The best watercolor set is essential for your projects as a watercolor artist. However, most beginner watercolor artists may choose to settle for something cheap because they are usually unaware of the fact that this can be a stumbling block to their growth.
On the other hand, experienced watercolor artists know that choosing your watercolor set wisely could result in huge dividends later on. For this reason, I would like to make your life a little easier by introducing you to 21 of the best watercolor sets in the industry today that won’t set you back a decade in progress! My personal favorite is Daniel Smith tube paints, but there are many other excellent options that might fit your preferences or needs better.
Some of these sets, lower down on the list, are meant to cater to the budding/student artists while others are favored by masters of the craft. Whichever slot you may belong to, you could also refer to our comprehensive buyer’s guide to understand how to pick the best product according to your preferences.
If You Are Short of Time, Here Is My List of Our Best Watercolor Set- in descending order of preference:
- Daniel Smith Half Pan Watercolor Set <<Best Professional Half Pan Set
- QoR Modern Watercolors
- Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Watercolor Set
- Rembrandt Watercolor Paint Metal Tin
- Holbein Artist’s Watercolor Tube Set
- Van Gogh Watercolor Paint Set <<Best Student Grade Set
- Kuretake GANSAI TAMBI Watercolor 36 Colors Set <<Best Opaque Set
- Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor Paint Set
- Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Half-Pan Paint Metal Set
- M. Graham Intermediate 10-Color Watercolor Paint Set
- Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colour Lightweight Sketchers’ Box
- Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Paint Sketchers’ Pocket Box
- SHINHAN Professional Watercolor Paint
- Sennelier Watercolor Travel Box 8 Tube Set
- Raphaël Watercolor Travel Pan Set
- Ohuhu 24 Premium Quality Art Watercolors Painting Kit
- Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint
- Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections: The Classics
- Paul Rubens Artist Watercolor Paints <<Best Irredescent Set
- Talens Transparent Watercolors
- ARTSY Watercolor Paint Set
- Daler Rowney- Daler Simply Watercolour Set
In-Depth Reviews Best Watercolor Set
It took me far, far too long to learn all the essential information to create the best kind of watercolor art that I wanted to create. In a nutshell, the quality of paint you purchase makes a big difference. In addition, characteristics like opaque vs. transparent, fine-grained vs. granulated and staining vs. lifting all combine together and must be carefully understood so that you don’t mix paint and get the dreaded ‘mud’. I learned that if I want a matte, covered watercolor, then I needed to concentrate on using colors that were opaque in characteristic. If I wanted jewel-tones that were vibrant and clear, I needed to confine my color mixing to using just transparent paint. Some paints like Daniel Smith specify on their tubes of paint and on their website the exact characteristics of each and every color that they manufacture. This knowledge will save you decades of experimenting and purchasing dozens and dozens paints from a dozen different companies to try and find exactly what you’re looking for.
Please read our Buying Considerations further down this article to explore the best version of a set for your needs : Pan, Tubes, Partial or All-Inclusive Kit!
1. Daniel Smith Half Pan Set <<Best Professional Half Pan Set
If I’m going on record to recommend a watercolor paint set, you better believe that I’m going to rank the quality of paint as my most important feature. The renowned Daniel Smith Company has created this brand new set of half pan watercolors with the same pigments as their luscious tube paints. The metal container has two mixing areas, ample room for a paintbrush and enough empty pans to fill with additional paint of your choice someday. ( I can highly recommend their granulated color options and their selection of Quinacridone vibrant colors, available in individual tubes).
- Superior paint quality
- Individual half pans to separate color and make them removable
- Great color mixing palette areas
- Secure metal tin
- 12 empty half pans for customization by you
- Ample room to carry a paintbrush
Our rating: 99%
Made with a new proprietary binder called Aquazol that delivers superior pigmentation in each color, QoR blasted on the scene by Golden Artist Paint Company, a very well respected artist’s paint manufacturer. Typical of the Golden Company, their chemists and paint engineers are always striving and reinventing the best possible paints in the USA. The company states that their formulations are “simply unmatched in the history of watercolors” with color intensity and strength, versatility and range. As impressive as that sounds, I do own several tubes of QoR and I have to admit to being impressed! At the time of my original purchase, they were priced out of my budget, but they have now come down in price and are a great value in professional-grade watercolors.
