Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Travel Palette Reviews

It's been a while since I've done any sketching tool reviews. I just ordered a new tool, and I figured why not do a review of a few travel-sized palettes that I own? Now, there are loads of travel palettes out there by different manufacturers in different configurations. These are by no means representative of all of them. They're just a few that I own and have tried. So let's get on with it!

Left to right:
1. Winsor & Newton Field Box
2. Daler Rowney Aquafine Pocket Set
3. Generic metal watercolour box set
4. The Portable Painter
5. Generic bijou box

Ashley 2000R Travel Brush

Ashley 2000R size 5 travel brush, extended
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

For size comparison, I've placed my Ashley 2000R travel brush (collapsed) next to the sets. The brush is 11.2 cm long with a diameter of 0.9 cm. It is made of red sable and is size 5, although that hardly means much since different brush makers number the sizes differently.

1. Winsor & Newton Field Box

Winsor & Newton Field Box
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Measuring roughly 12.7(l) x 6.2(w) x 3.4(h) cm when closed, this set is pretty fat, but it's the perfect size for my magazine pouches on my SBO (Skeletal Battle Order). I used this several times when I went for reservist training. You cannot buy this as an empty box. It comes with 12 half-pans of either W&N's Cotman or Artist range. The Cotmans are student grade, so I won't recommend getting those. Better off getting the artist grade paints. If you are in UK, Cass Art sometimes has great discounts for Winsor & Newton sets!

The Field Box comes with the following:
  • 12 watercolour half-pans
  • 1 water bottle
  • 1 travel brush
  • 3 mixing areas (1 on the water bottle)
  • 1 water container (the cap)
  • 1 small sponge (not shown here)

Winsor & Newton Field Box opened
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

The box opens up to give you 3 mixing areas. The cap of the box can be latched on as a water container. You can store a maximum of 14 half-pans in this set (it comes with 12) if you remove the sponge, which I never use. The bottom of the box has a ring that you can flip out for you to hold the box in one hand while painting in another

Included brush, opened
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Included brush, extended
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

The Field Box comes with a teeny weeny synthetic travel brush that is practically useless for proper painting. It might be useful for getting small details, but I doubt it's good for much else. I almost never use it. Just get a better travel brush.

  • Keeps 14 half-pans
  • Self-contained with water container and bottle
  • Ring for holding the box
  • Pretty useless brush, but most brushes that come with sets are
  • Large and quite bulky 

2.  Daler Rowney Aquafine Pocket Set

Daler Rowney Aquafine Pocket Set
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

This was my very first watercolour set with pans. I bought it when I started urban sketching. It measures around 14.1 x 6.9 x 2 cm and comes with 12 half-pans and a synthetic brush (size 4) that's not as tiny as the W&N Field Box's, but isn't terribly fantastic either. Cheap synthetic brushes seldom are. They don't have the water-holding capacity of real animal hair and tend to discharge their load of water and paint very quickly. But at under $30 SGD, this little baby was a good bargain. Daler Rowney also has a similar box under their Simply range for a few dollars less. Don't even bother with that one, cos Simply is lower grade than Aquafine, which is already student grade. These boxes don't come in artist grade colours though, which is a pity. They're pretty pocketable (duh!) and also have a ring at the bottom for easy holding. Winsor & Newton have a similar Cotman pocket box set that is slightly more compact.

Aquafine Pocket Box, opened
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Unlike the W&N Cotman pocket box, the DR one has an extra groove at the top end. I'm not sure what that is for, but I squeezed more Aquafine colours from tubes into that space. I also squeezed some other colours into the mixing wells to expand my palette. The half-pans are removable.

  • Pocket-sized!
  • Cheap
  • Student grade colours
  • Only 3 mixing wells

3. Generic Metal Tin

Generic Metal Tin
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Although the cover says Rembrandt, this kind of tin is actually very common and several brands offer the exact size and configuration for their sets (Schmincke, Pebeo, etc.). I bought this as an empty tin for $20+, but you could get the same kind from Pebeo with 12 half pans of student grade colours at about the same price. The tin measures 12.5 x 7.2 x 2 cm and comes with a mount to secure your half pans inside. There's enough space to store at least 1 travel brush, which is sold separately.

Generic metal tin with 12 half-pans and brush
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

This tin is sturdy and has 3 large mixing areas and a plate with 6 smaller ditches for mixing. If you remove the mount and secure the half-pans with tape or blu-tack, this tiny box can fit over 20 half pans! Of course you'd have no space for the brush, but who cares? You can always keep the brush elsewhere.

