A Quick Guide to Different Types of Watercolor Paints

9 minute read

Watercolor paints come in a wide range of colors, types, and consistencies. They are usually sold as either watercolor tubes or watercolor pan paints, with the former being more expensive but providing much better coverage and quality. No matter what type you choose - be sure to experiment with your favorite kinds of brushes and paper before painting anything. Once you know how they feel and look - it'll be easier for you to control them when you start creating your watercolor painting.

We're going to look at some of the most popular types of watercolor sets, describing how they differ from one another so you can get a better idea of what will work best for your needs!  So let's dive in!

Best watercolor paints for beginners

Watercolor 36 Pan Set

What Is Watercolor?

Known for its translucency, watercolor is a water-soluble paint made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. This flexible and non-toxic coloring medium works well in a wide range of arts and crafts projects. 

Watercolor paints are used to create beautiful, transparent watercolor paintings. There are many different types of watercolors that you can use for your artwork. Read on to learn more about the various types of watercolor paints and what they're best suited for.

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Different Types of Watercolor Paint Available for Artists

Watercolor paints are made up of three things: pigment, water, and binding agent. The difference in the colors comes from the different pigments used.

Some pigments are mixed with gum arabic, some with dextrin (a starch-like substance), and others with gelatin (made from animal byproducts) to make them stick to the paper. There is also a wide range of materials that can be used as a binder, everything from glue to egg white!

Different types of watercolor paints include gouache paint, acrylic, and chalk. 

  1. Gouache paints are opaque and ideal for creating paintings with deep colors. These paints work best when they're applied to pre-wetted paper. Gouache paint is an opaque watercolor tube paint that works best on top of the already-wet paper. This type of paint is ideal if you want highly pigmented colors in your paintings. Gouache paints dry quickly, which means they're an excellent choice for painting outdoors or while traveling!
  2. Acrylic paints are very versatile -- more so than watercolor sets! You can use them on all kinds of surfaces, especially ones that are not flat. Acrylic paints are ideal for painting outdoors because they dry quickly and won't be ruined by rain or wind. 
  3. Chalk paints are very similar to watercolors in terms of how you can use them. That said, chalk paint is easy to work with and quick to dry, making it the perfect choice for painting on surfaces like furniture!

Browse some of the best quality watercolors from Altenew!

What Is the Best Type of Watercolor Paints?

Not all watercolor sets are created equal. Some are fluid, while others are thicker. Some have an opaque quality; others are transparent. Some are ready to use; others aren’t. The variations between brands mean that you might need to experiment with different types of watercolor (or brands) before finding the right fit for your watercoloring project. 

To find the best watercolor paints for beginners, check out the features, pros, and cons that we’ve listed here.

Watercolor Type




Watercolor Pans

  • These are made of pigments, binders, and additives. 
  • They come in small plastic pans in two sizes - half pans (usually 2ml) and full pans.
  • You can buy these in a set or individually.
  • It comes in solid, dry cake form.
  • It can be semi-transparent to transparent to semi-opaque. 
  • It usually comes in a set of 12, 24, 36, or 48 colors.
  • It is the best watercolor for beginners because it’s easy to use.
  • It is ready to use. You can simply activate it with a bit of water and start painting.
  • Depending on the brand, it is less pricey compared to watercolor tubes. 
  • You can use it straight from the pan, or dilute it some more by adding some paint into a palette and mixing it with water.
  • If you buy the watercolor set, it comes in a convenient plastic or tin case with a built-in mixing palette and wells.
  • Travel-friendly! 
  • It is compact and easy to store!
  • You need to be gentle with your paintbrush when using watercolor pans. 
  • The palette container would usually get dirty and the colors won’t stay “pure” because you go back and forth between colors, especially when you’re mixing them. 
  • You might run out of paint quickly.

Watercolor Tubes

  • These have the same consistency as cream. 
  • These are made of pigments, binders, and additives. 
  • Also available in a set or individually.
  • Each tube contains anywhere between 5ml to 3ml of watercolor paint.
  • It can be semi-transparent and transparent to opaque.
  • More economical than watercolor pans
  • A little goes a long way!
  • It is more pigmented than pans or liquid watercolor paints.
  • It is ideal for larger watercolor projects because you can prepare more paint on your palette beforehand. 
  • Travel-friendly!
  • It’s easier to control than the pans.
  • It is pricier than other types.
  • It doesn’t come in a case or with a mixing palette so you need to buy a mixing palette with wells. 
  • It takes a bit of time to set it up. You need to squeeze the paint onto the palette, add water and start diluting it according to your needs/taste.
  • It is hard to eyeball how much you’re going to use at a particular time, so you’ll end up with excess paint on your palette, and that will eventually dry up.
  • Because it is hard to measure how much you need, it isn’t ideal for beginners.
  • You have to make sure that the lid is closed properly so the paint won’t dry out.
  • You have to clean the tube’s opening so you won’t have dried watercolor paint around it.

