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The Best Watercolor Supplies For Beginners

The Best Watercolor Supplies For Beginners

The Best Watercolor Supplies For Beginners

Soft and dreamy, watercolor paintings have an ethereal quality to them. If creating a watercolor masterpiece seems like an impossible task, don't fret: it may be easier than you imagine. Admittedly, the sheer number of watercolor tools—paints, markers, pencils, and more—can be intimidating for a beginner. To help narrow down the choices, we're introducing some of our favorite watercolor supplies and throwing in some tips and tricks too.

Watercolor Characteristics
Color Range
Watercolor Color Range
36 colors of the Kuretake Gansai Palette will help you create vivid paintings.
The amount and range of colors available depends on the brand and type of tool; however, it's not always necessary to have every color. Because watercolors are dye- or pigment-based, mixing and creating colors is easy and widely practiced by artists. If you're on a budget, pick out a couple of primary shades (red, yellow, and blue) and mix them to get the colors you want. Then the colors you aren't able to make can be purchased separately.
Watercolor Finishes
Opaque, translucent, and metallic watercolors create different effects.
Pigmentation refers to how rich a color looks on paper. The more pigmented the paint, the more opaque and vibrant it appears. The pigmentation of any given brush stroke can be customized by adjusting the amount of water used; adding more water will dilute the pigment and make it more translucent. Markers and paint from watercolor tubes tend to have more pigmentation, while paint from palettes and pans generally have to be built up in layers for similar impact. That said, if you fill the top of a pan with a thin layer of water and wait for it to sink in, the rehydrated paint will have vastly improved color intensity.

While most watercolors are matte, they can also be formulated to have a metallic or pearlescent sheen—these paints are wonderful for adding accents and interest to an art piece.

Watercolor Textures
Texture in watercolors largely depends on pigment type.
Depending on the tool, watercolor art can look smooth or textured. In general, markers provide a smooth look, while the paints from palettes, pencils, or tubes can often contain granulation that gives an art piece more texture. We'll note that granulation isn’t truly a function of paint format but of the pigment itself. It’s more common in paint colors that use heavier or more coarsely milled pigments, and more frequently found in blues, blacks, and natural earth tones. It is most visible in wet paint strokes where color can irregularly pool. The finish of a paper also contributes to how textured an art piece looks, which we discuss further below.
Watercolors Blending
Watercolors blend easily.
Most watercolors are easy to blend. Their high blendability allows for seamless transitions between colors, creating the soft, blurred look associated with watercolors. Water is always helpful for blending paints smoothly.

If you need to cover a large area with one color, we suggest blending a generous amount on a separate palette. This will give you results that are more consistent in color and texture than creating your custom mix directly on the page.

Portable Watercolors
The Sakura Koi Field Palette is extremely portable.
Inspiration can strike at any moment. For those who like to seize the moment, consider watercolors that are easy to carry around and use on the go. Watercolor markers and brush pens are perfect for this, as well as all-in-one palettes that include paints and a waterbrush.

Paper Pairing
Watercolor Paper Textures
Textured and smooth paper will create different effects.
When choosing a paper to pair with watercolors, consider its weight and texture. The heavier the paper, the more water it can handle. Paper with a weight of 190 gsm is standard for watercolor use, but depending on the watercolor tool, you could go as light as 126 gsm.

The texture of the paper also affects how a watercolor is used. The semi-rough surface of textured paper lends itself to both detailed work and even washes, while smooth paper is more slippery, making watercolors harder to control. Smooth paper is suited for mixed media use as other media (such as graphite) can glide more easily over its surface.

