Recently I wrote a gift guide for young artists interested in watercolor. Over the years, I've gotten so many questions about watercolor supplies for beginning artists, and while I've answered most of those, I don't think I've ever really delved into it here on the blog.
Whether for yourself, a friend, or a loved one this holiday season, I hope my art supply gift guides help you find products that will inspire and illuminate the year to come.
I want to encourage you to buy the best you can afford at the time, especially if you think watercolor is a media you're going to pursue as part of your commercial art or if you want your illustrations to stand the test of time. Cheap watercolors often utilize dyes, optical brighteners, or glycerin, which all shorten the lifespan of your art, and may make the media more difficult to use. Both on this blog and on my Youtube channel, I regularly review inexpensive and cheap art supplies, so if you have any doubts, double check against my archives. For a personalized recommendation, feel free to email me.
More information on paints
More information on papers
More information on brushes
I go over basic terms and vocabulary briefly in my Watercolor Gift Guide for Young Artists (9-13), and in great detail in Watercolor Basics: Watercolor Terms You Should Know.
You can find an overview of the basic materials you'll need to get started (or to provide someone with a fresh start) in my Materials You'll Need to Get Started post.
I know most beginner watercolorists start their journey at Michael's. Later in December, I'm going to do a specialized watercolor artist tour of Michaels, but for now, please enjoy this general artist Michaels Tour.
A warning- super cheap watercolors (like Crayola) contain dye, which isn't lightfast, and glycerin, which yellows over time, making those doubly not archival. Please do not use these for commission or paid work.
Cheap watercolors such as Artist Loft make heavy use of optical brighteners for color intensity. These layer poorly, turn muddy quickly, and will flake off your paper's surface.
|Top Row: Daniel Smith Dot Card, Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections in Tropicals|
Bottom Row: Kuretake 12 Color set, SoHo watercolors
Most Bang for Your Buck:
Great for stocking stuffers!
Daniel Smith Dot Cards
Cheap Joes American Journey Watercolor Paint Samples
Joe's Sample Color Set of 4
Top Ten Sample Color Set
Quinacridone Sample Color Set
Joe's Essentials Sample Color Set of 12
Joe's Big Sample Set- 24 Colors
Kuretake Brush Pen Pocket Set
Sakura Koi Field Watercolor Set
Review: Sakura Koi Field Set Mini Review
Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections Tropicals
Prima makes multiple palette collections, but Tropicals is my favorite selection of the bunch. Tropicals features a very usable selection of colors. The prices for Prima Marketing Watercolor Confections vary on Amazon, so don't pay more than $20 for the paints and palette.
This 12 color sketcher's set is perfect for travel, or artists who are just starting out with watercolor. The colors are saturated and quick to activate, making it great for on the go painting.
Kuretake Travel Watercolor Set
Kuretake 14 Color Set
Not just for travel! Compact sets like these are perfect for beginner watercolor artists, and provide a wonderful opportunity to learn color theory and color mixing.
Although I don't have a review prepared for these tube watercolors, I've used them in my watercolors and on my 7" Kara comic pages for years now. There have been claims that these are not fully lightfast, and while I don't have the machinery to test whether these watercolors will last 100 years, I have done a bit of lightfast testing within my grasp (swatches in a sunny window, left for about a year), and find them quite suitable for my needs. Some colors perform better than others, the only one I would outright avoid is Ultramarine Blue. Great if you want bright, intense, synthetic color.
Recommended Colors (these are based on my preferences)
Urban Blue Violet
In general, Blick's store brand produces high quality artist materials at a lower price. The Blick watercolors are excellent beginner tube watercolors, and can be squeezed into pans or a palette and reconstituted with water.
Cheap Joes Amerian Journey Watercolors
The storebrand for Cheap Joe's. I don't have much experience with these, but other watercolorists say they perform well.
Grumbacher Academy 10 Color Set
Cotman 12 Tube Set
Although I've warned artists off Cotman pan watercolors in the past, I find their tube watercolors to be quite acceptable, and very affordable. Blick sells Cotman watercolors openstock.
|Top: Yarka Watercolors|
Bottom: DiVinci whole pans, Daniel Smith Essential 6
Blick Exclusive Winsor and Newton Half Pan Set with Palette, 12 Pans
Although I've never reviewed Winsor and Newton Professional Artist Watercolors as a stand alone product, I regularly use the semi moist half pans to paint illustrations and 7" Kara pages. While Winsor and Newton isn't for everyone, I've been satisfied with their performance over the years.
Winsor and Newton half pan watercolors are available open stock, so as you run out of colors, you can easily replace them.
Yarka St Petersburg Watercolors, 24 pans
When I first begain painting 7" Kara, I used a 24 set of Winsor and Newton watercolors, and a 24 set of Yarka St Petersburg watercolors. My Yarkas are still stashed away somewhere.
Da Vinci Pan Mixing Set of 12
Da Vinci were recommended by Kabocha, who says they perform as well as Daniel Smith.
