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Do Stay Wet Palettes Really Work?

Updated on March 4, 2011

Product Review: Masterson Sta-Wet Palette

As an acrylic painter, one of my ongoing frustrations in life is how quickly the paint dries once I put it on my palette. Depending on ambient humidity, my acrylics can be completely dry within an hour of squeezing them out They can start to dry out even within a few minutes. I hate the thought of wasting my expensive paints. Even worse, for somebody who loves color as much as I do, is the fact that once my beautiful colors dry, I have no choice but to simply throw them away.

When I saw the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette in my local art store last year, I was both thrilled and skeptical. A palette that could preserve my paints for weeks? That worked on both oils and acrylics? It sounded too good to be true. Part of me wanted to buy it then and there. But the other, much louder part of me, who is also incredibly cheap, wanted to wait.

A few weeks ago I finally took the plunge and invested in my palette. This review is for others, like me, who may be wondering if the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette can possibly live up to its promise. I've written about my first experience with this palette -- how my paint behaved, and how it differs from my previous palettes -- and I've included some pictures from my art studio to illustrate my experience. I've also included the testimony of a colleague who paints both in acrylics and oils. Finally, I discuss how the stay wet palette has changed and improved my work flow as a painter.

The Masterson Stay Wet Palette Really Works!

The quick and dirty version, for you impatient types

If you're pretty sure you want to buy the Sta-Wet Palette, and you just want to know if it actually works, the simple answer is yes. It has kept my acrylic paints wet and workable for several days now -- an unheard of innovation in all my years of painting with acrylics. Why wait? Buy it now from Blick Art Supply!

Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette, 12" à 16" à 1¾" -- $14.95 from Blick Art Supply

Blick Art Supply has the best prices of any art store, and they have fast, cheap shipping!

The store where I first saw the palette would have charged me $23 for the palette itself, another $10 for replacement sponges, and another $15 for replacement palette paper. If I'd bought it there I would have spent more than $50. I got the same thing from Blick for a little over $30. I'm glad I waited and bought it from Blick!

How Does the Sta-Wet Palette Work?

Pretty well! Oh, you meant HOW does it work...

The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette has three components. The first is the palette seal. This consists of a shallow tray with an air-tight lid. By placing your palette inside, you protect your paints from losing moisture to the air, and drying out. If you paint in oils, and already have a hard palette (or palette paper), you can simply place this inside the palette seal and you're good to go.

Masterson Sta-Wet Palette Seal, 12" Ã 16" -- $12.95 at Blick

The second component of the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette is the acrylic palette paper. Before beginning to paint, soak this paper in hot water for 15 minutes.

The paper works in concert with the third component, the palette sponge. Wet the palette sponge thoroughly, and, without wringing it out, set it in the bottom of the palette tray. Then place the palette paper on top of the sponge. You are now ready to set your paints out and get to work!

Buy all three together with the Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette!

Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette

The Sta-Wet Premier Palette includes the palette seal with its air-tight, snug-fitting lid, and also comes with a reusable sponge and five reusable palette papers.

Important: The Lid is Designed NOT to Close Completely

When I first started using my palette, I noticed that the lid does not make complete contact with the tray. I thought if I put tape on it the paints would stay wet longer. Instead, they and the sponge got moldy!

Oil paint, Prussian Blue hue, thinned with turpentine
Oil paint, Prussian Blue hue, thinned with turpentine

The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette for Oils

One day, I noticed that a classmate of mine happened to be using the stay wet palette. I pestered her with all sorts of questions. Did she use it for oils, acrylics, or both? Did it actually work for acrylic paints? How well did it work?

She told me that she used her palette for both oils and acryclics. With oil paints, it worked perfectly well, which is not surprising -- oil paints have significantly slower drying time than acrylics, taking up to six months to cure completely. Even a poorly sealed palette can keep oils in a workable condition. The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette, she said, kept her oils workable for several weeks.

Acrylic paint, Pyrrole Red
Acrylic paint, Pyrrole Red

The Masterson Stay Wet Palette for Regular Acrylics

If you've ever worked with acrylics, you know how difficult it can be to keep them wet and workable. I've tried covering my palette with saran wrap, misting it with a spray bottle, even refrigerating it on the theory that colder air would somehow absorb less moisture from the covered palette. No method I've ever tried has worked for me. For this reason, I was surprised to hear my classmate say that her palette worked almost as well for acrylic paints as for oils.

She explained that the sponge system worked to provide moisture to the paints, but that the paper palette kept the paints from getting too watered down. She assured me that the seal really was air-tight. She claimed that she could maintain a workable acrylic palette for a week, sometimes as much as two.

"Really?" I asked. "Two weeks, for acrylics?"

"Really," she said. "It saves a lot of paint, and a lot of frustration. When I can't work in oils, using this palette removes a lot of the disadvantages to working in acrylics".

I looked at my own palette paper, on which my paint was already half-dried and unusable, and made up my mind to try the stay wet palette.

Golden Fluid Acrylic Paint
Golden Fluid Acrylic Paint

The Sta-Wet Palette for Fluid Acrylics

For a variety of reasons, I use liquid acrylics instead of the traditional heavy body acrylics. Liquid acrylics have a higher pigment load, and they don't hold brush strokes like heavy body acrylics, and they're great for creating transparent glazing effects. All of these are important to me in my work. The downside to liquid acrylics is that, being thinner than heavy body acrylics, they dry even faster.

When I set them out on my stay wet palette, I was concerned to see that some of them became downright runny. I thought perhaps they would take on extra water, and be harder to control, or that the colors would become diluted. I was happy to discover that while the extra water made a small difference in how the paint handled, it didn't present any real problems, and that the fluid acrylic colors maintained their vibrancy.

Stay Wet Palette after 15 Minutes

Stay wet palette, 15 minutes after laying out liquid acrylic paints
Stay wet palette, 15 minutes after laying out liquid acrylic paints

Here is my palette 15 minutes after laying out the liquid acrylics. The colors, from the bottom left, are Jenkins Green, Pthalo Green (Yellow Shade), Iridescent Bronze (Fine), Interference Oxide Green, Raw Umber, Quinacradone Crimson, Iridescent Copper Light (fine), Burnt Umber Light, and Burnt Sienna.

You can see that the Pthalo Green is bleeding quite a bit, as is the Quinacradone Crimson, and that there's some interesting chromatography going on with the Bronze -- there is green pigment bleeding out of it. This did not affect the color properties of the paint.

Click here to buy the Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette -- $14.95 from Dick Blick!

The Stay Wet Palette, Ninety Minutes Later

Here are more colors added to the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette. Continuing from Burnt Sienna (the smeared color at top center) are: A big blob of Golden 200 Clear Acrylic Medium, a bit of Jenkins Green heavy body acrylic, Quinacradone Burnt Orange, Hansa Yellow Light, Diarylide Yellow, Cerulean Blue Deep, Iridescent Pearl (Fine), and Zinc White.

I've included this picture because it illustrates how differently certain colors behave when placed on the palette paper. I also included some heavy body Jenkins Green, so I could test how the palette worked with a more traditional material.

Click here to buy the Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette -- $14.95 from Dick Blick!

Masterson Stay Wet Palette After A Few Hours

Stay Wet Palette, 3 Hours After Beginning Work
Stay Wet Palette, 3 Hours After Beginning Work

After working for a few hours, the Quinacradone Burnt Orange and the Hansa Yellow have bled quite a bit, but more imporantly, all of the fluid acrylics are still workable. I added Anthroquinone Blue, Dioxazine Purple, and Bone Black to the palette. The purple and blue bled and ran into each other almost immediately.

The directions for the palette indicated that the sponge works best if the smooth side faces up. and the palette paper is laid on top of it. The other side of the sponge has sort of a waffled texture, which means that less of its surface area, and therefore less water, is in contact with the paper. Since I live in the fog, ambient humidity is generally pretty high while I'm working, so next time I might try turning the sponge over to keep the paints from running.

Click here to buy the Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette -- $14.95 from Dick Blick!