Compatibility (with Other Mediums)
Range of tools compatible with watercolor, including pencil, white gel pen, several pens and a bottle of ink
There is a wide range of other media you can use with watercolors.
Watercolors can be used with a variety of other supplies, including ink, graphite, color pencils, and more. Always test the water solubility and behavior of the medium before using it with watercolors so you can better achieve the desired effect. For example, some artists enjoy using watercolor over ink, and need a waterproof inking tool for lines that stay crisp. Check out our guide to The Best Waterproof Pens and Inks for Watercolors to see our favorite supplies to pair with watercolors.
Watercolor Recommendations
The Best Watercolor Brush Pens (Bristle Brush Tip): Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens
Watercolor brush pens with bristle tips are some of our favorites to work with due to their no-mess and fuss-free application. These ready-to-use tools are portable, blendable, and can be used in a variety of ways. Pair them with wet paint brushes or water brushes to create a soft, diffused look, or use them alone for vibrant pops of color. Brush pens can be used on most papers, but we recommend a heavier paper if you plan on doing washes with a water brush.

These watercolor brush pens feature a synthetic bristle tip that mimics a paint brush.

The synthetic bristles and moderate ink flow allow for dry brush effects, providing more artistic freedom. They're great for sketching, especially when you're on the go. However, their maximum line width isn't too wide and their ink can run out quickly, so we wouldn't use them for large color washes alone. With 20 different colors to choose from, you can pick a couple of must-haves or collect them all.

Like the Akashiya Sai, the Kuretake ZIG Clean Color Real Brush Pens have a synthetic bristle tip and vibrant colors. If you want even more color options than the Sai, this is a good alternative.
The Best Watercolor Markers (Felt Brush Tip): Royal Talens Ecoline Watercolor Brush Pens
Watercolor brush pens with felt tips are also known as watercolor brush markers. They're portable, have good color payoff and great blendability. Because of the thicker porous felt tip, it is easy to get a fully saturated color wash. To soften the pigment, run a water brush over the color for a hazy, dreamy effect. This can be a little tricky to control, so test on scraps. As with brush pens, watercolor markers can be paired with most papers, but a heavier paper is ideal when painting with water.

We love the Royal Talens Ecoline Watercolor Brush Pens for their intense pigment, bountiful colors, and ease of use.

The felt brush tips are quite thick, laying down a satisfying juicy line with one swipe. Use them alone or dilute them with a water brush depending on the desired level of color intensity.

Also Consider: Tombow Dual Brush Pens
Tombow Dual Brush Pens
Art created with Tombow Dual Brush Pens.
Although not marketed as watercolor markers, the dye-based Tombow Dual Brush Pens are another great choice. They are double-sided with a soft felt tip and fine bullet tip and come in an astonishing array of colors. We love that Tombow offers a colorless blender for foolproof blending between colors.
The Best Watercolor Palettes: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Palettes
Watercolor palettes are made up of single pans of watercolor paints. They often give a softer look as water is needed to activate the paints and will dilute the pigment. Palettes are a great choice for those who enjoy combining colors as the pans are laid out for easy access and mixing. Choose between pre-made sets or customize a palette based on your needs. We recommend pairing these watercolor paints with a heavy paper to accommodate high water usage.

The Kuretake Gansai Tambi Palettes are made up of individual, removable pans that you can replace or mix and match. The paints are beautifully pigmented and provide smooth, blendable color.

Just a small amount of paint is needed to get rich color payoff. The slight granulation in these paints also creates stunning textured effects. Individual pans are available if you want to build a custom palette! Kuretake even offers metallic watercolor paints separately or in palettes.

The paints in these convenient and portable palettes aren't quite as intensely pigmented as the Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints and need to be built up in layers for similar effects. We recommend these sets if you enjoy having watercolors on hand when traveling, as they include water brushes and built-in palettes for mixing colors.

The Best Watercolor Pencils: Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils
Watercolor pencils deliver intense color payoff in a convenient format. They're easy to store and carry around, and you don't have to worry about them drying out. Sketch details by using the pencil dry or create washes by laying the pigment down and activating with water. While used dry, they can be paired with most papers, but heavier paper is required if used as watercolors.

