Choosing the Best Watercolor Paint for You! - This Creative Nest Blog

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Choosing the Best Watercolor Paint for You!


August 1, 2019

So if you’ve caught the first two posts in this series on Watercolor Supplies, you’ve gotten the low-down on paper and brushes – but what about choosing the best watercolor paint for you? From tubes, to pans and liquids, you have a lot of choices. I thought it’d be helpful to distinguish which watercolor paint is best for you and go over a few brands that you might want to check out!

The Best Watercolor Paint: Tubes, Pans or Liquids?

For longevity and archival quality? It’s best to use quality pans and tube watercolor. The pigment in these forms is incredibly concentrated and formulated to last for (almost) ever. So if you’re doing commissions or custom artwork that will be displayed for years to come, you’ll want to use professional level pigments from either pans or tubes. However, if you’re creating artwork that won’t necessarily be displayed on walls, but instead be used for digitizing and putting onto prints, patterns and products, then liquid watercolor can be a great alternative! It’s incredibly vibrant and pure color, but it doesn’t have the longevity of tubes or pans. As the sun and light shine on it day in and day out, the time will come when it doesn’t quite have the luster it once did. But if you’re using them for short-term projects and digital use, then they can be a great option.

With that being said, you might wonder what the difference between pans and tubes are. Pans of watercolor paint are actually tube paint that’s been preloaded into wells and allowed to dry. You can fill up your own palette or pans with paint straight from the tube. This is the route I go, but some artists prefer to use a palette of pre-made pans. It’s really just preference!

Watercolor Brands

Just like we talked about with paper, there’s a significant difference between Student grade paints and Professional level paint. When it comes down to the best watercolor paint, you really want to invest in brands like Winsor and Newton, Sennelier, or Daniel Smith, regardless of which level you’re at. If you’re creating purely for joy or aren’t ready to invest in pricier pigment, then Winsor and Newton’s Cotman Student line is great and I’ve also found that Prima watercolor pans are fun little kits! They have great color pay-off and while I can’t speak to their longevity, I do really enjoy using them, especially as a mini travel palette. Overall if you’re ready to invest in quality paints, I can’t recommend Winsor and Newton’s Professional Watercolor series highly enough. 

Transparency, Staining and Granulating

I personally *still* get a bit stressed out by trying to determine which shades of paints are staining or transparent, but I at least want to touch on this topic, share what it means, and tell you how to find what you need! By now you’re likely well aware that all watercolor paints are transparent, meaning that the more water you add to them, the lighter the value you can achieve. However, did you know that some shades are considered transparent while others are considered staining? This means that if you were to use a dry brush to lift away color or a paper towel to blot up color, a transparent shade will lift away revealing white paper. Meanwhile, a staining shade or pigment will leave behind permanent color that can’t be lifted easily. 

But take a step back even further and consider what watercolor paint even is! Watercolor paint is dried, ground-up pigment (whether natural minerals or man-made) mixed with binders.  Non-granulating pigments mix smoothly and evenly with water. They tend to lay down consistent, even color with almost no variation in color or texture. Meanwhile, granulating pigments behave differently. When water is added, the pigment will separate from the binder and settle into the nooks and crannies of paper (especially cold press!) leaving behind a grainy texture.

Reputable watercolor companies (such as Winsor and Newton or Daniel Smith) will have a color chart or tell you directly on the tube what the properties of the paint are. I recommend keeping a master color chart where you can lay down a swatch of each color, it’s name, and its properties. This will help you in the future as you mix colors and are looking to achieve certain effects in your paintings.

I hope this information is helpful as you choose your watercolor paints! If you have any questions, as always feel free to leave a comment below or email In the meantime, head on over to Instagram and follow me for more tips at @thiscreativenest. I’ll also be popping on Facebook and Instagram Live to answer questions this week! (I’ll post the video below afterward for future visitors, too)


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