Review | Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolor

Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolors

As someone who grew up using Crayola watercolors, it completely blew my mind when I learned that some sets can cost as much as $350. Did you hear something? That was the sound of my bank account saying don’t you dare. But what I’ve also learned is that you don’t need the best art supplies money can buy to create amazing illustrations.

Whether you’re a seasoned watercolor artist or a complete beginner, chances are you’ve come across the brand Winsor and Newton at some point. They do everything, from watercolor paints to art markers, and cater to professional artists and students alike. And if you’re just starting out with watercolors, Winsor and Newton’s Cotman Watercolor sets most likely topped the list when you Googled “best watercolors for beginners.”

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While the Cotman set wasn’t my first choice when I got started with watercolors, it’s up there as one of the paints that I’d recommend for many beginners. The full price for the smallest pan set, which has twelve colors, is $25. However, with a bit of searching or a coupon at your favorite arts and crafts store, prices can go as low as $12. There are many student-grade watercolors that cost less (and I’ll talk about them in the future), but Cotman sets are the perfect gateway watercolors to higher quality art supplies.

About Winsor and Newton Cotman Watercolors

As I mentioned earlier, the Cotman line is Winsor and Newton’s student grade watercolors. It’s significantly more affordable than most professional quality watercolors, but you get plenty of bang for your buck. Currently, there are 40 colors in the Cotman collection, most of which you can buy in individual tubes and pans or in sets.

I went for the 12 half-pan pocket sketcher box, but you can go big and get the ginormous 45 half-pan set. I assume that five of the pans are duplicates of their more frequently used colors like Prussian Blue. The sketcher box set is super compact and comes with a teeny tiny brush, perfect for traveling. Seriously, I can fit the entire set in the pocket of my jeans – my woman’s jeans. The container is made out of a sturdy plastic material, and the inside of the lid has three relatively ample wells to mix colors in.

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So tiny!


The pocket set includes the following colors:

  • Alizarin Crimson Hue

  • Cadmium Red Pale Hue

  • Burnt Sienna

  • Yellow Ochre

  • Cadmium Yellow Hue

  • Lemon Yellow Hue

  • Sap Green

  • Viridian Hue

  • Ultramarine

  • Intense Blue

  • Burnt Umber

  • Chinese White

Before I jump into the pros and cons, I’ll quickly go over the difference between student grade and artist (or professional) grade watercolors.

Student Grade vs Artist Grade

All watercolors are made out of pigments that provide the color and binders that hold those pigments together; the ratio of those two ingredients determines the quality of the paints. Student grade watercolors tend to have more synthetic binders than they do pigments, resulting in less saturated colors. On the other hand, artist grade watercolors contain more pigments to produce more vibrant colors.

With that being said, let’s start with the shortcomings of the Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolors.


  1. They’re not as vibrant as professional quality paints (I think that’s a given). You can make colors less intense, but it doesn’t work the other way around. For some paints, you’d have to really layer them up if you want the colors to pop – but then, you’d run into the next issue.

  2. Multiple layers or thicker applications tend to dry to a slightly chalky finish that can easily rub off and fade. It’s not nearly as bad as the Koh-I-Noor watercolor wheel set, but it still happens.

  3. The basic 12 color set did NOT come with a black. Weird, I know.

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  1. They may not be artist grade but, considering the price and ratio of pigments, they’re not bad at all. The colors are still smooth and pigmented enough to enjoy practicing with.

  2. They blend together really well. You can easily paint gradients and mix the colors readily available in the set to make new ones.

  3. They’re affordable. For under $3 at Blick, you can get an 8ml tube that’ll last you a while. The 12-color pan set that I have costs about as much as two 5ml tubes of professional quality paints.

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The main selling point for me was the cost of the Cotman watercolors. While the quality isn’t mind-blowing, the color payoff is decent when you consider the price point and the fact that they’re student-grade paints. They’re excellent for beginners who want to learn the basics without breaking the bank or worrying about “wasting” good quality supplies. And with patience and practice, you can achieve some pretty amazing results.