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Open the Floodgates! Pouring the “Water” for your model scenes.

January 31, 2009

Model River

This is one of the intangible “thresholds” of modeling that modelers have to work up the courage to do, because it’s a one-shot-waste scenario. It’s a tense operation pouring what can be awfully expensive water materials on your nicely painted riverbed.

In the two previous articles, we discussed a new way to research the color of a river, and how to prepare the riverbeds for the coming torrent of “water”. And appropriate landforms to compliment your riverbanks.

Options for Water

For water, Woodland Scenic has been selling a horrendously overpriced product called “Realistic Water”which is actually just Acrylic Glazing Liquid used for painting light layers of paint on a painting. Learn more about Acrylic glazing liquid here. You can get this stuff by the GALLON for half the price of the bottle of WS product at Blick Art Supply.

Acryllic Glazing Liquid
-Least Expensive! (Less than $10/Gallon!)
-Easy to Pour
-Non-Toxic, Smelly but not noxious
-Dries CLEAR and looks “wet” and like flowing water (more so than other fake water products)
-Smelly for 12 hours after poured.
-Takes 24 hours to dry
-Needs containment if riverbed extends off layout
-If you want to pour it deep, it will take many layers due to the fact that it won’t dry at all fast if you pour it deeper than 1/8″ layers.
-Cannot be colored or dyed (It doesn’t matter if you’re pouring your water shallow)
-It flows through the tiniest gaps in the scenery and like water takes the path of least resistance when poured. Make sure you’ve painted your riverbed properly before pouring.

Woodland Scenics Realistic Water is IDENTICAL to Acrylic glazing liquid, Except 4 times more expensive. (approaches $16.00/bottle)

-Dries Clear
-can be poured deep (thick layers) forming bodies of water
-Can be colored with dyes
-Looks nice, but dries dead flat and needs waves added in additional layers.
-PRECISE mixing may be difficult
-Excessive care to deal with bubbles is time-consuming and boring
-Produces a lot of heat from chemical reaction
-Yellows with age (big problem)
-Creates “fillets” (concave meniscus) and creeps up pier pilings, water weeds, Stone abutments and anything sticking above the water. Looks weird and hard to fix. (Joe Fugate remedies this problem in his DVD’s.)

“Magic Water”

With thanks to Mr. Williams of “Magic Water,” we’ve expanded our coverage of the pros and cons of his product.


-Looks realistic
-Can be poured to ANY depth without a need to “layer” pours
-Doesn’t melt plastic or foam
-Can be tinted and colored
-Has a much gentler meniscus around objects and the shore.
-No bubbles
-No Yellowing
-No Cracking
-No Shrinkage over time
-Comes with instruction booklet that shows how to model everything from mud puddles to high waterfalls.


-12-24 hour drying time (Not as bad as envirotex!)
-Needs additional layer to create realistic waves
-Will seep into porous plaster scenery and needs to be sealed.

E-Z Water

E-Z Water (Bag of yellow/clear plastic granules)
-Looks enticing for beginner modelers…DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PURCHASE E-Z WATER!!! It’s a terrible, noxious, yucky, sticky product that ruins cookware, your riverbed and your modeling confidence because every pour will end in failure.
Did I mention that it’s never actually clear? It’s always yellow.

Preparing the River

If not contained on both ends of the riverbed or water feature it can leak in all the nooks and crannys, this is the same for all other water products.

Building a Dam:

To hold back the heavier products like Envirotex, Acrylic Glazing liquid, and Magic Water, you need a dam. I made mine out of metal plates you use for workshop pegboard. These galvanized steel plates are less than $0.50 apiece at any well-stocked hardware store. I drove drywall screws through the holes to hold them in place.


You have to take Wax paper or Plastic wrap and seal the side in which the water product is going to sit against to prevent the liquid or resin from spilling all over your floor. THIS HAS TO BE NEARLY WATERTIGHT, as all these products seem to find every nook and cranny just like actual water.

