How to Set Up a Watercolor Palette for Painting Success

How to setup a watercolor palette

In this blog post, we will discuss how to set up a watercolor palette for optimal color mixing. A well-organized watercolor palette is key to painting success. We will also provide tips on which colors to include in your palette and how to mix them. If you need further information about watercolor supplies, you can check out our suggested supplies article. So, if you’re ready to take your watercolor painting skills to the next level, keep reading!

Now we will start with how to set up a watercolor palette

When setting up your palette, you will want to arrange the colors in a way that makes sense to you. Some painters prefer to have their primaries (red, blue, and yellow) together, while others like to have warm and cool hues separated. all of the earth tones together. There is no wrong way to do it – just find what works best.

watercolor palette and brush

3 options that work well for organizing your palette and colors.

Option #1

Keep similar hues together – in this arrangement you will place blues, reds and yellows together. This is the easiest way to organize your palette. IMPORTANT; when using this set up method be sure you are consistent with warm and cool hue placements. For example, if you place your cool blue to the left of your warm blue, repeat this for all colors. Therefore, all all cool colors will be to the left-hand side. This makes it much easier to find the right temperature.

When using this option, your neutrals will be placed together. So, grays, browns and white would be beside each other. And if you have more than one of each neutral, use the same method for organizing warm and cool order.

Option #2

Divide by color temperature – For this palette set up you will place all cool hues together, and all warm hues together. As with the previous example, neutrals are off by themselves.

Option #3

Rainbow – if you prefer a lot of colors on your palette, which I don’t, use the rainbow order set up. You know, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Of course you can combine this with being consistent which side the cool, and warm hues are on.

best watercolor palette for beginners

Another common question is what type of watercolor palette should you use?

There are many different types of palettes on the market, but we recommend using a large palette with separate mixing areas. This type of palette allows you to mix several hues at once and makes it easier to achieve accurate color mixing.

Plastic palettes are perfect because they’re less likely to break if they take a fall. I’ve owned ceramic in the past it lasted about three months. But that’s me, and I’m pretty rough on my art supplies.

Large mixing area is preferred as it doesn’t limit you to small washes. The issue with collapsable palettes is they don’t have large enough mixing areas. When you need to put down a large wash it’s nice to know you have the real estate to do it!

watercolor palette

What colors should you have on your palette?

When selecting colors for your palette, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you will want to have at least one warm and one cool version of each primary color. Second, it is helpful to have a variety of neutral hues such as burnt sienna, raw umber, neutral tint (gray) and Chinese white, or white gouache. At times you may want a magenta, or green, too. But for beginners I recommend no more than 10 hues.

Best palette for beginners:

  • Yellow ochre – warm yellow
  • cadmium yellow lemon – cool
  • ultramarine blue – warm
  • cobalt blue – cool
  • alizarin crimson – cool
  • cadmium red light – warm
  • burnt sienna
  • raw umber
  • neutral tint
  • white gouache

Why the white paint? Many watercolor painters prefer to use a white, which allows for adding highlights and reflections.

If you find you’re more interested in landscapes, for example, you can always tweak the colors to what works best for your subjects. If you love landscape painting you may prefer to have a few greens, but use warm and cool options.

how much watercolor paint should you use

How much paint should you use?

Now that you have your colors picked out, it’s time to put them in the palette! You will want to fill each well with paint up as much as you can. This will help keep the paints from drying out fast. If you only squeeze out a small amount it will dry very quickly.

In some cases, you may not use the colors right away. So, you can store the palette in a plastic bag or container. If you know you will be away from painting for a week, or more put a damp rag or several wet paper towels in the palette. This will help keep the colors from drying out until you’re ready to use them.

how to clean your watercolor palette

How to clean your palette

When you’re finished painting for the day, it’s important to clean your palette. The best way to do this is with soap and water. You can also use a brush cleaner, but be sure to rinse the palette well so the colors don’t get muddy.

If your palette has been sitting for a long time you may need to take it out back and use the garden hose. Just make sure you do it far away from the car, or house.


We hope you found this blog post helpful! Now that you know how to set up a watercolor palette, you’re one step closer to painting success. happy mixing!

If you have any questions or tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.