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Best Brands of Watercolor Paint

My selection of my favorite brands of watercolor paint.

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With watercolor paints, there's not only a choice of brands, but also whether you buy it in tube or pan form. Another influence is whether you're using watercolor as your main medium, or for sketching only. For the latter, a small sketching set will likely suffice, while for the former I believe you should buy the best quality paint you can afford. (Remember, student paints are cheaper for a reason: they've usually more filler in them, so the colors aren't as good.) This is a list of my personal favorites when it comes to watercolor paints.

1. Watercolor Paints: Sennelier (Tubes and Pans)

My pocket Sennelier watercolour set and sketchbook
Photo ©2013 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Produced in France and reformulated in 2012 to include more honey in the mix, Sennelier's is a top-quality artists watercolor paint. Colors available in 10 ml (0.33 oz) and 21 ml (0.71 oz) tubes or in half-pan boxes.

I enjoy the easy way the paint mixes with water, turning instantly into saturated rich color. The photo shows my tiny pocket Sennelier set when it was brand new. It no longer looks so pristine! I've now also got a bigger set with 12 personal colors.

2. Watercolor Paints: M.Graham (Tubes)

Best watercolor paint brands
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
These watercolor paints are extremely pigmented, so the colors are intense, bright, and saturated. The colors have a high tinting strength, so a little goes a long way.

In addition to the more usual gum arabic and glycerine, M.Graham also uses honey in the manufacture of its watercolors. This helps prevent the color drying up in the tube (because honey absorbs moisture from the atmosphere) and helps the paint dilute easily. It also makes the paints thin down very smoothly.

Available in 70+ colors (see M.Graham's color and pigment lists).

3. Watercolor Paints: Daniel Smith (Tubes and Sticks)

Daniel Smith Watercolor Dot Try It Cards
Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
These are top quality watercolor paints with very pure pigments and an astounding range of more than 200 colors (see Daniel Smith color and pigment chart). Many of these are single pigment colors, so ideal for color mixing. The range includes some intriguing colors and special effect watercolors (for instance iridescent colors). You can buy a Try-It Chart which has dots paint of 238 colors which you simply moisten with a brush to try.

Daniel Smith watercolor paints were originally available only from the manufacturer themselves, but they're now distributed to stores in the USA, Canada, UK, and Australia which will make getting hold of the paint easier for many watercolorists (see list on Daniel Smith's website.

4. Watercolor Paints: Schmincke (Tubes and Pan Sets)

Schmincke's artist's quality watercolor are branded Horadam Aquarell. Colors aren't the most intense on the market, but the colors are manufactured to have little difference in character between them.

More than 100 colors (see Schmincke's color chart) plus some nice metal pan sets.

5. Watercolor Paints: Winsor & Newton (Tubes and Pan Sets)

Best watercolor paint brands
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
W&N are a widely used brand of watercolor more because they're so readily available and competitively priced than because they're the absolute best watercolor paint on the market. If you're extremely serious about watercolor painting, be sure to try some of the other artist's brands too. If you're wanting a pan set for occasional sketching only, a little W&N set does the job nicely.

W&N's top quality watercolor paints are branded simply "Artist's Water Colour" while their student's brand is branded "Cotman". Nearly 100 colors available (see W&N color chart), including some in extra large pans, and metal or plastic pan sets.

6. Watercolor Paints: Daler Rowney (Tubes)

My first-ever set of tube watercolors was a Daler Rowney one and I used it happily for experimenting without worrying about wasting the paint. Again, if you're very serious about your watercolor, be sure to try some of the other brands too.

80 colors available. Daler Rowney's top quality watercolors are branded simply "Artists' Quality Watercolour", while their student's watercolors are branded "Aqufine" (previously "Georgian").

7. Watercolor Paints: Other Brands

There's certainly no shortage of choice when it comes to brands of watercolor paints. Others I haven't tried yet but which have a good reputation include Sennelier, Turner, Holbein. Then there are Da Vinci, Old Holland, Maimeri, Talens, Pebeo, Caran D'Ache, Lefranc and Bourgeois, Grumbacher, Utrecht... See the Handprint website for an in-depth comparison of all sorts of brands of watercolor paint.

8. Colors for a Basic Watercolor Palette

Colors in a Watercolor Palette
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Regardless of brand, my choice for a starter set of six primaries (a warm and cool version of each primary) would be:
  • Cadmium yellow and azo yellow
  • Cadmium red and quinacridone red
  • Cerulean blue and phthalocyanine blue or Prussian blue.
Obviously you need to work sensibly with cadmium pigments because they are toxic, and you may prefer to use colors based on other pigments.

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