The Best Watercolor Paint Pans and Pan Sets for Students and Beginners

There are a host of advantages to using pan watercolor paints, especially for novice watercolorists. They are compact and contained, so they can be tucked away in a desk drawer. They’re easily portable for carrying to classes and workshops. And the dried paints last and last, so even if you find time to paint only now and then, pan watercolor paints will be ready to go in an instant with just the application of water. Gathered below are some excellent student-grade pan watercolors.

Grumbacher Watercolor Pan Sets
Grumbacher keeps things simple and focuses on quality without bells and whistles. Choose either a 12- or 24-pan set, each available in an opaque or translucent version. The opaque paints are rich and matte, though not quite as opaque as gouache, while the translucent colors are bright and clear. The pans in these sets are relatively large, which forges a comfortable middle ground between portability and the ability to cover larger areas. As for the paints, both formulations are highly saturated for a student-grade paint, and they blend well and create gorgeous, smooth washes. Sets also come with a round, pointed brush.
Purchase: Grumbacher Watercolor Pan Sets, $25.79–$39.93 on Dick Blick

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Sakura Koi Watercolor Half Pans and Sets
This accessible option achieves the trifecta of being affordable, using reliable pigments, and being highly portable. The tiny refillable pans hold highly concentrated paint. The upside is that you need only a small amount to create vivid color; the downside is that it can be hard to tell what a color really looks like based on the pan alone, so it is vital that you do a swatch test. Every set comes with a refillable water brush and sponge that fit into the box so you can always be ready to paint. Note that this set contains small parts and is not intended for children under 4 years old.
Purchase: Sakura Koi Watercolor Half Pans and Sets, $2.39–$81.59 on Dick Blick

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Half Pans and Sets
Winsor & Newton is an old hand at the watercolor game; the company sticks around because artists can rely on its high-quality products. The paints in its student-grade Cotman line are bright and notably lightfast so you can use them in final pieces without fear of fading. High quality aside, what really stands out with these sets are the plentiful box options, from the classic blue metal tin to a set that can hold a water brush to a remarkable field box set, which flips out like an Inspector Gadget tool to create several distinct mixing surfaces and a water cup. You can also purchase individual half pans to extend your line or restock your favorite colors.
Purchase: Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor Paint Half Pans and Sets, $4.15–$58.72 on Dick Blick

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Pan Sets
Gansai, a traditional Japanese watercolor, uses a binder different from what’s found in Western watercolors, resulting in bright, creamy paints that are more opaque and shinier than what many watercolorists in the United States are used to. With beautiful chroma and without the chalkiness that can accompany heavy application of other paints, these affordable sets are an excellent and satisfying option for beginners. They’re available in assortments of 6 to 48 colors.
Purchase: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolor Paint Pan Sets, $16.00–$64.00 on Dick Blick

Lyra Watercolor Paint Set

Lyra is a German brand that makes well-priced, quality basics. Their 12-color paint set includes versatile colors—including black and a tube of white—in large, round pans that easily snap in and out of the box. The lid of the box has mixing wells, and the included brush is surprisingly useful, though note that the bristles are stiff. The paints present a strong and rich hue on paper and even wood. Nontoxic and vibrant, they are a good choice for young painters and adult beginners alike.
Purchase: Lyra Watercolor Paint Set, $11.47 on Amazon

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