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What type of watercolor palette is best?

When it comes to choosing the best watercolor palette, there are a few key factors to consider. The main types of watercolor palettes available include pans, tubes, and travel palettes. Choosing the right one comes down to your painting style, preferred colors, and portability needs.

What are the different types of watercolor palettes?

The three main types of watercolor palettes are:

  • Pans – These are small dried cakes of watercolor paint in a palette. They need to be activated with water before painting.
  • Tubes – Watercolor paint that comes in a tube that needs to be squeezed out and mixed. Tubes offer more paint for your money.
  • Travel palettes – These combine pans and a folding design for painting on-the-go. They offer convenience but less mixing area.

What are the pros and cons of each type?

Here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each watercolor palette type:

Palette Type Pros Cons
  • Compact and portable
  • Colors are premixed
  • Easy to control paint quantity
  • Less paint for the money
  • Colors can dry out
  • Less mixing area
  • More paint for the money
  • Vibrant colors
  • Lots of mixing area
  • Can be messy
  • Portability is limited
  • Colors need premixing
Travel Palettes
  • Compact and portable
  • Premixed pan colors
  • Some include tubes
  • Small mixing area
  • Colors can dry out
  • Limited color options

How do you choose the right palette colors?

When selecting your palette colors, here are some tips:

  • Include warm and cool versions of primary colors (red, yellow, blue)
  • Choose colors you love and will use frequently
  • Consider adding convenience colors like skin tones or neutrals
  • Complement with some earth tones like burnt sienna or raw umber
  • Limit palette to 12-24 colors as a beginner

It’s best to start with a basic palette and expand over time. Avoid buying every color as you’ll likely not use many of them. Focus on the essentials first.

Should I choose pans, tubes, or a travel palette?

Here are some guidelines for choosing between pans, tubes, and travel palettes:

  • Pans – Best for beginners, intermediates, and plein air painting. The constrained color selection promotes mixing skills.
  • Tubes – Ideal for intermediate or advanced artists painting at home. Tubes offer the most flexibility and paint quantity.
  • Travel palettes – Best for painting on-the-go or plein air. The compact size is convenient but offers less mixing space.

Also consider if you paint regularly at home or on-location. Travel palettes are great for outdoor painting. Tubes or pans in a studio palette box are ideal for studio work. Purchase pans and tubes separately to create your own custom palette.

What features should I look for in a palette?

Key features to look for include:

  • Mixing area – Look for larger palettes with more space to mix paints. Enclosed studio palettes offer the most room.
  • Number of wells – 24-48 wells provide plenty of room for color options and mixing. Beginners need fewer wells.
  • Portability – Travel palettes fold up neatly for painting on-the-go. Studio palettes are bulkier but offer more mixing space.
  • Materials – Plastic palettes are affordable but warp over time. Enamel, ceramic, and metal palettes are more durable.

Also make sure your palette has a water reservoir or wells large enough to add water to activate the pans. Some palettes even include built-in brush holders for convenience.

What are the best watercolor palette brands?

When shopping for a watercolor palette, look for these top-rated brands:

  • Winsor & Newton
  • Daniel Smith
  • Schmincke
  • Holbein
  • M. Graham & Co.
  • DaVinci
  • Arteza

Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith offer professional quality palettes trusted by artists worldwide. But there are also excellent budget options from brands like Arteza, Crafts 4 All, and Reeves.

Should I buy a pre-filled or empty palette?

Pre-filled palettes with pan colors are convenient, especially for beginners. But advanced artists may prefer filling an empty palette with their own tube colors.

Pros of pre-filled palettes:

  • See color selection before purchasing
  • Portable convenience if traveling
  • Gain experience with different colors

Pros of empty palettes:

  • Create your own custom color selection
  • Choose exactly the paint brands and colors you want
  • Only pay for colors you’ll actually use

Ideally, start with an affordable pre-filled palette and then graduate to filling your own empty porcelain or metal palette later on. This allows you to gain experience before curating your perfect custom palette.

What’s the best watercolor palette for beginners?

Some top watercolor palette picks for beginners include:

  • Winsor & Newton Cotman Pocket Palette – Affordable price, portable, includes brush
  • Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box – Compact, budget-friendly, great for plein air painting
  • Arteza Metal Watercolor Palette – Durable enamel mixing wells, larger size

Focus on a portable palette with 12-24 colors from a trusted brand. Look for convenience like built-in brush holders and an easy-to-hold design. Avoid elaborate palettes with 50+ colors as they can be overwhelming to start.


Choosing your watercolor palette ultimately comes down to your skill level, painting style, preferred colors, and whether you want portability. Pans offer a convenient pre-mixed option great for plein air painting. Tubes provide more paint for your money and let you customize colors. Travel palettes combine both in a portable design.

Select your palette colors thoughtfully, favoring versatile primary mixes over rarely-used novelty colors. Look for durability and adequate mixing space within your budget. Pre-filled palettes work well for beginners before graduating to your own custom palette.

With so many quality watercolor palettes available, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for creating your watercolor masterpieces!