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Watercolor Tubes Vs Pans: Which One Is Better?

Watercolor tubes are pigmented, last long, and blend well, but are expensive and not travel-friendly. Pans, on the other hand, are quite affordable, portable, and ideal if you want to create precise details in your art, but are less pigmented and dry out easily.

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Watercolor painting is a beautiful way of creating enticing artwork.

It allows you to get as innovative as possible and lets you truly enjoy the process of creating something new. However, what kind of watercolor paint should you use for this form of painting?

Well, the battle of watercolor tubes vs. pans has existed for quite some time now, and it is high time that we put an end to it! So, in this article, I will be going through a deep analysis of these two types of watercolor paints.

Let us begin…

All You Need To Know About Watercolor Tubes

All You Need To Know About Watercolor Tubes
© Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji

Watercolor tubes are squeezable paints, and their consistency resembles that of toothpaste. Generally, such tube paints have high solubility in water. Since they have a metal cap tightly screwed over their opening, they preserve moisture inside the pigments. 

Such watercolor tubes have highly pigmented shades and are ideal for artists who like to have access to large amounts of watercolor paint easily. If you are looking for a watercolor paint that can add a touch of vibrancy to your watercolor painting - watercolor tubes are the ones to go for!

Advantages Of Using Tubes

1. More Intense Colors

Intense colors can help elevate your artwork. Since watercolor tubes are well known for their strong pigmentation, you can create vibrant and more intense paintings without using a large amount of tube paint. 

The paint in a watercolor tube is quite thick in texture. This feature can facilitate you to create brighter hues and bold effects. It is not easily achievable with watercolor tube alternatives like pan colors. So, you should definitely go for the former to create your desired effect of a bold punch in your painting. 

2. Easier To Mix And Blend Colors

If you do not like compromising on your blending abilities simply because the quality of your paint fails to put up with your skills, the watercolor tubes won’t disappoint you. Since you can control the amount of paint that you apply by squeezing the tube, you can achieve your desired blends more accurately. 

Further, it can help you achieve your desired tonal variations. Since watercolor tubes allow you to use concentrated pigments in just the right amount, you can easily create smoother transitions as well. 

3. Longer Lasting

There are two main reasons why paints wear out over time - they either dry out or get contaminated. Fortunately, you do not have to deal with either of these issues while using watercolor tubes. 

Since they have a tight screw cap, you don’t have to deal with the issue of dried paint. This strong seal also prevents any kind of contaminants like dust from mixing with the tube paint. As a result, watercolor tubes maintain their quality and consistency and last way longer than their alternatives, watercolor pans. 

4. Greater Variety Of Colors

The best part about working with liquid watercolors is the wide spectrum of shades that you get to create in your watercolor painting. However, if you like to go bold with different colors - you might be a little disappointed with watercolor pans for their limited shade range. 

In such cases, watercolor tubes are a great option to go for. They offer a wide variety of colors, such as metallic and fluorescent colors, along with primary and secondary shades. This greater availability of colors can help you experiment with different color combinations.

5. Better Control Over The Amount Of Tube Paint Being Used

To prevent wasting paint while creating art, it is important to control the amount of liquid tube watercolors in the process. Watercolor paint in tubes gives you complete control over how much pigment you squeeze out. This is why artists that use tubes do not end up with too much paint on their mixing trays.

Additionally, when working with watercolor tubes, you can control the color palette more efficiently. You have the option of mixing colors before painting on a paper, which can be a tricky task while using watercolor pans (since you need to keep dipping your brush in pan paints!).  

6. Ability To Re-Wet

Last but not least, the ability of a watercolor tube to re-wet itself is one of the best advantages that it has to offer you. This means that even after the watercolor tube paint dries - either on your palette or on your watercolor paper - you can easily reactivate it by adding water to it. 

This is especially useful for people who get second thoughts on the kind of effects that they wish to create in their artworks. You can be as flexible as you want while using watercolor tubes and experiment with different effects as and when you get new ideas. 

Disadvantages Of Using Tubes

1. More Expensive

Anything good comes at a price - and watercolor tubes are no exception to this. Since the watercolor tubes are superior in terms of quality and functionality as compared to pans, they are costlier than the latter too. 

This can be a make-or-break aspect for artists who are on a tight budget. Some brands offer beginner-friendly watercolor tubes at a somewhat affordable cost. But they generally have a shorter lifespan and lack the level of vibrancy that you might desire. 

