Watercolor Paint

Watercolor Paint Characteristics

Watercolor paint characteristics describes the physical qualities of color pigments. Understanding the characteristic of each watercolor will help in deciding which paints to use and how to use them for the best results.


A transparent watercolor allows light to pass through its pigment particles and reflect back to the eyes the color of the surface the paint is applied to. The effect resembles light reflecting through colored glass.

  • The white of the watercolor paper is reflected through the first layer of transparent paint.
  • If a second layer of transparent watercolor is glazed over another, the first watercolor will reflect through the second layer causing a color change (e.g. a transparent blue painted over a transparent yellow will result in a green color).

Transparent watercolor paints mix well with all other paints except for those that have staining characteristics. Transparent watercolor is best used for glazing and layering techniques.


A opaque watercolor allows little or no light to pass through its pigment particles. Opaque watercolors are best used singly or mixed with staining transparent watercolor paints. Otherwise, they have a flat appearance that resembles house paint, and have an earthy neutral nature.

Opaque watercolors can be effectively used alongside transparent or semi-transparent watercolors using the variegated technique.


Saturated watercolors are pure of other color additives in their pigment. Saturated watercolors require a lot of water to dilute them. They have intense, staining qualities that overpower other colors they are mixed with. They also have transparent or semi-transparent characteristics.

Unsaturated watercolors have white, black or other colors added or have a mixture of two or more pigments in them causing a loss of purity and transparency.


Permanency refers to a paint’s ability to withstand fading when exposed to light; its lightfastness. It also refers to a paint’s ability to not change its hue color over time; its fugitiveness . Watercolor paint manufacturers use a numerical rating system on their paint tubes of 1 to 4 where 4 is excellent and 1 is unsuitable.


Some watercolor paint pigments have granulated characteristics that are natural. They have visible particles of paint that settle into the valleys of textured watercolor paper. Granulated watercolors are best used for painting grainy textures such as a sandy beach, masonry or stone, an organic passage in nature, or a blue sky.

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