When I first got into miniature painting there were a lot of things I didn’t know. For example, I thought all acrylic paints were created equal.
It was a game-changer when I discovered acrylics that were made specifically for miniatures and modeling. The same happened when I stumbled upon the wet palette concept. Up until that point, I had been putting minuscule amounts of paint on a dry palette or even using coffee filters as a cheap alternative to palette pads.
The big benefit of a wet palette is it will keep your paint usable for a very long time without drying out. Giving you hours or even days to return to it.
So rather than your paint drying out after just a few minutes, you can use it, take a break, and go back to it. This saves you money on paint and really comes in handy when you’re applying multiple layers.
And when you mix a new color, you don’t have to remix it each time you come back to your piece. It’s one of the few accessories that you really have to try out.
We will explain exactly what they are, show you a way to make your own, and then give you a list of our favorites to buy if you’d rather get something pre-made.
I personally use the Redgrass Wet Palette and love it. They are located in Europe though, so it’ll take some time to get it. So if you’re in a rush, you can pick up the Masterson Sta-Wet on Amazon and get it much quicker.
Either of those will do the job! Read on to learn more including what to do if you’d rather just DIY it!
What is a wet palette?
The traditional method for painting has been to use a dry palette. These are those white or clear containers that you drop paint into the different pockets and then mix colors in the middle. Painters can then dilute their paint with water in order to get the right consistency.
One of the problems with a dry palette is that once you are finished painting for the day, there is no way to save the paint. Your next painting session will require you to start again from scratch, which can be a problem when you are mixing colors and trying to match what you have already painted.
Never mind, that paint dries quickly and if you are painting for several hours at a time you may find that your paint is drying before you are done for the day.
A wet palette allows any water-based paint to remain fresh and ready to be reused over and over again. Wet pallets are air-tight containers that keep acrylics and other water-based paints moist throughout long painting sessions and, once sealed, can keep for days and even weeks.
A wet sponge and special permeable paper give the paint a constant moisture source, which helps the paint to not dry out. The paint absorbs the water from the paper which then absorbs water from the sponge beneath.
A very simple concept, but a game-changer for those who are tired of dry paint and re-matching colors.
How does a wet palette help?
It’s easy to see how they’ll save you paint and money. But I’ve also found them great to use when doing gradients and progressive highlights and working with various shades between colors.
For those who don’t work with airbrushes, this is a great way to create a similar effect. It makes it so much easier to create various shades and the wet palette lends itself so well to letting those colors bleed into one another.
Although it does require you to almost relearn how to thin and mix paints, once you do learn, it becomes much easier. For a lot of people, this is the biggest sticking point as you have to discover the ways that different acrylic paints react to the wet palette and mix accordingly.
However, there are obvious advantages that make the learning process worth the effort and will up your miniature painting game.
How to Make Your Own Wet Palette
Before you run off and buy a wet palette, I think it would be smart to try making your own, to see if you like it, although it’s worth the upgrade when you are ready.
To make your own wet palette, you will need the following “ingredients”:
- A shallow air-tight resealable container
- Baking/parchment paper or store-bought watercolor paper
Depending on your needs you can use any size container, just make sure that it is airtight.
- Place the sponge in the bottom and fill with a few tablespoons of water. I usually fill halfway up the sponge. The sponge should have a thin layer of water on the top surface of the sponge.
- Cut a small square of the paper you chose making it the same size as the sponge. Be sure you are not using wax paper or butcher’s paper. Baking paper has the appropriate thickness that allows in some moisture without ruining the paints.
- Moisten the sheet of baking paper and place it on top of the sponge.
If you are doing just a single painting session you can get away with using a plate, a paper towel, and baking paper. Obviously, the paper towel has a shorter shelf life, but it will get you through a longer painting session without your paints drying out on you.
Our Top 3 Wet Palettes
This is a great set as it comes with everything you could possibly need to set up your own wet palette, including an apron! It’s not a large palette, but for those painting miniatures, it’s really all you need. The included paper doesn’t work well with all miniature paints, but switch it out for some parchment paper and you should be good to go.
If you are looking for something a little simpler, this is just the palette itself minus the parchment paper and the apron. It might be better if you want to use your own paper and are using thinner paints. Several companies make wet palette paper that you can purchase separately (take a look, here).
This is a larger palette that originally got its legs on Kickstarter. Well-designed, the sponge is durable, doesn’t mold quickly, and the seal is tight. I own this one and I love it.
It’s a great size, really well made, and I’ve had no problems with the seal on it. It even has a magnetized plastic palette that you can have on there.
Here it is on my hobby desk (it’s that orange box):
Tips and Tricks
- DO: It is important that you clean out your wet palette every week or two. The moisture will eventually lead the sponge, paint, and/or paper to grow mold. Two weeks is usually the longest you should let it go.
- DO: If you are having trouble with mold, consider running a thin line of copper wire on top of the sponge as this is a natural anti-microbial. Pennies are no longer made of copper so they won’t work.
- DONT: Some painting techniques require a very specific consistency of paint that won’t work well in a moisture-rich palette. Typically washes and inks really struggle in a wet palette environment.
- DONT: Metallic paints don’t do well with a wet palette as the tiny metal-like flakes seep through the paper and contaminate the sponge beneath.
- DO: If doing a longer painting session, check the moisture content of your sponge every few hours. Add a teaspoon or two of water if too dry.
- DO: Wet palettes are really great for glazing, keeping a certain richness in the colors.
- DONT: If painting in dryer climates or outdoors, use a wet palette even if it isn’t something you would normally do. Your paint will otherwise dry up quickly especially if in direct sunlight or on a windy day.
- DO: Although regular tap water will be okay for a wet palette, I do recommend distilled water as this helps with mold problems you may experience and won’t add any strange contaminants that may be in tap water.
- DO: Be careful if you are using thinner paints as they don’t sit well on wet palettes and become very runny. Wet palettes were originally designed for fine art that used heavier acrylic paints.
Although I still use my dry palette quite often, I don’t recommend one over the other. They both have their uses and both meet a different need in painting. For example, dry palettes are better for most terrain and dungeon tiles.
I think it is important for anyone in the miniature painting hobby to learn this technique though as it is always important to learn new skills. Who knows, you may discover this is your go-to technique and you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner!