Painting With Stains
(aka "The Miracle Dip")

By David Kuijt


(also see "Dipping: A Painting Technique" by
Scott Holder, Spearpoint, 1997)

Commercial stains and shaded polyurethanes such as you might find at a home improvement center can be used with miniatures as a combination wash and protective coating to interesting effect. Here are several related tips and techniques:

You will need to find MinWax Polyshades Satin Tudor (#360) (a.k.a. the "Miracle Dip") at your local hardware or home improvement store. If they don't have it in stock, they should be able to special order it for you.

Take the unpainted, unprimed miniature; clean off flash and glue it to a nail head (my normal method).

If at least 40% of the figure is metal armor (e.g. cataphracts, Romans, mail-clad Normans/Vikings/Guals, Knights, etc.), then only prime and paint whatever is not mail or metal armour before dipping. Since the fig isn't primed, this may take an extra coat for some colours, and you have to be careful not to rub off anything. If metal armor constitutes less than 40% of the figure, then prime and paint it normally before dipping.

Dip the fig into Miracle Dip. Shake off excess (somewhere you won't get in trouble for splattering polyurethane stain), then take a beat-up old miniatures brush and remove any further glops at bottom of shield edges, around the neck, between legs, and so on.

Let dry 24 hours, then it is done.

I use the same Dip method on a lot of my Dark Ages figures, although there I prime the fig first (as the fig is mostly NOT metal armour).

MinWax Polyshades is combined one-coat polyurethane and stain; the Tudor is the darkest stain in their repertoire. Satin coat is because the Gloss is way too glossy. If the result is still too glossy even with Satin coat, you can spray a coat of matte sealer overtop to take off the gloss.

The stain acts as a beautiful wash, bringing out every tiny pockmark of chainmail and line of plate armour; plus folds of cloth etc. The polyurethane part gives a tremendously durable topcoat to the fig.

It takes a little guts to do this the first time, thrusting your painted fig into the black goopy maw of a paint can. But I now use it on almost all my figs, and my painting speed has nearly doubled; for mostly-mail and mostly-armour figs my painting speed is probably four times as fast as it was (and I wasn't slow before).

It will darken colours; not surprising, since it is a dark wash! There's a couple of things you can do to brighten things up.

  1. You can do a bit of drybrush or highlight after the dip (and then a spray seal on top). I've done this on some Teutonic Order knights in combination with (3), and it works fine.
  2. Use brighter colours to start with. To get the effect of bright fabrics that weren't very clean for my Skythians I painted using very bright colours and high contrast, including lots and lots of detailed embroidery and stuff with the Micron technical pens. They looked almost cartoonish before the dip. After the dip the colours were toned down a bit and looked exactly the way I wanted.
  3. Dilute the dip with mineral spirits. Not too much -- try adding 1 part spirits to 4 parts dip. I often have to do this when I get down to the bottom of a can anyway.
  4. "Swab" the figure more thoroughly. It takes some practice to get good at controlling the amount of dip on the figure; too much makes it way too dark. I used to use an old brush for this; now I the edge of ripped-off bits of utility-grade paper towel. I don't actually "swab", I stick the edge of the paper towel piece in a nook or cranny of the figure and let capillary action wick the excess into the paper towel fragment.
  5. Wipe exposed sections with a brush wet with mineral spirits right after dipping. This works fairly well, although the timing is tight -- it only takes a couple of minutes for the surface of the dip on the figure to start to set and be resistant to being "cleaned" away in this manner.

Gamer Feedback

Bob Beattie on "Dipping": David_Kuijt gave a good discussion (see above) of his dipping technique with MinWax Polyshades Satin Tudor (#360).

But if you really are afraid to just dunk the figure in the can, you can do every thing he says, except perhaps not put the figure on the nail and use your usual method to mount figs for painting, I put 3-4 on a popsicle stick (now called craft sticks) and then paint. So do your usual thing and then use a nice wide softish nylon bristle brush and paint the miracle dip on to the figures. I think this works as well as dipping and you can keep the usual basing method. Or you could actually just mount the figure on to its gaming base and paint the few parts that are not metal and then paint on the dip. Be sure to let dry well before you add any flocking or the fig will have a nice camoflogue coating.

In our group, even the figs that have the stain painted on are called "dipped"

One of our members says that Minwax makes an unpainted but dipped figure look amost good enough to use. I have a number of pretty poorly painted figs in my collection. Done years ago or picked up at flea market tables ("bring and buy") but with a good brush dipping they become fine looking figures.

Minwax Satin Tudor is the darkest but for some reason is difficult to find. Someone in our group had to special order it from Home Depot. I emailed the Minwax company and they told me to check my local Ace hardware store. I have used the Walnut and find it nice for mostly-white figures, it gives a brownish effect whereas the Tudor is almost black.

