Picture of Altoids Tin Pocket-Sized Watercolor Box
This Instructable, my entry in the pocket-sized contest, will teach you how to build your own pocket-sized watercolor box.

Remember when you were a kid and had a watercolor box? Well, this is the grownup version of it, with high-quality pigments. The best thing about it is that you can carry it in your pocket since its made with the ubiquitous Altoids tin.

Oh yeah, this is my first Instructable.
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
To make this project, you'll need:

- Altoids Tin (shown in picture)
- White Fimo Clay (shown in picture)
- Cheap white plastic color-mixing palette (shown in picture) - OR - white enamel paint (Krylon spray can or such)
- Your selection of watercolor paints (more on this later)

- Dremel with cutting wheel attachment (shown in picture)
- Sandpaper (anything along the lines of 80 grit is good)
- Oven or Toaster Oven
- Toothpicks
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Nightauel7 months ago

I haven't done this yet, but I saw a tin done today using Dentyne "ICE" gum trays for the paint. A tray of six individual wells fits nicely into the tin, and you can fit two trays if you stack them and don't put anything else in the tin. Also, KILZ makes primers for all kinds of applications including this one. If you prime the tin with KILZ you can follow with any treatment you want including acrylic paint. Great info about the glycerin, and if you have any left over, you can add some water and blow giant bubbles that last for several minutes, for inspiration.

Great job--- I do this similarly with a Altoids tin.. , but just paint the inside of the tin white and let the paint go in blobs. No filler to separate them. Hint..Wet the pallet 1 hour with a few drops before use, will make the colors richer (instead of jamming your brush into dry colors) . A drop of Glycerin mixed in with the paint keeps them moist.
Hi, can you use Fimo to make the mixing palette on the tin cover? And also, how much does the Fimo shrink after you bake it? Great Instructable BTW, best I've read on the subject ;)
spystealth13 years ago
You could probably use Sugru instead as the paint might wash out better when you want to change colors and you wouldn't have to bake it.
RaNDoMLeiGH3 years ago
I really love this idea. I wouldn't have thought to use Fimo for the wells! Cool!

I also have one of those snooty Windsor and Newton travel things, got it with a 40% off coupon and birthday money a couple years ago. I use it sometimes at IHOP, hanging out with friends, making those little "artist trading card" size paintings. But this is way cooler.

I'm going to make a couple of these "kits", so when my buddies snicker at me, I'll pull out a tin for them and tell 'em to get cracking on their own ATC. I could even keep them in the glove box of the car for those spontaneous moments where you just have to paint something.

For those asking about rejuvenating dried out tube colors - I have two different types, Sakura Koi and Pentech, some of which dried out in the tube.

I got some empty plastic "jars" - the type that come attached to each other on a strip, the sort that come with paint-by-numbers kits. I cut up the metal tubes and mashed up the dried paint until it  fell apart into smallish chunks. Then I put it into the jar and taped the label to it.

One of my professionally arty friends said if I add just a drop or two of linseed oil it will soften it back up.

I like the idea of glycerine better (as someone suggested)... but in both brands' case, just using water was enough to bring it back to life. In a couple of instances -depended on the color- I had to work it a bit or to let it sit for a few minutes to soften up, but these were long-dried-out hard little lumps. Sakura Koi, a higher quality brand than Pentech, worked up a lot faster. The Pentech type took rather a while to soften but then it had also been dried up a lot longer. (Yeah I should have just tossed them all, but hey, it's watercolor, it should work even when dry, right? And the Sakura Koi was expensive.)

With the Altoid case method, where it's just enough paint to get you through a few paintings, just swiping it with water in the usual way would work just fine.

As to carrying the water... I often need water on the road (makeup jobs, etc). I use either contact lens saline solution (comes in a big bottle, cheap), or refill said bottle with distilled water and enough vodka to preserve it.

If you wanted a palette you could conceivably make one with fimo as well, sealing it with nail varnish or polyurethane, or put in a bit of plastic that fits in the lid if you have it to hand and don't want to spray paint. I use styrofoam plates when I do acrylic, but when I do watercolors I like separate wells. But you can just use a piece of silicone parchment paper (or two or three, they'll easily fit in the lid).

Such a cool idea - thanks!!
Mutantflame3 years ago
I made something like this a while back, and it really works well and catches peoples attention. I don't know how many times I had to explain how it was made...

Also, I used something called milliput, it is like fimo but does not need baking, and is quite a bit cheaper.

