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Becoming the next John Singer Sargent may not be on your to-do list, but if you are interested in dipping your toe into the world of painting, using watercolor paints will be the perfect way to begin.
The best watercolor paints, much like watercolor pencils, are a versatile tool that can be used by everyone from a young grade-schooler to a professional artist. Seriously. Just consider all the famous watercolorists whose artwork is on display in galleries around the world. You may even recognize some of them:
- Georgia O’Keeffe
- Albrecht Dürer
- Vincent van Gogh
If watercolor paints were the art tool of choice for these successful and famous artists, then there must be something wonderful about them. So, what is so wonderful?
They are user friendly – anyone from a grade-schooler to an adult can use them.
They are versatile – many styles of painting can be created from watercolors. Two examples are:
They are beautiful – one glance at Vincent van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom and you will be both shocked at what can be done with watercolors and inspired to try it out for yourself.
They are both complex and simple – you can invest a lot or a little money, time, and effort into this artform and still enjoy it. It is your choice.
Whether your dream is to display your artwork in the gallery of a famous art museum or show it off on your home refrigerator, you will love working with watercolors. They will truly help you to fill any space beautifully.
To help you decide what sort of investment you want to make to begin participating in this art form, let’s look at what makes the best watercolors the best. Then, we can look at some specific watercolor sets that meet these requirements.
Without further ado, let’s begin our investigation.
What Are Watercolor Paints?
Watercolor paints are basically a ground pigment and a binder, usually gum arabic. Some are combined with a wetting agent or a moisturizer. The wetting agent allows the paints to flow and absorb into the canvas. The moisturizer prevents the paint from getting too brittle and crumbling.
What Can Watercolor Paints Do?
Watercolor paints are a versatile art tool meant for everyone. These tools are perfect for young children, novices, art hobbyists, and professional artists. No matter your experience, there is no doubt that you can find something wonderful to create with watercolor paints.
- Watercolor Paint Ideas for Children
- Easy Watercolor Paint Ideas for Beginners
- Watercolor Painting Lessons for Intermediate Painters
What Makes the Best Watercolor Paints the Best?
Whether you are picking up watercolor paints for the first time or the hundredth time, the importance of knowing how to find the best product never wavers.
The process of finding the best watercolor paints requires knowing what to look for and how to find that information. Let’s break down how to do this so the next time you are browsing shelves of paint, you will know exactly what to purchase.
Read the label
The first step to finding the best watercolor paints is to learn how to read labels. This is something you probably do when purchasing food or clothing. You need to know what the product is made of so you know its quality and its utility.
Below is an example of a watercolor paint label. We will use this label to discover the following information:
Decipher the Information
Most watercolor tubes and pans will clearly state what color(s) is/are inside. It should only take a glance at the package to find the name of the color. In the case of our example label, the color is listed in the center and just beneath the brand name and logo.
Hue is an important aspect of color and it is necessary to discuss it here. If the word “hue” appears on a watercolor paint label, it signifies that there is a combination of pigments used to create the color.
- The paint is not one color of pigment, but several pigments mixed to make it look like the color it claims to be.
- The pigments used are probably of a cheaper quality.
On our sample label, there is only one pigment listed, so there are no hues in this particular watercolor paint.
Learning how to read the pigment(s) on a watercolor paint label is probably the most important thing any watercolorist needs to do. This is because a single pigment and a mix of pigments can create completely different looks when mixed with other paints.
Pigments are listed Alpha-Numerically. On our sample label, the pigment is listed as PB35 and is located to the left of the barcode. PB35 stands for Pigment Blue and is the 35th blue pigment listed in the color index.
It is not just blue that is listed this way; this applies to every color. The pigment will begin with a “P” followed by another letter that represents the basic color.
- B for Blue
- Bk for Black
- Br for Brown
- G for Green
- O for Orange
- R for Red
- V for Violet
- W for White
- Y for Yellow
To sum up this section on color, it is recommended that you look for watercolor paints with only one pigment listed. This will help to prevent muddying colors as you blend them together.
This refers to how well the paint pigment holds up after being exposed to light for a length of time. Each brand of watercolor paints rates lightfastness differently and some brands don’t explain how their rating system works. Here is what we know about the lightfastness ratings of a few popular brands of watercolor paints.
- Daniel Smith rates from 1 – 4 with 1 being the best rating
- Holbein rates from 1 – 3 with 3 being the best rating
- M Graham rates from 1 – 4 with 1 being the best rating
- Winsor Newton rates from 1 – 5 with 1 being the best rating
On our sample label, the lightfastness rating is a 1. It is located beneath the pigment and to the left of the barcode. This rating means that this brand is providing paint that has excellent lightfastness.
ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) – this entity has a system for rating lightfastness in paints. Their rating system is used by many paint brands to help determine how their paints should be rated. On our sample label, the ASTM has put their seal to the left of the lightfastness rating. This shows that this watercolor paint meets their rating standards.
To sum up this section on lightfastness, it is recommended that watercolorists choose paint that provides the best lightfastness rating possible. If the lightfastness rating is unavailable, then it may be best to look for a different brand altogether.
This refers to how well the paint holds up to an environment that may cause it to deteriorate. Permanence is similar to lightfastness in that exposure to light is included in it. The difference is that permanence also refers to chemicals, heat, water, and acids.
While many brands do list a permanence rating on their watercolor paints, it is not known how they reach their conclusions. On our sample label, the permanence rating is an AA and is located beneath the color name. This is an excellent rating for watercolor paint, but since there is no information about how the rating system was created, it is hard to give much credence to it.
To sum up this section on permanence, it is recommended that watercolorists use the lightfastness rating to help them determine if the paint is a quality product. This is simply because there is little to no information on how the permanence rating system works.
This refers to how see-through the paint is. It is something every watercolorist will want to know about their paint before brushing their canvas. This is because transparent paint can easily be covered by more opaque paint, in effect, losing a color altogether.
On our sample label, the transparency rating is found in the square to the left of the barcode. This particular paint is somewhere in the middle range of transparency so it could be used to enhance many different areas of a painting.
To sum up this section on transparency, it is recommended that watercolorists understand what each level of transparency/opacity can do well and how to use them in a painting. It is best to put transparent paint over opaque paint so that the colors are not lost.
This refers to how well the paint adheres to the canvas. Some paints will seep into the crevices of a canvas or a paper and remain there with no possibility of removal. Other paints can be removed with a scrub brush or knife.
Unfortunately, the only way to discover the staining properties of paint is to test it yourself. To do this, paint a swatch, then let it dry for a time. After some time drying, try to rub it off. This will inform you of how well the paint adheres to a canvas or paper.
The Best Watercolor Paints For You
Now that we know what makes the best watercolor paints the best, we are going to look at some of the best options available for purchase. We will list the best watercolor paints for different needs and we will show why they meet those needs so well.
The Best Watercolor Paints for Kids:
Prang Washable Watercolor Paint Set
- Includes 8 colors
- Includes a brush
- Includes an area for mixing paint colors
The Best Watercolor Paints for Beginners:
36 Color Fundamental Watercolor Pan Set
- Includes 36 colors
- Mixes colors easily
- Can be as transparent or opaque as you choose
- Vibrant colors
The Best Watercolor Paints for Professionals:
Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Half-Pan Paint Metal Set
- Deep pigmentation
- Created with traditional paint formula
- Carefully selected natural ingredients
- Includes 12 professional-grade paint colors
The Best Watercolor Paints for the Serious Watercolorist:
Maimeri Blu Artist Watercolors
- Excellent transparency
- Excellent lightfastness
- Includes 48 vibrant colors
- Includes an area for mixing colors
The Best Watercolor Paints for Travel:
Sakura Watercolors Field Sketch Set with Brush
- Portable carrying case
- Includes trays for color mixing
- Includes 24 different colors
- Includes a brush and a sponge
Question: Which Colors Should I Start With?
Answer: The answer to this depends on how much you want to invest in this art form. If you are only dabbling in watercolors, you will want to spend much less than if your goal is to perfect your skills.
• Three-Color Palette – If you are just beginning or only dabbling in watercolors, or have a small budget for paints, you only need three main colors. A red, a yellow, and a blue will round out the perfect palette.
• Six-Color Palette – If you are ready to move past dabbling in watercolors, or your hobby budget has been enlarged, you can move up to six main colors. A red, yellow, blue, green, burnt sienna and purple are the perfect mix for this palette.
• Twelve-Color Palette – If you have progressed to a regular hobbyist or have once again enlarged your hobby budget, try a palette of twelve main colors. A red, a light yellow, a medium yellow, ultramarine, a blue, a light green, a dark green, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and umber, and a gray will be the perfect color selection for your professional palette.
Question: Should I Use Tubes or Pans?
Answer: This is a personal preference but there are advantages and disadvantages to each.
• No need to decide which paint colors to purchase
• Cross-contamination of paint colors is easier
• Less room for mixing paints
After you have used all the original paint in the pan set, you can continue using it as a palette for tube paints.
• Allows you to mix and match colors
• Can get expensive when purchasing a variety of colors
Allow tube paint to dry on your palette overnight and then rehydrate once you are ready to paint. This will help prevent using too much paint.
It is obvious that watercolor paints are a beautiful way to express your creativity. They are also a perfect art tool for anyone, whether you are a child, a beginner, or a professional artist. Hopefully, this article can help you to take the first step into understanding watercolor paints and the lovely way they color the world.