Top 5 Best Watercolor Paints in 2021

Watercolor paintings are best known for their light and airy effect, which is easier to master with the right tools, and the higher the paint quality, the richer the pigment and vibrancy. Although most name brands deserve their reputation for making excellent quality pigments, there is no best brand of watercolor paints as this is a personal choice based on an artist’s preferred technique and style. As a general rule, it’s best to go for quality and not quantity, as with most art supplies.

Distinct manufacturers prepare their pigments differently, with some preparing their colors using minerals or rocks, while others can use plants. Likewise, some professionals prefer watercolor paint in tubes, while others may prefer pans. Thus, while there’s no distinct difference in quality between the pigments, their storage is a personal preference. What’s more, students may wonder what the best paints at the most affordable price are, and we will outline specific student, intermediate and professional-grade watercolors below.

All products are graded based on a 1-10 scoring for each selection criteria, with 10 being the best.

How to Choose the Best Watercolor Paints

Granulation

Granulation measures the graininess of the watercolor paint. Students usually begin with a fine grain consistency as it can be difficult for beginners to understand how granulated colors are used. When dried, paint granules form a course surface due to their larger and heavier grains.

Pigments

Watercolor pigments are created by mixing either a single colorant or a variety of different hues. Single pigments are usually more vibrant and cleaner than several dyes.

Lightfastness

As the name suggests, this term explains how long the vibrancy and color of paints will hold up under light, which the American Standard Test Measure measures (ASTM) and has five different standards from either “very poor” to “excellent.” Four other methods, ranging from A through D, are as follows:

  • Method A: natural daylight through glass
  • Method B: daylight fluorescent light
  • Method C: xenon-arc light filtered through glass
  • Method D: cool white fluorescent light and soda-lime glass-filtered fluorescent UV sunlamp

Transparency

All watercolor paints are transparent, meaning they allow light to permeate when applied to the white paper. Watercolors are most famous for their transparency, which allows for a layering effect using washes that add delicate changes in color. Available in transparent, semi-transparent, opaque, and semi-opaque, the most commonly purchased paints are transparent, which is also the easiest to use and master.

Our Product Recommendations

Best Watercolor Paints Overall – Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paints

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$59.18 (Was $94.99)
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Granulation – Fine
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Pigments – Varied
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Lightfastness – Excellent
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Transparency – Transparent
    • Our score: 9/10

About the Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paints

Ideal for students and beginners, these Winsor & Newton watercolor paints come in half pans encased in a plastic palette with 40 different colors plus five replacements of the most used colors. Hues include earth tones, bright traditional colors, and white for students to add accents or reduce the vibrancy of specific colors. Additionally, Windsor & Newton paints are more transparent than other brands and have a fine granulation for smoother painting.

Pros

  • An assortment of colors
  • Good granulation and lightfastness
  • Five backups of the most used colors included

Cons

  • The price might seem out of range for some students

Best Watercolor Paints on Amazon – Daniel Smith Watercolor Paint in Tubes

DANIEL SMITH Watercolor, 5ml tubes

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$44.99
    • Our score: 7/10
  • Granulation – Granulated
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Pigments – Varied
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Lightfastness – Excellent
    • Our score: 10/10
  • Transparency – Transparent
    • Our score: 9/10

About Daniel Smith Watercolor Paint in Tubes

Professional-grade, these paints were hand-selected by the leading watercolor artist Jean Haines as her preferred tints. Each tube contains 5 ml of 10 different colors, all made organically and naturally. Famous for producing colors made from minerals like Lapis Lazuli, many artists choose this brand for their consistency, variety, and lightfastness, which meet ASTM’s “excellent” rating. In addition, Daniel Smith watercolor paints not only have the widest variety of hues of any watercolor brand, but they also boast a whopping 250+ colors to choose from, of which 206 are single pigments.

Pros

  • Excellent quality
  • Great price for this brand and grade of watercolor paints

Cons

  • May not have enough color variety for some professionals

Best Watercolor Paints Beginners – Daniel Smith Watercolor Paints for Beginners

Daniel Smith Essentials Mixing Set Watercolor Paint

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$23.99 (Was $24.90) – Our score: 9/10
  • Granulation – Fine – Our score: 9/10
  • Pigments – Varied – Our score: 8/10
  • Lightfastness – Excellent – Our score: 10/10
  • Transparency – Transparent – Our score: 9/10

About Daniel Smith Watercolor Paints for Beginners

Beginners will appreciate these affordable watercolor paints from Daniel Smith. The set includes a variety of 6 primary colors in 5 ml tubes with a 1 oz bottle of Titanium White in a practical plastic storage box. Budding artists can master mixing the two sets of primary colors in cool and warm shades to paint landscapes, portraits, or still lifes. Helpful watercolor mixing instructions are included in the set.

Pros

  • Includes primary colors for added mixing potential
  • The white hue allows students to learn to paint on most surfaces, regardless of color

Cons

  • Some beginners might want already mixed colors and more shade variety

Best Watercolor Paints Professionals – Winsor & Newton Watercolor Paints

Winsor & Newton - Professional Watercolour Set of 24

  • Price – ~$116.95 (Was $122.85)
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Granulation – Fine
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Pigments – Varied
    • Our score: 8/10
  • Lightfastness – Excellent
    • Our score: 9/10
  • Transparency – Transparent
    • Our score: 9/10

Also called watercolor artist paints, this professional-grade Winsor & Newton set of 24 half pans comes in a compact and lightweight metal palette, which is easy to use in a studio or outdoor setting. The palette has two separate mixing areas, is colorfast to protect colors from fading, and may have a few different colors than those stated on the manufacturer’s website. Artists at any level who are looking for creamy and heavy pigments and vibrant colors would also do well with this paint set.

Pros

  • High-quality pigments
  • Includes a compact, colorfast palette perfect for travel

Cons

  • Some customers noted that one or two different colors came with their set

Best Individual Watercolor Paints – M. Graham & Co Watercolor Paint Set

M. Graham GRM-33-10SET Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$99 (Was $156.95) – Our score: 7/10
  • Granulation – Fine – Our score: 9/10
  • Pigments – Varied – Our score: 8/10
  • Lightfastness – Excellent – Our score: 9/10
  • Transparency – Transparent – Our score: 9/10

About the M. Graham & Co Watercolor Paint Set

Perfect for intermediate artists, this M. Graham & Co 10 tube watercolor paints set is a bargain at under $100. These paints have vibrant pigments, are intense, flowing, and easy to use for sealing. Their smooth granulation creates an even color, perfect for creating uniform washes. Stains are created using gum Arabic and blackberry honey with glycerin that enhances wetness and allows the paint to run off the brush and slide easily along the paper.

Pros

  • All-natural materials
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Doesn’t include a storage container

Conclusion

This wraps up our guide to the best watercolor paints. Not only have we discussed how you could identify the best colors for beginners, intermediate or professional artists, but we’ve also covered the differences in what makes paint quality different from various brands.

We’ve discussed how you can choose the best watercolor paints and why granulation, pigment, lightfastness, and transparency are key deciding factors.

Lastly, we combined our recommendations for use in different situations. So, whether it is a Winsor & Newton watercolor paint set or the M. Graham & Co watercolor paints known for even washes, we’ve covered it all.

Thanks for reading; we hope our suggestions help to choose the best watercolor paints for your needs easier.

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