Guide to Watercolor Supplies

Guide to Watercolor Supplies

Watercolors bridge the space between dream and reality—soft washes of color seamlessly blur together with an ethereal quality. 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 along the way.


Color Range

Watercolors Color Range
36 colors of the Kuretake Gansai Palette.

The amount and range of colors available depends on the brand and type of tool; however, it’s not always necessary to have every color. Because watercolors are dye- or pigment-based, mixing and creating colors is easy and widely practiced by artists. If you’re on a budget, pick out a couple of primary shades and mix them to get the colors you want. Then purchase the colors you aren’t able to make separately.


Watercolors Finish
Opaque, translucent, and metallic watercolors.

Pigmentation refers to how rich a color looks on paper. The more pigmented the paint, the more opaque and vibrant it appears. Pigmentation can be customized by adjusting the amount of water used; adding more water will dilute the pigment and make it more translucent. Markers and paint from watercolor tubes tend to have more pigmentation, while paint from palettes and pans have to be built up in layers in order to look more opaque.

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.


Watercolors Texture
Textured vs. smooth watercolors.

Depending on the tool, watercolor art can look smooth or textured. In general, markers provide a smooth look, while the paints from palettes, pencils, or tubes can often contain granulation that gives an art piece more texture. The finish of a paper also contributes to how textured an art piece looks, which we discuss further below.


Watercolors blending
Blending yellow into red.

Most watercolors are easy to blend. Their high blendability allows for seamless transitions between colors, creating the soft, blurred look associated with watercolors. Some paints are easily mixed with each other without water, while others need a bit of water to help with blending.


Portable Watercolors
The Sakura Koi Field Palette is extremely portable.

Inspiration can strike at any moment. For those who like to seize the moment, consider watercolors that are easy to carry around and use on the go. Watercolor markers and brush pens are perfect for this, as well as all-in-one palettes that include paints and a waterbrush.


Easy to clean watercolors
Tubes, markers, and water brushes are easy to pack away.

Packability refers to how easy a watercolor tool is to clean up and put away. Tools with high packability include watercolor brush pens and markers—simply cap and store; there’s no additional clean up necessary. Pans and tubes require much more clean-up as there are more parts (palettes and brushes) to take care of. Wipes, running water, and sometimes soap are often needed to wash off the tools before they can be stored away.

Paper Pairing

Watercolor Paper
Textured vs smooth paper.

When choosing a paper to pair with watercolors, consider its weight and texture. The heavier the paper, the more water it can handle. Paper with a weight of 190 gsm is standard for watercolor use, but depending on the watercolor tool, you could go as light as 126 gsm.

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.

Compatability (with Other Mediums)

Watercolors with ink, pencils, colored pencils
Other media you can do watercolors with.

Watercolors can be used with a variety of other supplies, including ink, graphite, color pencils, and more. Always test the water solubility and behavior of the medium before using it with watercolors so you can better achieve the desired effect. For example, artists often use white ink to add highlights to a watercolor piece, in which case, they would have to test for a non-water-soluble white ink.


Brush Pens

Watercolor brush pens are some of our favorites to work with due to their no-mess and fuss-free application. These ready-to-use tools are portable, blendable, and can be used in a variety of ways. Pair them with wet paint brushes or water brushes to create a soft, diffused look, or use them alone for vibrant pops of color. Brush pens can be used on most papers, but we recommend a heavier paper if you plan on doing washes with a water brush.

Top Choice: Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens

Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens

Art sample

These watercolor brush pens feature a synthetic bristle tip that perfectly mimics a paint brush. The synthetic bristles allow for a dry brush effect, providing more artistic freedom. They’re great for sketching, especially when you’re on the go. However, the 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.

Also Consider: Kuretake Clean Color Real Brush Pens

Kuretake Clean Color Real Brush Pens

Art sample

Like the Akashiya Sai, the Kuretake Clean Color Real Brush Pens have a synthetic bristle tip and vibrant colors. If the color choices of the Akashiya Sai are too overwhelming, this is a good alternative to start out with.


Similar to watercolor brush pens, watercolor markers are portable, have good color payoff and great blendability. Because of the thicker porous felt tip, it is easy to get a fully saturated color wash. To soften the pigment, run a water brush over the color for a hazy, dreamy effect. As with brush pens, watercolor markers can be paired with most papers, but a heavier paper is ideal when painting with water.

Top Choice: Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers

Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers

Art sample

Artists love the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers for their intense pigment, carefully curated colors, and ease of use. They feature a felt brush tip on one side and a fine bullet tip on the other, allowing you to switch between coloring and detail work with ease. Use them alone or dilute them with a water brush depending on the desired level of color intensity.

Also Consider: Tombow Dual Brush Pens

Tombow Dual Brush Pens – Primary

Art sample

Although not marketed as watercolor markers, the dye-based Tombow Dual brush pens work similarly to the Winsor & Newton markers. They are double-sided with a soft felt tip and fine bullet tip and come in an astonishing array of 52 colors. We love that Tombow offers a colorless blender for foolproof blending between colors.


Watercolor palettes are made up of single pans of watercolor paints. They often give a softer look as water is needed to activate the paints and will dilute the pigment. Palettes are a great choice for those who enjoy combining colors as the pans are laid out for easy access and mixing. Choose between pre-made sets or customize a palette based on your needs. We recommend pairing watercolor paints with a heavy paper to accommodate for high water usage.

Top Choice: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Palettes

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Palette – 18 Color Set

Art sample

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, and pigmentation can be adjusted by adding more water. Individual pans are also available if you want to build a custom palette! Kuretake even offers metallic watercolor paints as singles or part of the large 36-color palette.

