Splashing Colors: A Guide to Choosing the Best Watercolor for Beginners

For beginner art enthusiasts and budding creatives, finding the right watercolor set can feel like a daunting task. Fortunately, determining the best watercolor for beginners will be easier, with the right information and guidance from the colorful world of watercolor painting.

A color wheel made from shades of watercolor tubes

With this comprehensive guide, we’ll help you navigate through the vast sea of watercolor options and discover the best watercolor set for beginners like you. So strap in, brushes at the ready, and let’s get to it!

  • What Are Watercolors?
  • Various Watercolor Types to Experiment With
    • Watercolor Pans
    • Watercolor Tubes
    • Liquid Watercolor
    • Watercolor Markers and Pens
    • Watercolor Pencils
  • Choosing the Best Watercolor for Beginners
    • Affordability
    • Color Selection
    • High Quality
    • Tools and Accessories
  • Choosing the Right Watercolor Paper
    • Weight
    • Texture
    • Quality
  • Bonus: Watercoloring Tips and Tricks Beginners Can Try!
  • Conclusion
A watercolor painting of a mystical elk near a frozen forest below a snowy peaks, with a cosmos-inspired background

What Are Watercolors?

But first, some context about the nature of our topic. What are watercolors?

Watercolors consist of water-soluble paints that, when applied properly, are translucent and result in soft, beautiful light and flowy effects in amazing textures. Different watercolor techniques can be used to achieve various results, such as detailing with the help of acrylic and gouache paints. Watercolor paper, a thick specialty paper that is highly absorbent of water, is commonly used to prevent buckling or disintegration.

A regal lady with a green-and-gold headdress painted with watercolor
A small blue car top-loaded pieces of baggage and a surfboard, painted with watercolor

Methods and uses of watercolors have evolved over time, with a variety of watercoloring options now available worldwide, including watercolor pans, pencils, pens, markers, and more. These options not only make painting easier and more convenient but also offer different effects and results.

A painting of Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke and her white wolf companion, painted with watercolor

Discover Everything You Need to Know About Coloring Here!

Various Watercolor Types to Experiment With

Here are a few options worth exploring for artists looking to determine which watercolor set will be best for them, expanding their horizons and allowing them to experiment with different techniques:

Watercolor Pans

Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pan Set
The dragon Haku from Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away, painted in watercolor

These small, solid dry cakes are available and are often seen as affordable options for children's art kits. However, even well-known artists also use these sets. There are even inexpensive pan watercolors that can still produce exceptional designs.

Pan watercolors are user-friendly and self-contained, making them a popular choice, especially for newbies. Mixing colors on a palette is easy, and once finished, you can simply close the lid. Using watercolor pans and dry cakes for your artwork is relatively simple.

Color swatches from Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pan Set

Pro Tip: Make sure to use high-quality colors to prevent any potential issues. Low-quality watercolors with low pigment content can be harmful to the skin and should be avoided for regular or prolonged use. Fortunately, there are inexpensive options that don’t sacrifice quality, like Artistry by Altenew’s Watercolor Pans!

A constellation drawn and painted with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pan Set
A painting of beautiful pink flowers

Watercolor Tubes

Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Tubes

Watercolor tubes are another popular choice among artists, offering a more concentrated form of paint compared to pans. With tubes, you have the flexibility to control the color’s intensity by diluting the paint with varying amounts of water. This makes tubes particularly well-suited for large-scale paintings or projects that require bold, vibrant colors.

A painting of a sunflower created with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Tubes
A painting of a large blue butterfly created with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Tubes

One of the advantages of using tubes is the ability to mix custom colors more easily. Squeeze out small amounts of paint onto a palette, and you can create unique color combinations and hues that may be difficult to achieve with pre-made pan sets. Tubes also tend to be more economical in the long run, as you can just squeeze out the amount of paint you need for each painting session, which minimizes waste.

