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I have some old watercolor tubes that I inherited (a lot of family gives me art supplies, since I "like art"), and I have few sets of pan watercolors. My wife and I would like to try using them both.

How different do they actually appear once on watercolor paper or canvas?

For instance, could I use these two types together on the same medium without there being a discernible difference in what type of watercolor they are? A difference along the lines of how you can tell chalk pastels from oil pastels, in that they have a different finish and texture on paper.

Should we stick to one or the other for a given project, to have it look consistent?


I just want to clarify that I'm not asking about the general differences, but they're actual end appearance.

  • A bit late to the party, out of town this week, but I don't think there's a general case answer here, it's usually brand and grade specific. – John Cavan May 26 '16 at 1:35
  • @JohnCavan That's still helpful information, and somewhat echoed in Martha's answer. It's info I didn't know, and now can adjust practice accordingly. – user24 May 26 '16 at 2:52
  • Basically the pigments are the same between tube and pan, it is the binder that is different. There are some manufacturers that vary the pigments between the two, but the major professional brands are pretty consistent. – camainc Dec 17 '19 at 0:48
  • If you really want to get the scoop on the differences (not just appearance) check out this link: handprint.com/HP/WCL/pigmt5.html – camainc Dec 17 '19 at 0:51
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There can be more textural/quality difference between two different pigments of the same brand and type of watercolor than there is between, say, a tube of ultramarine blue vs. a pan of ultramarine blue from the same manufacturer.

The difference between the types of watercolors really comes down to technique: the way you use tube colors is quite different from the way you use pan colors. But you can use this to your advantage. For example, you can use the pan colors for light washes, and use the more concentrated tube colors for adding outlines and details. To someone who doesn't know what kind of paint you used, it'll just look like you used more water in some parts and less water in other parts (and if you come right down to it, that'll be exactly what you did).

If there is a huge disparity in quality between the types of paint - for example, if the pan colors are a dollar-store find meant for children, while the tubes are top-of-the-line artist's grade - that difference will probably be apparent in the finished product: the lower quality paints will look washed-out and chalky, and may be under-bound (so they come right off the paper when dry). But if both types are student-grade or better, then a competent artist will have no trouble creating a seamless piece of art using both types. It's just that most artists develop a preference for one over the other.

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Speaking of appearance only, pan colors tend to be more washed, so think runny light watercolor. Tubes tend to be more opaque, especially in cheap "gouache" type that is more closely related to egg tempera and acrylics.

For quality aquarelles the differences vanish and become more a question of preference, portability, lightness of touch, working methods, brushes…

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