Category: Painting

Painting Miniatures: Drybrush and Highlights

The previous post I talked some on washes and shading. I’d like to move on discussing a tad more about drybrushing and highlights. Drybrushing is a subtle technique. To use it best, you want to be patient and work on multiple layers of lighter and lighter colors. It can be a time consuming process but eventually you’ll get wonderful results adding a tremendous depth to your miniature.

I suggest when adding highlights to work with a strong lamp or paint in copious amounts of natural daylight. You want to use the light and how it catches details on the figure to select areas to highlight. Those parts that capture the natural shadows and deep recesses you want to skip, and instead identify the edges of the mini that hold the light. When you touch those areas with a lighter shade of color over your basecoat, they will dramatically emphasize these raised parts, adding more contrast and give the miniature a more life-like look.

Even if using a drybrush as a base coat of sorts, you can use different shades to add more highlights. For chain armor, a fair technique would be to drybrush a metallic shade over base coat of black. But by using a brighter silver color on areas like the shoulders of a miniature, or edges of a sword, it’s possible to squeeze out more detail.

A slightly different take on drybrushing is something I call high contrast highlights. Here instead of dusting edges with paint, you add small lines of lighter color on edges of the figure. You are going for stark contrasts instead of a gradual layering. Unlike drybrushing, you want to do this before applying a wash. Shading after helps blend the colors some. It is a great tool for speed painting instead of traditional drybrushing and blending, but has some limits. In the pic below you can see the figure on the left has high contrast highlights, while the figure on the right doesn’t. Looking at parts like the legs you can see the armor standing out more compared to the figure on the right, where the color of the armor is more muted.

Another type of highlight which can add a fun look to your mini is Object Source Lighting (OSL). This is adding highlights of stark contrast colors to mimic light emitting from a source on the mini. Blending is pretty much a must here. Pick a part on the figure that you picture emitting light, then add the lightest color to that area. Raised edges and other areas on the figure that you think would catch that light source will have darker shades of that same color. Avoiding deep recesses, you want to pick out the edges that would collect the imagined light and use a darker tint compared to the one used for your ‘source’ of light. In the undertaker figure below, you can see how this high contrast highlight is used to create an OSL-like effect from the lantern.

OSL is something you want to use sparingly, but for some details like glow effects on weapons or ship engines. It’s a fantastic little effect that can add so much to a mini. Next post I’ll cover the final step to your paint job, miniature bases!


Painting Miniatures: Washes and Shading

I’m going to spend the next few posts adding a bit more to the 3 basic techniques I covered last time. I’d like to focus some more on washes and shading. If you want to quickly add something to a basic paint job to make your miniatures stand out, adding a wash will offer more than drybrushing. So if you wanted to add a little bling to your board game bits and didn’t want to throw in a ton of effort, a simple wash or quick shading will do wonders.

A basic means of making a wash is to add water to a paint thinning it down. You are going for a consistency of paint that is very fluid like water. This will add just a tinge of color to upper edges but allow more pigment to pool in the recesses and deeper details. This is a pretty simple means to make your own wash, bypassing the need of purchasing dedicated washes.

I first have to offer an excellent overview of shades, inks, and washes by Dr. Faust’s Painting Clinic. He covers one issue that can creep up sometimes when doing washes, especially if just using thinned down paints. Occasionally you can get an uneven layering of color due to pigment depositing higher up on miniature details as the wash dries. This usually crops up in smoother transitions of detail like tunic smocks and cloaks. It also is more common when covering lighter base colors with dark shades of brown and black.

One way to get around this is creating your own special wash mixture of Wet Water. Use about a drop of soap per 1-4 ounces of water in an empty bottle. This results in a solution with reduced surface tension, allowing for more uniform mixes of wash. Be sure to add soap sparingly. Too much and you’ll get foaming. A tiny amount will provide just the right amount of surfactant needed. Using this to mix on a palette in place of regular water, you end up with a wash that has a more uniform flow of pigment.

If you are using a particular color repeatedly, you may want to consider making your own wash solution diluting with wet water. That way you can simply get your wash directly from the bottle. If you have a lot of figures to go through and want the most consistency, this is a good option. However you may want to consider looking into purchasing washes if you have a pile of figures you want to paint in a similar scheme.

Inks are similar to washes, except the pigment is more intense. They are excellent if wanting to impart more color to your shading, particularly for brighter colors. Like with paint washes, you want to dilute out inks quite a bit as even diluted they can impart a lot of color. Glazes can be used for shading but work more for blending colors. Glazes are a great means to add subtle transitions of color like folds of cloth on a miniature. One thing about inks, you might end up getting a gloss shine to a figure. Don’t panic. If you are following through all the steps of miniature painting, using a matte varnish to seal the figure will cut down any glossiness from ink washes.

A good technique for working with washes is to use different colors for sections of your figure. Using different color washes can bring out a great amount of detail to add some intensity to parts of a model. However single washes with neutral tones can provide a fairly easy means to add shading to a mini.

I highly recommend getting some Sepia Ink for miniature painting. This is a fairly neutral shade that you can use as an entire wash for a miniature. For flesh tones this can add a good amount of color to faces and still work well for clothing. You can see with some 28mm Russians below, just a single wash of sepia ink can bring out details on faces and add some shadow to tunics and clothing. Instead of working with various brown and green washes for these figures, a single wash of this neutral brown works well enough.

Be mindful though this can sometimes mute your colors too much. You can see with the orc below that a sepia ink wash certainly imparts a dingy look to the figure. However it also lessens the transitions of color like from the skin to layers of the figure’s clothing. Sometimes this is an effect you want to go for. But if looking to emphasize portions of a miniature, you have to put extra effort into blending and highlighting those parts when working with a single wash.

Painting Miniatures: The 3 basic techniques

We talked some about using paints and tools to have at your bench to help with painting, but now I’d like to go over specific painting techniques. I call these the big 3, three main techniques that can be used to create nice looking figures. If you can get some technical proficiency using these painting skills, your miniatures will look great on the tabletop. These panting skills are (1) the base coat, (2) washes, and (3) drybrushing.

Briefly, the base coat is just what you’d think, adding a foundation color to parts of your miniature. Drybrushing is a technique to bring out the highlights of the model. And finally washes help bring out details of the figure, adding some depth to areas. Combined, these 3 techniques can make a ho hum paint job with just base colors get some real zing.

You will first be applying a base coat to the miniature (or sections of it). A good process to follow is consider working details from the inside out on the model. That is, start with the ‘naked skin’ and work out to layers of clothing/armor, moving on to details like webbing, belts, boots, and finally other accessories like weapons, jewelry, or other small details.

This can vary from miniature to miniature but it’s not a bad process to start with. The key point is to focus on applying a single base color to a particular part of the figure before moving onto other sections. You don’t want to paint the face, then the leather vest, then go back to painting the skin on the arms of a figure. You want to get the face and all the naked skin first, then move onto other areas of the mini. Work on having a clean transition from one part of the mini to the next. If you make a mistake and paint one color over onto another part, you can go back later and give a touch up if needed.

When adding a base coat work with thinned paints and apply multiple coats. If the paint is too thick, you can leave brush strokes (uneven coats of paint with lines from the bristles). It is also quite possible to have paint obscure details if applied too heavy, where it pools up in areas. So thin out your paints and go for 2-3 coats if needed. If your paints have about the flow and viscosity of milk, you should be fine and maybe (depending on the paint) even be able to get away with a single coat. You can see with the Reaper Bones miniature below I’ve applied a green base coat to the cloak.

As I mentioned earlier, have two containers of water. One for cleaning, the other for washing your brush. Periodically be sure to clean most of the paint from the brush. After about 10 minutes or so while painting, you might actually have paint on the bristles dry. So a brisk cleaning in water once in a while will avoid this. Also if working with metallic paints you want one small dedicated wash jar. This will reduce the chance of metallic flakes getting into your other paints.

For the other two techniques I will go into them in more detail in future posts. A wash is a thinned coat of paint or ink. This might alter the base coat hue some, but it is really to add shade and darken areas that have details. This can help bring out parts of a figure’s face or accentuate fine lines on the mini. Washes pool and create shadows of deeper color. If you are making your own wash from a paint color, you want to add more water to really thin out the paint.

