Best Watercolor Paints in 2021

I would say that watercolor paints are probably the most popular medium today, amongst all artists at all levels, and it’s easy to see why. They are inexpensive, the colors and effects you can get from watercolors are truly beautiful, they are easy to prepare and easy to clean, and while some people might find them a little challenging to use, beginners and kids seem to have no trouble at all, and watercolors are super fun to experiment and play around with. 

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Table of Contents

Because they are so popular, there are seemingly a billion different brands and sets of watercolors. Well, maybe not really a billion, but a lot. Some are good, some are very good, and some – even some inexpensive ones – are amazing: great quality, beautiful colors with real permanence, superior mixability and flow.

I have tried my share of different watercolors, and am happy to share here my own conclusions, focusing on those most amazing watercolor brands and sets and listing what I feel are the very best professional watercolor paints available in 2021.

Please note that this is the first in a three-part series on getting the best art supplies for painting with watercolors, and I would love for you to check out the second and third articles as well:

Spoiler Alert! If you want to skip the education and get right to the picks, here are my top recommendations for the best watercolors in 2021:

Overview: Best Watercolor Paints in 2021

Best Watercolors in Tubes

  1. Arteza Watercolor Paint, Set 60 Colors/Tubes with Storage Box
  2. Arteza Watercolor Paint, Set 60 Colors/Tubes with Storage Box

    Best Budget Watercolors in Tubes

    Set of 60 Colors/Tubes (12 ml/0.4 US fl oz) with Storage Box, Rich Pigments, Vibrant, Non Toxic Paints for The Artist, Hobby Painters, Ideal for Watercolor Techniques

    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set
  4. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set

    Best Affordable Watercolors in Tubes Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students


    Buy Now on Amazon

Best Watercolors in Pans

  1. Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set
  2. Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set

    Best Budget Watercolor Paints in Pans

    Handcrafted, Professional-Quality Pigment Inks for Artists and Crafters, AP-Certified, Blendable, Show up on Dark Paper, Made in Japan

    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor 24 Pan Set
  4. Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor 24 Pan Set

    My Favorite Watercolor Paints in Pans

    Lightweight Metal Sketchers Box Set : 24 Half Pans (24 Colors Set)

    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. Sennelier L'Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set
  6. Sennelier L'Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set

    Best Premium Watercolor Paints in Pans

    French Watercolor Paint, Metal Set of 48 Half Pans

    Buy Now on Amazon
  7. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set, 45 Half Pans
  8. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set, 45 Half Pans

    Best Value Watercolor Paints in Pans Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students

    Buy Now on Amazon

What Should You Look For in the Best Watercolor Paint?

In this buyer’s guide we will try to answer some basic and often asked questions:

  • What are the best quality watercolors?
  • What are the best professional watercolors?
  • What are the best watercolors for students or beginners?
  • What are good choices for artist-quality watercolors and paint sets?
  • Are Winsor Newton paints really that good? (another spoiler alert – YES!!!)
  • Are watercolor paint tubes or pans better?
  • What is the best watercolor paint set you can get?
  • What is the best watercolor paint brand overall on the market today?

There are a few basic factors to look for when selecting the watercolor paint that is right for you. The best quality watercolors will really excel in these basic areas, and when it all comes together you will end up with a paint that really shines – easy and fun to use, with intense and controllable colors and shades, good consistency, flow and mixability, and allowing you to create strikingly beautiful images that will last and last.

Some of the most basic factors in determining which watercolor paint is the best include:

  • Quality: As a general rule, there are professional watercolors and student quality, beginner watercolors. And while this is usually a good indicator overall, please don’t use this too strictly as a guideline – some “student grade” paints, for example, can be markedly better than other brands’ highest quality paints.
  • Permanence: Just as it sounds, this is a watercolor paint’s ability to last over time when exposed to various damaging environmental conditions – especially light conditions – and still have full, intense and saturated colors and overall appearance.
  • Colors and Staining: These are usually considered separately, but to me they are so interconnected. A good watercolor paint should have striking, saturated colors that really take to the paper, and that can easily range from intense and solid to the most watery and translucent – indeed, sometimes almost transparent – presentation. The best watercolors will also have a wide selection of colors available and be exceptionally mixable.
  • Transparency: While watercolor buyer’s guides often talk about how certain watercolors have more opaque finish, while others are more transparent, to me the best watercolors should have a good, solid opaque appearance when applied full strength but easily allow dilution and any kind of washing, fading, mixing palette and layering techniques, to become as transparent as you may want.

