How to Use Watercolor Cakes | A Step-by-step Guide

Watercolor cakes are a versatile and convenient form of watercolor paint, compacted into small, dry blocks. These portable and easy-to-use paints are perfect for artists on the go or those looking to save space in their workspace.

To use watercolor cakes, choose the right brush, wet it, and gently swirl it on the cake to activate the paint. Test color intensity on scrap paper, adjust pigment-to-water ratio as needed, and practice mixing colors on a palette. Experiment with different brushes and techniques for desired effects.

Mastering watercolor cake techniques is crucial for artists aiming to create vibrant, expressive pieces while harnessing the full potential of this medium. In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of activating, mixing, and using watercolor cakes, along with essential tips to elevate your artistic creations.

Activating Watercolor Cakes

A crucial step in using watercolor cakes effectively is activating them correctly. Follow these simple steps to achieve the desired color intensity and consistency.

1. Choosing the right brush

Selecting the appropriate brush is essential for working with watercolor cakes. Brushes come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, each with its unique application.

For beginners, synthetic round brushes in small, medium, and large sizes are a versatile and cost-effective choice. As you progress, you can experiment with other brush types to find what suits your style best.

I have written an article on the best brushes for watercolor paintings to help make the choice easier for you.

Choosing the right brush

2. Wetting the brush

Dip your brush into clean water, ensuring the bristles are saturated but not dripping wet. The amount of water you use will affect the color’s intensity and flow on the paper.

Too little water may result in a dry, patchy application, while too much can lead to diluted colors and longer drying times.

3. Gently swirling the brush on the cake

With a wet brush, gently swirl the bristles over the surface of the watercolor cake in a circular motion. Apply light pressure to avoid damaging the cake and to control the paint’s pickup.

Continue swirling until you achieve the desired color concentration on your brush.

4. Testing color intensity and adjusting accordingly

Before applying the paint to your artwork, test the color intensity on a scrap piece of watercolor paper. If the color is too light, swirl your brush on the cake again to pick up more pigment.

Conversely, if the color is too intense, dip your brush in water and gently dab it on a paper towel before retesting. Adjust the water-to-pigment ratio until you achieve the desired intensity.

Mixing Watercolor Cakes

One of the most exciting aspects of working with watercolor cakes is the ability to create an array of colors by mixing them.

Follow these guidelines to mix colors effectively and achieve the desired shades for your artwork.

1. Selecting a palette

Choose a palette with ample space for mixing colors, keeping in mind that a palette with multiple wells or compartments can help you organize your color mixtures more efficiently.

Look for a palette made of white or light-colored material, as this will allow you to see the true colors you’re mixing.

2. Mixing colors directly on the cake or palette

You can mix colors directly on the watercolor cake by applying one color, then gently swirling the brush on another cake while it’s still wet.

Alternatively, you can transfer colors to your palette and mix them there.

Mixing on the palette offers more control, as you can adjust the pigment-to-water ratio and create a larger quantity of the desired shade.

3. Understanding color theory for better mixing

Familiarize yourself with color theory to mix colors effectively. Learn about primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, as well as color harmonies and complementary colors.

Understanding color relationships will enable you to create more visually appealing mixtures and avoid unintentional color clashes.

Understanding color theory for better mixing
Picture Credit: Paintcrush with Kristy Rice on

4. Tips for avoiding muddy colors

To prevent muddy colors, avoid over-mixing different hues on your palette. Mix small amounts of pigment at a time and use a separate brush for each color when picking up paint from the cake.

Additionally, be mindful of the colors you’re combining, as mixing complementary colors (e.g., red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple) can result in a muddy, desaturated appearance.

Instead, mix analogous colors (colors that are adjacent on the color wheel) to achieve more harmonious blends.

Tips and Tricks for Working with Watercolor Cakes

Watercolor cakes are a popular medium among artists for their versatility and convenience.

To get the most out of your watercolor cakes, follow these tips and tricks to refine your skills and enhance your artwork.

1. Controlling color intensity

To control color intensity, adjust the ratio of water to pigment. For lighter, more transparent washes, use more water and less pigment.

Conversely, for more vibrant, intense colors, use less water and more pigment. As you gain experience, you’ll develop a better understanding of how to achieve the desired color intensity.

2. Achieving smooth color transitions

To create smooth color transitions, practice the wet-on-wet technique. Apply a layer of clean water to your paper before adding color.

This will allow the pigment to flow and blend more easily, resulting in smooth color transitions. You can also use a clean, damp brush to soften edges and blend colors together on the paper.

For more details on the wet-on-wet technique, you can read my article that compares both wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques side by side.

For detailed information on all the watercolor techniques, check out my guide on popular and lesser known watercolor techniques.

Wet on Wet and Wet on Dry
Picture Credit: Paintinghyun on

3. Maximizing the life of your watercolor cakes

To extend the life of your watercolor cakes, make sure to clean them after each use by gently wiping the surface with a clean, damp cloth.

Store your watercolor cakes in a cool, dry place, and keep them covered when not in use to protect them from dust and debris.

If your cakes become damaged or cracked, they can often be reactivated with water and still provide vibrant colors.

4. Experimenting with different brush types

Different brush types can produce a wide range of effects when working with watercolor cakes.

Experiment with various brushes, such as rounds, flats, and filberts, made from synthetic or natural bristles.

Each brush type has its unique characteristics that can enhance your artwork.

For instance, round brushes are versatile for both detailed work and broader washes, while flat brushes are perfect for creating sharp edges and bold strokes.

Caring for Your Watercolor Cakes

Proper care and maintenance of your watercolor cakes will ensure their longevity and consistent performance. Follow these guidelines to keep your cakes in optimal condition.

1. Cleaning the cakes and palette

After each painting session, gently clean the surface of your watercolor cakes with a clean, damp cloth or tissue to remove any excess pigment or mixed colors.

This will prevent color contamination and ensure accurate color application in future sessions.

Additionally, clean your palette by wiping it with a damp cloth or rinsing it under water to remove any residual paint.

2. Storing the cakes properly

To preserve your watercolor cakes, store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, which can cause fading or discoloration.

Keep your cakes in their original packaging or a covered container to protect them from dust, dirt, and moisture.

If your cakes become damp or are exposed to moisture, let them air dry completely before storing them to prevent mold and mildew growth.

3. Replacing or refilling individual cakes

Over time, you may find that you’ve used up some colors more quickly than others. Many watercolor cake sets allow you to replace or refill individual cakes, which can be cost-effective and eco-friendly.

Check with the manufacturer to determine if replacement or refill cakes are available for your set.

When replacing a cake, gently remove the used cake from its compartment and insert the new one, ensuring a secure fit.


Watercolor cakes offer remarkable versatility, making them an excellent choice for artists of all skill levels.

Their compact form and ease of use provide endless creative possibilities for producing vibrant and expressive artwork.

As with any artistic medium, continued practice and exploration are key to refining your skills and discovering your unique style.

Embrace the journey of working with watercolor cakes, and let your imagination soar as you unlock the full potential of this captivating medium.

Mehak Verma

I love creating both traditional and digital watercolour art. Why? As a kid, transitioning from sketch pens to paint brushes and water soluble colours was a big deal. Hope you find what you're looking for on my website.

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