Levels of Watercolor

Levels of Watercolor

What Paints Do I Need?

If you are a beginner artist, then you probably wondered which paint or paper to choose. But today's talk is specifically about watercolors. There are so many different options that you will surely get frustrated when faced with a choice. First, there are many criteria according to which paints are divided. Secondly, there can be significant differences even between specific types of paints.

A distinctive quality of the watercolor painting is that the paint spreads over the paper as if it were alive, smoothly shimmering. Watercolors differ from other ones such as tempera, gouache, and oil in many ways. The advantages of the watercolor technique are the transparency and lightness of the image. Colors appear pure and intense. The light easily penetrates the paint layer, reflects off the white paper, and becomes colored. In such a way a human eye perceives it, in all its purity and intensity.

Watercolor Paints: General Notion

Watercolor painting is one of the most affordable. Many children paint in schools in art classes with watercolors. If you are eager to learn how to use watercolors but do not know where to begin, then here's a tip: first, choose the right quality paints. In general, they are divided into two types depending on how well you master watercolors. And so, there are: student watercolors and professional watercolors.

For beginners, it is better to use the first type, since you can buy cheap watercolor paint that all newbies will appreciate. Besides, you can buy artist grade watercolor (which is the same as professional grade watercolor paints). However, we are afraid that the lack of experience will prevent you from taking advantage of all the pros of this category of product.

What Watercolor Paints of Different Levels Are Made of?

Watercolors are finely ground pigments, mixed with binders prepared on vegetable glue. The main binder in watercolors is dextrin (student grade paints) or gum arabic (artist grade paints). Honey or glycerin and phenol are added to this mixture as plasticizers. Unlike gouache, watercolors are transparent.

High-quality watercolors should lay on the surface in an even layer, leaving no streaks, spots or blobs of paint. After drying, it forms stable layers of paint that do not rub off, do not get dirty, and do not crack. High-quality watercolors always leave a transparent mark and are easily washed off the paper with water.

How to Choose the Best Watercolor Paints?

Perhaps choosing colors at random is not the best idea. Before you start looking for it, you need to have at least a basic understanding of the characteristics. Then it will be much easier for you to navigate the different types. As for the ingredients, you need to consider the following details:

  • •    Pigments, their quantity, and quality;
  • •    Transparency;
  • •    Lightfastness;
  • •    Granularity.

You need to understand that the price category of paints can vary depending on diverse factors. However, belonging to a certain level has the greatest impact on it. For example, among cheap paints, you can find the best student watercolors. The most expensive are the watercolors of the professional level. That is due to the composition and quality. It is logical that the more high-quality pigments and other substances are used in production, the better the result will be.

Main Features

To understand the composition of watercolor paint, be it cheap watercolor paints for students or professional watercolor paints, you need to read the label or find information on the manufacturer's website. Now, let’s talk briefly about each point.

  • •    Number of Pigments. The paint contains pigments. Their number can vary from 1 to 3 or more. That has a direct impact on the quality of the product. The more pigments, the better result. To understand what color is in front of you, take a look at its index, which usually consists of letters and numbers. From it, you can find the exact name of the color.
  • •    Transparency. At first glance, the paint may appear to be the same. But this is not the case. All student watercolors are more or less transparent. Any paint can be diluted with water, but initially, it has some of its characteristics. This information is also usually indicated on the label.
  • •    Lightfastness. This criterion is responsible for how long the paint will remain bright and saturated (in other words, how resistant it is to light radiation). There is a whole ASTM grading system. The best result sounds as "excellent".
  • •    Granularity. This quality manifests itself most of all when the paint has already dried. It is then that you can notice that the surface has become uneven, and somewhat rough. For that matter, pigments are responsible for such changes. Furthermore, they can be more or less ground, depending on the quality. In the professional grade watercolor paints granularity is poorly expressed.

Student vs. Professional Grade Watercolor Paints

There are two common classifications. The first is due to its packaging:

  • •    Tubes;
  • •    Pans

According to the second classification you can choose from:

  • •    standard (student);
  • •    professional (artist) grade watercolor paints.

Artist and student watercolors differ in quality and price. If you are new to watercolor painting, it is best to start with the standard one. Pans are a good first step to mastering watercolor painting. However, you can try to work with paints in tubes to see the difference, to understand the composition and properties of watercolor in various packages.

Once you have more experience, you can work with artist watercolor paints because it produces a more intense color. However, professional watercolors are higher in price. After all, appearance does not matter. Only with experience you will gain additional knowledge in painting and understand with which materials you like to work more.

Student Watercolors

It follows from the very name that these paints are great for students, that is, beginners and, in general, everyone who is just taking up a brush for the first time. In this category, you can search for the best cheap paints.

Advantages: These paints are ideal for experimentation. You can try mixing different colors or painting with new techniques. You may not be afraid of unnecessary waste, because, as mentioned above, these paints are considered the cheapest. Moreover, artists can try new colors and compare them to those already in stock. Perhaps you will find for yourself the perfect palette to work with further, moving to new professional levels. Besides, using cheap paints, many people feel more relaxed, which allows them to work at ease, revealing new sides of talent.

Disadvantages: Most often, artists are faced with the fact that the paint looks opaque, namely, it has a shade similar to chalk. That is because manufacturers add fillers or glue to it to reduce the cost of the product. That means that in the end, the picture may look like it was painted with acrylic. Lack of pigment can also be felt in brightness. Thus cheap watercolor paint may look dim compared to professional grade paints.

Professional Grade Watercolor Paints

Professional Watercolor Paints are preferred by experienced artists who value color saturation and, at the same time, want to extend the life of their creation. For them, the main aspect is quality, while the financial side of the issue fades into the background. These paints contain a lot of pigment and relatively little filler. Also, manufacturers can change certain properties, depending on the idea. For example, the color fastness will depend on the amount of some substances (that is, the time during which the picture will retain saturated colors). You can also choose purely transparent paints (in this case, the paint looks transparent, without various additional matte shades). The texture may differ too. However, what these professional paints have in common is their high quality.

Advantages: We have already said that the colors seem very bright and shimmer on paper. Of course, these paints are not as cheap as student paints, but this is due to another advantage. The fact is that the pigments are finely ground. That, in turn, affects that there is no excess grain on the sheet. Everything looks as good as possible. And of course, these paints will last much longer even than the best student watercolors.

Disadvantages. Professional watercolor paints have minuses as well. For example, you cannot see the color without opening the package. Not all manufactures provide such a possibility, at least. Thus, you can focus only on the name of the color or its index, which is not always convenient, because first of all, you want to see if the shade fits the main palette. However, there is a way out. Try to acquire dot charts. These are a small bar of paint so you can wet them with water and do a few strokes. If the color is right, order a full tube. That is very convenient if you cannot see the paint immediately while buying it.

Tubes or Pans - Which One is Better?

If you are new to watercolor painting, then you have to choose between tubes and pans. These are two types of packaging for any watercolor. Let's take a quick look at the main differences between them, as they are available for both student and professional levels. Liquid paint is in the tubes. Pans provide small bars of dry paint that soak in contact with water. Pans are of two types:

  • •    full pans;
  • •    half pans.

Professional artists use two types. Here the choice depends more on the artist's preferences. For example, the pans provide a ready-made color palette, which will be very convenient for beginners. But at the same time, if you prefer to choose the colors yourself, then it is better to use tubes that are sold separately.


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