Good instructable!
artbox4 years ago
Cool! Thnx a lot!
jesebsp4 years ago
i recently took a water color class and thought about doing this. i have a lot of tins. i cover them with polymer clay. takes up less room than the tray i have (same one you show in this instruction).
Another option on the lid-palette? If you take a pair of needle-nose pliers you can actually pry back the metal prongs holding the lid to the container, spray the lid seperately and then put it back on after it dries.
When I have spray painted metal, I always heat my oven to 100 degrees Celsius, put the item in the oven, then let it sit until the oven is cold (or over night). That leaves a real nice and durable surface (don't know the word in English, directly translated we call it "hot-painted", like you normally have to have professionals with special hot painting chambers to do). Even did that to the top plate on a high end (custom built) amplifier I used to have, as the top plate was just thick steel, while the front was nice and black. I used matte spray paint like you use on cars (on the part at the bottom of the car, between the wheels) and it produced an unbelievably beautiful surface. You would never know it was painted at home by somebody who had never done it before. Since that I've been sold on that method, it just works so great! I think that method makes a much more durable surface than when you just spray paint it, a surface much less likely to peel as it is used over time.
jpmartineau (author)  BitternBright7 years ago
Yeah, good idea although I've always been reluctant to bend 'white iron" (don't know how it's called in english, sorry) as it's likely to break. Maybe with a little practice!
gheezi5 years ago
the atloid box is a great idea.  i use the lid as a mixing area.  it rusted. i customized mine a bit, and painted the inside of the lid with hard as nails clear nail polish.  most important.....clean off the lid of any oily residue from the sculpy before baking, cool, and generously coat the inside  lid.
When mixing the colors how do you avoid contaminating the other colors with only one brush? Or is it not really a concern?
Oooh! This is such an obvious idea, and yet it kind of isn't. Well, now I gotta buy another altoids can because I've already planned something for the one I'm about to finish. Either I'll keep it for myself, or give it to one of my little cousins.
That's the thing with those tins, they're always mysteriously disappearing. I only have one left... They're actually quite hard to find where I live (yet another thing that's hard to find). Anyone know where I can get some Altoids in Montreal? I know a place where they have the Willy Wonka (Sweet Tarts) tins but those are A) ugly, B) slightly larger than the Atoids, and C) I don't like the candy! I could always mail order, but that would be kind of ridiculous.
hi ! i am also living in montreal. did you ever find out where to find those rectangular altoids tins in montreal? also, where is the place that sells the Sweet Tarts tins? thanks!! anabel
jpmartineau (author)  anabel.khoo5 years ago
Altoids: no luck so far. I get what I need when I cross the border. The Sweet Tarts, I got at the Petro-Canada at the corner of L'Acadie and Sauvé. Size is pretty much the same, only slightly larger.
Frohickey5 years ago
I've been told that a drop of glycerin mixed to each colour in it's compartment will prevent it from drying to a hard surface. (when the untreated watercolour from a tube is allowed to dry, especially cheaper brands, it gets very hard and is difficult to dissolve with your brush and can damage it).
This idea is fantastic! Do you think it would work for gouache? I use both tubes and cake form but taking the tubes out and about can be quite messy. as they mix like watercolours I am wondering wether to try this,has any one else?
rtischio6 years ago
i am making this for my wife for xmas. i mixed the colors and when they dried some of them cracked. is that normal? if not is it really going to effect the way the paint "paints"? i am not a painter so i have no idea if i screwed it up or not.
I've had this same problem with watercolors before. The cracking is due to the paints being lower quality. Any "watercolor Kit" that cost 5 bucks from AC Moor or Michael's will crack and fall apart after a while. The better quality paint won't crack.
jpmartineau (author)  rtischio6 years ago
I used tube watercolors and it dried sort of "plasticky", but it didn't crack. Did you use tube colors, or cakes? Maybe someone else will know the answer.
i used tubes and mixed them with a little bit of water like the i'ble said.
mason01906 years ago
Cut the brush in half and you can keep it in the tin : D
Nice idea but its a warterbrush... the stem of the brush is filled with water, cutting it in half is not a good idea. yaknow I have run out of water before when carrying a larger sketchbook, we need an instructable which shows some easy method of carrying more water, like a bladder in another altoid tin.
jpmartineau (author)  ellsswhere6 years ago
I've cut mine and it probably keeps 2/3 of the water it used to do. I always have a water bottle on me, so it's not an issue.
really? how did you seal the severed end... glue or tape? My only concern would be having a brush that is too short to hold comfortably, how does it feel in your hand? Also I carry a bottle with me most of the time as well I just hate contaminating my water, and its awkward trying to fill it when you get to the bottom of the bottle. by the by just made my box with sculpey, works perfectly thanks
jpmartineau (author)  ellsswhere6 years ago
I chopped the handle about an inch from the end, removed about another inch or two, and reinserted the end inside the handle, so it "caps" it from the interior. I it with 10 minute epoxy. It holds well in my hand, but your mileage may vary.
angelcj6 years ago
methinks it might just be easier to lay a big chunk in the middle, and use the end of something square-ish to imprint compartments in the clay. They'd be more uniform at least. That's what I'm going to try, I'll tell you how it turns out.
snuzzle6 years ago
So awesome! I always keep a mini sketch pad in my purse, for when the urge/inspiration strikes, but this is incredibly awesome! I plan on doing this asap!
pyromomma6 years ago
What an excellent mind-shift using Fimo clay! Your idea opens all sorts of possiblilties for things that need compartments in Altoids tins. Thank you!

Also, regarding the brushes tip, I have been using water-brushes for several years (and paying dearly for them) - So I will add your tip to the related Instructable on how to make your own inexpensive waterbrush
I will make one of your watercolor tins for my next international trip (we do not check luggage, so small is better) and include a waterbrush and watercolor board cut into postcard shapes (another very cool instructable at

I will include some painters tape wrapped on a tiny fine-tipped marker (got one for $1 next to the cash register at my local grocery store- it is only 2 inches long) and I can tape the card down, use the marker to make fineline and details or write home, and it should all fit in a quart ziplock with room to spare.

Travel Art in a Baggie! I love it!!
Makes me want to go make plane reservations right now!

Thank you for such a fine fine FINE idea!

Favorited and plussed (wish that I could Plus Plus Plus it!)

(hmm, now what else needs small compartments in an Altoids tin?........)
Using baked-clay to make compartments is genius, and has infinite potential for customizing the inside of an Altoid tin. Thank you for this!!!

Commercial "travel paint kits" are expensive and tend to contain poor-quality art supplies. You get what you pay for in artist's materials, so using your idea I can now take my good paint in my choice of colors with me. (I plan to rubberband a paintbrush to the outside of the tin. Clumsy girl that I am, I've snapped many EXPENSIVE brushes over the years - by mistake of course! I never threw them out since the brush end is what matters; still good quality, just with short, splintered handles! Now I can call them portable!)

Acrylic painters could use this too. Most know to keep their paint moist by misting it with water even as they are painting. A misting of clean water on the paints, then some cling-wrap over the compartments prior to closing the lid will last at least a few days. Putting the container in the fridge will keep acrylic paints wet longer. And the idea would be to use up the paint they've put in their tin, not store it forever. Acrylic painters know that if they leave their palette of paint unused too long, even when sealed, that the paint becomes little colorful plastic blob-sculptures :)

This was a brilliant idea and you did a great job creating this Instructable to share with the world!
dunnos6 years ago
hey dude very nice instructable! one question: can i use an old water color box as a paint source? and if so how should i transfer it? keep it up! Dunnos
jpmartineau (author)  dunnos6 years ago
If you've got watercolor in cake form, you're better off keeping it like that. Maybe you can figure out how to fit the cakes in the altoids tin and make sure they stay put. Some people use double-sided sticky tape or plastic moulding to hold their half-pans in place.
cant i dissolve them in water and pour that into my box then w8 ( i dont really care about time) a long time for it to dry would that be a good idea?
kitsuken dunnos6 years ago
Really wouldn't advise that, you'd pretty mure remove the binding agent from the paint. It might go into a solid form again, but it would be much lower quality. I'd recommend what Jpmartineau said and try to alter the instructable a little so that the tin can take the cake versions. Here's a quick idea on what might work for that: Put the palette into the lid as shown Put a thin layer of Fimo on the bottom of the tim Wrap the cakes of paint in plastic wrap (the stuff used for wrapping sandwiches) Embed the paints into the clay in the rough layout you want Use the clingfilm to pull the paint back out Build up the raised areas in the fimo to make the sections Test the paint still fits properly (still in the clingfilm) Bake and then glaze the fimo (glaze makes it non-porous, so doesn't absorb paint) Take paints out of clingfilm and insert into the completed slots. Little more complicated than Jpmartineau's, but it should do the job for you
PPWEUBTBT? You need to work on your acrostic!

sorry, couldn't help it.
jpmartineau (author)  dunnos6 years ago
Cou can surely do that, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. I'd ask around on more specialized forums...
ok, thanks for your help
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