3 Popular Uses for Dry Brushing Miniatures (Tips)

Dry brushing is an essential miniature painting technique because it has so many uses in the hobby. It’s also one of the easiest methods to learn, which makes it popular among both novice and experienced painters. Whether you’re painting minis for tabletop wargames or roleplaying games, e.g., DND, or board game miniatures, dry brushing is super useful.

In this article, I give you an overview of the three most popular uses for dry brushing on miniatures.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - tips and tricks - vertical feature banner image


  • Dry brushing is a core skill for all miniature and scale model enthusiasts.
  • Primary effect of dry brushing is controlled paint application on raised areas of a miniatures.
  • Beyond highlighting, dry brushing is great for smooth gradient blending, object source lighting (OSL), and zenithal highlighting.
  • Despite its simplicity, dry brushing is often undervalued.
  • Not just for beginners; seasoned painters benefit too.
  • With practice, dry brushing provides nuanced results and combines well with other advanced techniques.


  1. The Army Painter Masterclass: Drybrush Set (Popular workhorse)
  2. ARTIFY Drybrush Set (Complete dry brush set)
  3. e.l.f. Eyeshadow Brush (Budget-friendly alternative to hobby dry brushes)

Read on to learn more about the different ways you can use dry brushing in your miniature painting.

Reasons to Learn How to Dry Brush Miniatures

Everyone should know how to dry brush their models. Even if you aren’t pleased with its primary effect, which is to highlight raised areas on miniatures, when combined with other techniques you can pull off some spectacular effects, e.g., layer blending, special lighting effects, slap chop speed painting methods, and much more.

Although dry brushing is a simple and often maligned technique for its ease, it is a technique that I still use all the time. In fact, there are three ways I use dry brushing in my miniature painting projects.

Whether I’m painting minis for Warhammer 40K, board games, 3D printed models, or some tabletop game, e.g., RPGs, DND, dry brushing is one of my go-to techniques. It’s fast, economical (you don’t need fancy delicate brushes), and produces reliable results with practice. Dry brushing isn’t only for beginners! With practice and experience, you can achieve nuanced results that elevate your miniatures to the next level.

Quick Note About Ideal Miniature Sculpts to Dry Brush

Some miniatures are better for applying the dry brush method to than others. At this point, I’m pretty confident I can tell what miniatures I think dry brushing will work well on.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - tree miniature monster with defined texture from warmachine hordes tabletop game
The defined texture on this Warmachine-Hordes wargaming miniature (Grymkin Faction) is especially nice to work with using the dry brush technique.

Miniatures that lend themselves well to highlighting with a dry brush are those with good texture contrast. That is, texture and detail that is well defined, such that the raised surfaces are clearly separate from the recesses and “valleys” on the surface of the model.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - two factor contributing to dry brush technique outcome schematic info illustration
The two most impactful features on a miniature’s surface that determine the final effectiveness of dry brushing are the 1) distance between the raised features, and 2) the height of the texture, measured from the peak to trough, e.g., recesses.

Two factors play into the overall effect of dry brushing a model. First, the greater the difference in height between peaks and troughs in the textured detail on a miniature’s surface, the easier it will be for you to control your dry brush application over that surface. In other words, deeper textured models are easier to dry brush. Second, how far apart raised surfaces are from the recesses will determine whether your dry brushing strokes will appear coarse or fine.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brush skin and moans miniature with leathery skin effect
The torn leathery skin on this model were dry brushed to great effect.

With these factors in mind, when you’re trying to decide whether a model is worth dry brushing, consider how much work you want to put in to get a satisfactory result, as well as what you should expect.

For example, a miniature with shallow texture height will be much harder to dry brush, effectively. Similarly, models with wide open, smooth surfaces, e.g., defined as texture peaks that are far apart with shallow recesses, may not work as well with the dry brush technique.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - work in progress tyranid warhammer 40k model
I dry brushed the subtle highlights on the armored carapace (black and blue tone). The smooth texture made this a bit challenging because the surface didn’t pick up the dried pigment very well. It took a few layers of dry brushing to pull this off.

Vehicles or structures with flat, untextured panels are notorious for making you work extra hard to achieve a decent dry brush effect. Here, you may want to start with a large dry brush to cover the surface efficiently and evenly.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - age of sigmar slaves to darkness miniature painted with dry brushing and other techniques
Dry brushing, when combined with other techniques, can make for some spectacular results.

While I can get into granular descriptions with all the types of models that work well with dry brushing (or not), the best way to learn is to apply the technique yourself across a wide range of miniature types, sizes, and genre.

