The Beginner's Complete Guide To Water Color Art Supplies

Watercolor Art and Supplies

You are looking for a guide to help you find the best water color art supplies and tools. When purchasing these supplies, you want to know what brands are considered the best, how much they cost, and what other products you should buy. If this sounds like you, then read on! This article will give you all of the information you need before making any purchases so that your next trip to an art store goes smoothly.

Basic Watercolor Supplies

These watercolor painting supplies are exactly what a beginner's set should have so you can get started with your watercolor paintings.

Watercolor paints

3 forms of watercolor paints

Most watercolor paintings make use of watercolor pans and watercolor tubes because of their professional finish. Some of the more common brands are Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton Cotman line, Van Gogh, and others.

You can buy your watercolors in different formats - watercolor pans, tubes, and cake, though professional artists prefer tubes and pans over other formats. There are some tubes that you can purchase individually, so you only get what you need. 

Features

Watercolor Tubes

Watercolor Pans

Watercolor Cakes

Texture

Soft

Medium hard

Hard

Application

No need to activate the pigments

Pigments need activation with water

Pigments need activation with water

Packaging

Varied sizing; 

Removable half and full pans

Very thin cake in non-removable palette

Use

Larger-scale paintings

Small and medium-sized paintings

Small paintings

Portability

Needs extra care for travels

Portable

Portable

Palette/brush

Needs a separate palette; friendly on the brush

Often comes with a palette; may damage the brush 

Comes with a palette; best to use a cheap synthetic brush

Lifetime

Paint may dry out when the tubes aren’t covered well

Lasts long

Lasts long

Sold in

Sets of 6, or more colors; also sold in individual tubes

Palette of 12 or more colors

Palette of 12 or more colors

Best for:

Professional watercolor paints for advanced and professional artists

Professional watercolor paints for all

Student-grade watercolors for beginner artists

Our top pick

DANIEL SMITH Watercolor 10-color set

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paint

Upgraded 48 Colors Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paper

3 types of watercolor paper

Watercolor paper comes in three main types: hot-press, cold-press, and rough. They have different finishes and textures. 

Once you've chosen your paper type, you also need to decide on the weight of the paper. Start with at least 140lb (300gsm) if you're a newbie since it has a good weight but is not overly expensive. The other weights recommended for watercolorists are 90lb (180gsm) and 300lb (640gsm). 

Thinner watercolor paper buckles most and needs taping every time you use it, but the thicker paper is sturdy enough to withstand multiple applications without buckling. 

Another thing you need to know about watercolor paper is its absorbency. Larger paper sizes are more absorbent than smaller ones, and cotton paper is also more absorbent than wood pulp.

Lastly, choose the right texture or tooth. It also affects the finish of your painting. 

Features

Hot-press

Cold-press

Rough

Texture

Smooth; brush strokes visible

Medium-toothed, irregular dimpling

Heavily toothed; irregular pattern

Absorbency

Low

Medium

Most absorbent

Style

Realism, mixed media

Impressionist, realism

Abstract, dry-brushing, rugged finish

Thickness

Available in 90lb (180gsm), 140lb (300gsm), 300lb (640gsm)

Available in 90lb (180gsm), 140lb (300gsm), 300lb (640gsm)

Available in 90lb (180gsm), 140lb (300gsm)

Finish

Smooth and detailed

Visual texture

Rough

Best for:

Professional and advanced artists

Beginners

Experimental professional and advanced artists

Our Top Picks

Oat Art Studio Watercolor Pad

Canson Watercolor Pad

Arches Watercolor Pad

Watercolor brushes

different kinds of watercolor brushes

Watercolor brushes come in different sizes and shapes- each with its purpose and function for a painting. However, the most basic that you should have is a good mop brush, #10 or #12 round brush, and a 1/2" flat brush. 

You have to remember to choose a brush for its features, not its appearance. Some of the important things to consider are the bristle type, its construction, the size of the brush you need, and its water and pigment-holding capacity. 

You also need to understand that your watercolor brush needs a good spring (maintains its shape) and snap (returns to the position after it's bent at an angle).   

For an extensive information about brushes, and how to choose them, visit our article on best watercolor brushes. 

