Weathering vehicles, Getting Started with Oil Washes & Filters

Firstly let’s start with explaining what Oil Washes are and why they’re suddenly such a hot topic.    Oil washes are generally created by mixing artists Oil paints with distilled white spirits or Turps (as it was called in my day!).    They are popular because Oils are very easy to work with and offer long drying times which allows the modeller plenty of time to perfect the effects that they’re going for.    The most important thing toremember is that both White Spirits and Oil paints are both flammable and toxic, if you have younger hobbyists they need careful education on how these should be used and secure safe storage for them.   No licking those brushes clean!

Oil washes can be used in a number of ways.    Around 25 years ago there was an article I read about mass painting Napoleonic’s 28mm horses where the animals were painted in a lighter colour than required and once dry oil washed with a darker shade.   Soft Sponges or Cotton Wool buds are then used to buff the miniature, removing the shade from the raised areas but leaving a pooled wash in crevices which would give an incredibly rich colour transition whilst being very quick to do (even given the long drying times).   Army Painters quick shade works on the same premise as this technique as do the Games Workshop washes.    On Vehicles we generally use Oil Washes to provide filters (to improve modulation and camouflage effects), panel washes to highlight gaps in panels and make edges pop or to simulate streaks on surfaces (Grime, Rust, etc).

The method for vehicles is slightly different.    Firstly, we need to varnish our miniature, the manufacturer of my Oil Filter Washes (Mig Ammo) recommends a Satin Varnish for best results, they mentioned things like surface tension and state that a gloss surface has slightly too little resistance on the surface for optimal results.   Certainly I needed more coats over gloss to get the same affect so I’m going to go along with their recommendation.   To demonstrate the effect that filters give to a model I’m going to post some pictures of my tanks that I’ve done using these tools to show you the effects whilst explaining how I got to them.    I’ve used the following set for these vehicles in case you wish to try the same.


Let’s look at this Cossack below from my article on building and painting the Cossack Light Walker by Warlord Games.    Below we can see that there is a Cossack which has been winter white washed, I did this using the hairspray technique and once dry I’ve started chipping the paint.  At this point the flakes are quite large and the whitewash is rather flat with little difference in tone.

The Chipping process started

In this middle image I’ve done some sponging of green to make flakes smaller and applied a couple of coats of Light Grey  for White by Mig Ammo.  We can already see some subtle shading effects on the model and some shadowing around the curved surfaces.  I’ve also applied a coat of Brown for White.  You can see a slightly off white effect in some crevices and around some surfaces implying a build up of dirt.

A shot from other side showing the continuation

In the final image I’ve tidied up all the details and added a pin wash using Vallejo Model Air Rust (thinned).   I would have done this with oils / pigments if I had them to hand but I didn’t so I used an acrylic paint to make a similar effect.   As you can see the very flat light grey/whitewash has now given way to a very subtle dirty white wash that has clearly seen service – exactly the effect that I was going for.


Streaks can be applied in a couple of ways.   You can see on of the methods from the video below, I didn’t know about this method until I started thinking about writing this post and went looking for a video that matches the process I followed.    This looked suitably intriguing and I think would give better control than the method I used so it’s definitely worth a watch.

So, you have seen my Mammoth?  (that’s not a euphemism)  I wrote an article on painting it here a few months ago.    The Mammoth used the same methods I’ve discussed above for the Cossack and the Chipping methods that I’ve mentioned in other articles previously.

The method that I’ve followed is as follows;

  • paint some distilled white spirit or enamel thinners onto the surface that you wish to apply streaks on
  • paint a line across the top of the surface using the streaking grime as
  • get a fine brush dipped in white spirits and draw the brush vertically down the surface that you wish to have streaks, starting in the grime at the top

This should give you some fine streaks moving down the sides of your vehicle giving the impression of dirty rain streaks or oil leaks.     The first application will be quite dark, simply keep dragging you brush over the surface (clean it and apply more thinners if required) to make the streaks lighter and blend the effects into the side of the vehicle.

Looking at the Mammoth we can see this in action.  Above are two shots of the Mammoth.   At this point the beastie has been chipped and had both coats of filters applied, giving that weathered effect to the winter white wash.    What I did next was follow the steps I’ve talked about.    On the shield at the front I painted white spirits all over the shield, then I painted a thin line across the top of the shield in between the rivets and the top of the shield.   I did the same on the side.

Here we can see the results.   There are subtle stripes running vertically down our Walker giving the effect of dirty rain water/ melting snow making marks on the paint surface as it runs off the vehicle.    In this instance this provided that little extra oomph to finish off the appearance of the vehicle and the total time taken to do the entire vehicle was about 40 minutes painting time with around 4-5 hours drying time before I sealed the effects in varnish.

I hope this helps you if you’re thinking of trying Oil Washes and filters and I would definitely recommend giving them a go.   There are lots of good videos on youtube that show you how to do it.

If the Mig Ammo pre mixed sets are too rich for your wallet or not available in your area, you can get the same effect by just using white spirits and artists oils.    Pop spots of different but complementary oil colours onto card (this leeches some of the oils out), then apply them to the vehicle using a cocktail stick to give you tiny dots on the surface of your vehicle.    Then using a brush soaked in white spirits draw vertical lines through the dots across the vehicle to add subtle streaks and break up the modulation / highlighting on the vehicle.

Good Luck and please do share pictures of your experiements and progress with the K47 group on facebook or via our twitter / email

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