QoR is an acronym for Quality Of Results.
- Vivid color with one stoke
- Amazing vibrance after drying
- Excellent drying color
- Sturdy storage tin that doubles as dimpled basins for a mixing palette
- Available in half pan set, individual tubes, and as this introductory set
Our rating: 98%
Even though this is an introductory set for people to sample their paints, this brand has taken a new approach to help consumers create artworks of their dreams. Sold as 3 colors in 2 unique variants in small tubes (which is typical of watercolors), you can use each of the 6 colors to create custom shades and boost your experience of mixing palettes along the way. Perfect for maximum learning about color mixing, you literally could create a couple of hundred different colors with just these six tubes of colors without needing to purchase any other tubes of color. Daniel Smith is renowned for manufacturing vibrant and highly pigmented professional watercolor paints. They manufacture 240 colors with many variations like granulated, iridescent, staining, non-staining, opaque, and transparent. Each tube of color is rated for lightfastness and labeled with the base pigment name. This brand is my first choice in my personal studio for professional watercolor paints. I adore their website, where I can deep dive in-depth into each tube of paint they manufacture. I can read about the unique characteristics of each tube and find exactly what I am looking for in terms of high or low chroma, opaque or transparent on the sliding scale, granulated or finely ground, etc. etc. The ONLY reason this is not my first choice pick is because as an introductory set, there is no palette/tin, no brush and no carrying case. I figure that for an introductory set, those features would be important.
- Each of the 6 paints can be used to create 238 unique shades
- A try-it-out chart on the packaging acts as a guide for beginners
- Priced very economically for such high quality
- No mixing trays, no brush, no carrying tin
Rating: 98 %
The Rembrandt Watercolor set is a professional set made by the Rembrandt company made in the Netherlands. Each of these colors offers high-quality permanence, transparency and lightfastness. What’s more, this set also includes a round pointed sable paintbrush that is perfect for mixing paint. I like that it has two mixing areas and a good quality of paint. The set folds up for a compact profile, the individual cakes are half pans and are removable.
- Travel-friendly design allows artists to carry it easily
- The lightfastness ratings of each color are hard to beat
- The included sable brush is very helpful for beginners
Holbein is a professional artist manufacturer of quality paints and this set is lightfast and brilliant colored. The set has no box or brush, so it is not an all-inclusive travel set. The paint itself is unsurpassed in quality.
- Excellent blendability
- Highly pigmented
- Very lightfast
- Good price for professional paints set
Our rating: 97%
6. Van Gogh Watercolor Paint Set Best Student Grade Set
The Van Gogh set includes a high-quality student grade set of 12 paints in the Netherlands. Each of the 10 mL tubes has been listed as the best watercolor sets by a number of reviewers since 2018. Additionally, this set is sold with a plastic case and a Nylon brush to help you with your student grade projects. The brush that comes with it has a scooped out end on the end of the handle which is intended to be used to pry the pans out of the set so they can be replaced with another full pan.
- Exceeds expectations with respect to lightfastness
- Good price point
- Each of the 12 basic shades can be mixed to create wonderful effects
- Reviewed by owners as one of the best watercolor sets for three years in a row
7. Kuretake GANSAI TAMBI Watercolor 36 Colors Set Best Opaque Paint Set
Made in Japan, where watercolor is considered a high art, this professional set of 36 colors are extremely highly rated by users. The set has opaque and vivid colors that will show up on dark paper. So, this set is not a good choice if you are looking for transparent painting techniques, as it is similar to gouache in opacity. The Tambi pans are larger than most watercolor pan sets.