Commonly you want to use a darker shade of your base color. It’s also possible to go with a neutral color depending on the effect you want to go for. In the photo below I’ve really added water to thin out a darker green color paint. It has altered the base coat some, but you will notice that it really pools in the recesses of the cloak and brings out the cloak embroidered edge.

You can go overboard however and have some areas that might get too much of your wash as gravity sets in. After applying a wash, use the same brush and tap it on a paper towel, allowing the liquid to be drawn away from the bristles. Then use the brush in areas that have pooled up too much wash, and through capillary action the excess will be sucked into the paintbrush. Simply dab the bristles on a clean section of paper towel and repeat. You will leave plenty of wash behind and still be able to get that shading effect you are looking for.

Drybrushing is the opposite of washes. Where applying a wash brings out the shadows and dark lines of the miniature, drybrushing highlights the raised parts of the figure. This is a little more technique driven. You want to use an older brush, or possibly a flat brush, and get paint on the tip of the bristles. Then gently stroke the brush on a paper towel or other clean surface (like the back of your hand) to remove most of the paint. Eventually you will have a trace amount which you can lightly bring across the edges of a figure, dusting it with color.

Use a brighter color compared to your base coat. Work on areas that you expect to catch the light. Like for a cloak, the folds would be dark, while areas that would billow would be much lighter. Be patient. Unlike washes which can give an immediate result, drybrushing is slow to develop. Go lightly and build up areas slowly. Note that this is a technique that works best on edges and parts of a miniature that have intricate details.

The cloak I am working with can be difficult as larger areas can be hard to apply effective highlights, unlike the sharp edges of the cloak and crisp folds. It’s a subtle technique (and likely may not photograph well with a crappy phone camera) but you can just make out some of the upper folds having a lighter tint. Obviously the lighter shade of color compared to the base coat, the more dramatic the effect.

I would be remiss to not mention blending. I consider this a more advanced technique. With blending you are working with a dark shade and adding lighter colors to gradually blend the hue into a brighter color. The idea is to give a uniform base color, and as you move up towards areas that are raised, the color increases in brightness. This is especially good on large, smooth surfaces or rounded edges. In particular 40K space marines have shoulder pads, legs, and arms that don’t have a lot of detail and are curved which don’t highlight well. So blending is a way to give the models some life and make them pop.

Don’t worry about adding blending to your painting repertoire initially (or at all). A good base coat, wash, and drybrush will give your figures a lot of pizzazz and are powerful techniques. Combined they add depth to your miniature. The can be tweaked and altered to really bring out details on a figure. Using these techniques can also allow you to do some interesting things for your model.

I like to highlight a quick tutorial from Sonic Sledgehammer. This chap gives a great example of all 3 techniques being used to add a pleasant weapon glow effect. He also demonstrates how washes can alter the look of a base coat if used appropriately. Watching this brief clip you can see how all three can improve your results, just by applying these basic painting skills.

Painting Miniatures: Working with paints

You’ve got your brushes and are eager to get a coat of paint on those primed miniatures. This week I’ll be covering some tips on working with paints. So first off, what paints should you buy and use?

Older hobby modellers were pretty much stuck with enamel paints. They provide a good coat of paint, especially bright colors. More importantly for some model kits (RC cars and the like), they can handle wear and tear well. However I would not buy enamel paints. Mixing colors can be a challenge. Cleaning brushes requires paint thinner solvent. In general they are a pain in the ass to work with.

Fortunately you have an alternative, water based acrylics. Over the years the formulation of these paints have improved and honestly I don’t see any reason not to use them for miniature painting. Simple to mix colors, dilute, and clean up, they are so much easier to use compared to enamel paints. You can look through other resources to choose manufacturers or brands. In general though, I would avoid using big bottle craft acrylics for miniatures. They can work for applying a single color base coat, but commonly I’ve found they don’t hold a uniform pigment, don’t dilute well, and blending or mixing colors and can be problematic. While they are great for other modelling projects like terrain, I’d steer away from brands like Apple Barrel craft paints for miniature painting.

