Tutorial: Basics: This Plus That Equals? – Additives and Their Uses

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted any tutorials!

I’ve been working hard on my Lock n Load entries, and likely won’t have anything as far as real painting tutorials go, until at least next week, as I don’t have anything that I can use to cover any techniques that I don’t want to spoil before the big show!
That said, I’ll be covering females, skin tones, and make-up (hopefully!) next Wednesday, and later this week, I’ll be starting my diaries of my first ‘real’ painting competition entries since GenCon 1994. Needless to say, I’ve made quite a bit of progress in my painting since then, and this time around, I’m hoping to walk away with at least one medal from Lock n Load. My Diaries will be released every Friday, documenting my progress, before, and after the Lock n Load Gamefest in Seattle.

This article is another in my Basics Series, and it will cover some of the many additives that miniature painters use, what they’re used for, and how to use them. This one should provide the reader with a basic understanding of the most commonly used additives and their uses. There are some other less common additives, but these won’t get any coverage, as the beginner, or even expert, will find some of the more obscure additives of limited use. I will cover some of these little used additives in a future article.

I don’t use very many additives in my painting, simply because there isn’t much need, aside from a few staples;

  1. Matte Medium
  2. Acrylic Flow Release
  3. Metal Medium
  4. Glaze Medium

There are many others, and Vallejo produces a wide range of them for miniature applications. These are all very good, and high quality, with the single downfall being the price. In most instances, you can find about three times the amount in an artist’s supply store for the same price, and often times, even more than three times. For example, an 18ml bottle of Vallejo Matte Medium will cost around $3-4, where-as an 118ml bottle of Liquitex will cost you about $6. The cost savings are significant indeed. But, I do have a bottle of the Vallejo stuff I use for travel, as the small size makes it easily portable. If you’re not going anywhere but your painting desk, kitchen table, living room, or wherever you have your work bench, then save yourself some cash, and buy a bigger bottle from an art supply store and you won’t have to replace many of these additives for many years to come.

Matte Medium

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By far, this is the single most important additive in the miniature painter’s arsenal. It’s good for so many things; ink washes, glazing, thinning paints, and much more. If you get nothing else for painting, then matte medium would be my only suggestion. I use Liquitex brand myself, but there are a host of other brands out there. There is little difference between brands here, as all that matte medium is, is a polymer binding solution. It’s paint with no pigment. The reason brand doesn’t matter is because all polymer binders are virtually the same. What you pay for in art-grade supplies and paints, is the pigments. More money = better, more finely ground, and more vibrant pigment. So, it’s all right to go the cheap route when buying a matte medium; Liquitex is one of the cheapest brands out there, and works excellently for every application the miniature painter will need it for.

There are different kinds of medium beside matte; Gloss, and of course, the P3 Mixing Medium. Unless you want a shiny finish (and most miniature painter’s don’t) you won’t have much use for gloss medium. The P3 Mixing medium is basically the same as matte medium with a slightly shinier finish; it’s closer to a satin finish, which is in-between matte and gloss. Again, the P3 Mixing medium, like Vallejo, is significantly more expensive than an artist’s brand of medium.

The main things I use matte medium for are;

  1. Thinning Paint
  2. Reducing Shine
  3. Ink Washes
  4. Removing ‘Tide Rings’ in Washes
  5. Glazing

1. Thinning Paint – The main use for matte medium is to thin your paint. Most painter’s use just water for thinning their paints, and this is certainly an accepted and oft-used method. However, if you thin your paint with a fair amount of water (2:1 water to paint or more), you will find the pigments begin to break down, and it becomes difficult to control where the paint goes. Adding a spot of matte medium will get the paint to act and feel like paint again, even when thinning it out with large ratios of water to paint. This allows you to get a very thinned out pigment, but the paint will retain its’ viscosity, and stay where you put it.

2. Reducing Shine – Matte medium will reduce the shine of inks and paint by adding a small amount (no more than 1/4:1 medium to ink/paint). This will also prevent non-waterproof inks from reactivating when you get them wet again.

3. Ink Washes – Adding matte medium to an ink wash will help it to behave more akin to paint, while still retaining the translucency and vibrancy of the ink. As stated above, it will also bind the ink so it won’t reactivate when painted over, or when it gets wet. Using a 2:1 ratio of ink to medium will help your inks stay put, get it to dry without ‘Tide Rings’, and help the ink to settle into the recesses of a model easier. As in number 1, you can also create a paint wash with matte medium, paint and water. I almost always make my own washes, and rarely use pre-made washes, although I hear Games Workshop’s washes are an excellent product. A ratio of 3:1 water to paint, and then 1:1 paint wash to matte medium will make a good wash for most applications.