- Packaged in a cardboard box
- Quick dissolving
- Great blending
- No paintbrush included
- Very highly rated by users
- Highly pigmented paint
- Non-granulated paints
- Dries with a slightly shiny finish
Our rating: 95%
The Sennelier company from France is a fine art materials manufacturer since the 1800s. This La Petite’s watercolor set is student grade, which means it has less pigmentation than their artist watercolor series, but the low price point more than makes up for it. Each of its 24 colors has excellent lightfastness ratings and can be mixed together for complex painting tasks. Additionally, some of the colors in this set include Sennelier’s unique and beautiful shades that are seldom found in other watercolor sets. I like the large mixing tray areas of this set and the variety of colors. The colors are separated by their own individual compartments.
- Sold with a mixer to create a larger variety of colors
- Lightfastness and permanence is guaranteed
- Great elastic strap to securely hold it set in the palm of your hand
- 24 shades including some exclusive Sennelier colors
- Brush not included, so ignore the photo of it
This German brand has been creating prestigious supplies for many generations of artists, since 1881, in fact. This particular set consists of deeply pigmented and luscious colors. Each color can be diluted accordingly to create rich and transparent shades, plus the creamy foldout palette allows for easy rewetting.
- 12 professional grade colors and 12 empty spaces to expand your color options
- Deeply pigmented and intense colors
- Sold with a compact, foldable and sturdy metal container
- No paintbrush
This watercolor set from the famous M. Graham artist paint manufacturer has an ASTM lightfastness rating of ‘excellent’. This pack of 10 is part of a series of a total of 70 colors and you can choose to expand your collection with each purchase. However, the best thing about this set is the inclusion of honey in its formulation, which prevents hardening and gives a vibrant coloring. Intermediate label in this instance is not a grade designation, it is their term for a starter quantity of selected paint that is of professional quality.
- The paint finish is designed to last for ages
- Highly pigmented
- Each paint is non-toxic and produced using renewable energies
- Excellent ASTM lightfastness rating
- Large tubes
- No paintbrush, no traveling tin
Winsor & Newton takes up another spot on our list with 12 colors that have a 98% rating with respect to permanence and lightfastness. In addition to this, these colors have also been appreciated for their brilliant textures and opacity, making them the perfect stepping stone for intermediate artists moving towards becoming experienced professionals. The set includes a tin with 2 color mixing areas and 12 5ml tubes. Winsor and Newton also create a student grade of watercolor under the sub-label of Cotman, see the next one below. It is a great student grade quality and I use this for the beginner class that I teach. This particular set has one color mixing lid, 12 small cakes of watercolor and a small round brush.
- Sold with an additional brush and mixing palette
- 78% of their colors have been derived using high-quality pigments
- Each color offers pristine saturation
- Each pan is separate from each other, if you buy the pan variety
Cotman line by Winsor Newton is a great student grade quality and I use this for the beginner watercolor classes that I teach. This particular set has one color mixing lid, 12 small cakes of watercolor and a small round brush.
Our rating: 93%
This Cotman is one of the sets that I own as a gift, I love the two sets of palette trays with lots of mixing room, although the plastic is thin and not very durable.
It is such a great combination of mixing palettes that I clean them up and use them with my professional paints too!
Make sure to keep the box it came in for storage.
Cotman vs. Professional Winsor And Newton Demonstration:
This set has been praised by many seasoned artists for its top-level adhesiveness and lightfastness. However, when I researched their specifications, the site is not in English and it is very difficult to find the analysis data on lightfastness and pigment names. That being said, many people prefer this brand as their favorite professional watercolor paints.
Additionally, the colors in this set have been manufactured with the purest pigments and highest quality gum Arabic for lively and bright finishes.
- Strongly pigmented and transparent colors
- Very portable
- No tin, no mixing areas, no brush
- Good price point for the number of tubes you get
This product is perfect for professionals on-the-go since all of the eight tubes are stored in a hardshell case with a sliding drawer. Moreover, the additional honey content in each watercolor promises longevity and brilliance. The 10 ml tubes of professional-grade paint are really large for watercolor tubes and they nestle in the hard case perfectly. The palette area slides out like a drawer and also stores a small pointed round brush. My only criticism is that once you squeeze out a bit of color from the tubes, there isn’t enough palette mixing area for maximum use.
- Very lightweight and compact
- Durable plastic hardshell packaging
- Highly rated quality of paint
- Increased honey content in the paint’s formula results in longevity
This fun and innovative student grade travel set is about 4 inches in diameter. It is about the size of the palm of your hand! It has a thumb hole for easy holding with one hand and a decent sized pointed round brush. I love the useful color mixing palette area and the side compartments to mix small amounts of color separately. An awesome little compact travel set, it is a great introduction to watercolor painting.
- 10 pan colors in individual pan compartments
- Watercolor brush included
- Compact pocket size for easy travel
- Great dense pigmentation
Our rating: 90%
16. Ohuhu 24 Premium Quality Art Watercolors Painting Kit – Best Budget Starter Kit
Coming in at one of the lowest prices in our reviews, this set by Ohuhu has all the paint you could wish for, plus 6 synthetic paintbrushes. I’ve reviewed and used quite a few products by Ohuhu and while they are not professional grade, they are really nice paints for a beginner. The set would be perfect for a first time user except there is no palette included. It’s a shame they used black plastic for the try, if it had been white, it could have doubled as a palette.
- 12 ml tubes
- No palette
- Great price point
- Rich colors and finely ground pigments
Our rating: 89%
If you’re just looking for a student grade set from a reputable company that has just about everything to get you started, this is the best watercolor set for your needs. It consists of medium quality mixing brushes, a mixing palette and 12 vibrant colors with distinguished permanence and lightfastness. I like that the colors come in tubes and you can squeeze each one into its own separate compartment. The mixing area is really small though. You can purchase individual tubes to replace the ones you heavily use. For my personal style of watercolor painting, I would find the brushes of limited use. The round is really small and the long flat is too long for my personal tastes.
- Consists of everything to get you started as a beginner
- Offers great quality of paint
- Can be used as a great bridging product between professionals and students
This watercolor set is petite and compact coming in at a mere 5 inches x 3 inches. If you would like a very small set that will slip into your pocket, this might fit the bill. It has two miniature mixing areas on the fold-out lids and the individual pans are thankfully separated into individual plastic pans so they will contain themselves when wet. You’ll have to pack a separate brush because not much is going to fit in the center area. This set is best used for travel and creating small works.
- Includes two tiny mixing palettes in the lids
- Vibrant shades
- Very affordable as compared to similar sets
19. Paul Rubens Artist Watercolor Paints – Best iridescent set
This brand is a fairly new entry in the international watercolor paint scene and it hails from Hong Kong. These pans are sold in beautiful pink tins that allow artists to pack them easily for travel. More of a fun craft watercolor set, the pigments are glittery and pearlescent, and opaque enough to work well on black paper. The non-traditional colors will give a unique look to your art and are manufactured in China.
- High saturation of pastel colors
- Can blend easily with other colors
- Pink metal tin with two mixing lids
- Also offers extra metallic colors
- Limited to glittery or pearlescent paint only
This set of round cakes of watercolor paints by Talens includes 24 vibrant colors plus a tube of semi-transparent white. The metal tin’s lid is also a mixing palette.
- Raised edges of pans prevent intermixing
- Good price point
- No paintbrush
- Fairly good set for kids and first-time users
I had to laugh when I first saw this kit. It is definitely a new invention kit! The brushes included in the set are really watercolor BRUSH PENS, meaning that you fill them up with clear water and you don’t need to carry water with you necessarily when you paint on the run. Pretty ingenious. I don’t enjoy painting with nylon brushes, but that is precisely what makes this kit so self-contained and portable. However, the areas containing paint swing in on top of each other, creating a problem when super wet paint is underneath a swinging-over arm. A demonstrator disassembled the spine and laid the strips out which makes WAY more sense to me! I will add that users wholeheartedly love this product.
This Italian brand has also included a detachable sponge, 2 folding-in palettes, 3 brushes and 42 vibrant colors in this package to help you get started off with your creative works.
