Article updated: 2020.10.30
These are basic tips for miniature painting.
* * *
What will you need?
- Water, possibly thinner if you use oil based paints, alcohol if you need faster drying acrylics
- Painting area
Care for your brushes
Wash the paint often from them. Don't leave them in the water. Don't leave them wet. Don't spread them.
Preparing miniatures before painting
Cut sprue remains. File off or cut flash and mould lines. Test if you can tight-fit them. If you prefer painting completed miniatures, assemble them before painting.
The basics - Resources
Joey Berry: Warhammer Joey #29. Painting Do's and Don't s: Tutorial video about painting basics .
Joey Berry: Warhammer Joey: How to Prep your Minis: Tutorial video.
* * *
When you paint your miniature, you need to get hold of it. Holding them with your hand is not very effective as you can smear grease on the miniature, and you can smudge the already painted parts. That's why we usually use a painting stand.
Before you start painting, make sure the figure stands firmly on your choice of painting stand.
A painting stand can be practically anything that you can hold with your hand, and the miniature fits on it. The stand can be a cork, a bottle cap, empty paint pot, a piece of cardboard, or a wooden spatula (tongue depressor).
I usually use adhesive putty (or sometimes superglue) to stick the miniature to the stand.
There are professionally made painting stands that have tiny vice-like parts that can hold the model without glue, but these only work properly if the miniature has a base.
Painting stand for miniatures with solid footing
If it has a solid footing (this usually means integral base, or minis that can stand by their own), you can glue it on a base with superglue or adhesive putty (Blutac). You don’t need to paint the bottom of their feet as it won’t show on the mini anyway.
A wooden spatula as a miniature painting stand, figures fastened with Blutac
When I paint a group of miniature that share a similar uniform, it's easier to paint the same colour on each of them if they are mounted on the same painting base.
Painting stand for miniatures with no solid footing
Miniature figures without integral bases (cavalry riders, drivers) may need to be balanced more carefully as they can topple more easily than standing miniatures. After painting the mini, you need to hold them (by hand, or by clamps) to paint their feet.
A wooden spatula as a miniatures painting stand, the mounted figures are adhered with large bits of Blutac
Holding miniature bits
Clamps: If you have some small clamps, you can put them on the bits and use them to hold it while painting. Try to find a place that won’t be seen, so it wouldn’t need painting. If there is no such part, then change the place of the clamp and paint the place where it was originally.
Glue: For small or lightweight bits put a small ball of adhesive putty on your painting stand (or the end of a rod, stick, wire) so you have something to hold them. If it comes off, use superglue instead. If even the superglue doesn’t hold it, use pinning (see below).
A wooden spatula as a painting stand, bits of Blutac hold the spears
Pinning: Drill a hole, put a needle / paper clip into it, so you have something to hold into. You can put something on the other end (wine cork comes to mind) to make it easier and steadier to hold. Sometimes you need glue the pin for a stronger to hold. For a small bit 1-2 mm is enough, for a larger one a 3-4 mm deep hole is needed.
* * *
An undercoat is an even layer that can help cover irregularities in the painted material. If you had to assemble your miniature from separate bits, undercoating it can be a good idea, as the paint will cover the tiny recesses that might be left after gluing the pieces together. You can use any kind of primer, varnish or paint as an undercoat.
Primer gives you a layer that will make it easier for acrylic paints to stick to miniatures. If you paint metal or slick plastic, you need to apply primer before painting. The primer also acts as an undercoat.
Prime your miniatures as soon as you can. When you’ll have some spare time to paint, or if you have some spare colour on your brush, you can use it on the already primed minis.
If you don’t know whether you’ll need light or dark prime, just prime it with a transparent primer. Going with a dark primer can also be a good choice, as you can use it instead of a dark wash at the end of the painting. In this case you only need to leave some of the shadowy areas unpainted.
Primer - Resources
How to Paint Miniatures: Apply Primer to Your Miniature: Tutorial article, an extensive guide about the need for using primer before painting with acrylic paints.
MWNCIBOO (for DakkaDakka): Priming vs Undercoating: Tutorial article about primers.
Priming with gesso (Facebook): Article about using gesso as a primer. (2020.03.30: The article is offline.)
IDICBeer: How to Prime Miniatures with Pins in their Feet: Tutorial video about taping the pins in the minis feet to a board before using primer spray.
Mike Dunn: Priming Miniatures 101: Tutorial video about the use of primer spray.
TheApatheticFish: Miniature Painting Tip: How to Prime Miniatures: Tutorial video about the use of primer spray.
nuclealosaur: Miniature 101: Intro to spray primer + advance priming: Tutorial video about the use of primer spray and how to use primer spray to put primer into an airbrush.
* * *
It’s good to have previously mixed colours.
- It’s easier to use it if you are in a hurry.
- It’s good to have the exact same colour when you want to repair an already painted mini.
You don’t need to buy them though; you can mix it and store it in separate bottles.
Paints by sheen level - Matte, silk shine and glossy paints
- Matte: It's an optical sheen level of the paint, that doesn't shine and it's not glossy.
- Silk shine: It's an optical sheen level of the paint, that's somewhere between totally matte and glossy.
- Glossy: It's an optical sheen level of the paint, that is shiny.
If you will use varnish on your miniature, the sheen level of the paint won’t really matter, as it’s the varnish that will make the mini matte or glossy.
It’s easier to get one bottle of matte and another bottle of glossy varnish than trying to find the same colour in both varieties. Take care that some varnish titled "matte" still gives a silk shine.
Enamel paint give you a hard coat of paint when it dries. While it’s strong, it can chip if you bend or drop your miniature, so it’s a good idea to get a varnish on it if you don’t like to repaint them often.
You need a solvent (usually nitro thinner) to dilute it before painting. Most solvent dilute the glue that hold the bristles in the paint brush.
* * *
Before you decide on your paint scheme, check your paints. It's embarrassing to find the paint bottle is empty or it dried and you don't have thinner.
It can lead to unusual choices of colours, though.
Before you start painting, make sure the figure stands firmly on your choice of painting stand.
After everything is set up, shake your paint vigorously so the pigmens will get mixed with the medium.
Painting - Resources
Zach Hillegas: How to Paint Miniatures for Cheap and With No Experience: Tutorial article. A very good and thorough tutorial on how to start getting into the painting hobby.
Next Level Painting: 5 Simple Trick For Paint Hordes - Table Top Quality: A video tutorial on using easy techniques to finish minis quickly. It's basically paint-highlight-wash, but the video is good.
Airbrush & Analog: Cheat edge highlights: Tutorial article. An idea about highlighting with watercolour pencils.
James Wappel: Another approach: Tutorial article. Using shade washes to base the colours and glazes to finish the miniatures.
Kenny Boucher (from Next Level Painting): How To Paint Models to A Table Top Standard - No Excuses: Tutorial video about painting a Corvus Belli - Infinity - Yu Jing - Guijia with HMG Multi + Heavy Flamethrower, using airbrush.
How to get the paint out of pots?
If you want to use a colour straight out of a pot, you could just use your brush. After shaking the pot, it's inevitable that paint gets on the bottle caps, so after taking off the caps, I get paint out of the caps. This way, if there is some other paint left on the brush you use, it doesn't contaminate the whole pot, just the remains on the bottle cap. In case of acrylic paints it's also easy to wash it off with water if it gets dirty.
If you'd like to mix the colours you could either use two tools (brushes, rods, spatulas, scalpels etc) to get paint out from the bottles, or use one tool and clean it after taking out the previous colour. If you use only one tool, I'd recommend the brush so you could just continue to mix it, then you can start to paint.
If it is important to get a pre-defined colour, you could siphon the paint from the bottles, eitheir with syringes, pipettes, or with drinking straws. To use the drinking straw method, you need to put the straw in the paint, close the upper end with your finger, and you can lift the paint out. If you leave paint on the straw to dry, you'll see the amount you've taken out and next time you can compare it to the new one. You can bend the straw at the edge of the paint and use the same straw to get the same amount of paint out next time. If you want to re-use the same straw over and over for everything, you can mark it (bend it) at even intervals so you can see the marks even if it's covered in paint. This way you can get the same amount of paint any time.
Write the exact colours and the amount of paint you have used to achieve the mixed colour, so you can mix it if you'll need it later.
Don't use undiluted paint as a base colour. If it doesn't get into the recesses, you'll need another layer to get things right.
Undiluted paint can fill the detail. It's not that much of a problem on large monsters, vehicles or buildings, but I wouldn't use it on humans.
If you realise that you've missed some spots, the paint didn't get into the recesses, and by that time the paint already started to dry, wait until the whole layer dries, because painting over half-dried paint can mix things up.
If you have a dark base colour, you need to remember the details on the mini to paint them properly.
I recommend making a photo of it before painting and using it for reference.
You could also drybrush it with a lighter colour if you'll colour it with another paint anyway.
If you have primer spray, it’s an easy way to base the whole miniature with the same colour.
Colours - Resources
Beasts of War: Colour Theory... part 1 (3 Colours Up: Painting Tutorial): Tutorial video about choosing and mixing colours.
If you are painting buildings, it’s better to paint only one plane of it, so the wash can cover the area evenly. If you paint an already assembled rooms floor and walls at the same time, the wash will flow downwards.
You can buy factory-mixed washes, or you can create a wash by diluting your paint. If you create your own wash, I recommend to use acrylic paints, because oil-based paints are diluted with a thinner that can damage the paintjob.
Washes - Resources
During highlighting you make the colours on the higher parts of the miniature lighter.
This can help you draw attention to parts you highlight. It can also help you hide some parts if you don’t highlight them.
If you are looking to make realistic lighting, try to highlight the upper parts of the model, where the light reaches it.
If you already have some basic paint on the miniature, but you’d like to change the colour, you can glaze it. For glazing, choose a colour that is stronger (more saturated, vibrant) than the one you’d like to get as the final colour will be paler. Mix some clear acrylic medium with this colour – the more medium you use the more transparent the glaze will be. (You can use acrylic varnish as a medium, it's also transparent, and it will give some more protection for your models.)
You can also glaze with acrylics by using only water instead of varnish, but it’s more tricky that way. I recommend touching up the parts of the mini you’d like to glaze with a slightly wet brush first, so when you touch the mini with the paint, it will flow into the other wet parts without further use of force. Using glaze this way will create a thinner layer of paint than
Glazing - Resources
Spikey Bits: Secret Techniques to Painting With Glazes - Hobby Tutorial: Tutorial video about glazing.
Miniac: How to Glaze: Tutorial video about glazing.
* * *
Do you have further ideas about miniature painting basics? Do you have your own methods? Do you have any questions about them? Tell us in the comments!