Feature

Round

Flat

Special 

Tip

Fine

Angular

Varied

Ferrule

Round

Flat

Varied

Belly

Round - slight; 

Mop - full

Flat

Varied

Heel

Round

Flat

Varied

Bristles

Sable, squirrel, synthetic, blend

Sable, squirrel, synthetic, blend

Sable, squirrel, synthetic, blend, sheep 

Capacity

Depends on size

Depends on size

Depends on size

Kinds

Our Top Picks

Uses

Regular round brush - for detailing

Regular flat - for applying flat washes

Filbert - for creating fine lines and rounded shapes

Mop brush - for adding watercolor wash, covers broad areas

Bright - for short, controlled strokes

Cat tongue - for making large washes with rounded edges

Angular - for making clean lines

Rigger - for adding fine lines and details

Dagger - for calligraphy, varied lines depending on stroke and pressure

Fan - for adding texture and details

Rake - uneven tips; for stippling and details

Hake - for making washes

Mixing Palette

different kinds of watercolor palettes

A palette is important for mixing your watercolors. Most watercolors in pans and cakes have built-in palettes on their case, while watercolors in tubes need a separate palette.

There are 5 types of palettes - plastic, metal, ceramic, porcelain, and wood. Some palettes also double as casing and organizers for pan watercolors. In contrast, other palettes come with empty pans so you can fill them with your tube watercolor for better portability during traveling. 

Feature

Plastic

Ceramic/

Porcelain

Metal

Wood

Mixing area

Smooth; new palettes may cause watercolor beading

Ample area; paint mixes well

Paint mixes well

Oil-coated; may cause watercolor beading

Compartments/Wells

Has wells and compartments

Has wells and compartments

Has compartments

Usually flat

Portability

Light

Heavy; chips or breaks when dropped

Light; may have sharp edges

Needs a wider space

Price

$

$$

$$

$

Best for

Travel/studio use; best for art students

Studio use; best for professionals

Travel/studio use; best for beginner/ intermediate artists

Artists who love using classic art tools 

Our Top Picks

Outus Folding Plastic Palette

MEEDEN 18-Well Porcelain Artist Paint Palette

Meeden Tin Watercolor Palette

Artilicious wooden palette

Support panel

different support panels to use when painting with watercolors

The support panel is the board artists use to tape their watercolor papers to prevent them from buckling when it dries after painting with watercolors. It should be rigid enough to support the watercolor paper during the painting and drying process. 

There are no specific products to use as support panels, but artists do with what they have. It can come in wooden, glass, or plastic form.

Features

Plastic

Wooden

Metal

Glass

Support capacity

Strong

Strong

Strong

Strong

Longevity

Long-lasting

May warp after continued use

Long-lasting

May break or chip if not handled well 

Surface

Smooth

Smooth

Smooth

Rough cutting side; use the smooth side for painting

Price

$

$

$$

$

Best For

All artists

All artists

All artists

Professionals

Our Top Picks

Hongri Plastic Clipboard

Juvale Panel Board

Impressa Magnetic Board

Farberware Glass Cutting Board

Masking tape

Different types of masking tape

You can use any medium-tack tape to stretch your watercolor paper on the support panel before painting.  You can also use masking tape, which is easier to remove than regular tapes. Take note that you should not leave the paper taped for an extended time as it may damage your painting after removal.

Pro Tip: If you're using a high-tack tape and damages your paper when you remove it, stick and unstick the length you want to use on your pants or apron to remove some of the tackiness. 

Features

Painter’s tape

Masking Tape

Drafting Tape

Washi Tape

Tackiness

Medium tack

High tack

High tack

Low tack, repositionable

Residue

Does not leave adhesive residue

Does not leave adhesive residue

Does not leave adhesive residue

Does not leave adhesive residue

Width

Varied

Varied

Usually less than 1”

Usually thin, seldom >1”

Price

$$

$

$

$

Best for

Any artist

Any artist

Any artist

Any artist

Our Top Picks

Scotch Painter’s Tape

Scotch Masking Tape

Mr. Pen Drafting Tape

Knaid Slim Washi Tape

Sea sponges

Sea sponges and synthetic sponge

Sea sponges are a great tool for adding texture and depth. Because of their varied and unique texture, artists love using them. 

They are also very absorbent, so you can use them to remove the excess water or paint from the brush. 

The downside of using sea sponges is the ecological impact of harvesting them, so if you have issues, you can always try using alternatives. 

Features

Sea Sponge

Synthetic sponge

Texture

Varied

Usually uniform

Longevity

May crumble after prolonged use

Lasts longer than the sea sponge

Price

$

$

Best for

Adding details

Adding details, absorbing excess water and paint

Our Top Picks

Natural Ocean Artist Sponges

Synthetic Artist Sponges

Water dish or glass

different kinds of watercolor washing containers

Water is important when using watercolors to activate or dilute the pigments. Artists recommend using two water dishes to clean your brush and mix with your paint.  

