Friday, February 27, 2015

The Quest for the Perfect Wash, part 1

   I like the idea of a wash. I do. It saves countless hours of detailing when you are painting minis. But when you are trying to paint up an entire zombie apocalypse, you really want to be able to base coat them, wash them, and be done. You really don’t want to go back in and highlight a thousand zombies. Not unless you’re that rare gamer that had an obnoxiously lucrative stock brokering career and decided to retire early to do nothing but paint miniatures. If there even is such a thing.

   So I set out on a quest to find the perfect wash: that wash with just the right deep shadow color that pulls into the cracks so efficiently that the crest of each shape gleans untouched at the highest points of your model. In short, I haven’t found it. But, along the way, I found some washes that did some pretty wild things, so I figured I’d share.
I use the Army Painter Dark Tone
when I need something for dark colors
or a more sinister deep shadow.
   Now, we’re real do-it-yourselfers over here at LXG headquarters (some of us, anyway). I make most of my own food from scratch, and even sew some of my own clothing. 2CE and I made those model display cases you see in our videos from scratch. So when the first wash I picked up didn't work perfectly, I used a basic formula of paint (a drop or two), thinner (40-50 drops), and Elmer’s glue (1 drop) to try out some homemade stuff. But I didn't like how much I had to make at once, and didn't want to look for or make an empty bottle to hold a bottle’s worth of stuff that worked well but not perfectly. I said I make my own food, but to me, making your own wash is like grinding your own flour. You shouldn't have to. It’s not the creative part of the process. It’s extra labor that, even if you can do it in large batches so it’s not time consuming, you, as the “artist” shouldn't have to. That’s what apprentices are for. Or flour-making companies with flour mills. Or wash-making companies that can make giant vats of wash and put it in little bottles that retailers can sell to you.
   But I digress. If you don’t want to make your own wash, here’s what I've found out so far about some washes that might be available at your local hobby store:

Army Painter Soft Tone is perfect
 when you don't want to overpower
light or bright colors.
Vallejo- Oddly, although AAA hobbies has an extensive line of Vallejo paints, if they make a true wash, I haven't seen it. They do have several transparent colors, that are nice for laying in a tint, but they do not pull to the cracks like washes. There are, however, times you want that, so it warrants a mention. I have even, on occasion, mixed them with regular paint when I want to both thin the paint and add the color of the translucent at the same time, and gotten some nice results. You might be able to turn them into washes by adding PVA glue, but now you're just back to homemade anyway, right?

Formula P3- sadly, only makes 2 washes that I know of. Why is this sad? Because their washes are the washiest washes I've ever washed with. They run to crevices as though they are diving into a trench in a firefight, leaving the original paint color all but untouched on the high spots. Sure, sometimes they do it so well that the shading is almost spotty, but that depends more on the individual model. Alas, they make it only in two colors, and neither of them are a good, all-purpose color:
P3 Flesh Wash made this Squidman's
brain and this zombie extra "fresh."
Flesh Wash- Flesh is a very accurate name for this wash color. It is NOT sepia. It is closer to terra cotta- a very reddish brown. So red that I use it on the occasional zombie to accomplish shading and blood all at the same time. So, unfortunately, it won't hold up as an all-over wash, but there are definitely some good uses for it.
Armor Wash- Again, this is aptly named. Vehicles and heavy armor is where you are most likely to use this. It is a very cool, dark gray, almost blue depending on what you put it on. It's too blue to use on anything but cool colors like silvers and grays, but with how well P3 washes pull to the cracks, if you love armor and vehicles, you will surely want to eventually use this.

Army Painter Blue Tone
was used to create the fur
variations on this Neiran.
Army Painter makes a series of what they call "tones." They don't pull into the crevices as much as the P3, but moreso than the Vallejo transparents, so they make pretty good washes. They add shading, while coating the model in a unifying color that blends the colors you used together just a little, while leaving you able to see the original color you painted. They have three brownish ones, and a few colored ones. The sepia ones are called Soft Tone (fairly light in color), Strong Tone (medium), and Dark Tone (very dark and a little grayer than the others- nearly a black tone). In my opinion, these three pull to the crevices a little more than the colored ones, making them more like traditional washes, but that could just be an illusion, since they are more neutral colors.
   For colored ones, they have green, blue, purple, and red. They are all strong colors. If you use them, you will tint your model those colors, all over. But if you are painting something made of fire, ice, slime, etc., that may be just what you want, and they will still give you shading in the crevices in the same color.

Conclusions: Although I haven't found the perfect wash yet, at this point, I'd say, if I had to live with only one wash in my paint collection, it would be the Army Painter Strong Tone. There are no basecoat colors it thoroughly clashes with or overpowers, and it does a decent job pulling into the cracks and harmonizing your paint job at the same time. You may want to highlight over it, but you probably won't hate yourself if you don't. In short, you could do worse for a universal wash.
Two Examples of Army Painter Strong Tone


  1. I'd be interested in your opinions on adding Secret Weapon washes and GW washes to your comparisons.

  2. Vallejo do a range of washes, but except for the pale grey wash, I have been largely disappointed as they are a real mixed bag for me.

    I have enjoyed some of the Secret Weapons ones, not so much others.

    My favourite washes remain Devlan Mud and Badab Black (the old GW ones); I was fortunate to have overstocked on both before they were discontinued.

  3. Thanks for the input, guys! You know there's going to be a round two!