Here’s a photo of the dam in place:

Model Dam in place

Make sure you have at least a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch over the top of your water surface for safety.

Model Dam

20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2009 1:32 pm

    Thanks for the great article. I’m a beginner and this is some good information. I was going to by ‘Realistic Water’ because I saw them use it on a video. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Dave Williams permalink
    April 6, 2009 2:27 am

    I can appreciate your love of the Woodland Scenics [Acryllic] type product but take issue with the evaluation of my product, Magic Water in the pros & cons area. In the pros you fail to mention that Magic Water can be poured to any depth without layering, that it doesnt melt plastic or foam, that it can be tinted & colored, that it has no odor and that it doesnt have a noticeable miniscus, creeping up pilings etc. It also has unlimited shelf life.

    [I revised my feature of your product to reflect everything you state here, thanks for letting me know of the additional benefits of using magic water. I hope you find the revisions satisfactory for your excellent product -Editor]

  3. C.A. permalink
    October 24, 2009 3:32 am

    Hi, I came across your informative post through a google search, but I wanted to ask you a more about how you created your dam. I’m building a diorama where I’m trying to get a perfectly clean cross-section through water on one end. I’m using Realistic Water or a cheaper alternative as you suggest. I’ve used RW before and indeed it finds every which way to spill out. You recommend using wax paper or plastic wrap to contain, but once the layers have dried, how easy do these materials come off of the pour? Or did you just leave them on and cut away? Thanks-CA

    • October 24, 2009 5:00 am

      I overbuilt mine because I didn’t have any clamps handy, what you can do is just take a piece of masonite large enough to span your waterway and clamp it to the side of the layout with wax paper or plastic wrap. When it’s dry, you unclamp the masonite and peel away the waxpaper/plastic wrap.

  4. David Walker permalink
    December 15, 2009 11:33 am

    Hi from Bavaria,

    while looking for info on making water surface using acrylics, I came across your blog. I have located a supplier of Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid here in Germany and as you say, it is much cheaper that Woodland Scenics/Noch. Do you recommend matt or gloss finish (they have 2 varieties) ?. My application is a still-water inland industrial harbour.

  5. October 13, 2010 2:15 pm

    Hi! Just in case anyone comes across this site again,(its been a long time since last post). If you need to dam the table edge where your water feature or river leads to. Cut a piece of smooth styrene plastic, (Plastruct, Evergreen) tall enough to dam the water level. Run a bead of clear silicone caulk along the facing edge of the cutout, attach the strip of plastic with masking tape. I dont know about the Woodland Scenics stuff or Envirotex, but my product Magic Water will allow you to peel the strip off after the resin has set. No need for all the bulky metal plates, masonite etc. Hope this helps! Dave

    • Dave permalink
      January 29, 2011 11:27 pm

      I was hoping to attach a photo, but I have had good results using Envirotex. For the dam on a creek, I used blue painters tape and had no seepage at all. For my more recent mockups for a future pour, being cautious, I have been using duct tape, again no problems. My next pour is a shallow river (2ft x 3ft) in Sonoma County CA.

      How did you get the surface currents? I have been trying to get results like yours and have not been able to figure it out.


  6. November 15, 2011 8:21 am

    SO very grateful for your advice about saving $$$$$ on the glazing liquid…..but what about Woodland Scenics “flex paste” ?? Was looking at that in the hobby store today and its expe$ive too !! Like 25 bucks for a small(ish) bottle ! I have heard its good to use this paste in/around where foam and the roadbed gaps, so as to not leak out the glazing liqid when poured. Is there a suitable (but cheaper) alternative ??

  7. November 15, 2011 9:18 am

    Oh, also….if using “Magic Water”, what about the sealant needed prior? Does Woodland scenics “flex paste” work ? And does the painted surface underneath need to be acryllic ??