Daniel Smith 6 Essential Colors
Mijello Mission Gold Watercolors, 36 Color set with palette
I mention this in the Young Artist gift guide, but this is a perfect set to get started with, at a phenomenal price. Mijello makes a few grades
Holbein 5ml Watercolors, 24 color set
Holbein is an excellent brand, and while I don't have this particular set, I have many tubes of Holbein's Irodori line. These paints perform well, and reactivate from pans well.
Da Vinci- Tube Mixing Set
A recommendation from Kabocha! She says they're about on par with Daniel Smith watercolors, so I'll have to get my hands on a few tubes to try out.
Kuretake Pocket Set
Includes waterbrushes and water bottle, all in a compact, pocket set! A perfect micro introduction to watercolor- just add a block of watercolor paper!
Kuretake Compact Box Set
Includes waterbrushes, palette, etegami postcards, and more! Everything you need to begin etegami watercolor.
Etegami Demonstration Timelapse
Winsor and Newton Professional Water Color Compact Set
This was my first serious set, and the basis for my current palette!
Winsor and Newton Artist's Water Colour Half Pan Bamboo Box Set
Includes paints, paper, and a couple brushes
What about Gansai Tambi?
Gansai Tambi watercolors are highly praised in the craft world, and not without good reason. Inexpensive, huge pans of paint, Gansai Tambi seem like a perfect solution to expensive watercolor palettes. Keep in mind that gansai tambi watercolors do not handle like Western watercolors, and utilize a different type of binder. The end result is glossy, saturated color- great if you work with a minimum of layers, or want intense color immediately.
Gansai Tambi watercolors are frequently used for etegami postcards.
Kuretake Gansi Tambi 12 Color Painting Set
Gansai Tambi 36 Color Set
|Top: Dr PH Martin's Hydrus Watercolors|
Bottom: Ecoline Liquid Watercolors, Dr PH Martin's Concentrated Radiant Watercolor
Pigment Based liquid watercolor. Comes with an eyedropper
Royal Talens Ecoline
Dye Based. Can be used to refill Ecoline watercolor markers. Does not come with eyedropper.
PH Martin's Radiant Concentrated Watercolor
Dye Based. Comes with an eyedropper.
Daler and Rowney Simply Watercolor Tubes
Daler and Rowney Cake Watercolor Sets
Artist Loft Watercolor Sets
Just about everything Crayola, at least when it comes to watercolor.
|From top to bottom, in rows:|
Brusho, Winsor and Newton Masking Fluid
Winsor and Newton Watercolor Markers, Ecoline Watercolor Markers
Spectrum Aqua watercolor markers, Zig Clean Color Real Brush
Derwent Inktense, Supracolor II
Brusho is dye based, powdered crystal watercolor that explodes once it hits water. I love using Brusho, but keep in mind that since it's dye based, it is not lightfast or archival.
Lime Brusho Timelapse
Brusho Background Mini Tutorial
Using Brusho with Alcohol Markers
Great Brusho Accessories:
Metallic and Pearlescent Watercolors:
|Top Row: Artist Loft Pearlescent Watercolors, Yasutomo Pearlescent Watercolors, Twinkling H20's|
Winsor and Newton Iridescent Medium, FW Pearlescent Acrylc Ink, Pearl EX powder
Artist Loft Pearlescent Watercolors
Yasutomo Pearlescent Watercolors
Twinkling H20's Metallic Watercolors
These have quite a bit of color to them, and are great for glazing over existing color if you want a little shimmer.
Finetec Metallic or Pearlescent Watercolors
Or buy them openstock!
I love these, and have a few different sets- the pearlesents, the iridescents, and a few of the metallics. Great coverage and loads of sparkle without appearing glittery.
Winsor and Newton Iridescent Medium
This can be added to your watercolor mixes for custom iridescence.
Not Watercolor, But Great:
FW Pearlescent Acrylic Inks
I love using these acrylic inks to ink watercolor pieces, or for splatter effects. Available in brilliant colors including neons and interference colors.
Jacquard Pearl EX
This can be mixed in with your existing watercolor, or add a little water and paint with them.
Pigment Based Watercolor Markers:
Winsor and Newton Watercolor Markers
Watercolor Marker Workshop
Winsor and Newton Watercolor Marker Travel Set
Includes paper, brushes, and more, all in a carrying case.
Dye Based Watercolor Markers:
Dye-based watercolor markers will be more water reactive than pigment based markers, and are very likely to reactivate when water (or further layers) are introduced.
Ecoline Watercolor Markers
Step by Step Succulent with Ecoline
Spectrum Aqua Watercolor Markers
Zig Clean Color Real Brush Markers
Axolotl Illustration Tutorial
These might be my favorite of the bunch- they're definitely the most versatile. Used on their own as waterbased markers or with water for watercolor effects, they're inexpensive, available in a huge range of colors, and the real brush is gentle on paper.
I use both of these brands frequently on 7" Kara comig pages. They're some of the best water reactive pencils I've used. Don't mistake Derwent Inktense for Derwent watercolor pencils- Inktense pencils are indelible once wet, but deliver loads of vibrant color.
Winsor and Newton Masking Fluid
This is the brand I use and have had best results with.
Pebeo Masking Fluid
This is the brand Kabocha uses and has had the best results with.
Masking Fluid Accessories:
Synthetic watercolor brushes
Masking Fluid Pick Up
|Top Row: Empty Metal Palette, Half and Whole Pans|
Round Welled Palette, Butcher's Tray
With paints, especially pick and mix sets, you need palettes!
Empty Metal Palettes
Empty Half and Whole Pans
10 Welled Round Palettes
When buying brushes, I recommend you buy your larger, more expensive brushes in synthetics, which are very affordable. From size 8 up, synthetics are a great way to have a variety of brush sizes without breaking the bank.
|Princeton Neptune Brushes|
Mimik watercolor brushes
Size 4 Round
Size 10 Round
Size 2 Round (for details)
Size 0 Round (for the finest details)
3/4" Flat (for washes)
16mm 5/8 Mop (for washes)
Cotman Watercolor Brushes:
Mimik Synthetic Brushes
Squirrel is an excellent natural fiber that has a large belly (useful for holding water and paint without it dripping all over your paper), but not quite as much snap as synthetics or Kolinsky. Squirrel is great for midsized brushes- 6, 8.
Blick Master Pure Squirrel Round Brush
|Top to bottom: Creative Mark Rhapsody, Princeton 7050, Winsor Newton Series 7|
Kolinsky sable is considered to be the highest quality material for watercolor brushes, and it's well worth investing in a few carefully chosen brushes. I find Kolinsky sable to be excellent for fine details- as the fibers hold lots of water and the brush is capable of snap. Kolinsky can be quite expensive, so I recommend using it for your smaller, detail brushes.
Creative Mark Rhapsody:
These are my mainstays- affordable, accessible, and perform quite well if properly cared for.
Princeton 7050 Kolinsky Sable
And the most expensive last-
Winsor and Newton Series 7
|Top Row: Kilimanjaro Cold Press, Fluid EZ Block|
Middle Rown: Arches Blocks, Canson Moulin du Roy
Bottom Row: Stratmore Ready Cut Watercolor Paper, Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress, Canson Montval Field Book
Decently heavyweight paper that shouldn't buckle or cockle when stretched.
Heavyweight paper (almost a board) that generally does not need to be stretched.
Can be run through an inkjet printer at home to print bluelines
Doesn't need to be stretched
Cold Press, Pads:
Fluid EZ Block
Canson Watercolor XL
Cheap Joes Kilimanjaro
I love this paper!
Canson Moulin du Roy
Cold Press, Blocks:
Mixed Paper Packs:
Cheap Joe's Watercolor Sample Packs
Union Square Hot Press
A textured hotpress that isn't bad to work on
Fluid 100 Hot Press
Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press
Arches Hot Press
Thanks to Kabocha for the hot press recommendations!
Mixed Media Papers:
Strathmore 500 Series Illustration Board
Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Paper
Strathmore Visual Journal
Canson XL watercolor
Someone just starting out is going to need a lot of basics!
|Top to Bottom: Copic Multiliners|
Sakura Pigma FB, MB, BB
These are available at Michael's and most hobby art supply stores in the art and scrapbooking sections
Sakura Pigma FB, MB, BB
These three brushpens provide a variety of lineweights and are alcohol marker and waterproof. I use these in many of my videos!
Sailor Mitsuo Aida
My go to for so many of my projects!
Pens for Watercolor and Markers at HobbyLobby
|Top Row: Faber Castel Collapsable Cup, Lyra Graphite Sticks|
Bulldog Clips, Paint Key, Bamboo Brush Cup
Soft graphite sticks are great for graphite transfers- a useful technique for transferring illustrations onto your watercolor blocks.
You can really use any, but I particularly like these collapsable cups by Faber Castell. I recommend two dedicated watercolor cups- one for clean, one for dirty.
Any paper towels will work, but I really love Viva paper towels, especially the ones with no texture.
Gator Board or Corrogated Plastic
I use this to serve as a support for my stretched watercolor pages.
I prefer the 3M blue crepe masking tape linked above- it adheres to the page without tearing the paper on removal.
I use binder and bulldog clips to help secure my paper to the board when stretching watercolor paper.
Tiered plastic tackleboxes are great storage for watercolor tubes, unopened pans, empty half pans, and other small accessories.
Bamboo Brush Holder
Clear Wax Crayons (or clear candles)
Useful for wax resist techniques
Joe Miller's Travel Painter and Accessories
My Favorite Watercolor Techniques
Top Techniques for Watercolor
Watercolor Basics: Step by Step: Glazes
Easy Blends and Fades
Detailed Chibi Watercolor Tutorial
Over the Garden Wall Watercolor Tutorial
Watercolor over Fountain Pen P1
Watercolor over Fountain Pen P2
Delightful Cosplay Couple From Start to Finish
Dots for Eyes Chibi Watercolor Tutorial
Planning Your Watercolor Illustration
Step by Step Illustration Walkthrough:
Watercolor Basics Pencils
Watercolor Basics Stretching Demonstration
Blocking In Color
Refining Your Image
Planning Your Watercolor Illustration
Panels and Workshops
MTAC Intro to Watercolor
Outside Reviews and Resources: