Essential Watercolour Supplies for Beginners

Getting started with watercolour as a beginner can be pretty intimidating at first, but also really easy and enjoyable if you have the right watercolour painting supplies.

You might be wondering “what do I need to start watercolour painting”?

To be honest, there are some supplies that just don’t perform well enough to get a decent result and this may lead to you believing that you’re doing something wrong. So this is where I remind you that it’s not you, it’s them!

I’m going to share some of the most important tools you will need to begin watercolour painting and tips for purchasing supplies on a budget if you’re just starting out.

Choosing Your Watercolour Supplies

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If you’re about to head to the local discount store to grab some watercolour paint… stop right there and read this post!

If you’re thinking, “But wait, I don’t want to spend a ton of money on art supplies!” don’t freak out just yet.

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg! There are plenty of budget friendly watercolour supplies that work great.

The cost of the item doesn’t always relate to the quality of the item. I have spent lots of money on professional supplies that I find sub-par, and not much at all on supplies that actually perform pretty well and have become my go-to’s.

For clarification: when I talk about discount store art supplies, I’m talking about the quality of the item over the price.

Many discount stores sell watercolour pan sets that come with a variety of colours and a little brush, like this one.

The problem with these sets is that the paint quality is horrible (we will talk about the brush later). The pigmentation is awful, the drying time sucks, the texture is chalky, and the end result of your painting won’t be amazing.

If you’re just starting out with watercolour, I highly recommend getting some supplies that will allow you to enjoy painting. Because when you enjoy painting, you’ll want to keep practicing and honing your craft!

Let’s start with the paint.

Watercolour Pans vs. Tube Paints

Different brands make different types of paint sets. You’ll be able to choose between pan sets — which are little circle or square pans pre-filled with the paint colour, or tube sets — which are tubes that allow you to squeeze your desired colour out into your own pan.

Personally, I prefer tube paints because they allow you to use just the right amount of paint and easily mix colours in any palette of your choice.

With pan sets, the paint is already dried and solid, so you need to wet the paint first before dipping into it and mixing it, which can dilute it more than necessary if you’re not careful.

Pan sets also have a tendency to get contaminated with other colours very easily if you’re dipping your brush from one colour to the next.

With tube sets, the paint is already in a more liquid state so you don’t need to wet it first to move it to the place you want to use it/mix it.

Since you can use a specific amount of paint each time you start a watercolour painting, you don’t have to worry so much about contaminating the colours with other shades and having to clean them off every time you use them.

Tip: Don’t get caught up in the number of colours that a set comes with. Often, sets like these 60 colour tube sets are overkill and make it too easy for you to get away with not mixing your own colours — which is a huge skill that you should learn by experimenting!

While those types of sets do offer a ton of value, you should really think about if you will actually use all of the colours, or if your money would be better spent on some higher quality paints in a more basic colour palette. It’s all about preference!

Often a simple 12 or 24 paint set will do just fine and comes with more than enough basic colours to allow you to mix and play with colour.

Okay, so what products do I recommend?

Take a look at the lists of supplies I’ve saved for you below. I have categorized them based on your skill level.

The “Beginner” level supplies are great if you’re just getting into watercolour and don’t want to spend a lot of money, but still want to work with decent supplies. These are more or less “student grade” supplies.

The “Leveling Up” supplies are recommendations for you that are great to “graduate” to after mastering your basics and discovering that you love this medium!

Please note that you can of course start with the more intermediate supplies too! I just wanted to give a variety of options based on your skill level, desire to learn, and budget.

The Best Supplies for Beginners on a Budget

Arteza Set of 12 or 24 Watercolour Tube Set – This set is great for beginners because the colour choices are perfect. Even with the 12 piece set, you will have all of the primaries and essential shades for colour mixing.

Canson XL Watercolour Pad – I always recommend this pad for beginners because it is so cheap and contains 30 sheets of 140lb watercolour paper. The quality is not exactly a professional quality watercolour paper, however if you’re just starting out it’s great for experimenting and getting a feel for the medium. There’s nothing worse than wasting premium paper on practice pieces!

Wonder Forest Premium Watercolour Brush Set – I personally developed this brush set with both beginners and intermediate artists in mind. The bristles are 100% synthetic but still super pointy, soft, and hold a lot of water. This set comes with 6 brushes at a really great price point.

Basic paint palettes – You can pretty much find basic plastic paint palettes anywhere. Your local dollar store usually sells packs of them! They work just fine for holding tube paints and the ones with the flat center are great for mixing.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Tube Set – These sets are great because the tubes come with all of the essential colours and the quality is slightly better than what you’d get with the Arteza paints. Pigment is excellent for beginner painters and you can always level up to their Professional line once you master these ones. They also make pan sets with the same colours, so the choice is yours.

Pigma Micron Fine Liners – You might be wondering why you need these. And to be honest, they’re not a necessity, but if you want to experiment with different styles like Ink & Wash or just need to add line work or calligraphy to your piece, you can’t go wrong with these markers. The tips are available in assorted sizes, but each one is fine enough for perfect details. They are permanent so they will not run or bleed when your water and paint touch them.

The best supplies for leveling up

Once you’ve mastered some beginner friendly watercolour supplies, you might be interested in “leveling up” your watercolour game. In other words, purchasing some higher quality materials.

You’ll be surprised at how different supplies react to your painting style and how finding the right tools can really improve your watercolour paintings.

Arches Cold Pressed Watercolour Paper – Arches is the most popular high quality cotton paper on the market. The texture and fibers really allow this pad to stand above the rest.

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Tubes – As mentioned above, these are the professional artist quality paints that are great for leveling up! The Professional line is highly pigmented and comes in SO many more colours that are just beautiful.

Ultra Thin LED Light Board – Not exactly a necessity, but SO handy to have if you’re doing a lot of sketching and transferring your artwork onto watercolour paper. These thin LED light boards allow you to easily trace your work onto a surface.

Daniel Smith Watercolors – These watercolour paints are known for their super highly pigmented qualities and consistency. If you’re looking for some premium paints, Daniel Smith is one to look at for sure.

Wonder Forest Deluxe Brush Set – I developed this watercolour brush set specifically for leveling up your artwork! This set comes with 5 synthetic bristle brushes in unique and fun shapes that allow you to experiment with different techniques.

Dr. Ph Martin’s Hydrus Concentrated Watercolours – These watercolours are a little different than your standard paints because they are actually more like an ink consistency than a paint! Concentrated watercolours come in bottles with drop syringes and are super vibrant! Basically, they are already wet for you, but you can always water them down more if needed.

All in all, your watercolour supplies will likely change over time. Don’t worry so much about starting out with the “best of the best” if you are just getting started and trying to decide if watercolour painting is a hobby you would enjoy.

The supplies I’ve shared are some of my favourites, but yours may differ depending on your own needs and desires.

No matter what tools you choose to use, remember that watercolour is all about experimenting and losing control a little bit. Have fun with it!

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By Dana

Besides being a wife and mama, I'm an entrepreneur, artist and author of the Watercolor With Me book series. I'm from Ontario, Canada and founder of the brand Wonder Forest. I'm here to help you on your watercolour journey!

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