What Is Watercolor Paint? - Here's What You Should Know

Watercolor paint is a versatile art medium. You can use watercolor paints to apply to everything from fabrics and wood to stone, canvas, and paper. However, most professional artists usually use watercolor paper to create paintings. For hundreds of years, watercolor painting has remained...

Watercolor paint is a versatile art medium. You can use watercolor paints to apply to everything from fabrics and wood to stone, canvas, and paper. However, most professional artists usually use watercolor paper to create paintings.

For hundreds of years, watercolor painting has remained the most popular art medium in Asia. It made its place in western art in the late 18th century and led to the Golden Age of watercolor painting.

JMW Turner, John Constable, Richard Parkes Bonington, Emil Nolde, Maurice Prendergast, and John Martin are some of the most popular names of the watercolor painting world.



How Do You Describe Watercolor Paint?

Definition: Watercolor paints are basically the mixture of water-soluble binder and pigments along with small quantities of solvents and additives. The pigments present in watercolor paints are responsible for providing the color.

Types of Watercolours

There are multiple types of watercolor paint but the most common two forms are watercolor tubes and pans. Choosing between different watercolor types is a matter of your own personal preferences and painting style.

Watercolor Paint Tubes

The watercolor paint tubes, as the name implies, are semi-liquid watercolors packed in tubes that offer consistency similar to toothpaste. There are different ways of using paint tubes depending upon your watercolor painting style and needs.

Watercolor Pans

Watercolor paints that come in a dry (solid) form and look like small cakes are called watercolor pans. You need to add water to these pans to activate pigments before painting. Many artists prefer this type of watercolours because they’re easy to store and you can easily carry them when you’re on the move.  

It’s yet another type of watercolor paint that is not very common among beginners. It’s a concentrated liquid painting medium that you can use directly without adding water.

However, you can use them with water as well if you want to make pale hues. Because of fluidity and color strength, liquid watercolors make for a delightful medium for both beginners and professional artists.

What Are Watercolor Paints Made Of?



As mentioned, watercolor paints are made of different ingredients including pigment, binder solution, additives, and solvents. There are more than 100 different types of pigments that manufacturers use to make artist-grade watercolors.

The pigment proportion in water-soluble paint can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer depending upon the quality and grade of the watercolours. Some manufacturers offer watercolors that come with 10 percent pigment content. But you can also buy colors that have more than 50 percent pigment content.

Most companies use gum Arabic as a binder solution but some products use synthetic glycol as well. The binder solution keeps the pigment particles suspended in order to offer uniform and even color consistency and it also helps the color to stick to your paper.

In order to improve the durability and viscosity of watercolor paints, some additives such as corn syrup, honey, and glycerin are also added. These additives ensure easy handling and smooth consistency and improve the overall texture of watercolors.

The fillers and additives also improve the ability of the pigment to stick to the surface of watercolor paper by keeping it from lifting off. Depending upon the type, watercolours can also have water as an ingredient.

Dispersants and extenders are some other additives that many watercolor paint manufacturers use. Sometimes brighteners are also used in watercolor paints to adjust the paint lightness or enhance the pigment color.

You can also make your own watercolor paints at home by using natural pigments, binder solution, and additives.

Basic Characteristics of Watercolor Paints

Safe to Use: Watercolors are non-toxic, non-smelly, and water-soluble paints that are safe for both adults and children.

Multiple Painting Surfaces: Traditionally, they’re painted on watercolor paper but you can buy a specially designed watercolor canvas for the same purpose.

Easy to Use and Clean: They’re lightweight, which means you can easily carry your watercolor art supplies if you like to move around a lot. So, if you like Plein-air painting, this art medium will serve you well.

Great for Complex Drawings: Watercolour painting is great for quick sketches due to its portability and ease of cleanup and use but it doesn’t mean you can’t use them for complex drawings. In fact, many artists use this art medium for still life, portrait, and landscape paintings.

Work with Other Art Supplies: Another great feature of water color paints is that they work well with ink, graphite, simple colored pencils, and watercolor pencils. It means you can use them to create mixed media pieces.

Water color paints are great for emotive and ethereal effects because of their translucent quality. You should pre-plan your painting because the translucency of this art medium makes it difficult to cover mistakes. Most watercolor artists use a soft graphite pencil to make a sketch of their composition before starting the drawing process.

Reactivation Properties: The color of watercolor painting generally gets lighter when it dries out. This is something you should consider while painting. Water colour paint dries quickly if you don’t mix them with water.

However, you can easily reactivate dried watercolor paint using water. Even if your watercolors get dried on your palette, all you need to do is to add a few drops of water to re-wet paint.

Several Painting Techniques: There are several watercolor painting techniques that you can use. These techniques include wet-on-dry where you use dry paper and wet brush and wet-on-wet which involves wet paper and wet brush. You can also use salt and splattering to make unique effects while painting with watercolor.

Can be Preserved and Stored: There are several techniques to preserve and store your watercolor painting. You can apply varnish to provide your painting with a moisture-resistant coating or you can opt for archival framing techniques to frame your artwork without affecting its quality.

