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Watercolor Tube vs. Pans

watercolor tube vs pan
Watercolor tube vs. pan – what distinguishes watercolor paints sold in tubes from those sold in pans? How can you choose the one that is ideal for you? Let’s compare the two to find out which of them suits your needs better.

Watercolor Pans vs. Tubes

Here’s a little graph that defines their differences:

  Portability Flexibility Versatility Color Quality

Watercolor paints are made by mixing the pigment with gum arabic, a little amount of glycerin, and other ingredients for adhesion, flexibility, and a glossy finish. Then, this mixture is dried in pans into a semi-moist solid form or placed in metal tubes, where it is given the consistency of toothpaste.

Watercolor Pans

watercolor pans

Watercolor pans put cakes of paint in little squares. The squares can be full (20 x 30mm) or half (20 x 15mm) pans. The paint pans are kept together while being used by being placed in little plastic or metal boxes. The lids of the boxes have hinged tops that, when opened, serve as a palette for mixing colors and, when closed, hold the pans in place.

Although pan sets are pre-colored, you can still edit the colors to suit your needs or subject better, even coming up with different color palettes if you wish.


Pans could be tricky to use right out of the package, but putting the paint on the brush is easy enough after moistening and gently softening them. Initially, you can soften them by dropping small amounts of water on them and allowing them to rest for a minute.

Before placing the color on your palette, use a slightly moist brush to remove a small amount of paint from a pan. You have two options: either use the pan lids as a palette or buy a separate one. If the paint is too thick for your liking, simply add more water to it.

You must exercise caution to prevent contamination from other colors.

Difficulties of Using a Watercolor Pan

One of the challenges of using pans is maintaining the cleanliness of your pan colors. A pan may become stained or mixed with other colors if you are not meticulously cleaning your brushes before using a new color.

If the pans get dirty while you are painting, clean them with a moist cloth or sponge once you are finished. To prevent them from adhering to the lid the next time you open the box, let the pans dry for a couple of hours before closing it. Both the palette and the interior of the cover should be dried.

Watercolor Tube Paints

watercolor tube

More glycerine is found in paints in tubes than in paints in pans. Glycerin makes them creamier, softer, and more mixable with water. There are three tube sizes: 5ml, 15ml (the most popular), and 20ml. Because you may squeeze as much paint as needed from tubes, they are useful if you want huge areas of color.


The use of watercolor tubes is simple. Grab a palette and add the colors there. Drops of water are then used to make the colors active.
Pick up the paint from your palette with a moist brush. Just like with watercolor pans, add more water to the paint if it is too thick.

Difficulties of Using a Watercolor Tube

Tubes are usually simple to maintain clean, but before reattaching the cap, ensure that the cap’s thread is free of debris. If not, paint will stick to the lid, making it challenging to open next time. If that occurs, you can extend the cap and soften the paint by holding the tube under warm water for a few seconds.

If you squeeze out more pain than necessary and the excess paint dries, you can just add water to it to reactivate it.

If the tube cap is not securely tightened, the paint inside will dry out. If the paint is not too old, you can break the tube in half lengthwise to get to it and use it as a temporary pan to reactivate the dried paint with water.

You can add more water into the tube by puncturing the mouth of the tube with a nail or the end of a brush if the paint dries. After adding water, put the cover back on, shake the paint in the tube, and rehydrate it.

Additionally, dried paint can be accessed by severing tube ends (at the crimp) and softening them with a bit of water.

Which is Better, Watercolor Tubes or Pans?

Pans are easier to use than tubes since the paint is more readily available. It’s unnecessary to lay down the brush, open a can of paint, and squeeze some paint out. Since pans are easier to bring anywhere, painters typically use them for sketching or painting outdoors due to their portability and compactness. You might want to pack gouache (opaque watercolor), paintbrush-sized watercolor pans, or tiny tubes in your art travel luggage.

Pans are more suitable for miniature paintings and studies because they are smaller and more expensive than tubes. Only little brushes can be used to apply them.

When it comes to the quantity of paint you need, the brush size, the surface to be painted, and the dimensions of the painting, tubes give you better flexibility.

Tubes are easier on brushes than pans because you don’t have to rub your brush aggressively to take up a color.

Ultimately, each has benefits of its own. Try both to see which you prefer.

Last Word

There is no clear, objective winner in the watercolor tube vs. pan debate. Ultimately, the winner comes down to what you want to accomplish and your preferences.