How many colors are enough? That is difficult to address easily. At the very least I would go for the 6 primary and secondary colors in a color wheel (blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet) and add white and black to your list. Then I would have at least 2 shades or tints of each color. So at the least have a dark green and a light green for your ‘green’ paints.

If you can go all out with paints, I would have 3 of each color. One would be your base color, while the darker hue is used for washes/shading and the lighter color for highlights. Even with at least 2 tints of each color, you can use one for either shading and/or highlights. I would certainly purchase some gray colors too. In addition to this consider buying some dedicated paint colors depending on the miniatures you are painting. If doing a lot of fantasy models, you will have lots of leather and wooden hafts, so additional browns of various hues would be good. I would also buy some metallic colors for armor, metal helmets, shields, and the like. This will allow you to have some ‘go to’ colors if painting lots of particular model features like swords or leather boots.

Even if sticking with paint colors directly from the jar, you will want a working paint palette. This does not have to be fancy. It can be an old ceramic plate or piece of plastic. I’ve even used a plastic lid from a spreadable butter or cream cheese container before. In general you want a surface that is white and not porous. It should clean up easily with water and a paper towel, and be white so it’ll not throw off the shade of your color mixes.

Give your paints a good shake before opening them. I cut old plastic sprues into small chunks and add them directly to the paint jar for water based acrylics. Even dropper tips can have the top gently pulled off so you can add it into a bottle. The piece of plastic works similar to a spray can paint ball, increasing the efficiency of mixing as you shake it. Some brands like Reaper paints already have mixing beads in their pots.

A few paint manufacturers have dropper tips for their bottles. Using a palette, you want to mix some water with the drops of paint, working it into a milk-like consistency. You can always add either a drop of paint or clean water to get the desired mix. It’s better for the paint to be somewhat thin than too thick.

If you are working with paints in a jar, avoid sticking your brush into the pot directly. Get paint on your brush using the lid of the container instead. This way you avoid dipping your brush too far into the paint jar and possibly getting paint in the ferrule (metal part that holds the bristles). Even if using a palette, you want to be sure you are just placing the tip of the brush in the paint. Slathering on too much paint by sweeping the entire brush onto the palette can also work paint into the ferrule. This needs to be avoided as it can be hard to clean and when the paint dries it will force the bristles apart, deforming the shape of your brush.

If you paint in spurts (I’m a huge fan of the 15 minute paint day) or mix colors a lot, you may seriously want to consider investing in a wet palette. It’s actually a pretty easy thing to make yourself with parchment paper. The advantage of wet palettes is those mixed colors can be used for longer periods of time, getting more consistency over several models. This is especially useful if you are working in short bursts of painting activity. By not having to constantly clean your work palette, you can easily get back into continuing a project.

One last tip, also have some index cards handy and keep track of the paints used for figures. If you do a lot of rank and file miniatures this is especially helpful. Eventually you may add another unit to your force and trying to remember that exact mix of paint for a base coat, or what wash you used can be hard to recall after painting other figures (or in my case trying to remember a year plus later).

Painting Miniatures: Brushes

Just a short post this week to touch on brushes. You’ve got your mini set on a handling base and eager to get to it. Now you are considering what brushes to have at your bench to start painting. I’m sure you can dig up tons of information on brushes elsewhere. I just want to focus on a few points regarding them.

You only need 3 brushes and I consider a fourth a good buy but not necessary when starting out. You want to invest in 3 round brushes, and possibly a single flat (or a filbert) one. I would buy a 3O (OOO), an O, and a number 2 or 3 round brush. The No. 3 brush is good for adding base coats to sections of a miniature, while the O and 3O are good for finer details. A flat/filbert brush that is about ¼” is a good size brush to also consider picking up. The flat brush is good for painting larger areas and also great for drybrushing (a technique I’ll bring up in a later post).

As for bristle types I am a fan of hair or mixed brushes. I don’t particularly care for synthetic or nylon bristles. I find the nylon brushes are a cheap buy and do keep their shape, but they just don’t hold paint as well as natural bristle brushes. Some folks swear by them however.

As to actually using them with paint, that is a topic I’ll cover more later. Just remember you should be using the tip of the brush to apply the paint. Avoid stroking on paint working from the side of the brush to the point. Let the brush do the work and use the tip instead. I do want to cover some points on cleaning and maintaining your brushes though.

For your fine round brushes, they should come with a protective sleeve that goes over the brush point. Keep this cover. While you have your brushes stored, they should be covered using the sleeve. This will help protect the bristles and avoid them losing shape by accidental handling.

I keep 2 containers of water at my bench. One for diluting paint and is ‘clean’ water while the other I use for cleaning my brush. If working with metallic paints you might want a third dedicated water container. This can avoid getting reflective specks in other colors you prepare. When cleaning your brush, don’t mash it down on the bottom of your water cup or jar. If you have paint that can’t dislodge by shaking the brush in the water, stroke the bristles on the side of the water jar in an upwards direction. This will avoid deforming the bristles and work any paint away from the ferrule (metal part that holds the bristles) towards the tip of the brush. You can also always do a final rinse of your brushes under a running tap.

After you clean your brush and are done with painting, gently reform the point if needed with moist fingers and cover the bristles in its protective sleeve. Then leave the brush on its side for several hours (or overnight), finally moving it to be stored bristle-side up. By allowing the brush to dry on its side, any moisture still on the bristles will stay out of the ferrule. Even if the brush is clean, by drying with the point up, moisture carrying a small amount of paint will fall into the ferrule by gravity. Over time that paint will accumulate and begin to force the bristles apart, deforming the shape of the brush.

Periodically you may want to clean your brushes with a soap solution. It’s a small investment but I highly recommend picking up some Original B&J “The Masters” Brush Cleaner & Preserver. It’s a soap that you use with water and is an excellent way to clean your brushes.

About once a month you can wash the brush with the soap and a little water, working up a foam. Remove the foam on a clean surface like a paper towel and repeat the process a few times, ending with a final rinse with water. You can even add a small amount of soap to the tip of the brush, gently making a point with your fingers. It’s a great product that does wonders for cleaning your brushes and can add years to their lifetime.

You might still need to give your brushes a more thorough cleaning. One trick is to store the brush in solvent upside down. By poking a hole into cardboard, and carefully working the tip of the brush through the hole, you can have the handle stay stuck in the cardboard relatively securely. Then the brush can be placed in a cup or glass bottle with the bristles being allowed to soak freely in solvent. Set overnight this can help remove excess paint in the ferrule and can possibly help restore brushes that lose their point.

This is usually a last resort method though. If you follow the previous tips, you can stretch out the lifetime of your brushes by years. Just a little bit of preventive cleaning and proper maintaining of your brushes can go a long way keeping them in top shape.

Painting Miniatures: Handling your figure

Your miniature is prepared and primed. However handling the figure nimbly while painting can be difficult, especially if holding it just by the base. There are easier ways and they can also help ensure you get your brush into all those nooks and crannies on the figure.

There are fancy miniature clamps that you can use, but I’m a fan of good old blu tack and soda bottle caps. Blu tack is a soft adhesive putty used for putting up posters onto walls and forms a temporary bond. I gather up old soda bottle caps and use them as a handle to plop figures on.

If working with smaller figures like 15mm ones. You can use popsicle sticks (bought at craft supply stores) and PVA, or white Elmer’s glue. The figures below are some examples where I’ve used wooden craft sticks to mount miniatures for painting.

Why use this method? You will have a far easier time holding the miniature while you paint. You don’t have to worry about accidentally touching the figure, smearing a portion that has wet paint. You’ll certainly get some odd areas that will be a challenge to paint, and being able to hold the figure at different angles will allow that brush to get into tight recesses of the figure. It also can provide a more comfortable grip holding a large plastic cap instead of just a thin plastic base.

It’s a small tip, but something worth doing. You want to be able to hold your miniature at a comfortable height while painting. Having them on miniature base stands will make your painting session easier and allow you to keep a relaxed posture instead of being cramped over. Plus it also will give your hands a break being able to hold the miniature comfortably over long periods of time instead of trying to hold them by a tiny, thin base.

