Up until recently my recommendation for Artists Quality paints has been Daler Rowney and Lukas. This is based on a combination of quality allied to price. I have been buying Daler Rowney from an art shop in Bath at better than mail order prices, which even so were very competitive. I realise personal preference plays a part in choosing and others may have different ideas. In addition prices vary country to country so this recommendation only applies to Europe.
Last week I went into the Bath shop and to my horror saw the prices were now £12.75p for series 1 and 2 and over £17 for Series 3 all 15ml. There was a notice saying 'would you buy at these new prices'? I politely told the lady in the shop that I wouldn't. She was obviously concerned and said there had been a price increase and presumably - although she didn't say so - the extra discounts that enabled them to sell so competitively had been withdrawn. I then checked Jacksons prices and found they had increased to just over £10 Series 1/2 and £14 for series 3. As a result I did a round robin of the various makes to see how they stacked up.
My new recommendations are 1st choice Lukas (24ml) closely followed by Sennelier (21ml) Maimeri (15ml) is also in the mix. I believe Lukas are now owned by the Daler Rowney group so this may not last we shall have to see. Sennelier, with the largest range, has to be a serious contender. Scmincke, although more expensive with the new improved and enlarged range are also on my radar and I've just ordered Perylene Violet and Perylene Green (both £9 for 15ml) to try out. The cheapest Daniel Smith is now in excess of £10 and Graham and Da Vinci are not considered because they are only available via Lawrence of Hove who have a fixed carriage charge. Although I've gone off Graham due to various problems with the paints I am intrigued by Da Vinci and if I was close enough to visit the shop would probably buy some. In the USA I know prices on Daniel Smith, Da Vinci and Graham are much more competitive but as usual in the UK we get ripped off. I haven't mentioned Winsor and Newton who are (or used to be!) regularly offered at extra discounts. You can mix makes don't let that old chimera that you shouldn't put you off doing so.
My comments only refer to Artists Quality. There are alternatives. The Korean Shin Han and Mijello are very competitively priced but I have reservations about them. Many other artists seem to find them satisfactory but be selective in which ones you buy with a preference for single pigment paints. There is also the Japanese Turner from Jacksons at very keen prices. Lots use St Petersburg quite happily. We now have some house brands which are worth a try. There are also Cotman, Venezia and Van Gogh in the budget makes. Take your pick.
Before closing I note papers have also increased in price. Prices are now £32.60 for Waterford and £35 for Fabriano - blocks I should add. My favourite block size is "16 x 12" Fabriano Artistico and Saunders - although Fabriano have this strange size of "12 x 18". We watercolourists are being taken to the cleaners!