Tube Watercolors: An Introduction for Beginners

Cover image: Tube Watercolors An Introduction for Beginners

The world of art is full of wonderful possibilities. There are so many different mediums that you can use to express yourself that sometimes it can be overwhelming or difficult to navigate. As a beginner, it’s easy to ask what’s so special about tube watercolors.

Tube watercolors are packed with pigment and organic binders that produce beautifully saturated colors. They are vibrant and can be used straight from the tube. They also mix well with water, which will lighten them in color, giving you a variety of hues to choose from. 

Let’s take a look below at all of the ways tube watercolors make great paints for beginners. We’ll also take a look at how to use tube watercolors so you can get the most out of your experience. Here is our article Tube Watercolors: An Introduction for Beginners.

What’s the Difference Between Pan and Tube Watercolors?

A pan watercolor is a watercolor that comes in a cake or dried-out form. It can come in a set palette, or it can be found individually. You activate the paint by adding or spraying water onto it.

A tube watercolor is essentially the same thing; only it comes moist and in a tube similar to toothpaste. Check out this video below that gives you the differences between pan, tube, and liquid watercolors.

makoccinoOpens in a new tab.

What Makes Tube Watercolors So Great?

For beginners, tube watercolors can be a great way to break into the art ecosystem. They allow for a wide variety of hues and are easy to work with. Here are just a few ways that make tube watercolors great.

They Are Already Pigmented and Fully Saturated

Unlike the watercolors you find in a pan, tube watercolors are already fully pigmentedOpens in a new tab. and saturated. This means they’re as pure in colorOpens in a new tab. as they can be. They won’t get brighter, and they’ll apply instantly vibrantOpens in a new tab..

This makes it really easy to mix them with waterOpens in a new tab.. When you mix watercolors with water, you can lighten the shades or even change the color completely. You get a whole spectrum of colors rather than just the tubes you’re starting with.

You Can Paint Straight From the Tube

While mixing your watercolors with water is typically the best way to use them, you can actually paint straight from the tube. Many artists find that it allows for a cleaner workspace for their art. When starting with fresh paint from the tube, you’re less likely to end up with dustOpens in a new tab. or other small particles in your painting. 

This technique works best for some but not for everyone. Once you add water, the consistency of your watercolors will change. Diluted Opens in a new tab.watercolors might not mix with concentrated watercolors in the same way. So, using both methods may not be what you’re looking for. It’s important to decide if you’ll paint straight from the tube or dilute your tube watercolors with water. Please note that some water will always be needed.

They Are Great for Large Projects

One of the great benefits of using tube watercolors straight from the tube is that you have more paint to work with. Using watercolor from a cake or a pan takes longer and more water as you work to find the right consistency and hues.

Tube watercolors offer a larger amount of paint. If you choose to dilute them, it can spread even further for your larger projects. Since the paint in the tubes is already moist, they also mix with water faster.

Supplies Needed to Use Tube Watercolors

When getting started on a new hobby, there will always be a list of supplies you’ll want to purchase. Painting with tube watercolors also requires specific items, which you can find listed below.


When purchasing brushes, there will be three things to consider: hair, size, and shapeOpens in a new tab.

Brushes that use natural hair are going to be the best, but they’re more expensive. If you’re on a budget, synthetic hair is your best option. They won’t last a lifetime, but they can last a few years with the right care.

There are a variety of sizes that you can choose from, but you don’t need many. Several sizes can be used for the same function. It just depends on the way you use them. Practice makes perfect and will help you find the right size brushes for you.

The shape is another important factor. There are several different shapes, each one listed out below with a description of what function they serve:

  • Angular – The hair is cut at an angle, and can be used for precise strokes as well as to fill medium to large blocks of color.
  • Flat – This brush can hold a lot of paint. The edge can make sharp lines, but as a whole, it can also be used to fill in broad areas. 
  • Square Wash – Looks like a short version of the flat brush. This is great for wetting the paper.
  • Mop – Ideal for wetting your paper and quickly filling in large areas with color.
  • Oval Wash – These brushes look a bit like a make-up brush. It can be used for wetting the paper and quickly laying down color. These brushes never form a point or an edge.
  • Script/ Liner – A pointy, narrow brush used for executing fine details.
  • Round – The best “all-around” brush. It can be used for both details and washes. The width of your lines will vary depending on your angle and amount of pressure. 

