The best watercolor paint, and brand, is Holbein.
Holbein is pricey but ideal for student and professional watercolorists. And you definitely want tubes over pans.
There are obviously other brands that deliver quality results like;
- Winsor & Newton
- and Daniel Smith
All of these top brands will do a fantastic job but Holbein has a certain buttery texture that’s hard to resist. I’ve used it for 16 years and I’m still excited every time I open a tube of paint.
I mentioned it’s expensive but there are ways to save money if you are on a budget. Below I have recommendations for a limited palette which will give you an amazing range of colors and save some bucks. One of the mistakes beginners make is buying too many hues. This will only clutter the learning process, wasting time and money.
Check out the table below for a complete list of other premium watercolor paint for beginner and professionals.
How to choose the best watercolor paint
If there’s one tool a watercolorist should splurge on it’s paint. Having the best watercolor paint is critical in truly knowing how the medium responds in wet conditions. In this article I will share tips on choosing the best paint possible without spending a fortune. I will educate you on the difference between student and artist grades, pans versus tubes, how to store paint, what watercolor paint(s) to avoid, and why beginners should opt for artist grade tubes but limit their palette.
What's the difference between professional and student grade watercolor paint?
There are lower amounts of pigment in student watercolors and more filler. Fillers such as dextrin will increase the opacity and chalkiness of the paint. Therefore, you get less transparent watercolors and decreased vibrancy. The low level of pigments also means that you can’t water down the paint as much as you can with artist-grade paint. This means that you get a much lower tonal range with student watercolors. Hence, the reason these paints are cheaper are because it’s much more economical to produce paints with less pigment.
The amount of filler in professional/artist watercolors is low and some do not have any at all. This allows artist watercolors to be rich, saturated, and extremely vibrant.
Pans versus tubes?
What you need to know about pans.
Pans are considered easier to use because you have immediate access to the colors. You don’t have to stop what you-re doing, open a tube of paint, and squeeze a little color out. They are often preferred by painters for quick sketches and plein air painting because of their compactness and portability.
Pans are less expensive than tubes. They are better suited to small studies and paintings because using them with a larger brush can be difficult.
What you need to know about tubes.
Tubes give you flexibility as far as the quantity of paint you want to use, along with the size of the brush, area to be painted, and the size of the painting.
Important: Tubes are easier on your brushes than pans as you don’t have the temptation to scrub with your brush to pick up a color.
Who’s the winner?
Ultimately, each has its own advantages. Most experienced watercolorists prefer tubes and I’m in that group as well. Even when I paint outdoors I prefer to bring along a limited palette of tubes.
How to store watercolor paint.
Occasionally you will take a break from art unless you do this full-time. Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. The last thing you want to do is return to your easel and discover your paint has dried up.
I bounce around from acrylics, mixed media, charcoal, graphite and watercolors. I love them all! So, when I decide to explore another medium I store watercolor tubes in a ziplock bag. I try to remove all air when I seal it. I’ve taken months off and returned to soft paint every time.
What watercolor paints to avoid.
Student grade paint! The lowest quality I would recommend is Cotman’s by Winsor & Newton. It’s smack dab in the middle of artist and student grade. Inferior watercolor paint will not deliver the common characteristics of watercolor painting. You will want a paint that will stand up to various techniques like lifting, layering and mixing without breaking down.
Less is more.
Yes, watercolor painting is expensive! But you can prevent spending a lot of money by simply limiting the supplies, especially paint, to only what you need. Don’t get enamored with the latest YouTuber that promotes $200 brushes and $15 sheets of paper. You don’t need to spend foolishly on top-of-the-line materials to create amazing art. But then again you want to avoid throwing your money away on cheap supplies that don’t deliver the results you need without limiting your progress.
One great way to save big and spend wisely is a limited palette. Below are my recommendations for all levels.
This is the palette I use every time I paint with watercolors. Yes, these are Holbein brands!
Ultramarine blue, Cobalt blue, Hansa yellow, Lemon yellow, Burnt Sienna, Pyrrole red, Alizarin crimson, and neutral tint. I also use white Gouache for highlights.