How to make realistic water by Frank Ilse
Brand: Scratch
 Scale: multiple scales
Modeler: Frank Ilse


How to make realistic water

The question how to make realistic water is as old as our hobby. There are different techniques. The problem is always: Water is not only a medium of great liveliness. It is also transparent and has very strong depth effects. „Norsemen“ has a water surface for the professional modeller, that matches our requirements but is very expensive. But there is a solution to the problem. Moreover it’s a bargain: Silicon, simple transparent silicon from the building center.

For an attractive water surface you need a piece of styrofoam or wood as a basis, silicon, some card, water soluble color from your craft supplier, a brush, a spoon, a scraper, a toothpick, white modelling color, a scalpel, a pencil and – of course – a model, no matter if built or unbuilt. Time: One hour plus curing-time.


Click on the images below to enlarge!

Here we go. First step is to draw the outline of your waterline-hull on a piece of card. I usually take the card from old GMM-photoetch-sets. It is about 1mm strong and almost as solid as a styrene-sheet. The model for this demonstration is USS „Lockwood“, Knox-class. It is an AFV-model in 1:700 scale, built from the box, GMM-photoetch and Flagship-parts added. Take an pencil and line out the contour. After that you cut out your template with a sharp knife or scissors.

Now it is time for the water surface itself. I like to use styrofoam as a basis. You get it from packing or in your local building center for about 50 Euro-Cents for half a square meter. That's a lot of surface for 1:700 models. In 1:350 you will need a little more. With your template you can set the position of your ship in the water. Roughly mark the position with a pencil on the styrofoam and set aside the template.

Now it’s time for painting. Water has very different colors, depending on oxygen content or temperature. Ships in motion moreover create air bubbles in the water. That gives a turquoise and white tone along the ships sides and behind the stern.
I use water soluble paints that you take for painting placards. Buy a turquoise, a deep blue and a black tone. That’s all you need. For painting I use a broad simple brush like kids take for painting their pictures. I always use a brush for this step, because brushing gives you a better depth effect than airbrushing. You start with the area under and around the ship using turquoise color. Blue is following, mixed with more and more parts of black as you work yourself away from the hull-spot. It is important to add the darker colors when the lighter ones are still wet. This gives a fluent contour. Try it, it’s fairly easy.

After a curing time of about 30 minutes you put your template on the basis again. Now it's time for silicon. It has to be a transparent brand, of course. You simply press some of that stuff on the basis aside your template. Then you level it out with your scraper (take a broader one) including your template. Doing this you get a layer of about 1 mm silicon.

As soon as you are finished with that step, take a spoon and start to work in the waves. Do not take too much time, because the silicon tends to cure fast. Do not build up the waves too high. 1:700 is a small scale and you will have a heavy storm or a gale before time. Waves that are too high can be smoothed out with your scraper again.






With your toothpick carefully build up the bow-wave and the stern-waves. Check your references before and take a look at the wave pattern your ships makes with different speed. Now set everything aside and let cure. After one or two hours you can cut out your template with a scalpel or X-acto, just by going along the templates rim. Take it out and use it for your next project. You now have a neat recess that will take your ships hull perfectly.





With white modelling color, any brand is welcome, you can now touch up and highlight the bow- and stern-waves. You will get the best effect by drybrushing the color. Put in your ship and – voila, a perfect water-surface.


The method has stunning effects. Due to it‘s structure, the styrofoam gases small air-bubbles that give your silicon-water a very realistic effect. Curing, the silicon tends to cloud a little. This gives a very unique illusion of depth. You really get the impression of fathoms of depth below your little ship. You will have enough silicon for several bases and even when you make a frame out of wooden bars your water surface will cost less than 2 Euros (2,5 US-$) per ship. I presented this method on several shows in northern Germany and the response was always very positive.

Happy modelling

Photos and text © 2005 by Frank Ilse

May 26, 2005