Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge: Who Actually Wins?

Have you ever been caught up in this dilemma of student or cheap vs expensive watercolors whether you have just started watercolors or when you were starting to paint with watercolors?

Most of you would answer that in a “Yes”.

Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge: Who Actually Wins?

This is something that all watercolor artists face at one point or the other, this is a big deal mostly when you start. Also do not mistake the use of words cheap and expensive, this is highly individual and differs person to person, so think this in terms of your budget. In this post I will mostly be discussing the over all quality of the paints.

Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge

Cheap = Student version Watercolors that are sold at supermarkets, the ones we used in Schools

Expensive = Professional Grade watercolors, the price range for these can be varied, depending on the brand,

For Example: You can get professional W&N for 25$ for 10 tubes (5ml)

Whereas a Daniel smith is sold at 52$ for just 10 tubes (5ml)

Both are good brands and I personally love them both, if I were to pick a favorite I would choose W&N not because it is cheaper but because I have used both and I prefer W&N more! So it truly depends on what you like as an Artist.

The most expensive does not always mean the best for you, that is certain.

I faced the same when I began, there was a lot of learning and wasting money and what not! But today I am sharing it all here, the good, the bad and the ugly!

The 3 main Watercolor supplies are-

  • Watercolors
  • Watercolor paper
  • Brushes
These 3 are the most important ones that matter, In today’s post I will only be discussing the paint.


When it comes to affordability of Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors, it is simple, the cheap one obviously!

So when you start should you only buy only this? I would say based on experience, you should buy the cheap ones and a professional set which falls in your budget.
Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors
Trying a student or cheap version will give you an opportunity to work with both and understand the difference between both.
As a beginner if you are very scared to invest, then just pick up a cheap supermarket set and start painting!
Follow this video and just get a feel of the paints! You might not get the desired result, which you won’t get anyways even if you start with professional colors! It all comes with only and only practice.

Introduction to Watercolor Techniques Wet on Wet and Wet on Dry with Easy Painting Exercise

The Pigments

Pigment is mixed with a medium or binder to make watercolors. Pigment can be natural or synthetic.
When we compare cheap and student Vs expensive Watercolors, it is evident that natural pigments are found in expensive paints and hence the higher costs. But these days most paints are made of synthetic pigments so it finally come to the overall quality.
Brighter and vibrant colors have good quality pigments and cheaper paints have dull and chalky pigment.
Paints can be made with single or multiple pigments, the ones with one pigment are usually brighter and more vibrant. This also makes color mixing easy as expensive paints are usually made of single pigment so when you mix even two or three pigments they colors still don’t loose their vibrancy while the cheaper ones can become muddy when you try to mix.
Cheaper colors usually have fillers added along with pigments to save costs, which makes them dull and chalky.
So in layman terms Pigment is the color intensity. How vibrant, bright and beautiful the colors come out depends on the pigment used in the manufacturing of the colors.
In the comparison below, the expensive paints are the clear winners, both medium range as well as the most expensive one are more brighter.

Vibrancy test

The Transparency

This is the main thing that differentiates watercolor from other painting mediums like acrylics and oils.
The more transparent a watercolor is the more beautiful your paintings will turn out if you use the right watercolor techniques.

Cheap Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge – Watercolor transparency test

As you can see in the image, from left cheapest to the most expensive on the right. The shades are similar but you can see that most expensive one is the most transparent. So clearly the expensive one is the winner of the transparency challenge of Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors.

Lifting and Staining

The ease of lifting is a good feature of quality paint. Staining paints are generally not considered very nice when it comes to watercolor. This is very useful feature when you want to correct mistakes. Again this largely depends on pigments more than brands, some pigments may be easy to lift off while others may be quite staining.
The left one is cheapest one and the right most is most expensive paint in the image below.

Cheap Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge – Watercolor Lifting Test


Beautiful granulation is such a joy! No doubt the high quality paints have more granulation as compared to the cheaper ones.

Cheap Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge – Watercolor Granulation test

An Example

The painting on the left is done using the cheapest supermarket paints.

The painting on the right is done with one of the expensive professional brands.

Cheap Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge Comparison

Let’s do a comparison by rating them 1 to 5, 1 being lowest and 5 being highest

The Verdict

If you were to ask me I would say, Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors and who wins it, as a professional full time Artist Professional colors are the Winner! Choose as per your budget, the medium range brands are good enough as per my testing!

If are are an absolute beginner and never tried watercolor, go for a basic student version that is good enough! Once you get the hang of it and wanna explore more jump to medium range professional and then move up as you progress! That is how I started!

Do buy the supermarket cheap one at least once! Why? Just to get a feel of it as an Artist!

The is no question about the expensive professional colors in terms of quality, if they are within your budget you should definitely grab them.

Cheap and Student Vs Expensive Watercolors Challenge: Who Actually Wins?

It is not about affordability, it is about being smart in your choice! You can use professional colors on budget too! Want to know how check this FREE Guide!

I hope you found something useful in this comparison!

Don’t forget to save & share it!

Until next time,

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