The TL;DR Watercolor Starter Kit

Minimalist set of watercolor supplies, with Canson XL pad, 3 primary colors of watercolor, Art Toolkit pocket palette (with Kolbie Blume sticker), mason jar, Princeton Heritage brushes, Nitto Tape.

This is the post I wish I’d been able to read when I first decided to start watercolor but before I’d bought anything. What’s the minimum, yet best, materials to get started? 

No affiliate links, just my honest recommendations based on things I’ve tried. 

If you already have some supplies on hand, even if they’re not my recommendations, use that! But if you are just starting out and literally have nothing, here are the exact items I would advise my former self to buy.

I will offer a budget list (the minimum you need to try the hobby), followed by an upgrade list (skip to the good stuff).

Prices accurate in the US as of August 2023.

Budget List: Starting Out With $50

I kept the price as low as possible in this list. You may find that, if the hobby “takes” for you, you want to upgrade some of these items from the more expensive lists below.

Paint: Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Set of 12 half pans in a plastic palette [$22]

Brushes: Cheap Joe’s Starving Artist Round Brush Set [$20]

Paper: Fluid Easy Block 4×6 block [$6]

Other stuff from around the house: Old cups or jars for water; old plate for mixing surface; paper towels

Total Price: $48


  • In this way of working, you paint from dry pans onto a small block.
  • Because the watercolor set comes with a palette, you don’t need to buy one separately.
  • The watercolor set also comes with a small brush, so the extra brushes may be technically optional but give you more options for sizes.
  • Because you’re using a block, you don’t need tape or a backboard.

Upgrade List: Starting Out with $150

This is the stuff I typically use. These items will serve you for years without needing to upgrade.

Paint: Daniel Smith essentials set of 6 5ml tubes [$38]

Storage Palette: Art Toolkit Pocket Palette with 14 standard pans [$34]

Brush, Small: Rosemary Red Dot Pointed Rounds, size 4 [$5]

Brush, Medium: Rosemary Red Dot Pointed Rounds, size 8 [$10]

Brush, Sky Wash: Rosemary Sienna Pointed Oval Wash, size 3/4″ [$20]

Paper: Cheap Joe’s 140 lb Quarter Sheet Sample Pack [$30]

Paper Cutter: Cheap Joe’s Handheld Paper cutter [$6]

Tape: Holbein Soft Tape, 3/4” [$5]

Backboard: 12×16 Masonite hardboard [$9]

Other stuff from around the house: Old cups or jars for water; old plate for mixing surface; paper towels

Total Price: $153


  • Using tubes gives you the flexibility to either use wet paint from tube, or allow the paint to dry in the storage palette and turn it into pans. If you prefer to use dry paint and don’t want to purchase a storage palette, consider getting a premade set of pans such as the Da Vinci Watercolor Palette. This will also allow you to get more colors but at a higher price and lower value-per-ounce.
  • Tape the paper to a backboard to keep it flat as you work. You can use a regular clipboard for a backboard if you cut the paper small enough.
  • Short handle for all brushes.
  • If Rosemary brushes are too expensive with shipping from UK, try Princeton Heritage for the rounds and Princeton Neptune for the oval wash. About the same price but may be more locally available in US art stores.
  • If you’re in the UK, Jackson’s also has a cold press sampler.

1 thought on “The TL;DR Watercolor Starter Kit”

Comments are closed.