Watercolour Paints Cracking


Do you have watercolor pans that crack like the one in the picture above? It could be due to too much water!

If you use watercolor paint in a pan, as most people do, you may have noticed that some paints dry and crack. If you have such colors, it is probably your own fault.

What is the reason for this?

When you close the paint box and still have wet watercolor pans, this will happen. Using a lot of water is good, it’s part of watercolor painting, but not in the pans. If you have a really wet watercolor pan and trap the moisture by closing your watercolor box, the whole paint will absorb the water and cause the paint to swell and become soft, when it then slowly dries in the closed paint box, cracks and crackles appear on the surface of the paint. Then this process is repeated at each painting occasion, then the problems worsen and the color eventually becomes so dusty and grainy that it can not be used. This can also cause the paint to gradually shrink and come loose from the pan.

A cracked paint on the left and a paint that has shrunk and come loose from the pan on the right.
A cracked paint on the left and a paint that has shrunk and come loose from the pan on the right.

How to avoid this?

  • Use water in your mixing cup, not in the watercolor pans. Try to keep the moisture in your watercolor paints to a minimum.
  • Do not use your largest brush to take paint from the pan, feel free to use a smaller synthetic brush for this. Then you do not risk getting a lot of water left in the watercolor pan
  • Do not close your watercolor box immediately after you have finished painting, leave it open for a few hours so the paint has a chance to dry before closing the box. If you have painted somewhere else, open the box when you get home, and let the colors dry.

Can you save a cracked watercolor pan?

I would probably say: no, it’s gone, buy a new one. But you can always try to moisten the whole color so it gets really wet, add new water gradually until the color is soft. Then let it dry outside, not trapped in a box.

You can see online that some people recommend adding Glycerin or honey to the paint surface, but I would not do that. It is better to use only water, even though it is the water that caused the problem.

Some watercolor tubes behave in the same way when they, squeezed out, are allowed to dry trapped in a box.

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