Art Supplies

WATERCOLOR PANS VS TUBES: WHICH IS BETTER?

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In the watercolor pans vs tubes war, I find myself firmly in the pans camp. This is strange, seeing how I mix my own colors of acrylics from the tubes. But maybe this is precisely why I prefer the pans, since there’s less work to do.

Anyway, my favorite watercolor pans as of late are Kuretake. As with any art material, if you only use the cheap stuff for a long time, and then suddenly you use something high-quality, you are blown away by the difference it can make.

watercolor pans and tubes

The kids in our school district have always been directed to buy Prang over Crayola pan watercolors, since they are a bit better, so I’ve played around with the old Prangs a few times. They’re great for 8 year olds, but then dip your wet brush into some Kuretakes and you’ll be forever ruined.

Expensive, well-made art supplies 4-ever!

So back to the watercolor pans vs. tubes question. Obviously you need to make that choice for yourself, but here are some pros and cons for each, and my research on the best of the best for each type.

watercolor dots

Watercolor Pans

Pros

  • Easy to transport for painting on the go
  • Watercolor in pans is neatly contained in little open compartments; you don’t need to worry about squeezing any paint out.
  • Pan watercolors are still mixable.

Cons

  • Sometimes the paints can crack and crumble
  • If you aren’t careful, you can get some of one color in another color’s pan, making it annoying to clean out.
  • You can’t control the ratio of paint colors as well as with tubes when mixing, so you might not have as much control over your color outcome.
  • It’s harder to use pan watercolors on large areas, so these are better for smaller paintings.

Watercolor Tubes

Pros

  • You have more control over mixing the colors than with pans, since you can squeeze paints directly from the tubes in varying ratios.
  • The paint in the watercolor tubes is more concentrated than the pans, so you don’t need to squeeze out a lot.
  • You can use a lot if you want to squeeze out a whole bunch and have a larger area to cover.

Cons

  • Little tiny tubes can be cumbersome to open and use
  • It’s surprisingly easy to lose these tubes in the studio and step on them and have them squirt paint all over the floor. Ask me how I know.
  • It can be annoying to have to sift through your paint tubes when looking for the color you need, especially if you are used to having the watercolor paint pans all together, open, in front of you.

Using Watercolors From Tubes

Squeeze a little bit of the watercolor out of the tube onto a palette or into a shallow mixing tray. You can squeeze out several colors around the perimeter and mix in the center of the tray. Even when the watercolor dries, you can add water to it and use it still, so you don’t need to worry about wasting paint.

The cool thing about watercolor from tubes is that you can get one of those empty tin palettes to keep your pre-mixed colors in. (See below)

Using Watercolors From Pans

Using watercolor from pans is easy peasy. You just dip your wet brush into the pan and paint. You can still use a palette or mixing tray for watercolors from pans; it’s just slightly more awkward to get the paint out of the pans and onto the tray.

Which Brand of Watercolors Should I Buy?

There are some really good-quality watercolors out there! As mentioned, I love Kuretake, but there are other awesome watercolors, too:

Kuretake 36 Color Set - what I am using and loving currentlyKuretake 36 Color Set – what I am using and loving currentlyCheck it OutPrang Watercolor Set- great for kidsPrang Watercolor Set- great for kidsCheck it OutDaniel Smith watercolor dots! Such an awesome way to try a little bit of a lot of colorsDaniel Smith watercolor dots! Such an awesome way to try a little bit of a lot of colorsCheck it OutDaniel Smith - awesome tube watercolors, perfect for mixingDaniel Smith – awesome tube watercolors, perfect for mixingCheck it OutSennelier L'Aquarelle French Watercolor Paint - totally go for this set if you are wanting something to take on the go. It may seem pricey, but it's worth it.Sennelier L’Aquarelle French Watercolor Paint – totally go for this set if you are wanting something to take on the go. It may seem pricey, but it’s worth it.Check it Out

Brushes for Watercolors

If you’re looking for the very best brushes for watercolor, go with Kolinsky Sable. If I reluctantly put aside my art supply snobbiness, I will recommend high quality synthetic brushes, as they are definitely cheaper and perfect for starting out.

Princeton 4 Piece Professional Brush SetPrinceton 4 Piece Professional Brush SetCheck it Outda Vinci Travel Series Maestro Watercolor Brush Set, Round Kolinsky Red Sable with Travel Case, 3 Brushesda Vinci Travel Series Maestro Watercolor Brush Set, Round Kolinsky Red Sable with Travel Case, 3 BrushesCheck it Out

Ready for your head to explode? Check out this gorgeous post on all sorts of palette options for watercolors. 

watercolor paints - tubes and pans

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