How to Choose Watercolor, Acrylic, and Oil Paint Sets

Whether you’re into oil painting, acrylic painting, or watercolor painting, knowing which art supplies to buy can be rather overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting out. And if you’re thinking about buying paints as a gift for an artist you know, it can be downright impossible.

From young students to professional artists, having the right paint set is the first step in creating an incredible work of art. But with so many types of paint to choose from, it can be tricky to figure out which one to use.

No matter what type of artist paint you prefer to use (or if you’re not sure which style to experiment with), here’s how to choose watercolor, acrylic, and oil paint sets.

What to Search For in an Acrylic Paint Set

There’s more to choosing acrylic paints than just selecting the colors you want to paint with. Before you begin shopping, there are a few things you should know.

Quality and Grade

When searching for acrylic paint sets, pay close attention to whether the paint is artist-grade or student-grade.

Artist-grade paints are ideal for professionals. They’re high quality, offer long-lasting performance, and come in a wide variety of vibrant colors. Student quality paints are okay to use if you’re just starting, but we always recommend stepping up to artist grades paints. There’s no question about it — they’re of better quality, and they offer more intense color.

Lightfast Rating

Acrylic paints, and all paints for that matter, are rated for their level of lightfastness. Lightfastness refers to how permanent the colors are. The less lightfastness in the pigment, the more quickly that pigment will fade over time.

When selecting acrylic paints, look for lightfast ratings of ASTM I or AA or Excellent. At the very least, opt for a paint with a “very good” rating, such as ASTM II or A.

Heavy Body vs. Fluid 

Acrylic paints have different weights and feel. Heavy body acrylics are thick in texture and have a smooth, buttery feel. They don’t contain any fillers, dyes, or extenders, making them excellent for creating thick, heavy textures on canvases and canvas boards.

Fluid body acrylics have an equally intense color but a much lighter feel and consistency. They flow more smoothly, and you can pour them out of a bottle, unlike heavy body paints that you must squeeze out of a tube or jar.

Fast-drying vs. Quick-drying

Acrylic paints dry rather quickly — and many artists prefer them for that reason. For artists more accustomed to paint that dries slower, such as oil paint, opt for open acrylics.

Open acrylics slow down drying times and take considerably longer to dry on canvases and palettes than traditional acrylics. For some artists, a slow-drying canvas is less than ideal. But the benefit of using open acrylics is that the slower paint dries on your palette, the less likely you are to waste paint. 

Golden Fluid Acrylics 8 Color Set  

Featuring eight ½ oz squeeze bottles, Golden Fluid Acrylics 8 Color Set includes all of the essential colors that every artist needs to get started, such as titanium white, yellow ochre, phthalo blue, and phthalo green.

Open Acrylics 22ml Traditional Color Set

Open Acrylics 22ml Traditional Color Set is unique in remaining wet for an extended period. It’s perfect for artists who like to work in thicker applications, and it features six key colors, including ultramarine blue, Indian yellow hue, and sap green hue.

What to Look For in a Watercolor Set

watercolor set

Like acrylic paints, watercolor paints also come in artist quality and student quality. Artist quality is always the better choice, as they have better pigments, fewer fillers, and fewer extenders.

These are the things to keep in mind when shopping for paints for your next watercolor painting project:


Watercolor paints have different permanence levels and lightfastness and can fade over time and in conditions of intense light or high humidity. To make sure your art lasts, look for a lightfastness rating of good or better, such as ASTM I or II.

Transparent vs. Opaque Color 

Painters love watercolors for their transparent properties and how they reflect light. But not all watercolor paints are transparent — some are semi-opaque and opaque. While transparent watercolors can be made more intense with layering, opaque paints offer a more intense color, to begin with.

Hue vs. True 

When shopping for paints, you may see the same color offered twice from the same brand, one with the word “hue” at the end. The one without the word “hue” is the “true” version.

Here’s what that means:

In terms of color, it means very little. True colors and their respective hue colors are incredibly similar. The difference lies in their makeup. Sometimes, some aspects of “true” color, such as cadmium, are removed to reduce toxicity. (Yes, unfortunately, some paints are still made with toxic chemicals and elements).  

If you notice that your favorite “true” color from your favorite brand has been replaced with a “hue” version, you probably won’t see much difference in how it looks on your canvas.

Sakura Koi Watercolor Travel Set

Available in different sizes to hold between 12 and 36 different colors, Sakura Koi Watercolor Travel Set is a great starter set. It’s especially perfect for the artist who loves to paint on the go. Each set includes a reservoir for water, a detachable brush tip, and two dabbing sponges in addition to the actual paints.

Savoire Faire Opaque Watercolor Set

Savoire Faire Opaque Watercolor Set includes ten non-toxic watercolor paints that range in color from opaque to semi-opaque. It’s an affordable option for any amateur painter or experienced painter on a budget.

What to Look For in an Oil Paint Set

If you feel inspired by the greats such as da Vinci or Van Gogh, oil paints are likely to be your paints of choice.

Like watercolors and acrylics, oil paints also come in artist quality and student quality and are hue colors or true colors. They also come in transparent versions as well as opaque options with different levels of lightfastness and permanence.

