All About Liquid Watercolor Paints

One of the most common questions and personal email queries I receive concerns liquid watercolors. As hard as I try to incorporate information into my posts, questions from readers still linger. So here it is. My official post about liquid watercolors! Cue the fireworks!

Liquid Watercolor Paints Questions:

What are they?

Liquid watercolors are a concentrated liquid watercolor paint that come in 8oz bottles. They can be used full strength, but I always add water. They are best diluted with regular water at a ratio of 1:1. The stronger you want the color, the less water you use. The lighter you want the color, the more water you use. They are a great substitute for pan watercolor paints as they produce such a rich, vibrant color.

What Brand do you use?

I buy the Sax brand through School Specialty. You can find the link here. I also like Dick Blick’s Liquid watercolor. They have glitter liquid watercolor as well.

How much should I buy?

This is the toughest question and I’ll be honest, a little frustrating. I can’t possibly know how many students you have, how many classes you teach, how many projects you do that would use liquid watercolor. I think what people are really asking is, the bottles look so darn small. Is it a waste of my budget? I can only say that I love the results liquid watercolors provide and so do the kids. If you can afford a set, give it a try and see what you think.

It may help to know that I don’t throw my liquid watercolors away. I store them in small condiment containers with plastic lids (see picture below). This keeps the watercolors well. If a color, like yellow, gets too muddy, I toss it, but mostly the colors stay true. For me, I can go about a year and a half before I start to run out of basic colors like red, yellow and blue. You may want to double up on those colors.

What about mixing?

Liquid watercolors are great if you want to cover a large area fast. For this pig painting, it was so quick and easy to splash some green and blue paint on the background and some watered down red onto the pig. A very quick oil pastel resist lesson. I didn’t even use watercolor paper, but the colors are much more vibrant if you do.

If you want to teach a lesson on mixing and mingling, I would stick with the regular pan watercolors.

How do you set-up the paint in a classroom setting?

I use a 6-well plastic palette (again, from School Specialty or Dick Blick. Do a search on their site for palettes. Their stock varies from year to year so I can’t be any more specific than this). I place the plastic containers that hold the watercolors in the wells. This prevents them from tipping over. I place the brushes in plastic water containers so the kids know not to set the brushes in the watercolor paints.

For a table of 5-6 kids, I use two water containers, 3 brushes in each and set the tray of 6 w/c paints in the middle. Works well.

After I’m done with the paints, I place them in a drawer in my art room (see picture).

I think that just about covers it, but if you have any questions, let’s start a discussion in the comments below and not through emails. I want everyone to benefit from all your knowledge and experience!

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64 comments

  1. Janie B says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve had this same question about liquid watercolors. I was afraid it would be too messy and expensive. But, I’m intrigued. Maybe I’ll get some for next year. You rock!

    • Wendy Cope says:

      Hi,

      Do you store the liquid watercolors in MINI muffin tins, or regular size muffin tins? I went to Costco and bought a box of condiment cups that are about 1.5 inches in diameter at the base. The regular size muffin tins are too big and the condiment cups slide around and the mini muffin tins are too small. I’ve looked EVERYWHERE for plastic palettes that have flat wells and can’t find any. Help me out here! I want to start using my watercolors but have to figure out this small detail. thanks.

  2. Jacquelien says:

    We use liquid watercolours often in our classes. I did’nt know the right translation of our Dutch word, ecoline. I used to translate it as coloured ink, but that was wrong. So I rewrited the labels on my blog posts just last weekend!
    One of the not mentioned differences between coloured ink and liquid watercolour is that liquid watercolour can be washed out of clothes; coloured ink (mostly) cannot!

  3. ms. kerns says:

    I LOVE my liquid watercolors that I got for my classroom after being inspired by so many Deep Space Sparkle lessons! I’ve stored mine in a six color palette with covers as well. I think next year I will look to store green and blue in larger containers if I continue doing landscapes, but otherwise no complaints. I LOVE the color and even the kids have said they LOVE the liquid watercolors. I have a few examples of work on my blog and hope to have some more in a few weeks. Thanks Patty for the post!