So I now use a variety of styles, some Tudor, some Walnut, some glossy and some satin. I think 15mm looks better with the glossy Tudor, 25mm Arabs and Indians in Walnut satin. Get a small can of each and try them. I have been dipping buildings (even ones made from precolored card) to give them a more weathered look. It is amazing how a flat painted figure is improved by dipping; not the black-primed, dry brushed style but the simple white prime paint on a color style. Steve Roper who brought dipping to Ann Arbor suggested for my Africans that are 95% skin or whited robed types that I prime in the color of majority and then paint in the details and then dip, and it works. I even tried it (if I may deviate from DBA) on Khaki colonials; wash the figure (I soak in vinegar for while) then paint the bare metal with a Floquil shade for Khaki (different troops in different shades of stone, or buff or whatever is khaki-ish) and then paint details and dip. I feel safer using an oil based paint for primer.

I use only one special brush for dipping and then clean with turpentine and then wash with soap and water. It is about 10mm wide so covers one side of a fig in a stroke.

Alex Aimette: I just want to say that I'm a converted dipper. It makes all my figures, even the primo paint jobs, look better, and it makes a mediocre paint job look great. Even more importantly, it protects the figures from scratches.

I also found a way to dry them significantly faster - a common house fan. The common fan, blowing even lightly on the figures, drops the drying time from several hours to about 1-2 hours. If you add in air conditioning (dry air), it is even less.

Donald Miller: I would add only one "technique" change; after dipping quite a few figures I realized that painting the stuff on was easier in the long run. It also gives better control over "pooling" of the Minwax. however, I find that I need to blow on the figure to get rid of small bubbles (maybe I'm too fussy)./P>

Nikolai Tvilde: I have finally tried the notorious "miracle dip". And it works! Blazing heavens, it works! Anyone out there who still haven't tried this: Go buy it, try it, love it! Just - don't - drink it!

Anyway, I think I found an equavalent to Minwax Polyshades. The stuff is called "Bistrot lakk" (lack/lak/lakka), and is done by "Liberon". It is a "polyuretan" wood-stainer. I bought a can of 250 ml of "silkematt" (satin) at a local artists paint shop. It cost 124 NOK. (About 9ú). The colour was "M»rk eik" (Dark oak), and I think it is the equivalent of "Tudor". It comes in a numerous other colours, but appearantly only as clear when it's gloss. Just in case there are are any fellow north-men lurking out there, I'll state the companies that distributes them (I'm only quoting the can; I haven't checked these):

  • Norway: Alanor AS, Postboks 80, N-3150 TOLVSR D
  • Sweden: ARTicLEs Leif Eriksson AB, Box 129, 233 23 Svedala.
  • Denmark: SKOGVAARD & FRYDENSBERG - DK-1072 K BENHAVN K
  • Finland: OY PARAALETT AB - Fi-00140 HELSINKI
  • France: Fabriqu par LIBERON - F-39210 DOMBLANS

Rob Brennan: Just a note for UK+Ireland gamers that RONSEAL do a similar product to the MinWax Polyshades Satin Tudor used by the majority of posters. I bought the Walnut, although a Tudor (i.e. black) equivilent may be available. There is both a quck-drying (touch-dry in 20 minutes) and standard polyurathane (24 hours drying) product. I bought the quick drying and found it works well. No matt finish seems to be available, only satin and gloss.

Josep Yepes: I have been looking for the similar product here in Spain to Miniwax, in short in the city of Barcelona, and I believe that I have found it. The result of the tests applied in several figures has been excellent!

The product is of the mark " TITAN ", a well-know Spanish manufacturer of paints, and is named "Barniz Tinte Cremoso." It exists in several tonalities all of them glossy. In short I have bought (in Servei Estacio, well-know hardware store in the city of Barcelona) the "Mahogany" and "Oak" colors, both give a spectacular change to the finished figures. The boat is of 250cl. and it costs 600ptas (aprox. $3.38).

Russell Thompson: I think 'dipping' is useful, for turning "ok" paint jobs into "good" paint jobs. The other use is for it's strong protective value. I bought some 15mm Vikings that have a very nice paint job. I'm not so sure if primer was used first though, so I'm using dipping to seal the figs. I also think that 15mm is a better choice then 25mm for dipping. I like to think that I paint at a high level of skill. I use shading, strong sealers, and good primers. So "dipping" my own work would not be a great benefit to me. I paint in many styles depending on the effect that I'm looking for. Dipping is just one of the choices I can use. I would probably use it if I was painting fully armored knights.

Chris Mollitt: I have been using a form of the dipping technique for many years, I started by adding Humbrol matt black to matt or satin varnish. Now I add Games Workshop inks to Humbrol acrylic varnish. This way several depths of shading can be achieved.

Ramˇn Yß˝ez: Try this: 1 part of oil paint, 5 parts of turpentine and 20 parts of Polyurethane varnish (or Minwax Honey). Mix and paint your figures. Some examples on http://neron.uab.es/dbm/babilonio/.

Owen Cooper: Recently been reading with interest your page on the "Miracle Dip" technique. I have a brand name that your UK readership might be interested in, Dulux Woodsheen which I purchased from Great Mills (UK hardware/DIY store) for GBP4.13. The two colours I have tried are Satin Ebony, which is black and mutes colours too much for my liking and the fantastic Satin Walnut which is the one I really recommend. Great coverage on pale caucasian flesh tones and I have been using a second brush loaded with Humbrol Cellulose Thinners to lift any large puddles that I don't want on the finished miniatures. I have been painting some Foundry 7th cavalry with this technique and am very impressed at both the speed of production and the shading effect on flesh and brown colours.

