Several years ago, someone on an art supply forum posted a link to an eBay listing for a cheap aluminium watercolour palette, asking if it was any good. I only had a plastic palette at the time (which had the corner broken off after I’d accidentally stood on it), and the aluminium palettes were quite cheap, so I bought one for use as my ‘play’ palette, to test any interesting or new colours I bought. A month or two ago, I misplaced the plastic palette I’d been using with my M Graham watercolours, so I figured I might as well buy another of the aluminium ones (this time I got a smaller one).
On eBay, they are listed as Heung Il palettes and they generally come from Korean sellers. I think the same manufacturer makes them for different ‘brands’ though, as while the large palette I bought a few years ago came in a green box with Heung Il on it, the little one that arrived yesterday had the Artria brand on it instead, but the packaging was otherwise identical apart from the change of the design from green to blue.
It’s quite obvious these palettes were designed to be a knock-off version of the Holbein watercolour palettes. They come in a variety of sizes and designs and start at about $18 AUD (depending on currency conversion rates), which is about a third of the price of equivalent genuine Holbein palettes. The two I got have the same layout of wells and mixing areas, but one is just smaller.
As far as build quality goes, they seem to be a bit hit-and-miss. I have had no issues with the two palettes I’ve bought, but others on WetCanvas who ordered their palettes at around the same time I did have reported a range of problems, from enamel flaking badly before it’s even used to the box not quite closing properly to the dividers for the wells not being welded properly to the box, leaving gaps for tube watercolour to seep through into other wells when poured in. I guess the obvious caveat here is, you get what you pay for, and any time you buy a knock-off, you’re taking the gamble that it won’t be as good as the real thing.
One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to roughen the surface of the palette a bit before you use it. When I mixed some watercolour on it straight out of the box, it beaded up terribly. For the first palette, I used some baking soda and water and scrubbed all the mixing surfaces with my finger, which worked reasonably well. I haven’t prepared my new palette yet but this time I’ll probably just use a fine grit sandpaper to gently roughen the surface. You lose the nice glossy, metallic shine but it makes it so much easier to mix your colours.
Overall, I think these palettes are decent for what you pay for them. If the dividers have gaps, it’s easy enough to fill them with Selleys or some other gap filler, while the other problems are mostly cosmetic and won’t really hinder your use of the palette (unless you get unlucky and the enamel flakes in a bad place). If you want a palette that’s sturdier than a plastic folding palette but won’t be too hard on your wallet, I’d recommend having a look on eBay for one of these Heung Il palettes.