From the archives: the history of the metal paint tube

metal tube

At Winsor & Newton, we pride ourselves on adapting to progress and instigating change in our industry. Our extensive archives are full of objects that showcase our proudest innovations, including this display tracking the evolution of the paint tube.

Artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is quoted as saying: “Without paint in tubes there would have been… nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionists.” Winsor & Newton’s own William Winsor patented a particular iteration of the tube which has a significant impact on artists’ use of colour.

These revolutionary artists, including Claude Monet, headed outside to paint en plein air in order to “capture the snapshot”, thus celebrating the everyday and changing the art world forever. The portability of paint tubes was integral to such practices.

Winsor & Newton paint tube, 1840-1911
The Winsor & Newton paint tube, 1840-1911


The metal paint tube was first invented by American oil painter John Goffe Rand as a way of transporting paints to use outside. The tubes were in fact syringes which were used to squeeze out paint and preserved the paint for a longer time, allowing artists increased flexibility and the possibility of a larger palette, as colours took longer to perish.

Upon hearing of this stunning innovation William Winsor immediately sought the patent, as Winsor & Newton were the only colourmen producing moist watercolour. Once the patent was secured, Winsor added one essential improvement to this design: the all-important screw cap. Thus the paint tube we know and love was born.

In the photo above, you can track the journey from the traditional bladders, to the introduction of the syringe tube in 1840, and the tube cap introduced in 1904.