A “Primer” on Miniature Painting – Part 1

Pandoracon will be a place for many kinds of geek related activities, and one of those activities will of course be tabletop gaming. Tabletop gaming often includes the use of miniatures to represent your role playing character. Often times the entire game is based on the use of miniatures. Games such as BattleTech, Warhammer or Warhammer 40K, Malifaux, Warmachine, or my favorite game: Space Hulk. Everyone knows that these games are more enjoyable when your miniature is painted right? I mean sure, the game can still be FUN without painted minis, but why not turn your game into an art exhibit too? This blog series is going to provide you with info on the basic techniques and some hints and tips of miniature painting, and perhaps a few more advanced techniques will come along later. I’ve been painting miniatures and models since 1982, but I am FAR from an expert. Compared to some of the work I’ve seen online these days, I’m an amateur, but I have won a few painting contests, and years ago I sold my work at conventions. This is the basis I use for me being able to give you, the layman, some hints and tips. Because my time and space is limited, this week I’ll just be giving you the list of what you will need to start painting. You’ll need to wait till Part 2 when I will jump into the basic painting technique you’ll want to know to make you miniatures look shaded and/or weathered, which is the core of a well painted miniature.

What you will need:

Primer Every miniature, regardless of whether it’s made of metal or plastic, needs to be primed before you paint it. Priming ensures that the paint sticks and doesn’t flake off after drying and provides for a smooth consistent surface to paint on. Primer can be brushed on, but most often artists/modelers will use spray primer. You don’t NEED to buy a can of spray “primer” though, any matte or flat neutral color spray paint will do. Primer is usually white, gray or black, but it doesn’t have to be. “Camouflage” spray paint is quite popular as a miniature primer. If you don’t have a garage or basement in which to spray your primer, you can use a large box as a “spray booth”. Always make sure you have adequate ventilation, but I would suggest NOT spraying outside. Changing pressures, humidity and temperature can mess with spray paint consistency and can ruin a primer coat.

Acrylic miniature/artist paint: There is great debate amongst miniature painters over which brand of paint is best for miniature painting, but I won’t get into it, I’ll just offer you some brand names to search for from those brands I have used in the past:

  • Floquil Polly S paints (A Testors brand). Floquil have been around a long while and were the first paints I used, but I moved beyond them as new brands came available.
  • Citadel paints, the signature paint of Games Workshop is a good brand as well. Their latest series of paints has several types and styles, intended for specific purposes, so make sure you ask your hobby center staff before you buy anything, to be sure you get the right kind.
  • Reaper Master Series are quite popular these days, and I’ve used a couple of their colors and they work well as they are, and they work very well when thinned too.
  • Vallejo Game Color is my personal favorite right now. They cover quite well, and when thinned they make for great blending and layering. They can be used to create good washes and work very well as dry brush medium. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain what all that means in later paragraphs)

You may be able to find starter sets of paints, either put together by the manufacturer, or perhaps put together by your local hobby shop/game store. Otherwise a good basic set of paints would have at least: Black, White, Silver metallic, Gold metallic, blue, green, red (yay for primary colors) and of course brown, flesh(skin) and yellow. There are of course MANY more colors to choose from, but with a little knowledge of color theory, you should be able to get any color/shade you want by mixing these main colors.

Brushes You really only NEED four brushes. A very fine point round brush for painting fine details like eyes, buttons or fine lines. A small round brush for base coating and applying “washes” or “glazes”. A slightly larger wide flat brush for dry brushing small areas, then a much larger wide flat brush for dry brushing large areas. Understand that even the largest brush you need is quite small. As an example, here are my favorite brushes. Windsor & Newton Series 7 pointed round from Dick Blick art supplies . You don’t need brushes this expensive, but this kind and style are what you should look for at your local art/hobby/craft store

A Hobby Knife and a Hobby File: Most miniatures don’t come in pristine condition, and many may come in pieces that need to be assembled. Whether they are plastic or metal, this means you’ll need to be able to cut them out of sprues or trim off excess flash (flash is that bit of extra material that slips out of the mold leaving a line or flat leaf hanging off the model).

Glues: No that’s not a typo, you don’t just need glue, you need several kinds of glue. The 4 most commonly needed glues for miniature and model building are:

  • Cyanoacrylate Glue (Super Glue): Best used for attaching arms, legs and heads to metal miniatures, but has its other uses as well. Comes in many kinds and brands. I prefer the gel type cause it doesn’t run all over and stick your fingers to your desk.
  • 5 Minute 2 Part Epoxy: Best glue to use when gluing larger non plastic pieces together. More complicated to use and slower to dry, (just five minutes) but it can hold stronger than super glue and can be used to fill gaps.
  • Plastic Model Glue: There are many styles and brands of glue used for assembling plastic models, and much debate over which is best. Ask your hobby store dealer about that mess or just pick one and try it. I like liquid over gel but that could just be me.
  • White/Wood Glue (Elmers): There are many brands, but we all call them Elmers glue don’t we? My primary use for white glue is in “basing” models. This means making textured ground material on the base of your miniature so it looks like the character is standing somewhere natural, rather than just on a flat surface.

There are of course many other supplies that one collects when you’ve been doing this for a while, but the supplies listed above are the basics.

Stay tuned for the next episode, where I’ll cover priming, undercoating and perhaps delve into washes and dry brushing.


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