  8. November 15, 2011 2:24 pm

    Hi Bill! You may apply my product Magic Water over any surface. Yes it needs to be watertight, and anything you use for that purpose will be fine. If after all preparation you still are leery about having a leak, just mix enough Magic Water to do a seal coat first, then after that has set do your big pour. This way you wont be in a panic to stop a leak or lose valuable product. Magic Water may be applied over any paint, but when coloring the resin itself use oil based paints for best dilution.
    Dave Williams, Magic Water

  9. May 14, 2014 11:57 pm

    Hi, if using the Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid – would you use the satin or gloss finish ? Which would look more real or at least the same as Woodland scenics product. Thanks .

  10. May 17, 2014 12:01 am

    A cautionary note: I have used Woodland Scenics Realistic water before, and whilst happy with the product, I was looking for a cheaper alternative…hence I arrived here…. Reading this above:

    “For water, Woodland Scenic has been selling a horrendously overpriced product called “Realistic Water”which is actually just Acrylic Glazing Liquid used for painting light layers of paint on a painting. Learn more about Acrylic glazing liquid here.”…

    I found that my local art store stocked this Golden Acrylic Glazing liquid, and bought a bottle… I got it home today and poured it on my display…

    First up, its nothing like Woodland Scenics product! WS product is a clear liquid resin that is pretty much self leveling when poured. This Golden product is opaque white and very thick – its not self leveling and had to be spread. I have been unable to get a smooth surface despite going back and forth over it with the side of a iceblock /lolly stick. So I must admit I am not terribly happy. I have left the board drying in the sun. My only back up is I plan to go over the top once dry with Mod Podge to effect a rippling surface anyway so hopefully that will hide the uneven surface…

    • May 17, 2014 1:56 am

      If price is the only determinant in judging a product then we will always get disappointing results. What are we willing to pay for hundreds of boxcars that will never see the light of day?

    • June 3, 2014 4:12 am

      Just to follow up – after a week, the poured and spread product dried, but was still opaque white over ~75% of the surface… I had to rip it all off and start again… I have switched to using Envirotex Lite. That worked – dried clear, glass smooth in 5 hrs… Anyone want 2/3rds of a litre pack of Golden, I’m in NZ…

  11. Jaclyn permalink
    May 18, 2014 4:35 pm

    Came across your article after hours of research on creating a “faux pond” in an outdoor fairy garden. ( I know yucking up male modelling talk with my girl parts and glitter. Lol) But I am a serious hobiest and its going to be awesome! With that being said I was glad to read about the Acrylic Glazing Liquid, specially with a Blick’s store a mile away, and since I decided to do more research after nearly purchasing bit EZ-water and Realistic Water at Hobby Lobby yesterday. Anyhow, I’m not using an flooring for my pond/stream as I want it to look real and not all fake and blue, so color isn’t really an issue. But I do plan on using it outdoors as I stated and I cant seem to find an info on any of the products about whether or not they are safe for outdoor uses. Anyone have any comments/thoughts on this issue?

    • May 18, 2014 8:37 pm

      Hah! Water modeling is for everybody, there’s no gender politics to worry about here!

      Anyways, Acrylic Glazing Liquid is WATER-SOLUBLE, so I’d advise against it. I’d recommend looking up a tutorial on using ENVRIO-TEX Lite. I’m pretty sure that’s waterproof. I’d look into seeing if it gets ruined by UV light though. If you’re doing a fairy pond, I’d probably suggest something more stylized and beautiful like a piece of wavy stained glass.

      Hope this helps!

      • Jaclyn permalink
        May 22, 2014 7:49 pm

        Thanks gentlemen! I will look into both. A light went off when you mentioned the stained glass and that would be quite pretty. I had initially intended to make little fish for inside the pond as well (yeah, we’ve gone a little overboard) but may look into your idea. I will also check out the ENVIRO-Tex Lite and Magic Water. It was quite the bear finding the solubility of the various products as it seems many aren’t typically used outdoors. Thanks again!

    • May 18, 2014 11:43 pm

      My product Magic Water is completely at home outside. Matter of fact I just added some fairy gargen photos to my website from a user. Dave

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