Recently I’ve been messing around with washes and I thought it might be worth sharing my thoughts and findings on the topic.
From my perspective a wash is simply a paint (pigment+binder) that are drawn naturally to the recesses. How this achieved is part of the discussion below, but people can often get caught up in the semantics the precise definitions. So wash=pigment that goes into recesses with little help.
There are four different types of washes that I will discuss:
- Branded acrylic
- Les Bursley’s wash recipes
- Floor wax wash
- Oil wash
From left to right: Army Painter Quickshade Ink wash, Floor Polish Black, Les Bursley’s recipe, oil
This is the wash everyone should be familiar with. Vallejo, Games Workshop, The Army Painter and Secret Weapon all do wash lines that I have used in some capacity: doubtless the myriad of other paint companies have their own lines. For what they do, they’re pretty good. The Dark Tone above is 1/3rd full, after almost three and a half years painting, which includes shading close to 100 whole figures (plate armour, Dark Angels, etc). I also have Badab Black from the old Citadel range, which has held up remarkably well given the shoddy design of the bottles. I tend to reserve it for finer work as the consistency is more transparent, allowing me to use it easily as a glaze. I have thinned down the Army Painter washes on occasion with airbrush thinner, which lightens it up slightly (it leaves less pigment). I used thinned Dark Tone on my Steel Warriors, and thinned Soft Tone on the Marionettes.
+Reliable: for the most part these ranges are easy to source and there’s little chance of the mixture drastically changing
+Consistent: as said above, the colour is not likely to change and you will get the same affect time and time again
+Easy to recommend: it’s as simple as saying “pick up this colour, slather it on at this stage, your mini will look 10x better”. Games Workshop has built a whole system on layers, drybrushes and washes. If you need proof it works, you have thousands of people recommending it.
-Value: I haven’t put cost because single pots of washes are quite cheap. The Army Painter bottle cost close to £2.50, Games Workshop a little more (for less actual wash of course). Buy it in a set and the cost comes down even more. However there’s less than 30mls of liquid per pop. Compared to the other methods discussed below, buying branded washes can become expensive.
– Production changes: I know I said above that branded washes are consistent, and they are, until they disappear off the face of the earth. Case in point, the new Games Workshop paint line got rid of the old Devlan Mud that was a staple of many painting recipes. You might not like the new version, and this can cause you to hoard up your paints, fearing to open them lest they dry up.
These are the ingredients you need for the Floor Wax recipe. A container helps, but is by no means essential: until last week I was mixing washes in the wells of my palette. I was only able to find the Pledge in Sainsburys’, and only then in the big one half a mile away. However it was £3.15 for 750ml, which is great value. Essentially the Pledge acts as the medium for the pigment in the ink, and thanks to its formulation its has a very low surface tension which pulls the ink pigment into the recesses. The other item is of course the ink, which gives you the pigment. Ink is good because it’s very intense but at the same time transparent, which are two properties that work excellently for washes. The ink costs £4/30ml, but it’s good value as I’ll explain below.
I have bottled up Pledge Wash: as I have only done so recently however I cannot comment longevity of a bottle. It’s lasted 3 days so far. I will explain the process below, alongside Les Bursley’s wash recipe.
+Simple: it’s two items mixed together, and then applied straight onto the miniature.
+Value: having spent £10 you can get a hell of a lot of wash. While I haven’t figured out the exact ratios, you make far more than 200ml, which is double what the same outlay would get you in branded washes (5x 20ml bottles, at £2/bottle). Still, it isn’t cheap because you can’t spend £2 and get 1/5th of the volume.
+Flexibility: if you can find the ink, you can get the tone. You can mix multiple inks together to make whatever tone you like. You can alter the ratios for ink:polish to change the depth of colour as well (for instance to lighten black you simply add less ink)
-Storage: if you want to bottle it up, you’ll have to do that yourself. The Pledge bottle is also pretty big.
