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The best watercolour paints in 2022

Best watercolour paints: a woman painting flowers with watercolours
(Image credit: Nina Vartanava / EyeEm via Getty )

The best watercolour paints include a huge range for artists to choose from. In this guide, we'll cover the best watercolour paints for everyone from students to professionals, working in different approaches, such as studio work or urban sketching.

Watercolour paints usually come as liquid in a tube, or in solid pans that reactivate once wet. Tubes make it easier to mix more intense colour, and are ideal for studio work, but are small enough to carry. Pans are less messy and more portable. The paint typically consists of pigment, to give it colour, a gum arabic binder, water, and additives, such as honey, for consistency or to stabilise it. It combines well with other water-soluble media, such as watercolour pencils for details.

Watercolour paints come in artist or student quality. Student watercolours have less pigment, while artist-quality paints have richer colour. The difference is substantial, making artist-quality paint worth the expense as the colours are brighter and a tube goes further.

Within artist ranges, there is little difference in the overall quality of the best watercolour paints. However, each behaves uniquely and suits particular working approaches or offers a different range of colours. For instance, some paints granulate, meaning they leave a texture when dry – this depends on pigment and brand and is desired by some artists. Some tube paints dry and can be reactivated, whilst others stay wet and 'sticky' – again, this suits different approaches.

If you want some guidance on painting in watercolour, you can get started with our pick of the best watercolour tutorials or expand your repertoire with these 20 watercolour techniques. Make sure you also make sure you've got the best watercolour paper. Meanwhile, read on to discover the best watercolour paints.

The best watercolour paints

A selection of M. Graham watercolour paint tubesCB

(Image credit: M. Graham)

01. M.Graham Artists' Watercolours

The best watercolour paint tubes for intense colour and smooth paint

Tube or Pan: 15ml
Quality: Artist
Colours in Set or Range: 10 (70 in range)
Reasons to buy
+Intense colour with smooth consistency+Won't dry out too easily+Good value for artist quality paint
Reasons to avoid
-Only comes in 15ml tubes

The M. Graham Artists' watercolour range uses blackberry honey as part of its binder, resulting in very smooth, viscous paint. Because of this, paint out of the tubes will not dry fully on the palette, but remain sticky. This keeps the paint optimally vivid, but less suitable for squirting out to use later, so these are best for studio work.

The tubes won't dry out easily, which is handy as they only come in a 15ml size, though the cost per ml tends to the lower end of professional prices, making them good value. The paint has an intense colour and goes a long way in washes, so a tube will last well. It also lifts easily from the paper.

A set of Sennelier watercolour paint pansCB endorsed

(Image credit: Sennelier)

02. Sennelier French Artists' Watercolour Half Pans

The best watercolour paint pans for intensity of colour

Tube or Pan: Half Pan (Full pans and 10ml or 21ml tubes available)
Quality: Artist
Colours in Set or Range: 24 (98 in range)
Reasons to buy
+Paint reactivates easily when wet+Extremely bright colours+Good value for professional paints
Reasons to avoid
-May remain sticky in high humidity

Sennelier's artists' watercolours are an excellent honey-based paint with rich colour and great consistency. The pans perform exceptionally well, reactivating with very little water and producing an intense colour. They take a bit longer to dry out than other brands, and may remain slightly tacky in very humid climates due to their honey content. They are also comparatively good value for professional quality paints.

This watercolour paint flows very smoothly onto the paper and mixes well. The pigmentation is also very high. Since the pans perform so well, this is an excellent choice for a more portable sketching set with artist quality colour.

A selection of Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolour tubesCB endorsed

(Image credit: Daniel Smith)

03. Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolours

The best watercolour paint for a broad range of high-quality colours

Tube or Pan: 5ml & 15 ml tubes (some half pans available)
Quality: Artist
Colours in Set or Range: 261 in range
Reasons to buy
+Excellent quality paint+Very large range of colours+Good for granulating textures
Reasons to avoid

Daniel Smith's extra fine watercolours are great artist-quality paints. An immense range of 261 colours includes their Primatek mineral colours and a number of luminescent colours. This huge range also includes a lot of colours unique to this brand, making them a good choice for anyone adventurous.