You can begin your paintbrush collection by checking out this pack of 12 Crafts 4 AllOpens in a new tab. brushes in a variety of shapes and sizes. These brushes are great for watercolor and are available online at Amazon. Do remember that no matter how great they are, a fundamental part of their performance is how well you take care of themOpens in a new tab..


This will vary depending on your desires and budget. You can start small and get tubes of the basic colors. If you don’t intend to dilute or mix them, you can pick out a larger variety of colors.

There are sets of tube watercolors that you can purchase at a craft store or online. There is also a list of top tube watercolors for beginners listed later in this article. 


There are two qualities of paper for your watercolors: student and artist. It’s also available in pads, sheets, and blocks. Typically, you’ll find artist-quality paper available in individual sheets, while pads are usually student quality.

Blocks are basically just a pile of watercolor paper that has been glued on one side. You paint your picture on the top sheet, and when you’re finished, you insert your knife into the block and cut away from your page. 

A great example of watercolor paper is UCreate Watercolor PaperOpens in a new tab., available online on Amazon.

UCreate Watercolor Paper, Bulk, 140 Lb., White, 9" x 12", 50 Sheets
  • QUALITY PAPER: Super heavyweight 140 lb. student-grade watercolor paper has a smooth uniform finish...
  • VERSATILE: Sturdy sheets are ideal for both wet and mixed media techniques
  • ECONOMICAL: 50 Count pack of 9" x 12" sheets are a cost effective way for young artists to...

Last update on 2024-06-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


A palette is a kind of plate that holds your paint for you. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as well as a variety of materials.

Typically, watercolor palettes come in either plastic or ceramic. As you might guess, ceramic is the better option, but plastic will work if you’re on a budget. A plastic palette will eventually end up stained from excessive use, but they’re lighter and easier to hold. 

When choosing a palette, regardless of the material it’s made out of, try to pick one that has individual wells. This will help if you decide to mix your colors and prevent them from mixing with other colors on the palette.

A great palette to try out would be this 18-Wells Watercolor Paint PaletteOpens in a new tab. by Davi Atelier, available online at Amazon. It offers you 18 individual wells to put your tube watercolors and a big surface in the center to mix your colors if you don’t want to mix them in the wells.


If you decide to mix your paints with water, you will need to keep some in a container nearby. It’s best if the container is clear so you can see the state of your water. If it becomes too murky or foggy, you’ll want to replace it.

Some artists will use two containers of water. They’ll use one for cleaning their brushes in between uses and the other for dipping. However, it’s all up to you.


When you’re finished painting, you’ll want to clean your brushes with a mild or organic all-natural soap. Using a harsher, commercial soap can potentially damage your brushes.

There are also a variety of artist-specific soaps available that are designed for cleaning paintbrushes. An example of this special soap is the Speedball Artist Brush and Hand SoapOpens in a new tab., which is available online at Amazon.

How to Use Tube Watercolors

There are a few techniques that you can try to get started using your tube watercolors.

Change Up the Paper

There are two waysOpens in a new tab. you can change up the paper when painting with watercolors. Each will technique will change the outcome of your painting. Give both a try and see which one you prefer.

  • Wet on Dry – This method involves painting with watercolors on dry paper. Simply mix your colors in your palette (or don’t) and paint directly onto the paper. If you like more control over your paint, this is the best way to go.
  • Wet on Wet – In order to do this technique, you’ll want to take a clean brush and load it up with clean water. Place some water onto the paper in the area you wish to paint. Then take your brush and place it in the watercolor you want to use. Put it onto the water and watch it move. This is a more fluid method and doesn’t offer as much control.