4. Removing ‘Tide Rings’ in Washes – As stated above, adding some matte medium to a wash of paint, or ink will lessen the appearance of ‘Tide Rings’. Tide Rings happen when a paint or wash dries too quickly, and it shrinks, pulling the wash or paint into a recess, leaving a ring of wash where you don’t want it. Adding some matte medium to any wash will help retard the drying process enough that the chances of seeing Tide Rings is lessened.

5. Glazing – There are mediums specifically made for glazing, but I find that lots of water and matte medium with a little bit of paint works just as good as a glaze, and dries significantly faster than a traditional glazing medium. For glazing I use a 4:1 water to paint ratio, and then a 2:1 paint wash to matte medium ratio for most glazing applications.

Just remember that matte medium will retard the drying time of your paint, allowing you a bit more working time for smooth blending. Be sure to give your washes and paint layers a little more time than usual when you first start using matte medium.


Acrylic Flow Release

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The second most useful weapon in the miniature painter’s arsenal; Acrylic Flow Release, or just Flow Release. This is one that often confuses the beginner, since they really have no idea what it’s for. This stuff, when used in a proper solution will break the surface tension of your paint, and help it ‘flow’ off of your brush a lot easier, and slow the drying time of acrylic paints, if only slightly. If you were to only get two additives to add to your toolbox, then Flow Release would be the second essential I would suggest to add.

One thing to note; Flow Release is extremely TOXIC!!

If you are a compulsive brush-licker, and want to add flow release to your additive arsenal; stop licking your brush. Now. In any amount, this stuff can cause some serious nerve damage. Even if you spill it undiluted on your skin, it can cause serious problems, and side-effects. It is an organic compound, and it will absorb into your body quickly, and easily. So, like anything that has health risks attached to it, be careful, be mindful, and you won’t have any issues at all.

Like matte medium, brands of flow release abound. I currently use Golden, as I have a huge bottle left over from art college. I’ve been using it for about 5 years in my painting, and it hasn’t even made it past the half-way mark. I can’t recall if Vallejo makes a flow release, but chances are, they do. If you want the more economical approach, buy a larger bottle from an art supply store, and you’ll have enough for years.

In use a flow release solution for thinning all of my paints, making washes, glazes, just about everything, in fact. I probably use it more than matte medium, as I use a 20% solution of flow release and demineralized water for thinning my paints. I mix up a solution in a baby food jar, and have this on-hand at my work bench; a jar will typically last me about 2 months, and that’s painting at least 2 models a week.

If you have any paints that have a ‘chalky’ pigment, then flow release is the answer to getting them to go on smooth. P3 Menoth White Highlight, Frostbite, and Carnal Pink are a few that come to mind. Use a flow release solution, and you won’t have any problems with these colours going on too thick, or chunky on your models ever again.

Flow release, because it breaks the surface tension of the paint so well, might make your paint a little harder to control. Getting the right consistency is key to having it the right thickness so it will cover well, and not slide all over your miniature. My advice would be to practice on a model first, just to make sure you’re comfortable with how paint behaves when adding a flow release agent to it. As a result of making your paint flow better, it will also wick up into the ferrule of your brush much easier. It may take a bit of getting used to, but the pay-off, once you’re comfortable with it, is well worth it; smoother, more even coats of paint, better control, and no more ‘chunks’ covering your models’ fine detail.

Like matte medium, flow release will retard the drying time of your paints, but only by a slight margin. A few seconds, to a minute at most is how much longer you’ll have to wait for them to become completely dry.


Metal Medium

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My number 3, most often used additive; Vallejo Model Colour – Metal Medium. This would be my number three pick for any painter that uses metallic paints, to add to their tool kit. It’s a metallic paint, with no pigment. It’s bright, and it’s shiny; really shiny. I know of no other manufacturer that produces such a product, so Vallejo has this market share cornered. It’s basically a matte medium with ground mica in it. That means it’s like metallic paint with no colour, just shine.

I use Metal Medium with all of my metallic paints as an additive highlight. because it has no pigment which will affect the base colour you add it to. All it will do is lighten the base colour, and allow you to highlight without affecting the colours underneath, and forcing your metallics to look like brass with silver highlights; they’ll look like brass with bright spots of light glinting off of it instead. Which, incidentally is much better for a more realistic, and visually pleasing look to your metallics.

I cover some basic uses of this medium in my ‘Heavy Metal – Using Metallics’ article.

For the most part, I use it as an additive highlight for golds and bronzes, and as a final highlight for silvers and steel. When placed next to a deep shadow, your metallics will have a very similar look to NMM (non-metallic metal) techniques, only with the lustrous shine of a ‘true’ metallic paint.