  4. amy says:

    I use the Dick Blick brand, which is comparable in price to the Sax brand for a set. I only use them with my own kids, but we use them all the time, and full strength, and they really do last. They also blend beautifully. I always found the pan watercolors frustrating when I was a kid, but maybe that was the brand. We all love the liquid watercolors, though.

  5. Denise Ferrell says:

    you introduced me to liquid watercolors and I used them today on the frog lesson with 1st grade. Oh.. they are so proud at how they looked! Thanks for all the tested lessons and art wisdom.

  6. Cheryl Hancock says:

    Hi we call these water colours -edicol dyes in Australia they usually com in powder form for us to mix- The dyes are derived for food colouring and so tend to be expensive. Mind you they go a long way.
    One of my favourite techniques is using it with wax crayon as the resist , straw blowing- bubble prints add a drop of detergent to the mix- and also with salt used as a bleaching agent- sprinkle on wet dye.
    Cheers Cheryl

  7. Jill says:

    Thank you for this post Patty! I was the one who e-mailed you today, haha. I think I may just have to order one of the sets that has ten or so colors and see how it goes. Would you mind telling us how much you buy for a typical year of usage with your students? Thanks again, a very helpful post!

  8. Becca Ruth says:

    where to you purchase your condiment cups and lids?

  9. I switched to liquid watercolors a few years ago and never looked back! I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but Handy Art makes fluorescent liquid watercolors. I bought them at my state convention.

    http://www.handyart.com/washable-watercolors.php

    I also like the fact that liquid watercolor can be reconstituted if it dries out! Great post. :0)

    Denise

  10. phyl says:

    I still like the pans, but I like the liquid too, and discovered (as a previous comment says) that they can be reconstituted if the water evaporates out. From another blogger, I got a great tip to make liquid watercolors. Take the caps off your “dead” water-base markers, and soak a bunch of them in about an inch of water. Throw away the markers after soaking overnight, and the liquid that is left is a perfect liquid watercolor!! I’ll post about it in a day or two.

    • Laura says:

      Yep! I have been using the liquid water color for a couple of years. You get such bright colors and the kids love them!. My palettes are a mess though, the paint gets all over the plastic. It washes off but still looks messy, but who cares when the projects are so beautiful!

      Ps. Did the jelly fish and the kids loved it! Thanks!

  11. Jessica White says:

    Thank you for this post, Patty! Like many others, I have been intrigued by the liquid WCs after seeing the projects on your blog, but wasn’t sure it would be cost effective. I had no idea that one set will last a whole year. I am definitely switching next year! I look forward to never dealing with messy pans again!

  12. Kathy says:

    I use the condiment cups too and we store several 1oz. cups in a low tray by color family. After use, we let them go dry by evaporation and we just add 1/2 oz of water to start up again. If lots of color splashed into the tray I dump out all cups pour them into the tray, remix, and pour it back into the 1 oz cups again. Therefore, we have eliminated any waste. We love liquid watercolors. Our set from sax often lasts the entire year! Sometimes I have to pick up an extra yellow or blue, but we are very happy with this paint.

  13. Jenn says:

    I bought the liquid glitter and metallic water colors as well and LOVE them. I have to admit that I am a bit stingy with them…
    By the way, they do great in a small spray bottle for backgrounds as well. The kids love the splattered effect that get when spraying multiple colors.

  14. Laurie Dyer says:

    I love liquid watercolors too. They are so satisfying for the kids, and as you mentioned they look nice even on cheaper paper.

    I use dick blick brand, and a little goes a looong way. I had several parents donate lots of plastic baby food containers, and store it in those.

    laurie dyer

  15. Janis Rink says:

    I’m so glad you addressed this topic. I am embarassed to say that I purchased liquid watercolor for the first time this September and I have yet to figure out how to use them with my students. They certainly cannot be poured back into the bottles easily. So I am happy to know condiment cups set in plastic palettes does the trick. So easy once someone has figured that out for you. Thanks Patty!