Smooth, soft, and oh-so-creamy, Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils will help you create museum-quality artwork. They’re available in a myriad of richly pigmented colors and feature varying degrees of lightfastness, most scoring between Very Good and Excellent on the Standard Blue Wool Scale.

Given that most watercolors are not particularly lightfast, Museum Aquarelle Pencils are a great tool for artists who are concerned about the longevity of their work. They seamlessly blend and overlay with each other, perfect for gradation and other effects.

For a more affordable choice, these Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils deliver rich pigment that blends like a dream. Be careful with how much water you use though, because the pigment might blend away! They are available in an amazing 120 colors—you can pick out just the ones you need or collect them all.
The Best Watercolor Tube Paints: Holbein Artists' Watercolors
Watercolor tubes carry liquid paints that can be used right out of the tube. They're perfect for mixing colors and creating custom palettes—you can even squeeze dabs of paint from tubes into small containers like mint tins to create tiny travel palettes (if you choose a container that can rust, be sure to coat it with some rustproof spray paint). Unlike most watercolors that have to be built up, the intensity of these paints is adjusted by diluting them down. They're easy to carry around, but harder to use spontaneously as a separate palette and brush is needed to use them.

These watercolor tubes feature smooth, vivid colors that you can paint with straight from the tubes. A little bit goes a long way, so don't be fooled by the seemingly small package. We've paired the tubes with the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Mini Palette here. The charming flower design makes it easy to keep colors separated before you carefully blend them.

The Best Metallic Watercolors: Coliro Pearl Watercolors
Coliro Pearl Watercolors
Art created with Coliro Pearl Watercolors.
When done just right, a little sparkle and shine can elevate an art piece. Most metallic watercolors contain mica, a highly reflective mineral that gives the paints a lustrous sheen. Some metallic colors show their true color better on black paper. You can use these paints with matte watercolors to add highlights and accents, or use them on their own.

Handmade in Germany, Coliro Pearl Watercolors are highly opaque with a frosty metallic finish. The pearlescent colors look white in the pan and some of them apply white with a metallic shift when painting on white paper.

However, on black paper, the paints transform into richly saturated colors. You can see swatches of these amazing paints on both white and black paper in the video here.

The Boku-Undo Gansai Palettes have less color variety than the Coliro, but they're more affordable and have just as much shine. Choose from three color schemes with six distinct colors each including bright Metallic, delicate Pearl, and colorful Aurora.
Other Water-Soluble Paints

These paints have a lot of similarities to watercolors, but they aren't exactly the same. We recommend two types of water-soluble paints below. For an in-depth look at the different water-soluble paints we offer, check out our guide on The Difference Between Watercolor, Gouache, and Poster Color Paints.

M. Graham Artists' Gouache Tubes
M. Graham Artists' Gouache Tubes offer opaque coverage.
Gouache is very similar to watercolor paint but is designed to be opaque. Because of this, gouache is often referred to as opaque watercolor. It handles very similarly, especially when diluted, though not without subtle differences; for example, watercolor looks the same wet and dry, while gouache darkens slightly as it dries. White gouache also doesn't have the dreamy luminosity of paper showing through watercolor. However, opaque gouache is far more forgiving of mistakes and changed plans than any transparent paint could be.

These M. Graham Artists' Gouache Tubes contain vivid paints that use honey as the main binder for pigment.

The honey helps keep the paints soft so they resist hardening. They're easily diluted even after months of disuse, though if you let them dry out, it will be harder to pick up pigment from the dry paint and they'll lose some opacity. Because this high-quality gouache is free of chalk and other whiteners, you can mix and create colors as soft or vivid as you want.

