Make your own oil wash for your minis and models

I have been trying to get better at weathering my minis and models. One very common way to add weathering is with washes, but sometimes you want custom color washes. I wanted to make up a batch of wash to simulate used oil leaks and thought that I would share the process with all of you. The process is very simple you only need a few things to get it made.

What you need to make an oil wash

My preferred oil wash setup

The process to make an oil wash

1. Put a little bit of oil paint into a small container.

I like to add more than one color in order to get custom colors and effects. For this I added roughly equal amounts of black and burnt umber to get a used oil look. I like to use these small graduated plastic containers that have a nice pour spout on them. If you are making just a tiny amount of oil wash, and don’t expect to save any, you can use a well palette just as well.

2. Add some white spirits to the container with the oil paint.

I added about 5ml of white spirits to the mix in this picture. You can see in the photo that the white spirits are already beginning to partially dissolve the outer layer of paint, but it would take a very long time without helping the process along.

3. Mix thoroughly

This part is going to take quite a while. The paint will want to stick together and you will have small clumps until you mix it for a long time. During the mixing process, I like to drag the brush up onto the side of the mixing cup to see if there are still clumps and also to check the consistency of the mixture and see if I need to add any more paint.

In the photo below you can see that the consistency is good where I have just dragged some of the wash onto the side of the cup, but it still needs to be mixed longer as you can still see some small dots of oil paint that have not broken up yet. Those would really ruin your day if they settled onto your paint job.

4. Store extra wash for later

I generally make up about 5ml of wash at a time. This gives me plenty to work with and I just put it into dropper bottles. Even though my mixing cups have really good pour spouts and I rarely spill, I always have an old rag under the dropper bottle while I pour just in case. I also have a small funnel that I use for smaller dropper bottles.

You can also get some good agitation shaking up your mixture after it has been put into the dropper bottles.

5. Clean up your mess

To clean up oil paint from your brush, mixing cup, etc. Just use some white spirits, I put a little bit into the mixing cup and then use that to clean out my brush. I get a paper towel to wipe it out and then take that to the outside trash so that it doesn’t stink up the house. I have a couple of brushes that I only use for oil paints and am careful not to get them mixed up with the brushes that I use for acrylic paint, there probably wouldn’t be any issues, but I’m a little particular like that.

I told you it was a simple process, so now I will try to anticipate commonly asked questions or at least the questions that I asked when I learned how to do this.

Do you need to clear coat your model before applying an oil wash

I always clear coat my models with a gloss varnish before applying an oil wash. This gives me the ability to back up and start the process over if I don’t like how it is going. Technically you can do anything that you want to do, it’s your model. Experiment with different methods to see if you like the results better.

Can you use any oil paint to make an oil wash, or does it require special paint?

You can certainly use any brand of oil paint for this process, but there are some brands that are made for modelers that have much higher pigment levels. I like Abteilung, but that is mostly because it is the brand that my local hobby store carries. You can use paint with a lower pigment density, but you will need to add more paint to the mix to get the same results.

How long does an oil wash take to dry

Typically oil washes take between 24 and 48 hours to dry, depending on how much paint you use. Remember in the paragraph above that you can add more paint when using lower pigment dense oil paints, it comes back to bite you with a longer drying time. The white spirits will evaporate quickly when compared with the actual oils.

What are the benefits of an oil wash compared to an acrylic wash?

The extended drying time for oil washes, which don’t set up for between 24 and 48 hours, allows you to blend the washes much longer than you can with acrylic washes.

Another benefit of the extended drying time is that oil washes don’t leave tide pools, or coffee stains like you get from acrylic washes when your environment makes them dry too quickly. I live in the desert, so I fight that battle all the time. I never have that particular issue with oil washes.

You can remove excess oil wash from your model quickly and easily if you get it in places that it shouldn’t be or just change your mind. Putting some white spirits onto a cotton bud lets you remove the wash from your model. You can remove it from the entire model if you wish by using a larger applicator. If you used a gloss varnish on your model before starting the wash process, removing excess is easier than if you skipped that step.

Custom colors are a great benefit of this process. I know that there are a ton of ready-made colors out there already, but sometimes you just want something that isn’t there already. I like to add colors to a standard black wash to make it a little different. Adding blue looks great when you are washing over metallic surfaces giving them a cool steel look.

Pin washing with an oil wash

I have an article all about pin washing that you can read here. Using oil washes and then cleaning up with white spirits can really speed up the process.

How do you seal your oil washes?

You can use any sealer/varnish that you would normally use on your miniatures and models. I typically use a flat or matt sealer to knock down the glossy finish from different paints. Oil washes do tend to get glossy after they are dry.

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