Beginners Guide to Using Watercolour Paint Tubes

Watercolor paint is one of the best art mediums that both beginners and skilled artists use. It comes in different forms including tubes, pans, and liquid watercolors. You can use any type of watercolor paint depending upon your style and preferences. If you’re interested in buying watercolor paint tubes, you

Watercolor paint is one of the best art mediums that both beginners and skilled artists use. It comes in different forms including tubes, pans, and liquid watercolors. You can use any type of watercolor paint depending upon your style and preferences.

If you’re interested in buying watercolor paint tubes, you have come to the right place. This article discusses different ways to use watercolor paint tubes that you can follow regardless of your skill level.



What are Watercolor Paint Tubes?

Definition: Small tubes that contain the mixture of pigments and binder solution are called watercolor paint tubes. They come with saturated colors that you can use with water to draw art on your watercolor paper.

They’re the most common form of watercolors after pans and choosing between the two is a matter of your personal preferences. Both forms of watercolour paints offer the same quality. However, choosing low-quality products will affect your work quality. So, you should buy tubes or pans with artist-grade ratings as they’re excellent for all skill levels and allow you to achieve the best results.

Artist-quality paint tubes and pans are a little more expensive but the difference between them and ordinary watercolors is substantial. There are also different ranges of artist-grade watercolor paints but they come with very little difference in overall color quality.

Different Ways to Use Watercolor Paint Tubes



Every artist has his/her own preferences and habits, but there are three major ways to use watercolor paint tubes that I’ve learned from my own experience and the workflows of other artists.

Method One: Squeeze Out Paint from Tubes onto a Palette

The first method is about squeezing our paint from watercolor tubes onto your palette. Your watercolor paint will dry out on your mixing palette after some time and you’ll need to use water to reactivate it. While you can use any mixing surface to use this method, using a mixing palette comes with added benefits.

That’s because it comes with multiple paint wells where you can place your paint extracted from tubes and dedicated mixing space. It’s my favorite method because it reduces the cleanup time and wastage of watercolour paints. You can easily use water to reactivate your dried paint without losing pigment saturation.

Understand the Term Palette

The term palette in watercolor painting refers to a few different things. The mixing palette is a surface where artists mix their watercolors. There are different types of mixing palettes out there but almost all of them come with a mixing space and paint wells where you can store your pure paint.

Next, we have tins or palette boxes. Some of them come with boxes that hold whole or half pan paints that can be pre-filled or empty. Other palette boxes are just empty tins and have paint wells to store watercolor from tubes.

Some artists also use the word “palette” to refer to the variety of colors they have for painting.

Steps to Follow

  1. Select the paint tubes that you want to use and squeeze out watercolor in small amounts into your palette wells.

  2. Add a couple of drops to palette wells to see the actual colors of the paint. It’ll also keep the paints from forming a hard skin while you’re painting.

Note: While you can mix water and paint in wells, it’s not necessary. Leaving a small amount of concentrated color will come in handy if you need saturated color.

  1. Group different paints into their respective color families before adding them to your palette. It’ll allow you to easily locate the hues that you need to use during your painting process.

  2. Clean your brush before picking up pigment each time, especially if your palette wells are very close to each other. It’ll help you ensure that you don’t accidentally mix two different colors. Make sure that you don’t splash a paint tube watercolor into its adjacent well.

Tips to Keep in Mind

  1. The paint that you placed in your palette wells will dry out when not in use and you’ll need to add some water to reactivate them. Some artists use spray bottles and others use their brushes to pre-wet their paint. Some watercolor paint tubes also have wetting agents to reduce the water’s surface tension to improve the reactivation process.

  2. You can also store your mixing palette with watercolour paints in the refrigerator to prevent evaporation and mold.

  3. While mixing colors. it’s advisable to squeeze out more paint than you think you’ll be using. You can run out of the color mix and it’s a very challenging and time-consuming task to mix and make the exact same hue again.

  4. Squeezing out paint from tubes on a mixing palette increases the risk of particle and dust contamination between watercolor painting sessions. In order to prevent this problem, you can cover your mixing palette using aluminum foil. You can also use a mixing palette that comes with a built-in lid to prevent contamination.  

Mixing Palettes with a Lid

If you’re one of those artists who like to keep their water color tube paints wet, consider using a wet palette. Not only does it allow you to work with fresh paint every time but you can also create a personalized watercolor palette.

You also won't need to dissolve your watercolor tube paint before starting every painting session. Wet palette boxes are readily available and you can buy them from any art supply store to store your tube paints. They’re not only water-tight but you can also carry them while moving around. These palettes work as an excellent dust cover and prevent overnight evaporation.

On the downside, wet paint can become moldy if you place them in a humid and warm place. To keep them fresh for a long time, I recommend you store them in your refrigerator.

Method Two: Using Paint Tubes by Making Watercolor Pans



Already filled watercolor pans are available in the market. But you can use paint tubes to set up your own personalized palette by refilling pans as well. All you need is a palette box long with empty pans.

