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How Long Does it Take Watercolor Paintings to Dry?

How Long Does it Take Watercolor Paintings to Dry?

A lot of us like watercolor painting but not a lot of us like waiting for our painting to dry. Today, watercolor has been refined into a much more fulfilling art. Watercolor paintings tend to be very versatile in how you use water and pigments to create them. However, to be a veteran watercolor artist, you need to have due patience for them to dry.

There are varying intervals where you have to wait for the watercolor to dry. In ideal conditions such as a dry room, a watercolor painting can be expected to dry in up to 15 minutes. In less than ideal conditions, such as high humidity or low temperatures, watercolor paintings can take a few hours to dry.

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how long it takes watercolor paintings to dry

How Watercolor Works

Watercolor painting can have varying dry times because of how dependent the art is on the water as its medium. Watercolors work by carrying water and pigments in ratio. The ratio of water to pigment determines the depth of the color and the overall look of the painting and has a significant effect on how long the painting will take to dry.

Managing the ratio is important because the pigment is transferred to the paper as the water gets soaked. Eventually, the water has to evaporate to leave the pigments behind to form your final painting.

How Temperature and Humidity affect Watercolor Drying Time

Now because water being the medium highly controls the drying time, you are entirely dependent on how favorable the conditions are for it to evaporate. Meaning humidity and temperature will play a considerable role in drying times. If you want your paintings to dry faster, you should make sure that the temperature isn’t too low and the room is as dry as possible; this also means that Antarctica would be the worst possible place to practice watercolor painting.

How Medium Volume affects Watercolor Drying Time

Since evaporation works by removing water particles from the medium layer’s surface and the key criteria for watercolor drying time is evaporation, it’s only natural that the water volume will significantly affect drying time. Simply, the more water you use, the greater the drying time.

This is also of significance when you’re painting layers in watercolors. Suppose you intend to let one-layer bleed on another layer, meaning you want to add another layer of watercolor before letting the last one dry first. In that case, your drying time will be increased exponentially with the number of layers you are adding this way. This is not to discourage you from making layers or to stop adding beautiful effects through bleeding; the only point of this is to help you understand how watercolors work and why drying times can vary from one painting to another.

How Paper Thickness affects Watercolor Drying Time

Another factor that can affect how fast your watercolor painting dries is the thickness of the paper being used. Generally, watercolor papers are designed to absorb moisture evenly and let the paper breathe properly; this allows the pigment to settle down on the paper flatly and for efficient absorption.

However, if you’re using thicker paper, the drying time may increase. This is because a thicker paper will absorb more of the water; naturally, it’s faster for the water to evaporate from the paper’s surface than from inside its fabrics.

How to Decrease Watercolor Drying Time

If you’re very interested in watercolor painting but are not fond of the drying time between layers and the final product, the one thing you should never do to decrease drying time is compromise technique. Water on water and water on dry techniques exist in watercolor painting as they allow you to produce unique textures and colors.

Method 1

Even if they increase drying time, it’s better to find alternative ways to reduce your wait time than reduce the quality of your final product. One very straightforward way to do this is to let your painting face the sun. It’ll vastly reduce your drying time, but make sure that the painting does not stay exposed to sunlight for too long or at least has a high lightfastness rating since sunlight can cause watercolors to become dull.

If you’re working on a large project or are working through the night and can’t rely on sunlight to reduce wait times, then your best friend is a lint-free paper towel. Since in watercolor paintings, water acts as a medium to carry the color pigment, it’s possible to extract an excess of it using a paper towel gently.

Method 2

This does require a little bit of finesse, but with proper care and a gentle hand, you can dry layers very quickly by allowing the towel to absorb a little bit of the water on the surface. You can also use the paper towel to lighten the color of a layer and add more control to your watercolor painting.

Method 3

If drying time is something you absolutely despise and you consider it your personal vendetta to end it, then you may take more drastic measures and use a blow dryer. While this is not highly recommended since direct exposure to heat can affect pigment colors, and pressure from the hairdryer can cause watercolor to drift in the direction of application.

However, if there’s no excess water sitting on top of the paper and you only need to remove moisture from inside the paper, you may use a hairdryer without the heat setting. This will quickly remove the remaining moisture from the painting without affecting the final result.


Always give your watercolor painting about 5 to 15 minutes to dry for each layer. If you’re in doubt that the painting hasn’t dried properly, you can always check the surface temperature.

If the painting is cold, it means there is still some moisture left in the paper, and you should allow the painting to sit for drying for a few hours if necessary. Always try to paint in a cool, dry place, and once the painting is completely dry, use quality sealers to preserve it. I hope you enjoy creating your own watercolor masterpieces.