When does watercolor expire?

Over time most artists accumulate a large amount of different art supplies. Ask any artist and they will probably show you some art stuff that they haven’t been using for quite some time now, because they upgraded to better and improved paints, brushes, paper etc. But are these old supplies, in our case watercolors still usable? When do watercolor paints expire?

Watercolor tubes last about 5-7 years, while being sealed and stored at room temperature. The pigments and binding fluid in the paint separate over time up to a point, where they can’t be fused again. Watercolor paint in pans generally lasts way longer and can still be used after 10 years of laying around, because nothing really happens to it, if you store it accordingly.

But what can be done with those old watercolors to bring them back to their old glory, if they are still usable but aren’t quite of the same quality they were a couple years back? And what can you do to slow down that process of decreasing the quality of your paints?

How to rehydrate watercolor tubes

It’s pretty normal for watercolor tubes to dry out over time, because of the reasons I explained earlier. But are these seemingly rock hard watercolor tubes still fixable? If so, how?

Firstly you should take a look at the opening of the tube and see if you would just have to poke a hole in there, because only the paint right at the opening dried out or if all the paint is.

In the first case you can just get rid of the bit of paint that’s dried out and keep on using your paints as normal.

In the second case it’s gonna get a little trickier. You’ll have to cut open the tube at its head and then cut a line in a 90° degree angle from there.

I would advise you to use a scalpel as it’s really sharp and precise. You have to be very careful while using it though, as the tubes have a very smooth surface which might cause the scalpel to slip off, if you’re not careful enough.

Now you can peel the two sides of the tube to the left/right and reveal the paint inside.

The next thing you`ll have to do is either keep the paint where it is and use it from there or get some of it out of the tube and onto your palette. Either way you`ll have to add some water to it, to see if it’s still usable. Only do this in small amounts though, as too big of an amount at once could make it worse than before.

If water doesn’t work, you can either give up on the paint and buy a new one or you could try out a binding agent. Just repeat the same process and watch out that you only add small amounts at a time.

I would only recommend a binding agent, if it was an expensive tube or if you really have a lot of paint left in there. Otherwise I, personally, don’t think it’s worth your time and/or money, and a new investment would be wiser.

watercolor pans and watercolor painting

How to fix broken up watercolor pans

If you have some broken pans or half pans, the process is way easier. You’ll just have to apply some water onto the pan until the watercolor is more or less fluid and mix it up a bit with a brush. Afterwards you’ll just have to wait for it to dry out et voilà.

But just a friendly reminder, this would only be for aesthetic purposes, as you can use a broken up pan of watercolor like you normally would. It doesn’t really change the way the colors work or how they come out on the painting, except if they clumped up.

When should you give up on your watercolor paints

At some point, your paints just won’t be fixable or usable anymore. You can see that adding water to them just doesn’t really change anything anymore or if the paint is always clumpy when you mix water to it.

If this is happening I would strongly advise you to give up on them and just get a set of new ones. You will have way more fun and way better of an experience with those than with your current, pretty much unusable ones.

How to maintain a good quality of your paints over time

If you’re either at the point that your colours aren’t really useful anymore and you decided to invest in new ones or you just generally wanna know how to maintain your paints’ quality over time, here are some tips on that.

If you use watercolor in tubes, you should never ever leave them lying around open. This will cause them to dry out war quicker and they’ll lose their original quality in no time. 

Also you should watch out to store your tubes at room temperature and watch out that they aren’t laying directly in sunlight all the time, as heat can affect the binding agent in the watercolor  and therefore separate it from the paint pigments.

If you use watercolor pans you should also watch out that you store your paints in a dry area at room temperature so the paints don’t get moldy over time.

Additionally i would advise you to close the case in which you store your watercolor pans, while you aren’t actively using them, especially while the paints are still wet. If you don’t do it, you’re gonna struggle with dust settling on your paints which will affect the condition of your paints.

As a side note, you should clean your pans everytime you mix the different colors in them. Even though it might be a tedious work yet satisfying work, it will help you out in the long run, as you will always start out painting with a clean set of paints.