How to Simulate Liquids in Model Scenes With Epoxy Resin

dollhouse miniatures
Dollhouse miniatures using Epoxy Resin. Lesley Shepherd

Miniaturists and modelers often use epoxy resins to simulate water and other liquids. The resin is poured and once it cures, the material becomes hard, shiny, and durable, creating some neat effects in the scene.

It's likely that you have marveled at resin creations in a variety of small scenes. In dollhouse miniatures, for example, resins are commonly used to make drinks, glossy sauces on food, raw eggs, soups, or spilled and melted liquids. Epoxy resins are also used in railroad and scale scenes to create beautiful water effects. They're relatively easy to work with as long as you understand the limits of the material and know how to handle it safely.

What Are Epoxy Resins?

Epoxy resins are two-part high-gloss coatings that are commonly sold in craft shops and stores that sell plastics or boat and wood finishes. Its main purpose is to create a durable, high-gloss, pour-on finish. The resin comes as a two-bottle kit; one bottle contains the resin and the other a hardener. When equal amounts of resin and hardener are mixed, the compound heats up, then gels before hardening fully.

Dyes, colors, and fillers may be added to the mixture to simulate colors and textures. You should only use dyes that are designed specifically 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 only be used in a well-ventilated area. Even though the fumes are significantly lighter than many other chemicals used to simulate liquids, you should still avoid inhaling the fumes.

Be sure to read the instructions that come with any particular resin to ensure you're handling it safely. When working with the resin, wear gloves as well as goggles to protect your eyes against accidental splashes. Before the resin has time to set, rubbing alcohol (or another alcohol) can be used to clean up any spills or remove the liquid resin from tools.

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

Mixing Epoxy Resins for a Solid Cure

The two components of an epoxy resin must be thoroughly mixed together in disposable containers that will not react with the materials. Small flexible plastic cups with clearly marked measurements work well for miniature applications.

You need to carefully measure the resin and hardener, ensuring you're using equal amounts of each. The more precise you are, the better it will cure into a hard solid.

  1. Pour an amount of one component into a disposable plastic measuring container, and then pour the second compound into a separate container. Compare the two to make sure the amounts are equal.
  2. Pour the contents of the first container into the second.
  3. Use a straight-sided stick, such as craft stick, to mix the hardener and the resin thoroughly without stirring in air, if possible.
  4. When the compounds are thoroughly mixed in that container, pour the mixture back into the container used to measure the first compound. Make sure that any excess that remained in the first container is mixed into the final mixture.

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, let the epoxy rest for several minutes to de-gas before you pour it into its final container.

Working Conditions

Most brands of epoxy resins give you approximately 30 minutes of working time before it begins to gel. Working time will vary depending on the temperature conditions of your work area.

  • Most resins harden in about 8 hours at 70 F. Do not work with resin in cold temperatures or it may become cloudy.
  • Using epoxy resins in a humid environment (above 50 percent humidity) will likely cause it to cloud over.
  • Once the bottle is open, the unmixed epoxy components generally have 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.

Pour in Layers

Epoxy resins do not work well for deep containers or thick applications. Only 1/8- to 1/4-inch of material should be used in a single pour. You can, however, pour it in layers to create the illusion of deeper water. When using a series of pours, you will need to wait for the previous layer to cure before adding the next.

Finish the Edges

Epoxy resin settles to a flat shape that pulls slightly away from the edges of containers. If you use it for still water, apply a final edging to your water to eliminate the harsh edge left behind from the resin pulling away to the center of the pour.

Plan Ahead for Elements

Plan your work carefully. You might need to seal an area before you pour your resin and add in details with each layer. For instance, you will want to add fish in between layers of resin when building a realistic stream. In complex compositions, such as fruit slices positioned throughout a bowl or jar, you'll also need to be strategic about when to add the element and when to pour the resin.

Let It Gel Up

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.

Make Puddles

For a wet footprint or puddle effect, pour the resin onto a flexible plastic surface so you can peel the plastic off and remove the puddle. Then, place the puddle on the floor of your scene without bonding the resin to the floor.

Tips

  • 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.
  • Other products, such as PVA glue and tar gel acrylic medium, are better for the effects of running water. However, most can be combined with hardened epoxy resin.
  • When filling a container with a small opening, fill it with mixed resin drop by drop from a pin or toothpick. You can also use a disposable eyedropper or syringe.
  • 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.
  • Check that anything you want the resin to set around does not give off air bubbles that will show in the set resin.