Washes for weathering Vehicle Models

and for highlighting and shadowing

Figure Models



October 21, 2001

Due to a number of email messages that I've received asking questions about the application of washes on models, I decided to jot down my thoughts on this topic and drop them into an article.


You can weather a vehicle and robot model with the application of the wash. Washes can also be used to apply a realistic looking paint job to both the skin and clothing of large scaled model figures.


The "wash" is just diluted paint. The ratio of paint to thinner can vary. However, you want your wash to be the consistency of Kool-aid.


(Types of washes)

Your wash can be an enamel one, an acrylic one or even an oil one. There are a number of potential problems here, though.


The first is that because an oil paint is stronger than an enamel one - (I think) - and because an enamel paint is stronger than an acrylic one - (I know) - applying a stronger paint over a weaker one may cause your weaker paint to become damaged.


A second problem is that if you apply a wash of the same type as your basecoat, your wash will eat away and damage the basecoat. (This is the same thing as applying pure thinner over a paint job that has cured).


A third problem is that regardless of the type of basecoat your wash is going over, if your basecoat is a flat one, it will be much more difficult to remove the wash's excess than if your basecoat had been a glossy, smooth one, (or if your basecoat had been sealed with a clear gloss paint). This is because the smooth, glossy paint surface prevents your excess wash from attaching itself into the surface areas, unlike the numerous "nooks-n-crannies" found in dull paint finishes, that tend to absorb your wash.


With respect to the first two problems, you can apply a wash of a weaker type of paint over a stronger type of paint. It is because of this that acrylic paints tend to be best to be used as a wash.


Even though Tamiya paints are acrylic ones, I'd advise AGAINST using them. They are just too hard to remove once dry.


There are other inexpensive acrylic paints from craft stores that can be used as washes as well. Advantages are they are more readily available, there tends to be a greater variety of colors with them and again they tend to be less expensive than "modeling paints."


The disadvantage is that since most of these acrylic paints are made for porous objects (like plaster, clothing, and wood), these paints will not adhere all that well to plastic model kits. Hence, they will need to be sealed in after they dry.


(Seal your paint with a clear, gloss lacquer paint)

As previously mentioned, it is best to apply a clear glossy paint over your base coat. In addition to giving you a smooth surface for the application of your wash, this clear coat will also protect the paint job that you've already done.


The general rule of thumb for the sealer is that it should be a "DIFFERENT" type of paint than your wash.


Due to its strength and durability, it's best to use a clear, lacquer paint to seal your work in. Floquil's Crystal Coat (if you can still obtain it) and Testor's Glosscoat are both clear, semi-gloss and gloss lacquer paints. The fact that they are lacquer paints means they will give your paint job a very strong protective barrier for either enamel or acrylic washes.


The one thing that you must be careful about is the process of applying these lacquer paints. Due to the strength of lacquer paints, they should be applied with an airbrush in a number of light, multiple coats. Otherwise, your lacquer paint may eat away at your acrylic or enamel basecoats.


(Future Floor Wax?)

Another option for your clear protective coat would be to use regular ole' undiluted Future Floor Wax. It can either be painted on with a large paintbrush, or it can be airbrushed on.


The fact that it is different from both your basecoats and an acrylic or enamel wash means that it can be used as your protective barrier.


(Dulling it back down)

After you've applied your wash and removed the excess, you're probably going to have to dull down your finish. Testor's Dullcote or Polly-S' Clear Flat are two paints that can be used for this. In addition, Testors has recently reformulated their acrylic paints, and I think they've released a clear flat paint as well.


Again, these paints should be airbrushed on, (although you may be able to carefully apply the spray can Dullcote).


(Washes on vehicles and/or robot models)

With vehicles and robots, the wash is either applied into recessed panel lines or along the lower edges of raised panel lines.


With recessed panel lines, the idea is to apply your wash into the lines, let the paint dry and then remove the excess from the surrounding areas, letting it remain within the lines' recesses. The removal can be done with a Q-tip or paper cloth and paint thinner (that is the same type as your wash). Your recessed lines end up becoming accentuated, bringing your model to life, per' se.


This technique is a bit more difficult to do when your model has raised panel lines. However, the concept is still the same. Apply your wash to the lines and let your paint dry. Instead of concentrating on the tops of your raised panel lines, your wash will pool and dry in the areas where your lines meet your model's surface.


Again using a Q-tip and thinner, carefully remove most of the wash, leaving a thin covering shadow where your lines meet the model's surface.


When using a wash for weathering, it should be either a darker hue of your base color or a dark gray or possibly even a black color, (depending on your base color). The trick is to keep from making the contrast between your wash and basecoat too great, (to keep it from looking artificial).


(Washes on figures)

As previously mentioned, a wash can also be used on a figure model to give its skin and clothing an illusion of depth. Multiple layers of skin can be simulated on the figure by using this painting technique. Both highlighting and shadowing can also be accomplished on the figure's skin and clothing by using this technique.


(Realistic skin anyone?)

If you've ever looked at a person's face, you will notice that regardless of the color of their skin, it is actually made up of slightly different hues of the same color. When applying a wash to a model figure's skin, you can replicate this naturally existing occurrence.


Your wash (usually an acrylic one, for figures) can be thought of as a watercolor. Similar to watercolors, your paint will not give full coverage when applied. It will go on a bit transparent in places, leaving the previously applied color peeking through a bit. When simulating natural skin on a figure, this is exactly what you want.


In addition, different (lighter) hues can be painted over previous ones, to give the figure's skin a layering of subtly different colors.


(How about shadowing and highlighting?)

A wash can also be used to highlight and shadow a model figure's skin and clothing. With the skin, your wash is applied after your base coat has been painted on. (Again, you should seal your paint job in before applying the next color).


Using the face as an example, a slightly darker hue of your base coat is applied into the lower skin areas, like the areas below the bottom lip and areas around the base of the eyes, ears and nose. When your shadowing paint is sealed in, a lighter hue of your basecoat can then be applied to the higher areas of the face, (like the cheek areas, the bridge of the nose, the forehead and top of the chin).


With clothing, after your basecoat has been applied, for a shadowing effect create a slightly darker wash and apply it into the folds and crevices of the clothing of your figure. Once dry and sealed in, create a slightly lighter color of your basecoat and apply it to the high points of your figure's clothing, (like the top folds of clothing, or the areas that sunlight will shine the most upon).



Even though the use of washes on models may sound like a lot of trouble, it really only turns out to be a couple of additional steps added to the painting process. The really realistic paint job that will result is well worth the effort, (in my humble opinion).


As with any new technique being learned, you should practice it, practice it, and then practice it some more until you feel comfortable with it and are satisfied with its results.


This is especially true with the use of washes for weathering, shadowing and highlighting.


Once you master this technique, though, your model will literally come to life before your very eyes.


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Copyright 2010 by Anthony I. Wootson. No material may be reproduced without permission. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.