And there are other considerations, like overall workability, price and value, and consistency from color to color and from batch to batch, which will all be taken into account in our top selections.

Another main factor in choosing the best watercolors is the packaging / delivery method – tubes or in pans. Many artists have both tubes and pans on hand, which is wonderful if not always practical (that is, affordable), but each type will have certain advantages:

  • Tubes: Already hydrated (wet) and ready to be used. More intense colors, and so possibly more versatile as well. Better for large areas or large volume work and usually a better value by quantity. More immediately workable.Best for studios or at-home work.
  • Pans: Dry and compressed and needing to be activated (which is quite easy – just add water!). Better for portable studios, work outdoors or on the go. Can last longer unused. Colors are more visible when you’re working.

How Can You Find the Best Watercolor Paint on the Market Today?

Again, like with other types of paint, these lists of the best qualities and most important factors when selecting the finest watercolors can be potentially helpful or potentially confusing and frustrating.

Why? Because the paint packages, or the descriptions on Amazon or other sites, may not always specify the quality, permanence, transparency or finish, or other factors. And customer reviews may be equally baffling, since one person may say that a particular watercolor paint is the best they’ve used, and the next that it is a waste of money. Likewise, a certain customer may praise a paint’s solidly opaque finish while another claims it is too transparent to use.

Of course we can’t really know how much experience with or understanding of watercolors or painting any particular customer might have, so I thought it would be much more helpful to just list the paints I love to use, making a few basic assumptions:

  • Regardless of Professional Artist or Student quality assessments, the recommended paint will be the very best quality I’ve even found at that price point.
  • Permanence too will be as good as it gets for the price point.
  • As regards finish and color, these paints will all be wonderfully workable, with intense and beautiful non-diluted presentation and extreme flexibility and workability with all kinds of techniques and processes and all the way down to essentially transparent color.
  • Overall, each of these watercolors is wonderful to work with and will make your work as beautiful and fully realized (and as easy and natural) as possible.

So don’t overthink, don’t go crazy with specifications, grades and factors, don’t waste your time, your energy and your calm on endless and often pointless or fruitless research. Instead, just figure out whether you want your watercolor paint in tubes or pans and how much you want to spend, and you will find what I believe is the best possible choice below, in my list of best watercolors on the market today.

For simplicity I have broken the list into two sections – tubes and pans – and then listed the top picks by price, from highest to lowest.

And at the end, in my Final Thoughts section, I will talk about gift sets – perfect watercolor paint sets to give as a present to kids, beginners, art students and even serious artists.

Best Watercolor Paints in Tubes

Winsor Newton Artist Watercolor Tube Set

Why are these my favorite watercolors? In a word, consistency. 

The colors themselves are perfectly consistent, batch to batch and use to use, and are consistently beautiful, saturated and intense. Winsor and Newton Artist watercolors always dilute, mix and combine with consistently predictable and perfect results, and their colors are always as strikingly lovely when mixed or watered down as when pure and undiluted. In every aspect of workability and response to different techniques and processes they are consistently excellent, and I am consistently delighted using them and with the results.

I was pretty consistent in my use of the word consistent there, wasn’t I? Seriously, though, even some of the best and most expensive paints on the market today can be frustratingly inconsistent in many ways, and this is a real problem with cheaper sets, but never ever an issue with any Winsor and Newton products that I’ve used. 

And with the Winsor Newton Artist watercolors, the quality on every level is absolutely superb, and up to the challenges and expectations of any level of work or any artist – easily my favorite watercolors ever, and my strongest recommendation overall.

Holbein Artist’s Watercolor Tube Set

I am listing the Holbein Artist’s Watercolors as my choice for best premium watercolors in tubes not to be sensitive to budget concerns – they are, afterall, about half the price of the Winsor and Newton above – but because they are also amazingly good quality paints.

Yes, overall I prefer the W&N, but if I had to make one other choice for watercolor paint tubes that would satisfy any artist on any level – up to and including museum, gallery and archival quality fine art – it would definitely be these Holbein Artist’s watercolors. 

Incredible color selections and appearance, with deep saturation and wonderful mixability, top notch permanence, delightful workability with any and every kind of watercolor technique, these are not only truly premium quality watercolors, but among the best available, and easily preferable to many brands that are much more expensive.

An easy choice for best premium watercolor paints in tubes, the Holbein Artist’s Watercolors are in fact preferred by many professional artists even over Winsor and Newton Artist series, and for half the price it’s easy to understand why.

You may also want to consider the Daniel Smith Watercolor Set for a slightly higher price, which is actually a slightly better watercolor paint in many ways (if not quite as good a value) and a real customer favorite.

Daniel Smith Watercolor Set 10 Tubes

Alvaro Castagnet Watercolor Set - 10 Tubes

Winsor Newton Cotman Watercolor Tube Set

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor 12 Tube Set

Best Affordable Watercolors in Tubes Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students

Back to Winsor and Newton for my pick for best value in watercolors, this time the Cotman series which, it must be said, is not just my choice – the Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor paints, in tubes or pans, might in fact be the most recommended and loved watercolors overall on the market today.

Perhaps not offering the same incredibly high levels of workability, color intensity or subtlety in effect as their Artist series, the Cotman watercolors ane nonetheless so far beyond other “student” grade paints – or any paint at this price level – that they make an absolutely perfect choice for practice, learning, experimentation or high volume work where higher priced paints would be restrictively expensive. 

But make no mistake – the Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors are truly superior quality, and essentially premium paints at a very low price, and would also be a great choice for professional work, fine art and display pieces. They are my choice for best overall value for watercolors in tubes, and a strong recommendation as best paints for art students or beginners.

Arteza Watercolor Paint Set

Arteza Watercolor Paint, Set 60 Colors/Tubes with Storage Box

Best Budget Watercolors in Tubes

Set of 60 Colors/Tubes (12 ml/0.4 US fl oz) with Storage Box, Rich Pigments, Vibrant, Non Toxic Paints for The Artist, Hobby Painters, Ideal for Watercolor Techniques

Honestly, I haven’t had much experience with the Arteza watercolors, but the times I have used them I’ve been blown away by the intensity and beauty of their colors, the way they handle water and all different watercolor techniques, and how beautiful the images I created ended up looking.

When you consider the amount of beautiful colors you get with this big set, how much fun you can have with them, how much you can practice, experiment and just paint, and how much beautiful art you can create, the Arteza 60 tube watercolor paint set is a strong and clear choice for the best budget watercolors in tubes today.

Best Watercolors in Pans

Winsor Newton Professional Watercolor Paints

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor 24 Pan Set

My Favorite Watercolor Paints in Pans

Lightweight Metal Sketchers Box Set : 24 Half Pans (24 Colors Set)

Everything that I love about Winsor Newton Artist series watercolor tubes is just as evident in their Winsor Newton Professional watercolor pans. They ultimately do not have quite the intensity of color as the tubes, but they are easily the most intense, saturated and powerful watercolor pans I’ve ever used.

In every other respect – interaction with paper, mixing, permanence, workability with any technique, color consistency and beauty wet and dry, these are the equal of the Winsor and Newton Artist tubes, and for certain techniques like washes and fades they often work even better.

If I am on the go, working outdoors, or for whatever reason prefer to use watercolors in pans, I would never want to be without these superb Winsor Newton Professional watercolor series, which are by far my favorite watercolors in pans and, just like the tubes, the ones I use most often and with the most delight and satisfaction.

Sennelier L’Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set

Sennelier L'Aquarelle Watercolor Paint 48 Half Pan Set

Best Premium Watercolor Paints in Pans

French Watercolor Paint, Metal Set of 48 Half Pans

Sennelier L’Aquarelle watercolors are widely considered to be among the finest paints of any type made today. Are they better than Winsor and Newton Artist series? Well, I may be too biased to answer, because I love me some W&Ns, but many people believe that Sennelier L’Aquarelle are at least equal to, or better than, my faves.

They do have absolutely beautiful colors – perhaps more subtle, while the Winsor are more intense – and their colors are as predictable and consistent as you could possibly hope for, batch to batch, wet or dry, straight or mixed, full strength or diluted. They are superb in how they interact with paper, and react flawlessly with any kind of technique or process.

Indeed, as I am recalling my own time working with them, I kind of want to pull out my set and give my Winsor and Newton watercolors a break for a while. I’m not saying I actually will, but I’m considering it.

But if you only end up with one, you cannot possibly go wrong with either brand or either set, and the Sennelier L’Aquarelle watercolors are superb paints, perfectly suited to the highest levels of work of any commercial or fine artist, and offer a lovely, natural and intuitive painting experience which allows you to fully fall into the creative flow.

A near perfect product, the Sennelier L’Aquarelle watercolors provide stunning results, really capturing, in every way, the full experience and potential of watercolor as a medium, and are my choice for best premium watercolors in pans in 2021 – and doubtless fo some time to come!

Winsor Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Studio Set, 45 Half Pans

Best Value Watercolor Paints in Pans Overall / Best Watercolor Set for Students

And, as you might have guessed, my choice for best student grade watercolors in pans is the same as my choice for best tubes of watercolors for students – the Winsor and Newton Cotman series.

