Prior to the mid-18th century, watercolor artists handmade their paints by mixing powdered pigments with sugars and/or hide glues or some other binder and preservatives. Brothers William Reeves and Thomas Reeves invented the moist watercolor paint-cake in 1781, at the start of the “golden age” of English watercolor painting. The “cake” was immediately soluble when touched by a wet brush; a time-saving convenience.
William Winsor secured the patent for the metal paint tube invented by American oil painter John Goffe Rand. Winsor improved the design by adding the screw cap in 1904, and started manufacturing the Winsor & Newton moist watercolors in tubes.
Today, watercolor paints are sold in tubes and pans in a variety of sizes. Tubes are the most commonly used and are sold in sizes 5ml, 10ml, 14ml, 15ml, 21ml, and 37ml depending upon the manufacturer brand. Pans come in full-pan and half-pan sizes.
Tube Watercolor Paints
Watercolor paints in tubes are soft and moist. They are made with natural or synthetic pigments suspended in a binder of gum arabic with glycerin added as a wetting agent. By reading the label on the tube, you will discover the pigment formula number(s), transparency rating, lightfastness rating, staining property rating and an approved product seal.
Watercolor Paint Manufacturers
Here is a list of popular watercolor paint manufacturers in alphabetical order:
- Daniel Smith (Washington USA)
- Da Vinci (California USA)
- Grumbacher (Massachusetts USA)
- Holbein (Japan)
- Rowney (Great Britain)
- Schmincke (Germany)
- Sennelier (France)
- Winsor & Newton (Great Britain)
- Yarka (Russia)
Other Watercolor Mediums
- Gouache – an opaque watercolor with a higher pigment density and white chalk added
- Liquid Watercolors – resembles ink and is sold in small dropper bottles
- Watercolor Sticks – resembles crayon or pastels that can be used dry or wet
- Watercolor Pencils – resembles a lead pencil but contains dry watercolor pigment
My favorite manufacturers of watercolor paints are Holbein in tube size 15ml and Winsor & Newton in tube sizes 5ml, 14 ml and 37ml. I recommend and use only professional-quality watercolor paints. NOTE: Student-grade watercolor paints are mostly made of imitation pigments of low-quality. To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.