20 Best Watercolor Paint Sets Both Beginners and Professional Artists Will Love

best watercolor paints

Photo: Kira auf der Heide
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, My Modern Met may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.

Since gaining widespread popularity in the 18th century, watercolor painting has been a favorite of amateur and professional artists alike. Its portability makes it the perfect medium to take on the road, allowing artists to sketch en plein air or rapidly work out ideas. But with so many available brands, what are the best watercolor sets on the market? And what to look for when selecting watercolor paint?

Whether seeking out pans or tubes or professional or student quality, these are certain technical aspects you'll want to be aware of as you seek out watercolor paint. Of course, you can always buy individual tubes or pans for any of the brands mentioned below, filling an empty watercolor well palette or empty watercolor pan tin to make your own travel set. But if you are looking for something ready to go or simply want to splurge on a professional watercolor set, here are some things to consider.

How to Pick the Best Watercolor Paint Set

Professional vs. Student Quality Paint

Just like many other art supplies, such as acrylic paints, watercolors come in two grades: student and professional. Professional, or artist-quality, watercolor paint is typically made with more pigment and comes in a wider range of colors. As student watercolors usually have more synthetic binders and fillers, which keeps the cost down, but they tend to have less permanence.

If you are a beginner or just want to test your hand at watercolor painting, student quality should be just fine. You may not even notice much difference to begin with, and it will be lighter on your wallet.


Number of Colors

The nice thing about watercolor paint is that mixing means you can greatly extend your color palette without investing in a wide range of colors. So, if you are considering upgrading to artist-quality paint, you may want to start with just 5 to 10 colors to test before making a bigger investment.

Of course, single pigment colors will be more vibrant than mixed colors, but some artists swear by using a limited number of single pigments and building from there. This depends on your style and what you are attempting to achieve.

You may notice that pigments, especially with professional watercolor paints, have different prices depending on the raw minerals used. This is because certain minerals are simply rarer, and thus more expensive. Student watercolors have standardized pricing because synthetic fillers substitute for these rare pigments, which is why you'll often see the word “hue” after the pigment name—it's a filler.



Level of Permanence

Permanence is the paint's durability, given exposure to light and humidity. Much of this depends on the quality of the pigments and how much filler—if any—is in the paint to cut down on cost. Permanence is also called lightfastness, and you'll want to check your label to see how each color rates on the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) rating scale. You are looking for an I (excellent) or II (good) here, and most brands like Winsor & Newton will also have this information online.


Opaque vs. Transparent Watercolors

The beauty of watercolor paint is its ability to let light pass through it and create a washed-out effect. Watercolor paint can be opaque or transparent, with manufacturers typically writing on the tubes or pans if the paint is opaque. Though you can thin opaque watercolors out, it will be important to note the transparency to create the layered effect of most watercolor paintings.

If you are looking for something with full coverage, you might consider gouache. We have a full guide to the best gouache paint to get you started.

Not familiar with watercolor transparency? Craftsy has a great introductory method for testing your paint.



Staining vs. Non-Staining Watercolors

Some watercolor paints penetrate the paper, creating a “stain,” while others lay on the paper's surface, making it easier to erase unwanted lines with a sponge or by scraping the paper. This really comes down to the pigment, and if you are a beginner, with a little practice, you'll begin to understand which pigments stain. Staining will also become a factor when layering colors, as non-staining watercolors can become muddy when mixed. Try testing out your colors on a white piece of paper to understand which colors in your palette are non-staining, as they vary by brand.


Pans or Tubes

The most common way to buy watercolors is either in small tubes or in trays of solid paint called pans. Pans, which are only activated when touched with a wet brush, are great for their portability. As the amount of pigment you can take each time is limited, it's a bit more difficult to paint large-scale projects, but each pan will go a long way.

Tubes, by contrast, are filled with liquid paint. This makes it a bit messier to bring on the road, but easier for mixing and painting on a larger scale. However, it's easier to use more paint quickly with tubes, so it can mean buying paint more often. Artists must also be careful not to let the paint dry out, as many brands don't hold up well to constant rewetting.

Remember that both tubes and pans are sold individually, so if you aren't sure what works best for you, you can mix and match until you find the perfect combination.


watercolour mixing chart


Best Watercolor Sets for Beginners


Prang Watercolor Paint Cakes Set of 12

Watercolor Paint Set

Prang | $4.38

Prang's set of 8 watercolors is a great economical option for beginner artists who want to experiment without any fuss. The oval half-pans come in a durable plastic case that is ideal for transport. All of the colors are semi-moist and transparent and come with one brush.


Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Sketchers Pocket Box

Cotman is the student line of watercolors by the popular brand Winsor & Newton. Cotman is a great entry into Winsor & Newton, as synthetic fillers help keep the prices down, yet the quality is still high. The Cotman line comes both in pans and tubes, but we love this sketchers pocket box for how portable it is. With 12 half pans and a brush, you have just enough to paint on the go, with the box lid doubling as a mixing palette.


Raphaël Watercolor Travel Pan Set

Raphael Watercolor Set

Raphaël | $17.49

The Raphaël Aquarelle Watercolor Travel Set makes it easy for artists to paint anywhere and anytime. It features a compact circular tin with an array of 10 half pans of student-grade colors, as well as a 12-compartment mixing palette on the top lid and a small brush. From Burnt Sienna to Yellow Ochre, you'll have all the colors you need to get started. Creatives can stash this pocket-size set in their bag and use it for en plein air painting like the Impressionists.


Sargent Art Watercolor Aquarelle Set

Sargent Watercolor Set

Sargent | $6.79

If you are just getting started with watercolors and want to understand more about color theory and mixing, this beginner's set by Sargent is a good, affordable option. It comes with 12 tubes of watercolor paint to get you comfortable with mixing color.


Van Gogh Watercolor 12 Tube Pocket Box Set

Best Watercolor Paint

Van Gogh | $38.81

Although advertised as student-grade paints, reviewers rave about the quality of Van Gogh watercolor tubes. It's no wonder, as they are made by the respected Royal Talens brand.  “They blend well and work with all of the watercolor techniques. They dry quickly and the colors remain vivid after they are dry.” These watercolors are also available as pans and come in a convenient wood or plastic carrying case so that they're easy to travel with.


Kuretake Gansai Portable Watercolor Set

Kuretake Watercolor Paint Set

Kuretake | $29.50

Made in Japan, Kuretake's Gansai set includes 14 creamy colors. Each of these paints is well-crafted and displays a greater opacity than European and American watercolors, according to traditional Japanese style. This is thanks to the fact that Kuretake uses a different binder than the traditional gum arabic used in Western paints. The durable plastic case also features an inner lid designed for mixing paints.


Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Watercolor

daniel smith watercolor paints

Daniel Smith | $37.80

Daniel Smith is an American watercolor paint brand known for its artist-quality paints. Their 6-tube introductory watercolor kit is a great first set if you are looking to transition into professional watercolor paints, as it allows you to mix a wide range of colors before investing in more tubes. The set contains three warm and three cool primary colors from Daniel Smith's 240+ color collection.


Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle 24 Half Pans

sennelier watercolor

Sennelier | $38.95

Known for their high-quality paints, Sennelier's student set makes the perfect travel companion. It comes with 24 half pans, a mixing tray, and an elastic strap for field painting. Good transparency means that it's easy to create a glazing effect, and colors are clear and bright.

Daler-Rowney Aquafine Watercolor Pan Set of 24

Daler-Rowney Watercolor Set

Daler-Rowney | $27.78

The Daler-Rowney Aquafine Watercolor Set includes 24 colors that allow for easy mixing and delicate washes. Its high-quality pigments and economical price make it an excellent set for students and professionals alike.

Best Professional Watercolor Sets


Holbein Set Of 24 Artists' Watercolor Tubes

holbein water color paints

Holbein | $116.84

Made in Japan, Holbein watercolors claim to be “more finely ground than any other artist watercolor,” leaving a smooth, non-granular texture. They tend not to dry out in the tube and have a wide range of colors that are vibrant and intense according to reviewers.


Grumbacher Academy Watercolors Set of 12 Tubes

Grumbacher Watercolor Paint Set

Grumbacher | $72.98

Grumbacher is a favorite brand among professional watercolorists. This set of 12 tubes comes in a plastic case with 12 color wells for mixing paint and creating even more hues. It also includes a camel-hair watercolor paintbrush so you can get started straight away.


Mijello Mission Gold Watercolor Tube Set of 24

Mijello Watercolor Set

Mijello | $54.31

Mijello's Mission Gold Watercolors were designed with the help of expert watercolorists to mirror the colors of nature. This set of 24 contains a range of colorful 7 ml tubes with excellent lightfastness.


ShinHan PWC Extra Fine Professional Watercolor Set of 24 Tubes

Watercolor Paint Set

ShinHan | $98.80

This set of 24 colors by ShinHan is ideal for artists of all skill levels. These 15 ml tubs contain a large amount of paint, featuring “professional-behaving granulation” and lightfastness.


M. Graham Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set

best watercolors

M. Graham | $144.53

M.Graham uses honey as an additive, making this a great option for artists who prefer a thicker consistency to their paint. With a high pigment load, this professional watercolor paint is known as a great value.


Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Lightweight Sketchers' Box

If you prefer working with tubes and want something portable, Winsor & Newton's professional sketching case is a terrific option. It includes 12 tubes of Winsor & Newton professional watercolor paints, which are known for their high pigment load. More expensive than other brands, Winsor & Newton has remained popular for overall quality and smooth consistency.


Sennelier French Metal Set

sennelier watercolor

Sennelier | $64.11

A favorite brand among professionals, Sennelier uses honey as an additive, making rewetting easier. This portable set is easy to travel with, and as Sennelier also sells pans individually, you can refill them or add new colors as needed. One reviewer notes, “They respond very quickly to a wet brush, quicker than some other pan paints I have tried. The colors are rich, vibrant, and heavily pigmented.”


Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Paint Tube Metal Set

Schmincke Watercolor Set

Schmincke | $81.11

Known for its superior quality, Schmincke has been using the same, traditional formula since 1881. The German brand has a huge selection of 139 colors, with 112 tones achieving the highest possible lightfastness. One reviewer calls them “Winsor & Newton on steroids!” and states that “the colors portray a delicate softness that I think is similar to WN watercolors, but Schmincke has a bit more boldness and flow, more variance in opaque and translucent colors, and much more granulation in certain colors.” If you prefer pans, they also have that option, as well as the student grade Akademie Aquarell line.


Utrecht Artists' Watercolor

Utrecht Watercolor Paint Set

Utrecht | $264.53

This beautiful kit by Utrecht is well worth the price for professional artists looking to treat themselves. It comes with 18 tubes of professional watercolors, 4 Utrecht brushes, one Utrecht flat knife, a Yasutomo fan-shaped plastic palette with 24 assorted wells, an artist sponge, and a kneaded eraser. Housed in a chic Beechwood wood case, it will make you want to go out and set up your easel immediately.


Rembrandt Watercolor Set

Rembrandt Watercolor Set

Rembrandt | $157.47

Made by the same manufacturer as Van Gogh, Rembrandt professional watercolors are known for their smooth texture and transparency. If you like working in layers and want to splurge on a wide range of colors, their 24-pan set is the perfect watercolor kit for the serious watercolorist.


Lukas Set of 70 Colors

Lukas Watercolor Paint Set of 70

Lukas | $192.99

For professional artists who want a full spectrum of colors at their fingertips, there's this extravagant set of 70 colors by Lukas. All of these high-quality half-pan shades are packaged conveniently inside a wooden box for easy transportation.


Frequently Asked Questions


Are tube or pan watercolors better?

There are pros and cons to both.

Pans, which are only activated when touched with a wet brush, are great for their portability. As the amount of pigment you can take each time is limited, it's a bit more difficult to paint large-scale projects, but each pan will go a long way.

Tubes, by contrast, are filled with liquid paint. This makes it a bit messier to bring on the road, but easier for mixing and painting on a larger scale. However, it's easier to use more paint quickly with tubes, so it can mean buying paint more often. Artists also need to be careful not to let the paint dry out, as many brands don't hold up well to constant rewetting.

Keep in mind that both tubes and pans are sold individually, so if you aren't sure what works best for you, you can mix and match until you find the perfect combination.


How do I choose a watercolor set?

When choosing a watercolor set, it's important to keep in mind your skill level (beginner or professional) and your own creative goals. Bearing that information, you can choose a set based on the number of colors included, whether the set comes in tubes or pans, the price point, and the quality of the materials.


Do you need specific watercolor brushes?

Similar to painting in acrylic or oil, you will need good paintbrushes to make the most of your watercolor paint set. Most watercolor paint brushes are available in synthetic or natural fibers, each of which has its pros and cons.

Synthetic brushes—which are made from nylon or polyester—are the more economical option. Not only that, but they are also easy to clean and maintain their shape after significant usage. The downside is that they do not retain as much water.

Natural brushes—which are made from animal hair—are usually the go-to utensil for professional watercolorists. Although they are overall more expensive, they hold more paint and can produce pleasing effects.

Check out our guide to the best paint brushes for more insight into choosing your tools.


This article has been edited and updated.

Related Articles:

11 Essential Watercolor Techniques All Painters Need to Know

17 Best Drawing Pencils for Professionals and Beginners Who Love to Sketch

15+ YouTube Channels to Teach You How to Paint for Free

10+ Best Colored Pencil Sets for Coloring Book Enthusiasts and Professional Artists

This Step-by-Step Tutorial Shows You How to “Grow” Watercolor Flowers on Paper

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content