Where to start: Watercolor sets

Watercolor is a medium of contradictions. Portable and simple. Difficult and muddy. Cheap and expensive. It’s easy to be confused as to what to buy, and without fail, most professional artists like to state that there’s no sense in buying student or “craft” grade watercolors. The cheap stuff, so they say, is no good. 

And they’re not entirely wrong. Artist grade watercolors are obviously of a higher quality than the “Cheap” stuff. Why? “Cheap” watercolor is made with more fillers and binder to pigment ratios. (This is true of most cheap things, the ratio lowers pigment/color to “other stuff” in the art supply.) But that’s no reason to break the budget in order to break into watercolors. 

Here’s how to find your best buys for a “beginner” watercolor set.

 

I’m going to divide these between Craft grades, Student Grades, and Artist (Studio) grades. I’m skipping past “Children’s” products – like Crayola, for example.

All my prices are listed at the time of writing.

 Craft Grade Watercolor Intro Sets

 

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Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box – 12 Colors 

This compact travel size kit offers 12 assorted half-pan colors, a refillable travel water brush, a sponge, and convenient mixing wells molded in the cover. Colors include Chinese White, Ivory Black, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue Hue, Viridian Hue, Yellow Green, Light Red, Vermilion Hue, Crimson Lake, Yellow Ochre, Deep Yellow, and Lemon Yellow.

The Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch boxes also come in 18, 24, 30, 36, and 48 color sets.

  • Artist & Craftsman Supply $19.87
  • Art Supply Warehouse $21.19
  • Amazon $16.31
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $14.99
  • Cheap Joe’s $17.99
  • Jackson’s (UK) – Only sells set of 18 online: £22.05
  • Jerry’s Artarama $14.59 
  • Jetpens $19.00
  • Michael’s $49.99
  • Plaza Art Supplies $21.19
  • Wet Paint $26.49

Note: Holy SHIT WHY IS MICHAEL’S CHARGING $50 FOR THIS SET???????

Prima Marketing 

Tropicals Set: 13 – Island Green, 14 – Coconut (Ochre/Goldenrod), 15 – Hurricane Blue , 16 – Parrot Green, 17 – Hibiscus Orange, 18 – Palms Deep Green, 19 – Pitava Scarlet, 20 – Reef Purple, 21 – Pineapple Yellow, 22 – Sunset Magenta, 23 – Ocean Blue, 24 – Tiki Brown
Amazon $11.73

Classics Set: 1 – White, 2 – Pinky, 3 – Red, 4 – Orange , 5 – Yellow, 6 – Green, 7 – Icy Blue, Blue, Violet, Brown, Grey, Black.
Amazon – $12.01 

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Jane Davenport Brights Palette
Buzzy (Yellow), Ladybug (Red), Butterfly (Ultramarine Blue), 70’s Eyeshadow (Teal), Mermaid (Green), Jimminy (Green), Best Friend (Pink-Red), Fairytale (Darker of the previous), Frida (Wine/Deep red), Mystic (Orchid purple), Royal (Purple, Dioxazine Violet pigment).

Michaels – $31.99

Jane Davenport – $37.04

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Campus by Raphael Watercolor – 10 half pan set (Black or Blue case) 

Colors: unlisted pretty much everywhere. Roughly you’re getting two blues, two purples, red, orange, goldenrod, yellow, green, and brown (think: Cobalt/Ultramarine, Violet shades, Scarlet, Orange, Ochre or Naples(?), Light Yellow, Hunter’s Green, and Burnt Sienna.)

  • Art Nebula Ph $15.00
  • Art Supply Warehouse N/A
  • Amazon $25.83
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $15.43
  • Cheap Joe’s N/A
  • Jackson’s (UK) N/A
  • Jerry’s Artarama $14.98
  • Jetpen N/A
  • Michael’s N/A
  • Plaza Art Supplies N/A
  • Wet Paint N/A

 

 “Student” Lines of Good QualityScreen Shot 2017-07-19 at 11.44.19 PM.png

Kuretake Watercolor 14 half pan set

Please note that Blick labels Kuretake Gansai watercolors as “Artist Grade.” This is something I agree with when you view these paints as Eastern Watercolors, which value slightly different paint-qualities than do Western Watercolors. 

