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In this experiment, I’m testing Daniel Smith’s watercolor masking fluid to find out if it is easy to apply, easy to remove, and if it will allow me to mask off fine details.
As a watercolor artist, I’m always looking to optimize my process for consistency as best I can, especially when it comes to masking. I’ve had mixed results with masking fluids before; some have stained my paper, some have ripped my paper, and some were nearly impossible to remove.
Finding the perfect masking fluid for my artistic process has become my personal Holy Grail quest, so I’m always up for trying new ones. For years, my preferred go-to has been Winsor Newton masking fluid and applying it with either a retractable eraser that I’ve whittled down to a point or a rubber color shaper. I never use a brush, as I don’t enjoy the struggle of getting the dried fluid out of the bristles, and find I get a much more consistent line with the shaper.
I’ve seen several artists have good luck using masking fluids with a built-in applicator, and since I have so many die-hard Daniel Smith fans in my social circle, I decided to try out Daniel Smith masking fluid with a built-in applicator.
Applying the Masking Fluid
After snipping the applicator tip to my desired width (as small as possible), I applied the fluid in varying widths and line styles on my preferred paper, Arches cold press. After having several experiences with ruining paintings with untested supplies, I thought it would be a good idea to try out drying times and the water tight seal of the fluid before applying it to actual artwork. Plus, by using my preferred medium, this will give me the most predictable results based on what my personal “normal” is.
Disclaimer: Since Arches cold press watercolor paper is the only paper I use for all of my pieces, this is the only paper I can vouch for.
The good news is that because I cut the applicator open to allow for only a small hole, I was able to achieve the very fine details I was looking for. Unfortunately, I noticed one problem right off the bat: bubbling is very common when squeezing the bottle.
To mitigate this, I squeezed the bottle of masking fluid so that some starts to come out before I hold it to the paper. This prevents a bubble from popping on the paper, spreading the masking fluid everywhere. However, letting a little bit of the fluid out to get it flowing contributes to fluid waste, especially if you have a lot of start/stop points where you won’t be using the fluid continuously for long strokes.
The whole point of masking fluid is to make sure no paint or moisture gets past the barrier you’ve drawn, so I applied a very thick and sopping wet application of watercolor to the test swatches. This will give me the baseline for tolerance. So far so good!
Before I applied the paint, I learned that Daniel Smith masking fluid takes a great deal longer to dry than my Winsor Newton fluid, so I decided to test them out side by side. On the left side of this sketch, I applied the Daniel Smith, which dried in peach. On the right, I applied Winsor Newton fluid, which dried in cream.
o get an idea of how long I waited for both masking fluids to dry, I had time to make myself lunch, eat, and hang out for a bit. The Winsor Newton side dried within minutes, but the Daniel Smith side remained tacky and wet in some places for more than an hour. So tacky, in fact, I accidentally got some on the sleeve of my sweatshirt while I was carelessly moving my hand about the painting.
Removing the Masking Fluid
To remove masking fluid, I always use a pair of tweezers I have dedicated to my art supplies. Some artists use erasers to rub it away, or simply their fingers. I find that this method opens you up to all kinds of disasters, such as streaks, paper buckling, and surface abrasion. Lifting up a piece of the dried masking fluid with the tweezers and slowly peeling it off not only limits damage to the paper and ensures you’re getting all of it off, it’s satisfying too!
Daniel Smith masking fluid comes off cleanly with the tweezers, but is far stretchier and gummier like actual chewing gum than Winsor Newton, which is more like a rubber sheet. If you don’t allow it to dry completely before removing, you can end up with a thin layer of non-removable fluid embedded into the paper. Here’s a picture of one such instance where I tried to remove the masking fluid before it was completely dry, leaving behind a perfect ring of wet fluid.
Because of the high quality of Daniel Smith watercolor paints, I had high expectations for this masking fluid. In general, it’s not bad, and actually better than most. It has great coverage, a watertight seal, and there is the ability to get those fine details. However, I find that for my purposes, the application is a lot more difficult with the built-in applicator than with the color shaper dip and draw method I use with Winsor Newton, and this is all due to the bubbling factor. If you open up the applicator a little bit more, it’s likely less prone to bubbling, but as someone who works small, this wasn’t the solution for me.
I also felt that the drying time hindered my progress, as it takes more than an hour to wait between application and working on the piece. For those who are used to masking off a group of paintings and working on them the next day, this likely won’t impact your progress. I am someone who works on one piece straight through to completion, so drying time impacts production time significantly.
Summary: Daniel Smith watercolor masking fluid with built-in applicator is an excellent and reliable masking fluid solution.
I still prefer my current Winsor Newton fluid and a color shaper to dip and draw, but Daniel Smith is a viable alternative provided that you practice with application technique, allow for ample drying time, and take care to avoid bubbling.
Bonus Tip: How to Get Masking Fluid Out of Clothes
When working on this tutorial, I accidentally got my entire sweatshirt sleeve absolutely covered in wet masking fluid. I let it dry for easier removal, but no amount of rubbing and picking would get it off. I applied Goo Gone (orange oil) with a toothbrush and scrubbed in a circular motion until it was gone, then washed in the washing machine like normal. Now you’d never suspect a thing!