Watercolor Basics: Setting Up Your Palette

When I first got watercolor tube paints, I was pretty clueless on how to set up my palette. I bought a cheap one from Wal-Mart and placed the colors almost in a rainbow pattern. I quickly learned how inefficient it was, and was glad that I didn’t squeeze too much out of the tube. So I kept using that same palette until I eventually used up the little paint that was there. Recently, I had the opportunity to buy some more tube paints and start over with a brand new palette. You can imagine my excitement!

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watercolor palette tube paints setting up basics beginner how to guide winsor and newton grumbacher painting

After searching high and low about how to set up your watercolor palette with tube paints, I realized that although there are basic rules, ultimately, it’s really up to you how you want to set it up.

The Supplies


When I set out to purchase my first watercolor tube paints, I wanted to be careful not to completely break the bank. As much as I’d love to splurge and get the Winsor & Newton professional colors (or any other high-end paints), I went with a more affordable option: the Grumbacher Academy 10-color set. Although they may be cheaper in price, they have not disappointed me yet!

The Grumbacher Academy Watercolor 10-Color Set comes with the following colors:

  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
  • Chinese White
  • Cobalt Blue Hue
  • Grumbacher Red
  • Ivory Black
  • Thalo Green (Blue Shade)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Yellow Ochre Hue

It also came with a small mixing tray and a round size 6 brush.

In addition to these 10, I bought several more colors from Grumbacher and Winsor & Newton Cotman.

  • W&N Dioxazine Purple
  • W&N Permanent Rose
  • Grumbacher Burnt Umber
  • Grumbacher Sap Green
  • W&N Hooker’s Green Dark
  • W&N Turquoise
  • Grumbacher Payne’s Gray


Just look up “watercolor palette” on Amazon or other art supplies retailer and there are countless ones available!

After searching for the best fit for me, I decided to go with the Rigger Art 33-well palette.

A few things to look out for in your palette:

  1. A palette that has enough wells for your paint. It’s true that as you start to accumulate more colors, you’ll probably end up buying more palettes. But for your first one, go with one that has at least 16-20 wells so that you can have a variety of colors. The one that I bought has 28 wells for your paints and 5 large mixing areas.
  2. A rounded, sloped well. I prefer the rounded wells over the rectangular ones. The rounded angles are definitely easier to clean and mix in! And the slope helps keep the paint gathered at one end of the well.
  3. Lightweight and has a thumbhole. Most large palettes like these will have a thumbhole because they are meant for plein air painting (painting outdoors). I also like to use the thumbhole when I’m working on a large piece and need to hover over it. Again, most large palettes are made out of plastic and will be quite lightweight.


I’ve seen all sorts of different ways of setting up your palette. I’ve seen oranges next to greens, and purples next to brown. The final set-up is up to you, but I’d like to show you how I set mine up, and the thinking behind it.

Group your paints by color family


For each of the five large mixing areas in my palette, there are 3-4 wells for my paints. So I first grouped the tube paints that I had at the time and divided them into warm and cool colors. I had a few blues, reds, and greens. Then I had other colors that don’t really fit into a family like white, black, and payne’s gray.

I started at one end of the palette with white, and set the black at the other end. I decided to dedicate the side with the white to be the “warm” colors, and the other side the “cool colors”. That way, I’m not unnecessarily mixing colors that don’t naturally go together.

Since I didn’t have all 28 colors at the time, I left some empty wells in case I wanted to buy more colors later. For example, I knew that I was going to buy at least one more blue and green, so I left some room for that. And I wanted to buy a few more red/pink colors, so there is some extra space for that.

Watercolor Tube Palette ver 2.jpg

Now, each large mixing well is a general color family.

  1. yellows/earth colors
  2. red/pink
  3. greens
  4. blues
  5. gray/black

Label your palette

Watercolor Tube Palette Label

Labeling is so important! Because once you squeeze the paint out, it’s sometimes hard to tell which color is which.

I used masking tape to label the outside of my palette, but you can also write with a permanent marker on the outside or inside the palette.

Squeeze out your paints!

Watercolor Tube Palette paints 2.jpg

This is the best part! Now that you’re all set up, you’re ready to fill it with paint.

Since the wells in my palette have a slope, I squeezed the paint into the bottom most part of the well. That way, you can use the slope to “draw out” the paint. Fill about 1/3 of the well.

Let the paints dry

The final step is to let the paints dry thoroughly up to 48 hours before use. Keep it away from places that have too much dust; don’t put it next to an open window, etc. Sometimes I cover it with a paper towel to prevent any fine dust particles or anything else getting in. Maybe I’m just being overly protective. I just don’t want unnecessary dust particles ruining my painting or brushes. 🙂

So that’s it!

What do you think? How would you set up your palette?


  1. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at watercolor. I am not so creative or arsty at all. I’m not sure how well I would do but it’s so amusing to me. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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