A painting of birdhouses created with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Tubes

Liquid Watercolor

Artistry by Altenew's Liquid Watercolor
A lovely painting of a bird created with Artistry by Altenew's Liquid Watercolor

For artists looking for even greater flexibility and control, liquid watercolors offer a versatile alternative to traditional pans and tubes. Available in small bottles with dropper caps, liquid watercolors can be diluted to achieve subtle washes or used straight from the bottle for bold, concentrated color.

Color swatches from Artistry by Altenew's Liquid Watercolor

Liquid watercolors are particularly popular among illustrators and graphic artists for their ability to create smooth, even washes and precise lines. They can also be used for techniques like wet-on-wet blending and layering, allowing endless experimentation and creativity. Plus, their portable size and easy-to-use packaging make them perfect for artists on the go!

A painting of a cardinal created with Artistry by Altenew's Liquid Watercolor
A silly painting of a cat wearing a watermelon bonnet created with Artistry by Altenew's Liquid Watercolor

Watercolor Markers and Pens

Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Brush Markers

Artists who enjoy working with fine lines and intricate details will find watercolor markers and pens as a convenient and mess-free alternative to traditional brushes and paints. These markers are filled with watercolor pigment and feature a flexible brush tip or felt tip nib, which lets you have precise control over line thickness and opacity.

A birthday card decorated with floral die cuts, colored in with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Brush Markers
A greeting card with a colorful background created with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Brush Markers

Watercolor markers are great for sketching, doodling, and adding pops of color to mixed media projects. They can be used on their own or in combination with other watercolor implements to achieve a variety of effects. Plus, many watercolor markers are water-soluble, meaning you can blend and manipulate the colors with a wet brush for added versatility.

A pair of floral greeting cards and tags colored in with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Brush Markers

Watercolor Pencils

Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pencils
A sun setting across a field of shrubs, created with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pencils

Even handier still are watercolor pencils. These coloring tools are another mess-free way to enjoy watercolor painting! You can use them like regular drawing or coloring pencils, but the pencils are water-soluble. When water is applied to the pencil or the page, the pigment dissolves to create watercolor effects on your paper!

Color swatches from Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pencils

With just a brush and water, you can easily create brilliant and blendable watercolors. Using watercolor pencils is a simple and affordable way to start painting, suitable for beginners or those looking to enhance their artistic skills.

A drawing of a cockatoo, colored in with Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor Pencils

Find More Watercoloring Sets and Tools Here!

Choosing the Best Watercolor for Beginners

So, as a beginner, how would you choose the best one? These are some of the factors to consider:

1. Affordability

First and foremost, affordability is key. As a beginner, you don't want to break the bank on a high-end set of watercolors until you've had a chance to explore the medium and hone your skills. Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly options available that still offer quality pigments and vibrant colors.

A drawing of a boat on a canal, colored in by watercolor pans

2. Color Selection

Another important factor to consider is color selection. While it may be tempting to opt for a set with a wide range of colors, beginners are often better off starting with a more limited palette. This allows you to focus on learning color theory and mastering basic techniques without feeling overwhelmed by too many options.

A painting of a deconstruction of a person's life and personal effects, colored in by watercolor pans

Find a set that provides a good balance of hues for exploring various color combinations and mixing techniques.

3. High Quality

A hyper-realistic painting of a beetle, colored in by watercolor pans

Of course, the quality of the paint itself is also important. While student-grade watercolors may not have the same level of pigment intensity or lightfastness as professional-grade paints, they can still produce beautiful results and are more than adequate for beginners. Look for sets that offer good transparency and flow, as well as colors that are easy to blend and layer.

4. Tools and Accessories

In addition to the paints themselves, don't forget to consider the tools and accessories that come with the set.

A textured floral background, created with watercolor tubes

A good beginner watercolor set should ideally include brushes, mixing palettes, and other essentials to help you get started. These can be helpful for beginners who are just starting and may not have all the necessary supplies on hand. Consider whether these extra tools are important to you and choose a set that includes everything you need to get started right away.

Ultimately, the best watercolor set for beginners is one that fits your budget, offers a good selection of colors, and provides quality paints that are easy to work with. Remember, it's not about having the most expensive or extensive set—it's about having the right tools to unleash your creativity and bring your artistic visions to life.

