Which are the best watercolor brands on the market today? There are many and each have their own distinct features and advantages. I’ll be talking about that as well as delving into the individual reasons that actual painters like them so much.
Before we talk about watercolor paint let’s briefly look at the subject of pigments. What they are and how they impact the paint’s quality.
Pigments What Exactly Are They?
Pigments are finely ground particles of color that are mixed with a binding agent and water to make them usable. They fall into two categories. Natural and synthetic.
These are pigments that come from rocks, minerals, plants, etc. They are more brilliant and long-lasting than synthetic colors. Natural pigments are frequently thought of as superior quality.
In the modern era, watercolor pigments are often made from synthetic materials, such as petroleum or by precipitating iron salts with alum and an alkali, like potash or lime. Yellow, red, black, and violet pigments are examples of synthetic iron oxides, and the colour of the pigment depends on the precise formulation and type of iron salt employed.
Binder to Pigment Ratio
In watercolor, pigments are mixed with a binding agent, such as gum Arabic. The ratio of pigment to binder and water can vary depending on the desired consistency and texture of the paint.
The use of pigments can be traced back thousands of years. Substances with strong natural colors were extracted from rocks, plants, and other sources and mixed with water to create rudimentary paints.
The ancient Egyptians used pigments from crushed minerals to create vibrant murals, while the ancient Greeks and Romans often used crushed shells.
Over time, the production of pigments became more refined. Artists began using a wider range of them to create a greater variety of colors. In the Middle Ages, artists used ground-up precious lapis lazuli and malachite, to create bright blues and greens. These were extremely expensive and only the very wealthy could afford them.
The Best Watercolor Paint Brands
It follows that the best watercolor paint brands to buy are the ones that use the highest quality pigments. Many manufacturers produce a Student Grade and a Professional Grade paint but there are no actual industry standards as to what constitutes one or the other. It’s difficult to make generalizations about them but as a rule, “Professional” watercolor paints will contain a higher ratio of pigments to binder than a “Student” grade.
This American brand is popular among artists for its wide range of unique and specialty colors, including some that are difficult to find elsewhere. They use high-quality pigments and are known for producing vivid and vibrant colors. In addition to their regular range of colors, they also offer a range of “Extra Fine Watercolors,” which are made with pure, single pigment formulations and are known for their exceptional clarity and brightness.
One of the things that sets Daniel Smith watercolors apart from other brands is their commitment to using sustainable and non-toxic materials. They offer a range of “Primatek” watercolors, which are made with mineral pigments and are suitable for artists who are concerned about the environmental impact of their materials. They also offer a range of “Nuance” watercolors, which are made with a combination of pigments and super fine, natural mineral particles and are designed to create subtle, luminous effects.
This German brand is known for producing high-quality watercolor paints with a smooth and creamy consistency. They offer a wide range of colors and are known for their lightfastness and vibrancy. The company was founded in 1881 by Josef Schmincke, and has since become a respected and trusted brand among artists.
Schmincke watercolors have a reputation for being easy to rewet. They are made with pure, premium pigments and have a high pigment concentration. In addition, the paints have a creamy consistency, which makes them easy to work with and allows for smooth blending and layering.
Winsor & Newton
My personal favourite, though I’m probably biased, as this is the brand that I have mainly used throughout my art career. This British brand is well known for producing professional-grade watercolor paints that are made with high-quality pigments and binders. They offer a wide range of colors and have a reputation for being vibrant and durable. The company was founded in 1832 by William Winsor and Henry Newton, and has since become a trusted and respected brand among artists.
Winsor & Newton watercolor paints have a high pigment concentration, which results in bright and vibrant colors. They also offer a range of specialized colors, such as their popular “Cadmiums” and “Cobalts,” which are known for their vivid hues and excellent lightfastness. I often use Winsor & Newton Professional series alongside their student grade Cotman brand.
This Japanese brand is known for producing watercolor paints with a high pigment concentration, resulting in bright and vibrant colors. They also offer a range of unique colors that are not available from other brands. The company was founded in 1892 and has since become a respected and trusted brand among artists.
One of the things that sets Holbein watercolors apart from other brands is their commitment to using only the highest quality pigments. They offer a range of “Duo” watercolors, which are made with two pigments in each tube to create more complex and nuanced colors. They also offer a range of “Gouache” watercolors, which are made with a higher concentration of pigment and a thicker consistency, making them ideal for creating solid, opaque areas of color. Holbein watercolors are also known for their excellent lightfastness and durability. They use only pure, permanent pigments in their paints, ensuring that the colors will remain vibrant and true over time.
Founded in 1887, Sennelier has a long history of producing high-quality artist materials This French brand is known for producing watercolor paints with a high pigment concentration and a creamy consistency. They offer a wide range of colors, including some that are based on historic recipes. Sennelier watercolors are honey based, which is said to increase the radiance longevity of the color.
So Tell Us, Which Is The Best Watercolor Brand?
Spoiler Alert! There is no ultimate consensus on the subject.
Here are what some of the members of one of my Facebook watercolor groups had to say on the subject.
I never rely on one manufacturer. If you compare a color like Naples Yellow between Daniel Smith, W & N, Qor, Holbien, M. Graham, etc. there are big differences. Some companies specialize in chalky pigments, some in smoothness and adhesion. I look for the ones who produce the best colors I need.
All professional grade paint is good in my experience. It’s a personal taste thing. I like Daniel Smith artists’ Materials and M. Graham. You will find what makes you happy. If I could afford it, I would have them all.
Winsor & Newton was making watercolor paint since before Queen Victoria. They know what they’re doing. I use them almost exclusively.
Schmincke and Daniel Smith are favorites, I am a huge fan of Schmincke super granulating colors especially. QoR has some beautiful colors and I recently picked up an 18 color palette from Sennelier that I’m finding works nicely for areas I’d like a bit more control of.
My favourites are Schmincke pans. They are my go to. W&N are my second closely followed by Daniel Smith. I use pans mainly and tend to use tubes to fill up empty pans and let dry. I mix and match but i feel like the Schmincke set has the all round best vibrancy.
When you get to try a Professional Grade Watercolour, rather than a Student Grade, YOU will be amazed, as I was, and will never return to the cheaper pigmented paints.
In conclusion, the best watercolor paint brands are those that use high-quality pigments and binders, offer a wide range of colors, and have a reputation for producing vibrant and durable paints. Whether you are a beginner or a professional artist, choosing the right watercolor paints is an important decision that can have a big impact on the quality and success of your artwork though as I have previously stated many times in this blog, I believe that it’s probably even more important to choose the best quality papers.