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       "Watercolor dries approximately
        three times lighter than
        the color shown when wet."


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    example of Transparent/Opaque

Properties of Watercolor Painting

  • Watercolor Paints
  • Transparent and Opaque
  • Non-Staining and Staining
  • Sedimentary Colors
  • Non-Fugitive and Fugitive
  • Samples of popular colors
  • Insteresting Watercolor Facts

The beauty and uniqueness of watercolor lies within it's properties, each containing characteristics not found in any other painting medium. Colors so transparent they visually appear to glow on the paper, while others deposit sediment into the hills and valleys of your paper.

Watercolor Paints
  Watercolor paints are made from either natural pigments found in the earth; clay, minerals, etc., or from synthetic pigments, which have been finely ground down and then held together with a water-soluble based "gum" binder.
squirt of Manganese Blue pigment
Watercolor paints are available in two forms; tube, and pan, with tube being the most popular.

Transparent and Opaque

Transparent is just as the word describes. Transparent watercolors allow the light to shine through to the watercolor paper and in turn lets the white of the paper reflect back. The colors look clean, crisp, and appear to glow.

an example of transparent and opaque watercolor

Watercolor paints fall into these two main categories with some being in-between and described as Semi-Transparent and Semi-Opaque.
Opaque colors block the light from coming through to the watercolor paper. Instead, the light bounces off the pigment. This can make the colors appear to look dull, even though some of the opaque's are quite vibrant in color.

Painted samples of transparent and semi-transparent colors
New Gamboge
Raw Sienna
Burnt Sienna
Rose Madder Genuine
Permanent Rose
Cobalt Blue
Hooker's Green (H)
Sap Green (H)



Painted samples of semi-opaque and opaque colors
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium Red
Cobalt Violet
French Ultramarine Blue
Cerulean Blue
Manganese Blue (H)



Painted samples of colors that contain white and black
Yellow Ochre
Raw Umber
Burnt Umber
Mars Violet
Payne's Gray
Neutral Tint
Lamp Black


Non-Staining and Staining
Non-Staining watercolors will settle on the surface of your watercolor paper after the water has evaporated. These colors, once dried, allow you to lift the pigment off the surface to reveal the white of the paper underneath. These colors mix extremely well with other non-staining colors.

samples of a non-staining and staining watercolor

If you are new to watercolor, I would recommend beginning with non-staining colors, then slowly introduce staining colors into your palette.
  Staining watercolors will immediately absorb into the first few layers of the watercolor paper before the water has had a chance to evaporate. These colors, once dried, are difficult to lift to get back to the white of the paper and will leave a stained tint of the color. Staining colors mix extremely well with other staining colors, but when mixed with non-staining colors they have a tendency to stain the non-staining color and can dominate the overall color of the mixture.

Painted samples of staining colors
Winsor Yellow
Scarlet Lake
Winsor Red
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Winsor Violet
Winsor Blue
Winsor Green




Sedimentary watercolors also fall into the Transparent, Semi-Transparent, Semi-Opaque, and Opaque categories. What makes these watercolor paints so unique are the sedimentary pieces of pigment that randomly settle into the papers texture while painting.

examples of three sedimentary watercolors

These colors make wonderful and beautiful washes, but they can be a bit difficult to layer due to the extra amount of gum binder. These granules will also settle to the bottom of your puddle of color. Remixing your puddle before each brush stroke should help you achieve consistent amounts of the sediment.

Non-Fugitive and Fugitive

A good majority of the watercolor paints made available today are "non-fugitive". In other words, the color that you see in your painting will last over time. Some watercolors, known to be "fugitive", are not so lucky and will fade within a short duration.

labels on tube colors

The paint manufacturer usually places a "Lightfast" reading on the side of the tube with I as "Excellent" and V being "Fugitive".
A few watercolor facts:
  • The whites that you see in watercolor are actually the white of the paper.
  • Dries approximately 3 times lighter then the color you see when it is wet.
  • Will dry too quickly in hot and dry conditions.
  • Will dry much slower in humid conditions.

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