A lovely drawing of a pink bloom, colored in by watercolor tubes

Choosing the Right Watercolor Paper

Watercolor paper is also an important consideration for beginner artists. When it comes to watercolor paper, there are a few key factors to consider: weight, texture, and quality. Let's break it down:

A brilliant nighttime depiction of a snowy mountain cliff, colored in by watercolor tubes

1. Weight

Watercolor paper comes in various weights, typically measured in pounds per ream (lbs) or grams per square meter (gsm). 

As a beginner, you'll want to look for paper that's on the heavier side, as it will be more durable and less likely to warp or buckle when wet. Aim for paper that's around 140 lbs (300 gsm) or higher—a good balance of thickness and affordability for beginners.

A small circular bowl with succulents, colored in with watercolor pans

2. Texture

There are three main textures of watercolor paper: hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough.

  • Hot-pressed paper has a smooth surface, making it ideal for detailed work and illustration. 
  • Cold-pressed paper, on the other hand, has a slightly textured surface, providing just enough “tooth” for paint to grip while still allowing for smooth washes and blending. 
  • Finally, rough paper has a heavily textured surface, which creates interesting and unpredictable effects when painting. 

Pro tip: For beginners, cold-pressed paper is the best choice, as it offers a nice balance between smoothness and texture, making it versatile enough for a variety of painting styles and techniques.

3. Quality

Just like how quality is a significant factor in finding the best watercolor for beginners like you, it’s also an important aspect when it comes to choosing your paper.

Plein air painting of potted plants, created with watercolor pans

Look for watercolor paper that's made from 100% cotton or a high-quality cellulose blend, as these materials are more durable and resistant to yellowing over time. Acid-free paper is also important, as it helps preserve your artwork and prevent discoloration. 

While professional-grade papers can be pricey, there are plenty of affordable, student-grade options available that still offer good quality and performance for beginners.

A floral greeting card created with watercolor brush markers

So, what's the best watercolor paper for beginners? Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and budget. A piece of advice: Experiment with different weights, textures, and brands to find what works best for you and your artistic style.

A snowy forest-themed greeting card, created with watercolor brush markers

Bonus: Watercoloring Tips and Tricks Beginners Can Try!

If you are new to painting, likely, your initial art projects may not turn out perfectly. However, with practice, you can quickly improve. To help you learn how to use watercolors, here are some simple tips and tricks:

  • Mind the amount of water you’re using. Adding more water to your paint will make your colors more transparent and watery. This is beneficial for creating large, soft washes, but if you desire more vivid colors, you should decrease the water content in your paint.
  • Go light to dark. Similar to alcohol markers, starting with light washes makes it easier to paint over and fix any mistakes, which is why it is not recommended to begin with dark washes right away, especially for beginners.
  • Determine the level of wetness on the paper. Applying paint to wet paper can create a gentle appearance and is ideal for establishing the mood or painting soft textures. You can even use washi tape to secure the paper's edges while still allowing it to absorb moisture. On the other hand, painting on dry paper can result in a bold and intense look, making it suitable for adding intricate details and painting solid objects. Both are viable techniques, and you have to determine which one best suits your style and purpose.
  • Choose a color mixing technique. Some people like to blend colors on the palette before applying them to paper, while others prefer to mix them directly on wet paper to create a stunning gradient effect. Both methods are effective but will yield different outcomes, so choose the one that best achieves the effect you desire.
  • Get the right brushes. Round bristles are suitable for painting natural objects, while rectangular bristles can create more defined lines and are suitable for strong brushstrokes. Having a range of brush shapes and sizes can enhance the effects and intricacies of your artwork.
A "stay strong" slimline card with a beautiful background and a small succulent as a focal point, colored in by watercolor brush markers

Try Out These Fun Watercolor Brush Techniques!


Hopefully, you now have an idea of how you can choose the best watercolor for your needs. Remember, it’s not necessary to get the most expensive colors, brushes, or paper – what’s important is to find high-quality products well within your means and budget. That way, you can still enjoy watercoloring and create vibrant masterpieces without breaking the bank.


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