Mixing and Painting With Fresh Tube Watercolors

This is one of the fastest and easiest waysOpens in a new tab. to mix your watercolors. When using tube watercolors, they’re already moist. This makes it really simple to mix it with water to dilute it or get a different hue.

  1. Start with a clean mixing surface. This will be your palette. It can be a dinner plate or a butcher tray as long as it’s clean and preferably white. This helps you to clearly see the colors you’re mixing.
  2. Squeeze the paint out. Squeeze small amounts of the paint you wish to use into the wells of your palette if you’re using one. If you’re not using a palette, be sure to leave enough space between dots of color to avoid contaminating them.
  3. Load your brush with water, and press into the palette. Soak your brush with enough water to make a small puddle and press the brush against the edge of your mixing surface to create the puddle.
  4. Dab your brush into the paint. Place your brush into the paint you wish to mix with water to get some of the pigment.
  5. Gently mix the paint into the puddle. Press your brush into the puddle of water and mix it together gently.
  6. Rinse your brush and repeat. Clean off your brush and repeat the steps above with any remaining colors you wish to mix.

Reactivating Old Watercolor Paint in Your Palette

Most of the time, when using a palette, you’ll let your watercolors dry out after your painting session is complete. However, it’s easy to reuse dried-out watercolors because they reactivate with water.

There can sometimes be an issue with reactivating tube watercolors, but this will vary depending on the manufacturer and quality. 

All you need to do to reuse your dried watercolor palette is to rewet it with water. 

Painting Straight From the Tube

This is a common technique if you’re trying to touch up a painting or don’t have a palette handy. 

  1. Open your tube of paint.
  2. Wet your paintbrush. You won’t need a palette, but you will need a wet brush. 
  3. Squeeze the tube slightly. Don’t squeeze it too much. You’re only pushing out enough paint to put on the brush.
  4. Place your damp brush to the opening of the tube. Take a little of the pigment straight from the tube.
  5. Rinse your brush and repeat. After you’re finished with the color you used, rinse your brush, and repeat the steps above if necessary.

Based on the steps above, it’s clear this method could take a lot longer if you decided to paint an entire painting this way. However, it works nicely for fixing certain spots.

Top 10 Tube Watercolor Sets and Brands for Beginners

Below you’ll find a list of the top ten sets or brands of tube watercolors for beginners. 

Reeves Watercolor Paint SetOpens in a new tab.

This set is alright for beginnersOpens in a new tab. who just learn about color theory and want to mix their watercolors. The Reeves Watercolor Paint Set comes with 12 tubes of watercolors that are easy to use. You can find it online at Amazon.

Van Gogh WatercolorsOpens in a new tab.

Van Gogh Watercolor Paint Set, 10x10ml Tube Set Opens in a new tab.
  • Van Gogh watercolors are a student and artist level range of paints featuring brilliant,...
  • Most colors are rated with the highest degree of lightfastness +++ (100+ years under museum...
  • Thanks to the purity and uniform viscosity, these watercolors are easy to work with and easy to mix.

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Who wouldn’t want their paint sets to be named after a famous artist? These brilliant colors will mix well with water and remain vibrant. They’re excellent quality paint for artists of all skill levels. 

This Van Gogh set is available online at Amazon. With it, you’ll get ten tubes of watercolors from this great brand.

Daniel Smith Extra Fine SetOpens in a new tab.

Daniel Smith set, you get 6 essential colors in this set, which you can mix to create your secondary colors. The set comes in 5ml tubes and is great for both beginners and advanced artists.

Daniel Smith is one of the largest manufacturers of watercolor paints worldwide. This introductory set of 6 tubes is a great way to transition into the world of professional tube watercolors. You can find this set online at Amazon, as well as other vendors. 

Holbein Artists’ Watercolors SetOpens in a new tab.

This brand of watercolors is made in Japan and is on the more expensive side. However, the company claims they are more finely ground than other watercolors, which means they remain smooth and leave a non-granulated texture. 