Painting Miniatures: Priming

Now that you’ve gotten your miniatures glued and assembled, you’re ready for painting right? Nope. Simply put, there is no point in painting your miniatures if you are not using primer. Primer is formulated to bond tightly to a surface. Alternately paint has some similar properties, but is mainly designed to provide a uniform color. Especially for metal miniatures, it’s possible to rub off paint that is coated directly on the figure. To ensure a better and more uniform bond of paint to the model, you need to prime it first. Priming will also allow for more consistent color over the entire figure, particularly in open and smooth surfaces of the miniature.

So using a primer is important, but what color should you use? It will depend on the overall base colors you are using. Generally white is good if predominantly the model will be painted using bright colors. Black primer is good for darker or more muted, neutral tones. While gray primer is a good middle ground if wanting an all purpose primer color.

Black primer can also be used for speed painting miniatures. You can cut corners using black primer as it can accentuate the details of the figure (by leaving a trace about of black between sections of the miniature). This can be expanded by using colored primers to help reduce painting times. Companies like Army Painter have a variety of shaded primers which essentially work as a base hue for the figure and is great if painting a lot of miniatures using a similar color scheme. While there are plenty of miniature paint primers out there, Krylon also offers good primer sprays which work well and are easy on the wallet.

Working with primer spray cans, you want a well ventilated area and in weather that is dry and not exceedingly cold. Make sure to mix the primer well. I hold the spray can upside down initially hitting it against the flat of my hand, and then continue shaking upside down letting the ball bearing inside mix the paint. Don’t skim on shaking time, you want to shake for a good minute or so at least.

While spraying primer you want to shoot for an even coat, spraying about a foot away from the miniatures. Spray in short even bursts, about 1-2 seconds using a smooth sweeping action. You want to avoid a static position while applying spray as this can cause too much primer to pool up on parts of a model. I like to placing figures on an old pizza box, so I can angle the primer at lower angles to ensure good coverage. Once primed, as you’d expect, let the primer dry completely (most spray primer will dry in an hour or so). If you’ve found areas that aren’t covered, you can position them with the exposed area up and give a quick primer touch up.

Alternately you may want to use paint on primer such as Reaper’s paint on primer. I would consider at least investing in a bottle to have handy. You might see a spot on a model that didn’t quite get any spray primer and need a quick touch up. The other plus is you aren’t dependent on the weather if wanting to prime a model. But between a paint on primer and spray, I would use spray primers to save time and get more uniform results.

Mind you, some figures may not need to be primed. Reaper Bones are created with a particular plastic which the manufacturers claim primer is unnecessary. However using a primer won’t hurt, and can provide a better foundation for certain colors.

Painting Miniatures: Assembly, glues, and filling gaps

Plastic has become more popular and accessible for miniatures which I love, but man you can end up with a pile of plastic bits. Now that you’ve trimmed and cut them from sprues, how do you go about assembling them? Generally you want to invest in two types of glue: cyanoacrylate, instant curing glue (super glue) and plastic cement (model glue).

Instant curing glue is pretty much an all purpose glue for your miniatures. They can instantly bond to a variety of materials and are great for metal figures as well as soft plastics. If you dabble in 1/72 scale wargaming, commonly the plastic miniatures you get are ‘soft’ plastic. As RPG miniatures go, Reaper Miniatures Bones is another similar type of soft plastic that instant glue will work well on.

Super glue cement will form a quick bond. Apply a little to each joint and then set the pieces together holding with gentle pressure for 10-15 seconds. Even though you will get the parts to hold, you want to let the glue completely dry for an hour or so. A small tip, be mindful that too much instant curing glue can seep out, filling in gaps and obscure details on your miniature. Use the glue sparingly and if you’ve added too much you can draw up the excess using a paper towel. Simply twist an end to a fine point and dab it into the glue. Through adsorption the towel can quickly draw up the excess if working quickly. Don’t let the paper towel set in the glue for 10 seconds or so, otherwise you’ll end up with a chunk of paper towel on your mini!

Plastic cement is made specifically for polystyrene miniatures or your ‘hard’ plastics. This glue will essentially melt the plastic and once dry, create a bond that mixes the plastic from each part together. For plastic miniatures I prefer using model cement as it makes the bond unbreakable. You can also really go to town kitbashing and altering figures, as the cement will create a rock solid bond with the parts you use. A small tip, if in doubt that plastic cement can be used for the miniatures you are working with, glue two pieces of the plastic sprues together. That way you can determine if the bond that forms is good enough before trying it out on your minis.

