5 Best Watercolor Sets for Beginners – Transform Your Canvas with These Expert-Approved Kits

The art of watercolor painting has been a popular choice to pick up on for everyone, but I know it can be pretty frustrating to choose your supplies among an ocean of the best watercolor sets for beginners.

Let me help you with that! After reading the reviews you will be able to start your watercolor painting journey with ease.

You will find the best watercolor set to get you started which is suited for your personal needs, and which beginner-friendly set has the best value for money.

But I will not only show you the products, you will actually be able to learn what to look for in a watercolor set as a beginner.

This way you will be able to determine what you actually need, for example, whether you need tubes or pans.

I will discuss what each product contains, the product’s quality and how it performs, its pros and cons, and of course the pricing. Ready to find the best watercolor sets for beginners?

I’ve reviewed 5 watercolor sets, so you don’t have to spend money while figuring it out!

My favorite of them all is the Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Sketchers Pocket Box. This set is by far the best combination of price, quality, and performance. This set comes with 12 half pans, which is great to get you started and you can even take this set on the go!

Best Watercolor Sets for Beginners

Best Watercolor Sets for Beginners

I have reviewed many watercolor sets for beginners by observing the quality, transparency, and value for money.

I believe the best watercolor set for beginners should have high-quality paint, that is easy to work with and are relatively inexpensive.

1. Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Box – Bet set for Beginners

Winsor & Newton is a highly trusted brand when talking about watercolor supplies.

Despite being a student line, Cotman still delivers high-quality paint that is beginner-friendly, especially because of the much lower price.

The Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Sketchers Pocket Box is definitely the most compact watercolor set for beginners, which makes it perfect for travel as you can fit it in your pocket. 

As you open it, there is a lid that can be turned into a mixing palette and a small brush. You only need a jar for some water and paper and you’re good to go.

This set includes 12 half pans, which is in my opinion a perfect selection for beginners. The paint does have synthetic fillers (got to keep the price down!), but they are rich in color and offer great transparency for easy layering.

Reasons to buyBear in mind
– Perfect for beginners
– Rich colors
– Great transparency
– Best value for money
– The brush is quite small
– Flimsy dividers

2. Watercolor on the go – Best Portable Watercolor Set

If you are a beginner who is looking forward to painting in nature and not only at home, then the Raphael Watercolor Travel Pan Set is a good option for you.

It comes in a circular tin with 10 half-pan watercolors, a mixing palette as a lid, and also includes a small brush.

My selection for the best travel watercolors set is student-grade, but the paint still provides a lot of pigment and they are easy to mix.

The best feature of this product is its portability, as it has everything you need to take it outside and paint wherever.

With the 12-compartment mixing tray, you will not get frustrated when trying different mixtures of colors.

Reasons to buyBear in mind
– Pigmented colors
– Perfect watercolor kit for travel
– Good value for money
– Plastic tin
– No color names or numbers

3. Van Gogh Watercolors Set

This Van Gogh Watercolors Set from the brand Royal Talens is a student-grade watercolor set of 12 tubes. But don’t let this fool you, the paint feels professional!

The tubes are 10ml tubes, so you get more product than from half pans, and they come in a metal tin box with a mixing palette, a sponge, and a brush. This set is however a bit pricier than other sets.

What about the quality of the paint? The colors are vivid even after they’re dry and they easily blend together. Transparency is almost professional-grade quality.

Having said that, this set is perfect for beginners if you have a higher budget, but many professional artists use them in their palettes as well, due to the vibrant natural-looking colors.

Reasons to buyBear in mind
– Amazing quality for beginners and upper levels
– Bright and vivid colors
– Bright pigments
– Good travel set
– Expensive for student grade
– Might be trickier for beginners

4. Daniel Smith Best Essentials Introductory Watercolor Set

Daniel Smith is another well-known brand and this specific Daniel Smith watercolor set is made to introduce you to the art of watercolors. It only includes 6 tubes of 5 ml, 3 warm and 3 cool colors.

Despite only including 6 tubes, each color is highly pigmented and produces amazing bright colors.