  16. Robin says:

    Thank you Patty, I think you may have posted this due to all my questions regarding the Dinosaur lesson.
    I bought the liquid water colors and love them. I didn’t know to dilute them and the colors are very VERY bright. I love them, however it used more than one bottle for the 500 students I teach per school. I have two schools.
    Can you please explain how you dilute them in a 1/1 ratio?
    Note from Patty: pour equal parts liquid watercolor and water into a small condiment container. For example: 1 T water and 1T liquid watercolor. Experiment though to see what intensity you want.

    Do you save old bottles and refill them with the diluted colors?
    I think I read somewhere that someone puts them in squeeze bottles from Smart and Final (like ketchup bottles with pointy tips).
    I will for sure use these again.
    The Kosher salt works so much better with these brilliant colors.
    My favorite part is I am not having to deal with wiping out the PANS where students have mixed the colors all together making the white and yellow all gray and muddy.With the liquid it’s much simpler, just pop in a new cup. I do have to replace the yellow between each class. It’s the color that is always “contaminated”, it’s usually greenish. To save time, since i have only 15 minutes between classes ,i have a bunch of yellows with lids on all ready . So I just pull out the cups and quickly replace with a fresh yellow. You barely need any color in the cups, as your photo shows, because it goes a long way.
    What a blessing you are to us Patty!
    I am even considering getting a Facebook page (I am so un-cool) just so I can see all the fun things you do there as well.

    • Kristina says:

      15 minutes between classes?!?! That would be a godsend! I get only 5, technically… but really more like 3 once the kids get out and the other class shows up.

      • K.G. says:

        I have zero minutes between classes. Preparation is the key to keeping me stress free. The liquid watercolors are worth a try for me. =)

        • amy says:

          **Time crunched teachers please try these!! I teach 630 kids every 4 days!!**

          It’s amazing how well kids adapt to these. I used to waste more time refilling the pans, finding hidden paint brushes in the pan box, and cleaning the nasty mixed colors. If I taught only 12 students and had more time like the good old days, I’d go back to the Prang pans, but NEVER again after Patty’s suggestion on the liquids.

          The kids go NUTS over the bright colors…even from the basic set. I have used both the School specialty and the Blick brands-both are fantastic. (Customer service is wonderful, but I won’t order from School specialty anymore because of their horrible packing/shipping issues.)

          Agreed on the paper…you can use these on drawing paper and it’s fine, but super bright on heavy weight painting paper.

          Watch out for those kids who try to remove the condiment cups from the muffin tins. So explain to them that they are to share and be patient. Out of 630 students painting, I may have 3 kids that try to put the condiment cup near them and of course they spill it.

          I purchased an 8 bottle set and it was around $38.00 and I have only used 1/4th of the red, blue, and green. When diluted at 1:1 I was able to get 624 9×12 paintings (2 projects per grade level (K-2) with 26 children in each group, I have 12 groups in (K-2).

          My upper grades are dying to paint with them!

  17. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing so much with us Patty – love your ideas! I have been using the liquid watercolors in stancups that I put in the plastic palettes. Because they are flexible it is possible to pour unused paint back into bottles. It does take a bit of time though. I like the cups with lids idea, but for anyone who doesn’t have those, stancups or paper bathroom cups work. I’m also planning to buy some eye droppers for mixing and adding just the right amount of water.

  18. Terry Pesso says:

    Hi Patty, I am an artist who teaches after school art classes in a private school in New York. I have been following your blog for some time now and it has helped me so much. I teach K-3 so in the beginning it was hard to know what they were capable of. Well,it is truly amazing what they can do( sometimes I just give it a shot and see what happens and modify)Anyway I want to start my own blog and show you some fo their work. Do I have to get signed release forms from parents? I will definitely check with them first before I post anything I just don’t know the legalities. Thanks for all your hard work and being so generous with it. Terry

    • Patty says:

      Hi Terry,
      Check with your Principal for this type of info. I purposely don’t photograph any of my student’s faces and I remove the names from any artwork I post. If you want to make your site public, those are some things to consider.

