Thursday, May 28, 2009

Drybrushing, "wetbrushing" and the likes


Because I struggled a lot with the subject of drybrushing before actually getting what it meant, what it can be used for and how, I decided to write a small tutorial that should shed some more light on the subject. Note that this is a beginner level tutorial, as I myself have been painting for only 7 months or so.

1. Basic drybrushing

Drybrushing, as many people will tell you, is the best method that you can use to quickly bring out the surface details of a miniature or any other object for that reason. This is done by using as little paint as possible on the brush and stroking the brush repeatedly over the details that you want to bring out. In time, after several strokes, paint will rub off the brush and you will it on the details.

Now, this may sound easy enough, however, many people (myself included) tend miss one very important factor in this: the paint and how much should we use ?

Section 1 of the picture shows the brush stroking a corner towards the right side. The outer edge (or surface) is actually the surface that gives the most resistance to the brush and the paint on it at a "microscopic" level. Thus, most paint will rub off the brush on this edge of the corner. The tangent edge (or surface) hardly opposes the brush or the paint found on the brush, hence less paint will rub off it.

Section 2 of the picture shows what happens when a very dry brush encounters a model edge. The paint will scrape off the brush almost exclusively on the outer edge, with very little (if any) paint remaining for the tangent surface.

Section 3 of the picture shows what happens when a brush filled with wet paint meets a model edge. Some paint will rub off the brush on the outer edge, but continue to be applied on the the tangent edge as it "drips" on to the surface.

So the rule is pretty simple:
if you want precision, use VERY VERY little dry paint. This is because dry paint won't rub off tangent surfaces (surfaces parallel to the brush hair), it will only color the outer edge of the surface. This is why drybrushing brings out the detail in a model, because it creates a thin outline of paint for every model corner it is used on. This is also why you have seen tohe continuous rubbing motion that brings the brush on the model from all sides: because you might want to create outlines from all sides.

2. Drybrushing steps

So, now that how paint applies to surfaces we find asking ourselves how to dry the paint effectively. Here are the steps:

Dip your brush in non-dilluted paint, directly from the pot (prefferably).
Clean the excess paint in the pot
Rub the brush on a sheet of paper (normal writing paper) as if you are trying to draw something on it until almost no paint comes off. This serves 2 purposes : One: It helps to distribute the paint evenly across the brush's hair. And two: Paper absorbs water , so it's only natural to use it.
Use a paper towel to clean the brush until almost nothing gets out of it.
Start drybrushing the desired surface.

Now, if you cleaned the brush , the first strokes you do on the surface will yield almost no result. Do not panic, keep at it and soon you will start to see the model's edges receiving a faint amount of color. Continue until you get the desired result.

3. Wetbrushing (I couldn't find any other term :) )

Drybrushing is the best way to apply a thin layer of paint on a miniature without having its details obscured. Because of this, you can use roughly the same technique (but with a twist) to apply an uniform layer of color on miniatures, such as undercoats, and achieve results that are comparable to airbrushing a model. Here are the steps:
Dip your brush in water and clean some of it back into the water jar
Get some paint on the brush and clean the excess paint up.
Do a few strokes on a sheet of paper until you can see that the paint gets thin (you start seeing the paper's white through the color).
Roll the ferrule on the same sheet of paper to remove excess paint that could be stored inside
Proceed with brushing the model in broad strokes.

Doing this should provide an even coat of paint for any large surface. If you get blobs of opaque paint that looks like the one in the pot, it mostly means that some of it still remained in the ferrule, because that's where the paint tends to go if it's watered down.

I use this technique to paint the green armor of my space marines as well as vehicles and I have discovered that applying layers of paint by using this technique allows me to have an almost perfectly uniform paint distribution. The sargeant in the image below has been painted with this technique.

4. Paints

Paints are what we use daily , but some are better than others for drybrushing techniques. Basically, what you will want to use primarily are the Games Workshop foundation paints and the metallics.
Foundation paints are slightly less saturated than normal paints but have a formula that makes them stick to any surface easily. They are especially good for wetbrushing, since normal dilluted paints have a tendency of making small puddles. These don't :)
Metallic colors from GW are some of the best metallics that you can find anywhere. The main downside of any metallic color , though, is that they dry very fast, in a matter of seconds. Also, since most details in a model (especially in space marine ones) are metallic, this makes them ideal for drybrushing. Get that Crux Terminatus done in no time ! :D
Citadel colors are the run of the mill paints, and have the broadest range. They are thinner than foundation paints and need to be applied in several layers in order to get an uniform color. Lighter colors, such as badmoon yellow and skull white are a pain to apply on large surfaces. A tip would be to have a light undercoat, such as drybrushed undercoat white and then apply them in thin thin layers with wetbrushing.

5. Brushes

Before going into details , keep in mind one very important thing: drybrushing destroys brushes. It mostly does that because it forces paint into the ferrule and this makes the brush hairs to loose their shape and bend eratically. So, when you choose a brush for drybrushing keep in mind that you will end up using that brush for that thing alone after a few paint sessions.

Any brush may be used for drybrushing or wetbrushing, however some are better than others due to a number of factors:

Hair length is probably the most inportant thing, because it dictates how much pressure the brush does on the surface, and thus how precise the drybrushing process will be. Generally , the shorter the hair , the better.
Shape is another important feature of a drybrush. What GW does is provide a round brush as their standard drybrush. This brush is decent as long as you don't want any precision, mainly because round brushes tend to turn into hemispheres after prolonged use. The best shapes for a drybrush are flat head , conic or scrubber brushes. Flat heads and conic shaped brushes are very useful for drybrushing entire edges of models with ease. You may want to have at least one flat head brush in your brush collection (and make it a small flat head) especially dedicated for those small details. Also, a large flathead will prove invaluable for quickly painting vehicles.

Flat head brushes

Scrubber brushes are essentially flat heads with very short and strong hair. This makes them the perfect drybrushers, but are very hard to come by.

Scrubber brushes

c. Hair material
is also important, because it gives the stiffness and paint retention properties of a brush. Natural sable brushes have high paint retention , are very soft and can be used to paint uniform surfaces , while nylon brushes are a bit tougher and have the tendency to trace hairlines in the paint. Also, natural hair brushes are much more expensive, so you might want to get a cheap brush for drybrushing. Bottom line, nylon is a good choice, because it's inexpensive, tough and you apply dry paint which is always more uniform than wet paint.

6. Another use of drybrushing

Paint huge surfaces uniformly - generally when you're painting a tank with a small brush you will end up seeing your brush strokes after the paint dries off, which leaves quite an unpleasant effect. Drybrushing over the surface with the same color will make the paint seem more uniform, not airbrush quality, but still many times better than the original.
I have used this technique on a Rhino that ended up being quite messy. You can see it in one of my older updates. By heavily drybrushing with a large short haired conic brush I managed to give it a pretty decent finish that will look almost flawless after I spray it with matte varnish.


  1. Great stuff and a good explanation of what can sometimes be a confusing technique.

  2. For some time, I've been struggling with how much paint to use dry brushing. Very helpful article, thanks.

  3. ...and now I know what dry brushing is. Next on the list: highlighting.

  4. A great way to get a scrubber brush is to use, believe it or not, makeup brushes. They're kind of broad for a miniature application, but if you can find one small enough - or clip off some of the brush, or even just use it with larger strokes and fix the overbrush later.

    -Darren MacLennan

  5. That solved a lot of questions I had about drybrushing! Thanks a lot!