Monday 19 September 2011

Quickstain Alternatives

Following on from last weeks post about washes and inks here are the results of my testing of various alternatives to Army Painter Quickshade. I should however quantify my findings in that I am comparing them against a product I have never used. So the findings detailed below are really just a list of alternative ways to quickly shade or wash your miniatures. I'm sure there are dozens of other products available and many and varied ways to achieve the effect I have been seeking and if you have any suggestions please let me know in the comments below. I also think the overall effect of the products tested would vary from one scale to another. I've been painting miniatures for nearly 30 years but shifting down from predominantly 28mm to 15mm figures has meant I have head to re-learn many skills. Experiments like this (and the discussions that follow) are all part of that process.

I tested four popular materials for quick-shading or washing miniatures. The first was a 50/50 mix of Wood stain mixed with distilled water. The second was Games Workshop Devlan Mud wash. The third was Winsor and Newton Peat Brown ink and the last was Vallejo Smokey Ink. I started this test by mounting four identical battlefront 15mm infantry figures on a piece of wood for easy of handling. Then each was given a basic paint scheme sticking to the principle of minimizing the number of steps from bare metal to finished figure. The prepped figures looked very rough and basic but hopefully the washes would bring the color schemes together and hide any poor painting!

Wood-stain - This was an old tin of oil based rosewood wood stain that I found in a store cupboard. I'd read that this could be used as a wash and wanted to give it a try, but not on a completed platoon of figures! The liquid is very thick and viscous, is very dark in tone but has a fine almost imperceptible 'grain' to the pigment. I decided to dilute this and after several tests settled on a 50/50 blend with distilled water. This required a shake before use but otherwise didn't seem to separate and cause problems with the finished application. Applied by brush it looks a lot like Quickshade and its quite alarming to see the miniature disappear under the first pass of the brush. However excess liquid can be easily removed with another brush or the corner of a tissue.

Cleaning the brushes is a chore, requiring a little bit of White Spirit or brush cleaner to remove all the fluid. Another thing I found was that the drying time is significantly longer than the other products with the model remaining sticky for a long time after application. By far the biggest disadvantage is the glossy shine this product put on the model (similar I understand to Quickshade). Several coats of Matt varnish were needed to bring the gloss finish down (not shown). Having said that, the shading is deep and bold with solid shadows and subtle shading of larger areas. Not bad for a product found in the back of a cupboard. Overall I give this a 2 out of 5.

Games Workshop Devlan Mud Wash - I bought this product for £2.30 for a 12ml bottle. Its another thick and viscous liquid although not as thick as the Wood-stain. Again it looked very dark in the tub but this time is used it neat, as suggested by the store manager. Again liberally brushed on the initial effect looks like the model is being swamped however like the previous test excess liquid is easily removed with a brush or tissue. This product flows well and feels like its doing what its supposed to do, quickly settling in the recesses and creases of the figure. When it dried it didn't leave a high gloss finished but still required a Matt varnish to complete the model. Overall I give this product a 4 out of 5.

Winsor and Newton Peat Brown Ink - This cost me just 50 pence online.. and £4.35 in postage! This is a much less viscous liquid and was just what I expected for a product sold as a drawing ink. I decided not to dilute the ink after a quick test, as I wanted stronger shading. On a 28mm model or larger I'd imagine the bold shading would not work well but on a 15mm model it looked like it would be OK. Application was quick with very little excess being deposited on the miniature. It quickly settled into the recesses and even when dried the ink did not bleed into the raised areas and therefore did not darken the whole model excessively. It did leave a slight shine to the surface which required a Matt varnish to eliminate.

Overall I think this product gave the deepest and sharpest shading with the least discoloration to the base colors. The deep pigment is very fine grained which meant that even tiny details such as the rifle bolt were crisply outlined by the ink. Overall I give this a 3 out of 5.

Vallejo Smokey Ink - I already had this product and it cost the princely sum of £1.60 for a 17ml bottle. I had high hopes for this product as on the whole I like the Vallejo range (I use the model color paints exclusively). The fluid was actually thicker than the Winsor ink and significantly deeper in tone. After a brief test I decided this would need to be diluted 50/50 with Distilled Water just as I had with the wood-stain. Application once again seemed to swamp the figure but unlike the other products it remained on all the surfaces of the figure not just the recesses. The result was that although it gave deep shaded areas the overall model had a brown/orange tint to it when dry. However this did result in better skin tones than the other tests. Overall I give it a rather disappointing 3 out of 5.