When working with plastic cement use gentle pressure and hold parts together for around 15 seconds. Like with superglue, you can get the pieces forming a bond quickly but be sure to let the miniature dry for at least an hour before painting. You also want to use the glue sparingly and dab up any excess that might spill out. I personally like working with plastic cement when I can. Instant curing glue can be tricky to work with and you can easily get fingers stuck to the miniature or glued together. With plastic cement this isn’t an issue.

Another tool for your bench worth having is a pair of tweezers or forceps. Especially with plastic models, you can get some small parts that are difficult to handle with just your fingers. Using tweezers allows for more precision in placing that part just so on a miniature.

Some other tips with assembling miniatures. Take the time to look through the sprue and/or assembly instructions. Many manufacturers will have labels on the sprue indicating with a letter or number the part and which piece they line up with. Once cut from the sprue, take care to line up your pieces with the figure you are working with. It can be too easy to slip into assembly line mode cutting tons of bits from sprues only to end up with a pile of hopelessly mixed up arms and legs.

Many miniatures will also come with bases. Most are textured, but you might have some that have a smooth surface. This can be difficult to get a solid bond with the figure. To get around this, I would score the surface of the smooth plastic with sandpaper or a hobby knife. This will create a rough texture allowing more surface area that the glue can seep into, creating a stronger bond. If you look at the bases of the figures below you can see the score marks I put on the bases for my hard plastic miniatures.

Some bases might have slots which need to be filled in. Similarly, you may have joints that don’t quite fit snugly leaving a gap. Even a small thin crack can become an unsightly detail once painted up. Another hobby supply you should invest in is green stuff putty. This is a two part epoxy that comes as a clay material. Through kneading the two colors together in roughly equal ratios, eventually you will get a uniform green color. The putty can easily be worked with and once dried overnight, you get a solid material that will take up paint well. The material can also be sanded if needed.

If you have a lot of open gaps like certain bases, you might want to invest in squadron or white putty. This is more a serious scale modelers tool. Like green stuff epoxy putty it can easily fill in gaps. Once dry it can be painted or sanded down. Some types are a little toxic to work with though. However if you’ve got a ton of gaps to fill in (like with these slotted miniature bases pictured below), it’s far easier to use squadron putty than green stuff.

Painting Miniatures: Cleaning, cutting from sprues, and prep work

Last post was an introduction of sorts. I’m going to kick off this series talking about miniature preparation. The things you should do to get your miniatures cleaned and prepped before putting any coats of paint on them. I’ll be splitting this into two separate posts, one will be assembly and this one will deal with cleaning up your miniature.

Lead miniatures of old have molds split into two halves. In order to ensure an even distribution of molten metal and being able to pop cleanly out of the mold, a small amount of mold release agent is added during the manufacturing process. This is also quite common for resin miniatures and plastic model kits. It’s not quite common for modern plastic miniatures, but that can vary depending on the production process.

If left on the figure, essentially you have this material that forms a barrier between the miniature and your primer or paint. With enough handling, you can rub off sections of that grand paint job you applied. So a way to avoid this is to give your miniatures a bath and a scrub.

Get a container of warm water and add a few drops of dish detergent, just enough to be able to work up some suds. Using an old toothbrush, place your miniature sprue into the soapy water, and give the figures a light scrub. Nothing too frantic or vigorous just a gentle brushing, focusing especially on the nooks and grooves as these recesses in a figure can capture a lot of mold release agent. Once you’ve gone over the entire sprue, give the models a final rinse of water and let them dry.

Cutting plastic parts from the sprues can be tedious. You will want to invest in a quality craft/hobby knife (Xacto knife) with plenty of spare blades. Be sure to cut on a good work surface. I use old plastic kitchen cutting boards. And also be sure to cut away from you and from fingers holding the figure or sprue. Sharp knife blades cut safer. If you are getting a lot of resistance when you cut, you likely have worn down the edge of the blade. Consider switching it out for a new one and use the ‘duller’ blade for work that doesn’t require a lot of force like removing flash (more on that later). You might even want to have 2 sets of knife blade handles. One for removing figures from sprues, and another for other general hobby work and cleaning mold lines from figures.