Rich Royer: I recently read the posts about using minwax polyshades to clearcoat and shade figures. I saw some pics, got some instructions and headed off to Lowe's. As forewarned there was no Tudor to be found. I decided to try the mahogany, kind of nice dark red brown. I picked up a huge vat of mineral spirits for 2-3 bucks and got down to trying this. I have dipped, actually brushed on, two different historical figs and a number of orcs. My historical figures were painted in different styles and yielded different results. The first fig I painted in a very simple, paint over white primer with no shading. This guy came out pretty nice. The other fig was a Dark Ages Saxon who had been primed white, heavily washed in burnt umber (or maybe sienna) then painted with a dry brush style. Since the figure was already somewhat dark compared to the first he became much darker. I actually had trouble telling what colors I had used for his pants versus his tunic, I know they were different but now I need a good light to detect that difference. I also ended up diluting/removing the fresh coating on his face and arms with a brush loaded with thinner....All in all I have mixed feelings about this technique, others seem to love it.

Tom Opalka (a.k.a Tom Ponatowski): Once I started using this technique on my 25mm figures, I've stuck to it. For the combined speed and final look it can't be beat. Make sure you stir the stuff...don't shake it because you will get air bubbles in it, and it doesn't mix as well that way either. I brush it on using a cheap brush I am not worried about getting messed up. If there are areas which maybe hard to get to, blow on it and it will flow pretty good.

For areas that I want lighter, or problem areas where the dip settles, I go back with a brush which is damp, though not really too wet, with mineral spirits. On faces and flesh, this will take some of the dip off, but leave enough for shadowing. Some white I avoid painting--like the white backgrounded shields on my Carthaginians--just don't brush any dip there, and if you get some on by mistake, just use the mineral spirits brush. I have done white robes/tunics and they came out pretty good--again, I used a brush with mineral spirits to lighten any areas that I wanted. I wouldn't use the Mahogony on white...try the Tudor which I've had good success with or the Walnut (dark brown) which some of my group has used very good over white.

I haven't thinned it, but had a friend try that with mineral spirits, and it didn't work from what he told me. There are a few things to do to limit the shading aspect:

  • Don't stir the dip before applying.
  • Don't actually dip the figure, brush it on so it doesn't go on that heavy to begin with.
  • Keep a small cup of mineral spirits handy and rinse the same brush you use to apply the dip in the mineral spirits. Then go over the just dipped figure. The spirits will thin the dip on the figure and pull a lot of the shading off of the higher areas while leaving it in the crevices for shading. This works on white and off white really well.

Joe Hlebasko: Here are some of the things I have learned about using the "dip".

  • Use mineral spirits to thin. 2:1 or 3:1. You need to experiment here.
  • Use a Clear Polyurethane to thin/dilute the shading effect. This will affect the sheen of the finish. Not bad.
  • Paint with brighter colors than if you were not using "dip" to finish.
  • Have a 2nd brush handy with a cup of mineral spirits. Paint the "dip" on to about 3-5 figures (depending on how fast you do this), go back with the 2nd brush, dip in the mineral spirits then "dry-brush" the areas that you want to have shading...as the using the "dip" directly left the white way to dirty looking. You want to let the 1st coat set up just slightly, this helps keeps some shading in the grooves. Don't wait too long or it will set up too much to effectively wipe off. The time will need some experimentation.
  • Work in a WELL ventilated area.
  • For features that I want to stand out, I will use a Min-wax Clear Satin Polyurethane. These features are things like shields, plumes, etc. This provides a good contrast to the typical finish I would warn against using water based urethanes, as I have heard they may yellow with age.

Steve Roper: Like Don Miller, I "paint" it on, then I let it set for 60 sec or two min (long enough for me to "paint" another stick of 4 figs) THEN I take a second brush sitting in turpentine and drag it over the figure lightly. The turpentine reduces the surface tension and bursts the bubbles with less (or no) blowing.

The other key is to use "fresh" dip. Royal Walnut lasts for a while, but Tudor goes bad rapidly. Viscosity increases, and it doesn't flow right and instead looks terrible on the figures. This is a chemical reaction (with free radicals as a catalyst IIRC from my 20 year old oganic chemistry class) and cannot be slowed down with "thinning."

My solution is to buy large quart sized containers, but then decant the dip into smaller, tighly sealed jars. I use old Starbucks "frappicino" bottles (thanks to my wife I have LOTS of these). Each one holds about 10 oz of dip. I usually use about 5 oz at a time, dipping 100 or so figures per session. Each bottle then is used for two sessions - after being opened twice I find that even if any is left it is too far gone to use.

Nick Nascati: I have used a variation on Polyshades. I found in my local craft shop, a product called "Tintable Lacquer". This is an acrylic product that comes clear. You then add as much of whatever acrylic color you like. I think it is better overall than Polyshades. You can vary the intensity, and don't have to deal with the odor.


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Last Updated: 23 Sep 2013

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Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.