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Watercolor pan sizes? What's standard?

If you're new to watercolor painting, figuring out what supplies to use can be confusing. Not to mention the terminology surrounding the supplies can leave you feeling overwhelmed! So, let's discuss watercolor pan size.

But first, a little refresher:

Watercolor comes in a lot of forms, the two most popular are pan paints, and tube paints.

  • Pan paints little pans of dry watercolor

  • Tube paints are tubes of watercolor filled with paint that is a gel like consistency

Today we're only talking about the pans. And there are lots of options for sizes, some brands use non traditional sizing, but we're going to be covering the most common sizes: full pan, half pan, and quarter pan.

Above from left to right we have a full pan, half pan, and quarter pan. I am including a standard pencil for reference in case you have never held one of these in your hand! This image might be a little confusing because the quarter pan looks more or less the same size as the half pan, just with more rounded corners. But each of these is half the size of the one to the left of it. The full pan is double the width of the half pan. The quarter pan is the same width and length as a half pan. Where it's smaller is when you see it's profile.

The quarter pan is half the height of the full or half pan.

Why do I need to know this?

I know this might seem a little in depth to explain the sizes of these, but I promise there is a point, lol.

The first thing to address is based on the names. When I got started I thought that a full pan would be the most common size... because who just wants half of what they could get, right? But the most common size of watercolor you're going to see is a half pan. Quarter pans are pretty uncommon, but a lot of handmade watercolor makers offer these to allow people to purchase smaller amounts of the color.

So, when you order most palettes, or even individual pans of watercolor unless otherwise noted, most will be half pans.

A half pan might look like a little bit of paint, but this is going to go a far way! I paint constantly and I have only used an entire pan of one color a few times. If I had to wager a guess you could completely coat about 10 sheets of 9x12 watercolor paper using a single half pan of paint. Don't quote me on that, that's just a gut feeling...maybe I should test this?

The other part of why you should know is so that you can mix and match!

Mix and Match

The best part of the standard sizing is that most metal tin palettes you buy will have a standard built in structure where you can mix and match whatever pans of watercolor you want to put in it!

Notice that in my very well loved messy palette I can pop out any of the colors and swap them with a half pan, or even pop out two and place in a full pan. Technically the quarter pan fits, but it's not secured by the upper metal bracket so it could move around if you're using it for travel. The video below will do a better job of illustrating what I mean.

So, now you know! Not all manufacturers use these sizes, but a lot do. (ex- Winsor Newton, Daniel Smith, Senellier, Schmincke, my watercolors both the manufactured kind and handmade) One clue to look for that will be a sign they are traditional half pans is if it comes in a flip open metal tin that has built in mixing wells. A lot of the plastic or paper packaging does not use standard sizing.

Ok....I think I have probably rambled on plenty about this now. Have a great day!

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