-Effort: it’s not much, but mixing up a custom wash every time is more time consuming than simply pulling out a bottle. If you pre-mix and store a large quantity however, you’re golden.
+/-Gloss finish: I’ve put this as both a positive and a negative as it’s pretty much down to personal choice how one feels about this. Yes, the miniature will be extremely glossy when you’ve applied the wash. However the glossiness does two things: firstly it drives the pigment into the recesses (if you’re doubtful look at how the new-ish Citadel Gloss Washes work), and secondly it seals the miniature. If you apply a matte varnish over the top, the whole model dulls down, and in fact the lack of shine from the recesses can improve the look of the model. Still, glossy models make for some ugly photos.
Some people online mentioned that it is milky unlike the older Pledge, but this has no visible effect on the was once the ink is mixed in, or on the final finish.
On the two models above, gloss black-brown mix has been put over most of the clothing and armour. However the sleeves and blue trousers (on the left model) have been given further highlights, which almost entirely covers the gloss finish. Although I’ll still give them another matte coat, it means there’s even less chance of them being glossy on the tabletop.
Les Bursley’s Wash Recipe
Before you start, read the thread on DakkaDakka, I want to make it absolutely clear I have followed the instructions contained within and cannot claim to have invented or otherwise improved upon the recipe:
+Variety: again, like the Pledge wash, you can mix any colours you want to any consistency. In addition because the recipe involves mixing flow improver and medium, you have more control over the viscosity of the final product.
+Value: the outlay is significantly higher than the Pledge option, but it still provides good value for money. Expect to spend a little less than £20 on getting everything together. However if you already have inks, you’ll save a bit of money as the “stock” (Medium, flow aid/improver and de-ionised water mixture) will last for a long time.
+Familiarity: from mine and other peoples’ experiments this recipe seems to behave pretty well like branded washes. It dries matte as well, which can be a plus. (I had thought to swap out the matte varnish for gloss, but as I have the Pledge, what’s the point?)
-Complex: it is a bit of a chore to gather together the various materials and mix them up. For some people the effort is not worth the customisation achievable. Fair enough, but for me the tinkering is one of the best bits of the hobby.
-Needs storage: again, this comes with the effort point. These washes need to be mixed and stored in a container (preferably a dropper bottle), otherwise they’re more faff than they’re worth. But that’s a fairly minor quibble, as it saves time to premix a load of stock and wash. Again, for some people the hour of effort is not worth the money they’d save.
Basic process: 1) fill 30ml bottle with 15mls of medium. 2) I insert an agitator, a 6mm glass BB bought online. 3) fill the remainder of the bottle with 15mls of dilute flow improver. It might not look full now, but it will be once the ink is added. 4) the bottle is shaken and now contains the wash stock ready for the ink to be added. 5) ink is added according to the recipe (generally between 20 and 60 drops per 30mls)
Oil washes are the king of washes. They give great depth, have working times that can stretch into hours, and there’s an endless supply of brands to work with. I believe they originate in the scale-modelling hobby, but like most good ideas it spread to other similar pursuits. Oil washes require the following:
From left to right: gloss varnish, white spirit, oil paint, plastic cup, cheap rigger brush.
This kit is very basic and a range of things could be changed, from the thinner (although it says “Artists quality” I filled the bottle with cheapo DIY store white spirit. Same effect), paint itself (most people use artists’ quality) to the brush. As long as the paint has been thinned and applied to a gloss surface, the wash will find its way into the recesses of the model.
+Control: every single part of the mix can be altered to suit the needs of the painter, from the paint consistency to the colour, to the placement on the model thanks to its long drying time. Oil also has the insane advantage of allowing you to come back a few hours later and removing the wash from where you don’t want it by using white spirit and a cloth/rag/earbud/whatever to wipe it off.
+Great blending: this is what oils are famous for. The long working time and control allows different washes to blend together easily, allowing the painter to create a lot of depth through the colour application.