I would recommend investing in special cutter pliers. You can purchase cutters for plastic model kits like from Tamiya. However you can also hit up your local hardware store and buy electrical cutting wire cable cutter pliers. These pliers have both a flat and angled edge. With the flat edge towards the miniature part, you can quickly snip plastic parts off their sprues. It’s much easier (and safer) compared to using a hobby knife as occasionally there can be thick plastic parts which can require a lot of force when cutting

Once you’ve cut pieces from the sprue, you will want to clean up any flash from the miniature. As mentioned before, molds of miniatures come in two sections. Occasionally the seal of the mold can allow some of the figure material to seep out during the casting process. This forms a thin line on some sections of the miniature. With this Russian AT rifle figure below, you can make out a faint line on the profile of the figure that goes from the head all the way down to the base. If left alone, this can add a jarring detail to the miniature when it gets painted, accentuating the flash line.

You want to clean that up by carefully removing the excess. A hobby knife can be sufficient but some care is needed. You want to avoid gouging into the figure cutting too much material from the model. With a deft touch you can gently scrape away any flash lines. Alternately for really tight sections or areas that have a curved surface, you will want to use sandpaper or an emery board.

Obviously for metal miniatures you can’t use sandpaper. So if frequently working with metal figures, you might want to invest in a precision needle file set. These can be bought at hardware stores and typically come in sets with files of different types. Aside from flat or triangular faces, these sets may also have rat tail files (circular files) which are great for those odd curved surfaces.

I also would invest in a brass wire brush. After using a file, you can gently brush along the teeth of the file head (make sure to match the angle and not go against the ‘grain’ of the file teeth). With plastic this isn’t an issue however with metal eventually you will ‘fill in’ the surface teeth of the file. Essentially making the file’s teeth no longer able to scrape away any material. Occasionally cleaning out any excess can keep those file edges in good form.

Depending on the amount of flash and intricacies of miniature pieces, you might want to assemble your mini first and then clean up the figure. Next post will cover points on glue and figure assembly. One last tip, save your bits. I typically cut all the excess pieces from a sprue and squirrel them away in a ziplock bag. You never know when you might want to do some kitbashing, need an extra weapon, or a particular angled arm or leg.

Painting Miniatures: Focus of series

I see a lot of people asking for help and information on painting miniatures, be it for those dipping their toe into wargames, or folks looking to add some bling to their board games. Honestly I’ve found most recommended sources offering advice that’s all over the place. To be fair miniature painting as a hobby can throw you down a geek rabbit hole.

You’ve got folks out there that focus on speed painting, cranking out tons of rank and file figures in the shortest time possible. You’ve got people presenting high end talent, geared towards those looking to get into competition class painting. You’ve got fans of airbrush painting. You’ve got military history folks talking about that elusive mixture to produce accurate dunkelgelb. Trying to wade through all that content as a painting neophyte can be daunting.

I’ve been into miniature wargaming for a while. I am not even close to a high skill, Golden Demon class type of painter (hats off to you, Ansel Elgort!). Nope. I’m pretty much at the ‘one foot rule’ skill level (looks good enough if you hold it 1 foot away). But I’ve been around the miniature painting block a bit and over the years picked up some tricks and tools of the hobby.

Throughout the next few months I’m going to put up a series of posts walking through the basics of miniature painting. First off, as any long time reader of my blog will know, I’ll be discussing how to paint up your figures to a tabletop standard. That is, figures looking decent enough to place on the game table. These will not be tutorials on techniques to produce phenomenal painted miniatures suitable for Games Workshop-type competitions.

It will however cover the basics and touch on what I call the ‘big three’ techniques of painting. Using these 3 painting techniques, you can produce some nice paint jobs. Nothing fancy, but enough to add some zing to those unpainted figures you might usually push around the tabletop. It will also go through every step of the process, from cutting plastic bits from the sprue (the ‘frame’ for plastic figures which are channels that plastic flows through when poured into a mold), to that final finish of matte spray. I hope folks find the information useful.