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DIY Paintbox Organizer

As tournament deadlines loom ever closer and the "painted" column doesn't get any smaller, one of the inevitable casualties in the final mad rush is the organization of your paints. For many people it's also important to keep at least your primary paints and implements mobile, for taking along to tournaments for last minute work, meeting up with friends for painting sessions, or even just moving about to different painting spots in your house. This article presents a simple, no-cost paintbox construction that will help keep your paints organized and ready to move.

Construction materials.
Some of the materials and tools needed for this project: A box, cardstock, pencil/marker, hobby knife, ruler/straight edge, cutting board. Not pictured: Spray adhesive or rubber cement, labels.
Materials

The materials needed are very simple and can be easily found laying around the well-stocked hobbyist house:

The box used in this project is recycled from a clothier or chocolatier purchase. As this one is, such boxes are often made of thick, dense cardboard, frequently with a rigid gloss coating, tight and strong construction, and a finished exterior and interior. These are ideal to look good sitting out on your work area(s) while in frequent use, hold your valuable paints securely, and hold up well over time, all without costing anything.

In searching for or keeping an eye out for a suitable box, the height is important. Many of these kinds of boxes are a touch too short. Ideally the box has just enough height to fit your paints with just a little extra room for a few flat supplies stored on top, such as scrap paper or sheets of paper towels. Too tall of a box and your paints will jumble all over if the box is put on its side or flipped over in transit. Heights at this time for common gaming paints are:

The card used here is a 12"x18" mid-weight 12pt cardstock with a fairly rigid gloss coat on one side. It's not taking any weight in the final construction so thinner stock could easily be used, like the 110lb paperstock "cardstock" sold in most office stores. An option to strengthen it woud be to double up two sheets of thinner cardstock, gluing them together before beginning.

The optional labels are commonly available book tabs, as made by 3M and many other companies. Remember that plastic-coated tabs will require a permanent marker to write on without smearing.

Tools

The tools used are also very basic and probably already at hand but otherwise readily available:

Spray adhesive, like 3M's Super 77, or rubber cement is preferable to white glue (PVA) as they set much faster and produce no warping or lumpness on cardstock.

Construction

The basic plan is to make small divider walls of the cardstock and glue into the box to arrange and maintain the paints in rows or columns. Marking, cutting, and folding the dividers is the first step.

Unglued divider walls made of cardstock.
Some of the cardstock divider walls cut, scored, and folded.

The specific size of the dividers is up to your preferences and the size of the box. The basic shape is the same though: A tab to glue onto the box bottom, a wall folded up and down, and another tab. This box has been done with with each strip the full length of the box, 1/4" tabs, and 3/4" walls. This is tall enough to be easy to set the paints within and hold them securely, but leaves the color visible. Slightly wider tabs would be easier to fold but the difference is negligible and this size makes each strip a convenient 2" wide.

On your sheet of cardstock, measure out a pattern of tab width & score, twice the wall height & score, tab width & cut, tab width & score, twice the wall height & score, tab width & cut, and so on. Then go through and, somewhat obviously, score each score line, taking care not to cut through the card, and cut each cut line. It helps to mark which is which as measuring, e.g., with an 'X' by the cut lines. Following that, flip over each strip, measure to the center point, and carefully score the backside for the fold at the top of the wall.

Now fold each strip up completely, tab to wall to wall to tab, and press squeeze flat along its length to set the folds. Open the divider back up loosely and set aside for a moment.

The pattern for scoring and cutting the divider walls.
The pattern for scoring and cutting the divider walls.

Next, measure out where the dividers will go inside your box. Widths at this time for common gaming paints are:

The rows or columns therefore should be about 1 3/8" to comfortably but snugly fit GW paints, 1 1/4" for Privateer Press, and 1 1/8" for the others. It may be useful to include wider or thinner sections, for cups, tools, and brushes.

If the box has a coating finish it may be respectively more visible and less messy to mark these measures with a permanent marker rather than a pencil or pen. The dividers will completely cover the marks so they do not need to be particularly neat, beyond the fact that they would not be visible under the paints and tools anyway.

Measuring out positions for the divider walls in the box.
Measuring out positions for the divider walls in the box.

Once the box is measured, gluing each divider into place is fast and easy. Place the partially folded divider on scrap paper with the inside & bottom exposed and lightly spray or brush along its length, coating the underside of the tabs and the interior of the wall. Careful to avoid the tacky tab undersides, press the walls together and squeeze along their length. Then place the divider in position inside the box and press along the length of the tabs. Once all the dividers are in place clean up any excess adhesive with a paper towel or finger.

Unless your measures are absolutely symmetric, the walls will probably warp a bit when pressed into the box due to the two tabs being slightly uneven, as is visible in the picture below. This is perfectly fine and not particularly visible once the paints are in place. One of the advantages of using cardstock for the dividers is that they'll have some give and take, accommodating these imperfections as well as inevitable variances and slight jumble from cap lids randomly aligning to push pots, riffling through looking for a shade, and fingers inserting and removing paints.

The divider walls glued into position.
The divider walls glued into position.

The box is now complete, with only the labels left to put in place if desired. The dividers and labels for this box have been set for a larger space for water cups, old brushes, and miscellaneous tools and craft sticks; a column of random colors and refills for critical paints about to run out; a themed column collecting core colors for a particular army and some miscellaneous pots; reds, blues, & greens; browns and yellows; blacks, greys, & whites; metallics; washes; and finally brushes & paint pens. Columns progress from dark in back to light in front. The box itself is similarly loosely laid out with tools and special purpose sections on the left, a progression from bright colors to neutrals to bases and then metals in the interior, and then washes and brushes on the right.

The finished box and paint collection!
The finished box and paint collection!
Conclusion

That's it! This box has served well for several years now of storing and transporting a core collection of frequently used paints, and didn't cost a thing. Though a plain box would be just fine for basic use, the dividers, labels, and column ordering scheme help maintain some kind of order inside. That system presents a couple advantages. Most obviously, it makes finding and using paints easier and quicker. However, it also makes it easier to quickly visually grasp all of the paints available. That makes it easier to track what's about to---or already has---run out, and to determine what other shades might be useful to acquire. More importantly, it encourages and makes easier using a variety of related colors to highlight and shade models, improving the work overall in addition to making it go faster.

Other approaches are certainly possible though, ranging from barebones like this to much more elaborate. The links below point to a few interesting paintbox constructions around the Web that present some other ideas for building your own paintbox. The most important thing is simply to build tools that best support your processes and habits.

tjkopena, 2014/9/16/
Related Links
- Chicago Skirmish: A hard case with custom cut foam.
- DHC Wargames: A very fancy DIY mobile paint storage chest & workstation helper.
- Reaper: Pointers to cheap, store-bought generic cases that work well for paints.
- Miniatures Scenery: Elaborate, transport ready workstation/storage racks.

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