I really love metal watercolor palettes, but I don't love the way many of them are setup or organized. Unless you use a flat brush, the pans are nearly always situated the wrong direction. Also, the metal pan clips/inserts take up valuable real estate that could otherwise be used for paint.
Today I'm sharing a peek inside my collection of metal watercolor palettes along with ideas for organizing your own metal palette. I've rearranged the guts of all these palettes to hold various amounts and sizes of pans so you can easily see how much you can stuff inside each tin.
Now no one in their right mind really needs the number of palettes that I have photographed above. (But hey, if you want that many, more power to you!) I have a lot of palettes and paints for one reason only... I host this website.
In my pre-SJ life, I only owned three palettes—a small travel tin, a porcelain studio palette, and a spare metal palette to store extra, filled pans. That was more than enough for my needs, but I'll happily admit that it's fun to play with these palettes and modify them for my personal use.
May these ideas encourage you to play with a palette until it's perfect for you!
[The palettes in the photo are featured below from top left, clockwise. Article contains affiliates, so thanks!]
Favorite Supplies for Reorganizing Palettes
These are my two favorite and nearly indispensable supplies for hacking a metal watercolor palette. I first heard about Blu-Tack from Jane Blundell who recommends it to hold pans in place. I've had trouble with other sticky tacks not holding, but Blu-Tack really sticks. One package may last forever, because I've had this one for several years and not even used half of it, mainly because Blu-tack is still sticky even after many reuses. Good stuff!
The other thing I like to keep handy is a small sheet of 1/8-inch (or 5 mm) thick craft foam. To modify a metal palette, I usually remove the insert but this can cause the pans to sit too deeply on the bottom of the tin. This makes it difficult to load a brush and will eventually damage brush tips. (For more on that, see this article.)
In the photo above, you can see the difference that craft foam can make in elevating the pans plus providing a smooth sitting surface. (A lot of metal palettes have an uneven bottom underneath those inserts.)
The only issue is that Blu-Tack won't stick to craft foam. Once the palette is closed, the pans will stay in place but if you need additional security, hot glue works. Instead of a foam sheet, another option could be to use foam sticky dots or double-stick foam tape to adhere pans, but I prefer the flexibility of single sheets because it allows me to exchange pans easily.
Daler-Rowney Aquafine Tin
Daler-Rowney is located in England but this mini watercolor set is easy to find in the U.S. and all around the U.K. (Jackson's has it for a nice price.) It measures only 4.5-inches or 11.5 cm wide, and it's very thin and lightweight. I really like how this tin feels in my hand.
I've had trouble with my 18-color plastic palette holding in too much moisture, so when I stumbled upon this tin, I had hoped it would be an affordable replacement. Alas, it's slightly smaller, but it can still comfortably hold 15 full pans or 28 half pans. (I rarely use half pans and only own a few, so use your imagination to fill in the hole in the middle.)
I like the flat, readymade mixing surface on the lid, and the pans need no additional support besides a bit of Blu-Tack to hold them in place. I suspect the paints are student grade so I haven't tried those, but the plastic insert is very flimsy and easy to remove. The only issue is that the keyring attachment on the bottom makes this palette a bit wobbly on a hard surface.
This option isn't in the lead photo of this post, but I wanted to share it with you because it's nearly identical to the Daler-Rowney tin albeit much less expensive. Cheap Joe's has recently introduced its Nomad line that offers several sizes of portable palettes along with empty pans at surprisingly affordable prices.
The American Journey pans are larger than normal pans (far left photo) but 12 full pans will fit in the large tin. Using standard size pans, 15 full pans or 28 half pans will fit. There's no mixing surface, but this could be fixed with a coat of spray paint.
Schmincke Square Tin
As far as I know, China hasn't begun making knockoffs of these 4x5 inch square watercolor palettes yet, and they're rather hard to find. Schmincke doesn't sell this tin empty but instead offers it only once or twice a year as an "anniversary" or "limited edition" set.
The bonus of the limited availability is that the palettes are usually fairly priced and come stocked with Schmincke watercolors. When the Daler-Rowney tin (above) wouldn't work as a replacement for my 18-color palette, I ended up purchasing this one in a set from Jackson's Art. In the States, Wet Paint often carries them (there's a set available now for pre-order), and sometimes one will crop up on eBay.
