Tuesday 3 May 2016

Making Waves - Creating splash, wave and water effects for miniatures.

This tutorial was originally posted on the Legion of the cow website but as that site is no longer currently active I'm re-posting it here.

Before you start it is well worth searching the web for reference photos showing waves and splashes. I don’t recommend that you try and create a 100% perfect copy of any particular photo but good reference is invaluable in creating a realistic effect. 

  • Greenstuff (epoxy putty) 
  • Paints 
  • Clear plastic – e.g. blister pack plastic
    Games Workshop Water Effects (fluid) 
  • Vallejo water effects (gel) 
  • Crushed glass - a specialist basing material commonly used to create snow effects 
  • Micro balloons – a lightweight plastic powder used to bulk out resin
    Invisible thread – a clear plastic thread used for clothing repairs
    Clear glass microbeads - for nail art and craft projects 

Step 1 
I began by sculpting my wave shapes with green stuff. I found that a ball ended sculpting tool gave me the best results. 

Step 2 
Next you need to paint the waves. Think carefully about what sort of finished colour you want for your water. The colour of water can vary infinitely so pick something that will work with the overall colour palette you are using. Before you finalise your colour choice, it is worthwhile to test out how your colours look under a couple of layers of the water effects. The gloss finish will alter the final appearance of your colour. 

For my waves I started off with a desaturated grey/blue tone and worked up to a brighter saturated blue/green. I then lightly dry brushed the tips of the waves with ivory. You could also use white for this but the ivory gave a pleasing greenish quality over the blue. If the dry brushing starts to build up a grainy texture that’s all for the better as this will add to the foam effect. You can glaze a little deep blue/green into the recesses to enrich the colour if you feel it is needed. 

Step 3 
Next it’s time to create the splash elements. I used melted clear plastic for this. This process is very random, so it’s a good idea to make lots and then pick the most suitable pieces. 

I cut several long thin strips of the clear plastic and then held each one over a tea light until the plastic began to soften and melt. I gently pulled the plastic until it came apart. The softened/melted edges often form into interesting shapes that make great splash elements. 

You will need to experiment with this technique as different plastics will react with varying results. Work in a well ventilated area and proceed with extreme caution! The combination of plastic and a naked flame is hazardous and all necessary safety precautions should be taken to avoid injury/accident. 

Pick the splash elements you wish to use and trim them to size so they will fit. I used a blob of the Vallejo water effects gel to attach the splash elements to the base and then let everything dry thoroughly over night. 

Step 4 
The next step is to cover the entire surface of the water with the fluid water effects. The final result will be better if you build up several layers rather than one thick one. I found that four layers seemed about right for the look I wanted.

Water effects will shrink as it dries, so it’s important to allow each coat to dry before you apply the next. If you build up too thick a layer the shrinkage may cause some distortion to the splash and droplet elements. 

Step 5 
The base layer for the water is now done so its time to enhance the effect with some foam and droplets. 

The foam is made from a mixture of crushed glass, micro balloons and fluid water effects. You can vary the proportions of the mix to create slightly different effects. Once again I would recommend a little experimentation to see what works for you. 

As an alternative you could use baking soda to replace the crushed glass and/or micro balloons but you will need to be aware that baking soda can yellow over time and this would spoil the desired effect. 

I applied the prepared mixture in places where the water would produce a foam and left it to dry. It’s wise to proceed cautiously and add a little at a time with a dabbing motion. You can also add a few clear glass microbeads to the foam mix in places where larger bubbles might form. The microbeads can also be applied randomly on the water. 

Step 6 
If you study freeze-frame photos of splashing water you will notice that many blobs and droplets are formed. First mix a few of the microbeads into a drop of the fluid water effects. Then put a small amount of the water effects onto the mini where you want to fix the microbeads. This will make it easier to push the microbeads around to get them into position. Pick the microbeads off your palette with a clean paintbrush and position then on the mini. Do this one at a time for more control. 

To create the illusion of independent droplets of water breaking free of the splash you will need to use the invisible thread. Attach a short piece of the invisible thread to the splash with a dot of the water effects and allow it to dry in place. Now gradually build up a small blob of water effects on the end of the thread. This is a fiddly and time-consuming job but well worth the effort as it greatly enhances the splash effect. 

Step 7 
Once all the foam and splash effects are dried give them a couple of coats of water effects to tie everything together. At this stage you can build-up a few specific splashes and droplets with extra layers of water effects if you feel it’s needed. 


  1. Incredible effect, thanks for taking the time to put together the tutorial. Have you though of using the sculpted waves to mould a copy in clear resin?

    1. The thought has occurred (albeit after the event). This would be the next logical step to further enhance the effect

  2. Thanks for reposting this! Can't wait to try this out for myself.

    I've seen teeny tiny micro balloons sold as "snow flock" before, but where did you get the larger ones, if you don't mind my asking? A big-box art and crafts store?

    And the invisible thread... a sewing shop? Would fishing line be a suitable replacement, or would it be too thick in diameter?

    1. I got all my microbeads on amazon. The larger size are often sold as decorative 'glitter' for 'nail art'. They are also to be found under arts & crafts.

      They often come in sets of mixed colours both clear & metallic. The clear ones are the ones to use for water & slime effects.

  3. thanks for the sbs that is really really great :)

  4. Brilliant! Thanks :)

  5. Thanks for a very useful tutorial!

  6. Thanks fot this tutorials. I'm not ready to realise this kind of perfection, but i keep this article in mind ^^

  7. Amazing skills and concepts. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Very inspiring and useful tutorial, I'll try this, probably soon.

  9. dully deserving slayer sword entry

  10. Wonderful work! I'm going to try to track down some of these materials and see if they might enhance some of my nautical-themed decorative bases. Thanks so much for the level of detail in explaining this!

  11. I've looked at this tutorial before and think it's great, but the images have seemed to have disappeared. Anyway of getting those back up, please?