The best watercolor paint set
Whether you're an accomplished watercolor painter or you're a complete beginner looking to pick up a new hobby, choosing the right watercolor paint set can make a huge difference to how your creations turn out. Quality watercolors are much more vibrant than their basic counterparts, so it's worth spending some time selecting the right paints.
In this guide, you'll find out about student- and artist-quality paints, along with other features that might influence your purchasing decision. At the end, we've included some of our favorite watercolor paint sets, like our top pick, the Norberg & Linden Watercolor Paint Set, which is a great choice for beginners.
Considerations when choosing watercolor paint sets
Student versus artist paints
You'll find two primary grades of watercolor paints: student and artist. Artist-grade watercolors contain more pigment, use pigment from quality sources, and mill and process it in a way that gives better results. As such, artist-grade watercolors are more vibrant on the page, give consistent results, and have better permanence. Student-grade watercolors are lighter on quality pigment with more fillers, giving you lower-quality results. As you can probably imagine, artist watercolors cost significantly more than student watercolors. Not all artist and student offerings are created equal, however. If you opt for a reputable brand, you can find some highly respectable student watercolors that aren't far off low-end artist-grade watercolors.
The natural transparency of watercolors is what makes them stand out from other paints, but the level of transparency between brands varies. Quality watercolors are both transparent and vibrant, so you don't have to choose one or the other. You can, of course, add more water to increase transparency, but this reduces their vibrancy. While this is a desired effect in some cases, there are times when you want high transparency and vibrancy.
Not all watercolors last as well as others, meaning your artwork can fade significantly over time. Look for a high American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) rating for lightfastness if you want your paintings to last.
Check the range of colors that come with your watercolor paint set. Some contain a dozen or less, whereas others contain more than 40. If you know a little about color mixing, you should be able to make any hue you require with the right 12 paints.
Watercolor paint sets vary depending on the number of paints included and their quality. You can find basic sets for beginners from less than $15, while large artist-grade sets can cost well over $100.
Q. Is it easy to learn to paint with watercolors?
A. Like any skill, painting with watercolors requires plenty of practice to become proficient. If you're completely new to painting, it might seem quite tricky at first, but it should be a little easier if you already paint in another medium, use pastels, or do other similar artistic activities. Although it's not too challenging to become a decent watercolor painter with practice, it can take a lifetime to truly master.
Q. Are watercolor shades universal between manufacturers?
A. No, not exactly. While watercolor manufacturers might release shades that go by the same name, they can vary slightly. For instance, if you use manganese blue from five different paint manufacturers, it's likely each one will have a slightly different hue. This means that you can ruin a painting by switching paint manufacturers part way through if you expect the paint colors to match exactly. You can, however, use the subtle difference in hues to your advantage if you know what you're doing.
Watercolor paint sets we recommend
Best of the best: Norberg & Linden Watercolor Paint Set
Our take: An excellent watercolor set for beginners, featuring 36 paints, 6 brushes, and a 12-page pad.
What we like: Pad features heavy paper suitable for watercolors. Good range of colors. Lid of paint box doubles as a palette.
What we dislike: Not high enough quality for those who aren't just starting out.
Best bang for your buck: Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Set
Our take: Compact and portable, this set is ideal for painting watercolors on the fly.
What we like: Includes 12 watercolor half pans (cubes of pigment) that can be switched if you need different colors. Enough shades to mix with. Quality watercolor paints at an affordable price.
What we dislike: The included brush could be better quality.
Our take: Easily portable but with a large range of 30 colors. Includes a brush, sponge, and palette.
What we like: The included water brush features a barrel you fill with water, so you can paint on the go. Set features half pans of paint, which are removable and interchangeable. Pre-tested to ensure good blending.
What we dislike: Paint only fills the pans about halfway, so you get less for your money than you might expect.
Lauren Corona is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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