watercolor palette set up

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette (Step-by-Step Tutorial)

For most watercolor artists, there is something mesmerizing about setting up a new watercolor palette with fresh paint. It’s one of our favorite activities; like watching spring flowers bud and having the anticipation of summer on its way.

Usually when we  set up a new watercolor palette, we have fresh colors to play around with and we get anxiously excited to explore with new shades and hues.

It’s just a fun experience, and the longer you experience watercolor painting, the better you will get at setting up your own palette built to your stylistic preferences.

So, let’s get started.

This tutorial was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
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The 3 Criteria of a Watercolor Palette

Over the years and years of painting, we’ve developed a sort of 3-check criteria we use when choosing a watercolor palette. Carrie showed us this system and here she will demonstrate it step by step. 

That’s what we will share with you today. Here are the three criterias we use when choosing the best watercolor palette to fit our needs:


1. How many colors can it hold?

It seems pretty obvious, but must be said — knowing how many colors your palette can hold when starting a fresh palette is important information. 

Over the years, we’ve accumulated a wide array of colors and we’ve adapted a larger palette.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette how many colors

This palette holds 48 colors which may seem large to beginner artists who have yet to experiment with many colors. It’s not necessary to start with a palette of this size.

Matter of fact, starting with 24 colors would be just fine for beginners and even some intermediate and expert-level watercolor painters. It all depends on your preference as an artist.


2. How do you plan on using the palette?

As mentioned just above, we knew a 48-color palette held enough colors for us, but it isn’t exactly more convenient and portable. You must take these things into consideration.

For example, perhaps you prefer working on porcelain palettes. However, porcelain is not easy to travel with as it is heavy, large, and bulky. It’s probably out of the question.

If you’re looking for something portable, you’re left with two options: plastic or metal.

Metal offers a sturdy structure and tends to be the preference of experienced artists. Not to mention, they are usually about the same price as plastic palettes. However, there are some painters that choose plastic for various qualities about it, too.


3. How does the paint puddle in the palette?

If you’ve been working with watercolor for some time, you’ll know how important it is to get your paint to do what you want it to. This means, upon activation, how malleable is it? Can you move it around the way you want?

This usually means pooling (or puddling) is good and beading is bad.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette does it puddle

In our opinion, porcelain palettes are the best when it comes to getting the perfect consistency for your paint inside the palette.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette pooling

Plastic and metal behave the same upon first purchasing them. They will bead a lot. This makes mixing colors fairly difficult.

One at-home remedy to combat this is to use toothpaste on your new palette before filling it with paint. This should rough up the palette a bit to prevent beading.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette use a toothbrush

Those are our three criteria for choosing the best watercolor palette. Now, let’s move onto setting your palette up.


Our Go-to Watercolor Palette Set Up

We’ve put together a list of paint colors we like to use for beginners. You can check out that list and how we arrange them below. And then, be sure to read the arrangement process after that!


Our arrangement

You can start anywhere on the color wheel. We usually start with blue watercolor because it is dark and easier to match.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette blue pigment

Remember, your palette doesn’t have to look identical to ours. This is only a recommendation.

As we move clockwise around the wheel, we’ll add a nice green watercolor and then yellow watercolor.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette green yellow color wheel

Let us remind you that these are stock images and are only meant to give you reference to the type of blends you are looking for. They can be any shade of the given colors.

After that on the watercolor swatch, you should have something like a gold watercolor — almost orange watercolor mixed with yellow. This will usually blend the contrast of the two colors nicely. 

You’ll see what we are saying once you lay it out.

And, finally, you’ll arrive at your red and pink watercolor tones before finishing off with purple watercolor wells.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette red pink purple

Step 1: Arrange colors

After cleaning and roughing up your new palette (plastic and metal palettes only), you’re going to want to arrange your colors to preference. 

Typically, we will lay out all of our tubes next to the watercolor palette while it dries. This will give you a good visual representation of what you are working with. Try to align the order with the order of the color wheel.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette color wheel

Your palette does not need to contain all of the colors. Think about your style and what colors you typically use. We generally order our colors from purple or indigo to pink or magenta.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette paint tubes

After the colors on the wheel, you can begin to order your neutral colors like white watercolor, black watercolor, and grays. 

If you’re confused about where to order individual colors, the best way is to see how they fit with the one before by putting it on a swatch of scrap paper. You can make your own color wheel if you prefer!

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette color swatch color wheel

Then, you should be able to order your colors based on that watercolor swatch. Once you’ve been painting for a while and are more comfortable with the particular colors of your wheel, this process will become much easier.


Step 2: Add paint to the watercolor palette

Once you’re done arranging your colors, you will begin to add the paint to your palette wells. Try to land the paint as close to the corner of each well as you can. This will allow it to settle better.

We don’t fill the entire well, but enough for your project, at least. So, go one-by-one, slowly laying all of your paint into the palette.

How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette fill palette well

Step 3: Allow the paints to dry

Next, close the palette so you don’t get any unwanted dust or small hairs in the wet paint while it dries. Let it sit closed and dry for 24-72 hours, depending on how time-sensitive your project is or how patient you are.

Humidity also affects how long you will need to let your palette sit. If you live in a place of high humidity, you will probably have to always wait around 50-72 hours. However, if you live in a place of low humidity, waiting three days will hardly ever be necessary. 

To check if your paint is dry, just give it a press-test. Use a brush or your finger to press gently on the well of paint. If it doesn’t budge and has a hard casing, it’s probably dry.

Be very careful, if there is any budge to the outer casing, it probably means only the outside has dried to be hard, but the inside may still be wet. Make sure all of the paint is dry before starting.


Your Watercolor Palette is Ready to Go!

Now, you are ready to paint! If you have any questions regarding your watercolor palette, feel free to reach out to us in the comment section below.

This tutorial was created by artists who have handpicked supplies just for you.
Click below to shop with a 30% discount.

About the Author: Watercolor Classes

Hello, and welcome to our site. We've been passionate about watercolor for years and have learned a lot along the way. We hope our tutorials and tips will help you out on your watercolor journey. Let's make art together!

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