The preferred type of paint when painting miniatures is water based acrylic paint. It thins easily with water and it dries quickly. That last bit can, however, be troublesome at times. The paint can dry out on the palette prematurely. To that end I’ve been experimenting lately with using a wet palette. As the name implies, a wet palette is a moistened palette designed to keep the paint from drying out. It also tends to help with thinning the paints.
There are several wet palettes on the market for purchase as well as instructions for creating DIY varieties. I’ve used both. Which do I like best? Frankly my experience thus far has been six of one, half-dozen of the other. But there are some advantages and disadvantages to both.
The biggest advantage of the DIY version of course is cost. All you need is a sponge or paper towels, a suitable plastic container, and baking parchment, all of which can easily be obtained from a dollar store if you don’t already have them in your kitchen. So, the cost can range from $0 to around $3. The disadvantage (in my opinion) is that the shallowest container I could find still had a fairly high side compared to a store-bought wet palette which I found more difficult to deal with. Another issue I had with the DIY version is that the parchment tended to curl up on the edges no matter how much water I tried to keep in the sponge. The DIY version also tends to need constant re-adding of water regardless of using a sponge or paper towel; I even tried using both in conjunction.
The store-bought wet palette I selected is called Sta-Wet® by Masterson Art Products. It comes with a plastic container, cellulose sponge, and special permeable paper. The principle is the same; put the special paper on top of the wet sponge inside the plastic container. So, why pay upwards of $20* when you can make one for $0-3? For starters, the size of the container provides more area to work with. True you could probably use a larger container on the DIY version, but the larger containers are also going to have higher sides. The cellulose sponge also seems to be a big advantage; it just seems to hold the moisture better and its thinness seems to help with this, as odd as that sounds. The special paper on the other hand isn’t all that special in my opinion. For one, you must prepare it by soaking it in scalding hot water for up to fifteen minutes before placing it in the palette. However, it does not curl up like the baking parchment. Using baking parchment, though, had the same edge curling issues when using it with the DIY palette.
The verdict for me is that I prefer the container and sponge for the Sta-Wet® but to use baking parchment instead of the special paper. While the special paper doesn’t curl like the parchment it also tends to soak up the paint instead of actually keeping it moist on the surface. The parchment works better for keeping the paint wet, but the curling is annoying. The way to overcome that though is to cut the parchment about a quarter of an inch shorter on the edges than the size of the sponge. This allows the water in the cellulose sponge to keep the parchment wet enough to not curl up. Note though that you may have to add water as needed especially during a longer painting session where the lid is off. I’ve also started adding a little water before lidding it at the end of a paint session. I also have found that keeping the sponge wet rather than just moist works best. I don’t ring out the sponge, I just turn the palette up and let the extra water pour off to start with but typically add more later if needed.
The parchment will roll up the first time you put it down on the sponge. Simply flip it over and keep forcing the air bubbles out until it lays flat. It doesn’t hurt to cut several sheets together ahead of time and keep them pressed inside a heavy book, like say, the D&D Monster Manual *wink*. For the Sta-Wet® I cut mine to around 6″ by 7″/7.5″ and that seems to do the trick. Just be mindful of that edge when putting you paints on the palette as it can be hard to see when the palette is wet as the parchment becomes nearly transparent. As mentioned before, I also keep the sponge more wet than the instructions suggest.
I should also note that with the special paper that comes with the Sta-Wet® tending to absorb paint, especially inks, is that it left stains on the cellulose sponge. Thankfully those came out with a simple rinse.
For me, switching to a wet palette has helped a lot with my endeavors at miniature painting in a couple of ways. First, I don’t always have time to paint as much as I would like to and so I can close my palette and come back to it even a few days later and my paints are still useable versus a standard plastic palette where they will have dried up within hours if not sooner. This not only saves time but money as good model paints like Vallejo Model Color® can be expensive at roughly $3.50 per 17ml. The second benefit is that it is best to thin your acrylic paints and I have always been hard headed about this, wanting to do one coat. The wet palette forces me to do multiple thin coats as just having the paints on a wet palette naturally helps thin them out. Even the cheap 50¢ per 2oz craft paints such as Apple Barrel® and Craftsmart®, et.,al. benefit from being put on wet palette instead of a plastic one.
Whether your choice of palette is wet or dry, have fun! That’s the most important part of any hobby after all.
*The Sta-Wet® costs around $13.44 on Amzon.com and $16.99 at Michael’s at the time this was written. Privateer Press Formula P3 wet palette goes for $19.99 on their website. I had considered this one as its special paper seemed more like the baking parchment and doesn’t need to be soaked in hot water first plus it’s not on a roll so perhaps wouldn’t curl so much, but I could never find it in stock anywhere even online including their own store. I also had a 40% off coupon for Michael’s at the time.