Monday, April 22, 2013

dip method

Though I love the look of painted figures on dramatic terrain, I find painting to be one of my least-favorite parts of wargaming.

Since I discovered dipping a few years ago, it has revolutionized my hobby experience. I'm painting more figures, enjoying it more, getting better results and spending far less time per figure.

Dipping is a shortcut method, and advanced painters may find little of use here, but for those who want tabletop-quality models quickly, dipping is an excellent option. It is not only quick and easy, but can also be quite inexpensive. It seems that every other week the same questions about dipping appear on the forums I frequent — and to that mass of interest I present the following article on brush dipping.

What is dipping?
For the purposes of this article, dipping is the application of a polyurethane-and-stain combination product (referred to hereafter as the dip) to a miniature to create shading and highlighting. Traditional dipping involves the immersion of the figure in the dip. Brush dipping refers to using a brush to apply the dip instead of immersion, and is the subject of this article.

What does dipping do?
Dipping is a time-saving painting technique that in one step achieves the following results:
  • Gives a shading effect to the model
  • Darkens the recesses of the model like a wash or ink
  • Creates a pseudo-highlight as it settles away from the edges of the miniature leaving it lighter than the rest of the model.
  • Provides an extremely durable protective coating on the figure.
Why brush dipping?
In the author's opinion, applying the dip with a brush (called the "splash on" method by some) is preferable to the immersion method for several reasons. First, it allows the hobbyist more carefully control the application of the dip. Second, by virtue of not requiring the painter to shake off the excess dip, it can be done indoors with far less mess, effort and preparation. Lastly, there is not a major difference in the results or the amount of time required.

Army Painter Quickshade vs. Minwax Polyshades Satin
Might as well get this one out the the way early. Much ink has been spilled on the interwebs over whether Army Painter Quickshade is a re-labeled variation of Minwax Polyshades, a highly specialized revolutionary wargaming hobby product, or something in between.

Having never used Army Painter products, I cannot say for certain how they compare to Minwax. However, I have extensive experience with Minwax and can recommend their products with confidence. Also, I appreciate the fact that they cost one-quarter to one-third the price of Army Painter's products. I will be using Minwax Polyshades names for this review, but for those using Army Painter, the approximate Quickshade-to-Polyshade equivalents are below.

Army Painter Quickshade/Minwax Polyshades equivalents and Description
  • Soft Tone/Pecan — A light brown dip, best used for applications where only a little shading is called for. This is my least used dip, but good to have around.
  • Strong Tone/Antique Walnut — A more heavily pigmented brown dip. This general purpose dip is good for almost everything. This is by far the most common dip I use.
  • Dark Tone/Tudor — This is a unique dip with black pigment. It is best used with colors that you would not want to add a brown hue to. Blues and some greens can look great with this dip, though it is by no means limited to those colors. I find myself using this dip more and more frequently.
To choose the correct shade of dip for your project, I recommend visiting the extensive Army Painter Gallery pages. The galleries are searchable by game, army, and basecoat color and often provide side-by-side images of the results of the three different shades of dip.

  • Dip — See above. Minwax Polyshades are carried by most US hardware or home improvement stores. The exception is Tudor, which can be hard to find. I've either found it, or special-ordered it from ACE hardware. It's worth the effort. Army Painter products are available online or at most gaming stores.
  • Paints and Brushes — Whatever you normally use for painting your figures is fine for this. I use cheap craft paints and brushes, but there are definite advantages to high quality supplies as well.
  • Brushes specifically for the dip — Buy cheap brushes for applying the dip. As long as the bristles aren't too coarse, any ultra-cheapo craft brushes that aren't too small will do.
  • Paint thinner/brush cleaner/mineral spirits — The dip is not a water-soluble product, so you will need some paint thinner for brush cleaning and general cleanup. Don't bother with specialized model thinner. A can of mineral spirits from the Hardware store will do just fine.
  • A small glass jar to hold the mineral spirits.
  • Newspaper for protecting your surface and wiping dip off your brush.
  • Matte varnish, either the brush-on variety or a simple spray can. This will take away the shiny surface that the dip leaves when it dries.