How to Choose Watercolor Paints?



Making great paintings using watercolors is a delicate and time-consuming process. Every ingredient present in your watercolor will contribute to its drawbacks and benefits to the composition of your drawings.

That’s why it’s critical to choose high-quality water color paints, especially if you want to become a professional artist. High-quality products not only allow you to create beautiful artwork but also keep your paintings in great condition for a long period of time.

There are some important factors that you need to keep in mind while buying a set of new watercolors.


Performance or lightfastness is the ability of your watercolor paints to indicate the longevity of your drawings. It is the resistance of your watercolor painting to fading when exposed to UV radiation like sunlight and fluorescent bulbs.

Use the following ASTM standard of lightfastness to choose the watercolor products.

  1. ASTM I: Best quality lightfastness

  2. ASTM II: Good quality lightfastness

  3. ASTM III: Low-quality lightfastness

I recommend you buy ASTM I or ASTM II so that your watercolor painting can last for a longer period of time.


Transparency is one of the most prominent properties of the watercolor art medium. It means that all watercolors have the built-in transparency property but their level varies from product to product. Primarily there are four different levels of watercolor transparency

  1. Opaque

  2. Semi-opaque

  3. Semi-transparent

  4. Fully transparent

Watercolor paint that comes with a full transparency level allows light to pass through. Resultantly, light reflects back and offers a more luminous and brighter color. It’s the recommended level for professional artists.

On the other hand, opaque water colors are chalkier and thicker in appearance and artists use this type of product in moderation. You can also decrease the transparency level of your watercolors by adding Chinese white.


Watercolor paints come in a wide range of colors. Different manufacturers use different paint formulations and pigments to make their products. They also have very attractive names such as vermilion, French ultramarine, and Scarlett Lake. However, it’s important to note that these names are used just for the sake of marketing.

Sometimes different manufacturers use the same name for their products containing different pigments. As mentioned earlier, the color of watercolor paint depends upon the pigment(s) it contains. So, it is advisable to focus on pigments instead of the color names.

Watercolor paints that come with a single pigment usually offer a more vibrant and intense color than paints containing multiple pigments mixed together.

So, What Watercolor Paint Should You Buy?

In simple words, you should buy ASTM I or ASTM II transparent watercolor paint containing only one pigment if you want to achieve the desired results. Not only are these paints easy to mix but they also perform well when applied to watercolor paper or canvas.

Theoretically, you can make pretty much any type of color by mixing different pigments together. All you need to do is to make sure that you use the right ways of mixing watercolors.

Advantages of Watercolor Painting



Watercolors paints are very different from gouache, oil, and acrylic styles. You need to use different techniques to paint with each of these art mediums. But watercolor painting is not any more difficult (if not less) than acrylic, oil, and other mediums. Just like an acrylic or oil painter, you’ll need to make some adjustments to correct mistakes in your final painting made with watercolors as well.

 In watercolor painting, the main ingredient responsible for color is the pigment that remains suspended until the watercolor dries. Keep in mind that watercolors dry pretty quickly and you need to make decisions quickly while painting. Otherwise, you’ll need to go through the hassle of mixing water with the dried paint in order to reactivate it. The following are some advantages of using watercolor paints:

  1. Watercolor paints are much less messy as compared to acrylics and oils because they’re water-based art mediums.

  2. They dry quickly which means you can complete your watercolor painting more quickly than acrylics and oils. Some watercolor artists also use a hairdryer to accelerate the drying process even further.

  3. They’re non-toxic and don’t come with a strong smell.

  4. They’re safe for kids, easy to work with and make for a great art medium.

  5. Any water color artist can easily mix different pigments together to make new hues and shades.

  6. Water colours paints are light which means you can easily carry them if you move around frequently. Portability also makes them perfect for plein air paintings.

  7. They’re water-soluble which means you can clean your supplies including palette and brush easily.

  8. Dried watercolors can be easily reactivated using water that decreases the wastage of art supplies.


What Is Watercolour Paint Used For?

Watercolor paint is a translucent water medium that can be used for many different purposes like for studies, botanical painting, illustration, and in classrooms for watercolor lessons. Watercolors are made of pigments and a binder solution along with additives and solvents that allow them to stick to the surface of watercolor paper.

Is Watercolor Art Easy

Watercolour paints are a great medium for both professionals and beginners as they’re easy to work with. They’re less expensive and more efficient and flexible than most other art mediums and artists around the world have been using them for hundreds of years. You can use various techniques to make beautiful watercolor paintings including wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry.

What Is Masking Fluid?

Masking fluid is one of the best tools that every watercolor artist should use. Latex rubber and ammonia are the main ingredients used to make masking fluid. It’s applied on watercolor paper after painting to create a layer called a “mask”. The main purpose of this layer is to keep the area underneath unaffected by the pigments that you brush over. It allows you to keep light areas of your painting intact.

Final Words

Watercolor paint comes with an inherent subtlety and delicacy and it’s all about transparent color and thin washes. We hope this guide will help you understand watercolor paint along with its different types, characteristics, and advantages. Happy painting.

by Greg Conley

November 29th, 2022