Friday Quick Tip: Using gouache to line tanks

This Friday Quick Tip is an expansion on an earlier tip to help you paint nice, clean lines without any stress. After a few requests, here is a more detailed procedure.

The key to this tip is gouache. The acrylic paint I normally use is made up of three things: pigment, solvent and binder. Pigment is the color, solvent is the thing that keeps it liquid in the pot and the binder is acrylic that keeps the pigment together once dry. When the acrylic paint dries, you are left with pigment infused plastic. But gouache is different since there is no binder- just water and pigment. It dries really flat and loses a little saturation, but since there is no binder you can get it wet again and move the pigment around.

The best part is that gouache comes in a variety of colors, is available at most art stores and is pretty cheap. I got a big set from the sale table at Michael's for less than $10.

The basic overview for this technique is that you will lazily paint the gouache into the lines of the tank, and then pick up the excess with a damp Q-tip to make the lines neat and tidy.

It comes out of the tube almost like a paste, so I squeeze out a little bit and add some water. Gouache is kinda gritty and chunky, so mix it well with the toothpick (NOT the brush!) until you get a nice, even consistency.

I recommend a liner for this. You can use a small detail round brush, but it isn't going to hold a lot of paint and it is going to make painting in the lines harder. Make sure you don't overload the brush so there's a drop at the end-- that will make your lines blobby and just create more work for you later. Be sure to make sure you also don't pick up a chunk of pigment. If you don't mix it well you can get clumps.

Then just throw it on, being as neat as you can, but don't worry if you make a mistake.

Once you have the paint in all of the armor plate lines, you'll want to remove the spots you missed and clean things up a bit. Get a whole bunch of Q-tips and a big glass of water. For a Falcon-sized tank, and if you've been pretty neat with your lining, you'll need about 35 Q-tips.

I've found that dipping the Q-tip in water makes it much too wet, as you only want a damp Q-tip to pick up the excess gouache. If you use too much water, it will reactivate the gouache and a big mess will start to run down your model. I just moisten the Q-tip in my mouth and apply it to the model, turning it as I move along a line. You always want to use a clean part of the Q-tip and NEVER lick a Q-tip that has touched gouache. DO NOT EAT THE ART SUPPLIES. If you use a dirty Q-tip, you'll make a big smear, so be careful to rotate it as you remove the excess and don't do too much at a time.

This Q-tip is dirty, so get a new one. Make sure you have a place to put the dirty, wet Q-tips like a plastic trashbag. Also, a tall glass of water will keep you from getting dry after sticking a lot of dry cotton Q-tips in your mouth. Once you get the excess gouache wiped away, you are left with some nice, clean lines.



Any tips or techniques you'd like to see in more detail or done as a step-by-step tutorial?


  1. that its beyond awesome. Only 15 minutes ago I was trying to figure out a way to go back and work on the mouths of my Necrons, but I couldnt figure out a simple and clean way, this will work nicely thank you.

  2. I tend to use MIG pigments and water for a similar effect, but the gouache seems to be a lot easier to work with. Thanks for the great tip, gonna try it out on my next tank :)

  3. Nice tip, I haven't used Gouache on anything since art school.

  4. Since your original post of this tip in the Austin Minature Minions Forums some time ago, have you found any neat way of fixing the gouache once you are done cleaning up?

    Reading this now, I wonder if I could use this with my "tyranid problem" (I had mailed you about my problems of getting light colors into the recesses of dark models for the ask the corps sessions)? I just fear that for an army of 'nids I'm going to need a hell of a lot of Q-Tips :p

  5. For small figured, I'd almost recommend the Citadel Badab Black wash instead of a gouache because you can skip the Q-tip step.

    All of my tanks have the lining as the last step, and I haven't clear coated them yet. Some of the older ones wear away with handling, but nothing a few minutes of touch-up won't fix.

    I've had a few artists recommend Krylon Crystal Clear, which is available at most art and some photography shops for less than $10.

    Any clear spray that isn't water-based will do however.

  6. That's a brilliant technique. I use micron pens for most of my lining, but that doesn't help much for light colors such as the yellow in your example. The results of the gouache are just wonderfully clean. Thanks for sharing this tip!