Why do watercolors crack? (And how to fix it!)

Especially if they haven’t been used for a while, watercolors in pans tend to crack pretty easily over time. What causes this and how do you prevent it?

Over a longer period of time, watercolors tend to dry out. As a result, they shrink and crack. This does not really damage your paint, as it can be fixed by simply applying water with a brush to it. This reactives the paint and closes the openings.

watercolor paint with a brush

What causes watercolor paints to crack?

As watercolors age, their water evaporates, and they become brittle and dry. While it’s not a lot inside the actual pans, it still holds it together.

As soon as it’s gone, the paint fractures and eventually cracks.

Usually, this happens after paints haven’t been used for a long time. When you were a kid, you probably used watercolor paints in school. Most of those would probably be cracked by now, as it probably has been a couple of years since you last used them.

If you were also wondering, when watercolors expire, you should click here.

Repairing cracked watercolors

It’s a pretty straightforward process. 

All you have to do if your watercolors crack is to reapply water to them. It’s important to only use a limited amount, so that the paints can actually dry.

I would recommend using a brush to apply the water and swirling it around a bit, just like you would when painting.

As a result, the paints are activated and forged back together. Let the watercolors air dry for a bit and they will look as good as new.

There may still be some cracks resulting from the process, so you can repeat it and maybe do it for a bit longer.

The longer you stir the paints, the greater the chance they will seal again.

Be aware, however, that you do not need to “repair” cracked watercolor paints.

I will talk more about that in just a moment, but watercolors work similarly regardless of whether they are cracked up.

As you try to close the cracks, you will notice that the paint on your brush looks the same, so there really is no difference between cracked and not cracked watercolor. 

If you’re unsure, whether watercolor paintings can be laminated, you can find out, by clicking here.

paint, box, painting

How to keep watercolors from cracking

In the first section, I mentioned that watercolor cracks due to a lack of humidity. 

In the previous part, I explained how to fix cracked paints, but the same procedure also applies to paint that isn’t yet cracked. 

If you’d like to keep your paints in good condition, even though you aren’t using them right now, you can simply spray them with water every 2-3 months.

If you live in an arid environment, perhaps you should do this every 1-2 months instead since your watercolor paints will dry out more quickly.

All of that can be done without even using a brush, since it can be quite tedious to clean your brush after each pan that you apply water to.

Using a sprayer to spray a bit of water on your palette should be sufficient to ensure your paints remain intact.

Spray it on and let it soak for a while. After the paint has dried, you can store it away again.

Wait until it is fully dried to prevent mold and bacteria from growing. 

The best way would obviously be to use your paints on a regular basis, but sometimes there’s just no time, or you’re using a different palette in the meantime.

Speaking of molding, I would also recommend reading my article about the topic, whether watercolors can mold. You might be surprised.

Is paint damaged by cracks?

Cracked paint doesn’t really affect it at all, as I’ve mentioned before.

You can still use it the same way you did before, since it’s basically just split. If you haven’t painted with your watercolors in a while, I would merely suggest cleaning the paints with a slightly wet tissue or brush before you start.

Over time, watercolors in pans will accumulate quite a bit of dust etc., which could mess with your colors, so that might become a problem over time.

Apply very little water with a clean brush and stroke the paint a few times. After you clean your brush, do the same thing for each pan you’re using.

watercolor paintings with sharp white edges

Do watercolors expire?

There is a question that comes up quite often when discussing cracked paints: what is the expiration date of watercolor paints?

Watercolors generally don’t expire. At least those in pans don’t. Their surfaces can get a bit dusty and dirty over time, but if they are cleaned for a few minutes, this will disappear.

Though it’s rare, watercolors in tubes can “expire” after a few years. If the caps aren’t closed properly and air is able to get inside, they will harden and won’t be usable the same way they were before.

However, that’s rather rare, and it can also be reactivated.

In general, you won’t have to worry about watercolor paints expiring, since they can last a lifetime if they’re taken care of properly.

If you’d like to learn more about watercolor painting, I would suggest reading Can Watercolor Paints Give Off Fumes and Is Handmade Paper Suitable For Watercolor?

watercolor brushes next to watercolor paint


A watercolor paint cracks because the water in it evaporates. As a result, the paint shrinks and cracks appear. Cracks can easily be sealed by using paints like you usually would. As long as there is no dust in the paint, cracks generally do not affect its performance or appearance.

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