Miniature paint doesn’t require a lot of special care and maintenance, but it can be damaged if exposed to freezing temperatures for an extended period of time. If you have paints in transit during a cold snap, or you’ve realized you had your paint stored in an unheated area like a garage, how can you tell if your paint is okay?
A little while ago I swatched out some of the colours from the Reaper Virtual Expo swag boxes. People were disappointed I didn’t have all the paints to swatch, so Sadie, the Reaper paints mixologist, packed up the rest to send them to me. She did that just before severe winter weather hit large areas of the United States. My package made it out of Reaper in time, but was trapped in UPS storage facilities and vehicles for days. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for scans of the first set of swatches.)
When my package finally arrived, I thought I had better check the condition of all the paints. I let them sit and warm up for a few hours, and then tested all of them. I made a video of the testing process, so you can see how I checked and what a cold damaged paint looks like. I’m also including some pictures here in this post.
There were 14 paints total in my package. Two sets of six were packed in Reaper’s FastPalette packaging. This is a thin plastic tray inside of a thin card box. Then there were two sample paints that were loose in the box. (Everything was secured with air bubbles, I mean loose in the sense of not being in a blister or other packaging.)
Example of FastPalette packaging.
Out of those 14 paints, one of the loose sample paints is damaged and unusable, and the other 13 are fine. Pigments vary considerably, and there are some differences in the acrylic formulas used for various colours. So perhaps pigment or base made the difference, or perhaps the packaging of the boxed sets help insulate them. Whatever the cause, some paints are more sensitive than others. Having been exposed to weather cold enough to damage paint doesn’t mean that all exposed paints are automatically ruined.
In the video I open up the bottles of the two loose sample paints and dispense some paint onto an index card to examine. One of the paints acts as I would expect. You can see in the picture below that the other paint has been damaged. The pigment and some of the binder has curdled to a lumpy cottage cheese texture, which has completely separated from a runny fluid component. The problem bottle was shaken on a vortex mixer for some time prior to testing.
I have had a previous experience with this. In one of the first learn to paint kits I bought, the tub of yellow paint was grainy and slightly curdled. It was not as extreme as the condition of the paint above, so there is some variation with this. I later learned that other people who bought that same set also had problems with the yellow paint. Likely it had gotten cold while in storage at the distributor warehouse that supplied my local game store.
So if you do have a damaged paint the issue might not be quite as obvious as this, but you should be able to see a notable difference in the texture and consistency of a damaged paint compared to a normal one.
EDIT TO ADD: To my knowledge there is no way to restore a paint damaged by freezing. You can’t add water or medium and stir everything back into suspension the way you usually can with a paint where the liquids and solids have separated after a long period of not being stirred. When paint freezes some of the components coagulate or congeal in a way that is a permanent structural or chemical change. If you experience this with a newly bought product, you can contact the retailer or the manufacturer and request a replacement.
In the video I just did a simple shake test on the other 12 bottles, but later I swatched them out. Six of the paints were metallics, and I was particularly concerned about those. In my years of doing paint maintenance (and not always being perfect about doing paint maintenance), I have found that metallic colours dry out and get ruined a lot more quickly than standard matte colours. So I was concerned they might be more easily damaged by cold, as well. All of the metallics in my shipment were fine.
Swatches straight from the bottle, still a little wet. The top six colours (one swatched twice) are the Reaper Virtual Expo Punk colours. The bottom six are the Cyber Metal colours.) These are photographs not the scans I did of swatches in my other post, so may not be as true to colour.
Swatches after drying for a few hours. Paint still looks normal and fine.
Unaffected vs cold damaged paint after drying for a few hours. The ring on the paper shows how separated out the liquids were from the solids in the paint mix.
I hope that helps give you a little more of an idea of what to look for if you’re concerned that you have paints that have been exposed to cold temperatures.
Snowflake photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels