive ones.
There are 40 colours in the range, all of which have a good level of transparency and tinting strength.
Cotman watercolours contain more additives and stabilisers than the professional artist colour range. This means that the pigment density is slightly less, but it also means that the paint has a more uniform consistency. This means that pigments behave in a similar way to one another, which in a way makes them more suitable to beginners who may have less knowledge about handling properties of different pigments.
The colours vary in their granulation properties—earth pigments granulate, but the modern pigments and Cotman hue colours will give a smooth, non-granular wash.
For your first ever set of watercolours, this is an excellent choice. As your skills progress, you may find yourself wanting a professional quality set that will give you more intense colours and clean mixes, however.
Attributes: Affordable, student grade watercolours
Reeves watercolours are student grade, so if you’re looking to seriously improve your watercolour painting skills, they are a brand that I wouldn’t recommend. This is because they perform differently and look different to other watercolour paint brands. They are less pigmented than artist grade watercolours for example.
If you are a complete beginner, student, or if you don’t have a high budget for art supplies, Reeves could be a good option, as they really do come at a fraction of the cost. When your skills start to improve you could invest in buying a few colours from a mid-range brand like Winsor & Newton.
What’s the best watercolour paint brand?
Overall, the best watercolour paint brand depends on two factors, your budget and preferences.
If you want to get the highest quality paint available and don’t mind the price point, then one of the professional watercolour brands nearer the top of the list would suit you well.
You might want an especially smooth watercolour, in which case you would choose a brand that contains honey, like M. Graham. Or if you want to avoid using animal products, you might go with Lukas. Of course, you could use multiple brands together. It might be that you like specific colours from one brand, or you want to try a range within a brand like Schmincke’s super granulating colours.
To cut costs a little bit, you could buy some colours from the South Korean brand Mijello. They are cheaper than some of the other professional watercolour paint ranges; you can buy a decent set for under £30. Despite the lower cost, the quality is still high. The paints are easy to handle and highly pigmented. Mijello paints would appeal to beginner, intermediate and professional watercolour painters.
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