Watercolor Tubes vs Pans: The Ultimate Comparison

Do you watercolor? If so, then there’s a good chance that you’ve been wondering whether watercolor tubes or watercolor pans are the best choice for your needs. With two different types of watercolors on the market today, it can be difficult to decide which is better.

For those who aren’t sure, we have created this ultimate guide to help answer some common questions and provide detailed comparisons as well as useful tips about painting with pans vs tubes watercolor.

What Are Watercolor Paints?

Watercolor paints, also known as watercolors, are water-based pigmented liquids that can be used to create a variety of different artworks. They come in a wide variety of colors.

When water is added to watercolor paints, the color becomes lighter and more transparent. The intensity can be adjusted by adding more or less water.

Watercolors do not last as long on paper as oil paints because they tend to soak into the material rather than stay on top of it as oils do – this quality makes them great for watercolor painting beginners who want a forgiving medium.

Read more about the best watercolor paints in our buyer’s guide.

Watercolor Tubes vs Pans: What’s the difference?

The watercolor paint is the same regardless of whether it’s in a tube or pan. However, watercolors tubes are more convenient because they can be squeezed directly onto the watercolor paper without making a mess on your palette first.

Watercolors sold as individual pans provide artists with flexibility since colors can be mixed on the palette before applying them onto paper.

There are benefits to each style of watercolor paints so it really comes down to personal preference when deciding what you want to work with.

Another option is to use watercolor pencils. Their creamy texture allows for precise application with no mess and they are great for artists who prefer blending colors on their painting surface rather than mixing pigments beforehand.

Watercolor in Tubes

Watercolor tubes are essentially small jars filled with watercolors that have been pasteurized (heat-treated). They usually contain about 35 ml of paint which is enough for numerous paintings depending on the size of your watercolor paper.

Using Watercolors From Tubes

Tubes watercolors are great for watercolor painting beginners because they require less clean-up compared to watercolors in pans. To use, simply squeeze a small amount of watercolor onto your desired surface and begin adding water until the color is light enough for you.

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Tubes should always be closed tightly to prevent water from evaporating while it is being stored.
Watercolors tubes are very easy to use and watercolor painting techniques such as washes (gradual application of water) can be achieved quickly.

Many artists like watercolor pans because they feel that there is more control over the paint when applying it with a brush or palette knife, but watercolors from tubes can also produce interesting effects if you don’t mind working wet-in-wet.


  • Watercolors tubes are convenient and do not require water.
  • They can be squeezed directly onto watercolor paper to make your watercolor painting process as quick as possible, especially if you’re working on an urgent or large piece.


  • Watercolor tubes are more expensive than pans.
  • The paint is exposed to air every time you open up the tube, so it doesn’t stay fresh as long; this can be remedied by using a palette knife or brush to scoop out just what you need and then closing the lid tightly between sessions.
  • Many artists find that watercolors from pans have more intense colors compared to the same paint in the form of a tube.

Watercolors in Pans

Watercolor pans (also known as watercolor boxes or watercolor cakes) are water-soluble pigments mixed with gum arabic and dextrin which are then baked into a cake form.

Watercolor pans, as their name suggests, contain watercolors in pan form – think about those little round crayons that you used as a child!

Each watercolor color comes with its own little tin which is quite convenient for travel purposes but does limit how many colors you have available to use at once (this could also be an advantage depending on what kind of artist you are).

They’re easy to control and blend with water since the paints themselves come shaped like small cakes.

Sennelier L'Aquarelle French Watercolor Paint, Metal Set of 24 Half Pans Sennelier L'Aquarelle French Watercolor Paint, Metal Set of 24 Half Pans
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Watercolors pans are more suitable for experienced watercolor artists who want complete control over the paint. The small surface area makes them great for covering larger areas quickly while still allowing time to add details later on in your painting process.

Using Watercolors From Pans

Pans must first be moistened (either by dipping them in water or by adding water directly onto the watercolor paint itself). Once water is applied, it will begin to bind together with other colors in your painting (which can be useful for mixing and transitioning between hues) – these pigments cannot be removed once they dry.

You should always let pans sit overnight after using them so that all excess moisture evaporates before putting them away – this keeps them safe and prevents damage caused by mold/mildew growth which is common with watercolors stored over an extended period of time.


  • Watercolors pans are much more portable than tubes.
  • The water-soluble pigment is baked into a cake form so it won’t dry out as quickly as watercolor tubes which tend to let the water evaporate easily.
  • Watercolors pans give you more control over the watercolor painting but are still very convenient due to their small, round tins.
  • Pans can be used with either brushes or palette knives for added precision and control when adding details to your work of art.


  • Watercolors pans are not as convenient to use in the studio because you must either pour water onto your palette or moisten each color separately from another source.
  • Watercolors from pans come in a limited number of options because each cake comes with its own tin.
  • They may also require more maintenance than watercolor tubes since they aren’t completely sealed.

Tubes vs Pans? Which One Is Better in Watercolor Painting?

This is a highly debated topic. Some watercolor artists prefer using watercolors from pans because they offer more control over application and blending colors compared to watercolor tubes, while others enjoy the convenience of watercolor tubes since there’s no cleanup or storage required after use.

We would recommend for beginners to purchase watercolors from pans – it will allow you to play with your paints without worrying about cleaning up as much and give you time to experiment with different ways of applying watercolor. Pans might be better once you have some experience under your belt!

Tip: Making Your Own Pans from Tube Paint

Creating watercolor pans from tube watercolors is a great way to expand your palette of colors without having to spend more money or store extra watercolors. It’s also perfect for painting on location since you don’t need any mixing equipment.

To make watercolor pans simply gather an empty pan (or metal tin) and some small pieces of wax paper that will fit inside the container with about half an inch sticking out at each side (this makes them easier to remove). Make sure the rim of your empty pan is clean of paint residue before starting!

Next squeeze some watercolor onto one piece of wax paper – use enough so it fills up the entire sheet, but not too much that it is watery and will sink into the wax paper.

Place another sheet of wax paper on top as a seal, then place your watercolor pan in between two pieces of heavy books (a phone book works well) overnight to dry out. You can now use watercolors from tubes like any other watercolor paint!

While this method does require some patience, you’ll be able to expand your palette and save money by creating watercolor pans from tube paints without sacrificing quality or control over application – plus they’re great for painting outside since there’s no clean up required after use!

People Also Ask

Can They Be Used Together?

Yes. Watercolors can be used together but it is not recommended because they absorb water at different rates which will cause colors to mix unpredictably.

Can They Be Used Interchangeably?

Although watercolors and watercolor tubes may be used interchangeably, it is not advised since pans dry out much quicker than watercolor tubes, causing colors to mix in an unpredictable manner.

Once Watercolor from a Tube Dries, Can I Use It Like Watercolor from a Pan?

Yes! Watercolor that has been applied from a tube can be reactivated with water and used in the same manner as watercolors from pans.

What Type of Paint Is Best for Beginners?

Watercolour tubes are best suited for beginners since they are easier to use and don't require extensive preparation or clean up.

Final Thoughts

Remember – there’s no right way to paint with watercolors. Some artists prefer using both pans and tubes while others only use one type of watercolor over another.

While both types have benefits and drawbacks, ultimately choosing between watercolor tubes vs pans depends entirely upon which options suit your needs best – whether they be artistic, practical, or budgetary.

Either choice is completely up to you, but hopefully, this guide has made it easier for you to decide which method will work best in your studio space. Best wishes on your artistic journey – may these tips help improve your next project!

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