These are made for mixing, which is great if you are a beginner who is interested in color theory.

The quality of the paint really is top-notch and is similar to that of professional watercolor paint, which makes the mixing a dream and you are able to create a wide range of bright colors.

The level of lightfastness and transparency is amazing!

The downside is the price. After all, it is quite high, especially when you only get 6 colors without a brush or a mixing palette.

Reasons to buyBear in mind
– High pigment
– Top value transparency
– Good for learning color theory
– Suited for beginners and artists
– Only 6 watercolors
– No white paint
– No brush or mixing palette
– A bit pricey

5. Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolors

I also wanted to include a watercolor set that includes a bigger range of colors, which makes your journey as a beginner easier.

This Sennelier’s student set comes with 24 half pans in a travel case with a mixing palette and a quality brush and retails for a much higher price than other sets.

The colors are bright, but they are a bit paler than in the other reviewed sets. The watercolors are however high transparency and they make glazing easy!

The formula of this portable watercolor set is reinforced with glycerin, which allows a smooth application to the paper.

This feature is great for beginners because it is easier to produce mixtures and wash with them.

The Sennelier watercolor paint set is on the pricier side of student grade sets, but you do get more paint for your buck, so it is worth investing if you are only starting your watercolor journey.

Reasons to buyBear in mind
– Good color selection
– Includes a mixing palette and a quality brush
– High transparency
– Perfect for beginners
– The colors are not as bright as in other sets
– Pricey

How to choose the best watercolor set for you?

Let’s discuss what to look for in the best watercolor sets, so you can start painting like a professional. I divided this topic into some categories, so you can check back when you’re deep in the reviews.

The main categories are quality, color, permanence, and transparency. Among professionals, there is also the question of choosing pan palettes or tube palettes, but this specific topic is big enough for its own section below.

Watercolor quality

When talking about art supplies, you need to know that they come in two categories – student-grade and professional-grade.

The student-grade options are much cheaper, but while they are a perfectly fine choice for beginners, they may not reach the quality of the professional-grade watercolor sets.

If you have a bigger budget, I suggest the professional artist quality paint as it has more pigment, better quality additives, and less filler. This means that the paint will produce a more intense color with far less product.

However, there are some professional brands that also manufacture student-grade paint, which is still high quality, but much friendlier for a smaller budget.


When I say color, I mean the range of colors that a watercolor set provides you with. The great part about this is mixing the watercolor paint, which means you will be able to extend your range of colors significantly.

Not ready to invest a lot of money in paint? Start with 5 to 10 colors and test them out by mixing them and truly using them over a period of time.

While single pigment colors tend to be more vibrant, some professional artists find mixing them works better for their craft. Getting fewer colors will still provide great color mixing potential.

Some pigments will be higher in price due to the different raw minerals used. On the other hand, the student quality paint pricing is standardized, as they substitute those pigments with synthetic fillers.


The permanence or lightfastness of color is the paint’s durability on paper when exposed to light and humidity.

Some of the factors that are considered for this are accelerated tests for binder stability and pigment manufacturers’ testing.

Permanence depends on the quality of the pigment and the quantity of additives, which are normally used to cut down the cost.

The rate is usually stated on the label of the paint, but many brands have this information online.


The magic of watercolors comes in the ability to create a washed-out effect. There are two types of paint in regards to this, opaque or transparent.

It will be stated on the pans if they are opaque. While you can thin out the opaque paint, the level of transparency will determine, if you can create layers with it.

Should You Use Watercolor Pans or Watercolor Tubes?

As I have mentioned, when you are looking for the perfect watercolor set for you, you can choose between pans and tubes.

While both can have advantages and disadvantages, I can assure you that there is no difference in quality. The main difference is the process of making them.

The watercolors in pans go through an additional stage of drying during manufacturing before they hit the pans, while the watercolor tubes skip this and are poured directly into tubes.

From the point of view of an artist, the difference is that you have to rehydrate the pans, but not the paint from tubes. It is for you to decide, which option you prefer or is the best for your needs.

