Using Watercolor Paint Tubes | The Complete Guide

Watercolor paint tubes offer artists an ideal medium to create stunning and vibrant artworks. Their highly pigmented formulations provide rich colors and excellent control, making them suitable for both beginners and professionals.

To use watercolor paint tubes, squeeze a small amount of paint onto a palette, mix colors as desired, and adjust paint consistency by adding water. You mix watercolor paint tubes with water to achieve various levels of transparency and to create smooth gradients and unique color blends.

The ability to customize paint consistency by adjusting the amount of water used allows for a wide range of techniques and effects. The convenient packaging of watercolor paint tubes makes it easy to mix, store, and transport colors, encouraging artists to experiment with different hues and combinations to develop their unique style.

Understanding Watercolor Paint Tubes

Watercolor paint tubes are an essential tool for artists looking to explore the world of watercolor painting. They come in various formulations, offering a diverse range of colors and qualities.

To make the most of your watercolor journey, it’s crucial to understand the types of paint tubes available, the popular brands, and how to choose the right tubes for your needs.

1. Types of Watercolor Paint Tubes

There are generally two types of watercolor paint tubes: student-grade and artist-grade. Student-grade watercolors are more affordable and formulated to cater to beginners or those on a budget.

They have a lower pigment concentration and may include fillers, which can affect color intensity and lightfastness.

Artist-grade watercolors, on the other hand, have a higher pigment concentration, resulting in more vibrant colors and better lightfastness.

They tend to be more expensive but offer superior quality and performance.

Be sure to check out the comprehensive guide I’ve written about different types of watercolors if you want to know about other types of watercolors than tubes.

Watercolor Tubes

2. Popular Brands and Their Characteristics

Several well-known brands produce high-quality watercolor paint tubes. Some of the most popular include:

Winsor & Newton

A renowned brand offering both artist-grade (Professional Watercolors) and student-grade (Cotman Watercolors) paint tubes.

Known for their consistent quality and excellent color range, Winsor & Newton is a top choice among artists.

Daniel Smith

Famous for their artist-grade Extra Fine Watercolors, Daniel Smith offers an extensive range of unique colors, including their popular PrimaTek line made from natural mineral pigments.

Their watercolors are highly pigmented and offer excellent lightfastness.


A French brand known for its honey-based L’Aquarelle watercolor tubes, Sennelier watercolors are favored for their smooth texture and vibrant colors.

They offer a wide range of shades, including many unique colors not found in other brands.


A Japanese brand offering artist-grade watercolors with no ox-gall, Holbein watercolors are known for their excellent brush control and smooth application.

Their range includes a variety of unique and traditional colors.

3. How to Choose the Right Paint Tubes for Your Needs

When selecting watercolor paint tubes, consider the following factors:

Skill Level: If you’re a beginner or on a budget, student-grade watercolors are a great starting point. As you progress, consider upgrading to artist-grade paints for better quality and performance.

Color Range: Choose a brand with a diverse color range, including both traditional and unique shades. This will enable you to experiment with different hues and combinations.

Lightfastness: Opt for watercolors with good lightfastness ratings to ensure your artwork’s longevity.

Consistency and Texture: Test out different brands to find the one that suits your painting style and preferences.

Some artists prefer a smoother texture, while others appreciate granulation or unique characteristics.

Price: While artist-grade paints are generally more expensive, investing in high-quality watercolors will provide better results and a more enjoyable painting experience.

Preparing Your Workspace and Materials

Creating beautiful watercolor paintings with paint tubes requires not only the right paint but also a comfortable workspace and essential materials.

Here’s how to set up a functional and efficient workspace, along with a list of materials you’ll need for watercolor painting with paint tubes.

1. Setting Up a Comfortable Workspace

A well-organized and comfortable workspace is crucial for an enjoyable and productive painting experience. Consider the following tips when setting up your area:

Choose a well-lit space: Natural light is ideal for painting, but if that’s not available, use daylight bulbs or LED lamps to ensure accurate color representation.

Arrange your work surface: A slightly tilted work surface (15-30 degrees) helps with paint flow and prevents pooling.

You can use a drafting table or place a drawing board on an angle using a sturdy support.

Organize your materials: Keep your paint tubes, brushes, palette, and other tools within easy reach to minimize interruptions while painting.

Protect your surface: Cover your work area with a waterproof cover or plastic sheet to prevent damage from spills or splatters.

Setting Up a Comfortable Workspace

2. Materials Needed for Watercolor Painting with Paint Tubes

Having the right materials on hand is essential for a successful painting session. Here’s a list of materials you’ll need:

Watercolor paint tubes: Choose student or artist-grade paint tubes based on your skill level and budget.