But there’s even more to consider when shopping for oil paints:

Traditional vs. Water Mixable vs. Alkyd 

Traditional oil paints are made with pigments and drying oils, such as linseed oil or safflower oil. They require a solvent to thin them out as well as to clean them up.

Water mixable oil paints don’t require the use of any solvents. You can thin and clean them with water. The downside is that they are a bit thinner and more fluid than traditional oil paints, which have a more buttery consistency.

Oil paints are notoriously slow to dry. If you want your oil art to dry as fast as possible, opt for alkyd oil paints. They contain an alkyd resin that helps to speed up the drying process. Alkyd oil paints can dry in as little as twelve hours, where traditional oils can take days to dry to a touchable finish.

Ready to start oil painting? Shop these oil paint sets at Rileystreet now:

Gamblin Artists’ Oils Introductory Set

No matter your subject matter or style, Gamblin Artists’ Oils Introductory Set includes nine most essential colors. You’ll find cadmium yellow light, cadmium red light, burnt umber, ultramarine blue, and other must-haves in this set.

Gamblin FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors Set

Featuring eight individual paint tubes and a solvent-free gel, Gamblin FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors Set is ideal for the artist that prefers to paint with fast-drying oil colors. It includes all of the essential colors you’ll need to get started, along with a primed birch painting panel. 

Sennelier Artists’ Oils Wooden Boxset

Sennelier Artists’ Oils Wooden Boxset includes paint and so much more and is full of everything you need to paint an impressionist masterpiece. In addition to twelve individual oil paints, it includes a palette knife, two hog flat bristle brushes, twin palette cups, charcoals, and two empty jars for turpentine.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Set vs. Buying Individual Paints

oil paints

Whether you aspire to be the next Rembrandt or the next Bob Ross, you’ll need paint, paintbrushes, and an easel to hone your craft and become the artist you want to be. But is it better to buy individual paint colors or purchase an entire set?

Here are the pros and cons of buying a set vs. selecting an assortment of individual paints:

Pro: Paint Sets Make Great Gifts 

Paint sets are ideal for gift-giving. If you’re looking for gifts for an artist, the best way to win them over is with a set of paints. But there’s simply no point in trying to pick and choose individual paints and specific colors. It’s always best to go with a set.

Pro: Paint Sets Include a Variety of Colors 

Paint sets include a broad assortment of colors. Regardless of what type of paint you like to work with, most paint sets include the essential hues you need to mix and create just about any color you want.

If you’re new to painting and don’t own any paints yet, a set is a great way to get started.

Pro: Sets Allow You to Test Different Colors 

Don’t think you’ll ever work with burnt sienna or burnt umber? Guess what? You will. But you’ll never know until you try.

Buying a paint set that includes colors you might not think you’ll use is a great way to test colors that you might otherwise miss out on using. With a set that includes a wide variety of colors, you can get a better sense of which pigments you prefer to work with and which ones you don’t.

Pro: Sets Often Include Other Supplies 

Paint sets often include more than just paint. Many have brushes, binders, and palettes. The best part about a fully stocked set is that if paints come with other supplies, you can be 100% sure that all of the various items will be compatible with that type of paint.

Con: Paint Sets Can Be More Expensive 

Unless you need a broad assortment of different paints, buying a set can cost you more than buying a few individual tubes or jars. For example, if the only colors you’re running low on are titanium white and phthalo blue, there’s no need to buy a set that includes seven or eight other colors that you already have on hand. 

So if you’re currently finding inspiration in Picasso’s Blue Period and working with a limited color palette, buying individual paints can be much less expensive than purchasing an entire set.

Con: Paint Sets May Include Colors You’ll Never Use 

It’s almost a guarantee that any paint set you buy will probably include one or two colors you never use. If you’re eyeing a set that includes a color you never use (like lamp black), it is more cost-effective to select a different set or to pick and choose your paints individually.

Creating Your Own Paint Set

It’s also possible to put together your own paint “set” by buying a few key colors in your chosen medium. With a few essential colors, you can mix just about any color imaginable, without having to buy dozens of individual paints. 

Acrylic DIY Paint Set

When working in acrylics, you can create just about any color by mixing different combinations of phthalo blue, phthalo green, titanium white, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, and burnt umber. 

Watercolor DIY Paint Set

When working in watercolors, you can mix endless hues as long as you have yellow ochre, viridian, alizarin, aquamarine blue, burnt sienna, and white. 

Oil DIY Paint set

For oil painting, cadmium yellow, alizarin, viridian, ultramarine blue, dioxazine purple, titanium white, and burnt umber are the essentials needed for mixing endless other shades. 


Whether you enjoy painting with a bristle brush on stretched canvas or a palette knife on a canvas board, the paints you choose can make or break your artwork.

If you’re fully stocked on all of your favorite paints and pigments and only need to try out one or two new colors, by all means, buy individual tubes of paint. But if you’re looking to test out different paints or need a full supply of fresh colors, a paint set is the way to go.

From inexpensive student quality sets to high-quality artist-grade sets to individual tubes and jars, paints come in many different varieties. No matter what type of paints or paint sets you’re searching for, you can be sure to find them at Rileystreet.