Soft and dreamy, watercolor paintings have an ethereal quality to them. If creating a watercolor masterpiece seems like an impossible task, don't fret: it may be easier than you imagine. Admittedly, the sheer number of watercolor tools—paints, markers, pencils, and more—can be intimidating for a beginner. To help narrow down the choices, we're introducing some of our favorite watercolor supplies and throwing in some tips and tricks too.
- Watercolor Characteristics
- Watercolor Recommendations
- Other Water-Soluble Paints
- Watercolor Paper Recommendations
- Watercolor Brush Recommendations
- Other Watercolor Supplies
- Watercolor Tips and Tricks
- Other Resources
- Shop This Post
While most watercolors are matte, they can also be formulated to have a metallic or pearlescent sheen—these paints are wonderful for adding accents and interest to an art piece.
If you need to cover a large area with one color, we suggest blending a generous amount on a separate palette. This will give you results that are more consistent in color and texture than creating your custom mix directly on the page.
The texture of the paper also affects how a watercolor is used. The semi-rough surface of textured paper lends itself to both detailed work and even washes, while smooth paper is more slippery, making watercolors harder to control. Smooth paper is suited for mixed media use as other media (such as graphite) can glide more easily over its surface.
These watercolor brush pens feature a synthetic bristle tip that mimics a paint brush.
The synthetic bristles and moderate ink flow allow for dry brush effects, providing more artistic freedom. They're great for sketching, especially when you're on the go. However, their maximum line width isn't too wide and their ink can run out quickly, so we wouldn't use them for large color washes alone. With 20 different colors to choose from, you can pick a couple of must-haves or collect them all.
We love the Royal Talens Ecoline Watercolor Brush Pens for their intense pigment, bountiful colors, and ease of use.
The felt brush tips are quite thick, laying down a satisfying juicy line with one swipe. Use them alone or dilute them with a water brush depending on the desired level of color intensity.
The Kuretake Gansai Tambi Palettes are made up of individual, removable pans that you can replace or mix and match. The paints are beautifully pigmented and provide smooth, blendable color.
Just a small amount of paint is needed to get rich color payoff. The slight granulation in these paints also creates stunning textured effects. Individual pans are available if you want to build a custom palette! Kuretake even offers metallic watercolor paints separately or in palettes.
Smooth, soft, and oh-so-creamy, Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils will help you create museum-quality artwork. They’re available in a myriad of richly pigmented colors and feature varying degrees of lightfastness, most scoring between Very Good and Excellent on the Standard Blue Wool Scale.
Given that most watercolors are not particularly lightfast, Museum Aquarelle Pencils are a great tool for artists who are concerned about the longevity of their work. They seamlessly blend and overlay with each other, perfect for gradation and other effects.
These watercolor tubes feature smooth, vivid colors that you can paint with straight from the tubes. A little bit goes a long way, so don't be fooled by the seemingly small package. We've paired the tubes with the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Mini Palette here. The charming flower design makes it easy to keep colors separated before you carefully blend them.
Handmade in Germany, Coliro Pearl Watercolors are highly opaque with a frosty metallic finish. The pearlescent colors look white in the pan and some of them apply white with a metallic shift when painting on white paper.
However, on black paper, the paints transform into richly saturated colors. You can see swatches of these amazing paints on both white and black paper in the video here.
These paints have a lot of similarities to watercolors, but they aren't exactly the same. We recommend two types of water-soluble paints below. For an in-depth look at the different water-soluble paints we offer, check out our guide on The Difference Between Watercolor, Gouache, and Poster Color Paints.
These M. Graham Artists' Gouache Tubes contain vivid paints that use honey as the main binder for pigment.
The honey helps keep the paints soft so they resist hardening. They're easily diluted even after months of disuse, though if you let them dry out, it will be harder to pick up pigment from the dry paint and they'll lose some opacity. Because this high-quality gouache is free of chalk and other whiteners, you can mix and create colors as soft or vivid as you want.
As we mentioned in the Considerations section, a heavyweight paper is the best choice for pairing with watercolors. Textured papers are good for beginners to start with as they allow for both fine detail work and even color blends, but we also have a smooth paper recommendation below.
This 126.5 gsm sketchbook is great for the casual watercolor hobbyist who mostly uses markers or brush pens. The paper has a beautiful semi-rough texture that is perfect for light washes as it holds water reasonably well. Heavier washes will likely warp the pages.
For a smooth, weighty paper, this Stillman & Birn Premium Sketchbook fits the bill. The Zeta series features a silky white paper that is perfect for watercolors and mixing media. If you prefer a textured paper, we recommend the Beta series.
Brushes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with their own function and specialty. We dive deep into the differences in our guide to watercolor brushes. The scale one likes to work at will inform the best brush, but generally speaking, small round brushes are good for details, while large flat brushes are useful for full color washes. Many artists prefer natural hair brushes for their elasticity and ability to hold water, but synthetic brushes have come a long way and are a fraction of the price.
A synthetic brush that was made specifically for watercolor use is the water brush. This revolutionary tool has a reservoir of water in its hollow handle, eliminating the need for a separate water container. It's convenient, easy to clean, and possibly our favorite watercolor tool.
If you take proper care of your brushes, they can keep their shape and functionality for a long time. Here are some accessories we recommend using with watercolor brushes.
Here are some basic watercolor techniques to follow if you're just starting out. For more advanced techniques, check out our Introduction to Watercolor Techniques Guide, or see all of our Watercolor Beginners' Guides here.
If your piece somehow curls or warps despite these preparations, you can smooth out watercolor paper by lightly dampening the back and ironing with an iron set to medium low. Be sure to iron your piece face-down, and always test on scraps first.
Some strategies to get around this include picking a warm and cool pair to have on hand for each primary, selecting primaries based on the CMYK colors used in printers, or just buying all the individual colors that are time-consuming to mix. Some artists call the latter type “convenience colors.” Making a chart of all your paint's potential combinations is a good way to get a feel for all your possible color schemes, and it's fun, too.
- Introduction to Watercolor Techniques
- The Difference Between Watercolor, Gouache, and Poster Color Paints
- How to Choose and Care for Watercolor Brushes
- How to Use Watercolor Pencils
- How to Use Masking Fluid
- The Best Watercolor Brush Pens
- The Best Waterproof Pens and Inks for Watercolors
- The Best Fountain Pens for Drawing
- The Best Sketchbooks For Every Medium
We hope we've inspired you to pick up a water brush or two and start working on that watercolor masterpiece. Make sure to check out more watercolor tips and techniques in the guide here. What are your favorite watercolor supplies? Let us know in the comments below!