  19. Kellie D says:

    As always, thank you Patty for sharing your experience here with all of us. I’ve got to share with you and everyone reading this. If you have yet to make your own AWESOME liquid watercolors you just have to try it. I’ve saved the dried out washable markers and made liquid watercolors from them. A pair of pliers, scissors and baby food jars. I take the off and toss it. The pliers will take that back of the marker apart and the ink tube on the inside should pop out. I cut the ink tube into a couple of parts an place it in the jar. I usually put 2 marker guts in 1 jar and then add hot water to nearly the 1/2 way mark. Why hot water? I’m thinking that the warm water molecules will get the ink out of that fiber quicker, heck I might be all wet here. :^) Anyway, the colors are terrific but not quite as intense as the purchased ones from Sax (unless you let them begin to condense a little-dry out a little). The range of colors is amazing! Now I have every teacher in 2 schools saving the dried out markers for me. Thanks for the tip on using the condiment cups. I know the kids are going to love using them! ~Kellie

  20. Amy Floyd says:

    I love the liquid watercolors. I use Blick and put them in a plastic egg carton container. I even let them dry up and tell the kids to add some drops of water to re-activate them. I pour them the warm colors on one side and the cold colors on the other side. I doubt I will buy pan watercolors again. The kids go crazy for the vibrant colors.

  21. Robin says:

    Patty,
    How do you dilute your colors? Do you pre-mix water and w/c together and save them in old bottles or just add drops of water in the cups the day of?

    • Patty says:

      I use small condiment cups (see picture). I pour a small amount of water (1-2 T) in the cup, and then add equal parts water (approx.). 5-6 kids share one palette. After class is done, I snap on the lids. Easy!

  22. Claire McDowell says:

    Patty, I love your website so much! Thank you a thousand times.
    I teach K-5 art in public school in Northern California and here is fun 3rd grade color mixing job I’ve done with liquid watercolors and chalk pastels. I have them divide their paper into a grid (although you could have them draw anything) and I put the primary color watercolors in small squirt tubes and give the kids a 9 well mixing pallet. Then they get the bits and bobs of old chalk pastel sets and a plastic spoon. They scrape some chalk from the pastel into a well of watercolor and mix it all together before painting it onto one of the grid squares to see what color they got. This can produce a great array of color variation, tint and tone. They LOVE scraping the chalk as well as dripping in the watercolor and I call them my color mixing mad scientists. It’s always a hit and a good way to use up chalk pastel scraps.
    Thanks again for sharing your ideas with us!

  23. Andrea says:

    I really think you are brilliant! You have so many wonderful ideas, tips, and tricks. This site is an art teacher’s dream. You should really publish a book!!! :)

  24. Erin says:

    I use muffin tins from the dollar store to hold my condiment cups. I don’t know how much the palettes cost but I love my muffin tins and use them to hold lots of different stuff! :)

  25. [...] Sax Liquid watercolor (10 bottle sets) Note: Once you’ve tried liquid watercolors, it’s hard to go back to regular pan style. For more information on Liquid watercolors, read this post. [...]

  26. [...] choice when it comes to any watercolor project. I’ve written a whole post on the virtues of liquid watercolor but I don’t often talk about pan watercolors. And there is a good reason for that; I [...]

  27. Elli says:

    Hello everyone I teach preschool art and love liquid water colors!! I used them to make fire works I just used a dropper and put dots on the paper and had the kids blow through a straw they love it!! It was a great project!!

  28. anj says:

    Thanks so much for all your great tips! I ordered Colorations brand liquid watercolors and was hoping to use them for the jellyfish project, but when I compared the results using the liquid watercolors with the sample I’d done using pan at home, the results were not as I’d hoped. The paper soaked up the liquid watercolors (mixed 1:1 with water) so quickly, I couldn’t get them to “puddle.” I tried several different kinds of paper (although not actual water color paper as I was hoping to use something cheaper). I know it’s a guessing game, but does anyone else have experience with Colorations brand? I’m wondering if it was the paint or the paper. Any insights are appreciated!

