November 21, 2016

Watercolor Sets Comparison- White Nights, Cotman & Gansai Tambi

Hi! Today I'd like to share with you a watercolor comparison and review I filmed. I highly recommend watching the video, where I talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each set in detail. 

I am comparing these sets-
  • St. Petersburg White Nights 36 pans set  (click the photos for link to

  • Winsor & Newton Cotman 45 half pans set 

  • Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 pans set 
These sets at Jackson's Art Supplies-
White Nights 36 full pan set
Cotman watercolors 45 half pan set
Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 set
I feel that all three can be considered as a go to set that will serve one for many many years. I have to say that since I've first seen and purchased the Kuretake set, the price has dropped significantly. When I bought my set a few years ago I paid around 60$ for it. As of the the day this post is going live on, the set costs less than half on Amazon. For that reason, this set is very attractive, and would be a lovely present. However, I do think it has some, possibly important, disadvantages, and that's why I wanted to introduce the other sets here, because I think they offer more flexibility and convenience. 
Here are the advantages and disadvantages I found in each set.

Kuretake Gansai Tambi 36 pans set-

  • Price. This set contains 36 high quality paints, for less than a dollar per pan. 
  • The colors are bright and vivid.
  • Nice color selection (though lots of greens!)
  • The pans are quite large, their surface area is about double the traditional European watercolor pan, which is great for large brushes.
  • Pans are sold separately so one can replace colors once empty or switch colors in the palette.
  • It comes packaged in a pretty (although not very practical) box. 
  • There are specialty paints included, a pearlescent paint, gold and bronze. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on one's preferences.
  • This palette is large. Really big. It measures about 7"x11", so you need a lot of space to work with it. Also, it comes in a rather attractive canvas covered carton box, but there is no mixing space, meaning if you want to mix or water down your colors you need an extra palette, which will take up even more space. This was for me a noticeable disadvantage that led me to search other palettes.
  • Compared to the other two options mentioned, this one is the least readily available, at least for me, in Austria.
  • One is limited only to this brand if one wants additional paints. Other companies' pans will not fit this unique Japanese size pan.
  • The colors are mostly semi opaque, which is typical of Japanese watercolors. I write this as a disadvantage because I prefer my watercolors transparent.
  • There are 8 greens in this set, which is a little excessive compared to other similar sized sets.
  • I couldn't find information online on pigments, opacity, lightfastness, granulation etc. 
St. Petersburg White Nights 36 full pans set-

  •  This set comes in a plastic box, with lots of mixing areas.
  • The colors are bright and vivid.
  • Nice color selection
  • The pans are large, not as large as the Kuretake ones, but still great size, standard full pans.
  • Colors can be purchased individually for a very attractive price (around 2$, cheaper than the other two brands mentioned here)
  • Because this is a standard pan size, one can replace the pans with pans from other brands. It fits both full and half pans, so one has lots of flexibility here.
  • This set is smaller than the Kuretake, but still quite large at about 5.5"x11".
  • Some colors are not lightfast (which means they will fade with the years), but I have found that to be true for many of the über bright colors in all brands. This doesn't bother me, but might be important to you.
  • I wish they had a lighter pink.... But I'm a little obsessed with that color...
  • I have found these only available in full pans. At their incredible low price it's not an issue, only if one prefers half pans for their compact size.
I have to admit I can't find many disadvantages with these. I love them, I think they are an amazing value for money, and I would recommend them to anyone at any level who wants a wonderful set of watercolors. 
I actually think the best option is to buy the White Nights 24 set that comes in the 36 pans box, and add 12 pans or 24 half pans of your choice to make this the perfect set for you.

Winsor & Newton Cotman 45 half pans set-

  • This set is the most compact of the three, as it contains half pans.
  • The palette is made out of plastic and has lots of mixing areas. The box seems to be a smaller version of the White Nights box.
  • There are 45 half pans in this set, 40 colors, plus 5 extras of certain colors (mine has 2 each of alizarin crimson hue, ultramarine, ivory black, white and yellow ochre.)
  • This set contains all the colors in the Cotman range, and its a great selection of watercolors. Probably the best in this comparison.
  • One can replace each half pan with a half pan from other brands.
  • The Cotman range, which is the student grade range from Winsor & Newton, comes also in tubes, which makes it very economical in the long run. (once a pan is empty, one can buy the tube of that exact paint, which will last a long time).
  • Winsor & Newton are probably the most widely available paints from the three brands reviewed here.
  • These are student grade paints. And indeed when used, many colors are not as vibrant as the other two sets (there are some wonderful colors here though, like Mauve and Turquoise that are intense and beautiful). 
  • These have the smallest pans, so can be less convenient when using a large brush.
  • Out of the three sets, these are the driest. They rewet nicely, but needs a little more work than the other two, which are creamier.
I will edit this post in the future if I find any new information or change my mind ;)
Thanks for visiting, and please leave me a comment if you have any questions!


