Large Tubes Versus Cans

(Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987 revised 1998)

If you paint on a large scale, 34-40ml studio tubes of paint are not workable.  250ml tubes and cans are more practical, and a greater value.  Though it is not difficult to find large 250ml containers of oil paint, at this time only two companies’ package artist grade paints in such sizes: LeFranc & Bourgeois, and Gamblin.  LeFranc & Bourgeois offers an abbreviated range of 68 colors in 250ml tubes.  Robert Gamblin began Gamblin Artist Colors ( in 1980, and despite his short history has won the respect of artists, manufactures, and even the Smithsonian Institute with his dedication and the quality of his products.  75 of his 83 colors are offered in 8oz (237ml) and 16oz (473ml) cans.  The whites and blacks are available in 32oz cans.  Unfortunately, the balance of the available large containers of oil paint, is not profession grade but primarily student grade.

Canned packaging has the advantage over tubes in terms of not getting easily damaged in shipping and in use.  But as you open the can and remove paint, you create a space for air.  The trapped air begins to oxidize the top layer of paint forming a skin that needs to be removed and discarded to get at the fresh paint.  The more you open the can and remove paint, the more paint is subject to drying and to be discarded as waste.  The collapsible tube does not have this problem as long as they are capped and not punctured.  Since the maximum practical size of a tube is 250ml, cans are the only option for still larger sizes.  Artists have attempted to deal with air pockets in two ways.  The simplest is to put some wax paper over the remaining paint before closing the can.  This does not stop the process, but significantly slows it down.  The drawback is some the paint will stick to the wax paper when it is removed, but you will likely be able to recover some of it rather than toss it away.  The other method, which is very dangerous if not suicidal, is to take a butane lighter and disable the flint.  Then you can squirt some of the butane gas into the can as you close it to replace as much as air as possible.  It works.  However, the consequences of the butane igniting from a spark as you open the can, can be quite serious though not likely fatal.