How long do watercolor paints last? (Try out these tricks!)

As a watercolor artist, you will need to purchase new paints regularly. But how often do you need to purchase new paints?

You can expect your watercolors to last for three to five months if you paint every day and use pan watercolors. If you don’t paint as often, you might even get a year’s worth of use out of them. It’s rare to see more than one or two colors become empty at a time. Rather than buying a whole new palette, you should re-buy the specific colors.

watercolor brushes and paints on a table

How much can you paint before your paints run out?

Obviously, not all watercolor artists paint the same way and at the same frequency. 

Your paints’ longevity is largely determined by how often and how much you paint. 

Consider these questions:

-How often do I paint each week?

-How long does my painting session last?

-How many paintings do I finish each week/month?

-How big are my paintings?

-Do I add much detail to them?

-Do I fill up the whole paper or just certain areas?

-Do my paintings have a lot of color or are they rather light?

-What size are my paint pans or tubes?

-Do I use a variety of colors or just a few?

As you will see, it can be very difficult to pinpoint an exact period of time, because it is very individual.

The best way to figure it out is to just paint as usual. Take a marker and write the date of the first use on the inside of your palette, and see how long it takes for your paints to run out.

Using this as a rough benchmark, maybe even come up with a monthly budget for paints. Regarding this you should also read: When does Watercolor expire?

Could I be more efficient with my paints?

Speaking of budgets, I would also like to talk a bit about efficiency. There are many ways to make your paint work more efficiently.

Artists mix colors in a palette or something similar, and then wipe them away as soon as they’re done with the session for the day. While this might make sense for acrylic paints, it’s a waste with watercolors.

If watercolors dry up, they can be reactivated, which makes them a unique medium. Dry paint pigments can be easily re-used by applying fresh water to them (also works for watercolor paintings). Click here, if you’d like to know if watercolor can absorb air.

Before packing everything up, you should just let the mixed paints air dry. You can either use them the next time you continue working on the painting or save it for a future project.

The first option saves you time and headache, as you won’t have to mix the same color over and over again.

watercolor paint with a brush

Why should you repurchase single pans or tubes of paint?

Most of the time, you won’t use every single color equally. Because of this, certain tubes or pans of paint run out earlier than others.

When dealing with this issue, I would always recommend buying single pans or tubes of paint. You could either restock your palette with these paints or buy them as single tubes or pans from the start.

There have been a few paints in each palette I’ve bought so far that I never used. I just didn’t need them for my paintings.

Therefore, I decided to stop buying premade watercolor paint palettes and to create my own palette with colors I really need and will use. It will save you a lot of money and storage space in the long run. Also check out my article about: Is Watercolor expensive?

This issue can, of course, be addressed in another way, and that is what I will discuss now.

How to make the most of a half-empty palette

Most watercolor artists who have been painting for a while will have some old palettes of paint lying around that are half empty.

The colors that you usually use in a painting are empty, and only the “bad” ones remain.

The half-empty palette was put away as it had no use for you anymore and you decided to buy a new one. But the story of this palette doesn’t have to end here.

Problems and issues force you to get creative, and that has always been the case. If it weren’t for creativity, humanity wouldn’t be where it is now.

You can actually use leftover watercolor paints in a creative or smart way instead of simply throwing them away.

Perhaps you could try painting a picture using only the paints that you don’t normally use. Maybe you could even do that outdoors.

Although it sounds easy at first, you will be surprised at how difficult it can be once you try it. The interesting thing is that every artist, depending on their preferences, will use a different palette of paints.

Some artists might like to paint bright paintings while others prefer darker tones. Ultimately, everyone has to step out of their comfort zone in order to grow artistically.

There’s a good chance you’ll discover a certain combination of colors that you’ll use in future works. Worst case scenario, you just used the leftover paints to practice painting, which is never a bad thing.

Little challenges and strategies like that will keep painting interesting and fun. You’ll be able to discover new creative ideas and possibilities, so I always recommend that you participate in these little tasks. One might be, using acrylic and watercolor paint together. Read here, if you’d like to find out if that’s possible.


It’s hard to tell how long a set of watercolor paints will last, but you can estimate it if you note when you started using them and how often you use them. Now you can see how many paintings you can roughly paint before your paint runs out. Your journey with the palette doesn’t end here. Let your creativity flow by using the leftover paints to create new and challenging pieces of art.         

2 thoughts on “How long do watercolor paints last? (Try out these tricks!)”

  1. Pingback: Can expensive watercolor paints be worth it? (See for yourself!) - What a colour

  2. Pingback: Can watercolor be used as a fixative for graphite? - What a colour

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