    • Patty says:

      Wow…everything is always an experiment, huh?
      You need to use watercolor paper. I order the cheapest stuff possible and the quality is always fine. Regular drawing paper, like the Tru-Ray construction paper I use, is too porrus. It will soak up the watercolor so it’s not a good choice for blending.
      So in answer to your question: The problem was in the paper!
      Good luck!

  29. Laura says:

    Another fun project for liquid watercolors: dye paper! Although this project is less practical with large numbers of students due to the amount of dye that gets wicked into the paper, it’s too fun to not share. The fireworks effect (“ooohh…ahhhh…”) always accompanies this process. Use “dippety dye” paper or something similar. Coffee filters can be used in a pinch, but a slightly thicker paper works better. Paper-folding techniques can be found on line, or you can make things up as you go. I used the paper folding as an intro to shibori; I had limited fabric and dyes, so this was a good chance for my group members to practice some of the skills and experience some immediate gratification. Work from light to dark in order to keep the yellow from turning green or muddy early on. Because the paper is so absorbent, you can only hold the paper in the dye for a “nano-second”. Oil pastel or wax resist can still be employed prior to dying the paper. Dry papers can be further embellished with markers or colored pencils. Metallic markers used in moderation can really send things over the top. The papers can be used to cover cheap composition books (turned into beautiful journals) or glued or sewn together to create colorful banners.

  30. Lisa says:

    I got extra money for an After The Bell art class my principal asked me to do. One of the things I ordered was the liquid watercolors. (I had seen blogs referring to the Edicol dyes and could NOT figure out where these would be?) I got my box of liquid watercolors and they had leaked! Just a tiny bit, but enough to stain the box. The school secretary called Dick Blick and they said, “It’s not cost effective for us to come get them. We will just send you another box.” SO cool! But I was also wondering how I was going to manage them. I am so afraid that someone will knock a cup over and I’d lose all that! I was actually thinking about muffin tins, but I will also get the condiment cups. We will see how long 2 boxes last with 1000 students!

    • Patty says:

      Mine leaked as well. Smart thinking to ask for a replacement! Don’t worry about spillage because it will surely happen. When it does, have the kids paint straight from the spill on the table!
      The condiment cups or even glass baby food bottles work really well. It’s what I use and I’m still using the same box of w/c’s that I got at the beginning of last year. I only have 450 students but I still think you will be fine.
      Enjoy the paints!

  31. [...] cakes, as the results are pure, not muddy. If you aren’t convinced, check out my post on liquid watercolor paints. After looking at pictures of fields and farmland, the kids are instructed to draw a few lines in [...]

  32. Marty Lineberger says:

    hello,
    just found an easy way to make some liquid watercolors using your old crayola washable markers that are dried out and nasty. Just rubber band all one color together, use a small cup or jar that rubber banded group of markers will fit in snuggly, remove the caps add water to the cup, not much and put the markers nib down in the water and let sit for days. THis will drain out all of the left over ink and make liquid watercolors. They work nice for all over coloring or for quick watercolor washes on big projects. Try it out and see. I can send pics of the cups i use.

    Thanks for a wonderful website.

  33. [...] always have lots of liquid watercolors on hand because frankly, I use them so much. I don’t have to refresh my supply this year so I [...]

  34. Sarah Carey says:

    DSS inspired me to try liquid watercolors halfway through my first year teaching Art, and I adore them! I organize them a bit differently for classroom use, and it works really well for me. I ordered the 8 oz. “Jack Richeson Neatness Paint Cups” from School Specialty (https://store.schoolspecialty.com/OA_HTML/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?minisite=10206&item=510200).