- Plastic bag included for portability
- Certified ‘excellent’ in terms of lightfastness
- Fun innovation!
- Foldable design saves space as you paint on the go or in a travel bag
Coming in at the lowest price point, our final watercolor set doesn’t overwhelm consumers with an exhaustive palette of colors but provides them with twelve 5mL or 10mL tubes of colors. You can visit their website to review the parameters of each color and how they mix with other colors to form rare palettes. Lastly, artists may also choose between a wooden, metallic or plastic carry box.
- Sold in either a wooden, metallic or plastic carry box
- Artists can also choose between twelve 5mL or 10mL bottles
- Very affordable
Buying Considerations: Buying the Best Watercolor Sets
How to Pick the Best Watercolor Set for Your Artistic Needs
● Set of tubes, pans with or without brushes or tins with or without mixing palettes
Sets can mean a lot of different things. My personal preference is to select paint tubes in a set and buy my watercolor brushes individually. However, you may prefer to have an all-inclusive set with a paintbrush and other accessories that all fit together in a compact travel set. I also find the mixing areas of tins to be woefully inadequate and limiting for my uses for the most part. I just don’t paint in sizes smaller than 8 x 10 inches. But if you enjoy small size paintings and one of your highest priorities is compactness, then an all in one set is a great way to go.
● Name brands
So, what is the big deal with different manufacturers? I always recommend sticking with well know brands that make it their number one priority to cater to the professional artist. In today’s world, there are many upstart companies wanting to break into the lucrative art/craft supplies market. The problem with that is, they may make a shiny new looking package and claim it is professional quality, but in reality, they may manufacture with terribly low-quality pigments that are not light-fast, are chalky, poor pigment saturation and even may be composed with toxic ingredients. There simply is no way to know for sure what you are getting unless the company has done light-fast testing on each on every color they present and say that they proudly adhere to safety standards. I am leery of purchasing knock-off or unknown brands that suddenly pop up on amazon and are popular because of a super low price point. When it comes to watercolor, paper and paint should be the very best you can slightly uncomfortably afford.
Quite like most other art project supplies (like acrylic paints), watercolor sets belong to 2 common grades: professional sets and beginner sets. Professional watercolors paint sets are for experienced artists and typically offer a wider range of colors that are typically made with more pigment or expensive mineral or organic colorant pigments. They have, OR SHOULD HAVE, been subjected to lightfastness testing and clearly label if they are opaque or transparent and even what the base pigments are used in each color.
On the other hand, student/beginner watercolor sets are made with synthetic fillers and binders that help keep their costs down and also may have a comparatively lower permanence and lightfastness.
With that said, if you’re a student and are currently learning the art, student quality watercolor sets may be a good choice strictly because of the cost. In my experience though, students use inferior quality paints then when their art projects are not what they hoped, they mistakenly think watercolors are too hard, or they don’t have any talent. That’s a shame! If budget allows, I always advise to select the most professionally reputable set you can afford. Nowadays, I only use Daniel Smith Watercolors, and QoR as a personal preference.
The best thing about watercolor sets is that you can mix colors to greatly extend color palettes without investing in a larger range of colors. That being said, if you are planning on upgrading to professional-grade paint, you might want to start off with only 5 – 6 colors before you spend a larger chunk of your budget.
Of course, since professional-grade colors have more pigments, they tend to be a lot more vibrant than student-level mixed colors.
Professional grade watercolor sets have a very different price, depending on what raw materials were used in production. Typically, these sets use rarer minerals and hence are much more expensive. Student watercolors are a lot more affordable because they make use of synthetic fillers (referred to as ‘hue’ on the packaging).
This is simply the paint’s durability when exposed to humidity and light. Most of this durability depends on how much filler (if any) was used and the overall quality of color pigments. The best way of determining the permanence of a set is by referring to its rating scale for ‘Lightfastness or ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials).
In either case, you should be looking for an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ rating, which is common practice for brands like Winsor & Newton and most others reviewed above.