Brush dipping step by step
Let's follow the brush dipping process with a group of fantasy elves.

1) Priming — As dipping will darken the model overall, I recommend a white basecoat to keep the initial painted colors brighter. Grey or colored primers may be acceptable, but try to keep them a shade or two lighter than you would otherwise use.

2) Painting — The basic dip technique requires only basic block colors. Neatly applied base colors are all that is necessary, though some folks will do a bit of highlighting before the dip. At this point, I also do the basing (sand, one color of paint) but no highlight/drybrush or foliage. As with the primer, remember to compensate for the darkening effect of the dip by using colors a shade or two brighter than you otherwise would.

3) Prepare the dip — Stir the can of dip to make an even consistency. It should be a pretty smooth flowing liquid. If it seems to viscous (sometimes it will thicken over time), you can stir in a bit of mineral spirits, but don't overdo it.

4) Apply the dip — With one of your dip brushes, apply the dip all over the model. One or two brushfuls of dip is usually enough for one 28mm infantry model.

5) Draw off the dip — With your dip brush, dab away dip from the places it is pooling on the model. Wipe your brush on the newspaper often. You want the dip to darken the recesses without completely filling them and to shade the other surfaces without making them look overly muddy or pooled. It's ok to leave some on the base to shade the basing as well. At this point and periodically throughout this process, it's a good idea to clean off your brush with some mineral spirits.

6) Final draw off — After you've drawn off the dip from the model, check again to make sure that it hasn't pooled up again, and then set it aside. If at any point in steps 4 through 6 you find you've missed a spot, you can always apply some more dip. The pics below show very clearly how the dip will pool and how it looks when the dip has been properly drawn off.

7) Last check — After a few minutes, or when you've finished 5 to 10 models, check your figures again. At this point, the dip will have thickened too much to be drawn off, but if you find that it's pooled or gotten too thick at any part of the model, a brush dipped in mineral spirits can be used to clean off that spot (or the entire model). When you've removed the offending gunk, you can repeat steps 4 through 6 for that section of the model.

8) Allow to dry for 24 to 48 hours — I highly recommend 48 hours if possible. If the dip is not completely dry, it can interfere with the later steps. Matte spray on top of not-quite-dried dip can produce an ugly crackled film.

9) Edge the base and do any additional painting — Most of my models will receive very little additional painting. The most common additional painting I do at this stage is painting the edge of the base, drybrushing the base texture, adding eyes and sometimes drybrushing any fur on the model. If you find that the glossy post-dip surface is too smooth and slippery for effective painting, you can proceed to step 10 (matte finish has more "tooth" than gloss finish), then return to step 9 and repeat step 10 again.

10) Matte finish — A matte finish will take away the glossy shine that occurs when the dip dries. It also provides an additional level of protection. I use clear matte spray from the hardware store or artists brush-on matte varnish, both of which are very affordable. Lately, I've been using the brush-on stuff more often, as it is much easier to apply at my desk, dries faster, and requires no additional setup.

10) Base foliage — Some folks prefer to add foliage to the base before the matte finish and some prefer to do so afterwards. I prefer before as the matte finish can help in adhesion, but it's by no means a firm rule. With the elves here, I was going for an early 90's Games Workshop look, so I went with the old-school method of ballast painted green with a drybrushed highlight and no foliage.

11) And you're done! Now get those miniatures to the table!

Want to see more? Here's a gallery of miniatures from my collection that have gotten their own dip treatment.

These two Void Junkers, the fantasy giant and the dwarf were dipped with Minwax Antique Walnut.

This Reaper Echidnox was also dipped with Antique Walnut. I include it as an example of heavy drybrushing applied after the dip.

This Scots Terrier shows that even over a fairly dark brown, the black pigment in Minwax Tudor can still provide contrast.

The Jaguar's spots were not painted first. The coloration is all due to the Tudor dip!

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