Pans, tubes, or liquid? In this post, you’ll finally get watercolor paints explained so you can make sure to get the right paint for you.
Watercolor Paints Explained
Watercolors come in a variety of different forms. If you step into an art shop or browse online, you’ll see watercolor pan sets, tube paint, and liquid watercolor in bright little bottles. It can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for!
In this post, I will explain exactly the difference between pans, tubes, and liquid paints. You’ll also learn the pros and cons of each type of paint, and I’ll even share a few tips to help you get the most out of each watercolor type! By the end of this post, you’ll be better equipped to decide exactly what type of watercolor paint you want to begin your artistic journey.
First things first: pan watercolors. You’ve probably used pan watercolors already because it’s the type of watercolors children use in elementary school.
These paints are dry cakes, or pans, that are set into a palette with a lid that snaps shut over top. You use these paints by activating the dry cakes with a little water. Then the pigments are wet and ready to be picked up by a brush. When you’re done painting, you can simply close the lid and allow the paints to dry on their own until the next use.
- Pan watercolors are easy to use and great for beginners.
- These paints range between extremely cheap and accessible to high-end professional level paints.
- Pan sets can be super compact and travel friendly.
- Cheaper pan sets can have less bold and vibrant colors.
- Pan sets are limited in their colors, so you have to learn to mix with what you have in that set.
My Favorite Pan Watercolors
Pan Watercolor Tip
When I use pan paints, I always take an eyedropper and add a few drops of clean water to each pan I intend to use. This gets the paint activated and ready to go so you don’t have to hold up in the middle of the painting process to wake up the colors.
Tube paints are extremely similar to pan watercolors in how you use them. The biggest difference is that with a tube, you squeeze the paint into a pan or palette to create cakes.
You might wonder why anyone might want to bother with this extra step. There are a number of different reasons why some people prefer tube paints.
- Tube paints contain much more paint than a single pan. You can refill the same pan several times with a single tube, making it very cost-efficient.
- Tube paints offer tons of flexibility with your palette. Instead of the standard set of colors, you can purchase tubes of all your favorite or most-used colors and create a pan palette perfectly customized for you.
- You can mix custom colors with tube paints. While the paint is fresh from the tube, use a palette knife or toothpick to create specific hues like skin tones or brand colors.
- Tubes are a bit more work than pans, meaning more time prepping your paints.
- Most tube paints on the cheaper level come with a limited set of colors. It’s only when you start paying for more expensive paints that you can truly mix and match colors. However, you can start with a set and add one or two colors at a time from fancier brands.
- You have to purchase some kind of palette to put your paints into.
My Favorite Tube Watercolors
Tube Watercolor Tip
When you fill your palette or pans with wet paint straight from the tube, give your palette a few days to dry out before you use it. If you try to use your palette while the paint is still wet, you’ll end up using much more than you might intend, resulting in unnecessary waste.
The final type of paint I want to discuss is liquid watercolor. This paint arrives in liquid form, often with a dropper attached to the inner lid. You use this paint by adding a few drops to a palette, diluting it with clean water, and using it like you normally would.
- Liquid watercolors are often extremely concentrated and bold, meaning you only need a few drops to get vibrant colors.
- Due to their concentrated nature, you can make liquid paints last a very long time before needing to resupply.
- These paints are excellent for watercolor lettering because the colors blend extremely well.
- You can use liquid watercolors on dip pens for calligraphy.
- I have found that not all liquid watercolors rehydrate well once they’ve dried. Some colors rehydrate okay, but others are flaky or crumbly once they’ve left their original liquid form.
- Due to their unpredictability with rehydration, I find that liquid watercolors are not well suited for travel.
- After only about a year of use, I found a few of the bottles of liquid paint had thickened and become very sludgy, making them difficult to use.
- Often you will find liquid paints in sets just like you will with pans and tubes, limited your color range.
My Favorite Liquid Watercolors
Liquid Watercolor Tip
Make sure to dilute your paint with clean water in a palette before you use it. A little goes a long way! You can always add new layers to your painting or make your paint well more intense — it’s much harder to remove pigment that is too strong.
New to Watercoloring?
If you're new to watercoloring, I highly recommend that you check out my watercolor guide for beginners. This massive free guide includes absolutely everything you need to get started watercoloring.
Even if you're not new to watercoloring, I guarantee you'll find some stuff you love.
What’s Best for a Beginner?
While there are tons of different options that are amazing for all kinds of watercolor projects, I would recommend a beginner find a cheap pan set to get started. You can learn a lot with a very cheap pan set.
It might be tempting to purchase a fancier set of paint, but it bears noting that nicer paints won’t necessarily translate to nicer paintings if you don’t know the basics of watercolor.
Besides, it can be easy to fall into a trap of fear if you splurge and get nicer paints. You might feel scared to use the paint and create bad art, so you save the paint for the “right” time (Sound like you? Read this.). But no matter how bad your paintings might be, the only wasted paint is the paint left in the bottle, tube, or pan. So get something easily within your budget, don’t be fussy about using it, and make art freely!