Watercolor Pans vs. Watercolor Tubes: Choosing the Best Option for Your Art

Watercolor paint is a beautiful and versatile medium that allows artists to create stunning works of art. When it comes to choosing the right type of watercolor paint, artists often find themselves debating between watercolor pans vs. watercolor tubes. Both options have their own unique advantages and considerations, making it important for artists to understand the differences in order to make an informed decision.

Watercolor portrait of a redhead woman with freckles, painted using Artistry watercolor pans

I. Introduction

In this article, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of watercolor pans and watercolor tubes, helping you choose the best option for your art. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced artist, understanding the nuances of watercolor pans and watercolor tubes will empower you to enhance your creative process and achieve stunning results in your artwork.

A watercolor painting of the night sky with some pine tree silhouettes Colorful butterfly painting on a black cardstock, painted using Metallic Watercolors from Artistry by Altenew

II. Understanding Watercolor Pans and Watercolor Tubes

Watercolor pans are solid blocks of concentrated watercolor paint that can be activated with water. They are portable and convenient for outdoor painting. On the other hand, watercolor tubes contain a more concentrated form of paint that needs to be diluted with water before use. They offer a wider range of colors and are suitable for larger paintings.

Artistry by Altenew's Watercolor 36 Pan Set and Metallic Watercolor Pan Set

III. Pros and Cons of Watercolor Pans

Watercolor pans offer a convenient and portable way to use watercolors, making them a popular choice among artists. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using watercolor pans. In this section, we will explore the pros and cons of watercolor pans to help you determine if they are the right choice for your artistic needs.

A page out of Artistry's watercolor coloring book on top of Artistry's Watercolor 36 Pan Set and some paintbrushes

A. Advantages of using watercolor pans

Watercolor pans are portable and great for on-the-go painting. They are easier to use for beginners and offer a more controlled approach to painting. You also don’t need to spend time squeezing a tube - these are ready to use!

4 half-pans from Artistry's watercolor 36 pan set

B. Limitations of watercolor pans

One limitation of watercolor pans is the limited range of colors available in a set. They can also dry out over time, making it difficult to reactivate the paint. There is also a possibility of color contamination or color pollution due to the closeness of each pan to each other. Although, Artistry by Altenew’s watercolor pans can be removed from the case.

Find Everything You Need to Know About Watercolor Painting

What is better: watercolor pan or watercolor tube?

The choice between watercolor pan and watercolor tube depends on individual preferences and painting styles. Both mediums have their own advantages and limitations.

Are watercolor pans better for beginners?

Watercolor pans are often recommended for beginners due to their ease of use and portability.

Artistry's watercolor tubes collection in different colors

IV. Pros and Cons of Watercolor Tubes

Watercolor tubes offer artists a convenient and versatile way to use watercolor paints. With a wide range of vibrant colors and the ability to be easily mixed and diluted, watercolor tubes provide artists with endless possibilities for creating beautiful artwork. 

However, there are also drawbacks to using watercolor tubes, such as the potential for the paints to dry out quickly and the need for additional tools, such as palettes and brushes. In this section, we will explore the pros and cons of using watercolor tubes, providing valuable insights for both experienced artists and beginners looking to explore this medium.

A painting of a huge ocean wave, painted with Artistry watercolor tubes

A. Advantages of using watercolor tubes

Watercolor tubes offer a wider range of colors and are more suitable for large-scale paintings. They also provide a more vibrant and intense color payoff. Moreover, the paints can be used directly out of the tube, without pre-wetting.

B. Limitations of watercolor tubes

One limitation of watercolor tubes is their lack of portability compared to pans. They also require more careful handling to avoid waste or drying out, and you’ll need a palette to mix them on.

Gouache painting of a man in some kind of helmet, made with Artistry Gouache paints

Why use watercolor tubes?

Watercolor tubes are preferred by artists who require a wider range of colors and intensity in their paintings.

Are watercolor tubes better for beginners?

Watercolor tubes can be used by beginners, but they may require more practice and skill to control the intensity of the colors.

Try These Easy Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

A watercolor painting of birdhouses, painted using Artistry's high quality watercolor tubes set Artistry by Altenew's beginner-friendly pan watercolor set along with some watercolor swatches

Aspects and Features

Watercolor Pans 

Watercolor Tubes  


Easy to carry and use on the go

Require a palette or mixing surface

Color Intensity

Colors may appear less intense

Colors are usually more concentrated

Mixing Colors

Limited mixing space on the pan

Easier to mix colors on a palette


Generally more affordable

Can be more expensive, but last longer so it’s more economical

Drying Time

Quick drying time

Longer drying time


Can dry out and become unusable

Can be reactivated with water

Shelf Life

Longer shelf life due to less exposure

Shorter shelf life due to air exposure


Less control over the amount of paint

More control over the amount of paint


Limited range of colors in a set

Wide range of colors available

Both watercolor pans and watercolor tubes have their own advantages and disadvantages. The choice between the two ultimately depends on the artist's preferences, painting style, and specific needs.

Watercolor supplies and tools from Artistry by Altenew including Watercolor Paper, artist-grade watercolor pans, and watercolor paintbrushes

V. Choosing the Right Watercolor for Your Art

Choosing the right watercolor for your art is essential to achieving the desired effects and results in your paintings. 

With a wide range of watercolor options available, it's important to understand the different characteristics of various watercolor paints, including transparency, lightfastness, granulation, and staining properties. By considering these factors, you can select the best watercolor paints that suit your artistic style and preferences.  

In this section, we will explore the key considerations for selecting watercolor paints and provide insights to help you make informed decisions for your artistic endeavors.

Colorful watercolor art depicting some type of fish, made with artist-grade watercolor paints in tubes
Factors to consider when choosing between watercolor pans and tubes

Consider your painting style, portability needs, color range requirements, and the scale of your artwork when choosing between watercolor pans and tubes.

Watercolor painting ideas for each medium

Watercolor pans are great for small-scale landscapes, florals, and simple illustrations, while watercolor tubes are ideal for large-scale landscapes, abstract art, and vibrant color washes.

Easy watercolor paintings for beginners using both pans and tubes

Beginners can try simple exercises like color mixing, gradient washes, and basic brush techniques using both watercolor pans and tubes.

How to Choose the Best Watercolor for Beginners

VI. Tips for Using Watercolor Pans and Tubes

How to paint watercolors for beginners using pans

Start by activating the colors in the pan with a wet brush, then experiment with layering, blending, and creating different textures.

Watercolor flower painting made with Artistry's high quality 24 pan watercolor set
How to paint watercolors for beginners using tubes

Squeeze out a small amount of paint from the tube and dilute it with water on a palette. Practice controlling the intensity of the colors and creating smooth washes.

Watercolor art depicting some florals and leaves, painted with watercolor tubes
Best practices for maximizing the potential of each medium

Store watercolor pans in airtight containers to prevent drying out, and keep watercolor tubes capped tightly to avoid wastage.

a painting of a monstera leaf, painted using Artistry's watercolor pans

VIII. Conclusion

The debate between watercolor pans and watercolor tubes ultimately comes down to personal preference and artistic requirements. Both mediums offer unique advantages and limitations that cater to different painting styles and needs. As an artist, it's important to experiment with both options and explore their versatility in creating beautiful watercolor paintings.

In summary, whether you choose watercolor pans or tubes, the most important thing is to enjoy the process of painting and embrace the unique qualities of each medium. With practice and experimentation, you can discover the endless possibilities of watercolor painting and create stunning works of art that reflect your individual style and creativity.


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