  1. Great review! What would you choose between the white nights and the cotman? Is the white nights chalky at all?

    1. Hy Katrianna! I must say I would choose the White Nights. They are creamy and wonderful and not chalky AT ALL. Cotman are not chalky either, but they are drier and don't rewet as easily as the white nights. However, as I wrote in the review, I do like their color selection, especially the pinks and violets. Hope that helps!

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  3. Hi!

    I just watched the video concerning your travel kit and your comment on the disadvantages of the Cotman travel kit (14 half pans). I replaced some of the half pans by whole pans, you just need to watch out they are W&N pans to be sure. I am not sure if the Schmincke pans would fit so you might want to check that first. I noticed pans are not interchangeable if they come from different brands.

    I thought it was interesting you prefer Schmincke. I started out with Schmincke, living in Germany it was the first high-quality brand I could lay my hands on, but by and by I switched over to W&N. I use a Cotman kit for sketching on walks with a simple sketchbook because I don't need to get the colors precise and life-like. I think Cotmans are quite good considering they are student grade paints. By now I have a collection of several brands but still use some of Schmincke's colors like Preußischgrün, Rubinrot and Purpurmagenta. I agree it's difficult to find nice reds, even more if you prefer transparent paints like I do.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you will be painting on your trip! Maybe your children while they are taking a nap :D ?

    Greetings ---- Pamela

    1. Hi Pamela! Yes, I did try to replace the Cotman half pans with other brands,and it just barely works with the Sennelier half pans (Schmincke is too big). It is a shame that half pans (the pans themselves) are not universal in size...

      I think it comes down to personal preference. Cotman are great, and super affordable, I just find that for my style I prefer the juiceness of Schmnicke, Sennelier and M. Graham. Daniel Smith makes gorgeous paints, and I do use them a lot, but they tend to also be a bit drier, like Cotman.

      The trip was sadly a bust, no painting done, but I am trying to make up for it at home, using my limited travel supplies :)

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!
      Greetings from Austria :)

  4. Hi Irit,

    How nice of you to reply so sonn!

    I know what you mean about Cotman being dry and brittle .... I need to spray water on the pans before I start painting. I've heard using glycerin helps but I haven't tried it out yet. Sadly enough it's the same when I use W&N artist quality paints in tubes to refill empty pans ... They have a note about that on their website what to do if you want to use the remains of a dried-out tube .. next time I refill my pans I'm going to give it a try.

    I also have Sennelier ... The Best if you want to add glaze over glaze, aren't they? I just ordered their student grade field kit for outdoor sketching but I haven't used them yet ... actually I don't really know if I would take the time to glaze that much outdoors. I mostly do quick sketches.

    But I'm still experimenting with different brands of paint .. they are all very unique in a special way ... concerning what I plan to paint.

    For the Cotman field box I used old empty W&N whole pans and filled them up with whatever paints I preferred to replace useless colors like black and white. I'm thinking about just using 7 whole pans - I can't decide yet which colors I REALLY need though. sigh!

    What a pity you weren't able to get any painting done ... but the idea of using limited supplies is a nice idea ... it appeals to me! It would help keep things simple and harmonious. I hope you will show us what you are going to paint with a limited palette! I'm looking forward to that!

    Greetings -- Pamela

  5. I totally agree with the review. I have both white nights and cotman pan sets the latter is used mainly for practice projects. I also posess a W&N artist quality pan set and I think the white nights stands up well against them. White Nights are extraordinary when you consider the price. I have no knowledge of the White Nights tubes sts but would assume the same applies. I use S.A.A. own brand tubes for larger sized projects which are also excellent. Excellent review.

    Regards Derek.