How to Dry Brush Miniatures: Avoid These Common Mistakes

Dry Brushing

How to Dry Brush Miniatures: Tips For Beginners

Some painting snobs may look down on dry brushing as a basic beginner skill, but I utilize it often across all skill levels to achieve realistic textures, blending, weathering, glow effects, and more. This technique truly shines when highlighting the intricate textures of things like fur, skin, chainmail, sand, stone, gravel, hair – any surface with defined edges and recesses.

What is Dry Brushing and Why Use It?

Dry brushing involves using a paint-loaded brush that has been wiped nearly dry to dust thin layers of pigment almost exclusively onto raised surfaces and edges. This creates natural-looking highlights and textures, simulating how light catches and illuminates protruding areas.

It’s called “dry” brushing because you manually remove moisture from the loaded brush before application. This prevents paint from reaching into crevices and keeps pigment constrained only to peaks and ridges it skims over.

I incorporate dry brushing for various reasons:

  • Quickly highlighting textured areas
  • Blending colors by layering
  • Creating worn, weathered looks
  • Simulating fur, hair, cloth, skin textures
  • Crafting realistic stone and metals
  • Achieving glow effects like Object Source Lighting (OSL)
  • Adding grime to engines, armor, buildings

And more! It’s extremely versatile. This technique adds depth and realism to miniatures when used appropriately. Let’s explore how to do it properly.

Choosing the Best Brush for Dry Brushing

Read a full guide here on choosing the Best Brushes for Warhammer Miniature painting

Having the right dry brush is key. Don’t use nice brushes since dry brushing destroys them over time. The optimal brush has:

  • Stiff Bristles: Allows you to wipe the brush mostly clean of moisture before painting. Softer bristles don’t glide as easily over surfaces.
  • Dense and/or Thick Bristles: Holds sufficient pigment in its bristles while wiping off excess. Thin bristles leave behind too little paint.
  • Flat Shape: The broad shape is easier to control than round brushes. Rounds work but flats cover more surface area faster.
  • Inexpensive: No need to splurge on a quality brush since dry brushing ruins them. $1-5 craft brushes are perfect!

Some good options:

I also recommend getting a few so you always have fully-dried brushes ready for dry brushing without needing to wash in-between.

Prepping Models for Dry Brushing

While you can dry brush directly onto primer or bare plastic, it works best over properly basecoated surfaces. So I suggest first:

  1. Priming your miniature if you haven’t already
  2. Painting your desired basecoat color(s) evenly across areas you intend to dry brush

This provides an appropriately textured foundation layer for the dry brush highlights to stand out against.

You can additionally apply washes beforehand to darken recesses and amplify the highlighting effect later on. I often dry brush after washing.

Now let’s get into application!

How to Dry Brush Miniatures Step-By-Step

Here is the basic process for dry brushing miniatures in 6 simple steps:

Step 1. Load your dry brush with paint from your palette, getting plenty of thick pigment soaked into the bristles. Acrylic works best.

Step 2. Wipe roughly 80-90% of that paint off on a paper towel or rag, twisting the brush back and forth. Some texture should remain on the towel.

Step 3. Check that barely any paint comes off on your skin or a clean sheet of paper after a few gentle sweeping motions.

Step 4. Lightly skim the dry brush over raised surfaces using quick, low-pressure motions perpendicular to the area. Let bristles glide over peaks catching pigment on edges.

Step 5. Repeat sweeping brush strokes to build highlights until satisfied with the texture and coverage achieved.

Step 6. Load more paint pigment and repeat steps 2-5 as needed to intensify highlights!

As you can see, it’s easy to pick up and execute! Now let’s explore ways to take it further…

Warhammer 40k paints

Dry Brushing for Color Blending and Smoother Transitions

While single-color dry brush highlighting looks great on textured things like fur, stone, metals etc., you can kick the realism up a notch by blending tones to create smooth gradients.

The trick is to gradually transition between slightly different colors, building progressively lighter coats. For example, when highlighting green fur:

  1. Basecoat fur dark green
  2. Dry brush first mid-green highlight
  3. Dry brush second lighter green highlight
  4. Dry brush third very light green to yellow blend

Rather than washing bristles between colors, leave remnants of prior coats to help gradients blend together naturally.

You can do as many steps as desired to get super smooth blends! This same blending method works equally well on things like stone, armor, cloth, or flesh.

Give it a shot on your next mini requiring soft organic transitions between surface colors rather than stark contrasts.

