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How to Keep Acrylic Paints from Drying Out on Your Palette

Published Aug. 27th 2009

After publishing Rose Welty’s original article on keeping acrylic paints wet, several readers wrote in with their own tips and techniques for avoiding prematurely dry acrylic paint. Here they are:

1. Plastic pots and tin foil

“I like to mix my basic colors (usually 2-3 reds, greens, blues, yellows, a white and a black and some neutrals) in little plastic pots. I’ll then wrap tin foil tightly over them when not in use. Adding a dab of water before storage keeps them wet but can sometimes create mold if left for too long.”


2. Interactive acrylics with a Masterson palette

“I use Interactive acrylics in a Masterson palette with a sponge. Paint can stay open for up to 3 weeks.”

-Carolyn Doherty

3. Carry-out containers, shipping foam, and wax paper

“To keep my acrylic paint from drying up I use one of those carry-out Oriental diner cantainers. The lids close very tight, which is what you want.

I also work in an office, so I get a lot of shipping boxes. I take the black shipping foam from the boxes and place them in the bottom of the carry-out container to get a “wet sponge” effect. You can put waxed paper over the wet foam for your palette. This seems to work fine, and my paint stays wet for many days with an occasional fine spray of water. . . perhaps once every two days and the cost is nothing!

So next time you eat take-out, do yourself a favor and don’t throw that container away!”


4. White dinner plates with a wet tissue

“For a palette I use a white dinner plate. The better the quality, the better the porcelain is, and the easier it is to clean.

To keep my acrylic paint out longer without drying, I tear a tissue in half and soak it in water, squeeze it out and leave it to the side of the plate. The moisture from this keeps the paint on the palette workable for far longer.

If I stop painting for a while, I just put another plate upside-down over the top of the first. This method keeps the paint workable for the next day or longer. Paint can last for up to three days this way.”

-Ray Fowler

5. Styrofoam plates, wet paper towels and wax paper

“Putting wet paper towels under wax paper works pretty well to keep acrylic paints moist while working. I often use one styrofoam plate as a palette, then fasten another one over the top of it with a rubber band to keep the paint workable. If I spray the paint beforehand, it will stay soft for a couple of days.”

-Mary Gordon

6. Dinner plate inside a resealable plastic bag

“I’ve found that covering a dinner plate with clear plastic wrap works great as a palette. Give it an occasional misting of water to keep the paints moist. When I want to save my paint for the next day, I slip the entire plate into a resealable gallon-size plastic bag. Works for me!”

-Gail Fuller

7. Glass dish with a rubber lid

“I use a glass casserole dish with a rubber lid, for when I need to seal the paint. Before painting, I put a paper towel down to cover the length of the dish, and then wet the paper towel. I then use inexpensive plastic food wrap (i.e. Glad Wrap) and lay it over the paper towel for my palette.

It’s not chic but hey, it works for me. Mostly I just love being able to keep acrylics for up to two weeks or more, especially if I’ve mixed a special color and don’t want to throw it away—what a waste!”

-Roxie Hannemann

8. Plastic cups and an airtight container

“I don’t use a stay-wet palette. Instead, I go for either a white china plate, a ceramic plate, or a piece of glass with a sheet of white paper underneath. None of these will scratch or stain.

While painting, I spray my acrylic paint lightly but regularly with clear water. If I need a larger quantity of a colour, I mix it in an empty yogurt container (or similar receptacle). Between painting sessions, I cover the remaining paint with a film of water.

If I know I’m going to need days or weeks on a painting, I put the paint in small plastic cups (soft cheese spread containers, actually) and then set them in an airtight container. After painting, I spray the paints lightly with water and seal the container. With this method, my acrylic paints stay workable for weeks. I have actually found acrylic paints that are still moist after as long as 3 months using this method.”


9. Ice cube trays and plastic wrap

“I use old plastic ice cube trays. It’s easy to contain colors separately, and simple to cover with plastic wrap.”


10. Big plastic syringes

“Acrylics drying is also a huge problem for me, especially the mixed colors. I use the big plastic syringes people use to give liquid medicines to children. I mix my colors (I use Golden Liquid Acrylics) then suck into syringes and dispense as needed.

Nothing I do on the palette stops my paint from drying so this seemed like the next best solution. Also, I purchased cases of syringes (in two sizes) because the individual syringes were very expensive at the pharmacy.”

-Barbara L Clark

11. Use tin foil like temporary paint tubes

“The less air the better. . . Make little tin foil pouches, and crimp and squeeze out the air for pseudo-tubes, until you’re ready to re-open, and paint some more!”

-Brian E. Mullin

Thanks to everybody that’s written in so far—if you have a unique tip of your own for keeping acrylic paint from drying out, email me and I’ll add it here.

Understanding the effect that color choices have on your artwork can greatly enhance your work. . . underestimating the importance of color theory, on the other hand, will often lead to paintings that lack that "wow!" factor which is so important in art.

There are many reasons why a painting might catch the eye or invoke emotion—but often, it's the color scheme that plays. . . read more

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