Simulate Water and Liquids in Model Scenes With Epoxy Resin

dollhouse miniatures using epoxy resin
Dollhouse miniatures using Epoxy Resin. Lesley Shepherd

Miniaturists and modelers use epoxy resins to simulate water and other liquids. If you have marveled at various drinks, glossy sauces on food, raw eggs, soups or spilled or melted liquids in dollhouse miniatures, or seen beautiful water effects in railroad or scale scenes, you may have been looking at items which used epoxy resins. When these resins cure, they are hard, very shiny and durable. They can be poured in layers in order to create effects of deeper water.

Only 1/8 to ¼ inch of material should be poured in one pour. These materials do not work well for deep containers or water depths unless a series of pours are used.

What Are Epoxy Resins?

Epoxy Resins are two part high gloss coatings sold in craft shops, plastic stores, and stores which sell boat and wood finishes. Their main purpose is a durable, high gloss, pour-on finish. The resin comes as a two bottle kit, with one bottle the resin and the other a hardener. When equal amounts of resin and hardener are mixed, the compound heats up, then gels and hardens fully.

Dyes, colors, and fillers may be added to the mixture to simulate colors and textures. Dyes should be those designed for use with epoxy resins. Other coloring agents may react with the resin and destroy its normal properties.

Safe Handling

Two part epoxy resins should be used only in a well-ventilated area. You should avoid inhalation of the fumes (fumes are much lighter with epoxy resins than with other chemicals used to simulate liquids), and it is advisable to wear gloves and goggles to protect your eyes against accidental splashes. The product comes with clear instructions for safe handling.

This is not a product which should be used by children. Keep bottles out of reach of children at all times.

Rubbing alcohol (or other alcohol) can be used to clean up liquid resin from tools or spills before it sets.

Mixing Epoxy Resins for a Solid Cure

The two components must be thoroughly mixed together in containers which are disposable, and which will not react with the materials. Small flexible plastic cups with clearly marked measures work well for miniature applications.

Epoxy resins need to be carefully measured to exactly equal amounts of resin and hardener. The preferred method is to pour an amount of one into a disposable plastic measuring container, then pour the second compound into a separate container and compare to make sure the amounts are equal.

Once you have equal amounts, you pour the contents of the first container into the second and use a straight sided stick (craft stick) to mix the hardener and the resin thoroughly without stirring in air if possible. When the compounds are mixed in that container, you pour the mixture back into the container used to measure the first compound, to make sure that the excess which remained in the first container after the first pour to mix, is mixed into the final mixture.

Removing Bubbles

Mixing the resin and the hardener will create bubbles. If you exhale over the mixture, the bubbles will burst due to the carbon dioxide in your breath. If you will be filling small bottles, pots, glasses or pitchers, make sure you leave the epoxy for several minutes to de gas before you pour it into its final container.

Working Conditions

Most brands of epoxy resins give you approximately 1/2 hour of working time before they begin to gel. (This working time depends on the temperature conditions of your work area). Most resins harden in about 8 hours at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They should not be used about 50% humidity or they may cloud over. The material has a shelf life of at least a year if stored in tightly sealed containers. Items made from epoxy resin will yellow if exposed to sunlight.

Liquid Effects With Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin settles to a flat shape which pulls slightly away from the edges of containers. If you use it for still water, you will need to apply a final edging to your water to eliminate the edge left as the resin pulled away to the center of the pour.

Plan your work carefully. You may need to seal an area first before you pour your resin, and you may need to add in details with each layer (to build a realistic stream with fish for example, or to have tadpoles or fruit slices positioned everywhere in your bowl or jar, not all sunk at the bottom, with liquid on top).

If you want to simulate melting jellies, ice creams, or spilled drinks, allow the epoxy resin to begin to gel before you pour it. This will produce a thicker layer than if it is poured right after mixing. If you want a wet footprint or puddle effect, and you may want to remove this effect from a scene later, pour the resin onto a flexible plastic surface so that you can peel the plastic off and remove the puddle, then place the puddle on the floor of a dollhouse without bonding the resin to the floor.

Other products are better for the effects of running water, and most can be combined with hardened epoxy resin.

Tips and Hints

  • Epoxy resins will not release easily from molds. Do not use them to make dollhouse jellies or other items which need to be extracted from a mold.
  • Incorrect mixing will result in the epoxy resin not hardening. Measure carefully before you mix!
  • When filling a container with a small opening fill it with mixed resin drop by drop from a pin or toothpick or use a disposable eye dropper or syringe.
  • Avoid working in cold or humid conditions, either may cause the resin to cure cloudy.
  • Use compatible resin dyes to color resin. Compatible dyes come transparent or translucent and colors can be mixed.
  • Some plastic pieces can dissolve in epoxy resins. Check that backings and colors will not be affected by the resin before working with your final project. Also, check that anything you want the resin to set around does not give off air bubbles that will show in the set resin.

Brands Commonly Available (similar resin, but may differ in package size sold, or in price)

  • Castin Craft - widely available in small packages of hardener and resin for under $10, a range of coloring agents and fillers available. 
  • Envirotex Lite - widely available via craft stores, hobby shops, boat suppliers, plastics shops. Available in small packages of hardener and resin for under $10.
  • Ultra Glo – similar to Envirotex Lite, different range of distributors.
  • Glaze Coat - similar to Envirotex Lite, usually available from woodworking suppliers.
  • Crystal Sheen – similar to Envirotex Lite, usually available from plastic and casting suppliers.
  • Aristocrat Liquid Glass (note, the term Liquid Glass is also used for car polish brands, the epoxy resin is Aristocrat Liquid Glass) - similar to Envirotex Lite, often available from craft sections of big box stores, or art suppliers.