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How To Use Watercolor Paints In Tubes | Paint Tubes

How To Use Watercolor Paints In Tubes

On visiting the art supplies section of a store, the most common watercolor products are tubes. 

These creamy paints are mostly available in attractive sets with a range of colors. Hence, they are quite often picked by those interested in learning to paint with watercolors. 

Even though high quality watercolor paints tubes aren’t really hard to use, beginners can find it challenging to manage the paint. It does take some trial and error to get accustomed to the paints and find a fitting technique for getting the most out of the colors. 

That’s why we have created this guide about how to use watercolor paints in tubes. We are sure that you’ll love using these paints with a bit more practice, which will help you paint unique art pieces. The information will also help those wanting to learn more about watercolor paints as a medium. If you need inspiration on how to use watercolor tubes, learn how to paint water with watercolor, if that sounds a bit much, simply find something new to paint with watercolor paint

So, without further ado, let’s get started! 

Emergence Of Watercolor Paints In Tubes

One of the interesting things about watercolor painting is that it’s thought to have a rich past dating back to paleolithic times. However, the painting medium gained much importance during the Renaissance with the emergence of prolific German and English schools. 

The composition of watercolor paints has mostly remained the same, where paint pigments are mixed with a binder like gum Arabic. Additives like glycerin, honey, and preservatives are also present in the mix to alter the viscosity, durability, and transparency of the paints. 

Before the advent of commercial watercolor paints in the 18th century, most painters had to rely on creating their own paints by mixing pigments with resins. But, the scene shifted in the 1700s when manufacturers started to produce slabs of premixed watercolor paints that were sold in small chunks to the painters. They needed to be dipped in water and rubbed on a suitable surface before usage. 

At the turn of the 19th century, moist watercolor paints in porcelain pans became widely available, making painting easier than ever before. It was also tied to the demand for travel-friendly paints to make sketching outdoors a hassle-free task. 

The well-known art supplies brand Winsor & Newton is credited for introducing watercolor paint tubes to the world. It pioneered mixing fine machine-ground pigments with binders and additives to create rich, moist watercolors packed into metal tubes. 

Apart from creating watercolor tubes, the brand is known for introducing screw caps, which retain the moisture of the paints for a long time. Most watercolor paints don’t really expire and can be revived just by adding a bit of water. 

Today, watercolor paints are available in different forms, including pans and tubes in more colors than ever before. More painters are interested in the medium and pushing the boundaries of painting. 

How To Use Watercolor Paints In Tubes

How To Use Watercolor Paints In Tubes

Using watercolor paints that come in tubes may seem like a no-brainer, but it can quickly become messy for a beginner. Most people are introduced to watercolors in the form of kids’ pan sets, which aren’t of the best quality. 

It may take you some time to get used to the texture and consistency of watercolor paints available in tubes, particularly for mixing the right amount of water. Don’t worry, as we have gathered some common points that will come in handy while getting started with tube watercolors for painting. 

A. Using Watercolor Paints Fresh From The Tube

The most common way of using moist paints is right from the tube. It’s a simple process that eliminates the need for extra tools, and as they are usually found in concentrated forms, you can begin with vibrant colors. On top of that, it’s easier to mix large batches of moist paints, which are especially helpful for covering large areas in a painting. 

Even though dried watercolor paints can be revived by adding a few drops of water, many artists prefer to use fresh paint each time. This becomes significantly simpler with watercolors available in tubes, as you can take the required amount of paint while squeezing it onto a mixing palette. It also eliminates the chance of the colors getting contaminated, a problem frequently faced while using watercolor pans. 

So, let’s check out the different factors associated with using the watercolor paint tubes. 

1. Choosing Watercolor Tubes

To get the desired results while creating a watercolor painting, you need to pick the right paints. Most watercolor brands like Daniel Smith paints categorize the colors based on grades. For instance, the artist-grade watercolor paint tubes will usually contain much richer and costlier pigments than student-grade options. So, you’ll need to pick the material that best suits your project. 

Other than that, watercolor paints are available in two standard formulations – staining and non-staining. While the staining variant seeps deep into the paper, the non-staining paints remain on the surface of the paper, making it easier to lift them off. The non-staining watercolor paints come in handy to fix mistakes, which is often considered impossible while using usual watercolor paints. 

The watercolor paint tubes are also available in colors with a shimmery, metallic, or glossy finish which can help you add unique highlights to a painting. 

2. Getting A Mixing Palette

While using tube watercolors, you’ll need a mixing palette to hold the paints before you can begin sketching. These days mixing palettes are easily available in art supplies stores, the most common options being those with mixing wells or depressions. 

However, you can easily use other objects like a butcher’s tray, a plastic lid, or a dinner plate as a mixing surface. The only thing you need to make sure of is that the surface is non-porous and solid to get the most out of your paint. We also recommend using a white surface to accurately see the shade of the colors. 

Another thing you should ensure is to keep enough gaps between the different colored paints to avoid a chance of contamination. That’s why it’s recommended to use mixing palettes with wells and depressions to keep the colors separate. When using a single mixing surface, try placing the paint dots around the edge and using the middle for mixing colors. 

A side note: the term “palette” can refer to different things in reference to watercolor painting. The most common definition would be the mixing palette on which you place the paint to mix the colors. There are also palette tins or boxes which have empty wells to store watercolors to make them travel-friendly. 

The term can even be used to denote a color palette, which stands for a range of colors that work well with each other. 

3. Opening A Watercolor Paint Tube

Isn’t opening a tube as simple as removing the screw cap? Well, it may seem like that, but opening watercolor tubes may quickly turn into a mess. Some manufacturers have a problem with overfilling the tubes. While it seems that you’ll be getting more paint, opening the tube for the first time may make the contents gush out. 

To avoid this, try to remove the cap without putting any pressure on the tube. You can also open the tube on top of a mixing palette to save most of the paint in case the contents of the tube spillover. 

Another problem usually faced by artists is old watercolor tubes getting dried. This can lead to the cap getting stuck, making it difficult for you to open the tube. Don’t worry, as you can moisten it by holding the tube upside down and submerging it in some warm water. 

Next time, apply some glycerin or honey to the inside of the cap before putting it back on the tube to avoid it from getting jammed. You should also consider cleaning the mouth of the tube with a tissue before reattaching the cap. This will help you to avoid getting dried paint flakes from accidentally contaminating other colors while opening a tube on a mixing surface. 

4. Squeezing Watercolor Paint Onto A Mixing Palette

Just like while opening the cap of a tube, you need to be careful about squeezing out the paint. To avoid wasting paint, it’s best to apply the least amount of pressure on the tube to let out only a small dot of paint on the mixing palette. 

When using a flat mixing surface, ensure that the dots have enough space between them to avoid color contamination. Many artists prefer to use palettes with separate paint wells and mixing areas to limit the possibility of contamination or colors running into each other. 

Having said that, others prefer to load their mixing palettes with enough watercolor paint to last the whole painting. You can let the paint dry between painting sessions as there’s no loss of pigmentation and it’s easy to revive it with water. 

While reviving dried watercolor paint, make sure to use a clean brush to avoid color contamination. A trick is to use a spray bottle to pre-wet the paint and rub it with a clean brush. Also, consider mixing palettes with lids to avoid particle contamination and accumulation of dust or pet hair on the paints. 

If your paint wells become muddy, pass it over warm running water to reveal the fresh paint underneath. We also suggest arranging the paints on a mixing surface according to their color family to locate them easily while working on a project. 

5. Mixing The Watercolor Paints

Before you begin to mix the watercolor paints, fill two containers with fresh water to clean the brushes. Make it a habit to wash your brush between dipping it into different colors to avoid contamination and making the paint muddy. 

Now, follow these steps to proceed with mixing the colors. 

    • Prepare the mixing area by creating a puddle with the help of your paintbrush.
    • Dip a clean brush into the water container.
    • Tap off on its edge to remove any excess water.
    • With the moistened brush pick up a bit of paint from the well and place it into the puddle.
    • Add more water to thin out the color or add a bit more paint for vibrancy.
    • To mix it with a second paint, wash your brush clean.
    • Dip into a new color, and add it to the mixing area.
    • Avoid flicking or applying too much pressure on a loaded brush.
    • Prevent color contamination in other wells or depression on the palette.
    • With watercolors, it’s best to add your paint to the water and not vice versa.

After you’re done mixing the colors, always remember to swatch it on a good watercolor paper to check the outcome. This is especially true while creating color blends, as even adding a tiny bit of one paint or the other may affect its hue. 

To do this, you can simply wet your brush, remove any excess water, dip it into the mixed paint puddles, and create a small pattern on a piece of paper. 

Using Wet Palettes

B. Using Wet Palettes

Some artists find using the leftover paint present on a mixing palette quite tedious. Instead, they find it easier to keep the paints fresh, and to do this artists often create wet palettes. These are nothing but a mixing palette with a lid that keeps the paints from drying out between your sketching sessions. 

Whenever you’re ready to sketch, you’ll come back to a palette ready with fresh paint, making mixing watercolor paint a lot easier. We recommend looking for a leakproof palette with a lid to store your wet paints as when left uncovered they could attract dust. 

The watertight boxes are convenient to carry when traveling or going out for an outdoor painting session. Nevertheless, a common problem faced with wet palettes is the growth of mold, as they multiply in moist areas. To reduce the probability of mold growth, you can use an airtight palette and store it in the refrigerator when you don’t need particular colors. 

C. Creating Your Own Watercolor Pans

There are people out there who prefer to create their own watercolor pans by filling empty ones with watercolor paint from tubes. Yes, it may seem a bit counterproductive as watercolor paints in pan form are easily available on the market. Some artists claim that the tubes may have a more concentrated paint formulation, or their favorite paint colors might only be carried in tubes. 

As it’s pretty easy to fill half pans or full pans with paint from tubes, many people like to create customized color palettes with this method. To create your watercolor pan, you’ll need an empty palette box and some empty pans, both of which are easily available in online shops. 

