Wet Palettes – How to make them and why you should use them!

Wet Palettes – What are they, why use one, and how to make them?

If you’re a miniature gamer, and more importantly love to paint those miniatures, chances are you’ve poked around on the internet for some time looking for help with your painting techniques.  Sooner or later you will undoubtedly come across the concept of a “wet palette”.

You may ask yourself; “What the heck is a wet palette and why would I want one?”.  Well, here’s why!

What is a Wet Palette?

As far as painting war gaming miniatures is concerned, a wet palette is a simple device enabling you to keep the small amounts of paint used flowing (ie : not drying up) for extended periods of time.

If you brush paint acrylics you will hopefully NOT be using the paint straight out of the pot but mixing it on a palette of some kind with a little water. You probably use a proper artists palette, a ceramic tile or just  a bottle cap!

The problem is it dries very quickly and that can be a real problem over extended painting sessions. Also if you have mixed something up for shading or a highlight it might not be so easy to mix a little bit more up if it dries too quick on you or  you forgot how much of each color you used to get that perfect shade.

A wet palette cures all that and although not even remotely expensive it’s incredibly easy to make one …

The basic construction of a wet palette involves having a waterproof container, some kind of sponge, some paper and, of course, water.  This can be a piece of Tupperware with a kitchen sponge and regular old grocery store parchment paper.  Simply fill the sponge with water, place it in the Tupperware, lay a single layer of parchment paper on top of the sponge and you’re done!  Put your drops of paint on the paper and paint away.

Why Use a Wet Palette?

Most people, if they’ve even been using a palette at all have been using a standard old plastic palette.  A drop or more of paint in one of the wells and some water in the neighboring well enable you to pick up paint or water to control the consistency of your paint.

The theory is that the wet palette will keep feeding water up through the paper and keep those drops of paint wet and flowing.  So if you thin your paints you would still thin them as normal, but the wet palette will keep it thin and flowing for much, much longer.

How To Build A Wet Palette

The materials to make a wet palette are cheap and readily available.

As mentioned above a piece of Tupperware, a sponge, paper and whatever water you normally use to thin your paints are really all that is needed to make a proper wet palette.

Container

The container idealy needs to be a watertight container (assuming you want to keep your paint usable on the palette for extended periods of time), most likely made of plastic and with a sealable lid.

A cheap and easily available option is a Tupperware container.  You could use any number of other containers (plastic blister packs from your miniatures, old CD cases) but they are less likely to have a good seal when closed (if any at all) and so will probably only keep the paints useable for several hours, rather than days.

As for the size of the container, you really don’t need anything too big.  You’re likely only going to be using it for a few colors at a time and anything too big will just take up excess space on your work surface and be harder to store when not in use.

Sponge

A simple kitchen sponge will do fine to hold the water, but you can also use two layers of paper towels or even the sponge foam packing that comes in your miniatures blister packs.  Whatever you use as a sponge, make sure there is a bit of room between it and the lid.  You don’t want to close up your wet palette only to find that the lid is touching your paints and making a mess of things.

If your sponge is larger than your container, trace the outline of the container on the sponge and cut slightly along the inside of the outline.  Remember that the sponge will swell when water is added, so if your sponge is dry cut within the outline to give space for the sponge to expand when it absorbs water.

Tip : anything that will hold water can be used as the sponge.

Paper

The best option for this component (absolutely, without a doubt, best) is bakers parchment paper (the kind used for baking, readily available at your local grocery store – brand doesn’t matter, but it MUST be parchment, not waxed or butchers paper).  Alternately you can buy specialty wet palette paper (more expensive and less readily available) or in a really bind you can use regular white paper (but that last option is far from ideal and probably only useful for a quick temporary job if you really have no other choice).

If your sponge is smaller than your container, draw the outline of the sponge on the paper.  Cut the paper around the outline you drew, leaving roughly a quarter-inch (5 mm) border all around.  You really don’t need to be very precise here and the extra border will make it easier to pull the paper up when you’re done with it.

If you custom cut your sponge to fit your container, trace the outline of your container on the paper and then cut slightly within the lines.  Your paper should sit entirely in the container and on the sponge without bowing.  If the paper doesn’t contact the sponge it will not keep the paint wet and your wet palette will not be .. well, wet!

While you’re at it, make a stack of spares/replacements as well.  You’ll want to change the paper when you’re finished with one set of colors and move on to your next project and this way you won’t have to measure all over again.

How to use a Wet Palette

Now that you have a perfect wet palette to work with, you need to know what to do with it, right?

First you will need to fill water into the palette box bottom and let the sponge soak it up completely (any water the sponge does not soak up you can dump out). The sponge shouldn’t swim but always should be fully soaked with water (you want it wet, but not so much so that water is running off it when you pick it up) for the best results.

Next you need to let the parchment paper soak for a while with water (hot water is best). Alternately you can just place it on top of the wet sponge surface.  It will immediately begin to absorb some of the water and curl.  Don’t fear, it will flatten out again.  Let it do its thing, and when it’s flattened out, smooth it by hand.  Then, just flip it over on the sponge.

You can now drop a small amount of your acrylic paint to a clean section of your palette. There it will stay wet for a much longer time as it could stay moister than on a normal palette. When you’ll spread the color to a wider part of your palette you will notice that the color will be thinned more and more; this is because the water from beneath will be diluting the paint as you give it more surface area.
When you’re finished with your painting session, seal up the lid and set the palette aside.  When you come back to it in a few days you will just have to give the paints a bit of a mix with an old brush to get them right back into useable condition!  And when the paper is full of paint you aren’t going to use any more simply throw it out and replace it with a freshly soaked piece.

The Final Word on Wet Palettes

The wet palette costs roughly $1-5 to make. You could make one for less and you could certainly buy one for more if you were so inclined (you can pick them up online for roughly $10 if you really don’t want to make one).

In either case a wet palette is one of the most useful tools for miniatures painters and one that you’ll be very glad you added to your list of gadgets.  You may never paint without one again!