Introduction: Movable Pallet Altoid Tin Watercolor Set

Picture of Movable Pallet Altoid Tin Watercolor Set

There are many Altoids Tin Pocket Watercolor Paint sets out there in Instructibles Land... and for those, I think you all.  But I wanted something a little more adaptable and conformed to some artists' standards.  I am a big fan of 1/2-Pan watercolors by Winsor & Newton, VanGogh, and other paint companies.  I love my Winsor & Newton field set, but wanted something a little smaller.  W&N's pocket set is nice but a little too spartan.  So, after reading many of the Instructibles here, I set off to make an Altoid tin watercolor set based on artists's 1/2-Pans and with interchangeable parts.  On with the show...

Step 1: The Pans

Picture of The Pans

First, I needed some 1/2-pans.  My local store did not carry empty ones.  You COULD do this project with filled 1/2-pans from your favorite manufacturer... I suggest Winsor & Newton's COTMAN line for the price verses quality... but other lines are good too.  All the following steps would be the same for factory filled pans (except for the "filling" stage... that would be... well... silly).

Step 2: The Tin

Picture of The Tin

Of course you need a clean Tin.  Altoids is not common here in Taiwan... but my family sends me a few in the mail.  I have also used this project with metal pencil boxes.  Metal construction is the key to this particular project.

Step 3: The Magnets

Picture of The Magnets

You will also need some thin, self-adhesive craft magnets.  These can be had many places.  I found mine at the Dollar Store for about... let me find that receipt... oh!  It was a Dollar.

Step 4: The Sticky

Picture of The Sticky

Now we are going to glue these (with the self-adhesive on the magnet) to the bottoms of some 1/2-pans.  Press them on firmly.  You MAY need to cut the magnets to fit, as I did.  Normal craft scissors should do the trick.

Step 5: The Paint

Picture of The Paint

Fill the pans with your choice of paint.  I wanted Winsor & Newton Artist's Grade... but my checkbook said Winsor & Newton's Cotman student's grade.  Still Cotman's student grade (as well as VanGogh and Rembrandt) is still a world above many company's artists' grade colors.  Your milage may vary. 

Step 6: The O.C.D.

Picture of The O.C.D.

I also label my pans for easy recharging later.

Step 7: The Lid

Picture of The Lid

Paint that lid white with some enamel spray paint so you have a mixing pallet!

Step 8: The Fit

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12 1/2-pans fit inside nicely... notice I also have two extra 1/2-pans for white and black (yes, yes, I know, REAL artists don't use black... I only eat it between paint strokes).  Don't crowd the pans too much, leave some finger room to pull them out later. Remember, the magnets make them movable and changeable and removable and delectable and and... sorry, I get excited.

Step 9: The Divider

Picture of The Divider

Place a wax paper sheet or thin plastic over the paints.  This could be an extra pallet for mixing or just a barrier for your tools to rest on top.  This is especially true right after you have loaded the paints as they are STICKY... you know... let them DRY first over night before you do this... you see... I did this while they were wet and they got stuck to the paper.

Step 10: The Tools

Picture of The Tools

Now you can add some tools to the top... there's room!  Cut down some brushes and a sponge and you are in business!

Step 11: The Comparison

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Here is the Altoids tin next to my Winsor and Newton (no, I do not work for them... I just like them... OKAY?) Deluxe Field Kit.  The field kit is THE BEST... but sometimes I don't want to just throw it in a bag "just in case" I need it.  I want to take better care of it.  For those times I need to travel light and I am not sure I will paint... here comes the TIN! 

Step 12: The Big Brother

Picture of The Big Brother

This process works for any metal pencil box.  Here is my homemade Studio Set of Cotman colors (all 40... well... all 37 I could buy locally... still waiting for the remaining 3 tubes in the mail... hence the empty pans in the large set).  With this set up, I can use all my studio colors... but when I want to travel... I can CHOOSE the colors I need for the day I will have, place them out of my Studio Set and into my Pocket Set.  I can move colors around... I can take them out, and place them on the lid-mixing-pallet to more readily access the triad of colors I am using.  Oh joy! Oh rapture! Oh my aching head!  The Studio set is itself a portable set, with room under the tray for more brushes and tools (it is a tray that sets in the tin just under the lid, like most two level metal pencil boxes).
The Haggard


rebeccahung (author)2017-10-17

When you fill the trays, do you use watercolor paint directly from the tube? I saw another tutorial where the person mixed the paint with water in the tray, then let it dry.

