Watercolor painting is an incredibly versatile medium that offers artists a wide range of options to express their creativity. With so many different types of watercolors available, it can be both exciting and overwhelming to choose the right kind for your artistic endeavors.
There are 12 main types of watercolors: tube, pan, liquid, watercolor pencils, markers, sheets, sticks, gouache, Inktense pencils, water-soluble crayons, oil pastels, and metallic watercolors. The best and the most popular ones are pans, tubes, and liquid. But the choice varies based on individual preferences, skill level, desired effects, and artistic style.
In this article, we’ll explore various types of watercolors, including tube, pan, liquid, and other innovative formats, to help you better understand their unique characteristics and make informed decisions for your next masterpiece.
1. Tube Watercolors
Tube watercolors are a popular choice among artists because they offer highly concentrated pigments, providing vibrant and intense colors.
They come in small tubes and have a creamy consistency, which makes them easy to mix with water. You can use them straight from the tube or dilute them to achieve a wide range of effects.
The main advantage of tube watercolors is their ability to be reactivated with water even after they have dried on the palette.
2. Pan Watercolors
Pan watercolors, also known as cake watercolors, are a solid, dry form of watercolor paints that come in small plastic or metal containers.
They are compact and portable, making them a favorite among artists who enjoy painting outdoors or on the go. To use pan watercolors, you simply wet your brush and apply it to the surface of the pan.
Pan watercolors might not be as vibrant as tube watercolors initially, but they can still produce rich colors with proper layering techniques.
3. Liquid Watercolors
Liquid watercolors are a highly concentrated form of watercolor paints that come in small dropper bottles.
They offer vibrant, transparent colors and are perfect for artists who want to create washes and large areas of color quickly.
Since they are already in a liquid form, you don’t need to add much water, which makes them easy to work with.
However, liquid watercolors can be less forgiving than other types, as they are prone to staining and can be difficult to lift once applied to the paper.
You can read more about liquid watercolors and if they’re the right choice for you in my article on: Are Liquid Watercolors Good?.
4. Watercolor Pencils
Watercolor pencils combine the best of both worlds – the precision of colored pencils and the fluidity of watercolor paints. They look and feel like regular colored pencils but are designed to be used with water.
You can apply them dry and then add water with a brush to create a watercolor effect or wet the pencil tip before applying it to the paper.
Watercolor pencils are great for adding fine details and making controlled strokes in your paintings.
5. Watercolor Markers
Watercolor markers are another innovative tool for watercolor artists, offering the convenience of a pen with the effects of watercolor paint.
They have a water-based ink that can be blended with water to create a variety of effects.
Watercolor markers come in a wide range of colors and often have dual tips – a fine tip for detailed work and a brush tip for broader strokes.
They are perfect for urban sketching, illustration, and adding details to watercolor paintings.
6. Watercolor Sheets
Watercolor sheets are a relatively new product in the market, consisting of thin sheets of watercolor paint that come in a booklet form.
They are highly portable, making them an excellent choice for plein air painting and travel. To use watercolor sheets, you simply tear out a sheet, wet your brush, and apply it to the paint surface.
They offer a similar consistency to pan watercolors and can be easily mixed on a palette.
7. Watercolor Sticks
Watercolor sticks are another solid form of watercolor paint that can be used both wet and dry. They look like pastels or crayons but have a water-soluble pigment.
You can draw directly onto the paper and then apply water with a brush or dip the stick in water before using it.
Watercolor sticks are great for creating bold, expressive marks and can also be used for more detailed work.
They offer the convenience of working without a brush and allow for a more direct connection with the paper. This makes them a popular choice for artists who enjoy sketching and plein air painting.
Gouache is a type of opaque watercolor paint that dries to a matte finish. It is similar to traditional watercolor but contains additional white pigment, making it more opaque and less transparent.
Gouache can be thinned with water to create washes or used straight from the tube for a more opaque application.
It is an excellent choice for artists who want to achieve a flat, even coverage and is popular among illustrators and designers.
9. Inktense Pencils
Inktense pencils are a unique type of water-soluble pencils that, once activated with water, create vibrant, ink-like colors.
Unlike traditional watercolor pencils, Inktense pencils become permanent once they are dry, which means they can be layered without reactivating the underlying colors.
This feature makes them popular among artists who want to create intense, bold colors and mixed-media pieces.
10. Water-soluble Crayons
Water-soluble crayons are another innovative watercolor medium, offering the convenience of a crayon with the ability to create watercolor effects.
They have a creamy texture that can be applied directly to the paper and then blended with water using a brush.
Water-soluble crayons are perfect for artists who enjoy experimenting with different textures and techniques in their work.
11. Water-soluble Oil Pastels
Water-soluble oil pastels combine the richness of oil pastels with the ease of use of watercolors.
They have a soft, creamy texture that can be applied to the paper and then blended with water to create a variety of effects.
Water-soluble oil pastels are a versatile medium that can be used for both drawing and painting, making them popular among artists who want to explore new techniques.
12. Metallic Watercolors
Metallic watercolors are a unique type of watercolor paint that contains metallic pigments, adding a shimmering, reflective quality to your artwork.
They come in various formats, including tubes, pans, and liquid bottles. Metallic watercolors can be used on their own or mixed with traditional watercolors to add a touch of sparkle to your paintings.
They are particularly effective for creating special effects and highlights in your artwork.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Watercolor Types
Selecting the right type of watercolor for your artistic projects can be a daunting task, given the wide variety of options available.
Several factors should be taken into account when choosing the best watercolor type to suit your needs.
Let’s discuss five essential factors to consider when choosing watercolor types, including skill level, portability and convenience, drying time, color intensity and mixing, and budget.
1. Skill Level
Your skill level as an artist plays a significant role in determining the most suitable watercolor type for your work.
Beginners might find pan watercolors or watercolor pencils easier to use, as they offer more control and are generally more forgiving.
On the other hand, experienced artists might prefer tube or liquid watercolors for their higher pigment concentration and the ability to create vibrant, intense colors.
2. Portability and Convenience
If you are an artist who enjoys painting outdoors or while traveling, portability and convenience should be key factors in your decision-making process.
Pan watercolors, watercolor pencils, watercolor markers, watercolor sheets, and watercolor sticks are all compact and easy to carry.
Pan watercolors and watercolor sheets, in particular, are ideal for plein air painting as they require minimal setup and cleanup.
3. Drying Time
Drying time is another important factor to consider when choosing watercolor types.
Some watercolor formats, such as tube and liquid watercolors, have longer drying times due to their higher pigment concentration and creamier consistency.
This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
Longer drying times allow for more extended blending and working periods, but they can also make it challenging to layer colors without lifting the underlying paint.
On the other hand, pan watercolors and watercolor pencils typically have faster drying times, which can be more suitable for artists who prefer to work quickly or need their paintings to dry rapidly.
Read my article on Time Taken by Watercolor to Fully Dry to better understand drying times.
4. Color Intensity and Mixing
The ability to create vibrant, intense colors and mix them effectively is a crucial aspect of watercolor painting. Tube watercolors offer the highest pigment concentration, resulting in rich, deep colors.
However, they may also require more skill to mix and control the paint’s intensity effectively.
Pan watercolors and watercolor pencils generally have lower pigment concentrations, making them more forgiving for beginners, but may require additional layering to achieve the desired intensity.
Liquid watercolors and Inktense pencils are known for their bright, bold colors.
However, they can be less forgiving than other types, as they are prone to staining and can be difficult to lift once applied to the paper.
Metallic watercolors, gouache, water-soluble crayons, and water-soluble oil pastels offer unique color characteristics and can be used to create a variety of effects in your artwork.
Lastly, your budget is an essential factor to consider when choosing watercolor types. The price of watercolor paints can vary significantly depending on the brand, quality, and format.
Tube watercolors are often more expensive than pan watercolors, while watercolor pencils and markers can be more affordable alternatives.
However, it is crucial to remember that a higher price does not always equate to better quality. When selecting watercolor paints, it is essential to balance your budget with your artistic needs and preferences.
Investing in artist-grade watercolors, regardless of their format, can provide better lightfastness and color intensity, ensuring that your artwork stands the test of time.
Tips for Using Different Types of Watercolors
Now we will explore techniques for using various types of watercolors, including tube, pan, liquid, and other innovative formats.
1. Tube Watercolors
Dilute the paint with water to create a range of washes and effects, from transparent to opaque.
Use a palette to mix and blend colors, taking advantage of the creamy consistency of tube watercolors.
Reactivate dried paint on your palette by adding a small amount of water, which allows you to use leftover paint and minimize waste.
2. Pan Watercolors
Wet your brush before applying it to the surface of the pan to activate the paint.
Layer colors to achieve rich, vibrant hues. Pan watercolors may require multiple layers to reach the desired intensity.
Keep a clean water reservoir handy to rinse your brush between colors and avoid contaminating the paint in the pans.
3. Liquid Watercolors
Use liquid watercolors for creating washes and large areas of color quickly. Since they are already in a liquid form, you don’t need to add much water.
Apply the paint with a dropper or mix it with water in a palette to control the paint’s intensity.
Practice techniques like wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry to achieve a variety of effects and textures with liquid watercolors.
I have a comprehensive guide on different watercolor techniques to help you out.
4. Watercolor Pencils
Experiment with both dry and wet techniques. Apply the pencil to dry paper and then add water with a brush or wet the pencil tip before applying it to the paper.
Use a sharp point for fine details and a blunt tip for broader strokes and washes.
Layer and blend colors by applying multiple pencils in the desired area and then using a wet brush to mix them on the paper.
You can study the differences between wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques in my article.
5. Watercolor Markers
Utilize the dual tips of watercolor markers – a fine tip for detailed work and a brush tip for broader strokes.
Blend colors directly on the paper or use a palette to mix colors before applying them to your artwork.
Create gradients and smooth transitions by applying one color to the paper and then blending it with another color using a wet brush.
6. Watercolor Sheets and Sticks
Wet your brush and apply it to the paint surface for watercolor sheets or draw directly onto the paper with watercolor sticks.
Experiment with different levels of water to achieve various effects and textures.
Use a palette or a separate sheet of paper to mix colors before applying them to your artwork.
7. Gouache, Inktense Pencils, Water-soluble Crayons, and Oil Pastels
Thin gouache with water to create washes or use it straight from the tube for more opaque applications.
Layer Inktense pencils without reactivating the underlying colors, as they become permanent once dry.
Apply water-soluble crayons and oil pastels directly to the paper and then blend with water using a brush for a variety of effects and textures.
8. Metallic Watercolors
Use metallic watercolors on their own or mix them with traditional watercolors to add a touch of sparkle to your paintings.
Experiment with different paper types, such as black or toned paper, to enhance the reflective qualities of metallic watercolors.
Apply metallic watercolors as highlights or accents in your artwork to create visual interest and depth.
There is a diverse range of watercolor types available, each with its unique characteristics and techniques.
From traditional tube and pan watercolors to innovative options like watercolor pencils, markers, and metallic paints, there’s something for every artist.
Embrace the opportunity to experiment with different watercolor types, techniques, and combinations to expand your artistic repertoire and unlock new creative possibilities.