Watercolor Palettes – An Essential Watercolor Supply
Out of all the supplies you will purchase when it comes to watercolor – paper, palettes, and paints I would consider the top three of your creative arsenal. But with the hundreds of options available on the market – how do you go about choosing the palette that will work best for you? Well, today I'm gonna break down the 411 for watercolor palettes and give you some options that I have used.
What is a Watercolor Palette's Purpose?
Now before you tune me out! We need to really discuss the purpose of a watercolor palette before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how to choose one. The main purpose of a watercolor palette is to store your paints in what is referred to as wells. The next purpose of a watercolor palette is your mixing surface – basically a smooth flat white area to (you guessed it) mix your paints in. So those are the main two purposes of a watercolor palette – which will come more into play when choosing our watercolor palette.
First, let's talk about material. Watercolor palettes come in a wide variety of materials ranging from plastic, metal, ceramic and/or porcelain.
- Plastic watercolor palettes are the cheaper potion of all these supplies and the most easily accessible. They are the least durable I would say compared to the other options. And can be tricky when trying to get your paints to “pool” or create puddles of color on your mixing surface.
- Metal watercolor palettes are typically the most durable of the three options and can come in a variety of sizes – ranging from very small portable cases to larger 48-well palettes. Similar to plastic palettes – these palettes often have to be prepped before use.
- Ceramic/Porcelain watercolor palettes are the heaviest and most clunky of the three options. These palettes are not meant to be portable and are often referred to as studio palettes since they stay in the art studio. These palettes are the easiest to mix watercolor in due to their smooth surface area and their ability to retain moisture. They are also the most pricey of the three options.
Watercolor palettes come in a range of different designs and layouts. The most popular are foldable palettes and studio palettes.
- Foldable Palettes have lids that fold closed and lock. A pro to foldable palettes is that these are great for traveling with your watercolors since the paints are stored in a closed environment. A con, however, is that some palettes will have paint wells on both sides (i.e. the lid) of the palette. Meaning your paints when stored will be resting upside down – which could result in the paint detaching from the well.
- Studio Palettes are watercolor palettes usually made from ceramic or porcelain. A pro to studio palettes is that they are great for locking in moisture – thus keeping your paints activated for longer periods of time. They are also great for mixing and pooling colors on your mixing surface due to the smoothness of the material. One big con is that they are heavy and are meant to remain stationary (i.e. remain in one location in the studio). They can also break easily if dropped.
The next design element to talk about is watercolor wells. Not only do watercolor palettes come with a varying amount of wells ranging from usually 12 wells all the way to 48 wells – watercolor wells also can come in a variety of sizes – ranging from smaller plastic containers known as half pans to larger containers known as full pans. Personally, I like large wells (even larger than a full pan). This allows me to pull the paint around in my well and dilute it. Larger wells also prevent your paints from drying too quickly (thus locking in moisture in your paints and allowing them to stay wet and pigmented for longer time periods.)
Lastly, keep in mind that some watercolor palettes (mostly plastic and metal palettes) need to be prepped before using them- specifically their mixing areas. Metal and plastic palettes are known for not allowing the paint to pool and puddle color mixtures. This is really bad when painting with watercolor. In order to correct this – you will need to slightly scratch up the mixing area with a toothbrush and some baking soda or toothpaste. This will help the paint pool in the mixing area and prevent beading or color droplets.
The last factor that you need to consider when choosing a watercolor palette is budget. If you are a beginner to watercolor – don't purchase the most expensive watercolor palette available. I recommend starting with a cheaper palette and testing things out to see if you really want to pursue this hobby. If you have been painting for years – but just can't afford the higher price tag supplies. That doesn't mean you are any less of an artist. If anything it means you have to adapt and learn how to use your supplies to their fullest. The point is – to start where you feel comfortable budget-wise and go from there. Art supplies don't make the artist – the artist makes the supplies work for them. For years I used cheap $4 plastic watercolor palettes from Michaels – and I used them until they fell apart before buying new ones. I honestly think that time helped me grow as an artist – because I couldn't use the fanciest and most trendy supplies available on the market. Heck, I didn't even learn about porcelain palettes until my twenties. So, don't ever feel bad working with what you have. The point is to create – not hoard like a dragon dusty art supplies that never get any use.
Keep in mind preference plays a huge role in choosing what is best for you and your painting needs. I'm also going to try and suggest more affordable suggestions as well as higher ticket items. This way you can kind of get an idea of high-quality supplies and what I would refer to as a white-label dupe.
For me, I don't travel a lot due to health reasons – so portability is not a huge factor when choosing a watercolor palette. Personally, I prefer a ceramic studio palette with 20 to 30 wells. This gives me a decent amount of wells to store my favorite colors – without compromising on the size of the wells too heavily (i.e. the more wells you have the smaller your wells will be). The palette I use is no longer available sadly – but I'll link similar ones to mine below.
porcelain studio palettes
portable metal and plastic palettes
As I said earlier, I don't use my plastic or metal palettes often but if I do – these are the ones I would choose. They are great for portability – since they are quite large. But I have used both of these and like the quality of both. Keep in mind, for both of these you will have to prep the mixing surface before use.
This one is not my favorite, but decent for the price. This palette is almost identical to what I used as a kid through high school and it did the job. :)
I hope this helps you on your watercolor supplies journey! If you would like to learn more about watercolor or watercolor supplies – make sure to check out my online watercolor workshops. I'll link them below! Happy Painting! And I'll talk to you soon!