ArthurK38 (author)2017-06-03

Does it make a mess if it is accidentally held upside down though?

thehaggard (author)ArthurK382017-06-03

once dried? Not at all.

DragonMac (author)2016-10-17

here I thought this was my original idea, but I'm glad it's out there for others to use. It works well. I used a bunch of free magnetic business cards and some glue instead of buying. FYI. Sources of empty pans. Daniel Smith no longer sells them. Amazon does. Plus the big mail order art suppliers such as Dick Blick. Enjoy

Sylviama (author)2015-11-21

Love the magnets and changing colors. Love the big tin, too.

thehaggard (author)Sylviama2015-11-21

Thank you!

BeatriceC3 (author)2015-08-31

edasenbrock (author)2011-05-20

As a watercolor artist, I love this idea, but I would never recommend COTMAN or any other "student" paint for cost/quality. There is no comparison and if you are going to take the time to do a painting you might as well give yourself every advantage you can. Use high quality stuff. Even if you do something you really love you will never know how nice it could have looked if you used quality materials. However, I'm a snob.

m3mory (author)edasenbrock2015-05-19

ignore the negitive comments missy ignorence is abound lol

I work selling art works for a living so i totaly understand why you would pay for the best materials you can. Keep painting your way maybe il be selling your works somtime.

ilovebirdy (author)edasenbrock2011-06-25

Cotman is just fine.Expensive watercolors won't magically improve your work. It's not about the brand you use, it's about either the skill you bring to it or the act of enjoying what you're doing. I personally know quite a few artists that use student grade paints (or even hobby paints) in their work. I use Cotman and I live off the work I produce with them.

Premium grade watercolors can have properties that make them difficult and frustrating for beginners or hobbyists; many expensive brands of tube paint have additives that mean they will never dry in pans, or they develop mold outside the tube.

And well... why would any self proclaimed snob even be interested in an inexpensive Altoids travel palette when you could be using a $50-100 collectors edition bijou box? Just sayin.

m3mory (author)ilovebirdy2015-05-19

i agree and dissagree with your comment. I am an art gallery coordinator and Any "artist" selling there work will use the best quality materials possible. it creates longjevity for the life of the painting, and increases its value and resale value over time. If your a serious artist get better materials, no one wants a half faded watercolour on there walls making them feel cheated.

mostho (author)ilovebirdy2012-04-24

Mee too I like to use watercolours, expecially for sketching, as hobby and relax.
And I like Winsor&Newton Cotmans. BTW I use artists for fewer inspired projects.

It's true that if you can, you should use the best quality colors if you are an artist (aka you live with the artwork you produce, not hobby).

But it's more true what you wrote:
"it's about either the skill you bring to it or the act of enjoying what you're doing".
Enojoying to go outside in the park for sketching, just an excuse to enjoy.
Worth to live!


kateradoart made it! (author)2015-02-15

Thanks for the awesome idea! I made this a few months back and it goes with me everywhere. I thew in a mini paintbrush that I had from an old watercolor kit as a backup and cut some scrap cloth to fit in the lid and keep everything in place when I'm traveling. Putting the magnets on the bottom of the pans was brilliant! Thanks for sharing :)

SparkySolar made it! (author)2015-02-01

I improved my effort, my brushes are held in place by small SUGRU

( Home made clamps



SparkySolar made it! (author)2014-10-18

I got them I just today remembered to get the magnets ( silly me )

and it is still taking some time to dry, BUT ITS SO WORTH IT

Thank you so much

fahnzy (author)2011-07-31
Here is a source for the empty pans. Great idea, thanks.

kariswg1 (author)fahnzy2014-02-09

wish I'd seen this reply two years ago....

kariswg1 (author)2011-06-28

Great idea, my only problem is that I have never seen the pans sold separately in any art supply store that I have been in. Even downtown Chicago stores. I even looked online. Any suggestions?

Skullflower (author)kariswg12014-02-08

In case anyone else was having this problem, I found some on Amazon.
Half Pans:
Full Pans:

kariswg1 (author)Skullflower2014-02-09

thanks for the information.... ;)

thehaggard (author)Skullflower2014-02-08

Excellent! Thank you!

thehaggard (author)kariswg12011-06-28

Down the list of comments you can read:
The half-pans are from but I have also used small bottle caps in this same way.