Colors not listed on Amazon. Comes with a Zig Drawing Pen and Waterbrush. Assuming the colors are similar to the 12 color + water container set, but with two more: white, blue, lemon yellow, vermilion, yellow ochre, violet, Prussian blue, deep green, grass green, carmine red, brown, black.

Amazon: $23.30

It’s easier to find a different 12 full pan set by Kuretake Gansai, which looks like this:

75484

This palette contains 12 colors: Black (No. 20), Blue (No. 64), Brown (No. 46), Deep Blue (No. 67), Green (No. 55), Lemon Yellow (No. 40), Light Brown (No. 44), Mid Green (No. 53), Red (No. 32), Scarlet Red (No. 31), White (No. 10), and Wine Red (No. 36).

  • Art Supply Warehouse $12.50
  • Amazon $15.29
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $14.99
  • Cheap Joe’s N/A
  • Jackson’s (UK)  £15.48
  • Jerry’s Artarama $14.99
  • Jetpen $17.00
  • Michael’s N/A
  • Plaza Art Supplies N/A
  • Wet Paint N/A

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Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Plus Set**

Paints: Alizarin Crimson Hue, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Chinese White, Cobalt Blue Hue, Sap Green, Ultramarine, Viridian Hue and Yellow Ochre. This paint set also includes a Cotman No. 5 Pocket Brush.

Cheaper option, same colors is called the Sketchers Pocket box, about $12 on Amazon.

Brand Price: Winsor and Newton prices the box at $29.29 

Base Prices (Sans coupons, student discounts, or membership prices) 

  • Art Supply Warehouse $20.20
  • Amazon $18.74
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $15.31 
  • Cheap Joe’s $19.99
  • Jackson’s (UK)  £13.68 (Roughly $17.82 USD)
  • Jerry’s Artarama $17.59
  • Michael’s $29.29
  • Plaza Art Supplies $23.43
  • Wet Paint N/A

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Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Set – 12 Half Pans 

Note: Sennelier is a popular (and famous) French line. This is their “student” line of watercolors “La Petite Aquarelle” as opposed to their artist grade watercolors “L’aquarelle.” 

Colors: Burnt Umber, Cobalt Blue Hue, Deep Green, Green Yellow, Orange, Payne’s Grey, Primary Blue, Primary Red, Primary Yellow, Rose Madder Lacquer, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre.

  • Art Supply Warehouse $20.96
  • Amazon $21.68
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $17.97
  • Cheap Joe’s N/A
  • Jackson’s (UK) N/A
  • Jerry’s Artarama $17.97
  • Jetpen N/A
  • Michael’s N/A
  • Plaza Art Supplies N/A
  • Wet Paint N/A

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Royal Talens: Van Gogh Watercolor 12 Color Half-Pan Pocket Box 

Colors: Chinese White (108), Yellow Ochre (227), Permanent Lemon Yellow (254), Azo Yellow Medium (269), Madder Lake Dark (331), Permanent Red Light (370), Burnt Sienna (411), Ultramarine Dark (506), Cerulean Blue (Phthalo – 535), Viridian (616), Sap Green (623), and Payne’s Grey (708). Comes with Travel Brush.

  • Artist & Craftsman Supply – N/A only carries 12 tube set or 18 pan set, which is generally pricier. 12 tubes is $44.10. Note that they sell single tubes of Van Gogh watercolor paint for only $2.88 so outright buying just the tubes would be cheaper at $34.56
  • Art Supply Warehouse $34.99
  • Amazon $28.07
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $25.18 
  • Cheap Joe’s $26.99
  • Jackson’s (UK) N/A
  • Jerry’s Artarama N/A only carries 12 tube set, $38.89
  • Jetpen
  • Michael’s $49.99
  • Plaza Art Supplies $32.72
  • Wet Paint N/A

Lukas Studio Box – 12 half pans 

Amazon: $16.99

Lower Tier – Artist Quality

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QOR Watercolors 6 color Introductory Set
The Introductory set includes 5ml tubes of Indian Yellow, Cerulean Blue Ch, Ultra Blue, Pyrrole Red Lt, Perm Crimson, and Burnt Sienna. Unique Aquazol binder.