+Weathering: oil washes are a staple for weathering vehicles, and can easily be applied to non-vehicle miniatures. From pin washes to filters, weathering with oils is a world unto itself. I am not especially experience, so that’s about all I can say about the topic.
+Value: again the outlay can be a bit much at first, but oil paints will last literally a lifetime. The paint is so dilute in the wash that it’s hardly likely to run out for a few decades (if the paint is only used for washes) and it will take even longer to dry in the tube.
-Time consuming: oil washes are not time friendly. From application to sealing the process can take at least 24 hours, allowing for the wash to dry well enough.
-Varnish: oil washes require two varnish layers to be fully effective. Firstly the miniature must be given a gloss coat to both protect the acrylic layers underneath and to push the oil wash into the recesses. Secondly the miniature should be matte varnished after the wash has dried, as although the oil wash dries matte, the oil wash sits in the recesses. I use an airbrush for these varnish layers, and I quite frankly cannot imagine efficiently applying varnish any other way.
-Smells funny: oil colours are not waterbased. The paints smell, the solvent smells worse (some people use odorless thinner, but I prefer to know if I’m huffing the stuff), and any wash, or paint, that spills or goes somewhere unintended will leave a mark without vigorous application of thinner to the area. Of all the options, oil washes are the least “environmentally friendly”. The smell can also piss people off.
So that’s a cursory look at the washes I use. If you’ve read through it all, hopefully you’ll be tempted to mix some custom washes of your own, or maybe you’ve been turned off the whole idea.
Thanks for reading!
Les Bursley’s Dakka thread: https://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/261541.page
Leadhead blog post that started me down the rabbit warren: http://theleadheadblog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/making-your-own-washes.html
Dr Faust’s Painting Clinic tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gR3aIAth5qU
Paepercuts Oil Wash video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uxfqXql-gg&t=751s
There are hundreds of other blog posts, youtube videos and forum threads discussing the various products. The above represent the four main sources for my research. Do give them a read/watch if you’re unsure about anything in this post.
Appendix 1: What to buy and where to find it
Branded washes: wargaming stores. Vallejo, Games Workshop, Army Paintet, possibly Scale75, should be stocked in your FLGS
Pledge: https://www.sainsburys.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/gb/groceries/pledge-multi-surface-wax-750ml. I’m unsure as to the US equivalent, my apologies.
Les Bursley’s wash:
Matte medium, flow-aid/improver: I used both from the Windsor Newton Galleria range as it was cheaper than the Liquitex equivalent. I picked up mine at Cowling and Wilcox but this range is widely stocked in art stores, shop around for the best deal.
Liquitex inks: Most recipes recommend Daler Rowney inks, I used Liquitex because it was cheaper. A six pack of Red, Blue, Yellow, Umber, Black and White costs £20: I would advise getting that (https://www.cowlingandwilcox.com/inks/10014-liquitex-ink-essentials-set). Otherwise, individual pots are £4. I got mine from Cowling and Wilcox, again they’re widely available.
Dropper Bottles: Can be obtained online from Amazon at the cost of £10 for 50. I bought a dozen for £7 with Prime delivery, simply because I forgot to order in advance. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tenflyer-Plastic-Squeezable-Dropper-Bottles/dp/B00S7ZCUAS/
Gloss & matte varnish: I use Vallejo because I know it shoots through an airbrush well. This can be sourced online, but buy in bulk (they do 500ml for £12 I believe) to save money. I have yet to try Pledge as a gloss varnish, so that might be the cheapest option.
Paint, spirit, brush: all widely available. The spirit can be cheap DIY store bought, £1/litre. I use Windsor and Newton Winton oil, but choose whatever brand you want. The brush was a cheapo ebay purchase, but if you’re planning on picking up a range of brushes, check out Rosemary and Co (https://www.rosemaryandco.com/) as they have an extensive range of brushes, and are actually good value.
I include below a picture of the agitator balls:
I got mine off eBay for £4.50. Works out around 2p/agitator.