Watercolor is an ideal medium for plein air painting. You don’t need lots of supplies, but you can still have at your fingertips the color range of acrylic or oil paint—all without the hassle of extensive setup or time-consuming cleanup. Maximize watercolor’s portability by choosing a travel set with built-in palettes, brush holders, and more. Browse our selection of some of our favorite student-grade watercolor travel sets below. Note that while they are student-grade sets, they are suitable for all but the most advanced skill levels.
1. Sakura Koi Watercolors
At the top of our list sits this set from Japanese brand Sakura, which comes with everything you need to start painting, save for paper. It opens to reveal a removable palette with five mixing pans, 18 little paint cakes, a brush, and a sponge for mopping up excess water. The paint is highly concentrated and vivid, and the color palette is solid, including fundamentals like Chinese White and Ivory Black, in addition to shades like ultramarine, vermillion hue, and cobalt blue hue. The included brush is a water brush—ideal for painting on the go, as all you have to do is fill up its reservoir. The box features a pull-down ring for easy holding, and the cakes can be refilled—choose from Sakura’s range of 84 colors!
2. Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor Travel
Sennelier’s travel sets come with just a box with several wells and paints, so it’s a great option if you already have a favorite brush or want to shop for specific tools to supplement it. It features the company’s La Petite student line of paints, which are made with honey as a binder—a special ingredient that makes them super smooth and easy to rewet. While the color pigmentation is of course not as intense as Sennelier’s artist-grade paints, these paints are an especially nice choice for glazing, showcasing beautiful translucency. This set of 24 half-pans set features a range of colors ideally suited to landscape studies.
3. Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolour Paint Compact Set
Winsor & Newton makes its Cotman student-grade paints more affordable by replacing the costliest pigments with more economical alternatives. While less expensive than the company’s professional-grade paints, they still provide strong, non-grainy color and good transparency. This pocket travel set features 12 half pans in a useful range of colors, including burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and cadmium yellow, and includes a brush, built-in palette, and a slide-out dish for mediums. The air-tight case will keep the pigments safe and drip-free in your bag.
4. Raphaël Watercolor Travel Pan Set
If portability is a priority, consider this round set that measures just four and a half inches in diameter—small enough to slip into a pocket. It opens to reveal 10 half pans on one side and a dozen mixing compartments on the other, and snaps firmly shut to a flat disk with non-skid pads on its bottom. The colors are highly pigmented and flow well. Included is a mini brush measuring just three and a half inches from end to end.
5. Kuretake Gansai Tambi Portable 14-Color Set
Gansai, a traditional Japanese watercolor, uses a binder different from that 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 paints are an excellent and satisfying option for beginners as well as professionals. Kuretake’s travel set of 14 gansai colors includes a water brush plus a drawing pen.