Paint Palettes 101

There are a lot of paint palettes on the market, in different styles and materials. It can be overwhelming to see so many options at different price points for what is essentially the same product, so let’s break down the basic types of palettes so that you can choose your favourite.

Watercolour Pans

Many watercolours, such as our set of 24 pictured here, come in pans that can be mixed and matched in the trays designed to hold them. If you have watercolours in tubes, you can buy pans and the metal tray separately, squeeze the paint into the pans, and use your tube watercolours in this compact and portable way.

This is a good idea for travelling, as the pans hold lots of paint that last a long time. And, since you can mix and match the pans, you can build your own sets with your favourite colours.

Portable Tray Palette

Portable tray palettes are usually plastic, with rubber around the edges so there’s a nice waterproof seal for your paints. They open up clamshell-style to reveal a huge mixing area and many wells for paint.

As you can see here, there’s plenty of room to squeeze paint tubes into the wells and there’s even a divider so that you can mix warm colours on one side and cool colours on the other side. That way nothing gets muddy!

The other great thing about these is the waterproof seal when closed, because then if you’re using gouache or something you can paint in multiple sittings without the paints drying out as quickly. The only downside to this type of palette is that the plastic can stain easily, so many artists prefer other materials for palettes.

Tray Palette

These are often referred to as “butcher trays” because I suspect that’s what they are, but they’re wonderful for paint. These aren’t for travel, but they’re great for in the studio because you have so much room to mix as much colour as you
want, and the tray is so easy to wash. I recommend these palettes in particular for acrylics and gouache, because you generally need to use more of those paints at a time, and you likely won’t be saving them for later as they don’t rewet very well.

Porcelain Palette

These are lovely palettes that often look like flowers! As you can see, they come in different shapes and sizes with varying amounts of wells. Use these for watercolours, inks, acrylics, gouache, or anything else in the studio! Porcelain doesn’t stain and rinses clean with very little effort.

These palettes are also really affordable for the quality level that you get. I do recommend having some sandpaper on hand when you first get one of these palettes because sometimes the bottom is rough and could scratch your desk. 

This is a porcelain palette that you can travel with! The sleek little tin keeps everything safe from jostling around in your bag, so you can enjoy the clean and rinsable porcelain wherever you may go. Since there are two trays within this palette, you can hold many colours of paint in the one with small wells, and mix the paint in the one with open space.

I recommend this palette for anyone who wants the best of both worlds: Portability, and the smooth and easy-to-rinse texture of porcelain. Also, you can hold more paint in this palette than in any other palette of its size - there’s an option with 19 wells, which is a lot already, and then there’s an option with 37 wells! That’s more wells than most large travel palettes have!

Is there a palette you love that isn’t on this list? Be sure to let us know! Also, subscribe to our email newsletter for more informative blog posts like this one! Happy painting!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.
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