I watch paint dry for a living. It's never boring – there's so much to look for.
- Matthew Risbridger, 21, works at paint developer and maker AquaTec Coatings in Wrexham, Wales.
- “People’s reactions are usually a bit like 20 Questions … they don’t really understand I watch paint dry.”
- He explains to freelance journalist Caitlin Tilley why he’s never bored.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I was looking for a job in a laboratory because I was interested in science. I did Chemistry, Mathematics, History and Physics A Levels and this is my first job after leaving school at 18.
I saw it advertised on a job website. I’ve been doing it for three and a half years now.
On a typical day, I’d get a request from a company asking for paint to do a certain thing with certain specifications and drying cycle. Then I’d get a base formulation, make, say five or six samples with different ingredients.
I have to test all the samples by watching them dry to see how they dry, how hard the paint is once they’ve dried and how long it took them to dry. For each job I usually have to test different variations of the paint and watch it dry 10 to 15 times.
I don’t find it boring because I’m not just sitting there; I’m looking for something even when I’m watching the paint dry. I’m inspecting it, looking for cracks in the film, ripples, bits in the paint, or any defects. If it’s too thick, you’ll get a texture that looks like orange peel.
We have multiple different ways we can dry things. It could be on a schedule through ovens, infrared heaters, fans, wind tunnels or air drying. I have to watch the paint dry to examine how it dries and how fast it dries.
I watch how it dries on all sorts of surfaces, such as metal composite doors or wood. On some surfaces we are looking for a smooth and level coating, whereas with textured coatings you’ve got to make sure the texture is there when it dries. It all depends on the paint and what you paint it on.
There are big variations in how long paint takes to dry. We have paints that dry in 15 minutes, and then some which won’t dry for an hour.
I will feel the paint to check when it’s dry. I scratch it with a knife to see if it’s gone hard, because it could be dry but still soft. I use a stopwatch or timer to see how long it takes.
It’s satisfying to see the paint dry, especially with high-gloss products, because they dry really smooth. Wood coating is my favorite type of paint because it’s the one I know most about.
Our clients are generally in the modular and portable industry, so they need containers’ painting. They’re also in the joinery industry, so we work with wooden fences, as well as composite doors and industrial paint contractors. The majority of the time they want the fastest drying possible.
I kept working on the site throughout the pandemic. We had new jobs come up, such as spray painting test centres for the NHS.
We have a lot of competitors, but mainly they work with solvent-based paint. We are the market leader in water-based paint. There is one other man who works between production and my role. There’s a team of 20 people on-site and then sales managers on the road.
The best part of the job is successfully completing a project. For example, working out why there’s cracking in the paint. It can be stressful when the deadlines are quite close, but most of the time we have a schedule. Also, I’m making a good salary for a first job right out of school.
It’s complicated to try and explain my job to people. I mainly say that I work with chemicals. People’s reactions are usually a bit like 20 Questions because they don’t really understand that I watch paint dry. Some people just can’t get their head around it so they give up.
My friends and family are happy for me in my job; they see it as sticking to what I know and like, because it’s about finding things out and problem solving. There’s a lot more to it than just watching.
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