Read on to see three useful ways to apply dry brushing in your miniature painting work.

3 Ways to Use Dry Brushing on Miniatures and Models

If you’re looking for more in-depth info about dry brushing, then check out this simple how to dry brush miniature guide. There you’ll learn the basics of dry brushing, how to choose a brush for dry brushing, and tips for pulling off great effects.

Now let’s dive into three popular uses for dry brushing on miniatures.

Dry Brush Method 1 – Highlighting

Using dry brushing to paint highlights on miniatures is one of the most well-known methods for the technique. The main purpose of dry brushing is to add a highlight effect to raised areas on the model, such as muscles, armor plates, or other details. This method is perfect for adding contrast and definition to your miniatures quickly.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brushing lizard scales on miniature close up
The most effective and popular use of dry brushing is to highlight the surface of a model. It can even help you highlight sharp edges, i.e., edge highlighting, if you have good control over your brush and paint pigment.
3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - highlighted scales on miniature close up photo
The effect of the dry brush highlight is subtle, but works well to bring up the volume and contrast of these lizard scales.

By strategically applying a lighter shade over the base color, dry brushing can effortlessly accentuate the raised details of a miniature. This technique brings out the intricate features that might otherwise be overlooked, giving the figure a more three-dimensional look.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - chalky dry brush effect close up photo demonstration
A close up look at the chalky like character that is a hallmark of the dry brushing technique. You can expect a bit of “brush-character” with dry brushing. It won’t be perfectly smooth like the gradients you achieve with airbrushing or other fancy color blending techniques.

Additionally, because dry brushing uses “dry” pigments that you apply by swiping paint-loaded bristles over a miniature, you can quickly highlight an entire model in a few seconds (or minutes) depending on the size of the miniature and area you want to cover.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brush zenithal highlighting on miniatures black and white effect
Dry brushing is an essential method to perform zenithal highlighting, when you’d have access to an airbrush or the dual black & white spray primers you need.

With practice and control, you can even use dry brushing to increase the contrast on fine textured detail.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brushing astrogranite painted base on model
Dry brushing is a great way to finish painting.
3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brushing textured base highlight effect
Use dry brushing a lot or a little; it’s up to you!

When you’re using a dry brush, the extra control you have for applying paint to raised, elevated surfaces of a model makes the technique ideal for zenithal highlighting techniques when you don’t have an airbrush or the eminently useful white-black spray primers available.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brushing warhammer 40k Tau power weapon plasma underpainting effect
With good control over your paint, you can achieve some pretty neat effects on small areas of your miniature with dry brushing.

When you combine the power of dry brushing to highlight your models with other techniques, such as zenithal highlights, or the slap chop speed painting approach, you can quickly and efficiently paint a large number of models, big pieces of terrain, and even vehicles with wide surfaces, etc.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - Close up of reaper miniature mage with d20 painted
Can you tell where I used dry brushing on this Reaper miniature? Check out how I painted this model.

How to dry brush highlights:

  1. Preparation:
    • Ensure the miniature is clean and primed.
    • Choose a color for drybrushing that is lighter than the base color of the miniature.
    • Brushes specifically designed for dry brushing tend to have very dense bristles (i.e., lots of brush hair close together) and are fairly stiff. Round or flat chisel-shaped brushes work well. Most of the paint pigments should load on the top ends of the brush.
  2. Base Coat or Dark Wash:
    • Start with a dark base color or a darkening wash on your model, and make sure it is completely dry.
  3. Load the Brush:
    • Dip the tip of your brush into your paint.
    • Wipe off most of the paint on a paper towel or a piece of cloth until there’s only a small amount of paint left on the brush. The bristles should appear “dry,” not entirely clean of paint, but have a good amount of colored pigment on them.
  4. Drybrushing:
    • Lightly swipe the brush back and forth across the raised areas of the miniature.
    • Start with a gentle touch, gradually increasing pressure if needed to transfer the remaining dried paint pigment onto the miniature.
    • Focus on the areas where light would naturally hit the miniature, such as the top edges of armor or the curves of muscle.
  5. Continue painting (if needed)
    • If you’re not done with the piece, continue painting as you would; perhaps combining other techniques or simply applying a wash to add color or other overlying effects to your model.
3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brush bristles close up on black tabletop
Make sure your dry brush is “dry.”
3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - cleaning off bristles on paper towel
Even after loading paint, dry it out. Very little paint should come off the brush when it’s ready for use.
3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - loaded dry brush with green teal paint pigments
This is a loaded dry brush. Notice how the pigments settle near the tips; this makes it easier to control where you apply the paint.

