Using Watercolor Paint Palette | Method and Maintenance

Watercolor paint palettes play a crucial role in the creative process of watercolor artists. They provide an organized and convenient space for mixing and blending colors, allowing artists to achieve the perfect hues and tones for their masterpieces.

To use a watercolor paint palette, choose the right type, set it up by arranging colors and filling wells with paint, and practice mixing techniques like wet-into-wet and wet-on-dry. Maintain the palette by cleaning it and brushes regularly, storing it properly, and replacing empty paint pans.

Using watercolor paint palette not only streamlines the painting process but also enables artists to maintain control over their color choices and paint consistency, ultimately enhancing the overall quality of their work. In this article, we’ll explore how to set up, use, and maintain a watercolor paint palette effectively.

Choosing the Right Watercolor Paint Palette

Choosing the right watercolor paint palette is essential for a smooth and enjoyable painting experience.

Various factors, such as the type of material, size, and layout of the palette, can significantly impact your workflow and results.

There are several types of palettes available, each with its unique benefits:

Plastic palettes: Lightweight and affordable, plastic palettes are a popular choice among beginners and experienced artists alike. They come in various shapes and sizes and are easy to clean.

Ceramic palettes: These palettes provide a more luxurious feel and offer a better surface for mixing colors. The paint doesn’t bead up like it might on a plastic palette, allowing for more precise color mixing.

Ceramic palettes are typically heavier and more fragile than plastic ones.

Metal palettes: Durable and resistant to staining, metal palettes are a long-lasting option. They are often made of aluminum or steel and can be more expensive than plastic palettes.

When selecting a palette, consider the size and layout. A larger palette offers more space for mixing colors, while a compact one is easier to transport.

Palettes come in various configurations, with different numbers of wells and mixing areas. Some artists prefer a layout with a larger central mixing area, while others favor multiple smaller mixing spaces.

Palette wells are designed to hold the paint and prevent it from spilling. The number and depth of the wells are important factors to consider.

More wells provide space for a greater variety of colors, while deeper wells can hold more paint.

Choosing the Right Watercolor Paint Palette

Opening and Preparing a New Watercolor Paint Palette

Opening and preparing a new watercolor paint palette is an exciting experience that paves the way for many creative endeavors.

To ensure a smooth painting process, follow these steps to set up your new palette and workspace:

1. Removing packaging and cleaning the palette

Carefully remove any packaging materials, such as plastic wraps or protective stickers, from your new palette. Give the palette a gentle wipe with a damp cloth to remove any residue or dust.

For ceramic or metal palettes, a mild soap can be used if needed. Ensure the palette is completely dry before adding paint.

2. Activating new paint pans or tubes

For paint pans, lightly spritz them with water to activate the paint and make it ready for use. Allow the water to sit for a few minutes before starting your painting session.

For tube paints, you might need to puncture the seal inside the cap with a pin or the back of your paintbrush. Squeeze a small amount of paint into the appropriate wells of your palette.

3. Preparing your workspace

Set up a comfortable and well-lit workspace to support your painting endeavors.

Ensure you have all necessary supplies, such as brushes, water containers, paper towels, and watercolor paper, within easy reach.

Keep a clean water container for rinsing brushes and a separate one for mixing colors to maintain color purity.

Consider placing a color chart or reference sheet nearby to help guide your color choices and mixing.

Setting Up Your Watercolor Paint Palette

Setting up your watercolor paint palette correctly is an essential step towards a seamless painting experience. A well-organized palette enables you to find and mix colors quickly and efficiently.

Here are some tips for setting up your watercolor paint palette:

1. Arranging colors

There are several ways to arrange colors on your palette. One common method is to organize them from warm to cool tones or light to dark shades.

This approach allows you to locate colors intuitively and blend harmoniously. Alternatively, you can arrange colors according to your personal preference or by frequency of use.

Developing a consistent arrangement that works for you will enhance your overall painting process.

2. Filling the wells with paint

Once you’ve decided on the arrangement, fill the wells with paint. For pan paints, place the pans securely in the wells. For tube paints, squeeze a small amount of paint into each well.

Avoid overfilling, as it can lead to wasted paint and a messy palette. It’s easier to add more paint later if needed.

3. Labeling the colors (optional)

If you’re new to watercolor painting or working with a large range of colors, it can be helpful to label each well with the corresponding color name.

