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On Watercolor Material: Tubes, Pans, Paint Grades

date: 2022-10-17

Tubes, pans, half-pans

Watercolor tubes and pans, including non-standard Gansai Tambi Kuretake pans

Watercolor tubes and pans, including non-standard Gansai Tambi Kuretake pans by M. BivertCC-BY-SA-4.0

Most manufacturers provides paints in both tubes and pans/cakes, often with an identical formulation. Pans are most often available in two standard size, half-pans (most common) and (full) pans. Pans and tubes both have pros and cons, mainly:

Note: a common beginner paintings issue is to lack value contrasts: because of a lack of timidity and how difficult it is to get enough paints from pans (especially student-grade ones), students are not going dark enough. Tubes are an easy remedy.

See also Tube, pan & liquid watercolors (handprint).

Tip: Empty pans are available for sale: filling them little by little with tubes is a pleasant intermediate option. In addition of balancing the default of pans while keeping their advantages, it also allows to premix paint, or to use the same paint in two different palettes, without having to move the pans from one to the other, or having to buy multiple pans of the same color.

Tip: If the cap gets stuck on the tube, pliers can be used, gently. If you need to force too much, to the point of (hopefully almost) twisting the tube, then instead soak the cap in a bain-marie to warm the plastic and the paint stuck within, enough for it to loosen the cap. Don’t forget to clean the threads with water/hot water and a toothbrush if needed. A more thorough explanation.

Tip: Using a palette knife to take paint in and out of the tube can help reduce the issue, by preventing paint from going into the threads. Keeping a little bit of air at the top of the tube too, but not so much as to dry the paint.

Fine/student vs. extra-fine/artist grade paints

Fine paints, or student grade paints, usually contain more filler, cheaper/less brilliant pigments, sometimes dyes (impermanent), and no pigments indication, thus no way to pre-emptively evaluate lightfastness.

As a result, they may also be harder to rewet once dried or directly in cake forms.

Then, there are two basic grades of artist paints: the regular and the highly-pigmented (e.g. Old Holland, Daniel Smith). The later, containing more pigments, are more expensive, and thus offers more control regarding the paint’s behavior, as one has more room to extend the paint’s behavior with mediums (e.g. additional gum arabic). Because of their great strenght, a little paint will go a long way, which as a side effect makes the paint easier to “rewet” once dry or in cake form.

The price seems to also reflect slightly more brilliant pigments; more generally, one can/should expect optimal manufacturing quality from highest-grade paints.

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