This set available on Amazon comes with 24 5ml tubes of watercolor paints. They’re believed to not dry out in the tube and offer a wide variety of vibrant colors.

Graham Artists’ Watercolor Basic Color SetOpens in a new tab.

M. Graham & Co. 33-Set 1/2-Ounce Tube Watercolor Paint Basic 5-Color Set
Opens in a new tab.
2,599 Reviews
M. Graham & Co. 33-Set 1/2-Ounce Tube Watercolor Paint Basic 5-Color Set
  • Artist quality watercolor paint made with natural blackberry honey
  • Watercolor made with honey absorbs moisture from the air preventing hardening on the palette or in...
  • Just a spritz with water and the color is ready to use

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Interestingly, this paint set is that the company uses natural blackberry honey as an additive to its watercolors. This means that the paint will be thicker. This can be great for some artists but not so ideal for those who prefer a thinner consistency.

The use of honey in the paint is meant to prevent hardening in the tube and the palette. This is another brand that is a little on the expensive side. However, it is an artist-quality paint. You can get this set of 5 basic colors online at Amazon. 

Winsor & Newton Professional WatercolorsOpens in a new tab.

Windsor & Newton Artists Water 5ML Tube 12C Set (Japan Import)
  • Age Group: Toddler
  • Package weight: 0.35 pounds
  • Gender: unisex

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This set of tube watercolors comes with 12 5ml tubes of watercolors. The Winsor and Newton brand make high-quality paints that have a high pigment level. This is also one of those rare sets that contain black and white watercolors.

Despite their price, they’re a popular brand for their consistency and quality. This set is also available online at Amazon, though you may be able to find it cheaper elsewhere.

Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Artist Watercolor SetOpens in a new tab.

Schmincke - HORADAM® AQUARELL color box, basic assortment, 12 x 5 ml tubes, 74112097, metal box, painting set, finest premium watercolors Opens in a new tab.
  • 🎨 THE BRAND: Schmincke has been producing the best, finest artists' colors Made in Germany since...
  • 🎨 WATERCOLOR SET: The HORADAM AQUARELL starter box from Schmincke consists of a stable metal box...
  • 🎨 COLORS: colors included are - 215 lemon yellow, 224 cadmium yellow light, 349 cadmium red...

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Schmincke is known in the artists’ community for its superior quality in paints. This could be thanks to the fact that they have been using the same formula since 1881. They have a large selection of color varieties, offering 139 colors.

This set comes with 12 5ml tubes of watercolors. The case they come in doubles as a palette and mixing surface. Their quality is comparable to Winsor and Newton’s, though they seem to offer a bit more boldness to their pigments.

Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint SetOpens in a new tab.

Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint, 7.5ml/0.25 oz. Tube, 12-Color Set (2012)
Opens in a new tab.
97 Reviews
Grumbacher Academy Watercolor Paint, 7.5ml/0.25 oz. Tube, 12-Color Set (2012) Opens in a new tab.
  • Either straight from the tube or when mixed with white, strokes and washes are vibrant and...
  • Only finely ground pigments are used in making this smooth, rich paint; Paints made in USA
  • Part of a collegiate line of 60 watercolor paints at an affordable price

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This is a great set for beginners. The quality of paint is good enoughOpens in a new tab. to be used by both beginners and advanced artists. You’ll find that the colors are impressive and mix well to create lighter shades.

This set comes with a plastic mixing tray and a single brush, and 12 7.5ml tubes of watercolor paint. It’s a great set to get you started in the world of artist-quality watercolors. While you can find it on Amazon, it could be a little pricey for you if you’re starting out or on a tight budget.

Daler Rowney Watercolor SetOpens in a new tab.

Daler Rowney Simply Watercolor Set - 24 Watercolor Paint Tubes for Student Artists of All Ages - Vibrant Smooth 12ml Watercolor Paints for Canvas Paper and More Opens in a new tab.
  • Beginner Watercolor Tube Set - Each 12ml (.4oz) tube of highly pigmented, rich, smooth watercolor...
  • Adaptable Paint - The water color paint featured in this set can be used as-is for intense coverage...
  • Product Longevity - These pigment-packed 12ml water color paints boast high lightfastness, ensuring...

