Let’s get down to brass tacks! In the second half of our painting guide, we’ll build on the advice and tools from the first half. There are a few ways to put paint on a mini, and we’ll help demystify them.
Our first painting guide article laid some groundwork that may be optional, but still has really good advice, especially for new painters apprehensive about their initial results. However, we do recommend using a wet palette when painting miniatures. The previous article has directions on creating a wet palette easily and cheaply, but you can also find a wet palette here.
- Special Effects
Priming, or base coating, is laying down a layer of paint all over the miniature in a single color. This can improve paint adhesion, and provides a neutral color that will be the basis of the model’s tone and color palette.
The cheapest primer would be rattlecans from the hardware store, like Krylon or Rustoleum. These paints tend to be a little thicker, and the model may lose some detail if primed with these. However, for beginners on a budget, the difference will barely be noticeable.
There are plenty of hobby primers as well, and while these can be pricey, there’s a good reason. Here's an example of Citadel brand primer. These spray can paints are a little thinner and can preserve the finer details on a model. They also come in colors that match the rest of the paints in that manufacturer’s line.
Often, the most recommended color for priming is black. With black, any areas of a model that missed getting color will just look like a shadow. Gray is also acceptable, but priming in white will result in a very, very bright final result. Priming in different colors will skew the colors of all the subsequent paints in that direction, so priming in blue or red isn’t necessarily advisable.
Of course, make sure to prime your models in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside if the weather permits. With spray can primers, you can prime multiple models at the same time.
This is one part of the hobby you don’t want to skimp on. Definitely find hobby paints for painting miniatures. They can be expensive, but it’s worth it. The pigment particles in hobby paint are ground much more finely than in other kinds of paint, and the medium fluid in hobby paints will flow better for smaller applications.
There are some hobby paints that are cheaper than others, but as long as it’s intended for miniatures it’ll work well. Citadel is considered the gold standard in miniature paints, and other good brands are Vallejo, Army Painter, Formula P3, and Scale 75.
Hobby paints are water-based acrylic. They can be further thinned with water (which is important, that’ll come up soon). Definitely avoid using cheap craft store paints - they’re way too thick for a miniature model. Also avoid using enamel paints. They take longer to dry, and can be difficult to work with, and many of them have highly glossy finishes.
For beginners, there are plenty of Getting Started style kits for a variety of brands, such as this. These are a very cost-effective way of getting a lot of high-quality colors so you can just get down to business. While miniature paints come in a huge variety of colors, most of the colors are used for shading and layering. For practicing, just worry about applying a single color to each portion of your model.
So the underlying directive for miniature painting is to thin your paints. It’s a little bit of a meme and old joke amongst painters and wargamers, but it’s excellent advice. Thinning down your paints with a little bit of water as you apply them will always yield better results. It’s better to apply multiple thin coats of paint than a single thick coat.
This is where your wet palette comes in. Avoid putting paint directly on your brush before painting the model. Instead, scoop or squeeze some paint onto the parchment of your wet palette. Then bring the paint from the palette to your miniature.
This will let the paint mingle with the water and thin the paint appropriately. You can also mix more water into the paint to make it more translucent and transparent, if you like, and you can blend colors on the wet palette as well.
For your first few projects, just think about coloring your model like a coloring book. Don’t worry about shading or lighting or anything else. Also, don’t worry about doing faces. Just paint a face in the skin color, and call it done, that’s all it needs. If you’re feeling confident enough to do some face detail, just make sure to use the wet tip of your brush instead of a tiny brush.
Special Effects - Washes and Dry Brushing
So we’ve covered almost everything a beginner would like to know before painting. Here, though, let’s do a little extra credit. Washes and dry brushing are two simple techniques that add a shocking amount of visual appeal, considering how much work they require.
A wash, or according to Citadel a shade, is paint that comes in its own pot or bottle. It behaves like a thin ink. The two most common types of wash come in black or dark brown - the first is good for metal and stone, the latter is good for skin and fur. You want to use a wash after you finish putting color on your mini, because a wash will enhance the colors already there.
To use a wash, just soak some in your brush, and just kinda slather it on your miniature. Don’t use a whole lot, of course. If a part of the mini has too much, you can dry your brush off and soak a little up.
When you apply a wash, the liquid will run off of the high points of the model, and into the cracks and crevices. This will instantly add contrast to your miniature, creating a sense of depth and make it visually “pop.” It’s fun and easy, and the results can be astounding.
Dry brushing is a little more complex and takes a little bit more skill, but still remarkably easy to get good results. You’ll want to do this after the base color and wash, as well. Make sure to use a white or pale color. Also, you’ll need a different brush, that has bristles spread out. Painting pros recommend using an old worn-out hobby brush, or even a small makeup brush.
As the name implies, don’t use any water on your brush. Dry it out, then put a little bit of paint on the bristles. Pale colors work best for dry brushing, if not white then use a bone or sand color.
Then, onto a paper towel, in a sweeping motion, brush almost all of it off. Really! When there’s just a little bit left, just sweep the brush over your model in broad strokes. You just want the brush to catch on the high edges of the miniature. The paint sticks just to those edges, quickly adding highlights that make the model pop even more.
Be careful; even if you think you’ve brushed off enough paint, it’s still easy to go overboard with the dry brush. With just a little effort, though, dry brushing adds even more depth to a miniature.
Good Results For Cheap
That should be everything a beginner should know before painting their first miniature. Miniature painting is intimidating at first, but it’s a very rewarding hobby, even for inexperienced painters. Painting and customizing have been a big part of wargaming since inception. Now, since Dungeons & Dragons and board gaming are more popular than ever, there are more beginners in painting than there’s ever been. Hopefully this guide clears the path for many to try their hand at painting!