Watercolor painting is a fun medium to experiment with and it’s easy to find supplies. Unfortunately, the most commonly available watercolor paints are grade school-level paint trays. While cheap, these simplistic trays aren’t the best choice for the color and clarity which makes for a professional-looking watercolor painting. Top-quality watercolor paints may come in trays, but more often they’re found in tubes like acrylic or oil paints. Many brands offer both student and professional-grade paints, but obviously the professional paints offer the best quality.
Depending on the pigments, the brand may offer paints with a variety of lightfast ratings and clarity. Each tube should tell you information on whether the paint is transparent, semi-opaque, opaque, and how lightfast it will be. Some colors fade faster than others so if you need the color to hold up over time it’s important to check this information.
All of these best watercolor paints vary widely in price depending on the color and the pigments used. However, all of them were selected for this list based on the overall quality of the paint as measured by the use of high-quality pigments and materials, excellent lightfast ratings to guarantee permanent colors, and each brands' popularity among artists for good, consistent colors.
With 96 colors available, Winsor & Newton paints offer excellent quality and a wide palette of colors for artists to choose from. Although they’re one of the more expensive brands, the individual colors have consistent pigments making them an all-round good choice. Read Full Review
With a long and distinguished history, Winsor & Newton paints is one of the most popular brands available, offering a wide palette of 96 available watercolors. Many of these paints are made with a single pigment for stronger colors but some require a combination of pigments to create a stable, lightfast version of said color. The paints are available in pans for beginners but the tubes have the highest concentration of pigments recommended for serious artists. All of the colors are available in either 5 or 14 milliliter tubes though a handful of colors are available in larger 37 milliliter tubes. Winsor & Newton may be one of the more expensive brands, but it also ranks among the best.
M. Graham Artists’ Watercolors have strong, smooth colors and unlike most brands, these paints use honey to keep paints moist longer. These paints are known for lasting longer in the tubes and for being easy to reuse after drying on a palette or tray. Read Full Review
M. Graham Artists’ Watercolors are a high quality brand known for their strong, smooth colors. While most watercolor paints use gum arabic to bind the pigments, this brand also adds honey to the mix so paint stays moist longer. Honey allows for a high concentration of pigments making it easy to reuse dried paint from previous sessions (However it may take longer to dry on the painting.) In most cases, the paint is made with a single pigment and come in over 60 colors for a wide range of hues to choose from. The tubes are 15 milliliters or 0.5 ounces, running mid-range on price.
These unique watercolor paints are made without dispersants other brands use to smooth paint allowing artists superior control. While Holbein offers less information about its Artists’ Watercolors than most brands, these paints hold up well over time. Read Full Review
A Japanese brand, Holbein has a reputation for quality, and their Artists’ Watercolors live up to this standing. Unlike most watercolor paints, Holbein watercolors do not use any dispersants to smooth the paint giving the paints a unique, slow-moving texture allowing artists a high level of brush control and detail work. The tubes may not have the same lightfast information other brands offer, but the pigments hold up well and offer great color. The paint comes in either 5 or 15 milliliter tubes at a fairly good price for watercolor paints.
With 110 colors available, Schmincke watercolor paints have one of the largest selections of colors available. Many are single pigment, allowing purer colors and easier for artists to blend an unlimited variety of shades and hues. Read Full Review
A family-owned company, Schmincke produces a top quality watercolor paint known for good color and flow. The paints are fairly expensive, comparable to the other top brands, but promise high quality materials and strict testing to determine the paints’ lightfast ratings. These paints are available in an extra wide selection of colors with a huge 110-color palette available to choose from. Of these colors, 70 are made from one pigment making them a great choice for artists to blend their own colors. Like most other brands on this list, Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Watercolors come in either 5 or 15 milliliter tubes or pans depending on user preference.
Maimeri Blu Artist Watercolors are a newer brand, but have the same top quality as other professional watercolor paints. They have a good selection with 72 colors to choose from with several made with a single pigment for pure color. Read Full Review
Created by an Italian artist in the early 20th century, Maimeri Blu Artists Watercolors are handmade with natural pigments similar to other top brands and available at a reasonable price. Around two-thirds of their colors are made with one pigment for the purest color concentrations, granting artists the freedom to blend a range of their own colors. Maimeri Blu paint comes in 15 milliliter tubes with an excellent selection of 72 colors for artists to choose from.