How to travel with oil paints
Many artists ask us how they can travel with their oil paints avoiding problems at airport controls. Here we explain what you can carry inside your suitcase and also what you can not. What to answer and what not to answer. Also, what is allowed to carry, but you’d better not try to.
Most artistic materials are safe to travel with, but some are considered dangerous. If your oil paints are not properly packaged, labeled and documented, even if allowed, they can mean a red flag for border agents.
Here we summarize everything you need to know to travel calmly and have no surprise 😉
Check the tubes
Make sure the tubes do not leak, are not filthy and that the caps are tightly closed. It’s basic.
■ It is advisable to pack the tubes in a way that you avoid that their corners, with the clattering, produce any perforation. You can use a box with compartments, use bubble wrap or newspaper sheets.
■ Keep your luggage light and try to travel with small tubes; 37ml is perfect. The tubes of more than 100ml. (3.4 oz.) are not allowed.
Use a transparent plastic box
Use a transparent rigid plastic box —like a Tupperware— to store your tubes. This will allow agents to examine the contents at a glance and without opening it, in addition to protecting the tubes from bumps. The box also allows you to attach the documentation on the lid so that it is visible and accessible.
Use our label
- Labeling the box with an “artist pigments” sign should be enough, but we can always do better by providing all the necessary documentation. Just in case.
- We strongly recommend that you download this label that we have designed, print it and glue it on the box or bag containing the oil paints. You can download it for free in JPG and PDF 🙂
Airport security departments have very strict regulations for flammable materials. While artistic materials are not usually flammable, some agents may think they are.
For agents to be sure that your paints are not flammable, you must print the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) of the brand —or brands— of oil paints you use.
You can download these documents from the manufacturer’s pages. Here we provide you with a list of the main brands and a download link of their MSDS.
Without the tag and the MSDS, you may have problems. Highlight these two lines with a phosphorescent marker:
■ The artist’s color is vegetable oil-based and is not hazardous.
■ Safe flashpoint (550oF or higher).
We recommend you print and visibly place these documents on your paintbox so that the authorities can check your luggage correctly and you can avoid any annoyance. Make it easy for the agent.
MSDS download links:
Main brands of oil colors
- Gamblin Artist Oil
- Gamblin 1980 Oils
- Rembrandt Oil
- Van Gogh Oil
- Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colours
- Old Holland
- Michael Harding Artist Oil
- M. Graham Oil Color
- Daniel Smith Original Oil Colors
- Williamsburg Oil
- Holbeil Artists’ Oil Color
- Sennelier Artist Oil
- Schmincke Mussini
- Reeve’s Oil Colours
- Utrecht Oil Paint
- Utrecht Studio Oil Paint
- Blick Artist Oil
- Da Vinci Artist Oil
- Georgian Oil Colours
- Norma Professional Oil
- Permalba Oil Color
- Fragonard Oil Colour
Although your equipment perfectly complies with the current TSA laws, your luggage may not be well labeled and agents may not admit it. And then they’ll start making questions…
The first thing —and the most important one— is not to alarm them unnecessarily. Keep calm, you are not doing anything illegal. Just show the documentation requested and do not panic, even if they’re not right.
If they inspect your luggage and ask you “What the hell are you carrying here?”, it is better NOT to say that you carry “oil paints” because it can lead to misunderstandings. Technically, there is no problem in carrying “oil paints” inside your luggage, but it is better to talk about “colors” or “pigments”.
Not all agents are familiar with art materials and are suspicious of whether they are safe or not. So let’s make it easier and do not talk about “paint”, because the word is associated with a flammable material that contains solvents.
So, as Robert Gamblin suggests, it is prudent to say that you carry “colors made with vegetable oil.” This is the best thing you can answer.
Oils, mediums and solvents
Can we carry oils, mediums, and solvents? Yes and no… it’s a tricky thing to answer, so let’s go bit by bit:
Yes, you can carry oil
According to Winsor & Newton, linseed, safflower, walnut, and poppy oils, in addition to stand-oil and drying oils, they are allowed (>230°C).
However, we know some cases of artists whose oil bottles have been confiscated, but it’s not usual.
Of course: do carry bottles of less than 100 ml.
What is allowed by law
Products with flash points below 60°C, which are flammable materials of Group II or Group III, are considered unsuitable for air travel. These include most of:
Mediums such as Liquin are technically allowed, as they comply with the regulations.
And the same goes for some types of solvents, such as Gamsol by Gamblin, or Sansodor by Winsor & Newton, although these solvents are on the edge of the legal limit, they are within the list of things allowed.
Gamsol has a flashpoint of 144°F, four degrees above the tolerance threshold, but we do not recommend traveling with Gamsol inside the suitcase. That’s why we provide it at our workshops, so you can avoid annoyances.
If you still want to try to carry solvents with you, technically there are no problems if it’s within the list of things allowed. Of course: prepare the documentation properly and accept that it’s possible that, despite having everything in order, they will not admit it in any way.
What happens in the real world
From experience, we know that it is not advisable to travel with these solvents because agents usually choose to be prudent and do not admit them, regardless of the flashpoint laws.
So, as a general rule, never travel with liquid solvents: even if you have the MSDS ready to be shown, think of them as prohibited and keep in mind that mineral essences and turpentine will hardly pass a check.
On the other hand, gel mediums —especially those that are sold in a tube— have a special treatment and can pass through controls more easily. The problem comes with flammable liquids.
- Carry your paints inside your checked/hold luggage, andNEVER carry your paints inside your carry-on/hand luggage.
- Put the paintbox or bag on top of your stuff, and inside a rigid container that protects the tubes from any cargo handling displacement that may crush them and get all your belongings stained with paint.
- Do never carry a paint knife inside your hand luggage. The metal detector will beep a red flag and the scanner will detect something very similar to a blade. All your materials must be properly documented and packed inside the hold luggage.
- We recommend that you carry your materials along with your personal belongings. If you have a suitcase only for your materials, it is easier to grab attention and be retained. For whatever reason, suitcases with only material are more likely to be retained in controls.
- On the other hand, be very careful with low-cost companies, as their business model is based on making a profit out of people’s carelessness. If there’s any slight issue with your luggage, they will go after you and squeeze you. So be very careful if you fly with Ryan Air or EasyJet because cheap can be expensive.