Talent In a Bottle:  How to Apply Washes to Your Miniatures 

Get instant improvement on your Miniatures with this simple technique

Washes and Shades have been called “Instant talent in a bottle” by people in the hobby.  They got that name because they are a cheap and simple way to get a big improvement on your base coated models.  It’s an important tool for painting miniatures. We’ll talk about them below.


  • A simple wash can make a huge impact on the result of your miniature.
  • Washes are a quick easy way to get definition and contrast
  • They don’t require a ton of skill to apply, although you can overdo it.
  • Very beginner friendly technique
  • There is some criticism that washes are a “trap” that can hold you back if you dont try other methods.

What you’ll need for applying a Wash on your miniature:

  1. Either a pre made wash like Citadels Nuln Oil, or make your own wash.
  2. Paint brush to apply the wash with
  3. A palette of some kind to put the wash on before applying it to the miniature
  4. Paper towel or napkin to blot your paint brush on if needed.
  5. A miniature with the base coats applied to it.

Set up is pretty simple, you’ve got your miniature base coated.  You want a pot or bottle of pre-made wash available, I highly recommend Citadel’s washes here.  It’s worth the few bucks of a single pot of Nuln Oil.  

Alternatively you can make your own wash by watering down standard acrylic paint.  Start with 3 parts water to 1 part acrylic paint.  Each paint has it’s own consistency so it will be a matter of feel on what is thin enough.  The wash should easily run over the miniature and sink into the crevices.  

There are more advanced DIY washes involving mediums, inks, deionized water and more but unless you’re making it in bulk there’s no point going through all that.  In my experience, I’ll just spring for the 4 bucks and get a good wash.

Steps for Applying Wash to Miniatures:

  1. Dip your paint brush in the wash to fill it.  
  2. For smaller surfaces, blot the brush on your paper towel to get the excess out if needed.
  3. Apply the wash briskly and evenly over the surface of your miniature.
  4. If there is pooling (excess wash in certain areas) you can clean your brush in water, remove excess water on your paper towel, and simply touch the pools of wash that built up.  Capillary action will soak up the extra wash.
  5. Allow it to dry.  Do not disturb the washed areas while drying or it will leave stains and marks.

Try not to overthink a wash too much.  It’s really as simple as slapping on some wash to your base coated miniature.  Now you can certainly be more deliberate and get a better result, but it’s an easy process.  

The two big things to be aware of is avoiding pooling and not touching it when it’s drying.  Pooling is just a build up of liquid in the creases of your miniature.  Use your paint brush to absorb excess wash.  The wash is just thin paint although sometimes it has various mediums in it that might allow it to dry a bit slower so you have more time to work with it.  If it’s drying, leave it alone.  15-20 minutes should be enough time to dry.

What Color Washes should I use?

The trinity of colors to have on hand are Black, Brown and Sepia.  For Citadel this means Nuln Oil, Agrax Earthshade and Reikland Fleshtone.  All miniature brands have their own washes so choose one you like.  

Black goes on anything as it mimics shadow.  Brown is great for anything natural or that might have some dirt and grime to it.  Sepia is great for fleshtones of any color.  

I wanted to give a few examples of the best uses for washes and what colors I would use:

Faces:  Any skin tone can use a good sepia wash.  My favorite is Guilliman Flesh contrast paint thinned down a bit.  You can also use Citadel’s Reikland Fleshshade wash or any sepia tone.  One simple wash over your base tone will be enough to see drastic improvement.

Fur:  The texture of fur is perfect for allowing the wash to settle into the recesses.  Brown, Black or Sepia is great.  

Leather:  A good brown or reddish brown wash looks great over your brown base coat for leather.  

Whole Models:  Let’s say you just painted a ranger.  She looks awesome but she’s missing something.  We want her to look like she’s been in the wilderness adventuring.  An all over wash with Agrax Earthshade will give her some depth.  

Other Considerations When adding a Wash your Miniatures and models

Large flat surfaces don’t necessarily take washes well.  Big broad shoulderpads, shields, flowing cloaks.. Might be something to skip a wash on or be more deliberate with the application.

You can go over the top of washes with your previous base coat color to add a highlight.  For example:  You base coat in light green.  You wash that with brown agrax earthshade and it darkens the color.  You can now go back with your base coat green and it will look like a highlight.

While it’s fantastic for beginners, and it can be used in even high level display painting, there are limits to washes.  If you want to advance in miniature painting, be sure to explore other techniques for shadow and highlight.  Look into pin washing, recess shading, edge highlights, layering, blending and more.

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