Typically, watercolor pans come in two different sizes including half pans and full pans and you can choose the one that suits your style the best. I personally use full pans because it makes it easy to pick up colors. In addition, both full and half pans can work with most types of palette boxes.

It’s important to note that already filled watercolor pans come at a more affordable price as compared to tube paint. However, you’ll need to use more paint and less water with pans, which makes paint tubes a more economical choice.

Steps to Follow

  1. You can use the following steps to make your own pans using paint tubes.

  2. Choose the colors that you want to place in your watercolor palette.

  3. Use a waterproof pen to label the pans with pigment numbers, brand, and color name. It comes in handy while refilling your pans.

  4. Massage gently or shake your paint tubes before opening. Sometimes, gum Arabic or any other type of binder and paint get separated from each other, especially if you’ve not used your paint tubes for a long period of time.

  5. Squeeze out some paint and place it in a pan about halfway. Use an unfolded paper clip or toothpick to stir the paint in order to remove trapped air bubbles.

  6. Repeat the same process for all the paint tubes and leave them uncovered to let them dry.

  7. Once the watercolor paint dries, fill the remaining halves of all the pans using the same techniques. Don’t forget to leave some space so that you can add a few drops of water. It’ll allow you to easily reactivate your paint before starting your watercolor painting session without accidentally mixing two or more colors.

This two-step process will keep your tube paint from cracking. Use watercolour paints offered by renowned and reputable brands such as Daniel Smith. Lower-quality products crack easily during the drying process.

Tips to Keep in Mind

  1. Make sure that you organize each paint tube in your palette based on its color family. It’ll help you find the desired hues easily while painting.

  2. Once your paint tube pans are fully dried, you can use them just like pre-fill water colour pans by adding a few drops of water.

  3. It’s important to note that there will be no difference in quality as most companies use the same technique to make watercolor pans.

Method Three: Using Watercolor Paint Directly from the Tubes

You can also work straight from your watercolor paint tubes if you want. I recommend you use this method for tube paint colors that you don’t use frequently. I use this technique for Chinese white and some other opaque colors.

Serious painters and artists usually use paint tubes with more expensive pigments than ordinary ones. They use this quick and easy technique to mix watercolor paint tubes because they like to draw with fresh colors.

Steps to Follow

  1. Grab something that you can use as a clean mixing surface like a butcher tray, dinner plate, or a mixing palette. The mixing surface should be white and impermeable like enamel, ceramic, or plastic.

  2. Squeeze a dot out of your paint tube on the mixing tray that you want to use. Most artists place their tube paint right around the edge of the palette well or mixing tray. It prevents color contamination and also provides you with enough room to mix different colors.

  3. Pick up a clean brush and dip it in water and place it on the paint in order to pick some pigment up.

  4. Mix the water and paint gently to achieve a smooth consistency.

  5. Clean the brush thoroughly and repeat the same process for all the paints you want to use.

  6. Utilize all the mixes while painting and clean your mixing palette once your painting session is ended.

Tips to Keep in Mind

  1. Use the amount of paint that you’ll utilize while painting to prevent wastage of pigments.

  2. You can always add more watercolor paint from your tubes to your mixing palette if needed.

  3. Never use a dirty brush to mix a new color with water to prevent contamination of pure pigments.

  4. Keep your working area clean and tidy to avoid unwanted scenarios.

  5. Try not to put too much pressure on small tubes or you’ll end up extracting more watercolor paint than you need.

  6. Be careful while opening old tubes as there can be some flakes of dried watercolor paint. Make sure that these flakes don’t end up in your mixing palette or on your watercolor paper.

  7. Never leave your watercolour paints open for a long time or they’ll dry out. Even if they don’t dry, they’ll remain sticky. If you’re experiencing the same problem, consider placing your watercolor paint tubes cap down in warm water for some time.


How to Recover Dried Watercolor Paint Tubes?

Dried watercolor paint tubes become completely useless. But it certainly doesn’t mean that you should discard those watercolour paints. The simple way to recover those watercolour paint tubes is to cut them open and mix the color with some water of hum Arabic binder solution.

Consider leaving the mixture of gum Arabic binder/water and paint for some time and then start stirring to make a smooth mixture. You might also need to add some more water or gum Arabic binder depending upon the quantity of paint and intensity of dryness.

Are Water Colour Pans Better than Tubes?

Choosing between water colour paints and tubes is a matter of your personal preference. If you’re planning to create watercolor washes or work in large areas, using watercolor paint tubes will be a better choice. On the other hand, if you like to move around with your painting supplies, watercolor pans will suit you better.

Final Words

Most artists keep paint tubes along with other forms of watercolors. If you’re a beginner and planning to buy water color paint tubes, make sure that you follow the methods and tips mentioned in this guide to utilize this form of watercolors most efficiently and effectively.

by Greg Conley

November 22nd, 2022