    The cups are large enough to last basically all year. I just refresh them when the colors get muddied. I always order extra yellow, because it does get “contaminated” the fastest. The cups make it very easy to dilute and store the paint. The lids just snap back, so they’re easy for students to open without spilling. I set out one tray per table (my ultimate goal is to have two on each table) with whatever colors we need (and ONLY the colors we need… much easier to do with the cups than with pan watercolors). The students know to leave them in the tray to prevent tipping. I like that the lids are colored so I can match the contents. The only drawback is that the spill-proof hole is kind of small. Students have to use a 1/4″ brush or smaller.

    Anyway, they’re another option!

  35. Nicole says:

    Hi Patty,

    I just found your blog tonight and my mind is blown! You have amazing ideas! I cannot WAIT to try some of your projects – off to buy the ceramics book now!

  36. Tammy says:

    I teach art for the non-profit VSA arts, with that being said we are always looking for ways to keep costs down. Years ago when I first ordered liquid watercolors my program director ordered me Nasco’s Country School brand and to be honest didn’t care for them, they have a kind of gel-like texture that didn’t work for me, even when diluted. The one’s I finally came to use are the Colorations brand from Discount School Supply. I try to order from suppliers who offer us a blanket discount and no shipping because we are non-profit so this falls under that situation but I am very happy with them.

  37. Fiyona says:

    Hi Patty,

    i use a type of watercolor that stains the skin for a couple of days. I am afraid to put so many colors on the table. How is your watercolor, does it color fingers too ?

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Yes, I know what you mean. Liquid watercolor is concentrated so it can stain your fingers from the bottle. It usually washes out relatively well with soap and water.

  38. annette.moring says:

    I love the liquid water colors and have developed a very fast way to store them at the end of class. I use the 6 well plastic paint palettes along with the small condiment containers, but I don’t use the lids unless I am totally through with the paint.. At the end of the class/day I cover the paints with sheets of clear transparency film and then stack in groups of 3 . I then place those 3 palettes in a large rubbermaid container and close it up tightly with the lid. For me it is much faster than snapping on all those condiment lids. I am currently using 6 of the large containers and they stack nicely and the palettes fit in without too much room to slip around and spill.
    I have also started doing this with my tempera paints except I add 3 damp sponges on the bottom to add humidity and help prevent drying out so quickly.
    Works well for me and hope for you also. I am always looking for ways to do things more effectively so love all the interaction on this site.

  39. Liezel says:

    Hi
    Any recommendations on liquid watercolours in the UK? Really struggling to find some here!
    Thanks

    • Patty Palmer says:

      I’m not familiar with sources in the UK, but try food coloring. I heard it works great! You can also make your own liquid watercolors by purchasing watercolor cakes and dissolving them in a bit of water. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  40. [...] going to let Deep Space Sparkle tell you what liquid watercolours are because she does it so well in this article.  In a nutshell, they’re AWESOME!  I bought mine off Amazon.com back in the fall, and I [...]

  41. [...] you do need is watercolor paint. For fast application, you can’t beat liquid watercolors. I showed a few vase sample son the white board so the kids drew a vase first with oil pastel. Then [...]

  42. [...] you do need is watercolor paint. For fast application, you can’t beat liquid watercolors. I showed a few vase sample son the white board so the kids drew a vase first with oil pastel. Then [...]

  43. [...] love using liquid watercolor paints with beginning painters. You can read about liquid watercolors here. Set out two colors of liquid watercolor paints. I use baby food jars to store my watercolors in. [...]

  44. SALLY says:

    CAN YOU USE SAX WATER COLORS ON FABRIC?

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Not sure what your end result needs to be, but I would just experiment. I’m not that familiar with fabric art but my guess is that if you need it to be a permanent dye, watercolors may not be a good choice.

  45. […] 2 colors of liquid watercolor, paint the top part of the paper with one color of paint. Then paint the table with the other […]

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About Patty

Welcome to DSS. I'm an art teacher to 400 elementary kids in Goleta, California. This is where you will find a library of art lessons, handy PDF lesson plans and resources to make teaching art to kids a whole lot easier.
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