Tubes or pans from the point of view of price
At least 80% of my students in my watercolor courses use paint in a pan. The rest use tubes, Tube users are in the minority. Many of the new students do not even know that there is watercolor paint in tubes. I think my students reflect the amateur painters in general: The vast majority use pans, a few use tubes and some of the pan users do not know that tubes exist.
When a new student shows up on a course, and who has painted before, I take a look at their watercolor box. It is often a frightening sight. They often have a large box full of half pans, maybe as many as 40 to 50 different colors (10 of them are green!). The worst thing is that they do not know what any of the colors are called! The other extreme is those who have the smallest box of the cheapest colors they can find.
So there is soft watercolor in tubes and hard in pans. The different varieties are available in several different sizes. What you use is both a matter of taste and an economic issue. Tubes are available in sizes from 5 ml (0.17 fl. Oz). And upwards. Pans are available in small format (half pan) and larger (full pan). There are manufacturers who also have even larger color pans, but we ignore them. The cheapest colors per piece are small half pans, the most expensive are large tubes. This applies to unit price, price per volume is significantly lower the larger packaging you buy.
I have students who buy paint in tubes and squeeze them out in pans, when they have dried they are the same as pan paints, but much cheaper. An example: Winsor & Newton’s “Aureolin” costs SEK 99 ($ 11) at a certain retailer in a full pan. The same color, in the same store, costs in a tube 14 ml. (0,5 fl. oz) SEK 172 ($ 19).
There are those who say that you can fill five full pans with a 14 ml. tube, it’s a bit much in my opinion, but say that four really full pans are the result, that would mean that each full cup filled with tube paint would cost SEK 43 (approx. $ 5). The less than half the price of what a regular full cup costs.
The difference is much greater if the comparison applies to half a pan, it costs SEK 77 ($8,6). One tube is enough for 8 pcs. half cups, which gives a unit price of 21:50 ($2,4), that is less than a third of the price for a half cup. There are empty cups to buy for the purpose.
These calculation examples apply to a 14 ml tube, the difference in price is even greater if you instead buy a larger tube, different manufacturers have different sizes, The largest is probably 37 ml (W&N).
If you, like me, use tubes but also have pans to take out, it is much cheaper to buy tubes and also use them to refill pans instead of buying the colors separately.
There are manufacturers who boast that they use different recipes for their tube colors and colors in the pan. This is true, especially English manufacturers create the same color in a different way when they make colors for the tube and pan, respectively. They also say that it is not good to squeeze paint from a tube in a pan and let it dry. The result will be worse than if you buy their finished colors in a pan.
Maybe it’s so, or it could be that they want to sell more paint. I have never noticed any difference. Keep in mind that many manufacturers make their pan paints by putting tube paint in a pan and letting it dry.
Some new budget brands like Roman Szmal sell exclusively in pan form. So, it seems that for some brands tubes are the better deal but for others pans might be competitive in cost or even superior.