Use a permanent marker or small adhesive labels to create a quick reference guide on your palette.

This step can be particularly useful for learning color names and identifying colors that look similar in their wells.

I have written a huge beginner’s guide to watercolor painting to hold your hand and guide you through the whole process.

Labeling the colors
Picture Credit: Lorraine Watry on

Mixing Colors and Using the Palette

Mixing colors on your watercolor paint palette is a fundamental aspect of the painting process, allowing you to create a wide range of hues, tones, and textures.

To make the most of your palette, follow these guidelines for mixing colors and maintaining your workspace:

1. Techniques for mixing colors

There are several techniques for mixing watercolor paints.

Some popular methods include wet-into-wet (mixing two or more wet colors together on the palette or paper) and wet-on-dry (applying wet paint onto dry paint, either on the palette or paper).

While wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry techniques are primarily associated with painting on paper, they can be adapted to the process of mixing colors on the paint palette itself.

I have an article explaining the difference between wet-on-wet and wet-on-dry watercolor techniques.

Also, there’s another article which tells you about eighteen different watercolor techniques.

Wet-on-wet mixing on the palette

In this method, you first moisten your brush with water and pick up some paint from a color well. Then, without cleaning your brush, pick up a different color with the still-wet brush.

Finally, mix these two wet colors together in a mixing area on the palette. This technique can create soft, smooth color transitions and is useful for achieving a harmonious blend of colors.

Wet-on-dry mixing on the palette

For this method, you would mix one color with water in a mixing area until you reach the desired consistency.

Clean your brush and then pick up another color with a slightly damp brush, ensuring that this second color has less water content.

Add the second, less-wet color to the first color in the mixing area and blend them together. This technique allows for more control over color intensity and can create sharper color transitions.

Experiment with these techniques to discover which works best for your desired effect, and don’t be afraid to combine methods for unique results.

2. Managing water and paint consistency

Finding the right balance between water and paint is crucial for achieving the desired effect in your artwork.

Too much water can make your colors appear washed out, while too little can result in thick, hard-to-manage paint.

To control consistency, use a clean, damp brush to pick up paint and mix it with water in the palette’s mixing area. Adjust the water-to-paint ratio to achieve the desired opacity and flow.

3. Cleaning the mixing area between color mixes

To prevent muddy or unintentional color mixing, it’s essential to keep your palette’s mixing area clean.

After mixing a color, use a paper towel or clean cloth to wipe the mixing area before moving on to the next color. This practice ensures that your colors remain vibrant and true to your intentions.

Maintaining Your Watercolor Paint Palette

Maintaining your watercolor paint palette is essential to prolong its life and ensure consistent performance during your painting sessions.

Follow these tips to keep your palette and brushes in good condition:

1. Cleaning tips for the palette and brushes

Regular cleaning prevents paint buildup and preserves the quality of your palette and brushes.

After each painting session, rinse your brushes thoroughly in clean water and gently reshape the bristles before laying them flat to dry.

Clean the palette by wiping away excess paint with a damp cloth or paper towel. For stubborn paint stains on plastic palettes, a soft sponge or old toothbrush can help remove residue.

For ceramic or metal palettes, mild soap can be used if necessary. Always ensure your palette is completely dry before storing it to prevent mold growth.

Cleaning tips for the palette and brushes
Picture Credit: Teoh Yi Chie on

2. Storing the palette when not in use

Proper storage is crucial for preserving your palette’s longevity. Store your palette in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, which can cause paint colors to fade or crack.

If your palette has a cover or lid, use it to protect the paint from dust and debris.

3. Replacing empty or dried-out paint pans

Over time, paint pans may become empty or dry out. To replace an empty pan, simply remove it from the well and insert a new one.

If a pan has dried out but still contains usable paint, try reactivating it by spritzing with water and allowing it to sit for a few minutes before using it. If the paint remains unusable, replace it with a new pan.


Using a watercolor paint palette effectively involves choosing the right type of palette, setting it up properly, and maintaining it for optimal performance.

Remember to arrange your colors thoughtfully, practice various mixing techniques, and keep your palette and brushes clean.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different palette layouts and color combinations to discover what works best for your unique painting style.

By mastering the art of using a watercolor paint palette, you’ll unlock endless creative possibilities and elevate the quality of your artwork. Happy painting!

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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