• How to Make the Perfect Watercolor Color Chart

    Whenever you add a watercolor set to your collection, it’s always a fantastic idea to make a watercolor color chart. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make a chart that will be useful for years to come!

    How to Make the Perfect Watercolor Color Chart

    Before you use a new set of watercolor paints, you should always make a watercolor color chart. Oftentimes, paints look totally different in the pan than they do on paper, so a color chart gives you an accurate idea of what to expect! It also helps you to choose a color by providing a nice “cheat sheet”. Today, I’ll show you how to make a simple, portable, and pretty watercolor color chart.

    1. Measure Your Palette

    There are many different watercolor palette configurations, but nearly all palettes feature a case that you can tuck your color chart into. It’s an excellent idea to keep your chart with your watercolors so it doesn’t get lost! To get started, open up your palette and think about where you’d like to keep your chart. Then, use a ruler to measure the length and width of that area.

    Taking a Measurement
    I plan to store my Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor chart on top of my paints (I’m using the set of 24 for this tutorial). This area measures about 8.25″ x 2.25″.

    Once you have your measurements, cut a piece of watercolor paper to be just a bit smaller than those measurements.

    Watercolor Color Chart Paper
    I cut this piece of paper to 8″ x 2″. (It should be a little smaller than the watercolor case to comfortably fit inside.)

    2. Draw Pencil Guidelines

    Now, use your pencil and ruler to draw guidelines for the names of your colors and for your paint swatches. I’ve written the measurements that I used for my color chart on the photo below. Feel free to tailor the measurements to your own palette! You want the layout of your chart to reflect the layout of your paints. In this case, my paint is in two rows, so I made two guideline sets:

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart
    The 1/2″ guideline is for making color swatches. The 1/8″ guidelines are for writing color names (many color names require two lines). There is 1/16″ of space between the 1/8″ guidelines. The space at the top is for a title!

    Next, use a pencil and a ruler to divide your guidelines depending on how many columns of colors you have. I have 12 columns of colors, so I divided my chart accordingly.

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart
    I drew each of these vertical lines 5/8″ apart. That gave me a bit of wasted space on the end, which I cut off.

    3. Add Lettering

    Now, use your favorite pen and ink combination to write a title at the top of the set. This step isn’t necessary, but I think it adds some character!

    Watercolor Color Chart
    I used Kaitlin Style calligraphy, sumi ink, and a Brause EF66 nib to write this title.

    Then, use a stiff nib (like a Nikko G) or a fine-tipped pen to write the names of your watercolors. It’s best to complete this step using a sans serif lettering style so the names take up less space.

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart

    4. Make Paint Swatches

    Once you’ve written all the paint names, use a spray bottle, a blunt syringe, or a spoon to moisten all of your watercolors with water.

    Making Color Swatches
    Pre-moistening your watercolors will loosen up the pigments, which makes for easier painting.

    Next, dip a dry brush into the color on the upper left. Then, paint a little swatch that takes up about half the space above the upper left paint name. Since you didn’t moisten your brush before dipping it in the paint, the paint should have a brilliant, concentrated color.

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart
    There should be a high ratio of pigment to water on your brush, ensuring a concentrated color.

    Now, swish off your brush in art water to clean it off. Once it’s clean, use the wet brush to draw out the pigment on the swatch you just painted to the right. The water on the brush will merge with the pigment, resulting in a medium tone that turns into a light tone.

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart
    Use a clean brush and water to complete this step.

    Use the same technique to make every swatch on the watercolor color chart. It’s important to capture a concentrated tone and a watered-down tone! That way, you have a nice representation of color range and what your options are for each color. (For example, if I wanted to paint an orange, I would look at this chart and know that the watered-down Cadmium Orange Hue is my best best. The full-concentration version is too intense!)

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart

    5. Erase and Enjoy

    Once your paints have dried, use an eraser to get rid of all your pencil guidelines. Then, tuck the watercolor color chart into your palette and enjoy! You’ll use your chart for years to decide which colors to use, so the slight time investment it takes to make one will pay off … I promise.

    Making a Watercolor Color Chart
    I love using my color chart to decide which watercolors to use in this palette!

    Chart Examples

    Here are some other watercolor color charts I have:

    Yarka Watercolor Set | The Postman's Knock
    I like the cursive in this watercolor chart. Note that I didn’t use different tones of color here. (I wish I would have!)
    Painting with Watercolors for Beginners
    I had the space to write in cursive on this chart, too!
    Painting with Watercolors for Beginners
    Jess of Greenleaf & Blueberry made a lot of these charts for me. For the round swatches, I imagine she painted a strong concentration of watercolor in the center of her soon-to-be circle. Then, she cleaned off her brush and used that brush to draw the color out around the edges.
    Set of 12 Watercolors Color Chart
    For my set of 12 Cotman watercolors, I just made a simple strip.

    I hope that this post inspires you to roll up your sleeves this weekend and make your own color chart! I promise: you’ll be so glad that you did. If you have any questions about how (or why) to make a chart, please let me know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful weekend.


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock