Now, I have to admit that I hate painting miniatures – no wait, don’t go anywhere! It gets better, I promise! I find them fiddly and frustrating and I’m utterly crap at paining 2D things, let alone something that’s 3D…. BUT, because I’m so bad, I have learned from some absolutely fantastically talented people (and developed the odd technique of my own) as to how to do the best job possible, even when your skill level is in the minus numbers!
Some (generally pretty experienced) painters say that you only need one good quality size 1 brush (and a crappy brush for dry brushing). The key to only using one brush is, along with brush care and maintaining an awesome point, how to use pressure and control to allow one brush to act as multiple size points.
This is not a skill I have. I have no natural talent when it comes to painting, and I haven’t had the time to develop these skills. Therefore, I would recommend a few different types of brushes; I basically have 5 brushes – a brush for mixing (and other bristle damaging things!) a large stiff brush for dry brushing, a large softer brush for applying main colours, a small tapered brush for detail and a tiny one for ultra-fine detail.
However many brushes you use, you need to make sure you look after them. Keep them clean, keep paint away from the ferrule (the metal collar) and keep a point on the brush. After you’ve washed your brush, twist the tip to the point and dry them flat! Drying brushes upright can degrade the brush/handle connection as water runs down out of the bristles.
You can buy cheap brushes, (especially if you’re just getting into the hobby and are nervous about how much money you’re about to drop in various craft and game stores!) but personally I think it can be a false economy. I think it’s worth spending a bit more to get some good quality sable brushes and if you take proper care of your brushes, they should last you a long time.
You’ll also need a cup or some such that you don’t want to use again, so you can rinse off your brushes when changing colours. Wash your brush with warm water before painting, and whilst painting, especially as paint can build up on the ferrule. Give it a good swoosh in your cup to get the paint out!
Don’t paint straight out of the pot. Not only are we not 3 doing finger painting (which is still super fun!) but you’ll dry your paints out doing this. You might want something like a paint tray for mixing your colours. Pro tip – put clingfilm in the bottom as all those little trays are very fiddly to clean!
As I’m so slow, I made a wet palette, which is a large tray with some damp household sponges in, with a layer of kitchen roll then silicone/baking paper on top, which I then mix my paint on, as it helps stop the paint from drying out.
It’s also good to have a pot to keep your brushes in when they’re dry. I use an old sprinkle herb tub as the holes in the lid are perfect for holding the brushes.
Stir Sticks and Toothpicks
I get a load of ice lolly sticks from the pound shop or some such as they’re really handy for scooping out and mixing paints. Break them in half for twice as many sticks!
I find toothpicks helpful for the completely tiny bits, like the pupil of an eye!
Now this might be a bit OTT if you’re just starting out, but I have terrible eyesight, so I found it really helpful to use a desk clip-on lamp with a magnifying glass. I don’t use it for larger areas as it can distort perspective, but for fine detail like eyes I found it really helpful!
Also, just make sure your workstation is super well-lit!
You can use many different types of paint from oils to enamels to acrylics. I use acrylic as there are loads of varieties, and they’e fast drying so it’s easy to layer paints.
There’s a massive variety of paints out there, and every painter has their own preference. Now, sometimes, newbies are tempted to go for the most expensive paints, as they think it will magically make their work better (we’ve all been there!) but I have to say, for me, AVOID Citadel paints! I find they dry out incredibly quickly, and are incredibly expensive.
I would also say though that you need to stay away from the other end of the scale; cheap craft paint. They aren’t designed for minis; they’re too thick and don’t have enough binding agent to adhere to minis. It takes a lot of skill and hard work to make minis look good with craft paint, so it’s worth spending the extra money, if only for your own sanity!
Some other brands are Vallejo and Reaper that are worth checking out. My fave brand is Vallejo. They’re cheaper than Citadel and I like the dropper tops they have.
No paint seems to include this instruction, but you need to thin your paint! A lot of people thin with water, and generally this is fine. However, there can be downsides – with some paints thinning with water can make it harder to apply consistently smooth, thin coats, or pigment can separate from the medium and the water. I find a matte medium thinner solves both these problems.
Oh, some people recommend using floor polish to thin their paint. Don’t do this. If you don’t want to use a matte medium thinner, water is better.
Your paint wants to be the consistency of milk – you should be able to do a 2cm line across your palette without it beading, but it should look like a puddle, not a dollop.
It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and want to buy every colour paint going. I get mesmerised in shops by the rainbow wall and want them all! But it’s much cheaper (and I think more fun!) to mix your own shades. Use black and white to change shades of base colours. You can always add more colours as your hobby grows.
In this day and age, most people shop online. However, for things like paints, I’d say it’s definitely worth going to your local game store or craft outlet so you can see the colours in person. The combination of photographs and computer/phone screens means that you can never be sure what colour you’re actually going to get, so I would only buy online once you need a top up bottle and you can be sure you’re buying the same shade as one you’ve already tried out.
These are incredibly thin paints that run into crevices and recesses in your miniatures, and do a great job of creating a great all-over look. Your minis look like you’re at least twice as talented as you are if you use a wash! It also makes painting easier as the wash does a lot of the work for you. I would definitely recommend you don’t skip this step.
Washes come in a variety of colours, but when you’re starting it, I think just a black wash is probably all you need. You can add more to your collection when your hobby and skill level increases, and you can use your washes to add real depth and character to your model.
There are a couple of methods to use washes. One is the ‘dip’ method, which involves dipping your entire miniature in a tin of wood stain, or specific ‘dip’ washes for miniatures, which are effectively wood stain in different packaging. Now normally, I like the easy method, (lazy I know!) but call me crazy; I don’t fancy wood stain on my minis. Although the wood stain does add to the durability for the mini, I prefer to use the less toxic washes. The minis look better and it’s better for my health!
Although I avoid their paints, I like using Citadel washes.
Primer has two main jobs – to allow your paint to adhere better to your model, and to give you a base colour to work your model from.
If you’re going to use acrylic paint, it’s utterly vital to use a primer, as without a primer, acrylic paint won’t stick to metal, resin or plastic.
I personally prefer spray paint as I find it easier. It’s also better to do multiple light passes rather than one heavy pass. One heavy pass can clump or obscure finer detail of the miniature, with runs or drips. A note on aerosols – shake the can a lot! Then shake it some more. It helps with even coverage and you don’t want the dregs ruining a model you’re working on because you didn’t shake the can each time you used it. It’s important to get consistent coverage so that further paint will adhere properly.
There is debate as to whether to use white primer or black primer. I personally prefer white as it helps keep colours more vibrant and exciting, but if you’re going for a more grungy or darker look, the black would probably be more appropriate. Also, black can be easier when you’re starting out, as crevices where it’s difficult to manoeuvre a brush would be likely to have shadows anyway.
After you’ve expended a lot of time and blood, sweat and tears (in my case definitely…) you’re going to want to protect your beautiful babies! Sealant protects the paint you’ve lovingly applied from wearing off from oils on your hands, or from general wear and tear of handling. Believe me, painting a mini a second time because you’ve chipped or worn off paint is absolutely no fun! Metal models are particularly prone to chipping so beware!
I prefer to spray as I find this easiest, and I try to avoid gloss sealant as I don’t like super shiny figures. This is totally personal preference though. Paint on and sprays seem to work just as well, and matte or gloss typically doesn’t matter in terms of the quality of seal.
Be careful in choosing your sealant though, as I’ve found that sometimes, due to the joys of chemical reactions, some compounds can leave the minis to remain sticky even after sealant has been applied. To deal with this, the only thing I’ve found that works is to spray them with shellac. No, not the nail varnish! But basically the same compounds. You can then spray a matte sealant over the shiny shellac which helps reduce the sheen.
Although I dislike all-over shiny miniatures, if you’re feeling fancy, you can actually use matte and gloss to help certain areas of your model ‘pop’. I’ve done this a couple of times and it was pretty cool. I used a matte spray all over, then highlighted certain areas with brush on gloss sealant. Snazzy!
What To Do
You need to make sure that the model is clean and there’s no old paint left. Failing to prep properly will result in lacklustre results.
You can’t open a pack and just start painting. Boo! Manufacturers cover the moulds with release agent so they come out easily. This then leaves an oily or powered residue on your miniature which needs to be removed.
I use good liquid soap and warm water, and scrub with a toothbrush to get into all the nooks and crannies of your model. Then I rinse them off with cool water to make sure there’s no soap residue.
Don’t use super hot water as you don’t want the heat to deform your model! You can add a bit of white vinegar to help cut through grease if needed. Make sure you’re extra careful with delicate areas such as swords or spears, and particularly fragile models.