These paints tend to be more granulating than others, depending on the pigment. The colours are strong and vibrant, like any artist quality paint, but will still lift easily from paper. The luminescent colours also disperse well over the paper, creating an even sheen.

Set of Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours

(Image credit: Winsor and Newton)

04. Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolour Tubes

The best watercolour paint for all-round quality and consistent behaviour

Tube or Pan: 5ml or 14ml tubes (half pans also available)
Quality: Artist
Colours in Set or Range: 12 (109 in range)
Reasons to buy
+High quality watercolour paint+Consistent behaviour across range+Good non-toxic options
Reasons to avoid

Winsor and Newton's Professional watercolours are reliable artist-quality paints. They behave consistently, with minimal variation between each colour, making them a good starting point for anyone looking to try their first artist-quality watercolours, or who wants something versatile.

The colours are intense and rich, and the quality of the pigments across the range is very good, with some excellent alternatives to toxic pigments available. The paint stays wet on the palette for a while, but can be left to dry – it readily reactivates when wet, making it a convenient option for those who like to squeeze their colours into pans or a palette.

A box of Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolour pans

(Image credit: Kuretake)

05. Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolours

Unique Japanese-style watercolours suited to wet-on-dry or illustrative work

Tube or Pan: Large Pan
Quality: Student
Colours in Set or Range: 36 in set (48 in standard range)
Reasons to buy
+Consistent and smooth paints+Great value for quality+Large pans
Reasons to avoid
-Behaves differently to other watercolours

Kuretake's Gansai paints include a good range of bright colours at an affordable price. They activate easily and have a smooth texture. These paints behave a little differently to Western-style watercolours, being a little more opaque, and developing a slight gloss when layered. However, they are still transparent like watercolours, rather than gouache. Once on the paper, they don't move much, but will lay colour evenly on dry paper, making them great for sketching and adding colour to illustrations.

These paints hit the high end of student quality. Most of the colours are light-fast and fairly rich in pigment, though not as intense as professional quality watercolours. The large pans are handy, as they can accommodate bigger brush sizes.

Set of Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolour pans

(Image credit: Winsor and Newton)

06. Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolour Half Pans

The best watercolour paint to get started sketching on the move

Tube or Pan: Half pan
Quality: Student
Colours in Set or Range: 12 (40 in range)
Reasons to buy
+Portable, pocket-sized set+Includes a brush pen
Reasons to avoid
-Colour is quite weak-Range lacks high quality pigments

This pocket-sized Cotman watercolour set is a great for painting out and about as it's portable and even has a waterbrush, which makes it possible to paint without a jar of water on hand. It's well designed, with a mixing tray on the lid that is partitioned so it can hold washes.

As these are student quality, the colour is not very intense and can look a bit weak when going down on the paper. The range also only contains 'hue' imitations of some more expensive pigments. Despite this, the colours behave in a predictable manner and mix well. These paints are ideal for quick sketches or taking colour notes.

Set of Daler Rowney Aquafine watercolour paints

(Image credit: Daler Rowney)

07. Daler Rowney Aquafine Watercolour Tubes

The best watercolour paint for beginners starting out with tube paints

Tube or Pan: 8ml tubes
Quality: Student
Colours in Range: 12 in starter set (48 in range)
Reasons to buy
+Affordable tube paints+Good colour for student quality
Reasons to avoid
-Only comes in small tubes-Paint dries fast on palette

Aquafine is a good option for anyone wanting to try out watercolours for the first time and get a feel for using tube paints. It has a good range of colours, though it lacks some pigments, and uses 'hue' substitutes. 

As student ranges go, the colour here is quite intense, though nothing close to any artist-quality paints. They have a tendency to dry out a bit quicker on the palette than other brands. On paper, the colours are quite strong, though they don't lift out very well, and for some colours, washes with more paint may have a 'flat' look once dry.

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Lancelot Richardson

Lancelot Richardson is an artist, painter, and freelance illustrator based in Brighton, UK. He tutors life drawing at independent art school Draw Brighton, and teaches in their online Patreon courses. He is also a freelance writer, producing articles on art and drawing. He works in both traditional and digital mediums.