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Daler Rowney set offers the most paint so far on this list, back to a slightly cheaper option. You get a set of 24 12ml tubes of watercolors. That is a lot of paint to use!

The colors and the quality are good for the price range and are perfect for beginners. They offer a variety of sets that you can find online. Some of their sets will come with cases, and other sets will provide brushes. 

They aren’t the best quality paints out there, but they aren’t a bad option for the amount of paint you can get for the price. Especially if you’re just starting and aren’t sure how well you like watercolors.

Sennelier Watercolor Student Paint SetOpens in a new tab.

Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor Set, 0.33 Fl Oz (Pack of 12), Multicolor
Opens in a new tab.
636 Reviews
Sennelier La Petite Aquarelle Watercolor Set, 0.33 Fl Oz (Pack of 12), Multicolor Opens in a new tab.
  • Features an elastic strap that keeps the box securely in the palm of your hand while you paint
  • Extremely smooth color application
  • Ideal for art students

Last update on 2024-06-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This is a travel set that is great for artists just starting or those in school. It offers student-quality pigments in 12 10ml tubes. These are entry-level paints, but they work well. Sennelier uses a high honey content to maintain the pigments and preserve the paint for longer periods of time. 

This set comes in a plastic case that doubles as a mixing tray and palette. You will also get one brush with this set. It’s a travel set, so it’s designed to fit in a bag and go where you go. Perfect for a traveling student or painting landscapes.

Things to Keep in Mind

With all things, there are always going to be things you’ll wish you knew before getting started. Luckily, here is a list of some of those things to keep in mind.

Paint Quality

When it comes to tube watercolors, there are typically two quality levels: student and artist. Student quality watercolors will have more fillers in them and can be less pigmented. However, they are usually the cheaper of the two.

Artist quality will give you more pigment and better subtleties for color and transparency, but they’ll likely be more expensive. The student-quality watercolors will give you an idea of what it’s like to work with tube watercolors. If you like the hobby, you can work on investing in the more expensive paints later on.

No Black and White Paints

Generally, you won’t always find black or white tube watercolors in a paint set. This is because artists tend to avoid these colors. However, you can still come across some sets with a black or white watercolor included. 

If you find a set that you like containing a black or white watercolor tube, you may want to think twice before buying it. Make sure you’ll use it; otherwise, it will simply go to waste in your collection.

Black watercolors are often viewed as lifeless, and artists will usually opt to use a darker shade of another color rather than black. Typically, you can mix a few colors to get an almost black color.

When it comes to white, you won’t see this in a set because the white is meant to be the paper. When you paint, you’ll be filling in the areas around what you want white. 

You may have learned that to lighten a color, you’ll need to mix it with white in order do that. However, in watercolors, you won’t need to do that. Add water to the color you want lighter, and it will dilute it. The white from the paper will glow through the thinned paint and create that light hue you were looking for.

Dried Out Tubes

If you have tubes of paint that have dried out, don’t worry. They can be recovered with a small amount of work involved.

You’ll need to cut the tubes open and crush out the contents inside. Place the contents into a container with some Gum Arabic and let them sit for a little while. Once they’ve sat together, mix them, adding more Gum Arabic if needed until you have a smooth blend again. 

It can take some time, depending on the paint. However, with a little bit of work and patience, you can get those dried-out tubes working for you again.

Have Fun With It!

It’s so easy to let our fears get the best of us. The same can be said about painting. The best thing you can do for yourself when you’re starting is to have fun with it. You don’t need to be 100% confident to get started with watercolor painting. 

Play with the paint and see what happens. Your art doesn’t have to be perfect, and no one will notice a mistake unless you point it out to them. Enjoy your art.

Final Words

There’s always more to be learned when it comes to any art form. It can be pretty challenging to start a new hobby, especially an artistic one. Hopefully, this beginner’s introduction to tube watercolors has been helpful and informative. 


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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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