Whether you are working on a DIY project like a model train layout, or even for a school project, knowing how to make fake water for a diorama is a must!
Sure, you could probably use actual water if you wanted to, but this will seriously limit the movement of your project. For example, you will definitely not be able to relocate your project easily from one location to another if you use actual water.
So, you need to make fake water for your diorama that looks like real water, or at the very least, is believable enough not to take you out of the diorama.
So let’s dive in! (no pun intended)
What You Need To Make Fake Water For A Diorama
To produce the effect of water, you can use a number of different materials.
Resin and Glue are the most popular options mainly because these are cheap materials and are available at pretty much any hardware store. However, you will find branded products that make fake water effects in dioramas too, which can oftentimes be better since they’re purpose-made, like the stuff from Woodland Scenics.
Resin is one of the easiest ways to make fake water effects in a diorama. Using resin, in fact, gives a premium glossy finish.
However, you have to be somewhat careful while using resin – to avoid unpleasant surprises, make sure you select UV-resistant materials for your diorama, as certain resins might get murky with time. And like most of the other products here, you also need to be careful of air bubbles after you pour. Either using a pin to get them out, or even the heat from a blowdryer can help.
- Crystal clear look
- Picking the right kind of resin can be a challenge.
- Restricts materials for the diorama.
Glue is one of the most popular materials to use, especially at an ‘amateur’ level. It is easy to use and available at any general store.
You can use PVA Glue, blue Glue, or clear Glue according to your preference. What you can also do is add some food colouring or even some acrylic paint to your glue beforehand to tint the colour, add the glue to your diorama, and you are good to go.
- Easy to manage
- Gets done quickly
- Using low-quality glue can leave an unnatural effect and wont look the best
Realistic Water Effect Products:
Many brands make realistic water effects fluids for dioramas and other models. Woodland Scenics Realistic Water, Vallejo Still Water, AKI Diorama Effects, etc., are some of the most popular brands out there. These are all purpose-built and come with their own set of instructions, so make sure you follow each brand own specific ones.
The nice thing about these brands is that they’re intended to look and work like water, so despite being a little more expensive than something like resin, you definitely get what you pay for with these!
- Highly efficient
- Saves Time
- Requires border
- More expensive than Glue or resin.
What Are the Steps to Adding Fake Water to Your Diorama?
Once you have decided what material you will use to make fake water for your diorama, you need to learn how to actually do it! So, let’s break the process into steps:
STEP 1: Preparing the diorama
Before adding water to the diorama, you need to prepare it. So basically this means you need to make sure that your diorama is totally complete underneath where you’re going to pour your fake water because once it’s down, there’s no fixing what’s underneath it.
A good tip is to (if possible) turn your diorama upside down to make sure there’s nothing loose that would slide around when the liquid hits it and mess up your diorama. I f that’s the case, a little dollop of glue to hold it in position will do the trick
STEP 2: Create borders
Next, you need to add borders to block out the spilling of the water. No matter what material you use, it is liquid in its initial form. If you’re just pouring it into a hole on your diorama, it should be okay, but if the water will end at the edge of your diorama you need to seal it first.
You can do this with either a sheet of plastic (cut some out of an old grocery box) or even some stiff masking tape. Make sure you run a line of hot glue around the edges to seal it, because it absolutely WILL leak out, no matter how good you think your tape job is.
STEP 3: Add the water
Once the border is done, you can just pour the water you have picked into the diorama following whatever instructions are applicable. When pouring, make sure you go slow and steady, and even do it in small sections to let it flatten out before adding more.
Like always, it’s easier to add more than it is to subtract afterwards!
STEP 4: Create waves and effects
Finally, once the water is in place, you can always start to add in ripples, waves, or even push small fish models in as it sets.
A great way to add ripples is to gently blow on the water through a straw once its 70% set; enough that a strong breath will move it, but set enough that it will stay in place.
Doing lots of short, little blows in the same direction up the length of a river, and then hitting it with a dry brush of some white acrylic will add a sense of realism otherwise missing from your model!
How Do You Prepare the Diorama Before Adding Water?
The first and the most significant step of adding water is to set up your diorama. There should be no fractures in the diorama floor or around the model’s perimeter. You can use stock cards, cardboard, or plastic sheeting to create an edge around the diorama as needed.
If you still find any gaps in the model, you must patch up the cracks or holes with adhesive before proceeding because the liquid you are going to will inevitably soak down and out the bottom of your model.
It can ruin the whole diorama if you are not careful. You can also apply a thin coat of plaster, thick mod podge, or even just hot glue, to any location where water will be present.
Finally, you would need to finish painting all of the other parts of your diorama before you add any liquid to the model. Doing something like a dark brown in the centre of the water, getting lighter as it gets to the banks, and even glueing in some sand or rocks at the shoreline look great.
Finally, depending on the type of material you’ve made this out of, you may find you need to use some kind of sealant to stop it from getting soggy, depending on the liquid you’re using.
How to Add and Make Ripples, Waves, or Splashes
Many people have difficulty creating the water illusion in their dioramas. It’s because they don’t have all of the necessary items on hand, which can be a challenge.
You can use many items to change the appearance of your water, making it look more like ocean waves or lake ripples. Gloss gels and glazes are commonly used for this purpose. They’re available at any arts and crafts store with acrylic paints.
Gels and glazes are applied with paintbrushes, much like the rest of your diorama’s paints.
These paints, on the other hand, produce a three-dimensional form that remains consistent in any structure.
Liquitex is a preferable brand for these mediums since it holds up well and dries evenly.
Alternatively, like above, you can try using a straw and blowing on your resin/brand name water when it’s about 70% cured to create a texture in the top of the water.
Tips and tricks:
If you are just starting out and having a difficult time figuring out how to use all the materials for the best outcome, here are some tips for you:
- If you’re just using glue, use multiple layers – this will help the design look more realistic.
- Try adding multi-layer water scenes – waterfalls, rapids and streams boost the whole aesthetic of the diorama.
- Use stones and grass models to make the water borders more lively.
Whatever the purpose may be, you can make your diorama more impressive by adding water effects to it. Do not be afraid to get experimental with your project too!
Have your own method or an awesome tip we’ve missed? Please leave a comment below letting us know!
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.