Portable Watercolor Boxes

I used to like Copic markers. That was before I discovered watercolour. It's really affordable for beginners to get started on learning colours. Affordable is an understatement when you begin to discover all sorts of watercolour boxes that are available.

Compiled on this page are some of the more portable watercolour box sets suitable for travel and carrying around. I've some. Not that much to call myself a fanatic yet, thankfully. The rest are ones that I've came across.

Some empty metal boxes can be expensive, so be careful.

Winsor Newton Bijou watercolor box 3
This is the old style Bijou box with 4 mixing wells. This model has been discontinued in favor of the one with two mixing wells. The box is usually sold with 8 half pans (UK) and also as an empty box (UK).

That's how my Bijou box looks like. It's really small and light. About the size of my wallet.

Winsor & Newton 12 Half Pan Assorted Water Colour Paints in a Heavyweight Enamelled Box
Here's another variation of the Bijou box with an integrated water holder (US | UK). The water tray is extremely useful. It holds enough water to fill the rectangular container to the brim two times.

Or get the empty one (UK).

This is the set I use most often. I bought it as a 16 half-pan heavy enamel watercolour box. In the middle row, you can add in 8 more half pans or 4 full pans. For the top and bottom rows, there are separators so you can only fit half pans and not full pans.

I usually put brushes and pens in the middle row.

This is the Winsor & Newton 12 full-pan heavy enamel watercolour box (UK). You can replace the full pans with half pans. Note that there are separators between the pans. The middle row is too big to fit in extra half and full pans, unless you can to stick them down.

The heavy enamel boxes are also available for sale as empty boxes. But it's usually more economical to buy them with the pans included.

It might not be obvious to beginners but 12 colours are more than sufficient to learning watercolour. Full pans are more suitable for painting bigger pieces.

This is the 24 half-pan heavy enamel watercolour box (US | UK). Same thing here, the middle row is too big for extra half and full pans.

These big boxes are capable of hold longer brushes.

Fome empty watercolour box for 12 half pans
This is an interesting variation of the heavyweight enamel box. This is branded Fome. It's only sold in Europe. It's a big box but it has really large mixing areas.

Kremer  watercolor box
Here's another model with fold-out mixing wells. You might see them being branded as Kremer Pigments but the box design is actually used by other brands as well. It comes in 12 half-pans and 24 half pans (US) design.

Small watercolour box.
It usually comes with pan holders fixed to the bottom plate. The plate is not fixed onto the bottom of the box so you can actually remove the plate easily to clean the box. This particular watercolour box has 3 mixing wells on the cover. Usually these type of boxes either come with two or three mixing wells on the cover. Schmincke uses this box for their 12-half pan set.

This is how my friend Don Low's box looks like.

Generally speaking, it's cheaper to buy empty boxes and pans, and then buy the colours that you need. There's no difference between the quality of pan colours vs tube colours. Difference is only in application. Dried tube colours are easier to wet and apply.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolour 24 Whole Pan Studio Set
This is the 24 full-pan Cotman set (UK).

Winsor Newton Cotman 45 Half Pan Watercolour Set
This is the insane 45 half pan Cotman watercolour set (Amazon UK).

Most watercolour brands come with student and artist grade. Winsor & Newton's student grade are branded Cotman. If you're interested in watercolour, it's advisable to get the artist quality.

Schmincke Watercolors- 48 Half Pans in a Metal Box
A lightweight metal tin capable of holding 48 half pans (US | UK)

Schmincke Watercolors Set of 24 Full Pans in a Metal Box
Same box but with 24 full pans (US).

Schmincke 18 half pan watercolour box
Schmincke watercolour box that can fit in 18 half pans (US). I like this set for the rather large mixing areas. It's sold as an empty box too.

I've a friend who uses this and he said the white turns yellow with usage.

Watercolor Set
Sakura Field Sketch Box (US) with 24 less common sized pans. If you take out everything inside, you can fit in 20 half pans and 4 full pans.

This is the small lightweight Winsor Newton Sketcher Box (US | UK). It's sold with either Cotman or Artist grade pans.

This is the Deluxe Sketchers' Pocket Box (UK). It's not small enough to fit in a pocket. It sells with either 16 or 24 half pans. The 16 half-pan set has two separator and is missing a piece of plastic separator that you need to hold down another 8 pans.

There's also the Deluxe Box with 12 full pans (UK).

