Learn how to fill watercolor pans to make your own palettes. It's so easy to make a custom watercolor palette using tube paint for your painting needs.
You might be interested in more watercolor tutorials!
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Recently, I made it a priority to make my own palette. I had spent days using a sheet of palette paper with dried tube paint and it was just SO convenient.
I'm hoping this will motivate me to paint more.
You might also like this post on the difference between watercolor types.
DIY Palette FAQs
Why would you want to make your own palette?
There are many reasons why you would want to fill watercolor pans with tube paint instead of buying a ready-made watercolor pan palette.
- Ease of use. It's much quicker to paint from pans than squeezing out each tube that you need.
- Cost. For most brands, buying tubes is of paint is much less expensive than buying pans of paint.
- Availability. Not all paints come in open stock pans and some only come in tube format.
- Customize-able. You can add the colors that you actually use in your palette!
- Travel friendly. For most brands, drying tube paint in pan form makes it more travel friendly. (Be aware of honey-based paints like Sennelier that do not dry completely.)
- Paint vibrancy. The colors from some tube paints are brighter than the pans.
Can you mix watercolor brands?
Yes, you can mix watercolor brands to your heart's content. That's another good reason to make your own palette. Although Daniel Smith is my favorite, there are some colors from other brands that I like better.
Be aware that some brands have different binders and may mix differently with paint.
Always test how the paint re-wets before adding them to your palette. I like to let some dry on a disposable palette paper. Try them out after they've dried to make sure you like how the paint reconstitutes.
What colors should you include in a palette?
You can include any colors you want in your palette. If you never paint with brown, who says you need to include them?
However, for maximum mixability, I suggest the following colors:
- warm red
- warm yellow
- warm blue
- cool red
- cool yellow
- cool blue
- burnt umber
- burnt sienna
- a neutral gray like Paynes gray or neutral tint (instead of black)
I would also include any color that you find yourself mixing all the time.
The exact colors I used are listed below.
I've written a more in-depth post about the best watercolor colors to start with.
Should I use a plastic or metal palette?
This is a matter of personal preference. I prefer mixing colors on metal and ceramic, so I chose a metal palette for my palette.
Metal palettes have the extra bonus of the pans being removable and exchangeable if you decide that you don't like the color.
Most plastic palettes feature wells for the paint instead. If you decide that you don't like the color, you have to use it all up before replacing the color.
This plastic palette features both options, plus it holds a TON of colors!
How do I know where to place colors?
There are no rules for where to place colors, but most people suggest placing the lighter colors (like yellow) in the top corner to avoid contamination. From there it typically goes orange, reds, purple, then blues and greens and finishes with neutrals.
Can you fill a palette with gouache?
This depends on how well the gouache rewets. Test the paint on a palette to see how it re-wets. If you like the consistency, try it out.
Just note that gouache tends to crack and may even fall out of the pans over time.
Acrylic gouache does not rewet, so it cannot be put in pans.
You might be interested in learning about the best way to paint a galaxy with watercolors.
Filling Watercolor Pans and Palettes
- Palette with pans
- Watercolor paints in tubes (the colors I used are listed below)
- Toothpick or bamboo skewer
- Watercolor paper for making swatch sheet and testing
- Waterproof pen
Make a Custom Watercolor Palette
Learn how to fill watercolor pans to make your own palettes. It’s so easy to make a custom watercolor palette using tube paint for your painting needs.
- Watercolor palette
- Watercolor paints
- Sharpie marker (fine point)
- End of paintbrush
- Toothpick or skewer
- Decide on the colors for your palette. Your palette will determine how many colors you need.
- Swatch the colors out to make sure you like them.
- Remove the pans from the palette and label each pan using a sharpie. I put the first initial for the brand name, the color name, and the pigment info. (A thinner sharpie would work better!)
- Trace the palette onto watercolor paper to make the swatch sheet.
- Use a waterproof pen to label each color in the appropriate place.
- Begin filling each pan about halfway.
- Use a toothpick or skewer to spread the paint into the corners of the pans. Try to smooth the surface. Some paints level better than others.
- Don’t waste the paint on the skewer. I used the paint to make swatches on the swatch sheet and put the remainder on a palette paper that I’ve been using.
- Keep filling the pans with paint until the end.
- Let dry overnight. Humid environments may need more time.
- At this point, you can be done or you can add another layer to fill the paints completely. (I want to make sure that I use these before adding more paint.)
- When you use all of a color, you can just add more. If you don’t like a color, remove the pan and add a new color.
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MEEDEN Empty Watercolor Tins Palette Paint Case with 24 Pcs Half Pans
ARTEZA 9x12" Expert Watercolor Pad, Pack of 2, 64 Sheets (140lb/300gsm), Cold Pressed, Acid Free Paper, 32 Sheets Each, Ideal for Watercolor Techniques and Mixed Media
Princeton Velvetouch, Mixed-Media Brushes for Acrylic, Oil, Watercolor Series 3950, 4-Piece Professional Set 100
Colors in My Palette
I would have loved the fill the entire palette with Daniel Smith paints, which are my favorite, but when I ordered paint, Daniel Smith paints were very hard to find. That being said, I'm pretty happy with my choices.
- QOR Titan Buff
- Sennelier Naples Yellow
- Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow
- Daniel Smith Nickel Azo Yellow
- Daniel Smith Aussie Red Gold
- Daniel Smith Pyrrol Scarlet
- Daniel Smith Opera Pink
- Daniel Smith Quinacridone Magenta
- Daniel Smith Quinacridone Rose
- Winsor and Newton Pro Cobalt Violet
- Daniel Smith Imperial Purple
- Daniel Smith Moonglow
- Daniel Smith Green Apetite Genuine
- Winsor and Newton Pro Perylene Green
- Sennelier Phthalo Green Deep
- Winsor and Newton Pro Cobalt Turquoise
- Winsor and Newton Pro Cerulean Blue
- Daniel Smith Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)
- Daniel Smith French Ultramarine
- Daniel Smith Lunar Blue
- Winsor and Newton Cotman Paynes Gray
- Winsor and Newton Quinacridone Gold
- Sennelier Burnt Sienna
- Sennelier Burnt Umber
Get easy tips for using watercolor tubes.
Here's the swatch photo for the small palette that I made in my Youtube video.
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