This article is basically the summary of all the watercolour set I've reviewed over the years.
It's a quick guide for beginners who want to get their first watercolour set.
The sets recommended below are selected for their versatility for colour mixing, and there are no opaque colours.
Quick tips for picking the right watercolour set
If your budget allows, get artist quality paint instead of student grade ones. Artist grade paint has more pigment and less filler, hence using a small amount amount of paint produce the intense colours easily. Artist grade paint may be more expensive, but you use less since they are intense, hence they last longer.
If you're low on budget, get less tubes of artist quality paint instead of more tubes of student grade. For example, 2 sets of primary colours (6 tubes total) can give you immense colour mixing potential.
Pans are also more convenient to use and easy to bring along anyway. Even though I have tube paints, I would squeeze them into pans for transport. Watch this video to find out why I do that.
Watercolour box sets are sold by many manufacturers. However not all box sets have the best selection of colours. The sets recommended below are the most versatile colour mixing sets I can find online.
For those with a smaller budget
The more popular student grade quality watercolours are Cotmon from Winsor and Newton, Van Gogh, Akademie from Schmincke, St Petersburg White Nights and Prima Marketing. They are all quite affordable.
Cotman (review) is quite good in terms of colour intensity.
If you have a few more dollars, I suggest you get the Prima Marketing's Tropical Set. This USD $20 set really surprised me with its intensity. At this price, you usually can only buy an empty metal watercolour box but this set comes with colours. The downside is there's absolutely no information regarding the pigments used. For the price and performance, it's well worth the money.
The other very affordable set is the St Petersburg White Nights watercolour that I mentioned earlier. The box is almost two times larger than the WN Sketchers Pocket Box, but it also holds two times more volume of paints as the pans are also full size. It's still a relatively compact and lightweight set. The downside is the paints appear slightly chalky to me.
So those are the three sets I recommend for budget conscious beginners.
The better sets for colour mixing
The sets listed below are the ones I highly recommend.
I should also mention the Daniel Smith 6-tube Essentials set. This cost USD $30 and there are six 5ml tubes. The colour selection is great. With 2 sets of three primary colours, you'll be able to mix a good variety of colours. Even thought it has less colours compared to the other sets, I feel that you'll learn more about colour mixing. The other sets with more colours just have more convenient colours that helps you save time when mixing, e.g. when mixing greens for example. The downside is for the price, you don't get a box. If you get any of the box sets above, you can this this set as a refill and also to try out Daniel Smith.
Daniel Smith sells many sets. Another good set from them is the 3-tube primary colours set with Perylene Red, Hansa Yellow Medium and French Ultramarine. This set sells for around USD $22. That's almost like buy-2-get-1 free because each 15ml tube usually cost around $11-15.
If you have more budget, perhaps check out this Daniel Smith set with Alvaro Castagnet colours (currently at USD $52) which is mostly a warm colour palette just lacking a cool yellow.
The M Graham Basic 5-Color Set comes with Azo Yellow, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Sap Green and Burnt Sienna. This set has three well selected primary colours. Sap Green is useful for those who paint lots of trees, plants. Burnt Sienna mixes well with Ultramarine to produce beautiful grays.
This 12-tube QoR set has these colours
- Nickel Azo Yellow
- Hansa Yellow Light
- Quinacridone Gold Deep
- Quinacridone Magenta
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson
- Pyrrole Red Light
- Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)
- Ultramarine Blue
- Viridian Green
- Burnt Sienna (Natural)
- Paynes Gray
- Yellow Ochre (Natural)
This is an extremely versatile set for mixing colours with three yellows, three reds and two blues, and all 12 colours are transparent. The convenient colours like Viridian, Burnt Sienna, Paynes Gray, Yellow Ochre are very useful too.
- 23310 - Permanent Yellow Medium, PY 154, LF 7 to 8
- 23370 - Pyramid-Yellow Medium, PY 108, LF 8
- 43300 - Titanium Orange, PBr 24, LF 8
- 23180 - Irgazine® Red DPP BO, PR 254, LF 8
- 23182 - Irgazine® Ruby DPP-TR, PR 264, LF 8
- 40510 - Venetian Red, PR 102, LF 8
- 40430 - Dark Burnt Sienna, PR 101, LF 8
- 45700 - Cobalt Blue Dark, PB 74, LF 8
- 45720 - Cobalt Blue Light, PB 35, LF 8
- 45750 - Cobalt Blue Turquoise Light, PB 28, LF 8
- 23000 - Phthalo Green Dark, PG 7, LF 8
- 44200 - Chrome Oxide Green, PG 17, LF 8
- 40400 - Italian Raw Sienna, PY 43, LF 8
- 40720 - Burnt Umber Dark Brown, PBr 7, LF 8
Please see my Kremer Pigments review for a more detailed analysis.
Downside is this set is only sold by Kremer Pigments directly and not through retailers. Price US $80.
Quality of Mission Gold paint from South Korea is comparable to the popular brands from USA and Europe. This particular 24-pan tube set from Mission Gold is selling for less than US $50 which makes it a terrific deal for a 24-colour set.
These are the colours in the set
- W501 Chinese White
- W521 Lemon Yellow
- W523 Permanent Yellow Deep
- W518 Yellow Orange
- W151 Permanent Red
- W512 Permanent Rose
- W513 Rose Madder
- W551 Opera
- W553 Permanent Violet
- W541 Cerulean Blue
- W542 Cobalt Blue No.1
- W543 Peacock Blue
- W545 Ultramarine Deep
- W546 Indigo
- W536 Viridian
- W535 Hookers Green
- W534 Sap Green
- W561 Yellow Ochre No.1 Transparent
- W569 Raw Sienna
- W564 Burnt Sienna
- W570 Burnt Umber
- W565 Red Brown
- W566 Vandyke Brown
- W502 Ivory Black
About other brands
I've not included other popular brands like Winsor & Newton, Schmincke, Sennelier and others because their watercolour sets either have opaque Cadmium colours, have white or black, or the colour selection just isn't good enough.
Creating your own palette and selecting colours
If the prices of empty boxes or pans are too expensive on Amazon, search eBay or AliExpress.
With your empty watercolour box, I suggest getting the M Graham Basic 5-color set (USD $35) or the Intermediate 10-color set (USD $75). Each tube is 15ml so you'll be able to refill your box many times over. Quite a good deal.
Daniel Smith is a good brand also and I would suggest Hansa Yellow Medium, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) and Burnt Sienna. Each tube is around $14 so the five tubes cost $70. OR get the two sets of 3 tubes that I mentioned earlier.
Generally speaking, you just need six tubes of colours that consist three pairs of primary colours to be able to mix most colours that you'll need. If you need help picking colours, check out the article where I invite artists to pick their 12 colours.
Don't get M Graham and Mission Gold to squeeze into pans because their paint has honey and will never dry properly.
Need more ideas?
Check out all the watercolour sets that I've reviewed at https://www.parkablogs.com/tags/watercolour-set