Palette: A mixing palette with multiple wells is useful for organizing and mixing your colors.

Brushes: A selection of round, flat, and detail brushes in various sizes will allow you to experiment with different techniques and effects.

Watercolor paper: Heavyweight (140 lb or 300 gsm) watercolor paper is ideal for preventing buckling and warping. Cold press paper offers a medium texture, while hot press paper has a smoother surface.

Check out my detailed article on the best paper for watercolor paintings to find quality ones.

Water containers: Two containers, one for clean water and the other for rinsing brushes, will help maintain color clarity.

Paper towels or a cloth: These are essential for blotting brushes and cleaning up spills.

Masking tape or artist’s tape: Use tape to secure your paper to the drawing board and create clean borders.

How to Use Watercolor Paint Tubes

Watercolor paint tubes offer versatility and convenience for artists looking to create vibrant, expressive paintings.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on using watercolor paint tubes, including squeezing paint onto a palette, mixing colors, controlling paint consistency, and minimizing waste.

1. Squeezing Paint onto a Palette

Choose a palette with multiple wells: Using a palette with multiple wells helps you organize and mix colors more efficiently.

It also allows you to create a range of shades and tones by combining different colors.

Gently squeeze paint: Hold the paint tube close to the palette and gently apply pressure to release a small amount of paint into the well.

Avoid squeezing too hard, as this may cause the paint to squirt out and create a mess.

Close the cap tightly: Ensure that you replace the cap securely after use to prevent the paint from drying out.

2. Mixing Colors and Creating a Color Chart

Experiment with color combinations: Use a clean brush to pick up a small amount of paint from one well and mix it with paint from another well.

Continue to experiment with different combinations to create unique shades and tones.

Create a color chart: A color chart is an invaluable reference tool when painting. To make one, paint swatches of your mixed colors on a piece of watercolor paper, labeling each swatch with the colors used.

This will help you remember which combinations produce specific shades and tones.

3. Diluting and Controlling Paint Consistency with Water

Start with a small amount of water: When working with watercolor paint tubes, it’s essential to control the paint’s consistency by adding water.

Begin by dipping your brush in clean water and mixing it with the paint in the well.

Adjust the water-to-paint ratio: The more water you add, the more diluted and transparent your paint will become. For more intense, opaque colors, use less water.

Experiment with different water-to-paint ratios to achieve your desired consistency and effect.

Test your paint consistency: Before applying paint to your watercolor paper, test the consistency on a scrap piece of paper or the edge of your palette.

This will give you an idea of how the paint will behave on the paper and help you avoid potential mistakes.

4. Tips for Preserving Paint and Minimizing Waste

Use a spray bottle to keep paint moist: To prevent your paint from drying out on the palette, use a spray bottle filled with water to mist the paint occasionally.

This will help maintain the paint’s workable consistency.

Store unused paint: If you have leftover paint on your palette, transfer it to a small airtight container or an empty paint pan to preserve it for future use.

Make sure to label the container with the color name and brand for easy identification.

Reactivate dried paint: If your paint dries out on the palette, don’t worry! Watercolor paint can be reactivated with water.

Simply add a few drops of water to the dried paint, let it sit for a few minutes, and then mix with a brush to create a workable consistency.

Be mindful of paint usage: To minimize waste, only squeeze out the amount of paint you think you’ll need for a particular painting session. You can always add more paint to the palette if needed.

Tips for Preserving Paint and Minimizing Waste

Techniques and Tips for Using Watercolor Paint Tubes Effectively

Watercolor paint tubes provide artists with the flexibility and convenience to create a wide range of effects and techniques.

You can explore various techniques used by watercolor artists in my article on the same.

By mastering the following methods, you can achieve vibrant colors, smooth gradients, and unique shades while preserving your paint and minimizing waste.

1. Building Up Intensity: How to Achieve Vibrant Colors with Paint Tubes

Use artist-grade paint: Artist-grade watercolor paint tubes have higher pigment concentrations, which result in more vibrant and intense colors.

Limit water usage: To create rich, saturated colors, use less water when mixing your paint. This will produce a thicker, more opaque consistency.

Layering: Apply multiple layers of paint to gradually build up the intensity of your colors. Allow each layer to dry completely before adding the next to avoid unintentional blending or muddy colors.

2. Creating Gradients: Mixing Watercolor Paint Tubes with Water for Smooth Transitions

Create a color gradient on your palette: Mix your chosen paint color with varying amounts of water to create a range of tones from dark to light.

Wet the paper: Using a clean, wet brush, moisten the area of the paper where you want the gradient to appear. This will help the paint flow smoothly and create soft transitions.

