Cold Temperatures versus Miniature Paints

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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.)

IMG 0569Example 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.

Frozen paint1 cr

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. 

Frozen paint2 cr

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.

Rve paints wet crSwatches 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.

Rve paints dry crSwatches after drying for a few hours. Paint still looks normal and fine.

Frozen paint3 crUnaffected 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

8 thoughts on “Cold Temperatures versus Miniature Paints”

  1. Thank you for this post! I’ve been really worried about this recently… I live in Japan, where central heating is practically non-existent. We simply heat the room we’re in at the time. My painting room has no climate control at all, so the indoor temperatures can range from 6c in winter to nearly 40c in summer. Do you think I need to worry about my paints, or is it only a problem if they are actually frozen? My paints are form The Army Painter and Vallejo. Thanks again!

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    1. Hi Chris. I don’t have enough information to know with 100% certainty that you’re fine, but I think the issue is literally freezing. I suspect the issue is the fluidity of our paint, since I think tube artist acrylic paint can withstand a couple of freeze/thaw cycles. The issue is probably something along the lines that when the water in our more fluid paints freezes the pigment and polymer fall out of suspension with it and gum up. If you ever have a forecast for 0C or below weather, I would try to bring your paints into your heated room for the duration. I’m not aware of any greater or lesser issue with any brand of miniature paint, but again this is an area where there is lack of data.

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      1. Good to hear! Fortunately, overnight lows rarely get much lower than freezing in my part of Japan, and I’ve never once experienced a daytime high of less than zero in my 10+ years here. Thank you!

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      2. I wonder if you could store them in something insulated like a cooler, so if you do get brief dips in temperature during the night it’d be less likely for the paint to go down to freezing temps.

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      3. I’m happy to report that my paints have survived the winter! I started painting again in late March, and I haven’t come across a spoiled color yet. So, 5 or 6 degrees Celsius seems to be no problem for water based acrylics.

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  2. I’ve had a few problems with things stored in my garage, not paints but varnishes and in particular Vallejo Flow improver.
    I found Matt varnish doesn’t like the cold and won’t mix properly, usually giving a gloss finish if used when it’s cold. Warming it up and vigorous mixing, though, seems to get it working.
    My main issue was with the flow improver, which had been stored in my garage – I usually keep it with elsewhere with my paints, taking them through to the garage when I airbrush. My paint kept clogging almost immediately in the airbrush and it was only when I noticed that some of the flow improver dribbling down the outside of the bottle had congealed into a thick claggy mess did it twig. I left out the flow improver and just used thinners and everything worked fine – I can only put it down to it being stored in a cold environment!

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    1. That is interesting and useful information, thanks for sharing! Some chemical products we use can stay preserved better in the cold (many people store two part epoxy putties in the freezer), but clearly different substances have different storage requirements. I’m a little surprised flow improver would be one to have trouble with the cold, since it doesn’t have the acrylic binders used in paint, mediums, and brush-on sealers. But I guess whatever is in it doesn’t like the cold either, so that’s good to know!

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