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  • Writer's pictureJulia

Organizing Your Watercolor Paints

Updated: Mar 12

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link, I may receive a small commission with no extra cost to you.

It's been a little over a month since I closed up the Paintbox Letters art supply shop, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't absolutely liberating! I love that so many people loved my watercolor organizing supplies, but it just got to be too much for me to run the business, run my household, and find time to be creative.

I've always, always, always loved to create and design things, and that includes troubleshooting and figuring out create solutions for my "problems" (i.e., organizing my watercolors). That's where the magnetic swatch squares came in...but I didn't love the repetitive making of the swatch squares and omg the packing and shipping of orders was just slowly eating away at me...

So rather than spending my days cutting thousands of little swatch's what you need to easily create your own! When I first started making them, I guesstimated how big they should be and cut them by hand, so if you look at some of my own watercolor tins, the sizes of the swatch squares aren't exactly uniform. It was a lengthy I created grids for them that I could print on watercolor paper, making ever little one of those pesky squares the PERFECT size!

Those helpful grids are now available here as a free printable to download and print yourself!

Grid for Half Pans
Download PDF • 281KB

Grid for Full Pans
Download PDF • 203KB

Grid for Metal Pans
Download PDF • 203KB

Aside from the grids, here's what you'll need to make your own magnetic swatches:

(This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links. If you purchase using the links in this post, I earn a small commission. I promise, it doesn't cost you anything!)

Watercolor paper - I use Canson XL Watercolor Paper for all my swatching needs. It's an inexpensive option, but I know that some people prefer to swatch their paints on the paper they actually use for painting (which may or may not be Canson XL!). I do know that over the years, I've had numerous inkjet printers and a laser printer, and Canson XL has had no problems going through the rear feeder. I cut the paper down to letter (8.5 x 11 inch size) to go through my printer.

Printer - Please make sure that your printer has a REAR FEEDER! Do not attempt to put watercolor paper through the front loading paper tray. It WILL get stuck and possibly damage your printer. I currently use a Canon TS5320 which has the added bonus of printing in waterproof ink when using the Black Ink Only setting. However, as a side note, it will not use black ink only when printing on the borderless setting. For the swatch squares, you do not need to have a printer that uses waterproof ink! The lines that you'll be printing for the grid are your cut lines, so they won't be near where you're painting your swatches.

Adhesive magnetic sheets - I've tried numerous types of adhesive magnetic sheets, and these from Flexible Magnets are the best ones I've found. Be sure to get the 8.5 x 11 inch size so it fits your paper perfectly!

Paper trimmer (and guillotine paper trimmer, optional) - I use a combination of a rotary paper trimmer AND a guillotine trimmer to cut these little magnetic swatch squares because the rotary trimmer is better at cutting long strips, and a guillotine trimmer is better for the short cuts. If I had to choose one, I would recommend a rotary trimmer, simply because the long strips are harder to do by hand/with scissors. I use this rotary trimmer from Fiskar--it's a wonderful option, but it's on the pricier side. However, the fully rotating blade makes a HUGE difference when cutting through thicker papers or through magnetic sheets!

Once you have all your supplies, here are some tips for creating your own magnetic swatch squares:

  1. Print the grid using the borderless letter sized paper setting. You may need to adjust the scale slightly. On one of my printers, I have to print at 99% scale. On another, I can use 100% scale. Do test prints on regular printer paper to make sure the lines print edge to edge and that they're the right size.

  2. Place only one sheet of watercolor paper at a time into the rear feeder. Some printers have trouble picking up the thicker paper when there's a stack of them in the feeder.

  3. Once you have your grid printed, remove the backing paper from a magnetic sheet and firmly press the watercolor paper (grid side up!) onto the adhesive side of the magnetic sheet.

  4. Use the rotary trimmer to cut long strips using the grid lines to guide you.

  5. Use either the guillotine cutter or scissors to cut the short lines. The rotary trimmer will push the narrow strips as it cuts, giving you slanted lines.

And tada! You're done! I use a waterproof fine liner like the Zebra Zensations Technical Drawing Pen or the Pentel Pointliner to write the name of the paint color before painting my swatches.

For the metal pan swatch squares, the quarter pan size is exactly half of the half pan size so I just use scissors to cut them down the center.

Happy Paint Organizing!!

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