Masterson Sta-Wet Palette After Three Days

Stay Wet Palette After Three Days
Stay Wet Palette After Three Days

After working for several hours on Sunday, I put my palette away to continue at a later time. The product instructions told me to remove the palette paper and rest it on a flat surface, to squeeze out the sponge, and to place the sponge back into the bottom of the tray. If any color had bled onto the sponge -- and believe me, it had -- the instructions assured me that it would not cause any problems for the palette or my paints.

I was unable to return to my painting until Wednesday. This, I thought, would be the real test of the stay wet palette -- could it really keep acrylic paints workable for several days? Would my liquid acrylics have completely bled through the paper, being absorbed into the sponge, leaving me without any paint to work with?

Fortunately, my paints were fine. Bleeding had obviously occurred, but not enough to absorb all of my paint. The purple and blue had continued to bleed into each other, but they didn't mix completely, and I found I was able to get paint from the "blue" and the "purple" side of the paint blob without any difficulty.

Click here to buy the Masterson Sta-Wet Premier Palette -- $14.95 from Dick Blick!

The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette After Five Days

How the Stay Wet Palette can improve your studio workflow!

I've been using my new stay wet palette for almost a week now. I love it! If I'd bought one years ago, I'd have saved myself a lot of annoyance, and a lot of money, too.

The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette can improve your painting in the following ways:

You will experience less pressure while painting.

After working with my palette for several hours, I realized that I was putting a lot less pressure on myself to work fast enough to use up my paint before it dried.

You will save time.

I never realized how much time I spent stopping to reapply paint to my palette. Instead of using small amounts of paint in the hope that I would use them before they dried out, I can now put down as much paint as I need, which means fewer interruptions while I'm working.

You will use your studio time more efficiently.

Let's face it, none of us can spend as much time making art as we would like. With the Stay Wet Palette, I find I'm much more able to squeeze painting time into a spare hour or even half-hour. With my previous palette, I felt like I needed several hours to justify pouring paint. If I had less time, it was certain that I would be unable to use all my paint by the time I needed to finish, and that would be money down the drain.

You will be able to use your non-studio time more efficiently.

It sounds unbelievable, but it's true! I used to feel like I couldn't stop working once I'd set out my palette, because the paint might dry before I could return to it. I would pour paint, and work for a few hours, and run out of paint, and pour more paint ... then I would realize it was time to start dinner, but I had all this paint sitting there that would go to waste, so I kept working even though I was hungry ... and sometimes I would wind up eating dinner at 10 or 11 at night.

Knowing that my paint stays in workable condition has allowed me to work even when I don't have all afternoon -- and that means I work a lot more, and I under a lot less pressure than I ever have before.

Have you used the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette? - Tell us about it here!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I too use this product; I love it. You can avoid serious bleeding by putting less water in the sponge, and pre-wetting the paper (Very lightly) to balance the water amount.

      One word of warning, don't forget to remove the paper and clean the sponge when you're finished. I had a moldy surprise after this process slipped my mind :P.

      Hope this helps and wasn't much/any repeat info.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Don't leave the sponge soaking wet overnight or the paints will absorb too much water, become very liquid and start running into each other on the palette.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 7 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      Fantastic, detailed product review. I'm studying Chinese water colors. Love it. But no problems with drying out -- just add more water.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      Really nicely done product review. I don't paint with a palette but found it quite interesting.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      The Stay Wet palette sounds like a fantastic idea that will make the lives of artists easier.

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 7 years ago

      Awesome lens! Love the sound of this palette!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 7 years ago

      No but if one day I begin to paint, I'll think of it, for sure. Quite convincing, this page, eh!

      Dom.

    • profile image

      aishu19 7 years ago

      this looks like a wonderful product. Great review and I am glad you found the palette that was just right for you.

    • profile image

      aishu19 7 years ago

      this looks like a wonderful product. Great review and I am glad you found the palette that was just right for you.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 7 years ago

      I had to stop by and see what the 'new toy' was. The only time I use acrylics is for craft work, but I can see the advantages of having paints stay moist after I've mixed up a palette of, say, verdigris. this is a well-done, fun review.