From vehicles and miniatures to building brickwork, dry brushing gives your models an extra dimension and makes the difference between a painted plastic model and an authentic super-realistic miniature replica.
Dry brushing is a scale model painting technique to accentuate the detail of raised surface elements and textures on a model that would otherwise be lost with normal paint. Pulling out these areas adds depth and character, wear and tear and gives figures and vehicles an edge and realism. (I also do it on pretty much every terrain element of my layouts and dioramas to some degree). It also works amazingly well on foam based stone work.
Note: As it’s used to highlight raised areas dry brushing is usually done AFTER the base paint layers, washes and shadows have been applied and can be used with water-based and enamel paints. Having said it’s usually done as a final coat, I do often apply further highlights and then dry brush again as the mood takes me, especially on groundwork.
In simple terms, it’s done by using a short, brush with most of the paint removed and delicately, cautiously, touching raised sections, working from dark to light colours.
Of course, there’s more to it and mastering dry brushing takes practice but follow this ABC guide from the model painting guru at scalemodelguide.com and you won’t go far wrong.
How to dry brush: the technique
A) Mix up your paint
Mix up your paint to get the desired colour. I also find that making it a little thinner consistency than would be used for normal brush painting works best.
B) Soak the brush
Dip the end of your brush in the paint and make sure all the bristles are well soaked at the end then try to remove as much paint as possible.
Gently wipe the brush on a paper towel or other texture surfaced.
You’ll want a short flat brush for dry brushing. Scot Taylor at ghostofzeon — another good model painting resource — also recommends using an old brush as this technique tends to ruin brushes and the fine bristles of new brushes aren’t needed for dry brushing.
Another useful tip comes from airfieldmodels.com, which suggests using a “soft-bristled brush when you want subtle shading and a stiffer brush for picking out highlights”. Contradictory to its name, I also find keeping the bristles damp improves the result, leaving fewer spots from where the paint has dried on the brush behind.
Be careful not to leave too much paint on the brush, try it on some spare plastic beforehand. The idea is to apply the minimum amount of paint to your model, not the most.
C) Apply the paint
Lightly draw the brush back and forth over the high spots of the model. You will need to brush back and forth many times as the best effect is achieved with a slow gradual build-up of paint. The direction of brushing is very important and should be perpendicular to any edges or raised detail.
Also, be wary of the paint drying on the brush, you may need to clean the brush several times during the process and as said, I find keeping it damp aids the process.
(If you struggle with cleaning your brushes, I recommend using Masters brush cleaner. Read my review, Andy).
Read the full article at scalemodelguide.com.
There’s also this video from Aella13 that elaborates on some of the points.
Finally, I’m currently testing the Artis Opus Series D dry brushes which are attracting a lot of attention as a revolutionary dry brush and my first impressions are really good. I hope to have the review here soon.
> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.