Also Consider: Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens & Field Box Sets

Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens & Field Box Sets

Art sample

The paint in these convenient and portable palettes feature a softer pigment than the Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints and need to be built up for more intensity. We recommend this set if you enjoy having watercolors on hand when traveling as it comes with a water brush and built-in palette for mixing colors.


Watercolor pencils deliver intense color payoff in a convenient format. They’re easy to store and carry around, and you don’t have to worry about them drying out. Sketch details by using the pencil dry or create washes by laying the pigment down and activating with water. When used dry, they can be paired with most papers, though heavier paper is required if used as watercolors.

Top Choice: Derwent Inktense Pencils

Derwent Inktense Pencils

Art sample

The Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils live up to their name—the pigment is richly saturated, almost ink-like when hit with water. They can be used as paints by taking the color directly from the pencil tips with a water brush and then adding in details later with the pencil dry. They give a more textured effect than other kinds of watercolors.


Watercolor tubes carry slightly dampened paint, so they can be used right out of the tube. They’re perfect for mixing colors and creating custom palettes using medicine pans! Unlike most watercolors that have to be built up, the intensity of these paints are adjusted by diluting them down. They’re easy to carry around, but harder to use spontaneously as a separate palette and brush is needed to use them.

Top Choice: Holbein Artists’ Watercolors

Holbein Artists’ Watercolor Tube – 24 Color Set

Art sample

These watercolor tubes feature smooth, vivid color that you can paint with straight from the tube. A little bit goes a long way, so don’t be fooled by the seemingly small tubes. We like pairing the tubes with the Akashiya Sai Watercolor Mini Palette. The charming flower design makes it easy to dip into and mix colors.


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.

Light Choice: Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook

Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook – B6

Light wash showing texture

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.

Heavy Choice: Stillman & Birn Premium Sketchbook – Zeta

Stillman & Birn Premium Sketchbook – Zeta

Light, even wash

For a smooth, weighty paper, this Stillman & Birn Premium Sketchbook fits the bill. The Zeta series is 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. 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 comparable.

A synthetic brush that was made specifically for watercolor use is the water brush. This revolutionary tool has a reservoir of water attached to it, eliminating the need for a separate water container. It’s convenient, easy to clean, and possibly our favorite watercolor tool.

Paint Brush: Kuretake Zig Brush – Small – Kolinsky

Kolinsky brush
Kuretake Zig Brush – Small – Kolinsky

While it’s useful to have a range of brushes, if we had to pick one, it would be this Kolinsky brush. This natural hair brush is springy, maintains a nice point, and holds a surprising amount of water for its small size. With proper care and maintenance, this brush will last for years.

Water Brush: Kuretake Water Brush – Medium

Kuretake Water Brush – Medium

Kuretake offers many sizes and shapes of these convenient brushes, but if you can only choose one, we recommend this medium brush. It is able to draw details as well as color large areas. For more on water brushes, see our Guide to Water Brushes.

Watercolor Tips and Tricks

Paper Prep

Prepping watercolor paper
Prepping the paper

Even the heaviest paper will inevitably warp if it touches too much water. To keep art pieces nice and flat, be sure to prep the paper before painting. Taking a large brush, lightly wash over the whole paper (front and back) with water. Dab it lightly with a paper towel to take off the excess water, then lay out to dry. To prevent the paper from shrinking, tape the edges down while it dries. Once it’s completely dry, you can start painting!

Light to Dark

Watercolor tip
Start with light (left) then add dark (right)

As a general rule, work in layers from light to dark. A light wash of a color helps to tone a drawing, providing the overall look and feeling to a piece. Build up the color gradually for a seamless blend, and use a clean wet brush to blend hard edges.

Large to Small

Watercolor tip
Large areas first (left) then details (right)

It’s best start with large areas of color washes before moving on to small precise details. That way, lines and details are crisp and don’t get washed away when you’re coloring. Allowing each layer to dry slightly will also help keep details clear.


Overworked and pilling paper
Pilling on overworked paper

If the paper begins to pill (when small clumps begin to form on the paper) or feather excessively, you’ve overworked the paper and need to stop painting. This happens when the paper has been oversaturated with water and the bonds between the fibers begins to break down.


We hope we’ve inspired you to pick up a water brush or two and start working on that watercolor masterpiece. If you’re still overwhelmed by all the choices, take a look at our Watercolor Starter Kit, which contains everything you need to start creating beautiful watercolor paintings! What are your favorite watercolor supplies? Let us know in the comments below!

Product Recommendations

Product Type Color Range Paper Pairing Price
Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush Pens Brush Pen 20 matte colors Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook $
Kuretake Clean Color Real Brush Pens Brush Pen 12 matte colors Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook $$
Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers Marker 35 matte colors Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook $$$
Tombow Dual Brush Pens Marker 51 matte colors and a colorless blender Maruman New Soho Series Sketchbook $$
Kuretake Gansai Tambi Palettes Palette 33 matte colors and 3 metallic colors Stillman & Birn Premium Zeta or Beta $
Sakura Koi Field Box Sets Palette 24 matte colors Stillman & Birn Zeta or Beta $
Derwent Inktense Pencils Pencil 36 matte colors Stillman & Birn Zeta or Beta $$
Holbein Artists’ Watercolors Tube 24 matte colors Stillman & Birn Zeta or Beta $$$

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JetPens Watercolor Starter Kit
JetPens Watercolor Starter Kit

Still not sure what to try? Check out our Watercolor Starter Kit! This starter kit contains everything you need to start creating beautiful watercolor paintings while also being compact enough to easily take out for an inspiring day at the park.