2. Less Portable

If you are looking for a decent travel-friendly watercolor set, liquid watercolor tubes might not be ideal for you. These small tubes can get heavy and bulky. As a result, you may have to carry a heavy case of wet paint if you wish to create art as soon as you see inspiration. 

For most people, this is not practical at all. Hence, watercolor tubes are not the best kinds of paint if you’re always on the go.

3. Requires Careful Handling

A watercolor tube can be a very useful art supply, but it requires careful handling and management on the artist’s end to prevent potential messiness. For instance, since you need to squeeze tubes to release paint, you might end up losing control over the flow of paint and stain your clothes.

Additionally, if you forget to screw the cap tightly on your watercolor tubes, there is a high chance that they will start leaking. Hence, watercolor paint tubes are not for clumsy artists!

All You Need To Know About Watercolor Pans
© Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji

All You Need To Know About Watercolor Pans

Watercolor pans are a traditional form of paint widely used by many artists even today. They are cold-compressed paints filled in shallow trays in small sections. Such pans can become dried paint when not in use and need to be activated through extrusion before you begin painting.

The process of activating a pan paint is very simple. All you have to do is wet your brush and rub it gently across the pan paint. Then, the liquid form that will stick to the bristles of your brush can be used to paint your art.

Advantages Of Using Pans

1. More Affordable

If you are on a tight budget, purchasing affordable art supplies like pan paints can be a great decision for you. They cost significantly lower than other forms of paints, such as watercolor paint tubes. Hence, you can experiment as much as you want with concepts such as color theory without blowing a hole in your pocket. 

Another great thing about pan paints is that they can be purchased in sets as well as individually. This means that while you can buy a bigger set if you have enough money, you can also stick to buying only the colors that you need the most at a time. 

Hence, watercolor tubes can help you make smart financial decisions when it comes to spending money on art supplies. 

2. More Portable

If you travel a lot but do not like to wait until you reach your accommodation to start painting, you must own pans. Since they are lightweight and compact, such paints are ideal for traveling and painting on the go. 

You can easily fit such full pans in your backpack. They are small and slim, and you can easily place them in any suitable compartment of your bag. This way, you can create art in your leisure time, irrespective of where you are! 

3. Easy To Use And Control

If you are a beginner artist, you might want to start with watercolor pans. They are easy to use and can assist you in creating precise details in your artwork. You can also use this form of paint to create smooth transitions easily. 

Additionally, if you like creating complex designs using several layers, watercolor pans can help you do so effectively. Since you get the ability to build the intensity of hues over time, you can decide when exactly you wish to stop. This gives you greater control over the concentration of colors in your art, which is absent in the case of watercolor tubes with highly concentrated pigments.  

4. Easy To Clean

If you do not like dedicating time to maintain the cleanliness of your art supplies, then paints like watercolor tubes might not be the best for you. Apart from the necessary routine of cleaning brushes and mixing tray, they also require you to clean their nozzles and caps properly. 

On the other hand, alternatives like watercolor pans are very easy to clean. All you need to do is wipe off any paint or water left behind on the watercolor pan set to avoid contamination of colors. This makes watercolor pans a low-maintenance alternative to a variety of paint options out there on the market. 

5. Less Waste

When artists use watercolor pans to paint their artworks, all they have to do is use the brush to lift off the pigment from the container and use it on their canvas. There is no hassle of measuring how much paint needs to be drawn out or how tightly the caps need to be screwed back. 

Since you only use the amount of paint that you need in the case of watercolor pan sets, there are fewer chances of wasting it. Hence, if you want your paint to last longer - it is better that you invest in good-quality watercolor pan sets. 

Disadvantages Of Using Pans

1. Less Intense Colors

Watercolor pans may not be the best kind of paint if you want to create bright and bold hues in your paintings. Their pigments are quite diluted, which is why they give off a particularly lighter shade as compared to their alternatives, like watercolor tubes. 

For beginners, it can be challenging to identify certain shades like cool reds and transparent browns when unwrapping their pan paints. Different colors have varying pigment intensity and transparency, making them appear black. 

2. Limited Color Selection

Watercolor pans are generally available in sets of 12 to 24 on the market. While this range is enough for some artists, it may seem quite less for people who want a wide spectrum of paints in their watercolor palette.

There are a few brands that offer a wide variety of color selections in their watercolor pan sets. However, they are quite costly, which affects one of the biggest USPs of watercolor pan sets - affordability.   

3. Can Dry Out Quickly

The solid cakes of watercolor pan sets are made up of dry pigments and a binding agent (gum arabic binder, for instance). Since such paints are already in a solid form, they are much more prone to drying out. This means that you will have to re-wet the cakes constantly if you have to paint for long hours at a time. 

Further, constantly using water to wet the watercolor pan sets can decrease the concentration of pigments in the solid cakes. As a result, you may end up using more than the required amount of paint, leading to wastage.

Which To Choose: Tubes Or Pans?

1. Personal Preference

One of the most important judgment criteria when it comes to watercolor tubes vs. pan form is the aspect of personal preferences. One shoe can never fit all, which is why you must sort your priorities and understand what kind of paint you want to go for.

For instance, if you want to create bold effects in your paintings using bright colors, you might prefer tubes over pans. However, if you want your paints to be portable and easier to set up, watercolor pan sets have the edge over their contender.  

2. Painting Style

The style of painting that you opt for while creating any particular artwork should strongly influence your decision when choosing between these two types of paints. For instance, if your priorities lie in the creation of layers and blending colors, watercolor tubes should be the better option for you. 

They have a rich texture and are very easy to blend, all the while retaining their strong pigmentation. Watercolor artists who like experimenting with different color pops in their art should consider working with the strongly concentrated pigments of watercolor tubes. 

However, if your painting style lies closer to working with precision and providing ample attention to even the smallest details, watercolor pan form sets might be better for you. Since these paints allow you to gradually build your layering up, you can closely look at what works for you and what does not, and make the necessary changes. 

3. Budget

On comparing the prices of watercolor tubes vs. pans, it is very evident that we have a clear winner. Watercolor pan sets are significantly cheaper than tubes, which is why artists with a limited budget prefer this paint supply. 

However, it is important to note that you might need to buy more than one set of watercolor pans even if you are working on a single project at a time. This is because the color palette of this form of paint is very limited, and you might need to purchase several sets to achieve a wide range of liquid watercolors.   

4. Level Of Control

Another important aspect to consider while comparing watercolor tubes with pans is the level of control that each option provides to you. Both these paints can help you control the process of application in different ways.

When it comes to controlling the flow of watercolor paint, the amount of pressure applied to the brush can also make a significant difference in the final result. With watercolor tubes, you can apply different pressure levels on the tube to adjust the amount of paint that comes out. This way, you can control the color's intensity and the paint's flow.

Additionally, if you are looking for watercolor paint that can provide you with a good amount of control while blending - watercolor tubes are the best option to go for. You can mix colors from a watercolor tube to your desired level of consistency without much hassle.

On the other hand, if you require more control in terms of the amount of water being used with your paint - watercolor pan sets will work better for you. All you need to do is dip your wet brush into the solid cake of a shade to apply its pigment over your artwork. Hence, you can control the amount of water being used in the process.


Experiment with both watercolor tubes and pans to find the level of control that suits your style the best.

Watercolor Tubes Vs Pans FAQs

  • Which is more cost-effective, watercolor tubes or pans?

    While watercolor tubes are considered worth their high prices, they may not be cost-effective for every artist. Hence, watercolor pans are generally considered more cost-efficient than watercolor tubes.

    However, it is important to note that not every watercolor pan is cost-effective. You should only go for the watercolor pan sets that offer you a wide variety of color options to paint with at a reasonable price.

  • Which type of watercolor is better for beginners?

    If you are a beginner, you might want to master using watercolor pans first. They are easier to control since all you have to do is dip a wet brush in it to begin painting. There are lower chances of you messing up the paint set while using pan sets.

    While watercolor tubes are easy to blend and paint with too, it might require a decent level of skill to know how to not make a mess with the liquid paint. Additionally, pan sets are not very expensive. Hence, you can use them without being scared of losing out on a huge chunk of money simply because you are scared of spoiling the paint.

  • Can you mix colors more easily with watercolor tubes or pans?

    While both watercolor tubes and pans can be used to mix colors, you might find it easier to blend while using the former paint. The paint in watercolor tubes is thick and rich in texture, which allows you to blend it with other colors quite smoothly.

