Homemade Liquid Watercolour Paint – how to make paint with dried out markers

We’ve recently discovered the joys of Liquid Watercolour Paint here in my daycare, and while I love them for their vibrant colour and versatility, they can be expensive to buy.  Well, recently we decided to do one of those classic science activities and turn our old, dried up markers into our very own liquid watercolour paints. 

I love making homemade paint for the hooligans, and for years, I’ve made my own solid watercolour pucks. We love them, and use them all the time, so I figured we’d love making our own liquid watercolours too.

homemade liquid watercolor paint for kids - happy hooligans

These liquid watercolours turned out SO well! Can you believe these paints were made with a few old markers and some water?

Vibrant stripes painted with Homemade Liquid Watercolors

Want to know how we did it?

A little extra effort goes a long way…

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Being a little spoiled by the intensity of our  store-bought Liquid Watercolor Paint , I wanted our homemade watercolours to be really rich too, so I took things to the extreme.  You don’t have to put quite as much effort into making your paints, but I feel that it really paid off.  It’s the reason our paints are so vibrant.

painting with homemade liquid watercolours

In these pictures, the outlining was done in crayon.  All other colour is the liquid watercolors.

What you’ll need to make your liquid watercolours.

supplies for making liquid watercolors with old markers

  • dried out markers
  • water
  • glass jars with lids (large baby food jars or small mason jars are great)

and if you’re putting in the extra effort: 

  • small bowl
  • fork
  • scissors or pliers

How to turn your dried up markers into vibrant homemade Liquid Watercolour paint!

After testing our markers and setting the good ones aside, the hooligans sorted the dry markers into groups of similar colours.  We ended up with 6 piles:

  1. red/pink/burgundy
  2. orange/yellow/peach
  3. green/teal
  4. blue/turqoise
  5. purple/lavendar
  6. brown/black/grey

I set out six glass jars, and the four year old poured a bit of water into each jar.

Pouring water into our jars to make our homemade liquid watercolour paints.


Next, the hooligans dropped the markers in to the water.

markers and water turning into liquid watercolor paints

Immediately, colour started to leach out into the water.  We shook and stirred our jars a bit to observe the changes in the water, and then I set the jars on a window sill, and we left them for a full week.  

jars holding water and dried out markers

What if some of the water evaporates?

It’s gonna happen.  Don’t sweat it!  Some water will evaporate, but your pigment won’t.  Your colours will simply become more concentrated, and that’s a good thing.  Our water became so dark as the days passed.  Turns out there was quite a bit of ink left in those markers after all!

At this point, if you want, you can call it a day, and use your paint as is.  I wasn’t about to stop here though; I wanted to get every last bit of ink out of those markers!

To make our watercolors even more intense:

*This next bit can get a little messy, so place everything in the sink work in the sink or on top of an old towel.

With a pair of pliers, I pulled the ends off the markers and removed the coloured inserts.  Some of the inserts slipped out easily when I tipped the marker upside down, but others weren’t so co-operative, so I used the pliers to crack the plastic casing, and tug the insert out.

Then I snipped up the sponge inserts, and put them in a bowl with a bit of water.

Marker inserts chopped up in a bowl with a bit of water.

With my fork, I squished and squeezed those insert pieces until I felt I’d extracted all the colour I could, and I poured it into the matching jar.

And this was the result of my efforts:

Colours so intense, I have to hold some of them up to the light to tell them apart!

homemade liquid watercolor paints in baby food jars


How to use your liquid watercolor paints:

You can use your paints full strength, or you can pour a small amount into an ice cube tray, and add a few drops of water to dilute them.  That’s what I do for the hooligans.  The ones you see below have been diluted .

tray of homemade liquid watercolor paints

Preserving your leftover paint:

If, at the end of their painting session, you kids have paint left in the tray DON’T throw it out!  Leave the tray out in the open, and let the liquid evaporate.  The pigment will dry in the bottom of the tray. When you’re ready to paint again, simply add a few drops  of water, and stir to re-constitute your paint!

Store your paints in tightly sealed jars.

painting done with homemade liquid watercolor paints

Stay tuned in the days to come because I’ll be sharing the watercolour projects that kids make with their homemade  paints!

For more easy, homemade paint recipes, check out our:

Homemade Watercolour Paint Pucks

3-ingredient Puffy Paint

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk

Shaving Cream Paint


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  1. Sue Agnew says

    What a great idea, excited to find old pens & have a go ! Great money saving new idea to try at Topcliffe Playgroup – THANK YOU & keep those ideas coming x

  2. says

    I love the extra step! We’ve made watercolors with the markers, but they weren’t as bright as I’d like. We’ll be trying this soon as we have a ton of dried out markers!

  3. Rita Neve says

    Jackie I have been doing this all school year. Yesterday we added an off-brand kool aid packet in the appropriate color to each jar of paint. We got more vivid colors and scent.

