How to use a wet Palette

A wet palette is a popular tool among mini painters using water-based acrylic paint. You may be wondering what it is and if it is for you. This article will explain what a wet palette is and when it is beneficial and the pros and cons of using one.

Basically a moist sponge with porous paper on top

A wet palette is a container that holds a sponge and is filled with water. That water helps to keep water-based acrylic paint from drying out and remain usable for an extended period of time, for several days if used correctly.

How to keep your wet palette paper from 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.

What paper to use in your wet palette

I like to use parchment paper in my wet palette rather than the paper that comes with it. Most commercially made wet palettes are designed for really thick acrylic paint. Because of this, the paper that comes with it is more porous than we need as mini painters. The paint that we use is generally quite thin when compared to paint that comes in tubes.

You can use the paper that came with the palette as a template for the parchment paper. If you don’t have that, trim the parchment paper so that it has roughly half an inch on all sides between the paper and the palette wall.

Saturate the palette paper before placing it on the palette

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.

Fill your palette just above the sponge

I fill my palette so that the water shows along the edge if I tilt it slightly to one side. This keeps the water from directly contacting the paper but just barely. This prevents the paper from floating on the water and losing contact with the sponge, as well as keeping it moist.

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 scrape 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.

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.

How much water to add to your wet palette

Fill your wet palette to just above the sponge so that you can see 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.

re moisten 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. The larger the surface area of your palette the faster the water will evaporate. Also dry areas 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.

how to keep your paint from overhydrating

one of the most frustrating things that I experienced when I got my first wet palette, was that when I put the lid on my palette and came back the next day. My paint has spread all over the palette paper and was an unusable mess.

The reason this happens is back to the point I made earlier that the commercial wet pallets are designed for the thick paint that comes in tubes. That paint can stand up to high moisture for quite a while. 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. If you have a cover that removes completely from the base, you can put it on so that it isn’t completely air tight. Allow there to be a small vent at one corner that will allow some moisture to escape and the humidity inside of the palette won’t get quite so high.

If you have purchased a wet palette that has a hinged lid, consider drilling a small hole in it, 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 wont 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 escaping your sponge into the paint to a minimum.

How to keep your paint from drying out on your wet palette

moisture wicks through the palette paper to keep your paint moist and usable. However there are times when your paint will still dry out. Here are several things that can still cause your paint to dry out.

Spreading your paint thinly over a large surface

The larger the surface area the faster the water will escape from your paint. If your paint is already thin then the water might evaporate faster from the paint than it can absorb from the pad beneath.

To help with this particular problem, avoid spreading your paint too thin. Keep some pooled so that it is thicker in one spot and just spread out the amount that you need to use.

How to thin your paint on a wet palette

Put your paint on the paper in a pool. Add a drop of water next to the pool of paint. Drag a small amount of paint with your brush into the drop of water. 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 paper towel.

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

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 a water-based paint for a long time without rusting. They aren’t the kind of metal that rusts or discolors from exposure to water.

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 a relatively new palette on the market. It has grown in popularity over the last few years. It is only available on the Redgrass games website. It comes in a few different sizes.

Check out their website. or in the UK check the price on Element Games

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.

Check the price on Amazon

The Army Painter wet palette

I own this wet palette. It was the second one that I ever purchased. It is set up well and I like the way that it works. It is coated with an anti-mold treatment.

Check the price on amazon or in North America Noble Knight Games UK Element Games

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.

Check the price on Noble knight games here

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