How to Test Watercolor Transparency in Your Paints

Watercolor transparency exercise

Not all watercolors look the same. In fact, each color is one of three qualities when put to paper: transparent, semi-transparent and opaque. Each cover the surface of your watercolor paper to a different degree, letting more or less of the light reflected from the paper show through the pigment.

To get the best final results in your painting, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of each color’s transparency. Just keep in mind that even though this know-how will give you more control over your paints, watercolors are notoriously unpredictable. (But that’s the fun part!)

Testing Transparency

Watercolor transparency exercise

This exercise will not only test each color’s transparency, but it will also reveal how the colors on your palette interact together.

Begin by painting a long and thick horizontal stripe with one of your colors. Allow it to dry completely, then paint vertical lines over it using the rest of the colors on your palette. Some colors will let more of the underlying pigment through than others, while also showing how the colors affect one another.

Repeat this exercise with all the colors on your palette. You can label the brushstrokes and save this page to use as a guide going forward — just revisit it whenever you need to know what the resulting color will be when you overlay any two given colors.

Testing Watercolor Transparency

If you only want to test your colors’ degree of transparency without testing how they interact with each other, you can do the same exercise with one minor change: Use black India ink to create the long horizontal line. Let it dry completely and proceed as indicated above.

The paint you place over it will react in one of three ways: It will either disappear completely, partially cover that area or something in between. This reaction will determine whether the paint is transparent, semi-transparent or opaque.

Try out this exercise to get more acquainted with you palette. Next week we will talk about color value.

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