Shades/washes are another tool that everyone starting out should try their hand at using. Out of all of the painting tools that will put more quality into your models with very little effort, shades are probably one of the best methods. They can add a lot to your models very quickly and have a great number of applications, from tinting a model to adding shadows and definition, or simply darkening up a model. In this guide, I’ll be using shade and wash interchangeably.
I honestly cannot suggest enough that you get a few washes/shade paints. A good first buy is Nuln oil if you want the most bang for your buck. Nuln oil has a few benefits if you want a good multipurpose wash. It’ll darken but not really change the color or tint of the paint under it, and it frankly works with any color pretty well. That being said, I’ve found there is almost always a better wash to use than Nuln oil in any situation, but if you want something that will work reasonably well almost always, it’s a good pick.
If you want to be more choosy with your washes, you usually cannot go wrong with a color of wash that matches the color it’s going over. A blue ultramarine with Drakenhof nightshade (a blue tinted shade) works well. I also find that washes that are colors derived from the original color still work well. Druchii Violet for example I find works well with Reds, and Seraphim Sepia (an orange) can go great with yellows and golds. For silvers and iron metallic paints, it’s hard to really go wrong depending on what you want, just keep in mind a lot of the color of the wash will show through over it, as it’s basically going over a near white background. For copper/bronze/gold, I’m a big fan of using orange and brown washes (Agrax earthshade, Seraphim sepia.)
It’s also worth noting, GW sells a line of paints known as contrast paints which is a whole can of worms I’ll break down at a later date. For now though, what matters is that in a lot of cases they can work as washes/shade paints. They’re usually more ‘powerful’ in the sense that they shade and tint a lot more than shades.
How to apply washes
It’s honestly rather easy. The paint is incredibly runny compared to normal paints, and this is because you simply load up the brush with the wash and apply it to the intended areas. They’re designed to avoid water tension so it pools in recesses and corners. This tends to help give shadows and a more concentrated color in the places where the sun is less likely to reach.
On the left, we see a model before a wash, and on the right the model after a quick coat of Agrax Earthshade. It really helps make a lot of the details pop. It’s really as easy as just lathering the wash on. Wait until the wash is fully dried, which will take a while, but that’s not a big problem if you work on doing models in batches.
That being said, there are some considerations you should make while applying the wash. Washes never stay on the tip of your brush like normal paints. They fill it up like water since they’re nearly completely liquid, meaning they’ll each the root of the brush. Because of this they wear out brushes quickly, so don’t use a brush with a fine tip, or one that’s expensive when applying a wash. Next, Washes struggle with large flat areas like the panels of a land raider and can pool on them, causing nasty spots. If you’re washing such a big area, try to only wash around the corners or recesses if you care about the model looking neat. Next, sometimes if you use a little to much wash the model will get big pools where a huge amount of wash has collected. These can annihilate detail but it’s easy to fix if you watch for it. These usually form toward the bottom of a model as gravity helps pull all the wash down, and if you see it, just use your brush to soak up some of the wash until it’s no longer a huge pool. If you get wash on a place you don’t want it, just go over the spot with the color under the wash, it’s super easy to neaten up.
Examples of wash in use.
So, lets say you have an army of skeletons to paint. Many Warhammer plays have this problem where they’ve a hoard that needs painting and want to get them done quickly without wasting hours on each model when they’ve hundreds to paint. This is a place where washes help a lot.
Priming the army in a bright color, and then applying a wash can get a huge amount of the work done on a model. It basically erases the base coating step for most of the model, especially if you’re army has huge areas of the same color. Above you can see how different shades (though skeleton horde is a contrast paint) over the same color white can give different effects. This can also be used if you say, needed to paint pink horrors by simply spray priming them red and then hitting them with druchii Violet, or any other horde style model that can be done using a monochrome color scheme.
Here’s another way to use them. For anyone painting Grey Knights or Necrons, or any other army that’s mostly metallics, here’s a way to bang out an army nice and quick.
My boy gun skeleton here is basically a counts as model I use for any model in my armies that I need to proxy as a heavy weapon I don’t have, but for our purposes he shows how washes can be used on metallic armies. Step one here is spray priming the model using using any number of metalic primers. I then lathered it up using Drakenhof night shade. From there, I brightened the areas that were raised or flat with lead belcher. From here I was basically finished with 90% of the model. I picked out some details with gold, hit it with a wash of agrax earthsade and reapplied the gold paint to the flat and raised areas. I then hit the gun with Druchii violet and dry brushed over it with lead belcher. It took all of a few minutes to do between dry times, and I honestly this boy is pretty much table top ready.
I hope I gave you a few examples of how to use washes, as well as a good run down. Frankly, I’d suggest that if you want to get the most out of your washes that you just experiment with them. They can be used in a lot of ways to help you save time, and I’ve never bought a GW wash that I’ve regretted having. Go out there and mess around with them, and it’ll give you another tool in your paint box.