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What is liquid watercolor used for?

Liquid watercolors, also known as fluid watercolors, are a versatile paint medium that can be used for a variety of artistic techniques and effects. Unlike conventional watercolors which come in a solid, cake form, liquid watercolors are dissolved paints contained in bottles. The fluidity makes them ideal for pouring, dripping, splattering and blending. Let’s explore the many creative ways to use liquid watercolors.

Characteristics of Liquid Watercolors

Liquid watercolors have a few key characteristics:

  • They have a fluid, ink-like consistency straight out of the bottle.
  • They are highly pigmented, resulting in vivid, intense colors.
  • They mix and blend seamlessly on the paper or canvas.
  • They can be diluted with water to create translucent washes.
  • They typically dry to a matte finish.
  • They are water-soluble even when dry.

These qualities make them perfect for flowing, blending, dripping and other fluid painting techniques. The concentrated pigment allows you to achieve striking colors even when thinned out with lots of water. Let’s look at some specific techniques and how to use liquid watercolors to their full potential.

Splattering and Splashing

The fluidity of liquid watercolors makes them ideal for splattering and splashing effects. Here are some ways to use them:

  • Load a brush or toothbrush with paint and run your finger across the bristles to create a splatter effect.
  • Flick drops of paint directly onto the paper using your paintbrush.
  • Pour some paint into a spray bottle to create airbrush effects.
  • Dip crumpled plastic wrap in paint and splatter onto paper.
  • Drop, plop and splash colors directly from the bottle.

You can create interesting abstract backgrounds and textures with these splattering techniques. It’s also a great way to add accent colors and details to a painting.

Blending and Flowing

The fluid nature of liquid watercolors allows you to achieve beautiful blended and flowing effects. Try these techniques:

  • While the paint is still wet, gently tilt the paper to make colors stream and run.
  • Use a wet brush to softly blend one color into another.
  • Spray water mist to make wet-on-wet blooms and bleeds.
  • Drop a straw in paint and blow through it to make color trails.
  • Let colors merge and mingle as you layer wet on wet.

Mastering paint blending allows you to create soft gradients, vivid wet-on-wet blooms and interesting color variations in your work.


Pouring liquid watercolors directly onto the painting surface is a great way to achieve bold effects. Techniques include:

  • Tilting or turning the paper to guide poured lines and trails.
  • Layering poured colors to achieve depth and texture.
  • Pouring through holes in cardboard or plastic to create patterns.
  • Pouring multiple colors and watching them blend, swirl and mingle.
  • Blowing through a straw as you pour to direct the streams.

With practice you can create stunning poured abstracts as well as add interesting details to representational paintings.

Drip Painting

Dripping liquid watercolor directly from the bottle or brush creates bold lines and graphic effects. Try these approaches:

  • Lightly pre-wet the paper so dripped colors bleed and bloom.
  • Tilt and turn the paper to guide drips in different directions.
  • Alternate between diluting and using paint undiluted for defined drips vs. blooms.
  • Add thicker drip lines by dipping a chopstick or skewer in paint.
  • Layer colors, allowing previous drips to dry before adding new ones.

Dripping can create interesting abstract backgrounds or be used in combination with other techniques within a painting.

Masking and Resists

Masking fluid and wax resists allow you to create sharp edges and defined areas that resist liquid watercolors. Useful techniques include:

  • Apply masking fluid and let dry before painting.
  • Dip cardboard shapes in wax to make wax resists.
  • Draw on wax resist with a candle or crayon before painting.
  • Peel off masking fluid after painting to reveal white outlines.
  • Scratch into wet paint with a toothpick to create white lines.

Experiment by layering resists under washes of liquid watercolor to achieve different effects. The wax and masking fluid will prevent the paint from settling in specific areas.

Watercolor Washes

While liquid watercolors are great for their fluid properties, they can also be used for traditional transparent watercolor techniques:

  • Dilute with lots of water for soft, light washes of color.
  • Gradually deepen tones by layering successive washes.
  • Use wet-on-dry techniques for softer edges vs. wet-on-wet for blooms.
  • Create graded washes by wetting the paper gradually less as you work down.
  • Apply thicker mixes of paint for more saturated areas.

With the right techniques, liquid watercolors can achieve delicate effects just as well as dense, concentrated color.

Splattering and Textures

Here are some ways to create interesting textures by splattering, sprinkling and stamping:

  • Splatter paint through toothbrush, plastic wrap or mesh screen.
  • Press bubble wrap, string, leaves or other objects in paint then on paper.
  • Use a rubber stamp coated in paint to create patterns.
  • Dip crumpled paper or cling wrap in paint to print textures.
  • Sprinkle salt or sand in wet paint for grainy textures.

Textures provide visual interest and a tactile quality to liquid watercolor paintings. They are great for backgrounds or accent details.

Drawing and Details

Liquid watercolors can also be used in combination with drawing. Try these techniques:

  • Incorporate pen & ink or colored pencil detailing over dry watercolor.
  • Draw first with light pencil, then paint wet-on-dry to avoid bleeds.
  • Scratch lines and shapes through dry watercolor with tools.
  • Outline major shapes in black after painting is complete.
  • Allow light pencil sketch to show through translucent washes.

Drawing adds definition and contrast to fluid watercolor effects. Use it strategically to enhance focal points or create emphasis.

Combining with Other Media

For maximum versatility, combine liquid watercolors with other painting media:

  • Use watercolors first, then paint acrylics on top when dry.
  • Start with watercolors, then use pastels for overlaying effects.
  • Combine with ink, markers or colored pencils in a mixed media approach.
  • Use watercolors for background, then paint foreground with oils or acrylic.
  • Spatter through stencils overtop of acrylic paint.

The translucent quality of liquid watercolors makes them ideal for layering with opaque media. Try combining them with your favorite mediums to discover new creative possibilities!

Creative Effects

Here are a few more unique ways to use liquid watercolors to full effect:

  • Paint on wet cotton paper or fabric for bleeding, spreading effects.
  • Use iridescent and pearlized paints for shimmering effects.
  • Paint swatches on watercolor paper, cut out for collages.
  • Drip paints into each other on palette for mingling colors.
  • Tilt paper as you paint to create drips, runs and pools of color.

Keep experimenting with these versatile paints to discover new techniques. The possibilities are endless!

Final Tips

Here are a few final tips for getting the most out of your liquid watercolors:

  • Use heavy weight paper or canvas so the paper doesn’t buckle.
  • Be careful not to over-blend, as muddy colors can result.
  • Allow ample drying time between layers.
  • Have paper towels or rags handy for quick clean up.
  • Work quickly with wet techniques before paint dries.

With some practice with the fluid properties of these paints, you’ll be creating stunning effects in no time. Liquid watercolors are endlessly versatile for every painting style. Have fun unleashing your creativity!