And for the exact same reasons. Again, the pans of Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors won’t have the same incredible intensity as the tubes, but are exceptionally bright, deep and saturated for watercolor pans at any price point, and far, far better than anything else I’ve used at this price level.

For a student especially, having such excellence in watercolors, which work so well with different papers, brushes, techniques and styles, and give such consistent, and consistently superb, results, is priceless, and the beauty of the end results is so striking, and so inspiring, that it will encourage any student to continue.

And for any newcomer, to watercolors or art in general, a paint which so clearly shows the differences in different techniques and processes, is such a joy to work with, offers real value and gives incredible results each time is really ideal. This is exactly why I so strongly recommend the Winsor and Newton Cotman series, and make it my choice both for best value watercolor paints in pans and best choice for students, beginners or even established professional artists who want affordable, no compromise watercolor paints.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Handcrafted Watercolors 36 Color Set

Best Budget Watercolor Paints in Pans

Handcrafted, Professional-Quality Pigment Inks for Artists and Crafters, AP-Certified, Blendable, Show up on Dark Paper, Made in Japan

It is astounding just how high quality these inexpensive Kuretake paints are, and how continuously surprising and delightful painting with them can be.

Bright, saturated and strikingly beautiful colors, that have an intensity rarely seen in pan watercolors at any level, great mixability and predictable, controllable results with various techniques, consistency in drying and overall permanence of colors, really in every important way these are far better than they have the right to be considering their price.

There are tons and tons of super-affordable watercolor pan sets on the market – really, tons and tons and tons – but I have never found another anywhere near as good as the Kuretake Gansai Tambi watercolors, which earn my strongest recommendation as the best budget watercolor paints in pans on the market today.

Bonus: Watercolor Sets as Gifts

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Improve your art skills and learn how to make money as an artist with my easy-to-follow online classes such as Making Money as an Artist, Color & Light, Color Palettes, Perspective & Composition, Instagram, and more!


Although I wrote this article with the idea of helping artists and art students find the best watercolors for themselves, their needs and their work, any of the above recommendations would also make a lovely gift for any artist.

At the same time, you may want a present that is even more special, more exciting to give or get, more fitting for the particular artist on your list. 

So whether it’s for a birthday, Christmas (in July???!!!), graduation or a student just starting art school, or for whatever reason, I have selected four perfect watercolor sets, each chosen for a particular level of artist and/or a particular budget.

I know that buying presents for an artist isn’t always the easiest thing, but I have to believe, as an artist myself, that any artist would be absolutely thrilled to get any one of these as gifts, and that each of these sets would be not only deeply appreciated but really appropriate and useful as well.

A stunningly beautiful premium watercolor set and an impressive gift for even the most advanced artist, who will without a doubt not just be deeply moved and appreciative, but will really use and come to love these superb paints.

Rembrandt Watercolor Paint Professional Set with Wood Box & Accessories

Best Watercolor Gift Set for an Art Student

28 Pans + 7 Accessories, General Color Selection

A very special set and a beautiful gift, but more importantly a set of watercolors of such high quality that even the most advanced or precocious student can’t help but be impressed – not to mention well served.

Emooqi Watercolor Paint Set, 48 Vibrant Colors, with 3 Brushes

Best Budget / Starter Watercolor Gift Set

48 Premium Vibrant Colors Art Pigment Painting Kit, Free 3 Brushes, Great for Kids Adults Artists Professional Painting on Canvas Wood Clay Fabric Ceramic Crafts

Inexpensive and fun, a really thoughtful present for any beginning or younger artist, or really anybody at all – especially loved ones who you would really like to see explore their own creativity.

Arteza Kids Premium Watercolor 25 Color Non-Toxic Paint Set

Best Watercolor Gift Set for Kids

25 Vibrant Color Cakes, Includes Paint Brush (Set of 25), Art Supplies for Watercolor Painting, for Kids and Adults

The standard choice for kids seems to be the Crayola Watercolor Set, which is also a great choice, but this Arteza set has nicer colors and better quality overall, ensuring not just fun and creativity but more consistently beautiful – and thus encouraging – results.

Thanks for reading this article – Best Watercolor Paints in 2021: A Detailed Buyer’s Guide and Review – and again please check out the two other articles in this series, on Best Brushes for Watercolor Paints and Best Paper for Watercolor Paints. I would also like to invite you to visit my website – Art Side of Life –  for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides, and many more!

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