There are also other sources...keep looking at places like Blick Arts and others...ask them in email if it is not on their page.

mostho (author)2012-04-24

You did a really great portable palette!

mole1 (author)2011-12-09

The magnet idea is brilliant!

leerose (author)2011-04-19

I realize you've probably gotten plenty of similar comments, but I just had to say... that's sheer brilliance to use removable trays. The bit at the end, about being able to switch out trays with your normal sized studio paints? I felt pretty floored by what a good idea that was. Being able to easily take out different kinds of colors just hadn't occurred to me; to be honest, at first I thought the merit behind your watercolor tin was the "no bake' aspect (which I love a lot.) Turns out to not even be the half of it lol
Great intructable, and thank you for sharing! (And sorry if my post is hard to understand... I kinda should have gone to bed hours ago, so I wouldn't be surprised if my typing is less than coherent lol)

thehaggard (author)leerose2011-04-20

That is very nice of you! Thanks so much!

sscape (author)2011-04-11

Yarka makes a really good lower cost wet poured watercolor. It's already in a good case and the paints can be refilled as needed with the tube color of your choice. It is much simpler and works fine. If you want you can paint the inside of the lid white. This is a really really neat and easy way to go. If you really need a metal tin you can substitute test tube caps or any small cap for the pans. You can also use a test tube as a source for water, too. Any tiny cap or lid could work.

thehaggard (author)sscape2011-04-11

I have experimented with small caps and those do work well, but I liked the square pans for there tight fit against each other. I am not a big fan of Yarka, but I do appreciate the commercial kits... I have a Winsor & Newton cit or two myself... but this was about making one's own. :) I have a few students who can't swing the cost of a commercial set. This kit gave them hope of a pocket watercolor sketch set they could afford. But, after they get into it, they end up with a W&N or Hobien pocket kit. (We don't see Yarka here in Taiwan).

pie popper (author)2010-08-01

These are great! If I only had the supplies! X[] :( Great job!

thehaggard (author)pie popper2010-08-01

Not TOO hard to find. THe half-pans are from but I have also used small bottle caps in this same way. The tins can be any candy or pencil tin, and the paint, well, take your pick. The magnets are not so hard to find, I see them everywhere, but I am sure you could order them on-line from or from

pie popper (author)thehaggard2010-08-02

Yeah, I have the magnets, I may have the paint, but I'd have to change my other Altoids kit into this Altoids kit. XD Or, just get some new ones! (I think my mouth likes this idea better!)

bluefly1215 (author)2010-07-27

AWESOME job and idea. Like the part of interchangeability. I have a few questions:
How large is the Studio set tin and where did you find it?
What paper do you take with you?
What substrate so you use for the support?

thehaggard (author)bluefly12152010-07-27

Thank you. The studio set is a tin from a local stationery store. When I say local, I mean here... in Taiwan. It is the largest metal pencil box I have ever seen. I have also found that the tins the colored pencils and water color pencils come in can also be used for this. Just take out the plastic insert they come with. I take a pad of spiral bound 200g cold pressed or rough paper. It is a Taiwanese brand. And I am not sure what you mean by the "substrate used for support." Happy to help. M

lycoris3 (author)2010-07-23

cool. I really never thought of using my altoid tins that way. I personally love the texture of the watercolors, and would like a transportable way to keep them. This is much better then the little cheep trays the dollar store sells. btw, I live in America.

thehaggard (author)lycoris32010-07-24

Thanks man!

l8nite (author)2010-07-10

Ive been working mainly in acrylic for the past 10yrs or so, I like w&n as well. I recently found an unopened box of 100 plain white greeting cards and envelopes at a thrift store for a dollar and thought they would be great to get me back into watecolors. This is a really neat idea for portabilty and a nicely done "ible"

caarntedd (author)2010-07-08

This is really great. I haven't read all the 'ibles for altoid tin water colour sets, but has anyone tried an ice cube tray for the paint pans?

thehaggard (author)caarntedd2010-07-10

I use ice trays of white plastic in my studio... but a little large for my pocket. They are good for holding paint, cheap, and tough.

jace1127 (author)2010-07-08

super cute idea.

thehaggard (author)jace11272010-07-08

Many thanks!

kcls (author)2010-07-08

Nice job!

thehaggard (author)kcls2010-07-08


kcls (author)thehaggard2010-07-08

You're welcome.

brunoip (author)2010-07-08

Someday someone would do something like this.
Great work

thehaggard (author)brunoip2010-07-08

I hope many more do something like this. :) Thanks!

About This Instructable




More by thehaggard:Modify a Pencil Holder to keep all pens and pencils STANDING up.Make your own sketch journal with holdersMovable Pallet Altoid Tin Watercolor Set
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