Choosing the right colours to create your watercolour palette can be difficult. There are so many colours out there and they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. When first getting started with watercolours, there are quite a few things to keep in mind.
Seriously. Buy the best quality paints that you can afford.
Do not buy paints just because you think they “look pretty” as a pure colour. Instead, think about the wide array of colours that the paint can produce with all other paints on the palette, and choose paints that are versatile in mixtures.
Brands / What to Look For
When buying any kind of watercolour paint, there are three main things to consider.
Pigment. The kind of pigment that is in the paint is what’s going to give you the best colour. Quality paints should contain genuine pigments. If a pigment is listed on the label, check the ingredient list to make sure that it is also the pigment being used in the paint! Without permanency, colour is worthless. Lightfastness is the ability of the pigment to remain unchanged under prolonged light exposure. All pigments that fade completely are organic, while most inorganic pigments either grey or darken in colour.
Filler. Many cheaper, “student grade” watercolour paints have very little pigment in them in relation to the binders/fillers. You’ll end up using much more than you need, and more often than not, when mixing, your colours will take on a muddy quality. Filler greatly affects the quality of mixtures you can create.
Binder. Having too much binder in a paint can make it darken and also make it difficult to work with.
Artist Grade Paint Brands
Which one is the best? Everyone has their own opinion. I’ve bolded my personal favourites.
- Art Spectrum
- Daniel Smith. Huge range of colours (over 200!) and most are single pigments, which make them ideal for colour mixing. They also have some really neat “special effects” watercolours (like iridescent colours!).
- M. Graham & Co. Pretty, pretty, pretty! So much pigment and beautiful colours! A little bit goes a very long way. M. Graham also puts a little bit of honey into their tubes to help prevent them from drying up.
- Old Holland
- Robert Doak & Associates
- Sennelier. Also has honey in their product line, as of 2012.
- Winsor & Newton. I use these a lot. While they are not the best paint, they are very competitively priced and easy to obtain. Their top quality paints are branded “Artist’s Water Colour” while their student grade is branded “Cotman.” I generally recommend these guys because they won’t dent your wallet too badly.
- Yarka / St. Petersburg
Student Grade Paint Brands
Some student quality paints actually are not that bad. Some of them can also be incredibly vibrant!
The problem with most student grade paints is that once the work is finished, they can degrade rather quickly. Student quality paints should only be used on work where longevity is not (too) important.
- Cotman (Winsor & Newton)
- Grumbacher Academy
- Rowney Georgian (England)
- Hunt/Speedball (USA)
- Impellist (Japan)
- Koi (Japan)
- Pentel (Japan)
- Yarka (Russia)
- And many more!
Sample Colour Palette
The ultimate watercolour palette for landscapes!
- Alizarin Crimson – Winsor & Newton
- Burnt Umber – Winsor & Newton
- Raw Umber – Winsor & Newton
- Burnt Sienna – Winsor & Newton
- Raw Sienna – Winsor & Newton
- Cerulean Blue – Winsor & Newton
- Manganese Blue Hue – Winsor & Newton
- Cobalt Blue – Winsor & Newton
- Ultramarine Blue (Green Shade) – Winsor & Newton
- Winsor Blue (Green Shade) – Winsor & Newton
- Winsor Blue (Red Shade) – Winsor & Newton
- Prussian Blue – Winsor & Newton
- Sap Green – American Journey
- Permanent Sap Green – Winsor & Newton
- Hookers Green – Winsor & Newton
- Hookers Green Light – American Journey
- Lemon Yellow – Winsor & Newton
- Cadmium Lemon – Winsor & Newton
- Cadmium Yellow Pale – Winsor & Newton
- Cadmium Yellow – Winsor & Newton
- Aureolin – Winsor & Newton
- New Gamboge – Winsor & Newton
- Cadmium Orange – Winsor & Newton