Inside the Winsor & Newton Paint Factory

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Watercolor Paint Extruded as Long Strips

Watercolor paint manufacture Winsor Newton factory
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour. Photo courtesy of Winsor & Newton

Photo tour of the Winsor & Newton Factory where artists' paint was manufactured.

A tour of the Winsor & Newton factory in west London provided a fascinating look into how the paints we use were made. A colorful mixture of high-tech and low-tech, all ending in the familiar tubes or pans of paint we use in our studios. (The W&N London factory closed in 2012 and production moved to France.)

The watercolor paint we ultimately buy as individual pans gets extruded in long strips before being segmented and plopped into the more familiar, little white plastic pans by machine.

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Watercolor Paint Pans

Watercolor paint making at Winsor and Newton factory
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour. Photo courtesy of Winsor & Newton

Individual paint colors are manufactured in small runs, but even part of a batch of watercolor pans on the production line still looks like a lifetime's supply for an individual!

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Watercolor Paint Pans Wrapped

Watercolor paint manufacture Winsor Newton
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour. Photo courtesy of Winsor & Newton

Individual pans of Winsor & Newton's artist's quality watercolor are wrapped in foil and a label added, a process apparently evolved from bubble-gum wrapping machinery. Each plastic pan has the name of the color stamped on it too, useful for checking a color when it comes to replacing it as who ever keeps the wrapper?

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Paint Tube Filling Machine

Paint tube filling machine on Winsor and Newton factory tour
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour. Photo courtesy of Winsor & Newton

Empty paint tubes are filled with a measured quantity of paint, then the open end (the "bottom" end, not the cap end) folded over and sealed.

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Empty Paint Tubes

Empty Paint Tubes
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour.

Empty paint tubes on their way to being filled with paint. The smaller, lighter circle you can see in the tube is the inside of the screw-on cap. The inside of the tubes are coated, except for the very end bit which gets folded over and sealed.

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Pigment Scoops

Pigment Scoops at Winsor & Newton's Paint Factory
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour Pigment Scoops at Winsor & Newton's Paint Factory. Photo Courtesy of Winsor & Newton. Used with Permission.

In order to prevent cross-contamination, different scoops are used for measuring out quantities of paint pigment. When a specific paint color is due to be made, an "ingredients list" is sent to the supplies store, specifying how much of what pigment is required for that paint batch.

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Invention of the Paint Tube

Paint Tube invention
Photo Gallery: Winsor & Newton Factory Tour Left: Bladders used for storing paint and a glass syringe for paint. Right: Various stages in the development of the collapsible metal tube for paint. Photo courtesy of Winsor & Newton

In the small museum on art materials at the Winsor & Newton factory in London, one of the displays is about the invention of the paint tube. Buying paint in a tube is something we take for granted these days, being able to reach out and instantly have some fresh paint in however many colors we have bought. In fact, the squeezable tube with a screw-on lid is the one thing invented for art materials that found its way into everyday life. Think about how many things come in this container, toothpaste, ointments and creams, even food pastes.

Originally artists made up their own paint (or, rather, the studio apprentice did) using the pigments they bought. The first ready-made paint was sold by colormen in pig's bladders, which you punched a hole in to get the paint out and then sealed with a tack. The next invention was a glass syringe, with the plunger squeezing the paint out, invented by the English artist James Hams in 1822. Then in 1841 the American portrait painter John Goffe Rand invented the squeezable or collapsible metal tube.

Rand took out patents in 1841 London, and in America (on 11 September 1841) for his Improvement in the Construction of Vessels or Apparatus for Preserving Paint. (You can read the full patent and see his drawing on the Smithsonian's website.) W&N was soon using tubes for its oil and watercolor paints.
"My invention related to a mode of preserving paints and other fluids by confining them in a close metallic vessels so constructed as to collapse with slight pressure and thus force out the paint or fluid contained therein... a screw-cap as is show, by which means the fluid contained can be from time to time removed and the end c closed air-tight by the cap." -- John G Rand's patent for the invention of the paint tube

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