Eight Tips for Using Water Effects

I don’t normally go into the painting and modeling aspect of the hobby much on this blog, but I’ve been using water effects fairly heavily in painting my Corsair-themed Eldar army, and there’s something of a dearth of information online about using water effects when painting miniatures. So below are eight tips I’ve picked up through experience with using them.

Tip 1. Understand How Liquids Work

Realistic Water, the water effect solution reviewed in this post, is likely made up mostly of well…water. I tried to see if that was true by looking up the Material Safety Data Sheet for it, which sadly didn’t offer a full breakdown, but regardless, it’s a liquid.

Liquids do things.

The two big ones for water effects in my experience are capillary action and surface tension. Capillary action is what will cause the compound to creep up any material you put in the water, like artificial grass, moss, etc. For example:

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See the red bar? All of that is above the surface of the water in the model, but the water effects have crept up slightly, making it stiffer. Similarly, the moss behind? It’s glossy because it’s taken up the water effect even though it’s above the water line. This is fine, almost unnoticeable, and actually has some nice properties – it supports and protects the scenery a bit. But you should expect it.

Surface tension is a similar issue. If you pour water effects into say, a hollow base, it will form a “U” shape, slightly higher on the sides with a depression in the middle. This is, again, expected.

Tip 2. Buy From Woodland Scenics

I love the guys over at Secret Weapon. But they don’t even particularly bother to hide the fact that a lot of their wetland basing kit is essentially repackaged Woodland Scenics products, and there is a markup.

For example, the 0.5 oz bottle from Secret Weapon sells for $2.99, coming out to $5.98/oz. On the other hand, a 16 oz bottle of Realistic Water from Woodland Scenics (the same stuff) is available for $20.59 from Amazon (and available for Prime shipping). That comes out to $1.29/oz, which if you’re using a lot of this stuff comes out to a significant savings.

Tip 3. Buy Lab Supply Bottles

If you do buy a bottle from Woodland Scenics, it comes in a big bottle. It’s meant to be poured out over large dioramas, which is fine if you’re building a table, but less fine if you’re trying to get it in a tiny little 25mm base with a figure already in it.

Amazon also carries a huge plethora of plastic bottles, many of them sold for lab use. And trust me, labs love a nearly infinite variety of cheap, fillable plastic bottles. Pick up a couple and decant the larger bottle into them for better control.

Tip 4. Seal Your Bases First

This will seem obvious, but it’s something I continually have to remind myself. As anyone who has ever sprayed matte sealant over a flight stick will tell you, if it was transparent before, it’s cloudy now.

I did a brief test of this just to make sure it was true, and yeah…it’s true. Spraying matte sealant on will do exactly what you think it will. So don’t do it.

Also, Woodland Scenics tells you not to do it.

Tip 5. Glue and Water Effects Don’t Play Well Together

Woodland Scenics out and out states that Realistic Water and PVA glue “aren’t compatible”. In my experience, it doesn’t play well with cyanoacrylate glues (Superglue). It sends to turn kind of an unpleasant white color – which is easily visible under the very transparent water.

A fix I’ve found for this is to reapply whatever you’re doing to the base. In my case, dabbing a bit of flesh colored paint, and then staining the everliving hell out of it with applications of Waywatcher Green, part of my “There is no problem an ink wash can’t solve” approach to painting.

Tip 6. You Can Undo Mistakes

There’s a lot of ways to fix mistakes with water effects, even though it feels like a very permanent thing. The first is, well, just apply another thin layer. This helps fill holes that didn’t get fill, level things out, etc.

A more drastic step is to actually cut it out. While it’s not yet fully cured, but also not a liquid, the compound is a bit like, well, very thick gelatin. Using a clean hobby knife, you can actually slice out a section, and pick it out with the tip, leaving you with a new bare patch that you can reapply water effects into. I’ve done this twice, and so far, I can’t tell the difference once I forget where it was.

Tip 7. It Isn’t A Solid

When Realistic Water cures, it doesn’t cure hard. It cures flexible – which is handy, as it self-heals. But it does mean you shouldn’t leave anything on it too long. Heavy models on scenery, even foam pressed hard against it in a snug-fitting box will potentially indent the surface. This too can be fixed (Woodland Scenics has advice), but it’s best to avoid it.

As a test, I left a standard Eldar guardian model and a metal Sister of Battle on a bit of terrain I made for awhile, with no noticeable ill effect, but I wouldn’t park a Sisters of Battle Exorcist in a pool of the stuff for an hour.

Tip 8. Let It Cure

Let it cure. Seriously. Let it sit for 24 hours. Don’t touch it, don’t move it around – let it cure. Be patient, it’s worth it.

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