Spray drying is a primary process for the manufacture of powders, which satisfy a vast array of societal demands in the areas of nutrition, health and medicine. The functionality of a spray-dried product begins with its incorporation into water (wetting followed by dispersion) Therefore, as its surface chemical composition and structure determine its first contact with water (that is, its hydrophilic nature), these are of prime concern. Laboratory studies on this first layer, which is in the order of several nm in depth from the surface, have been extensive but there is still a lack of a fundamental quantitative explanation of it. This has hampered the development of any sort of approach, which would enable industries to predict what the product may be like before conducting costly trials. This current study is an attempt to describe the on-set of solid formation around the outermost layer of a single droplet during the drying process using an innovative ‘conventional’ continuum approach, i.e. diffusion–convection equations, with a few innovative derivations. Though some complexities such as multi-component equations deduced from irreversible thermodynamics, are avoided for simplicity, some comparisons with experimental/industrial results are made. The main feature of this work is that the multi-component effect is combined with the viscosity (at the surface) effect upon the diffusivities of individual components in the solution droplets or suspension droplets. The derivations allow some extended analytical procedures to proceed in order to help make sense of the experimental observations. Comparisons are made against the data published on dairy fluids. This work provides a good basis for a fruitful area of study that will have a positive impact for spray drying industries. In particular, to help this kind of industry to forge ahead into high performing functional particle production, which are becoming increasingly popular.