Let’s Talk Paint

When it comes to watercolor paint there are so many things to consider; tube or pans? Which brand to pick (oh, so many brands!)? Student grade or professional grade? To cover it all in one blog would be very long, so I’m going to break it down into 3 different blog posts. This week, I will discuss the difference between pan watercolor vs tube watercolor.


When you are shopping for art supplies, you will come across a selection of paint in small tubes. Tube paint is concentrated paint that when you squeeze the tube onto your pallet you will instantly have a rich vibrant color. With tube paint, you have the choice of using the fresh paint and discarding it after you’re done or leaving it to dry and reuse the next time, I have done both. Supposedly, tubes protect the pigment from damage caused by the sun, and while I have no personal evidence of such, I have talked to people who only use tube paint because they find it faster to paint with. I will say your colors will be instantly richer and for me, that is a big positive to tube paint. An additional benefit is that tube paint is always ready to go. If you let the paint dry with hopes to reuse the paint, you will basically have pan watercolor and chances are your colors will not be as rich as fresh out of the tube. It will take many layers of paint to build up to that original richness.


When you buy watercolor paint in pans, the pan paints are extruded under pressure, which compresses them into the cakes. Since the paint is dry to the touch, you will need to wet your paint to activate the paint. The longer you wait the wetter the paint will be which will give you nice rich color and consistency. Particularly when working in large areas or creating watercolor washes, this can be frustrating if your pans aren’t saturated enough. Certain pigments are a little harder to work with than others and will require more water to moisten and bring to a workable consistency.

My Personal Takeaway 

I use tubes because I love the instant richness of the color that comes out of the tube. I additionally do not discard what I haven’t used; I save it and reuse it for next time. I make sure to cover my leftover paint pallet so dust and various other particles don’t get in the paint. When I am ready to use again, I make sure to wet the paint with plenty of water first before I prepare my paper for painting, giving it adequate time to activate the pigment. As with a lot of things in watercolor, it is a personal preference but I do recommend trying both.

Next week I will talk about student grades compared to professional-grade paints.

Happy painting! 

~ Wendy

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