Dry Brush Method 2 – Color Blending

Did you know that dry brushing is a useful method for blending color? It is a less well known way to softly, and dare I say smoothly, blend color across a miniature’s surface. Color blending with the dry brush approach does require a tad more skill and patience.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - a dry brushed rock with blended color and texture
You can see a quick article of how I use of dry brushing to blending colors.

You may also want a soft, bristled dry brush to do this well. A soft-bristled cosmetic blending brush works well for this, and I like using the e.l.f. brand make-up brushes with round tops for this. Of course, any dry brush you have around works fine to blending color. It just depends on the kind of brush “character” that may appear on your model. Coarse, stiff bristles, for example, will leave a textured appearance; where as the soft bristled brushes I prefer provide a smoother, finer paint layer.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - a reaper barbarian miniature painted to a high quality
Good lighting setups help with color blending, because tones and values aren’t washed out or lost

What’s the difference between highlighting and color blending with a dry brush? Not too much, except with the latter, you generally won’t use a highlight paint (i.e., bright color). Instead, you’ll be using two different colors and using the dry brush approach to bring them together, creating a gradient.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - Warhammer 40k model tyranid with a mix of color blending techniques
I used a mix of dry brushing and other miniature painting methods for this Warhammer 40k Tyranid model.

Now, remember: your dry brush must be “dry” to work well. This means you’ll probably want to completely dry brush one color, wash the brush, allow it to dry, then load a new color to follow through with the paint job. This can slow you down a lot.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - animated gif of dry brushing method

So, instead, if you want to be more efficient, I recommend using two dry brushes when blending different colors on a model. You would load each dry brush with the two different colors you want to blend together.

how to use dry brushing to blend color on a miniature:

  1. Preparation:
    • As before, ensure the miniature is clean, primed, and coated with a solid base color.
    • Choose two or more colors that you wish to blend. Typically, you’d start with a darker color and transition to a lighter one. Or, simply two colors you want to bring together into a blended gradient, like on a miniature’s cloak or some color-change effect you’re trying to paint.
    • Have your dry brushes ready, one for each color you intend to blend.
  2. Loading the Brush:
    • Dip the dry brush into the first color, wiping off most of the paint onto a paper towel or cloth until only a trace amount remains on the bristles.
  3. Initial Application:
    • Lightly brush the color onto the area of the miniature where you want the blending to start, focusing on the raised details.
  4. Transitioning Colors:
    • Allow the first color to set, and clean your dry brush thoroughly or switch to a new brush, then load it with the next color, again wiping off the excess paint.
    • Apply this color slightly overlapping the edge of the first color, brushing back and forth to blend the transition between the two colors.
  5. Refining the Gradient:
    • Repeat the transition process for any additional colors, ensuring a smooth gradient by overlapping the colors slightly. You should have a lot of control here, which I enjoy.
    • You can go back and forth between colors to achieve a more seamless blend, but remember to keep the brush strokes light to maintain control over the blending process.
  6. Finishing:
    • Allow the miniature to dry thoroughly before proceeding with any other painting techniques or seal the miniature with a varnish to protect your work.

Dry Brush Method 3 – Texture and Glowing Special Effects

The beauty of dry brushing lies in its versatility. Whether you’re aiming for a rough, worn-out appearance or looking to mimic certain natural textures like fur or stone, dry brushing can be your go-to.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - fiery flame effect osl with dry brushing and glazing
I painted the OSL fiery effect on this model using dry brushing to create a high contrast black and white undercoat. Then, I glazed colored inks over the top of this underpainting, which added the yellow, orange, and reds. A few spots of opaque paint, touch ups here and there, and I think the glowing effect is convincing.

Because dry brushing focuses on the raised texture of your model, it will naturally bring out small imperfections on that surface, even if that surface appears smooth from a distance. This isn’t bad; in fact, this is wonderful!

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - dry brushing to highlight and define textures on model base
As above, dry brushing is a great way to quickly add contrast and create texture definition on a miniature’s surface. This resin base had beautiful engraved flourishes that revealed themselves as I applied the highlights with my dry brush.

The somewhat rough character that a dry brush produces on any surface, whether it is fine detailed parts of a model, or simply on an open flat surface, like the armored sides of a tank, will give your piece an extra layer of realism that other painting techniques may not achieve. In fact, you can use dry brushing to weather your models, putting on dirt, rust, or other effects.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - two panel image showing color and black and white painted miniature with glowing fireball effect
Use dry brushing to add contrast for all sorts of special effects. This blue glowing fireball started as a black and white painting.

And, for those who are creative and ambitious, you’ll find dry brushing one of the easiest ways to paint those impressive glowing effects, also known as object source lighting (OSL).

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - slap chop speed painted miniatures - a unit of 12 models with dry brushing and washes for final effect
Dry brush, followed by washes: This is a speed painting (aka Slap Chop) classic method.

While I won’t get into the granular details of how to paint the OSL effect here, I can say that you should perfect the highlighting method with a dry brush first.

And, you should be able to have sufficient control over your dry brushing to apply very bright highlights to mimic the glowing light source. If you can do this, then it’s a matter of applying a colored glaze to “colorize” the glowing element on your miniature, e.g., a lamp light, a illuminated power sword, or the mystical eyes on an otherworldly creature.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - a realistic metallic painted surface on a model's base using dry brushing and weathering effects
You can dry brush metallic paints, too. Here I created this realistic model base using a base coat of Citadel Lead Belcher, followed by a wash of Nuln Oil. After this, I applied a dry brushed coat of metallic pigment to bring up the highlights. A quick patina effect of watered-down green paint (i.e., Moot Green works well here) mimics the oxidized effect.

How you use dry brushing to create special effects on your models, as always, depends on your creativity and ambition. The key again is to be super comfortable with controlling your dry brush, focusing on the methods I show you above in #1 and #2. Once you get the hang of those approaches, learn to combine them with other must-know miniature painting techniques, experiment, and add your own spin to the mix.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - OSL glowing base close up on black backdrop
If you like the effect you see on this resin model base, take a look at how I did it.

A Relaxing Bonus of Dry Brushing!

Beyond its practical uses, dry brushing serves as a therapeutic exercise for me. How so? The fear of damaging my precious collection of Kolinsky sables, reserved for more refined painting techniques like loaded brush blending and edge highlighting, dissipates. With dry brushing, I can comfortably pick up any brush – be it a recycled one or a specialized hobby dry brush – and immerse myself in the painting process without any reservations.

Necron color scheme - painting necrons - feature painted model by me
Sometimes you just want to play with color.

Recommended Dry Brushes for Painting Miniatures

There are a lot of dry brushes you can use. For some of my work, I even use inexpensive cosmetic brushes with soft, synthetic bristles (i.e., blending brushes work best). When I’m looking for a small, oddly shaped dry brush to get into the nooks and crannies, i.e., deeper parts of a model, I’ll recycle an old paint brush.

3 ways to use dry brushing on miniatures - macro image of the bristles on a dry brush mop on dark tabletop
The fine bristles of a dry brush awaiting its next challenge.

Of course, if you’re looking for dry brushes ready-made for our miniature painting hobby, here are 3 that I would recommend you start with.

  1. e.l.f. Eyeshadow Brush – This is a cosmetic brush with soft bristles. You’ll want to pick one up in a size that fits your project. The softer bristles give you a “smoother” finish when you’re dry brushing and do require a gentler hand when you’re dry brushing, i.e., more practice and skill to use. I like cosmetic brushes because they’re inexpensive and make it easy to lay down very fine layers of pigments. Unlike hobby dry brushes (mentioned below), they may not be as durable. So, it is important to clean them thoroughly after each use and handle them with care.
  2. The Army Painter Masterclass: Drybrush Set – This is a highly recommended set for any hobbyist. I picked these up at a convention and haven’t looked back. They have stiff bristles and a natural round shape that helps with dry brushing. The fairly stiff bristles give you a good bit of control, and the set comes with 3 sizes. While I don’t use the smallest brush much, the other two-sized brushes are used regularly.
  3. ARTIFY Drybrush Set – This is an intriguing copy of the Artis Opus dry brush set and less than 1/3 the cost. Whether they are equivalent or better than other dry brushes on the market remains to be seen. But these are a very popular dry brush set. It comes with 5 dry brushes in appropriate sizes for painting miniatures, a dampening pad, and brush soap. The goat hair bristles and handle construction seem to be durable. If you’re looking for affordability and more bang for your buck, these would be great to check out for yourself.


I hope you found this article useful. Dry brushing is a powerful technique and everyone should grasp the basics of how to do it. With practice and some creativity, combining dry brushing with other miniature painting approaches allows you to create some cool effects on your models.

I also think dry brushing is relaxing. The process is almost meditative, with repetitive application of paint on a model, without worrying too much about perfection. It’s a great way to unwind and enjoy the hobby.

When it comes to choosing how and when to dry brush it’s all about experimenting and finding what works best for you and the particular project at hand. Keep practicing, keep trying new things, and most importantly, have fun with it!

Are you dabbling with dry brushing? Are there any creative things I missed that you’re using dry brushing for?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.

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