Because the pans are in fact dry, you can easily pack them up without fear of making a mess. But because they need water to be activated, they require a bit of extra time to prepare them.

Tubes are on the other hand a bit easier to use, as they mix faster with water. Here, you need to be careful not to squeeze too much paint out and waste it, so they are more suitable for painting on a larger scale.

I would also like to add that you can actually refill watercolor pans with paint from tubes. Clean and dry the pan, pour the paint three times, drying the paint in between.

When choosing, it comes down to you and what you prefer, so maybe try both to understand what works better. As watercolor sets with half pans are cheaper, I recommend those for absolute beginners.

Watercolor cleaning tips – How to clean your paint set?

To extend the longevity of your watercolor paints, it is important that you keep it clean and well-maintained.

Thankfully, watercolor paint is easily cleaned with only water and soap, so it will not take you forever to clean.

If you own watercolor paint in tubes, you only need to make sure to screw the cap back on completely, so you don’t risk the paint drying out.

If, however, you own watercolor paint in pans, try to store them in an air-tight container, so they don’t dry out and crack.

Watercolor paint in cakes or tubes will keep a long time and need little care.

For the best upkeep of your palette, rinse it under water after you are finished painting. The paint will otherwise dry and it will be harder to clean.

Use a sponge and some soap it there are some stubborn paint spots that won’t come off. Dry your palette and store it.

To clean the brushes, you only need to run them under water until the water is clear. Dry the watercolor brushes properly, so they don’t accumulate mold in storage.

Smooth the bristles and store the brushes with the bristle end up.

Frequently asked questions

I remember having a lot of questions and doubts starting with watercolor paint. It can be overwhelming with so much information on the internet, so I decided to make it a bit easier for you.

Below I answered some of the frequently asked questions that I personally get from people who are starting to learn about this beautiful art.

What are top watercolor brands for beginners?

The selection of watercolor paint seems to be never-ending. From the cheap kid-friendly options to high-end paint that you find in an art supplies shop.

There are only a few brands that you can always trust to deliver quality watercolor paint, whether they are student-grade or professional watercolor paint.

Some of the top watercolor brands are Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, Royal Talens, Sennelier, Sakura Koi and Schmincke.

Can watercolor expire?

Watercolor paints do have a shelf life and the manufacturers usually put that on the product.

Some brands estimate that the paint in tubes will last you up to 5 years, while the paint in pan scan actually lasts you a lifetime.

The best part of watercolors is that you can bring your expired paint back to life by adding water to it.

Are watercolors toxic?

Generally speaking, watercolors are completely safe to use. However, some pigments may contain cobalt, cadmium, and zinc, which can be harmful.

Keep in mind that you would have to ingest large amounts of paint to experience its toxicity. Many manufacturers have also removed those pigments from their products.

Are watercolors washable?

As watercolors are activated by adding water, they can be washed out of most materials easily. There are also some washable watercolor sets on the market, but those are usually for kids use.

Can I watercolor on canvas?

Normal canvas is not absorbent enough for watercolor painting. While there are some specific canvases made for watercolors, it is recommended to stick with watercolor paper to get the best results from the paint.

Can I watercolor on regular paper?

Technically, you could watercolor on regular paper, but most papers are not suitable for watercolor painting, as they are too thin to properly absorb water and they crinkle up fast.

What you will be left with is a result that will not be satisfying aesthetically. You can test the paper you want to use by dampening it a bit and watching how the paper reacts.

Can you use tubes and pans simultaneously?

Yes, you can indeed use watercolor paint from tubes and pans simultaneously in the same painting. You can also mix colors from pans with those in tubes.

Final thoughts

In the article, I have presented my reviews of the top watercolors for beginners. When choosing the best set for your needs, you need to think about how you want to use it.

This ranges from how many colors you would like in your palette, whether you want to mix them to get more colors or you feel more comfortable having more pans or tubes to choose from.

It is also important to note that as someone who is just starting out there will be trial and error, but don’t be scared to try different techniques to figure out what you prefer in a watercolor set.

If You have any more questions about watercolor, leave me a comment below and I will provide suitable information.

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