Handy containers for small amounts of paint

One of my favourite paints is Rosco ‘Super Saturated’ scenic paint .. I like it because it has a more liquid consistency than most other acrylics, thins and mixes easily, adheres better than most to non-absorbent surfaces, covers incredibly well and dries almost completely matt! However, a major disadvantage is that it is only available in 1litre tubs .. really rather prohibitive in cost if you’re not a scenic painter and if you want a full range of colours! Added to that, the paint doesn’t keep very well once opened .. after about a year on average some of the colours start to smell, curdle or later still develop a thick skin of mould (but see postscript with solutions below). A couple of years ago I seriously splashed out on a number of 1litre tubs, partly because I intended to provide this paint to be used on my courses. Rosco has put together a sample box with small amounts of each colour .. costing around £50 if you can get hold of one .. but these sample pots don’t hold very much and once the seal is broken the lids aren’t quite tight enough to keep the paint inside from drying out.

Rosco SuperSaturated range

I needed to find better and more secure containers to transport portioned amounts. I’ve tried the smallest available food containers and for a while these worked quite well, but even these are a little bit bulky to transport in large numbers, if one wants to provide an interesting range. In any case none that I tried were truly ‘watertight’ so I had to bind them for transit with electrical tape. It also meant that the paint could only be properly dispensed from them with a spoon. What it did seem to solve fairly well was the problem of the paint ‘going off’ because I could fill a number of these to the top and thereby reduce the air contact. Nevertheless, I just didn’t like working with them .. too messy!

using food containers for paint

Another of my favourite forms of paint are the bottled acrylics from DecoArt, shown below. These are certainly not the richest colours but in all other respects the paint behaves surprisingly well for an inexpensive hobby-paint! Like the Rosco these acrylics are dense but liquid. But in this context it’s perhaps the bottles that have impressed me most of all .. they keep the paint completely where it’s supposed to be and allow it to be dosed in the smallest droplets needed. I’ve never had any leaks from these when carrying them around and when I’ve refilled empty ones with Rosco paint its appeared to keep for much longer.

DecoArt bottle acrylics

I tried to find identical ones online a while ago but couldn’t. But then, once ‘pound shops’ really started to get corporate and become a feature of almost every High Street I came across these in 99p Store, in packs of four as ‘travelling beauty bags’ .. or something like that .. containing shampoo, shower gel etc. They’re the same size as the DecoArt bottles, which hold a little more than 60ml of paint, but always square and made from a slightly harder plastic. I’ve never had the courage to use the contents!

travelling wash bag

But the bottles are almost perfect for paint! .. at least any paint that is liquid enough to be poured into them. Because they’re not quite as squeezable as the DecoArt bottles it’s best if the paint is cut with a small amount of water and .. if you’re familiar with the ‘ketchup bottle jab’, it will help at times! But their squareness is convenient when packing and, I suppose most of all, at 99p for four they’re cheaper than any options I’ve seen online unless you want to buy them in the hundreds.

using 'travelling bag' bottles for paint

As a postscript to this little piece celebrating small plastic bottles! .. I started trying to find out the best ways of preserving the Rosco paint and others that are predisposed to deteriorate and develop mould over time. It may not be simply a case of having to scrape off the mould layer .. the whole consistency of the paint or medium underneath may have altered and become useless. In addition the mould itself may be harmful to health, so it seems to me that prevention from the outset would be far wiser than making do with scraping the mould off as/when it occurs. What for example is it in the paint or medium that ‘goes bad’ in the first place? Is it simply solved by eliminating air contact? .. packing a layer of cling-film down on the paint surface when storing, or pouring a thin layer of distilled water, or even oil, over it? I was given these and other helpful suggestions when I posted the question on the Society of British Theatre Designers facebook page. A little later I received a very helpful confirmation from Jenny Knott, Paint Product Manager for Rosco Laboratories, which is worth quoting in full:

“Most mold/bacteria growth in paint is caused by introducing it into the paint.  Always use a clean, dry utensil to take paint out of the container.  If you use a wet stir stick to scoop the paint out, the water has bacteria in it so it will introduce bacteria into your paint.
If you have mold/bacteria on the paint, scrap all of it off then you can either put a couple of drops of pine oil floated on the top or plastic wrap over the top of the paint surface to seal it from the air.
Another thing you can do is to float distilled water on the top surface of the paint to protect the surface.”
In addition I would imagine that the colder the paint can be stored the better .. apart from freezing! I guess that these safeguards work best from the outset and that probably once the medium has become contaminated there’s really nothing that can be done to purify it again and that whatever can be salvaged probably has a short life, if it still works at all. I’d also imagine that all of the above applies to any water-based medium .. I know that it also happens with Idenden texture medium for example. I’ve just added one suggestion of my own which has worked for me so far .. decanting into smaller, separate, sealed containers.


5 thoughts on “Handy containers for small amounts of paint

  1. You can get additives for paint that prevent the growth of mold. Look for one that says it can be used for indoor paints. Figuring out the proportions to add to small quantities will require some careful calculation. In the USA one such product is Zinsser ADD-2

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