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A wet palette is a popular tool among mini painters using water-based acrylic paint. If you have watched many youtube videos about painting minis you have likely seen them. You may be wondering what they are and if they are a good fit for you. This article will when they are beneficial and the pros and cons of using one.
What is a Wet Palette
Basically, a wet palette is a container that holds a sponge and is filled with water that has a porous sheet of paper on top where you put your paint. The water in the sponge helps to keep water-based acrylic paint from drying out and remains usable for extended painting sessions. They are simple constructs and many people make their own. If you are interested in making your own, I have written an article about that.
The Basics of Getting Started With Wet Palettes
The first step in setting up your new wet palette is to hydrate your sponge. You want enough water to fully saturate the sponge without the water overflowing to make your sponge float above the bottom of the container it is in. Most of the time your sponge will expand a bit once you add the water, so I like to add water a little at a time to let it fully integrate.
How Much Water to Add to Your Wet Palette
Fill your wet palette to just above the sponge so that you can see the water if you slightly tip the container to one side, but not if it is laying flat. This maximizes contact with the sponge surface maintaining surface tension.
If your paper starts to float above the sponge you might develop bubbles under the surface of the paper causing it to wrinkle and curl creating dry spots.
Add Water to the Sponge Regularly
Keep a small container of water at your painting table to add a little bit of water from time to time to your wet palette. I like to use a goose neck squeeze bottle because I can get the water into the edge between the paper and the container without making a mess.
The larger the surface area of your palette the faster the water will evaporate. Also dry environments like where I live cause the water to evaporate much more quickly than humid areas. Plan to have a bit of a learning curve of how often you will need to re-apply water to maintain a happy paint surface.
Add Your Paper
Once your sponge is hydrated you will need to add the palette paper to it. Some palettes come with specific instructions, if yours did follow them. But in general, you need to lay the paper flat on top and hold it in place until the paper hydrates.
Saturate the Palette Paper Before Placing it on the Sponge
I set up my wet palette at my kitchen sink. This gives me a lot of room to get it ready without squeezing it under my bathroom sink or pouring water at my painting table.
As I get the palette ready. I run the palette paper under the running water. I like to turn it over to make sure that it is fully saturated. This helps the paper to stretch without tearing and have proper surface tension.
How to thin your paint on a wet palette
When using a wet palette you can, and should, still thin your pants. Put your paint on the paper in a small area. Add a drop of your preferred thinner next to the pool of paint. Drag a small amount of paint with your brush into the drop of thinner. Swirl your brush around the paint, adding a little bit at a time until it is mixed to your desired consistency. Test the paint consistency on your thumb or a piece of scrap.
All about Palette Paper
Stop Wet Palette Paper Curling
One of the most annoying things about wet palettes is that if you don’t prepare your paper correctly it will dry out and curl up. There are several things that you need to do to make sure that it stays wet and useful.
Use a Stiff Card to Stretch and Flatten the Palette Paper
After you have filled the container with water place the saturated paper on top of the sponge and roughly center it. I use an old library card to carefully wipe the top of the paper so that it smooths it out and removes air bubbles.
Anywhere you find an air bubble it will dry out and you won’t have that section of the paper to use as your palette. Take your time to make sure to get it nice and smooth, a little extra time spent at the beginning will prevent lots of frustration later.
Make sure that you remove all drops of water from the top of the palette paper
After you have the palette paper smoothed out, take a paper towel and lightly dab the top of the palette paper to remove any droplets of water from the surface. Drops of water will dilute your paint unexpectedly if it comes in contact with it.
What Paper to Use in Your Wet Palette
Palettes that were intended for mini painters generally come with good paper for us to use and I recommend using that paper. Wet palettes that weren’t created specifically for miniature painting come with paper that is more porous than we need as mini painters because they were intended for use with heavy body acrylic paints that come in tubes. The paint that we use is generally quite thin when compared to heavy body paint.
When I made my own wet palette I used parchment paper, and many people use it rather than the paper that comes with wet palettes that weren’t intended for miniature paint.
If you are going to use parchment paper, remember that you can use the paper that came with the palette as a template for cutting the parchment paper to size. If you don’t have any left, trim the parchment paper so that it has roughly half an inch on all sides between the paper and the palette wall.
You can use metallic paint on your wet palette
Some people are a little concerned about using metallic paints on their wet palettes. They think that the metal flakes will get into their sponge and then transfer from the sponge into their non-metallic paint contaminating it.
The metal flakes from the paint are larger than the regular pigment in the paint. So if the red pigment embedded in your sponge doesn’t turn your white paint pink, you can rest assured that the metallic flakes also can’t pass through the paper to contaminate the paint on top of the palette.
You might also be concerned that the metal might rust or otherwise become discolored. But think about it this way. Those same metallic flakes have been suspended in water-based paint for a long time without rusting. They aren’t the kind of metal that rusts or discolors from exposure to water.
If you are still wary about metallic paints on the same wet palette as your non-metallic paints, then get a second palette and designate one for each type of paint. After all, many of us have two rinse cups for this very reason.
How to Keep Your Paint From Overhydrating
When I got my first wet palette I was under the misconception that they were intended to keep your paint hydrated for several days at a time. In reality, they are intended to extend the working duration of your paint for an extended paint session or when your environment would dry your paint very quickly.
It is possible to keep your paint useable for several days. There are things that you can try, but I find that multiple days are just bonuses that can’t be relied on consistently. One of the most frustrating things about trying to keep paint workable for multiple days is when you come back the next day and your paint has spread all over the palette paper and is an unusable mess.
The reason your paint becomes a mess is due to the humidity of a closed environment. Heavy body acrylics can stand up to this type of environment for a fair amount of time, not so with our paint intended for tabletop miniatures.
To avoid this heinous end for your paint, you will need to do one of two things, reduce the humidity or the evaporation time of the water.
Try adjusting your lid
If you have a cover that removes completely from the base, you can put it on so that it isn’t completely air tight. Allowing a small vent at one corner will allow some moisture to escape and the humidity inside of the palette won’t get quite so high.
Some cheap wet palettes come with a hinged lid, if you have purchased one of those, consider drilling a small hole in the lid. I recommend a corner placement so that it will maintain the proper humidity level while you are gone.
Avoid leaving your paint in a sealed wet palette for a long time. If you know that you won’t be painting for a while clean out your palette and allow it to air out. Leaving it for too long will just result in a mess.
Store the palette in your refrigerator
Putting the palette in your fridge, especially in the summer, lowers the temperature. This will help to keep the amount of moisture evaporating from your sponge into the paint to a minimum.
How to clean your wet palette
You should clean out your wet palette after every painting session. This is not to say that you should clean it out every time you take a break. When you take a break, even if it is for a day or two, you close the lid and let it sit.
When it is time to clean out my wet palette I do the following
- Take the paper out and throw it away
- Take the sponge out, rinse it under running water, wring it out, and put it somewhere to dry
- You can wash the container by hand or some you can put in the top rack of your dishwasher. It probably won’t say that it is dishwasher safe.
- Tip the container upside down to let it drain and dry
Recommended Wet Palettes
A wet palette is a useful tool in your painting arsenal. I highly recommend getting one and using it. If you want to make your own before you commit to purchasing one, I have written a guide for how to make one here.
Everlasting Wet Palette
This is one of the more popular wet palettes on the market. It has grown in popularity over the last few years. Until recently it was only available on the Redgrass games website. It comes in a few different sizes.
The Army Painter wet palette
I own this wet palette. It was the second one that I ever purchased, and much better than the ultra cheap one I had first. It is set up well and I like the way that it works. It is coated with an anti-mold treatment.
AK Interactive Wet Palette
The AK interactive wet palette is a great value. It also has readily available replacement foam for only a couple of dollars.
Sta-Wet Masterson Palette
This is a wet palette designed for acrylic painters that use the tube type paint. It isn’t designed for the type of paint that we generally use on tabletop miniatures. It has a really large surface area. If you get it you will want to use parchment paper rather than the paper that comes with it.