How to thin paint for miniatures
How to thin paint for miniatures. Dilution is an important skill for miniature painters to learn. Thinning acrylic paints in a controlled manner will improve the technical finish of your paintjobs. Whilst you can thin paints without one, a wet palette is an invaluable tool for hobbyists thinning their acrylic paints. The difference in quality and control conferred by a wet palette is remarkable. Glazes, washes, edge highlights? Read on!
A wet palette helps keep your acrylic paints workable for longer. Out of the pot, acrylic paints dry very quickly compared to other paints. This can make more advanced techniques that require thinned paints, such as glazing, trickier. A good wet palette can keep your paint moist, thinned, or even stored for freshness between painting sessions. Using this tool will vastly improve your enjoyment of acrylic painted miniatures, as well as the technical execution of advanced skills.
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How to thin paint for miniatures: basecoats and layers
Once you have primed your mini, the next step is the basecoats. Basecoat paints by their nature can be quite thick, which can be a challenge. Coverage may be inconsistent, or they may ‘pull’ when you try to cover a whole area with your brush. This will leave an unpleasant finish! This can be lumpy, and/or dry chalky. This is especially true of paler colors like grays, creams, and whites. Painting straight from the bottle will increase the risk of this happening. Therefore, using my RGG Painter Lite, and the dilution guide set out by pro-painter Angel Giraldez, I can avoid this. Angel’s dilution guide can be found in the new edition of the RGG Painting Book, or the RGG Painting Mat.
So here we did a little test by comparing thinning with and without wet palettes. The blue space marine pauldron was painted using wet palette thinning. The gray pauldron was painted with paint straight from the pot. For the blue basecoat I mixed it on the wet palette with water before painting onto the miniature. You can also try using a dedicated medium instead of water. 1 part water to 3 parts paint will be enough to get a better consistency necessary. It will also minimise brushstrokes and chalkiness. I can also run my brush through the mix on the palette to test it and check for any separation or impurities. For example, older paints may have dried particles we don’t want to apply to our minis!
Basecoat & Layering Tips:
It is a good idea to shake your paints thoroughly before use, especially if they have not been used recently. Acrylic paints can separate over time.
When it comes to layering highlights, the benefits are exactly the same. Plus, with the basecolors still usable on our wet palette, we can make better transitions by blending the two together! As you can see from the final results, the blue basecoat has applied much smoother and more consistently. The gray however is lumpier and has more unseemly brush strokes visible.
How to thin paint for miniatures: Edge Highlighting
Edge highlights can be tricky. We recently wrote an article about edge highlighting Space Marines with some tips, in fact. A good brush is important, but so is getting the right consistency of paint. Even paints formulated for edging may not offer the consistency right for you. Too thick, and the highlight will be not flow properly along the line, and be lumpy/chalky. Too thin and you lose control and opacity. That’s where having a good understanding of thinning and dilution comes in. And a wet palette can definitely help you with this!
As with the base layer for the pauldron, I applied the edge highlighting paint to the wet palette first. Next I added a touch of water to the mix. Following Angel’s guide, I used less water than last time; just .5 parts water to 3 parts paint. Mixing on the palette allowed me to check there aren’t impurities which could ruin straight, crisp edge highlight lines. And you can ensure you don’t overload your brush! No more than halfway up the bristles.
Edge Highlighting tips:
Make sure you have a close and firm grip on the brush and model so there is less shaking. Wherever possible, apply your edge highlights using the side of your brush. Angle your approach to the edge in order to help achieve this. Use gentle, equal pressure and as few unbroken movements as you can to maximise straight and crisp edges. Space marine pauldrons are good places to practise these skills so you can build up the muscle memory. As you can see from the gray pauldron, without being able to thin with water or use a wet palette has resulted in less consistency and control.
How to thin paint for miniatures: Washes And Shades
You don't need store-bought premixes of washes and shades; you can make your own recess shades and washes with normal paints, and your trusty wet palette! Shades and washes are a good way to add depth to your minis. Washes especially are a good technique to use for quickly defining details and shadows.
Apply a small drop of a dark color to your wet palette. Next, mix in 3 drops of water. A wet palette will ensure you have control and a stable consistency even with watery washes. Check the wash. It should be thin enough that as you stretch it over the palette it looks almost translucent. When you concentrate it, however, it should retain its original dark color. This perfectly replicates what it will do in all the nooks and crannies of our mini!
TIP: You can test consistency of paint on the side of your tumb. If you paint a line on your thumb and can’t see through it, you have a thicker, base-like consistency. If you can see through it, you have a transparent paint consistency suitable for things like glazes.
Without an understanding of dilution and a wet palette, paint thinning for different techniques is far harder. Across multiple models for batch painting it is nigh-on impossible as the mix will dry out too fast without a wet palette. You want to spend your time painting, not always making up new mixes of paints!
How to thin paint for miniatures: Glazing
In miniature painting, glazing is the process of adding several thin, translucent layers of paint. These can help smooth transitions between darker and lighter paints, for instance. They can also build luminosity. For example, you might glaze a yellow over orange or red paints. Glazing takes a lot of time and patience to get right, especially with acrylic paints. You have to wait for each layer to fully dry before starting the next one, and in the early stages it can be hard to see a difference. So acrylics are generally fast to use for hobbyists, and glazing is not!
Glazing with acrylic paints would also be nigh-on impossible to achieve without a wet palette. You need thinned paints that remain stable enough for a long period of time. The moisture control of a wet palette affords you that time.
Thin your paint with 2 parts water to 1 part paint. Use even, smooth strokes of your brush. Don’t change the angle or direction! Allow glaze layers to fully dry, too, before applying the next layer. Where you brush finishes its stroke is where the paint will concentrate, so plan accordingly. Slowly reduce the area on the model you apply the glaze on. When you first apply your glazes, it may appear as if nothing has changed, but persevere! As you wait for one glaze layer to dry completely (and there may be several!), the wet palette will keep your remaining glaze mix fresh for the subsequent layers.
I couldn’t get good glaze-thin paints for the gray pauldron without a wet palette. For the blue pauldron, however, I could thin the highlight blue to a good glaze consistency. With it, I was able to build a very subtle transition to the light blue toward the top of the pauldron. It is a very time-consuming but rewarding process. Remember: the more thin transitional layers you use will create a smoother finish, but will take longer!