Which watercolor paint set is best?
Whether you take up painting as a child or later in life as an adult, watercolors are a great place to start. They are not only the easiest paints to work with, but are inexpensive, too. Unlike oil and acrylic paints, watercolors need no canvases because they are made to paint on special paper designed to absorb just the right amount of moisture.
If you’re just starting out, take a look at the Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box, which packs 30 watercolors into an all-in-one kit that comes in its own plastic case.
What to know before you buy a watercolor paint set
Watercolor paint sets include paints and a brush. Beginning watercolorists want a simple set of paints and brushes. Students want more brushes, more colors and the right paper to paint on. Artists take great care in selecting their brushes and papers.
The three levels of painting skills are beginner, student and artist.
- Beginners are new to watercolors. Paint sets for beginning artists should be small, simple and inexpensive. If they find they enjoy painting with watercolors, they’ll soon want to move on to better paints and brushes. If they don’t, little has been lost.
- Students are actively seeking to learn more and improve their watercoloring skills. They want more colors, more brushes and drawing pads.
- Artists are skilled at painting with watercolors and likeliest to buy their paints and brushes separately to get exactly the materials and tools they need.
All painters mix colors to get the exact shade, tone and intensity they want in their paintings, and watercolor artists are no exception. The more paint you have, the more colors you can make by combining them. Think of watercolor paint sets like a box of crayons: bigger sets give you more artistic freedom and more ways to express what you see.
What to look for in a quality watercolor paint set
Cake pans vs. paint tubes
- Cake pans are the traditional way watercolor paints are made. Dried paints the size of pats of restaurant butter sit in shallow wells. They are difficult to mix and stir with your brushes. They are also runny, easy to cross-contaminate and often crack as they dry.
- Paint tubes are more expensive, but they are easier to use, easier to clean and come in more vibrant colors. They look like tiny toothpaste tubes with caps that seal so they don’t dry out.
Four things watercolorists want
The quality of brushes that come in budget paint sets is as low as their prices. You can upgrade your watercoloring skills with professional-quality brushes.
Paper that’s too absorbent lets colors bleed together and turn muddy. Watercolors on paper that isn’t absorbent enough don’t stick to the paper. So look for premium paper.
When you have an easel to place your sketchpad upon, you can hold your brush with one hand and your palette with the other. Look for an easel that is lightweight but sturdy, adjusts to different heights and folds easily for taking along with you.
The idea behind a palette is that you don’t need all your colors all of the time. Choose a palette that is lightweight, easy to hold and has a snug-fitting lid.
How much you can expect to spend on a watercolor paint set
Depending upon the number of colors and brushes and any extras included, beginner sets cost $10-$20, student sets $20-$40 and artist sets $40-$100 or more.
Watercolor paint set FAQ
Can I mix cake pan and tube paints?
A. If you mean can you use them in the same painting, yes. Mixing tube paints with cake pan paints will only dull their vibrancy, so avoid mixing the two.
How do I take care of watercolor paint brushes?
A. Start by not grinding your paintbrush into your paint wells, the way most brushes get damaged. Rinse often while you’re painting. When you’re ready to put your brushes away, rinse them until the water is clear, pat them dry with a soft cloth and don’t put them away until they are completely dry.
What’s the best watercolor paint set to buy?
Top watercolor paint set
What you need to know: This set of 30 assorted non-toxic cake pan watercolors is organized into an all-in-one kit that comes in a plastic case.
What you’ll love: One of the inner compartments is removable so you can use it as a palette when you’re out in the field painting nature. The back has a pull-down ring for easy handling while you paint with the two-piece brush.
What you should consider: The case is too large to fit in a pocket.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top watercolor paint set for the money
What you need to know: Twelve colors and a brush come in this compact case not much bigger than a paperback book.
What you’ll love: The mixing palette is built into the lid and the colors are spelled out in English, French and Spanish. The paints are made from earths, metals and petroleum distillates and come in cake pans. This is one of the few watercolor sets that includes white paint.
What you should consider: Some say the brush is too small.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This artist-level set comes with 24 non-toxic colors and 12 high-quality nylon brushes.
What you’ll love: You also get a 9- by 12-inch sketchpad, a pencil with eraser and sharpener, a small roll of masking tape and a 20-well palette. The watercolors come in paint tubes with vibrant colors and the brushes have a dozen shapes for creating different effects.
What you should consider: Each tube contains less than half a fluid ounce of paint.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
David Allan Van writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.