Another point that needs to be highlighted is the affordability of tube watercolor paint. You may find it relatively economical as tube watercolors can be used around three to four times to fill empty paint pans. On the other hand, watercolor pans, particularly the full pans, are often pricey, especially for artist-grade paints, and may have much less quantity than their tubed counterparts. 

Steps To Set Up Your Own Watercolor Pan Palette

    • Start by picking the watercolor paint tubes you would like to include in the palette.
    • Label each pan with the color shade name, brand, and pigment number.
    • Before opening the tube, massage it gently to mix the binders and pigments.
    • Squeeze paint from the tube onto the side of an empty pan and fill it halfway.
    • Stir the watercolor paint with a toothpick to integrate it.
    • Remove air bubbles that may cause cracks after the paint dries.
    • Don’t cover the paint pans and leave them to dry in a place with proper air circulation.
    • After the first layer is dry, fill the pans till a little way from the top.
    • Leave enough space to add water for reuse.
    • Filling the pans in two layers keeps the paint from cracking and falling off after drying.
    • If the paint fails to stick to the pan, apply a bit of glycerin for better adhesion.
    • We suggest organizing the pan paints into palettes based on their color family.
    • Reuse the dried paint by adding a few drops of water and rubbing them with a brush.

How To Use Watercolor Paints In Tubes

Is There Any Difference Between Watercolor Paint Tubes And Pans?

Most prominent brands carry watercolor paints in tubes and pans. This often makes people question whether there’s a stark difference between the two products. 

We are happy to let you know that the different packaging is almost always for convenience rather than to accommodate a change in formulation. In fact, brands often repurpose the same formulation as well as colors for tube and pan paints. 

Both the tubes and pans can be bought in sets or as individual pieces as per the preference of an artist. While the tubes are found in sizes between 5 ml and 40 ml, the pans are usually categorized as half pans or full pans. 

Half pans usually contain 3 ml to 5 ml worth of product, so it’s always better to go for tubes if you want to get the most amount of paint. 

Even though there’s seldom any difference in the formula, some advantages of watercolor paint in tubes include highly saturated colors. Paints in tubes can also be directly used with a bit of water rather than spending time using dried paint. 

Tube watercolor paints usually prove helpful in covering large areas while painting, such as for a wash technique. There’s also little chance of particle or color contamination as the paint is present inside the tube. 

On the other hand, the advantage of watercolor pans lies in their form factor and compactness. You can pack multiple pans in a tin or plastic box, making them extremely travel-friendly. Pan paints are also known to last significantly longer than tube variants. 

The color payoff from pans may not be as consistent or vibrant as the watercolor paint present in tubes. Also, the continuous need to rub the brushes on the colors may affect the bristles, so you may go through more of them. 

Watercolor Paints In Tubes Frequently Asked Questions?

How to restore dried watercolor paint tubes?

Most of us who have been using watercolors for a while will have old, crusty paint tubes lying around the house. As watercolors don’t really have an expiry date, you can easily restore them with a few simple steps. 

    • Cut open the metal or plastic tube.
    • Remove the paint into a mixing palette or pan.
    • Add a bit of gum Arabic, and water to revive the paint.
    • Let the paint soften, and add a bit more binder or water if required.
    • Stir the wet paint with a toothpick to create a smooth paste for getting a consistent color.

You’ll need a little more patience while restoring old dried paints, but it’s worth it and can be done with only a few supplies. 

Can you use watercolor paint straight from the tube?

Yes, you can directly pick up paint from the tube while working on a spot color. You need to unscrew the cap, and lift a little paint from the tube with a wet brush. Just make sure that the brush is absolutely clean to avoid contamination. But we don’t recommend using this technique frequently as it may promote mold growth. 

How to properly store watercolor paint tubes?

After you use watercolor paint tubes, it’s pretty essential to store them properly to prevent mold growth and contamination. Remember to clean the mouth of your tubes with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any excess paint that may get dried and clog the cap. 

To avoid the paints from cracking or getting separated, store the tubes in a cool, enclosed space and an airtight container. Properly stored watercolor tubes may last a long time and remain vibrant, which can sometimes be more than ten years. 

How To Use Watercolor Paints In Tubes

Watercolor Paint In Tubes Final Words

That’s everything we had to tell you about how to use watercolor paints in tubes. We hope our guide helps you in understanding more about the medium of watercolors and the idea behind the creation of tube paints. 

As you may have noticed, we didn’t really touch on the techniques required to paint with watercolors as they vary between artists. Once you get the hang of mixing colors and using tube paint, it shouldn’t be hard to make sketches. 

We would also like you to note that picking the right watercolor paint materials may seem a bit challenging at first. So, don’t spend too much time over it and just focus on getting quality materials. This includes watercolor pan or tube paint options available from known brands. 

Now, you are all set to experiment with mixing watercolor tube paints to start painting your first art piece! 

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson

Ann Hutchinson is the heart of the team, senior editor and our Head of Product Reviews which means she sets the testing parameters of each group review ensuring that tests resemble everyday use.

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