Poster Color Paint: Nicker Poster Colours
Nicker Poster Colours
Nicker Poster Colours are used for background paintings by some Japanese animation studios.
"Poster color" does not refer to a specific kind of paint: it is a general term for opaque water-soluble paints meant for scanning and reproduction rather than display. Nicker Poster Colours are known for their use by Studio Ghibli and other Japanese animation studios, which use them to paint backgrounds. They’re different from typical poster colors in that they are made with gum arabic, like most gouache and watercolor. As a helpful resource, Nicker also lists the paints’ lightfastness, opacity, pigment codes, and tendency to bleed into colors layered over them. This chart is available on the product pages. To learn more about these paints, watch our Nicker Poster Colour video.
Watercolor Paper Recommendations

As we mentioned in the Considerations section, a heavyweight paper is the best choice for pairing with watercolors. Textured papers are good for beginners to start with as they allow for both fine detail work and even color blends, but we also have a smooth paper recommendation below.

The Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook is filled with lightweight paper.
A light wash of paint shows the New Soho page texture.

This 126.5 gsm sketchbook is great for the casual watercolor hobbyist who mostly uses markers or brush pens. The paper has a beautiful semi-rough texture that is perfect for light washes as it holds water reasonably well. Heavier washes will likely warp the pages.

The sturdy Stillman & Birn Zeta Premium Sketchbook can handle wet washes.
Smooth Zeta paper easily takes an even wash of paint.

For a smooth, weighty paper, this Stillman & Birn Premium Sketchbook fits the bill. The Zeta series features a silky white paper that is perfect for watercolors and mixing media. If you prefer a textured paper, we recommend the Beta series.

Watercolor Brush Recommendations

Brushes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with their own function and specialty. We dive deep into the differences in our guide to watercolor brushes. The scale one likes to work at will inform the best brush, but generally speaking, small round brushes are good for details, while large flat brushes are useful for full color washes. Many artists prefer natural hair brushes for their elasticity and ability to hold water, but synthetic brushes have come a long way and are a fraction of the price.

A synthetic brush that was made specifically for watercolor use is the water brush. This revolutionary tool has a reservoir of water in its hollow handle, eliminating the need for a separate water container. It's convenient, easy to clean, and possibly our favorite watercolor tool.

Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Brush
The Winsor & Newton Kolinsky Watercolor Brush - Series 7 - Round 2 is a great size for most applications.
While it's useful to have a range of brushes, if we had to pick one, it would be this Winsor & Newton Kolinsky Brush. This natural hair brush is springy, maintains a nice point, and holds a surprising amount of water for its small size. With proper care and maintenance, this brush will last for years.
Escoda Reserva Travel Brush
The handsome Escoda Reserva Kolinsky-Tajmyr Travel Brush - Series 1214 - Round 4 blends portability with springy natural bristles.
If you want a natural hair brush in a convenient format for on-the-go painting, this sleek travel brush is the perfect choice. To use it, simply take the cap off and post it on the end of the brush to transform it into a full-sized tool. It performs just as well as its full-sized counterparts—the luxurious Kolinsky hair holds plenty of water and keeps its shape admirably.
Royal & Langnickel Zen Watercolor Brush
This synthetic brush looks and behaves like a high-end brush without the high-end price tag. The synthetic bristles are soft and absorbent, well-suited to beginner and experienced watercolorists alike. Round 6 is a great size for general painting, but there are many other sizes available for various uses.
Kuretake Water Brush
The medium Kuretake Water Brush offers ultraportability.
Kuretake offers many sizes and shapes of these convenient brushes, but if you can only choose one, we recommend this medium brush. It is able to draw details as well as color large areas. This is another great choice for travel and plein air painting as you don’t need an extra water cup. For more on water brushes, see our guide to the Best Water Brushes.
Other Watercolor Supplies

If you take proper care of your brushes, they can keep their shape and functionality for a long time. Here are some accessories we recommend using with watercolor brushes.

Yasutomo Porcelain Palette
The charming 7 Wells Yasutomo Porcelain Palette helps keep colors separate until you mix them.
Empty palettes are useful for holding paints from tubes, blending colors together, or diluting paints with water. Yasutomo Porcelain Palettes & Dishes feature wells for easy mixing. The smooth porcelain material and rounded edges of the pans are easy on delicate brush hairs. It comes in single dish, 7-well, and 9-well versions.
Escoda Artist Brush and Hand Soap
Escoda Brush Soap will help you give your brushes a soothing bath.
Escoda is a premier maker of brushes and they know a thing or two about keeping brushes in tip top condition. Brushes should be cleaned regularly (ideally after each use) to prevent them from losing their shape. Escoda uses 100% natural extra virgin olive oil in their soap to give brushes a deep clean but still be gentle on the hairs and your hands.
Watercolor Tips and Tricks

Here are some basic watercolor techniques to follow if you're just starting out. For more advanced techniques, check out our Introduction to Watercolor Techniques Guide, or see all of our Watercolor Beginners' Guides here.

Paper Prep
Prepping watercolor paper
Preparing your paper helps with painless painting.
Even the heaviest paper will inevitably warp if it touches too much water. To keep art pieces nice and flat, be sure to prep the paper before painting. Taking a large brush, lightly wash over the whole paper (front and back) with water. Dab it lightly with a paper towel to take off the excess water, then lay out to dry. To prevent the paper from shrinking, tape the edges down while it dries. Once it's completely dry, you can start painting!

If your piece somehow curls or warps despite these preparations, you can smooth out watercolor paper by lightly dampening the back and ironing with an iron set to medium low. Be sure to iron your piece face-down, and always test on scraps first.

Mixing Colors
Grid showing different watercolor combinations
Primary colors with different undertones can create a wide range of muted or vivid secondary colors.
Mixing colors can get trickier than it seems at first glance. Paints often have undertones or different color temperatures that affect how they mix. If you want to create the searing green of an unfurling spring leaf, you’ll need a cool-toned yellow and blue; a warm orangish yellow or purplish blue would create a quite different, less vibrant green.

Some strategies to get around this include picking a warm and cool pair to have on hand for each primary, selecting primaries based on the CMYK colors used in printers, or just buying all the individual colors that are time-consuming to mix. Some artists call the latter type “convenience colors.” Making a chart of all your paint's potential combinations is a good way to get a feel for all your possible color schemes, and it's fun, too.

Light to Dark
Light washes of color compared to the same painting with darker details
Start with light (left) then add dark (right).
As a general rule, work in layers from light to dark. A light wash of a color helps to tone a drawing, providing the overall look and feeling to a piece—though be aware that unlike more opaque paints, watercolor can only go darker, not lighter, and use care or masking fluid to preserve your highlights. Build up the color gradually for a seamless blend, and use a clean wet brush to blend unwanted hard edges.
Large to Small
Large areas of color compared to small details
Paint large areas first (left) then details (right).
It's best to start with large areas of color washes before moving on to small precise details. That way, lines and details are crisp and don't get washed away when you're coloring. Allowing each layer to dry slightly will also help keep details clear.
Overworked and pilling paper
Pilling on overworked paper is a sign to step away.
If the paper begins to pill (when its surface tears up and small clumps begin to form on the paper) or feather excessively, you've overworked the paper and need to stop painting. This happens when the paper has been oversaturated with water and the bonds between the fibers begins to break down. Unfortunately, there’s no fix for pilling, so stay alert and don’t be overenthusiastic with your water.

We hope we've inspired you to pick up a water brush or two and start working on that watercolor masterpiece. Make sure to check out more watercolor tips and techniques in the guide here. What are your favorite watercolor supplies? Let us know in the comments below!

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JetPens Watercolor Starter Kit
Jump right in to the world of watercolors with the JetPens Watercolor Starter Kit.
Still not sure what to try? Check out our Watercolor Starter Kit! This starter kit contains everything you need to start creating beautiful watercolor paintings while still being compact enough to easily take out for an inspiring day at the park.

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