As with most paints, watercolors are produced in two qualities and are called Student and Professional or Artist’s grade.
Student grade paints are economical and available in a wide variety of colors.
While more costly, professional grade paints are available in a broad range of colors and have qualities that make them worth the added expense.
Unlike other mediums, watercolor is available in two forms. Tube paints and pan paints differ in composition only by the addition or lack of fluid. These two types of Watercolor Paint have individual characteristics that make them suitable for different styles of painting.
Pan watercolors, as the name suggests, are dry pats of paint that are inserted into individual recesses in a palette or storage container made specifically for the purpose. Pre-made watercolor sets are available with a range of colors, or the pans can be purchased individually. They are available in half-pan and full-pan sizes.
Since the pans are dry, preliminary mixing is required to make a puddle of paint on the palette. This is blended with other hues to achieve the artist’s desired color. Pan paints are particularly good for dry brush painting, as this technique does not require a lot of juicy paint. Pan paint is also appropriate for smaller works in which volume is not an issue. Using pan paints to create a full-sheet watercolor full of juicy washes is not just a lot of work; it’s a form self-torture meant to test the level of one’s patience and endurance.
Pan paint is great for the kind of dry brush painting and detail work that excess water makes difficult or impossible. Tube paint is thick and must be thinned to a consistency suitable for the kind of brush stroke the artist intends. If a student is laying in fine hair on an animal or wants a mere wisp of color to accent the texture of the paper, pan paint is easy to use.
Many plein air painters use pan paint sets created specifically for fieldwork. These compact sketch boxes are produced expressly to minimize bulk in packing for an afternoon’s outdoor painting sojourn. Many field kits incorporate storage for small brushes and feature an attached flip-out palette. Just add water.
There’s nothing more satisfying to a watercolorist than opening a fresh tube and squeezing out a big dollop of shiny paint. Just waiting for your inspiration, its potential is all there in that one splendid blob of color.
Student Grade Paint
Student grade Watercolor Paint has the same basic ingredients as professional paint. However, the difference may be in the proportions and quality of those ingredients. Professional paints use a higher ratio of pigment to binder and filler, which results in a more intense and concentrated color. Although you pay less for the student grade paint, the amount of product required to achieve the same saturated color may make the paint less economical.
The manufacturing of the paint may have other differences. The pigment may not be as finely ground as professional grade pigment, which can lead to a grainy appearance in washes. The pigment is not pulverized enough to make it easily dissolved, so particles of paint remain suspended in the water. When the area dries, the wash may not be uniform. Some of the more costly pigments are not used to make student grade paints. Therefore, the variety of colors is somewhat limited.
Professional Grade Paint
There are a number of renowned paint manufacturers, which have produced artists’ supplies for hundreds of years. These companies maintain their own recipes and manufacturing methods for each color, many of which are processes developed centuries ago.
There are general standards for the appearance of a hue. Nevertheless, as manufacturers each have their own formulations, there will be variances in colors from company to company. This is not important to a beginning artist. However, he will probably develop a preference for certain brands or manufacturers’ colors as his knowledge and skills expand.
As pointed out in reference to student grade paints, the proportion of pigment to binder and filler product is clearly higher in professional grade paint formulations. This higher ratio and the greater processing required to finely grind the pigment accounts for the increased cost of professional watercolor paints. Professional paint is buttery smooth and brilliantly saturated. It creates uniform washes and holds its intensity when diluted. Professional paint has a transparency that most student grade paints cannot recreate, as the amount of filler material is minimal, the proportion of pure pigment is high, and the quality of the binding material is excellent.
There is great variety in the number of hues available in professional watercolor paint lines. Not only are there all the standard colors, but manufacturers often expand their line with their own exclusive colors and formulations. These beautiful and tempting paints are conveniences and add unique specialty colors to the artist’s palette.
A beginning watercolorist is so enamored of the selection of paints that it’s sometimes hard to stop buying tubes of color. Start out with the basics. As your skills develop and you increase your range of subject matter and complexity of technique, add to your little horde of colors. Make a list for Santa of costly colors you may love to own but don’t need.
Watercolor Paint has a number of qualities unique to the medium. Some paints are sedimentary, while others have a high staining power. Paint is also grouped by its permanence. Some paints maintain their color and intensity indefinitely. Other colors are considered fugitive paints. No, these paints are not renegades. However, they do tend to escape. This group of paints will fade or change color over time.
It is important for an artist to learn the individual characteristics of the paints he uses. With this knowledge, he can plan the effects he wishes to create and understand how different paints will work together. Take for example, the ability to remove color from a sheet of watercolor paper. Some paints can be successfully removed to return the paint to white. How unfortunate for the artist who wishes to lighten an area, only to realize too late that the color he used has high staining power and will never wash out of his paper. Learning and remembering which colors do what is part of the skill needed to become a competent painter.
The general quality of the painting experience is far more satisfying with professional grade paints. It’s hard to master the mechanics of painting. When faced with using less-than-optimal materials, the student finds the task more difficult.
If you are confronted with the choice of a few tubes of professional quality paints or a larger quantity of student paints, opt for the professional grade. Slowly add to your assortment as time and money permit. Your instructors will applaud your wise selections and fellow students will be impressed with your professional choices. Just make sure to leave your paint box open for all to see your good taste in quality paints.
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Watercolor Paints (This Article)
Watercolor Paint Brands
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Watercolor Basic Painting Techniques
Advanced Watercolor Painting Techniques
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