Packed full of pigment with organic binders, watercolors in tubes are a beautiful, convenient form of paint, providing saturated color with consistent results. The paints may be used straight from the tube for optimal color saturation; they may also be mixed with water for lighter hues and washes. Because the pigment load is high for these paints, they apply vibrantly. They also mix well, creating a full spectrum of amazing color. The binder in these paints traditionally is gum arabic, which is a tree sap; some formulas include honey and other natural ingredients. Most watercolors may be reactivated with water after they dry. Neatly packed in their small, portable tubes, they are perfect for painting en plein air or on the move.
1. Winsor & Newton Cotman Water Colour Painting Plus Set
Winsor & Newton’s student-grade Cotman line offers bright and notably lightfast paints with good tinting strength. It’s ideal for serious beginners who want a set as close to something professional as possible without breaking the bank. These paints are bright and notably lightfast so you can use them in final pieces without fear of fading. This set comes with a dozen colors including important ones like Payne’s Gray, Ivory Black, and Chinese White. The eight-milliliter tubes come in a travel-ready box with ample mixing wells, plus a no. 3 brush.
2. Van Gogh Watercolor Paint Set
Van Gogh’s watercolor set is a great medium-size option for serious hobbyists. You get 10 ten-milliliter tubes of eye-popping, premium colors, including Chinese White and Payne’s Gray. Six are single-pigment colors, but all are rich and highly pigmented; almost all are rated lightfast. The purity and consistent viscosity ensures the paints are easy to mix and use with a wide variety of watercolor techniques. They showcase a beautiful transparency, layer well, and still maintain intense color with diluting. If you want to build on this set, Van Gogh offers a total of 72 colors.
3. Sakura Koi Assorted Water Color Tube Set
Even if you’re a pro, it can be nice to have a set of watercolors you don’t have to feel overly precious about. For a more affordable set of paints that still uses carefully selected and reliable pigments, we like this one from Sakura. Though the paints are not lightfast, they are highly concentrated. You need only a small amount to create vivid color, and they showcase beautiful transparency. This set of eighteen 12-milliliter tubes offers a useful range of colors for the beginning watercolorist.
4. M. Graham & Co. Watercolor Paint Set
Another affordable series of artist-grade watercolors, M. Graham’s paints are remarkably concentrated, incredibly fluid, and easy to use for glazing. Yet they are a relatively thick paint, made in small batches with pure Northwest blackberry honey in addition to gum arabic and glycerine. Honey not only increases moisture to help paint flow off the brush and glide along the canvas; it also allows the paints to rewet beautifully. These paints do not have strong granulation and mix well among themselves and colors from other brands. This formula is also ecological and does not rely on preservatives—a plus for environmentally conscious painters. M. Graham, a small company in Oregon, is committed to environmental processes and practices: There are no toxic solvents within the paints, and no toxic chemicals are used during manufacture. This five-color set features 15-milliliter tubes of Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Sap Green, Burnt Sienna, and Azo Yellow—a wide range of saturated colors that mix well to create a rainbow of hues. But if five colors are not enough, M. Graham offers 70 hues. Each hue has its gouache counterpart if opaque colors are also needed to create your next masterpiece.
5. Daniel Smith Introductory Watercolor Set
Daniel Smith’s highly pigmented watercolor paints offer a superlative color range. They are also mixed by hand using the highest-quality pigments suspended in pure premium gum arabic binder to bring out the unique characteristics of the particles. The pigments are more finely ground than other watercolor pigments; they’re also permanent and lightfast, rated at LR I or II. On close inspection, the particles of pigment, sourced from all over the world, glimmer and shine. The paints apply in clear, clean washes for excellent transparency—even when layered, and even when applied straight from the tube. This set includes six 5-milliliter tubes of primary colors: two yellows, two reds, and two blues. Most colors can be created by mixing these six. If these aren’t enough, Daniel Smith offers 240-plus colors, including some that are unique to the company.