Generic metal tin with mount removed
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Like the 2 boxes above, this one also has a metal ring on the base to slip over your finger or thumb. It's a solid box, but because it's metal, it can dent, and the enamel may flake off after some time. If you treat the box well, it will serve you well for a long time.

  • Can hold over 12 half-pans!
  • Compact with slim profile
  • Can get dented
  • Enamel may flake off after some time (durability depends on use and maker)

4. The Portable Painter

The Portable Painter
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

This gem is the brainchild of Steve Padden, a painter and a designer of multi-tools. It comes as an empty palette with 12 empty half-pans and a whole bunch of mixing wells. It's a well thought-out palette, but at 14 x 7.5 x 3.2 cm, it is the biggest of the palettes in this review. Unlike the earlier palettes, this one doesn't have a finger ring, but what it has are some other nifty features.

Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

The grey casing can be separated after removing the securing clip. The clip is the only metal bit on the set. The rest of it is plastic. The 2 halves of the casing serve as water containers and can be latched on to each side of the palette.

The Portable Painter, expanded
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

The palette comes with a whopping 13 mixing areas. The half-pans are removable. Unlike the Aquafine pocket set, they are not very secure. You'll probably want to use some blu-tack to keep them in place.

Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

The palette comes with a nested synthetic brush that gives you 2 different-sized round heads. The brush groove can easily fit my Ashley 2000R travel brush. Thicker travel brushes may not fit in the groove.

Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Unlike the above 3 sets, the Portable Painter is not built to be handheld. However, it is built to be hands-free. Here it is fully assembled. You'll have to find a place to keep the metal clip though.

Portable Painter assembled
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

So, if you can't hold it to paint, where can you put it? Well, it boasts being able to stand on any surface. Guess that's the plus point for having 2 'legs' rather than just one flat base to sit on. But not only can it stand on its legs, its legs can be used to straddle your leg!

Portable Painter on my leg
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

It sits pretty securely on my leg at least. Not sure if your leg is much skinnier. If you have big thighs, I think doing this may be pretty difficult. But hey, it's the only palette out there that has this feature as far as I'm aware.

At $30 USD on Indiegogo, this is a very affordable option. It is well-designed and sturdy. One drawback is that the water containers fit around the palette pretty tightly, which means if they are dirty with pigments, they may stain or dirty the outside of the palette when you put it all together. Also, there's no bottle like the W&N Field Box where you can store dirty water, but you can always bring your own bottle. You can always just bring the palette out if you prefer. It would occupy much less space and you won't have to worry about misplacing the metal clip.


  • Totally hands-free!
  • Loads of mixing wells
  • 2 water containers


  • Pretty big
  • Might not fit people with big thighs
  • Nowhere to store/dispose of dirty water from containers
  • Containers need to be cleaned before reassembly to avoid staining the outside of the palette

5. Bijou Box

Metal Bijou Box
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

This small metal tin is truly pocket-sized. It measures just 8.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 cm and still manages to fit a total of 12 half-pans. It's shorter than any travel brush out there, but nothing is stopping you from buying a normal brush and chopping off the handle. You'd just have to remove 4 half-pans to fit your brush.

Bijou Box opened
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

The half-pans are secured with V-shaped fasteners which slide inbetween each row of pans. It has a metal ring on the base and enamel mixing areas. With just 2 mixing wells, it is a bit low on mixing areas, but that should be fine if you're not dealing with too large paintings.

I bought this box empty without any pans. The pans I bought separately and filled with paints from tubes. This set currently serves as my mixing primaries palette.

  • Super compact yet stores as many colours as the larger ones above
  • Sturdy metal casing
  • Only 2 mixing areas
  • No space to store a brush

Height Comparison

Here's a photo with the relative heights of the boxes I reviewed:

Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Water Containers

Most of these watercolour box sets don't come with a water container/bottle, except for the W&N Field Box. There are other sets that do. But really, you don't need to specially get a box that has one. You can use anything convenient as a water container from film cartridge boxes (a rarity these days), small bottles, or makeup containers. Just make sure they're water-tight! Here are 3 containers (out of several) on my desk. The one of them is a mini Nutella container. You can use mini jam jars, but glass is heavy. The plastic bottle on the right holds a fair bit of water and is watertight. You can get these from the dollar store or convenience stores or art stores. Or you can save your bottle of peanut butter after finishing up the contents. Or you can buy collapsible or nested water containers from your art/stationery shop. The options are limitless.

Water containers
Copyright © Favian Ee  Mar 2017

Well, I hope you enjoyed this review. Feel free to share your own boxes!

P.S. Some of my other tools from years ago:

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