Are all Watercolors Transparent?
It's very important!

Have you ever struggled with the transparency of watercolor paints? Here's all you need to know about the types of watercolor and how to handle them!
Are All Watercolors Transparent? It's very important! Thumbnail
Are All Watercolors Transparent? It's very important! Thumbnail


If you’ve been using watercolors for a while, you must have noticed they are inherently transparent. There’s a reason why they are used while building layers upon layers. When we were trying watercolor for the first time, we were spellbound by its luminous and reflecting effects. However, we didn’t know that there was more to this medium than just transparent layers. You can achieve a variety of solid and see-through watercolor painting effects!

Watercolors are not necessarily transparent. They are also available in semi-opaque and opaque variants. Transparent watercolor paint makes layering easier, whereas semi-opaque is moderate, and opaque might give a grainy appearance if too much water is used.

The different types of watercolor

There are a variety of watercolor kits available!

Watercolors are of three types: transparent, semi-opaque, and opaque.

In terms of watercolor paint, opacity refers to the ability to see through the paint. The greater the transparency, the more luminous the effects created by watercolor paint. Transparent layers of watercolor will allow more light to go through the paper, giving a stunning and light appearance that is popular with watercolor paints


Watercolor types

Watercolor is available in a variety of shades. Some are even metallic, pearl and gem tones. These colors can appear more solid and depending on the paper they are applied. For instance, some colors can appear transparent on dark paper but solid on white. And vice versa!

How to use transparent watercolor paints?

There is so much you can do with transparent watercolor paints!

A blended wash of blue and red watercolor paint

The best way to use transparent watercolor is by building up layers. Otherwise, you can use them directly too but with that, you need to be able to control the water flow well.

To start the layering method, you should make the first layer as transparent as possible. Even if you have transparent watercolor paints, add more water to go lighter. Just don’t overdo it, or else the paper could buckle, especially if it’s lightweight.


Achieve a bichromatic effect

Instead of mixing two colors, try overlapping one over the other directly on paper. It would create an illusion of the colors being mixed. It is the best thing to do with transparent watercolor paints!

How to use semi-transparent or semi-opaque watercolor paints?

Do you prefer a bit of solid look to your watercolor paints?

Watercolor cakes and illustration in a small journal

Semi-opaque watercolor paints are the most versatile, as they can be used to create both thin and thick layers.

Semi-opaque watercolor paint can be used by combining both layering and color-filling methods. It is somewhere between transparent and opaque. Hence, you can use it for a variety of methods.

The best way to use these paints is to move from transparent to more solid and opaque layers. Add more water at first, then proceed with slightly solid layers of watercolor paint.


Use water wisely

With semi-opaque watercolor paints, the texture could appear grainy or chalky if you keep painting on one area over and over again.

How to use opaque watercolor paints?

It's hard to put layers using opaque watercolor paint!

Water brushes, paint tubes and paper

Opaque watercolor paints are best when laid down like a creamy-ink consistency.

If you touch the surface, you’ll feel how chalky the paint can get. Also, with opaque watercolor paint, it can be hard to work layers and give highlights because they’re not as see-through as their transparent counterpart. So if you’re using opaque watercolors, it’s best to work with them on design or illustrated projects where solid color or layering is a requirement.


don't add too much water

Trying to go transparent with opaque watercolor paints? Adding water to opaque paints can make them thin, but it may also lead to a grainy and chalky appearance. Since opaque watercolors are thick, it's hard to thin them down while keeping the quality optimal.

How to find out if your watercolor paints are transparent?

Use simple swatches to test the transparency of your watercolor paints!

A watercolor painting featuring a blue background and two fish

The transparency of watercolor paints can be tested through swatches of light and dark colors on top of each other.

You don’t have to create an entire painting! Use the layering method to find out if you can see through the colors. Simply follow these steps to find out the transparency of your watercolor paints:

  • Create a long line with black or any dark-colored watercolor paint
  • Pick paints with lighter tones or shades
  • Paint strokes in the opposite direction over the dark strip

If you are able to see the dark color through the light one, the paints are transparent. If the lighter paint seems to ‘overlap’ the paint layer beneath it, the paint is opaque. If it seems somewhere in between, then the paints are either semi-transparent or semi-opaque.

You can also do the test the other way around!


use watercolor tubes

Achieving transparency is easier with watercolor tubes as you get to create the paint in sufficient quantity. While preparing the mix, you can add a lot of water easily.

If you’re looking for a reliable professional watercolor tube set, we highly recommend you get this one !

Winsor & Newton Watercolour Lightweight Sketcher's Box

This professional set consists of 12 classic watercolor tubes with high transparency!

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Are watercolor pencils, brush pens, ink etc also transparent?

Is watercolor more opaque in other formats?

Lettering created using a watercolor brush pen

Watercolors in the form of pencils, inks, and other media are almost always transparent unless stated otherwise.

One advantage of using watercolor in the form of pencils is that you get more control. If you’re a beginner, it may be difficult for you to handle watercolor paint in its original flowing form. 

Watercolor pencils are nothing but watercolor in the pencil form. But you can control their transparency by adding more or less layers. As for watercolor brush pens and inks, adding more water directly to the paper is possible to make the mediums more transparent. But it’s more difficult to achieve with water brush pens since they act like markers. This makes it hard to control the flow and can leave blotches if you try to add water for more transparency!

Hence, transparency is easier to achieve with watercolor in its liquid form.

From our personal experience, we would suggest you get this awesome kit of watercolor brush pens !

Lyra Aqua Brush Duo Pens

This set of 12 aqua brush duo pens has both the features of a brush and a marker.

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Hence, not all watercolors are transparent. It’s best to check the packaging for a transparency label before buying a watercolor paint kit. You don’t need to learn scientific labels, as it is mentioned directly whether the watercolours are transparent or not. If you’re unsure, you can also check the transparency by painting swatches of different colors on top of one another.

If you’re eager to learn more about this fascinating medium, we suggest you read this guide on the drying speed of watercolor along with 5 amazing tips for beginners !

Does Watercolor Dry Fast?

If you've been working with watercolor paint for a while, you must have noticed how their drying time varies. Follow these 5 tips to control better!

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By Jimena & Iñigo

The Navarro-Rubios

My husband and I are learning how to draw and paint. We wanted to share this learning process with the world and have fun! That's why we created this blog. We'll have drawing contests every week and you'll decide who won that week! Follow along and learn with us!

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Jimena & Iñigo Picture

Jimena & Iñigo

The Navarro-Rubios

My husband and I are learning how to draw and paint. We wanted to share this learning process with the world and have fun! That's why we created this blog. We'll have drawing contests every week and you'll decide who won that week! Follow along and learn with us!



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