Lava base

Advanced: Special Effects like OSL, Weathering, Textures

If you are looking for something more in depth, read our guide on How To make Tabletop Terrains for Warhammer

Let’s explore some advanced ways to leverage dry brushing for effects like object source lighting, grime/dirt, cloth textures, distressed metals, and more:

Object Source Lighting (OSL) and Magical Glow Effects

Dry brushing allows painters to simulate realistic illumination from light sources like fire, neon signs, spell effects, etc. The trick is to transition between darker base tones and brighter colors using quick circular dry brush motions around the glow’s focal point, creating a smooth radial color gradient moving outward.

You can make some areas warmer (reds/yellows) and other regions cooler (blues) depending on the intended lighting effect. I like to use airbrush inks when doing OSL since they facilitate smooth blending.

Weathering and Grime

For authentic dirt, oil stains, scratches, dust or grit textures on things like armor, trucks, engine parts and terrain builds, lightly stipple metallic paints followed by dark browns/blacks concentrating on areas that would attract grime buildup.

Work darker colors nearer crevices and where stains would naturally occur using angled brush strokes while avoiding flat open areas to maintain contrast. The random brush texturing stands in nicely for actual small bits of dirt and grit when done sparingly.

Simulating Worn Metals/Chainmail

For battle-worn blade edges or scratched armor plates, lightly dry brush metallic paints like gunmetal over top base coats using straight brush strokes following a directional grain to achieve a scratched metal look.

Layer additional colored metals, bronzes or steels if making large armor panels to emulate depth, dimension and varying oxidization levels that different alloys would develop.

Organic Skin/Scale Textures

The molted, irregular textures of things like reptile scales and creature hide or skin take wonderfully to dry brushing. Use dots, flecks and streaks in analogous tones over washed leather colors to define intricate organic skin details.

Lighten as you move towards main scale ridges or raised militant growths and talons/horns. Dabble, don’t over-brush! Skin textures require very controlled stippling and mottling for realism.

Okay, now let’s consolidate some best practices for accomplishing quality dry brushing work!


10 Pro Tips for Improving Dry Brush Skill

Follow these top techniques perfected over years of painting experience to master dry brushing quickly:

  1. Use Thick Paints: Load bristles with high-pigment acrylics and thinner mediums, not overly-diluted mixtures. This prevents too much moisture buildup.
  2. Wipe Near Completely Clean: Twist bristles on a paper towel removing 80-90% of loaded paint for ideal barely-there application consistency.
  3. Apply Light Pressure: Gently graze bristles over surfaces with quick, low-pressure motions. Avoid smooshing stiff bristles deep into crevices.
  4. Take Your Time: Don’t rush! Build transparent layers gradually for perfectly blended tones. It takes patience but pays off.
  5. Work Across Details: Brush perpendicular to raised textures like fur, chainmail, stippling across them lightly several times to catch edges evenly without over-applying paint deeper inside crevices.
  6. Begin by Eyeballing: No need to intensely pre-mix special highlight colors. Start by eyeballing reasonably lighter tones that complement basecoat hues. You can always tweak mixes and layer more passes for refinement.
  7. Watch Edge Directionality: On surfaces with finely molded textures like fur, ensure brush strokes follow the grains realistically. Movements should trace outlined detail shape contours.
  8. Focus Light Positioning: Visualize where light sources would logically strike surfaces brighter. Ensure highlights reflect any directional illumination by dry brushing more passes and intensity around those raised areas accordingly.
  9. Fix Slip Ups Quickly: If too heavy of dry brush buildup occurs in undesirable dark crevice areas simply re-wash those isolated spots to reset deeper shadows, covering any errant light pigment pooling down inside.
  10. Seal Your Work: Once satisfied, seal everything with a protective matte varnish! This prevents paint chipping over repeated handling while locking completed blends and highlighter layers in place.


I hope this all-inclusive dry brushing guide gives you the tools and knowledge needed to master this versatile highlighting technique that brings models to life through realistic textures and lighting simulations!

We also reccomend viewing Tangible Day’s youtube for more information or check out Creative Twilights aritlce on dry brushing!

While seemingly simple on the surface, proper dry brushing incorporates far more nuanced skills than most painters realize at first glance. But have patience and practice intentionally working on light pressure control, color blending, keeping bristles freakishly dry, identifying perfect base textures for application etc. – building experience deliberately.

You CAN develop expert-level dry brush proficiency with conscious effort. Before long, you’ll be leveraging this quick highlighting skill to rapidly build convincing fur, faces, armor and other textures faster than more tedious classical blending methods!

Soon it may even become your favorite go-to trick for tackling sophisticated things like glow FX and weathered metals. So grab some cheap throwaway brushes and a miniature with plenty of primed textures to play with, then start practicing! Mastering dry brushing expands creative possibilities exponentially.

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