Salt Masking Tutorial

Mr. Taras made this Salt Masking Tutorial for us! Salt Masking is used on miniatures to create a somewhat realistic looking weathering effect: like the paint actually weathered off the object. In this tutorial, Taras will show us how to do this using a piece of Necromunda terrain, which is ideal for these kind of techniques. Quickly read on and maybe learn something for a future project!

Salt Masking

In this tutorial, I will be explaining how you can recreate the effect of rusty metal or peeling paint by means of applying a masking layer between two layers of paint. This technique is commonly known as the Salt masking technique.

I chose rusty metal fort his project, where the rust is the basecoat and the metal goes on top of that. You can also go for a peeling paint effect by using a metal color (or some other material such as concrete or wood) for the basecoat. Or, even something that has been painted over, where the original color would be the basecoat.

Step 1 – supplies

For the Salt Masking technique, you will need the following things:

  • Primer
  • Basecoat; this is the layer that will be brought back eventually. I chose a dark reddish-brown color here
  • Topcoat spraycan or airbrush; this is the layer that will be ‘peeling’ to reveal the basecoat. I chose a metal color here
  • Salt or sand; preferably in two or more sizes
  • Hairspray; I usually don’t use this, but it’s used in a lot of tutorials
  • A hard brush; personally I like the combination of a dishwashing brush and a toothbrush (only for these projects, mind you ☺)

Step 2 – Preparations

Of course, you will have to prepare your base material. In my case, it was plastic bulkheads, so I took these of the sprue and cleaned them up. After that, I applied a coat of primer. I’ve used a cheap primer from a generic brand for this project. For my purpose and quality standards, this is sufficient.

After this, I applied the base coat. You will notice that this coat isn’t very even or cover the whole object. For me this enhances the randomness of the rust spots. Also in my experience, the raised edge of the object don’t take the salt very well and thus don’t need paint. The color of my primer is inconspicuous enough not to stand out where I might have missed a spot.


Spray-on Base coat


Secondary color over the black base coat

Stap 3 – Apply mask (and fixate mask)

As soon as your basecoat has dried, you can apply your mask. I’ve used salt in this example, but you could use any number of materials. In my case the salt has somewhat dissolved by the use of the warm water and settled as a crystalline layer, which is causing a light twinkle on the finished product. For a next project, I would use sand to counter this problem.

Ive found that I got the nicest, most natural effect when using different sizes of salt/sand.

Another example of an interesting masking material is simple painters tape (or expensive Tamiya masking tape if you’re feeling frisky) which you can tear up to shapes that you like. I think you’ll have more control over where the rust should show afterwards.

As said before, a lot of people also opt to fix the mask with hairspray. Because the hairspray will cover the entire model it will also give effects where the salt wasn’t placed. I wasn’t looking for that effect in this example, but when you consider a metal base coat with peeling paint this could give a really nice effect. In that case, you could use a hard brush to create scratches or wearing where appropriate.

Step 4 – Apply top layer

In this example this step doubles as the fixate mask step. When the mask is not fixated with hairspray, you have to pay close attention not to spray to hard in the first go. Otherwise, you will blow all of the masking salt right off your model and end up with a solid coat.

This top layer should fully cover the entire model, unless you would like to apply other effects of course.

I’ve noticed that it’s not really a big problem if the top layer hasn’t fully hardened, I think it even makes the next step a bit easier.

Step 5 – Removing the mask

And now, the most glorious step, the removal of the mask and witnessing the results. I usually do this in a big bucket with warm water, using an (old!) tooth or dish brush.

The warmth of the water helps in softening the top layer just a bit (especially when using hairspray) and in case of using salt dissolving the salt grains. Now all you have to do is just brush off all the masking material so that the base color will show again. If you’ve used hairspray can vary the pressure a bit; with soft brushing only the masking material comes off, with more vigorous brushing you can also scratch/wear down the top layer.



Add the Salt


Apply a Layer


Brush off with warm water

Step 6 – Extra effects

So, that’s the basics of the salt masking technique. From this point on you add various other effects to take your model to boost the effect or to add more layers of detailing.

I’ve chosen to just apply a wash from here as the metal color was a bit too shiny for my liking. The wash will tone down the metallic (any color really) and also helps bring some more contrast in the model.

Other things you could do is:

  • Add orange accents at the edges of the model and/or the rust spots
  • Add streaking with a brownish or reddish color
  • Drybrush with a lighter metallic
  • Pick out some details with a fine brush
  • Etcetera

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