Here are some of our top choices for a water dish or glass. 

Features

Water glass with brush holder

Brush cleaner with brush holder

Porcelain Washbowl

Collapsible water cup

Capacity

7 ounces

Large

6 oz on each grid

12 oz

Size

Small

Bulky

Stationary

Collapsible

Other Features

Brush holder can hold 12 brushes

Lid may be used as mixing tray; holds 12 brushes

2 compartment

Brush holder

Price

$$$

$$

$$$

$

Best for

Studio artists

Studio artists

Studio artists

Traveling artists

Miscellaneous tools and supplies

Aside from the basic tools and supplies, you also need other tools and supplies to better your watercolor paintings. 

Easel

Different types of easels

A painter's easel is an essential tool for all artists, especially if you love working outdoors, because it is portable and easy to assemble and disassemble. It allows you to position your watercolor paper and drawing board at an angle so you can see your painting as it should appear on display. 

Features

Tripod

Wooden 

Desktop

Portability

Lightweight; weighs only 3.5 ounces

Foldable; weighs 16 ounces

Doubles as art supply organizer

Size

Stands at 22-72 inches

Stands at 63-89 inches

Stands at 20-24 inches

Canvas height

Up to 37 inches

Up to 48 inches

Up to 20 inches

Price

$$

$$$

$$

Best for

Outdoor & studio use

Outdoor & studio use

Studio use; travelling artists

Our Top Picks

T-Sign 72'' Tall Display Easel Stand

MEEDEN Adjustable Large Painters Easel

Desktop Easel for Painting

Pencils

As a watercolorist, you'll need an HB pencil for your first sketch to ensure that the lines are light enough so they won't show through when painting. Use only 2H, H, HB, B, or 2B pencils. 

A harder lead also allows no messy graphite on any of our papers, which could smear throughout this process and ruin everything. However, be careful with your pressure as it can leave deep marks on your watercolor paper. 

Features

Regular Graphite

Woodless Graphite

Mechanical 

Hardness

Depends on graphite grade

Depends on graphite grade

Medium hard

Smudginess

Depends on graphite grade

Depends on graphite grade

Does not smudge

Tip

Needs periodic sharpening

Needs constant sharpening to maintain fine tip

Consistent size

Price

$$

$$

$

Best for

Every artist

Professionals

Those who want more control over their sketches

Our Top Picks

Faber-Castell Creative Studio Graphite Sketch Pencil

Koh-I-Noor Progresso Woodless Graphite Pencil

Paper Mate Clearpoint Mechanical Pencil 

Eraser

A kneaded eraser in its plastic casing

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The kneaded eraser is perfect for getting rid of pencil marks. It's more pliable than a traditional rubber or wooden one. You can pull a portion and shape it and proceed with erasing. It is low-dust and does not damage the tooth of your watercolor paper. 

Ruler

A plastic T square with a detachable head

 

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One of the most basic items in any artist’s tools is a ruler. However, we decided to go for a 36-inch T square since it helps make complex framing or precise measurement. The head is detachable, so you can use it on large-format canvases and watercolor paper. 

Medium

different types of watercolor mediums

Some people like to add a little something extra when they paint, and watercolor mediums are the perfect choice for them. They may come in liquid or gel form. They can also improve watercolor’s gloss, transparency, texture, granulation, and luminosity. 

However, using watercolor mediums needs extra practice and control as they may ruin your painting instead of enhancing it. They may also cause cracking, yellowing, and other adverse results if not applied properly.  

Features

Gum Arabic

Ox Gall

Texture Medium

Granulation Medium

Uses

Reduces staining & slows drying

Improves watercolor flow; reduces paper tension

Adds texture to your watercolor paintings

Increases granulation of colors

Result

Increases transparency & gloss

More even application

Improves depth and structure

Mottled appearance

Application

Mix with water

Add 3-4 drops to 1 cup of water 

Apply directly on paper or mix with the watercolor

Dilute watercolor with this medium

Adverse effects

May discolor the paper

None

None 

Use only when painting on horizontal; not inclined

Price

$$

$$

$

$

Best for

Adding gloss to your paintings

Flaky watercolor

Leaves a crystalline effect similar to salt

Painting skies and landscapes

Our Top Picks

Winsor & Newton Gum Arabic

Winsor & Newton Water Color Medium Ox Gall Liquid

Winsor & Newton Water Color Texture Medium

Winsor & Newton Water Color Granulation Medium

Watercolor pencils

a watercolor painting atop a set of watercolor pencils
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Keep the creative juices flowing with these fabulous watercolor pencils. Even if you don’t have brush painting skills, you can still make watercolor art. 

You can activate the pigments by applying them dry on dry paper, then brush it over with a wet brush, draw directly on a wet surface, pick up the pigments with a wet brush, and apply it on paper for that lovely watercolor effect. You may even use it to add details and highlights to a painting done with regular watercolors.     

The portable design makes it easy for everyone to bring these just about anywhere they're needed, and the creamy colors will last long enough to fuel your imagination all day!

Acrylic varnish spray

a can of acrylic varnish spray
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Keep your artwork safe with our quick-drying, non-yellowing acrylic varnish spray. Perfect for indoor and outdoor use, it protects it from deterioration while adding brilliant gloss to shimmering colors. Quick-drying & easy cleanup mean less time touching up mistakes.

Apply the varnish spray at least 12 inches away from the painting, then spray in a horizontal motion.

Masking fluid

different types of masking fluid

Masking fluids prevents the watercolors from seeping or blooming into your paper so you can keep white spaces on your painting. The masking fluid is best to use for negative watercolor paintings.

Features

Marker type

With applicator

Regular bottles

Application

Apply directly; more control

Apply directly, medium ease on applying

Apply with a brush

Tack

Low tack

Low tack

Low tack 

Removal

Easy to remove

Easy to remove

Easy to remove

Price

$$

$

$$

Best for

Tight spaces

Tight spaces

Large areas

Our Top Picks

Pebeo Drawing Gum Marker

Fineline Masking Fluid Pen

Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid

Adhesive eraser

Adhesive eraser in a blister card
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Instead of using your fingers to remove the masking fluid, adhesive erasers are reliable to use and helpful for this task. They are acid-free, non-toxic, and you can use them for a long time.

Painting supply organizer

Various painting supply organizers

Tired of clutter and searching the house for supplies? 

There's a way to have your paintbrushes, paper towels, masks, etc., waiting at arm's length with an art supply organizer! Organize your artist materials neatly on one portable, yet sturdy center table stand. Easily stored in any closet or corner of the studio, plus easy to lug around when you feel the travel bug and want to paint.  

Features

Plastic Storage Case

Tote Bag

Wooden Storage Case

Material

Plastic

600D nylon fabric

Wood

Size

14 ½ x 8 x 7”

15 ½ x 5 ½ x 12 ⅛”

15 ¾ x 10 ¼ x 4 ½”

Description

3-tray organizer bag with removable dividers on the top tray

16 side pockets and spacious interior

3 drawers for art supplies for supplies and tools; with built-in easel

Price

$$

$$

$$$

Best for

Traveling artists; organizing studio space

Traveling artists; organizing studio space

Traveling artists; organizing studio space

Our Top Picks

ArtBin 3-Tray Art Supply Box

Art Organizer Tote Bag

US Art Supply Wooden Storage Box

Brush organizer

Different types of brush organizer

Store your brushes vertically or stack them on the stand, away from anything that may damage your precious investment. We picked out something for your outdoor and studio painting sessions so you can have the best of both worlds. 

Features

Roll-up organizer

Zippered Case

Desktop organizer

Material

Heavy-duty canvas

Premium oxford

Plastic

Capacity

24 long-handle brushes

15 long handle brushes

Holds up to 96 brushes and other art supplies

Price

$

$$

$$

Best for

Traveling artists

Traveling artists

Artists with a wide selection of supplies

Our Top Picks

US Art Supply Deluxe Canvas Art Brush Holder

U.S. Art Supply 96 Hole Plastic Pencil & Brush Holder

My Artscape Store Paint Brush Holder

Brush cleaner

brush cleaner and preserver
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Keep your brushes in the best shape since they are one of the most important investments any painter should have. The brush cleaner is a safe and simple solution that prevents the paint from building up on your precious tools. It's non-toxic and gentle enough for use on even hardened oil painting brushes.

Spray bottle

White spray bottle
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A spray bottle is a helpful tool for pre-wetting your paper before painting with watercolors. The fine mist sprayer provides a smooth water coating on your watercolor paper, so you get an even application.

Conclusion 

Hopefully, this article has provided you with the information you need to make a purchase decision and helped take some of the mystery out of choosing watercolor art supplies. You can feel confident in your future purchases knowing that these tools will give you an amazing experience every time. Have fun painting!

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