If you like the box, I recommend getting the 12 full pan set because it comes with that extra separator that's missing from the 16-half-pan set.

The Daler Rowney Aquafine Watercolour set (US | UK) comes with 12 student grade half pans.

This is the Winsor and Newton Metal Sketchers' Box (UK). You can put a long brush in the space between the rows.

The Sketcher Box with 12 pans (UK).

Winsor Newton Field Box
The Winsor Newton Field Box (UK) comes with a bottle, water tray and brush. The bottle is quite small but the water tray is delightfully large.

Empty Diagonal Molding Metal Watercolour Box : will hold 12 Full Pans
This is an interesting design for a watercolour box. There's no brand and this one cost less than £6 on Amazon UK.

Here's a custom made 'Winged Palette' by SHYsArt

And this is a cloverleaf paint box.

This elegant brass palette is from House of Hoffman. It cost USD $495.

The Pocket Palette is one of the smallest palette that I've seen, and personally own. It's thinner than my wallet which is already quite thin. It's the perfect palette for daily sketchers who want to pack light.

This is one of the most expensive boxes around at USD $450. It's supposedly handmade by Craig Young. It's well priced to separate enthusiasts from enthusiasts with deep pockets.

There are also those who like to improvise and make their own watercolour boxes. The main problem I have with those is sometimes the mixing area isn't white, so it's hard to gauge accurately the colour you're mixing.

There are too many to choose from. Have fun choosing.

Just a short comment: I agree with you, and I think that probably the 16 half pans heavy weight enameled box from Winsor&Newton is the best buy.
I think that because, apart the excellent quality of the colors, they are not too few or not too much. They are jsut quite simple right for 90% of sketching chances or even more, in the field or in house. This is my humble opinion.


How surprising (a nice surprise ;-) to see some of my own watercolour boxes and fotos above!

An explanation to the little Bijou Box on the first foto (the one holding 15 half pans, 3 rows 5 pans each): with brute force I tore the metal bars out, if your are not willing to be so drastic, you could still fit 14 half pans into these little gems (then it is 4 in the middle).

For my taste the bijou box is the ultimate travel palette for little sketches that do not need to much mixing space.

The other box on that foto is the Winsor & Newton Heavyweight 16 half pans / 8 full pans version, another, four-welled 24 half pan / 12 full pan version also exists, but these are, as the name indicates, _heavyweight_, great, beautiful, sturdy, holding up to 50 (!!!!) half pans when you dare to break all the metal bars out but are way to heavy to be carried around.

I might be mistaken, but apart from a German company, Mehrings, that builds most of the metal boxes that brands like Kremer and Schmincke sell, the beautiful and much sturdier boxes in the Winsor & Newton style are from an italian company called "Fome", just look up their website and see how they are all siblings.

Plastic palettes might be lightweight and less expensive, but anyone who ever held a shiny enamelled Bijou Box in his hand will be addicted!

(Take a look at my flickr to see more boxes in their full beauty: https://www.flickr.com/photos/julieparadise1/ )

Hi, I was thinking of getting this watercolour set for a friend as a gift, but I can't find it in Singapore, and I'm unfamiliar with the art scene here, so I'd like to ask where can you get it at the most reasonable price? Your help would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Hello! I know this is an old post, but I have been looking for a 24 half-pan heavy enamel watercolour box and haven't been able to find it in Europe. Do you know anywhere where I could get it?
Thank you!

Not sure about Europe but you can get the heavy enameled watercolor boxes on Amazon. In the U.S. they are branded "Whiskey Painters" but they are made by FOME. FOME makes the boxes and then brands them for companies. Same boxes as Winsor & Newton. Daniel Smith carried them for a while year ago. It is cheaper to get the heavy weight enameled boxes already with the Winsor and Newton half pans in them but if yu can't, an empty Whiskey Painter's is the next best thing. If you can't find them with an amazon search for either one just try heavy enameled watercolor box or palette and see what pops up.

Hi! What are your thoughts on the Cloverleaf Paintbox? Do you think it would be functional for urban sketching?

Any idea where to buy another plastic divider strip for the Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Deluxe?

Any idea why some of these watercolor boxes are so expensive?

In reply to by Michael (not verified)

The custom made metal ones are expensive.

The other plastic and metal ones mass produced by factories are more affordable. On China e-commerce stalls, you can get an empty 12-pan standard metal box for US5.

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