12 Color Introductory Set
The 12 Introductory set includes 5ml tubes of Nickel Azo Yellow, Hansa Yellow Med, Quin Gold Deep, Quin Magenta, Perm Alizarin Crimson, Pyrrole Red Lt, Phthalo Blue GS, French Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green, Burnt Sienna, Paynes Gray, and Yellow Ochre.

  • Amazon $23.81 / $40.99 
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $24.49 / $45.49
  • Cheap Joe’s $24.49 / $45.49
  • Jackson’s (UK)  £24.75 / £43.20
  • Jerry’s Artarama $24.49 / $45.49
  • Plaza Art Supplies $24.49 / $45.49
  • Wet Paint $27.99 / $51.99

Artist Quality Watercolor Paint Sets

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Lukas Aquarelle 1862 – 12 color half-pan set

  • Jerry’s Artarama $29.99

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Set Includes: Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Chinese White, Crimson Lake, cobalt Blue (Hue), Ivory Black, Permanent Green #1, Permanent Yellow Light, Prussian Blue, Vermilion (Hue), Viridian (Hue), and Yellow Ochre.

  • Artist & Craftsman Supply $43.97
  • Art Supply Warehouse $59.29
  • Amazon $24.30
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $53.89
  • Cheap Joe’s Only sells a sample set with a 5 ml. tube each of Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue Hue, Viridian Hue, Permanent Yellow Deep, Vermilion Hue and Crimson Lake. $24.99 
  • Jackson’s (UK) £37.80
  • Jerry’s Artarama N/A – Single tubes only
  • Jetpen $45.50
  • Plaza Art Supplies $63.96
  • Wet Paint – Single tubes only

 

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor
Left: Field Box – 
The durable plastic box contains: one Pocket Brush, one Artists’ Sponge, a 35ml capacity water bottle, a Water container, twelve Half pans of Professional Water Colour including Winsor Lemon Yellow, Winsor Yellow, Winsor Red, Permanent Alizarine Crimson, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue (Green Hue), Winsor Green (Yellow Umber), Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ivory Black, Chinese White. 
Right: Compact Sketch – 
It contains: one Series 16 Sable Brush, 14 half pans of Professional Water Colour including Winsor Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Scarlett, Winsor Red, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue (Green Hue), Winsor Green (Blue Umber), Permanent Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Chinese White.

Left Field Box / Right Compact Sketch

  • Art Supply Warehouse N/A
  • Amazon $71.69 / $64.91
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $99.35 / $85.25
  • Cheap Joe’s N/A
  • Jackson’s (UK) £51.30 / £50.40
  • Jerry’s Artarama $99.35 / $85.25
  • Michael’s N/A
  • Plaza Art Supplies $99.35 / $85.25
  • Wet Paint N/A

Sennelier L’Aquarelle
Left: Bijou Box (Aqua Mini) 8 color half pans
This great little traveling companion contains half pans of Primary Yellow, French Vermilion, Cinereous Blue, French Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green Light, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, and Payne’s Grey, plus a watercolor brush.
Right: 12 Half Pan Metal Set
This metal case set contains 12 half pans, including Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Deep, Phthalo Blue, Warm Sepia, Lemon Yellow, Carmine, French Vermilion, Alizarin Crimson, Payne’s Grey, Phthalo Green Light, Forest Green, and Dioxazine Purple.

  • Amazon – $19.88 / $51.53
  • Blick’s/Utrecht $19.77 / $66.52
  • Cheap Joe’s 12 half pan $58.82
  • Jackson’s (UK) 12 pan  £30.40
  • Jerry’s Artarama $21.57 / $64.17 (You can also get a 5 tube starter set for $12.89!) 
  • Plaza Art Supplies $28.76
  • Wet Paint N/A

Turner Artists’ Water Colour 18 Tubes Set 

  • Jerry’s Artarama – $32.99 / Sale: $19.99
  • Amazon $36.99

Mijello Mission Gold 12 Set / 24 Set / 36 Set and Palette 

9 color Intro Set – Set of nine (9) 7mL colors including: W522 Permanent Yellow Light, W 518 Yellow Orange, W511 Permanent Red, W512 Permanent Rose, W513 Rose Madder, W536 Viridian, W534 Peacock Blue, W564 Burnt Sienna, W566 Vandyke Brown.

