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Do Watercolors Expire?

Say you’re going through your art supplies, and you find some watercolor paints that you forgot you had. If they are just a couple of years old, you are probably wondering if you can still use them or if they have expired. Many paints can go bad depending on their shelf life and environment.

So, do watercolors expire? Watercolor paints can expire, but it will take several years for that to happen. Depending on how you store your paints, a tube of watercolor can last for about five years and a pan of watercolors can last you at least ten years. In most cases, you can try to revive your old watercolors, but there are times that they aren’t salvageable. 

When your watercolors do expire, how are you supposed to tell? They will be dry, separated, or even have an odd smell. You should be able to save watercolors that are just dried out or separated, but if there is a smell you will be better off replacing them. Let’s read on to find out more!

Do Watercolor Paints Dry Out?

Watercolor paints do have the potential of drying out if they aren’t stored properly. One issue that can cause your watercolor paints to dry out is not closing the lid tight enough when you are finished. This applies to both tube and pan watercolors. If the lid isn’t closed tightly, oxygen can get in and cause the water to evaporate and dry out your paints.

Watercolor tubes have the additional problem of getting paint on the threads, preventing the lid from closing all the way. You can prevent this by always cleaning your threads and lid before you put your watercolors paints away.

Watercolor paints will also dry out if you store them in an area that is too hot. If the paints are too warm or placed in direct sunlight, they will also begin to dry out. You should keep your watercolors in a cool, dry, dark area to keep them from drying out. 

How to Tell If Watercolor Paints are Bad

There are several different ways that you can tell if your watercolor paints have gone bad. The first thing you might notice when your watercolors go bad is they will shrink in the pan. This is slightly annoying since you will have less paint to work with, but you can still use the paint at this point.

My favorite and top pick is always Arteza Watercolor Paints. They have so many different colors, and the quality is amazing! I usually use Arteza Paints for all my projects.

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Another thing you will notice when your watercolor paints go bad is they will start to separate. This is most common with watercolor paints in tubes. Separating happens after a period of time and is the binding agent separating from the pigment. This is also still an issue that you can work past. You will just need to mix them back together.

One of the most problematic ways your watercolor paints will go bad is by growing mold. Mold will grow when moisture gets trapped in the tube or pan with your watercolors.

This is most likely to happen when the paints are stored in an area with high levels of humidity. It can also happen if you accidentally get water into your paints before you close them up.

How Do You Fix Dry Watercolor Tubes?

When your watercolor tubes dry out, you don’t need to panic. While you can’t fix the paint and still use the tube, you can still use the paint. If the paint is dry but you can still squeeze it through the tube if you try hard enough, squeeze it into a spare palette. The paint will slowly dry, and you can use it as you would a pan watercolor with water and a paintbrush.

If the paint is hard and you can’t squeeze it out of the tube, you are going to need to cut the tube open to access the paint. You can either add water directly to the tube or remove the dried paint. When you remove the dried paint, add it to a bowl and mic it with water. You can them place it in a palette and allow it to dry. Now you can use it like a pan watercolor.

I recommend storing watercolor paints in paint pans like this one. It’s perfect because you can mix paints, and store them in airtight pans.

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If you want to keep your watercolor paints in the same consistency they were in the tube, you can try to add glycerin or Gum Arabic to the paint. Remove the paint from the tube and grind it up. You can then mix in a few drops of either gum Arabic or glycerin. Make sure you add only a few drops at a time to prevent adding too much and ruining the consistency.

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You will want to get the Gum Arabic that is in liquid form, and for painting purposes, not the powder one. The powder version is typically used for food purposes, and can damage your paint.

How Long Do Tube Watercolors Last?

There isn’t really a set answer for how long tubes of watercolor paints will last. It depends on how well they are taken care of and how they are stored. A tube that is stored properly in a cool, dark, dry place will last significantly longer than one that isn’t. Your tube also won’t last very long if the lid isn’t closed properly.

When watercolor tubes are taken care of and stored how they should be, they will remain good for use for about five years. This timeline can vary as some people have used their tubes for longer than five years while others have used their tubes for less than five years. The best way to get the most out of your tubes is to take care of them.

Final Thoughts

It is always important to understand how long your art supplies will last for and whether or not they will expire. When it comes to watercolor paints, they can expire, but it will take several years. Watercolor tubes are usually good for around five years while pans are good for a minimum of ten years. 

You can tell when your watercolors go bad because they will start to separate, grow mold, or dry out and become really hard. You will be able to save dried out watercolor paints, but if they are moldy and have an odd smell, it is best to throw them away and buy new ones.

Make sure to follow all my tips and recommended products to ensure your watercolor project turns out great! Also, don’t forget to check out my other articles for all your painting Q&A’s. Happy painting! 

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