    On the other hand, pan sets are solid dry cakes. Hence, you need to wet them first before you begin mixing different colors. This process might lead to a decrease in the concentration of pigments in the cakes, causing the mixed colors to give off a diluted look.

  • What is the shelf life of watercolor tubes and pans?

    Both watercolor tubes and pans can last for years at a time if you store them properly. However, it is worth noting that pan sets generally dry out faster than watercolor tubes. This is because the pans are in contact with air directly for a longer duration, which makes them more prone to drying and wearing out over time.

    On the other hand, watercolor tubes come with a tight metallic screw cap. This ensures that air and contaminants do not enter the tube in any case. As a result, this paint retains its moisture and lasts longer than pan sets.

  • Are watercolor tubes or pans better for plein air painting?

    En Plein air painting is when you step out of your studio to paint outdoors. Hence, it is natural that you will need a set of paints that you can travel with more easily. pan sets are a better option to go for in such cases as compared to watercolor tubes as the former is way more portable than the latter.

    Carrying large tubes can be a difficult task because they are quite heavy. As a result, they are more suitable for indoor painting. In the case of plein air painting, the lightweight and compact size of pan sets makes it a much more feasible option to go for.

  • How do you store watercolor tubes and pans to make them last longer?

    There are several steps that you can take to make your paints last longer. In the case of watercolor tubes, it is strongly advised that you keep them in an upright position to avoid any form of leaks. You should also ensure that the tubes are stored in a cool box and dry environment at all times.

    A good thing about watercolor pans is that they do not require extensive effort from your end for them to last longer. All you need to do is clean the set from time to time and store the pans in an airtight container.

  • Are there any differences in the quality of watercolor paint between tubes and pans?

    One of the biggest differences in the quality of watercolor paint between pans vs tubes is due to the varying ratio of pigment and binder in these two kinds of paints. Watercolor tubes are manufactured with fewer binding agents and more pigments. In contrast, watercolor pans have fewer pigments and a slightly higher amount of binding agents.

    Another way through which there can be differences in the quality of these two watercolor paints can be the brand and costs. Brands like Winsor & Newton, that have a good reputation in the art tool manufacturing field, are likely to produce expensive but better quality products, as compared to new brands that sell cheap supplies.

  • Can you use watercolor tubes and pans together in the same painting?

    If you want to create a wide range of effects in your painting, it might be a good idea to use watercolor tubes and pans together. There are several ways through which you can do so. For instance, you can use watercolor tubes to create a bold and enticing background for your painting. Then, you can add precise details to your art using watercolor pans.

    You can also flip the role and use the watercolor pans to create a clean wash in your painting. Next, you can add bold depths to your artwork by using watercolor tubes.

  • What is the best way to transport watercolor tubes and pans?

    It is important to transport watercolor tubes with care because they have a high chance of leakage. The best way to carry such paints from one place to another is by using a tube carrier. It can help prevent your tubes from rolling over and squeezing the tube paint out from their nozzles.

    In the case of watercolor pans, you should use a case that is designed especially for containing watercolor pans. You may also use a palette with a lid for the same. It is also advised that you wrap your paints – be they watercolor pans or tubes – in a soft bubble wrap or plastic sheet before packing them for transportation.

  • Are there any environmental concerns with using watercolor tubes or pans?

    There are generally no environmental concerns with using watercolor tubes or pans. However, it is worth noting that artists should not pollute their surroundings by disposing of their pan or tube paint without taking proper measures first.

    For instance, throwing away worn-out watercolor tubes directly on the road can degrade your environment. Since the tubes are not recyclable in any way, you should throw them properly in a bin. You should also not pour the water used for washing brushes while watercolor tubes or pan painting directly into drains.

  • Watercolor Tube Vs Pan Conclusion
    © Homesthetics - Dylla Setyadji


    It may seem impossible to choose a clear winner in the fight of pans vs tubes, since both options offer their share of benefits. However, narrowing down your personal preferences and needs can help you reach a more sound decision.

    The main advantages of watercolor tubes include intense pigmentation, easy blending, long-lasting, greater variety of colors, and the ability to re-wet. On the other hand, watercolor pans are better for precise detailing, creating lighter hues, affordability, and portability.

    Summing up, both watercolor tubes and pans can be useful in their ways. However, it is best to stick with watercolor pans first if you are a beginner. Once you start mastering various watercolor techniques, you can try experimenting with both types of watercolor paints together too!