24 Color 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.

36 Set Palette – Set of thirty-six (36) colors including:W521 Lemon Yellow, W522 Permanent Yellow Light, W523 Permanent Yellow Deep, W518 Yellow Orange, W517 Orange, W516 Vermilion, W511 Permanent Red, W512 Permanent Rose, W513 Rose Madder, W514 Crimson Lake, W551 Opera, W561 Yellow Ochre NO.1, W562 Light Red, W563 Raw Umber, W564 Burnt Sienna, W565 Red Brown, W566 Vandyke Brown, W567 Sepia, W531Greenish Yellow, W532 Yellow Green, W534 Sap Green, W536 Viridian, W533 Olive Green, W535 Hooker’s Green, W537 Vandyke Green, W541 Cerulean Blue, W543 Peacock Blue, W542 Cobalt Blue NO.1, W544 Prussian Blue, W546 Indigo, W547 Mijello Blue, W545 Ultramarine Deep, W553 Permanent Violet, W552 Red Violet, W502 Ivory Black, W501 Chinese White. Set comes packed in a Watercolor Palette that features two large wells, each surrounded by 18 angled wells. Palette measures 14.375″ x 6″ x 1.125″.

Amazon:

  • 9 colors $27.99
  • 24 colors $44.99
  • 36 colors $61.99

Jerry’s:

9 colors: $23.99 

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M. Graham 5 Color Introductory Set 
This set contains Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Sap Green, Burnt Sienna, and Azo Yellow.

  • Amazon – $32.74
  • Wet Paint –  $50.68

 

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Schmincke 12 color half pan metal tin set 
Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Finest, Permanent Carmine, Cadnium Red Light, Cadnium Yellow Light, Lemon Yellow, Ivory Black, Sepia Brown, Venetian Red, Yellow Ochre, Permanent Green Olive and Phthalo Green.

Amazon: $67.26

Daniel Smith Watercolor Sets 

Note: If I had to pick a single starter set of the best quality and price, it would be the Daniel Smith Essentials Set. 

Here’s my reasoning why: the six color set provides you with a full set of cool and warm primaries, and only the primaries.

Cool Primaries: Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Rose, and Phthalo Blue (GS)
Warm Primaries: New Gamboge, Pyrrol Scarlet, and French Ultramarine.

A few people prefer Ultramarine and not French Ultramarine, but this is simply because Ultramarine sometimes supplies better green mixes. The difference is pretty marginal though, and this set provides you everything you need. See other sets which include black or white? You don’t need those. M.Graham’s 5 color set gives you sap green, which is lovely and convenient, but you will want to learn to mix greens yourself. Daniel Smith is one of the best paint companies for watercolors, and you can feel it when you use these juicy colors. Plus, thankfully, their 6 color set is affordably priced compared to the other intro-sets. A sale or coupon will probably push the set to around $25-$30 — which is both cheap and of the best quality.

If you would like to supplement the set of watercolors, either go grab cheaper tube/pans from another brand or carefully choose an extra Daniel Smith or two — you might want to swap French Ultramarine with Ultramarine (it’s not necessary). My recommendations are: Burnt Sienna, Moonglow (DS only) which is a lovely shadow-y purple, and maybe a green (Sap or Hooker’s green are standard convenience greens, DS also makes wonderful mixed greens like Undersea, Serpentine, or Cascade green).

  • Amazon: $31.34
  • Wet Paint: $31.15

Daniel Smith Primatek Set – Rhodonite Genuine, Jadeite Genuine, Amethyst Genuine, Mayan Blue Genuine, Hematite Genuine and Piemontite Genuine.

Amazon: $28.75

Daniel Smith Alvaro Castagnet’s Master Artist Set – 10 colors. This set of ten, 5ml tubes includes: Hansa Yellow Deep, Mayan Orange, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna Light, Neutral Tint, Deep Scarlet, and Pyrrol Red.

Amazon: $51.50

 

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