Liquid Watercolor Paints

  • These are either pigment-based or dye-based.
  • You can get it in individual bottles - which are either plastic or glass - or as a set.
  • These are completely transparent.
  • It has a handy pipette or dropper. 
  • It’s easier to control and distribute the liquid watercolor paint
  • It is in a more liquid form, so you can start painting with it immediately - no need to activate it with water unless you still want to dilute the colors or adjust the intensity.
  • It is great for illustrations and hand lettering.
  • If you have some excess liquid watercolor paint, you can simply pick it up with the pipette and return it into the bottle  - as long as it’s still untouched or unmixed.
  • It is not very travel-friendly because of its container.
  • It’s harder to store.
  • It needs a mixing palette and wells.
  • They don’t reflect light the same way as regular watercolor sets.
  • Since most of them are dye-based, they’re not 100% watercolor paints. That means the color will fade over time.
  • Since it is entirely transparent, some watercolor techniques are more challenging, such as the ink blotting/lifting technique. 


Liquid watercolor paints from Altenew

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Which Watercolors Are Best for Beginners?

Based on the table above, half-pan watercolors are the best watercolor paints for beginners. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and more forgiving than the others. Watercolor pans can help you practice your skills without breaking the bank.   

Watch the video below to learn more about the difference between watercolor pans and liquid watercolor paints!

Preparing Your Watercolor Palette

Before starting to paint, take some time to prepare your palette. There are three main types of palettes used for watercolors. The first is the well palette; this uses a flat surface with indentations where pigment is kept.

The second type is the half-well palette, similar to the standard well palette but smaller, holding less paint. The third type is the palette cup, used mainly with watercolor pencils and pastels; a palette cup allows a small amount of water to be placed above your pigment for easy access.

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Watercolor Brushes

There are several different kinds of brushes that can be used with your watercolor paint sets. Depending on what you’re aiming for aesthetically, the size of your paintbrush’s bristles - and, more importantly, their shape - will vary.

Round brushes with a pointed tip are great for adding crisp lines and details to a painting. Flat brushes also offer precision but have a wider surface area so that line widths will be more varied.

Watercolor pans for beginners

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Tips on Creating Watercolor Painting

The best way to create a painting with watercolor paint sets is to get a palette and fill the wells with a color of paint that you will use a lot of. You can then mix colors by taking a little bit of each pigment and mixing them together in the well. Once you have created your desired color, grab some paper and wet one side of it using a sponge or brush. Make sure it is thoroughly wet all over before you add paint to it! Add your watercolor paints and watch how the colors interact.  Experiment with different brush techniques, and you will soon find the right mixes for your paintings.

You can add other materials such as tissue paper or silk to add texture and interest to your painting, but start by just using the paint itself. The more you practice, the easier it gets!

The best way to create a watercolor painting is to get some blank paper and start practicing. You can use the paint directly from its container; there's no need to mix it with water first. Experiment with different types of brushes and sponges, too!

There are many great tutorials available online if you need some guidance on how to paint using watercolor sets. This page has tons of watercolor inspiration and ideas.

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How to Take Care of Your Watercolor Paint Sets

It is essential to take care of your paints so that they last longer. Your watercolor sets are important tools in your kit. They might be pricey, but they’re worthy of investing in, especially if you want to become an excellent watercolor painter someday.  

Here are some dos and don’ts.

  • Store them in a dry place that is not too hot. Some of the best places to store your paints are between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit and with plenty of air circulating around it.
  • It's important to keep the paints away from sunlight, bleach, turpentine, or any other extreme chemicals. 
  • Store your paints on their sides, so they don't become caked with dried paint at the bottom of the container! 
  • If you need to use water for cleaning purposes, let it get up to room temperature before adding it to either a wet brush or a jar of paint. 
  • Also, make sure not to use any detergents or solvents to clean your brushes.

Discover some of the watercolor supplies you need to get you started!

Other Tools for Watercoloring

To choose the right watercolor paint sets for you, you need to understand how they work. Different brands and types of artists' watercolor paint vary in opacity and lightfastness. Another thing to consider is color permanence; colors without permanence will fade over time when placed under sunlight. Some colors can darken over time, which means that color stability is also important when choosing the best watercolor set.

Watercolor palette from Altenew

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Pencils are not just for writing and sketching; they can also be used to help with painting! Adding lines and detailing with a pencil before adding paint is a great way to add more detail to your paintings. You can use regular #2 pencils or harder ones such as an H for this process.

When choosing the right brushes, you should take note of the bristles. You should use a soft-bristled brush for thin lines and a hard-bristled one for thick lines. Also, when choosing a paintbrush, make sure to buy it from a company that you trust will provide quality brushes!

Are you ready to start your journey and have a better understanding of watercoloring techniques?

We hope the information and insight we’ve provided have helped you understand the different types of watercolor paint sets available to artists and beginners. The brands and types of watercolors you choose will depend on how opaque they are, whether or not they are beginner-friendly, their permanence in sunlight, and color stability over time. If you're looking for quality watercolor sets, then look into your options before purchasing one!

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