Apply paint in stages: Start with the darkest tone and apply it to the edge of the wet area. Gradually move towards the lighter tones, allowing the paint to blend with the water on the paper.

Adjust as needed: If necessary, use a clean, damp brush to blend the colors further or soften any harsh transitions.

3. Mixing Custom Colors: Combining Paint Tube Colors to Create Unique Shades

Experiment with color combinations: Combine different paint tube colors on your palette to create unique shades.

Don’t be afraid to mix unconventional color combinations, as this can lead to surprising and exciting results.

Keep track of your mixes: Record your favorite color combinations and the ratios used to create them. This will make it easier to reproduce your custom colors in the future.

Use a color wheel: A color wheel can help you understand color relationships and guide you in creating harmonious color schemes.

4. Preventing Paint from Drying Out: Tips for Keeping Watercolor Paint Tubes Fresh

Close the cap tightly: Always replace the cap securely after using your paint tubes to prevent the paint from drying out.

Store tubes in a cool, dry place: Keep your paint tubes in a location that is protected from extreme temperatures and humidity to maintain their freshness.

Clean the tube opening: Remove any dried paint from the tube opening and cap threads to ensure a tight seal.

5. Reusing Dried Paint: How to Reactivate and Use Dried Watercolor from Paint Tubes

Add water to the dried paint: Sprinkle a few drops of water on the dried paint and allow it to sit for a few minutes.

Mix with a brush: Gently mix the paint with a brush, breaking up any clumps and incorporating the water to create a workable consistency.

Adjust consistency as needed: If the paint is still too thick or dry, add more water in small increments until the desired consistency is achieved.

6. Conserving Paint: Techniques to Avoid Wasting Paint While Working with Tubes

Squeeze out small amounts: Only dispense the amount of paint you think you’ll need for a painting session. You can always add more if necessary.

Use a palette knife for mixing: A palette knife allows you to mix paint more efficiently and minimizes waste by scraping up any leftover paint from your palette.

Store leftover paint: Transfer any unused paint from your palette to a small airtight container or an empty paint pan for future use.

Clean brushes properly: Ensure you clean your brushes thoroughly after each use to prevent wasting paint that remains on the bristles.

Rinse the brushes in water, gently working the bristles against the side of the container or with your fingers to remove all traces of paint.

Use a spray bottle to keep paint moist: While working, occasionally mist your paint on the palette with water using a spray bottle to prevent it from drying out.

Conserving Paint Techniques to Avoid Wasting Paint While Working with Tubes
Picture Credit: Kathy Weller on

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Paint Tubes and Brushes

Taking proper care of your paint tubes and brushes is essential for ensuring their longevity and maintaining the quality of your artwork.

Here’s a guide to cleaning and storing your paint tubes and caring for your brushes to prolong their life.

1. Proper Cleaning and Storage of Paint Tubes

Clean the tube opening: After using your watercolor paint tubes, make sure to remove any excess paint from the opening and the threads of the cap.

This will help prevent the cap from getting stuck and ensure a tight seal.

Replace the cap securely: Always close the cap tightly to keep the paint fresh and prevent it from drying out.

Store tubes upright: Storing your paint tubes upright with the cap facing upwards can help reduce the risk of leaks and make it easier to squeeze out the paint when needed.

Keep in a cool, dry place: Store your paint tubes in a location protected from extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, and humidity to maintain their freshness and prevent any damage to the paint.

2. Caring for Your Brushes to Prolong Their Life

Clean brushes immediately after use: Rinse your brushes thoroughly in clean water to remove paint residue.

Gently work the bristles against the side of the container or use your fingers to dislodge any trapped paint.

Use a gentle soap: For a deeper clean, use a mild soap or a brush cleaner designed specifically for artist brushes. Lather the soap in your hand and gently massage the bristles, then rinse thoroughly.

Reshape the bristles: After cleaning, gently reshape the bristles into their original form with your fingers.

Dry brushes horizontally: Lay your brushes flat on a clean towel or paper towel to dry. Avoid standing them upright, as water can seep into the ferrule, causing the bristles to loosen or the handle to warp.

Store brushes properly: Once your brushes are completely dry, store them in a protective brush holder or a case with individual compartments to prevent damage to the bristles.


Watercolor paint tubes offer incredible versatility and convenience for artists of all levels. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques, color combinations, and gradients to develop your unique style.

Remember to keep your workspace organized, choose the right paint tubes for your needs, and practice proper cleaning and maintenance of your materials.

As you continue to practice and explore the possibilities of watercolor paint tubes, your confidence and skill will grow, leading to more vibrant and captivating artworks.

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.

Recent Posts