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Handmade Watercolors

Testing Characteristics of Watercolor Paint

I just launched my own watercolor paints that I mull from pure pigments by hand. They are a labor of love, and oh how I love them. I put together this video to show you how to test different characteristics of watercolor paint. As I state in the video, none of these characteristics discussed are necessarily bad, or good, or undesirable. They are simply the traits that paints have, or do not have. When you know how each of your paints work, and what to expect, it enables you to be better prepared when creating your art. Your paints are tools of your trade, knowing which tool to use is an important part of the process.

Watercolor Quality

All watercolor paint is made with pigment, and binder. Traditionally that binder is gum arabic, which comes from the sap of the acacia tree. Every other ingredient depends on the paint maker. The major difference between artists quality and student quality is all the extra stuff that is put in, and the pigments that are used. Student quality frequently have additional fillers and extenders.

Watercolor Characteristics

Many companies provide information on their packaging or website about their paints. If they have not, don’t hesitate to email them and ask. If they have the information they are often more than happy to provide it!


The black line on top is below the paint.

One of characteristics of watercolor, that allows it to be used for interesting techniques and effects, is transparency. This allows for values to be built up. Glazing is a technique where paint is built up over dried paint. This can create that beautiful watercolor glow, or even create depth and shadow with underpainting. Transparency can easily be tested by drawing a black line with waterproof pen on your paper, then swatching over it with your wet heavily saturated paint. Once dry, draw a new black line across. If there is very little difference between the two lines, then your paint is transparent. When it is slightly obscured, it is semi-transparent, or semi-opaque (glass half full right?!) Finally, if it is mostly obscured, or fully obscured, it is opaque. You may want a more opaque paint for certain applications. Any paint with a white pigment in it will be more opaque.


Paints are either graded with levels of granulations, or stated as a simple yes or no.

Granulation describes how present granuals of pigment are present, seperated from binder into the texture of your paper. Some pigments are naturally more granulating. Others you will find granulating effects increase with additional water usage. If you have a paint that is not as granualting as you’d like, you can use a granualting medium to encourage the effect. Different surfaces can encourage or reduce the effect as well. Ultramarine blue is commonly known to be a granulating color. Some companies produce an extra finely milled ultramarine that greatly recuces, to eliminates, granulating. Granulation can be tested by applying a section of water and applying paint in small swatch, allowing it to settle and flow in the remaining water.


Watercolor paints are typically assigned levels from nonstaining to very staining.

Staining describes if a paint will stain the paper, or if it can be lifted and removed. This matters if you want to glaze over a color without it reactivating and lifting up,or if you want colors to reactivate and blend after dried, or be removed for texture effects. Will it reactivate easily and come up? Will it be able to blend if it begins to dry? Can you lift to create textures, or correct mistakes? To test, create a swatch of paint on paper and allow to dry fully. Then use a wet brush to scrub over the swatch and blot with a paper towel or rag if it lifts, it is not staining. If it does not lift, it is staining. Watercolor can range between lifting and staining if it partually lifts, to different degrees. For example, pthalo colors are typically very staining paints.


Dispersion can be increased with wetting agents, such as ox gall. Some pigments naturally flow more when activated and used on a wet surface.

This is not always on everyones list as a characteristic to discuss, but I feel its important when working wet on wet to know how the paint disperses in water. Dispersion applies to how much the paint disperses, or flows, when placed in water on paper ir other wet paint. This can even make a difference when painting wet on dry. Dispersion can mean the difference between streaky paint, or beautiful blending. It can also mean uncontrollable mess when paint shoots wildly all over. Dispersion can be tested by swatching a small amount of water and placing one small spot of concentrated paint at one end. Allow to move and dry naturally.


There is a misconception that all artist quality watercolor is permanent, or lightfast. In fact, many of the most beautiful colors out there in high quality artists paints have a lower lightfast rating. Some colors just do not fair well when exposed to the sun. I’m looking right at you Opera Pink! In general, artist quality materials do strive to provide higher permanence ratings. Although some products are considered designer, in the art supply industry designer doesn’t reference a label, like the fashion industry. Designer indicates high quality materials geared towards designers who typically digitize their work.

There is also a misconception by beginners that all of their paint should be lightfast. I believe that once, this was a big concern as the physical pieces we created were the only way to enjoy the art. Decide, based on your needs, and test your paints to determine if the results are acceptable. Permanence is a topic with so much detail, a future dedicated post on lightfastness to come, as well as a tutorial on how to do your own test!

Video Tutorial

I’ve created a video demoing a Pthalo Blue that I have created from my line of high quality artisanal watercolor paints. In this video, I demo these watercolor characteristics, as well as color blending with other paints in my line, and other brands. If you like this video, subscribe to my YouTube Channel!


I apologize that my audio in the video sounds like my mouth is full of marshmallows. I assure you that I did not have a mouth full of marshmallows, as delightful as that would’ve been.  I’m learning about audio editing for recording voiceovers, and it will be a process!

Purchasing My Handmade Watercolors

You can purchase my paints in my Etsy shop. I focus on quality over quantity, so a limited supply is available.  When the shop is empty, it’s currently sold out.  Keep up to date on the latest restock times, and special releases!

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