Like all Schmincke tins, I love it. They really are the best for several reasons—they're extremely durable and, even without the insert, pans slip right in at the perfect size and height.
I've got an odd half pan stuck in the palette above because I'm almost out of this color and won't be restocking it, but the Schmincke square watercolor palette will comfortably hold 18 full pans, 34 half pans, or a hefty combination of both sizes.
If you're interested in a few fun ideas on how to hack this palette, Roz has a great post.
Schmincke Standard Tin
This 2.75 x 4.75-inch Schmincke metal palette (left) was the first watercolor tin I ever purchased. That was a couple of years ago, and it has been through a lot with me but is still going strong. I don't have it stocked at the moment, but you can see photos of this tin in action all throughout my blog.
Knockoffs now abound, and though they're a lot cheaper, they aren't Schmincke's design. Still, they'll work just fine and hold just as many pans. With the insert removed, that's 12 full pans or 21 half pans.
On the right is a palette by Honbay (Meeden is also popular) and though its metal is thinner than the Schmincke palette, it has nicely rolled edges that provide additional support. It's also deeper, so if you remove the insert, the pans sit a bit too low but this is fixable.
Joe Miller Travel Painter Palette
My excuse for purchasing this very inexpensive and very small (2.5 x4.5 inch) palette was to use it to test American Journey watercolors, but in truth, I just loved its pretty looks! This Joe Miller travel tin reminds me of an antique cosmetic tin and fits perfectly in my hand.
It was originally set up with the half-pan insert that's in the photo above the palette. This works well and holds 12 colors, has a cute little sponge, and room for a tiny travel brush that came with the set. I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I popped out the insert and retrofitted this palette with pans.
As you can see, it will hold 8 full pans plus two half pans, or 17 half pans. Unfortunately, there's no mixing surface and some of my generic pans are too tall for this tin's slim 5/8-inch height. (In case you're curious, Schmincke pans work fine.) Because of this, I'll probably restore it to its original glory, but these setups offer options.
Large Metal Watercolor Palettes
I'll lump these two together because they both work best as studio palettes or for someone who really can't live without a lot of colors. They're pretty heavy when stocked with paints, so I can't imagine traveling with these though they do have their purposes.
On the left is a Sennelier 8.5 x 2.75 inch palette that I've reorganized for my daughter. She prefers markers and acrylics but occasionally likes to dabble in watercolors. Since she only wants to paint for a short period and isn't experienced with watercolors, she doesn't want to spend a lot of time mixing colors. With the insert removed, this palette holds a whopping 22 full pans which are all the pretty colors that she needs.
But hey, if 22 colors aren't enough, this mega 8.5 x 4.5 inch palette on the right should work. (In the lead photo, it's the one with Schmincke written on the top because I'm testing these watercolors in the near future.) I only use this one for paint storage, but with the insert removed, it can hold a dizzying array of full and half pans.
With both of these palettes, I had to put craft foam in the bottom to raise the pans. In the Sennelier palette, there's also a small strip of craft foam wedged in a bit of extra space along the long edge. However, these small changes make these palettes extremely easy to fill and use.
Here are a few purchasing options:
- Meeden made the whopper palette and it's sold with or without pans, and they also offer one the same size as the Sennelier palette along with several other options.
- If you're only interested in the best, Schmincke makes plenty of sizes, but you'll pay dearly for them. However, if you plan to put your palette through its paces, I highly recommend this brand.
- Jackson's Art offers several types of these palettes (including Schmincke) and shipping can be surprisingly affordable to the U.S. and other countries.
Though you're probably already aware that you can make a watercolor palette out of nearly any metal tin, this one proves it. I fashioned this palette from a Faber-Castell pencil box, and I'm currently using it to store my extra M. Graham paints. Though there's no mixing surface and the metal is rather flimsy, the depth is perfect for watercolor pans so it works fine for my studio needs.
I've written a few more articles to help you put together an excellent watercolor palette, so you may want to scroll through the posts below. Hope this helps, and happy painting!