One great thing about watercolor paint is that it allows light to pass through it and create somewhat of a washed-out finish. However, watercolor sets are sold as both opaque and transparent and this is typically labeled clearly on the pans or tubes.
It is also important to mention here that you can thin out opaque colors yourself and create a layered transparency effect on your projects. The final result will be more ‘chalky’ because the base pigments were opaque.
Watercolors can differ one color from the other also in how sandy, or granulated the color dries to. This is mostly dependent on the composition of the pigment itself. If you are hoping for jewel tones in your work, then stick to low-granulation colors. If you like the texture of showing grains of color, then you will want to explore pigments that naturally have a higher level of granulation. Daniel Smith Watercolors manufactures a line of watercolors that are wonderfully granulated. They are made from rocks and minerals and have a delicious texture when dry.
Check out my article on granulated watercolors here. Here is a sample if you can zoom in close:
● Staining vs. Non-Staining
Some watercolor paints can easily penetrate paper to create a ‘stain’ whereas others are limited to the surface of the drawing paper. The latter makes it easier for artists to remove unwanted lines by scraping the paper or using a sponge.
Again, the reality of this purchase decision boils down to the pigments in the watercolor set. With a little experience, artists learn which pigments stain paper and how staining can be used to layer colors for a stained glass effect, or lift off for a reduction technique.
Additionally, the ‘stain-ability’ of paint varies from brand to brand and each palette needs to be tested on a white piece of paper to determine which colors are non-staining. Typically, non-staining watercolor paints will become muddy when they are mixed together.
Here are a few of my absolute must-haves in learning and painting with watercolor:
This gorgeous book is full of techniques and inspiration from a modern master artist. Filled with modern experimental techniques, I refer to it often!
From a professional architectural watercolor illustrator is this great book on watercolor techniques for tight realism.
I’ve owned books by this famous watercolor artist for over 40 years! His technique teaching is unsurpassed.
You will soon find owning a bottle of masking fluid called ‘frisket’ is, dare I say it, necessary to paint watercolors. Make sure you get one that is white! The colored ones are easy to see, but they can stain the paper, which entirely defeats their purpose. This trusted brand is one you can rely on.
What Are the Best Watercolor Paint Sets Made Out of?
The best watercolor sets are made from 2 main ingredients: gum Arabic (the binders) and finely ground color pigments. However, some brands also add wetting agents to allow for more absorption and flow. Other brands also add moisturizing agents to keep the paint from becoming too brittle.
What Is Better? Pan or Tubes?
Most watercolor sets are sold in either trays (also known as pans) of solid paint or small tubes of liquid paint. While the former offers greater portability, the pans are really tiny, and the latter is better for projects larger than about 8 x 10 inches, since they don’t require constant rewetting.
The wonderful thing about watercolors is that when the paint dries in your tray or palette, it isn’t ruined like it is with oil or acrylic paints. You can easily reliquify the watercolor paint by dropping a few drops of clear water onto the dried paint, or spraying it with a spray bottle! Personally, I prefer to use tube paint, but keep my palette of dried paint handy so that I can rewet and use the color mixes that I made previously. I find pan sets limiting and claustrophobic, but hey, that’s just me.
To make things simpler, pans are better suited for beginner level or student artists whereas tubes are used by professionals for vibrant color, larger-scale projects and in using a variety of techniques.
What Does Lightfastness Mean?
As described on the ASTM website, lightfastness is a universal scale that determines the susceptibility of watercolors to fading due to direct sunlight or moisture. You will come across one of the following labeled on each of the best watercolor sets mentioned in this review:
- Very poor lightfastness = V
- Poor lightfastness = IV
- Fair lightfastness = III
- Very good lightfastness = II
- Excellent lightfastness = I
For beginners and professional artists, the best watercolor sets should at least have an ASTM rating of ‘Excellent lightfastness = I’ or ‘Very good lightfastness = II’. Anything less will fade in moderate sunlight in a matter of weeks or months.
Also, for a look at the best watercolor paper, you’ll find valuable information in my article about watercolor paper for beginners here and an article on hot press vs. cold press watercolor paper here.