  4. says

    We’ve been doing this for years too :). I even recycle the caps and the body of the markers! I started out using just the markers dipped in the water, now I pull them apart immediately and add the insides to our jars. We seem to have a continuous supply! It also dyes wood beautifully :).

  5. Hannah Johansson says

    Wow wow wow! The kid in me is super excited! lol! I’m definitely going to try this out for the super kids at my home day care. They will be so excited to do this technique as they love colors!

  6. Dizzy says

    fantastic idea, what a great way to make use of the pens that would otherwise get thrown away. Might be a good way to show colour mixing by putting red and blue pens together to get purple etc.

  7. winegumsx says

    This is fantastic! We’ve tried it before but gave up as the colours were so weak, never thought to leave them in so long! Will definitely be trying again now :) x

  8. says

    You are a genius! Seriously, Jackie this is awesome and I am probably way more excited about it than one should be – LOL! I have not wanted to splurge on liquid water colors but this is a great alternative. Thank you!

  9. says

    I love this, as I’ve been wanting to buy a full set of liquid watercolors but holding off because of the price. Will definitely try this first!

  10. says

    I love this! Such a simple idea, but so creative. I spent years teaching art in a museum’s children’s studio. We threw out dried up markers all the time (with 100s of kids using them, the caps were often left off). We could have been reusing them for water colors instead of tossing them.

  11. Heather says

    I did this a fee years ago. Unfortunately my paint started to get moldy stored in the jars. I ended up freezing the leftovers in ice cube trays so I didn’t have to throw it out.

    • happyhooligans says

      I wonder if there was some food residue in the jars, Heather? The only way I could see mould developing is if there were some bacteria introduced to either the jars or the paints themselves. Strange!

  12. Rebecca says

    I did this but kept the insert whole. Whe I was done.soaking.I dripped water slowly through one end while holding it my jar. I tell you those inserts were white. I got every last bit of color and my paint is very vivid! Thank you for sharing your method!

  13. Teressa says

    I wish I’d have seen this last week…we just cleaned out all our markers! I’m considering going out to the dumpster to reclaim them for this project. But perhaps I can wait till more markers “dry up” in a few months or so. :) Thank you!

  14. caitlinshappyheart says

    This is so cool! Hubby won’t be impressed that I’m keeping yet another broken thing though! He really doesn’t get recycling for play. (I have cried before when he threw out a large pile of shoe boxes!)

  15. Margie Turner says

    Wow I could have used this 50 years ago when I had 6 wee kids, but I don’t remember having markers then, it’s a lovely idea and I’m passing it on to our grandkids and to our Sunday School teachers too.

  16. says

    This is a great idea to pull even more fun out of markers. I especially like how you say it works even on markers that seem to be out of ink or dried out. This may save some markers that my kids left the top off of.

  17. gayezimhuycke says

    I saved all the dried out markers in my Preschool class and we just made the vibrant watercolours. I can’t get the boughten ones in Canada, but have wanted them. And now we have them. THey are glorious, I thought they might be less hand stainy than food colouring and indeed they took less time to wear off my skin than usual. The babies and I enjoyed painting with them. We made stunning coffee filter designs with our pipettes. Also we did some tie dye with woven paper. Thanks for all the suggestions.

  18. danielle says

    I found this to be easier and quicker (great for older childer) to use eyedroppers! Take out the felt ink cartridges and dripper water into the top and it pushes the ink out quickly leaving behind only white felt.

  19. Dana says

    This same trick can be used to make colored glue. Just buy some cheap white or clear school glue, drop in a marker insert or two, and voila! You’ll have pretty glue to use for decorating or fun projects.

  20. Kevin says

    Quick question. Has anyone else done this and had the jars start to grow mold in them? I bought mason jars and they were sealed tightly over our spring break. Came back and they were globs of whitish mold in them… I was planning on using them as sprays for quick projects but cannot anymore. Tips?

    • happyhooligans says

      I’m sorry I can’t help you there, Kevin. We’ve kept ours in sealed baby food jars for over a year now, and they’ve never developed mold. There would’ve had to have been bacteria introduced from somewhere/something in order for mold to grow I think.

  21. Eva Nell Hunter says

    Our church library is the supply center for our church. We ask teachers and other leaders to return to the library the markers when they no longer work. We remove the top of the markers and using a medicine dropper fill them with several drops of matching liquid water colors. They are then ready for use again. This has saved lots of money and the process works well.

      • says

        We did it!! My boys LOVED this activity, especially the 6 year old. It was the first thing he’d say every day when he came home from school – “I wonder how our watercolours are doing!”- and we had a big countdown to the day they’d be ready!! Such a lovely idea and nice and eco-friendly too. I hate waste, so will be doing this for years to come, I’m sure. Thank you so much. I’m sharing your post on FB.

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