Mike Paquette demonstrates how to do washes and drybrushing..

Starship Modeler - The complete information source for modelers who build sci-fi, fantasy and real space subjects

Washes and Drybrushing: A Weathering Primer

By Mike Paquette - images & text © 2002

[Rust in nature] Got a model that youíd like to see look really old or beat up? Think your finished model looks too "off the assembly line"? Well, then you want to add some sort weathering effects -- ie, you want to make it look like it's been exposed to the elements, it's environment, and wear and tear of everyday use. Washes and drybrushing are two was to add the illusion of such effects using paint. And they're pretty easy to do.

What Effect Do You Want?

Paint the subassembly or section of the model you're working on the base color first. Allow the part adequate time to dry. I usually wait about an hour or two after the paint is dry to the touch to start handling the part. Next, chose what you want the model to look like. Do you want worn metal? Would you like the model to look rusty or dirty? Answer that and proceed accordingly.

Letís say you want the wing of the Bird-of-Prey to look rusty. As you know, there are paints on the market called "rust". Just one color rust wonít cut it in most cases. In nature, patterns are very random and unpredictable. Youíll also notice that rust isnít always dark reddish brown. It can be shades of brown and sometimes orange and green depending on the environmental conditions and what type of metal is being weathered. So, all that having been said, Iíd suggest applying one shade of brown after the other using various methods like washing, rubbing and dry-brushing. Weíll get to the nuts and bolts later.

[Click to enlarge] What I recommend first is to apply a little "rust" paint first. Just a little. Dab some on to the edges of the wing in some places leaving a few clean spots. Before it completely dries, run the dry brush over the paint quickly and firmly enough to move the paint around some making a gradation between the base coat and the rust color. Now, add other shades of brown in a similar fashion remembering to randomize the approach. Donít be afraid to be more liberal with some colors over others. This is your model, remember. Also, try a wash to make it look like some rust has seeped into a crack or crevice.

Now, on to metals. Some ships in space, the ones that can go planetside in particular could be subject to hulls being battered by wind storms or the landing gear gets all scratched up by the ship landing on a rocky or rough surface. Try to imagine what the metal is underneath the base coat of the model if it was real. Using the same dry brushing technique you used to apply the rust. Start dry brushing on the metal on the edges and rims of surfaces that would most be exposed to elements that could wear away the paint in the real world. When weathering with metals, itís important to be less enthusiastic about exposed and bare metal than you would be about rust, dirt or oil stains. What impacts or scratches the ship would endure would be very minimal and few and far between given the modelís "real life" scale. In other words, less is more when weathering with metals.


[Washes] In my experience, flat (matte) paints work best for doing washes, especially with regards to doing stains of dirt and rust. Gloss or semi-gloss black or dark brown could be used to simulate an oil or transmission fluid leak.

Glossy paint doesn't take well to being dry brushed. It gets sticky and hard to work with. It's not impossible to do, just difficult. Flat paint would be the ideal choice for drybrushing.

The type of paint you use for either technique should ideally be different than the base coat - for instance, if you painted the model with an enamel, you should use an acrylic or oil paint to do the washes. If you use the same type of paint, the thinner or the paint itself may interact with the base color and ruin the effect. If you want to use the same types of paint for the weathering as you did for the base coat, seal the base coat first with a clear coat of another type (for instance, seal an enamel base coat with a clear acrylic coat before using enamel washes).

I've found that Testors' Acryl is the best to use for both washes and dry brushing. It really applies well and cleans up nicely. You don't need any special thinner for Acryl either. Plain rubbing alchohol will work to thin down Acryl enough to wash with. The Acryl Thinner doesn't thin down the paint enough to do an effective wash with. I used to use Testors' enamels almost excusivley and they do a really nice job with weathering but the convienience of being able to clean brushes and mishaps with water or alchohol is more appealing than using stinky solvents.


Iíve talked a lot about washes and dry-brushing but what does it all mean and how do you do it? Iím glad you asked!

[Dry-brushing - click to enlarge]Dry brushing is using a brush to apply a non-liquid pigment meduim to enhance raised detail of a scale model. True enough but what the donít mention is that the non-liquid may once have been liquid. You only need to make it non-liquid. Take your brush (not your best one - an old one will do nicely), dab it into the paint thatís pooled in the cap of the paint youíre going to use. Donít dip it into the paint jar itself because the many bristles can suck up too much paint and cause a mess. Itís best if you use a small amount of paint on the brush on the tip. Now, rub the brush into a piece of paper a bit moving away from the spot where you put the brush to the paper until the paint starts to look dry. Thatís the indicator of when to start dry-brushing. Quickly run the brush back and fourth just above the point where you want the weathering to take place. Move toward the model slowly still making the rapid back and fourth motion with the brush. Do as much or as little of this as you want all the while checking your progress. Excess paint is hard to get off one spot on a model.

[Washes]Washes, when applied correctly and enhance the sunken or recessed detail of your model. They can also be used to add stains if you like. First, you need to chose the color youíd like to do a wash with, thatís a given. I like to use the cap of the paint I chose to mix the wash. From there, I dip my brush into. The bristles hold quite a bit of liquid and when touched against something, it releases most of that liquid.

To mix a good wash, donít think of a wash as being paint thinned down, think of it as thinner contaminated by paint. Test the wash on a scrap piece of platic with some greebles (small raised bits) and see how it looks in an hour. If itís too light, add more paint. Too dark? Well, you do the math.

To apply the wash, just touch the tip of the brush against where you want the paint to flow. The contact of the brush to the surface releases the fluid and lets it drain onto what youíre weathering. When applied to a glossy surface, the wash will tend to run down engraved detail and pool around the edges of raised detail. Over a flat or matte surface, the wash will spread out and stain the entire area. Both looks have their uses.

Sometimes, itís nice to wipe up the wash solution with a paper towel. Thatís to let the paint stay in recessed parts like panel lines but making the panel itself look more clean (This works best over a glossy surface).

Again, I canít emphasize the importance of making your weathering job look random. When youíre making something look really old and beat up, donít be afraid to really go to town and be aggressive with the brush. Use it like a mop sometimes. Youíll be surprised at the results.

Go back up | Tech Library Main Page | Starship Modeler Home | Site Map | Feedback

This page copyright © 2002 Starship Modeler™. Last updated on 14 May 2002.