This last picture shows all four test models side by side. Overall I liked the crispness of the Winsor and Newton ink but did think the finished model looked a bit too bright and 'cartoony'. The GW Wash probably game the most naturalistic look but didn't give the deep shadows that ink can achieve. Having said that I think I will use the Devlan Mud on my next infantry platoon (a US Rifle Platoon) which is already base-coated and just waiting for a wash and varnish.

L to R: Vallejo Ink; Winsor and Newton Ink; Games Workshop Wash; and the Wood stain

Having completed this less than scientific test I'd like to throw this subject out to you the readers and ask the all important question: What do you think? Which of these do you prefer and why? I'd be especially interested in any feedback you can give comparing these results verses Quickshade or indeed any other product.


  1. Since getting back into the hobby I've been using Army Painter Strong Tone Dip as I am lazy and loved the results. I've now changed tack slightly by using AP Soft Tone and GW washes for a slightly less 'grubby' look :)
    I don't think you can beat these dips though, as the effect is (IMHO)great for the effort put in and offers great protection to the model also ;)

  2. I don´t use em..did it once and the result looked "unnatural"..I prefer adding the tones and highlights as I paint. As for the washes/dips...they are just woodstain anyway, but repackaged and with an expensive label. Apparently Ikea stains are the best.
    PS, the Winsor and Newton Ink looks the best IMHO

  3. I like army painter stain/varnish for mass blocks of figures and find GW washes useful. Not so keen on Coat d'arms stain and I have used B&Q wood varnish.

  4. Devlan Mud Wash for me. Doesn't look as stark as some of the others and looks a lot more natural. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who's used a general wash on Napoleonic figures as I have a growing number of Austrian and French which I'm tempted to wash ..... I'd need to be positive before swamping them in wash though!
    Interesting post Lee. Very informative!

  5. Got to go with Army Painter. It's very expensive for what it is, but a tin goes a long way (if you hammer the lid down after each and every use!).

  6. Always worried that I won't like the effects and waste all that time spent painting! As far as this exercise goes the Devlan Mud wins for me.

  7. The GW one looks best from the pictures.

  8. GW looks the best but I do like the definition of the Ink. I use the GW wash on 28mm, 1/72, and 15mm and I think it looks great on all of them. Although on the 28mm I need to paint a shade lighter color as it darkens it a bit.

  9. It could well be just the pics but the rough and basic Before looks by far far the best to me.

    I have a bottle of Winsor and Newt raw sienna lighter reddish brown but have not tried it yet on anything. Also curious whether metal/plastic fig makes a difference.

  10. I've used W&N inks for years, love them for certain things. The GW washes have the edge for me for some full-figure uses (at least at 28mm) as the consistency is a little more friendly - doesn't run off areas too quickly or alternatively pool up too much, both of which the inks can.

    I like stain for big blocks of figures, especially of more earthy (brown/green/yellow/red) colors. I use water-based and brush it on. Much easier thinning and cleanup. Sometimes use straight, sometimes thinned with water and floor polish to keep it from being as dark.

  11. From ya pics I prefer the Windsor and Newton Ink result. It may have a higher contrast than the others but the lack of pooling on the arms etc is great. Higher contrast I think can often look better at 15mm scale than more subtle blends from light to dark.
    Cheers and a great demonstration.

  12. Good post. Thanks for taking the time to compare these options. I normally use the W&N, but I'm going to try a wood stain experiment.

  13. Gotta be the devlan mud (griffin sepia and badab black), you're right about the vallejo smoke, i've got some, but man that stuff is thick and if something can come straight out the bottle for me and gets that depth i'm after it gets the thumbs up. Finishwise Devlan mud then the vallejo, followed by the vallejo, then windsor, i can't even bring myself to think about quickshade, i see the upsides for folks speed obviously. But i have to paint my figures, that'll be the modeller in me.
    Good idea and well covered, cheers Lee.

  14. Great Post. I am newly back to figure painting (and gaming real soon) and have recently started to use Army Painter on my 15mm Ancients. I love the effect though it still feels like cheating. Of the models it's the GW Davlan Mud for me. Instead of using a brush maybe try dipping and shaking off the excess, seems to work well for me.

    Thanks for the effort

  15. Ian, welcome to BLMA. Glad you found the article useful. I've actually just finished off a 15mm Rifle Platoon using the Devlan Mud and I'm very happy with the results.

    I've been torturing myself over the decision for weeks but I think my experiments helped me choose the right product for me. I'll be posting pictures of the platoon in a few days time to show off the results.

  16. Thanks for this page. Devlan mud is best for me too, followed by the Newton ink.

    Devlan is discontinued unfortunately but Army Painter strong tone is the closest even though slightly inferior.


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