Flash and Mould Lines
Flash lines are slight spurs left on the hands or feet as a result in the casting process. Mould lines are joining lines left behind after a miniature is cast in a two part mould. To remove these lines (unless you like the weird lumpy look…) take a craft knife or scalpel (and if you’re anything like me, have some plasters handy!) to carefully slice off the excess. Then get a very fine file, like a jewellers file, to smooth away the remaining imperfection to achieve a flawless finish.
Attach The Base
Once you’ve prepped your mini, you need to attach the base to the miniature, which enables your mini to stand. The best way is to use a strong glue to ensure your mini stays in place. And if you slip up and get glue where you don’t want it (as I have done!), just use a debonder to clean off the excess. I buy glue and debonder at the same time, so that when I mess up, I’m prepared!
This is the opposite problem to flash lines. Sometimes gaps form or air bubbles can create imperfections like holes that need filling. For large gaps (and generally, you shouldn’t encounter these!) you can use 2-part putty, but mostly I just use some white glue, as the holes are generally pretty small. Fill the gaps and let it dry. Double check it’s dry and that it’s smooth and flat! You don’t want to try and fix one problem then create another….
Make sure your models are completely dry before you start using primer on them!
Make sure you head outside or to a well ventilated area. A good method is to stand them up on newspaper, then space them out a few cm apart. Start spraying a few cm to the left of your first mini, so that the first one isn’t covered in a massive amount, and sweep you hand back and forth. Paint the front, then back, and once that coat dries, lay the miniatures down to paint underside front and back. You don’t want bits like armpits to be missed! Also, it’s fine if you can still see the original colour of the resin/plastic/metal – you only want a light coating on the model.
Whilst your primer is drying – come up with a basic plan of how you want your mini to look! It’s best to paint in a certain order so having an idea of what you’re trying to achieve is incredibly helpful.
Make sure you put down paper! Also, now is a good time for a cuppa. Then pick up your brushes!
Like with primer, one thick coat with ruin your mini, so lots of thin coats are much better. Think of an ‘inside-out’ approach. Start by painting the deeper crevices first and work outwards to cover the more accessible areas, and finish with things like accessories. This helps you not to worry (too much!) about going ‘outside the lines’ and the next layer generally covers any sloppiness on the previous layer, and ensures full coverage.
This is the easiest bit! Basically, pick the wash colour you want then splosh it on! It doesn’t matter if you’re a bit slapdash, as the wash will flow into the cracks, and you can fix any bits that seem too dark with the next step.
This is my least favourite bit, as it requires patience and skill. Neither of which I have…. Dry brushing is using contrasting (lighter) paint to make details pop. It involves highlighting the raised surfaces, by using a tiny amount of lighter paint on your brush (blotting some off on a paper towel sometimes helps) and applying it to the raised areas. Drag the brush across the grain of the texture for the best results. I prefer a flat head brush for this.
More contrast gives you a more dramatic effect, and some talented people I know do multiple layers of highlights, getting increasingly light. I have neither the skill or time to do this, but the models do look totally amazing, so I would recommend persevering!
Now is the time to pick up your teenie weenie brush and pick out the super fine details, like eyes, belt buckles, emblems, jewellery etc. Now is when I find the magnifying glass incredibly useful!
Be very careful! I have messed up more minis at this stage than I’d like to admit, and I can’t blame them all on sneezing fits….
Once completely dry, protect all your hard work! I do one coat, let my minis dry overnight then do another coat for peace of mind. Now go play!
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry about it. I totally get that the sheer number of brands, paint colours and brush types can be daunting. Every major brand has ‘starter sets’ or ‘beginner sets’ that have everything you need to get started.
Once you get started, don’t give up or get disheartened! Painting a mini can take hours and it can be frustrating and arduous. This is normal! And it will be worth it. I promise. Even if you’re not happy with the end result, don’t worry about making mistakes! You can paint over them or if you notice them soon enough, you can dip a clean brush in water and dab over the bad brush strokes to blend it away. And you’ll get better the more you do it. If you think you have completely botched a mini, you can get a bottle of cleaning solution, let your mini sit in it for a few hours, then get a brush and scrub the paint away. Let them dry, then start again with your primer!
Just remember, you can’t have ‘paint’ without ‘pain’…. 😛 But get a cuppa and your fave music on and time will fly by. And remember to get up and stretch and move about. Sitting hunched for hours on end and getting cramp is not fun!
Good luck and happy painting! 🙂