Glaze Medium

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Similar to a flow release agent, glaze medium will break the surface tension of your paint, allowing it to be thinned to extremes and still retain the vibrancy of the paints’ pigment. It’s main uses are to tint a colour under it, and allow the painter to thin their paints far beyond what is achievable with water alone. Glaze medium will also retard the drying time of paint significantly; by a factor of at least 10. If you’re used to paint drying in a minute, when used with a glaze medium, it will take at least 10 minutes to dry.

When using a glaze, all you want to do is tint the colour underneath it only slightly. Glazes should be used in several layers, and generally work best with lighter colours. If you want the smoothest transition of colour possible, then glazing is the way to go. If applied in several layers, you can build up the shadows on your highlight colour, without having to use a second brush to blend the edges of your shades for them to appear smooth. It works well with whites, yellows, oranges, and reds.

Glazing also works fairly well with darker colours, and particularly, black. If you find you have taken your highlights too high on a surface that is supposed to be black, using a glaze of thin black can help restore the richness and deep tone. I use often on my Cygnar blues with a spot of blue ink and some glaze medium. I then glaze all the blue surfaces after they have been highlighted, and this tones down the bright blue, and give it a nice, rich, deep blue finish.

Glazing can be tough for a beginner, since the paint is thinned to extremes, it can be very difficult to control. You might often find yourself putting too much glaze on a surface, and having it slop all over, and into places you don’t want it to go. Like first using flow release, perhaps practice on a model first, until you become more comfortable with how the glaze will behave, and how much you need to load your brush.


Until next time, Hand Cannoneers!

Keep that paint flowin’!


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  1. Antizombie said:

    Hey Ghool, This is a great article and I was actually gonna see if you would do something like this! Nice write up.

  2. Cad said:

    Just so I understand, on your paint washes you use a ratio of 3 water:1 paint:4 matte medium?

  3. GhoolGhool said:

    I mix up a wash of 3 water:1 paint first, and then use that wash in a 4 paint/water:1 matte medium for glazing.

  4. Norbert Brunhuber said:

    Fantastic article! Thanks so much for writing it up.

  5. Mohgreen said:

    OK this is I’m sure a stupid question.. but I was looking at something the other day (I think a painting guide in the new Battletech Box set), and they were suggesting using a floor polish as a thinning agent as basically the stuff was a clear acrylic, just like paint…

    So.. is that a good idea/bad idea? I’m not sure I how easily I can get the additives mentioned here.

  6. GhoolGhool said:

    Well, a lot of people swear by Future Floor Polish. It’s been a staple for miniature painters for years. It’s very glossy, however, and I mean…it’s FLOOR polish!

    When there are things made specifically for painting, why some folks still feel the need to use floor polish after 20 years of industry, and art supply improvements is beyond me. Honestly, use the floor polish for your floor. You’ll be exposing yourself to industrial floor chemicals, and the chemical make-up is not going to be as consistent as an artist’s grade additive.

    As far as locating any of the additives I mention in the article, all but the Vallejo Metal Medium can be found in any store that sells art supplies. I get all of mine from Michael’s, as they’re the cheapest there.

    The metal medium should be able to be found in any brick and mortar or online game store that carries Vallejo Model Colour paints. If they don’t have it listed, but carry the line, you should be able to special order it.

  7. ddot said:

    get the big bottles of additves. When you use up additives/paints in the smaller bottles, clean them out and transfer additives into the bottles. Recycle and reuse.

  8. MacFett said:

    What do you use to portion your paints, water and additives? I used to use an eye dropper.

  9. Archimedes the Dog said:

    Thanks for a great article! I am curious, your glaze recipe is thinner than your wash recipe, I have long mixed glaze as thicker than wash, since I want a glaze to flow into cracks less. Can you elaborate? I’d love to learn even more from your technique.

    • GhoolGhool said:

      I eyeball all of my ratios, and just use an old brush.

      Glazes should be thinner than washes.
      Glazes are used to tint the colour underneath it, not shade it, like what a wash does.
      When applying a glaze, you should be putting it on very, very thin, and using it to alter the colour you’re putting it over.

      For example; when painting purples, I glaze over the entire surface once all the highlighting is complete, to tone down the pink/lavender with a navy blue.
      This deepens the shade, and gets rid of the pinkish hue, bringing the colour back to purple instead of pink or lavender.
      That’s why I mix them very thin, and just use multiple layers; you can stop when it gets to the proper tint.

      You can also use very thin glazes to have multiple colours on a surface with ease, including complimentary colours.
      On my website I have a fairy miniature pictured, and her hair, which is purple, pink, orange, and yellow, was done almost entirely with glazes.

      A wash is used to shade areas, and create shadow, by having it run into the crevices, and deep sections of the surface. That’s why my washes are a bit thicker; I use them to shade, and therefore, want the wash to stick to more of the surface than just the crevices and deepest parts.
      That’s the difference between a glaze and a wash. If you’re using a glaze to shade, then it’s really a wash, and not a glaze at all. 😀

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