how to paint miniatures

How to Paint Miniatures for Cheap and With No Experience

In All by Zach Hillegas5 Comments

How to Paint Miniatures For Cheap With No Experience

unpainted group

So, you’ve got a cool new board game with some awesome miniatures! Look at them! They’re so beautiful! So detailed! But, there’s a problem. They’re bland and colorless. Wouldn’t they look so much better with color? Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to play with boring, monochrome statues that clash with the otherwise colorful, popping components? But even better, wouldn’t it be better if you knew how to paint miniatures?

Well, now you’ve got a dilemma. You want to paint your miniatures. You see that people online do it all the time! Oh, but wait, you’ve never done this before, and even worse, you’re broke.

Well, guess what? Turns out that none of those things are an issue. Just about anybody can paint miniatures, with enough time and patience. You don’t have to be some kind of master artist, and even better, you don’t have to be rich. By following this guide, you’ll be able to learn how to paint your own minis, and in a way that’s nice and affordable.

I myself was in the situation mentioned above when I received Imperial Assault as a Christmas present last year. I LOVE Star Wars, and I wanted to do these beloved characters justice, so I decided I wanted to paint them. I looked up tips and tricks and guides, but I found that most of them were done by experienced, elite painters who had obscene amounts of expensive “mini painting” gear. Many of these guides had startup costs of $75 or more, which is something I just couldn’t afford to spend. I didn’t feel like I needed my minis to look AS good as theirs, so I decided I’d do it on the cheap. At the end of the day, my minis ended up looking great, and they’ve held up extremely well. Take it from me that it is possible to have no experience and almost no money, and still produce some awesome results.

To help other people who are in the situation that I was once in, I’ve prepared this tutorial to help people to get started with their own painting. I hope it helps!

A Few Caveats
  • This tutorial is written solely from my own experience. I’m not a dedicated mini-painter, I just wanted my game to look good. Almost everything here was self-taught, and might even be appalling to veteran painters. To be honest, I have no idea how my techniques stack up to other peoples’. All I know is that these steps worked for me. If you’re okay with the way my minis look, then these steps can get you there. 
  • This guide is primarily designed as a means to an end, as opposed to an intro to the hobby of mini-painting. It’s targeted for people who don’t have money or experience, but have some games that they’d like to paint just for aesthetic reasons. If you’re looking to make miniature painting a long-term, invested hobby (e.g., Warhammer), you might want to check out guides from people who have a better idea of what they’re doing. This is an amateur tutorial, and I won’t claim that it’s something more.
  • Because this is a budget friendly guide, the materials used are cheap. Your minis WILL look better if you invest in better paints and supplies. Should you choose to do so, the steps in this guide will still apply for the actual painting, and your final product might look a little more refined.  
  • There’s no way around it–minis look way better in person than they do in photos. The miniatures in this guide are extremely tiny in reality, and the camera can bring out small imperfections that are hard to notice in real life. This is particularly true when it comes to the matte/gloss finish; it’s hard for photos to capture how good it actually looks when you’re holding it in person.

For this guide, I’ll be using Imperial Assault minis to show my process. Imperial Assault is a hot game right now, so it’s possible that many of you reading are doing so with the intent to paint this very game. If so, perfect! If not, most of these practices should still apply.

What You’ll Need

Primer

painting primer

This primer, and other similar products, can be found at Wal-Mart for under $4. You’ll want to make sure that it’s designed to bond with plastic.

What I used: Rustoleum Plastic Primer ($3-$4, Wal-Mart)

The first thing you’ll need is primer. When you work with paint, you’ll need it to bond to whatever you’re painting to. Depending on what kind of minis you’re painting, paints will bond on some materials better than others. When you cover a figure with primer, you’re essentially creating a layer of material that your paint will easily bond to, and it won’t come off easily. You can paint without primer, but it’s pretty much universally agreed upon that you should prime your figures. Just do it.

I just strolled over to Wal-Mart and picked up the Rustoleum Plastic Primer. You CAN buy “miniatures primer” which is designed for minis, if you feel like paying three to four times more for what is essentially the same thing. The stuff at Wal-Mart is made for plastic, so even if it’s intended for lawn chairs instead of miniatures, it’s still serving the same purpose.

You can buy primer in black or white. I myself used white, though it’s up to you. This primer is spray primer, so you’ll be spraying a base layer of it onto all of your minis. A white base layer is easy to work with; any color will paint easily onto it. A black layer is useful if you’re painting figures that are darker in nature, but I’ve found that, when using lighter colors, you have to use more layers over a black layer than you would with a white one. If you’re painting Stormtroopers, a white base layer will be good. If you’re painting an AT-ST, you might want black. In any case, either choice will work. If you so please, you can pick up both and use them at your disgression.

Paints

What I used: Craft & Barrel Acrylic Craft Paints ($.50 each, Wal-Mart)

apple barrel paints

I’ve painted all my minis with these $.50 Wal-Mart craft paints. You WILL get better quality if you pay for artists paints (make sure it’s a good brand though, or you might just end up with a more expensive version of this paint), but craft paints are perfectly viable if you’re working ona budget. All of my minis have been painted with these.

Paint. This is the big one. Allow me to go on a little rant here. There are plenty of paints that are designed for painting minis. The most famous brand would be Citadels Paints. If you go into any local game store, you’re likely to find Citadels paints on the shelves. The first thing you’ll notice is that they’re tiny, and that they cost $4-$5 each. This adds up, quickly. Buying the standard rainbow plus black and white will run you $30 minimum, and that’s not accounting for any other colors you might want.

Furthermore, I’ve seen more than enough painting guides that highly recommend Citadels paints, and then they go on to recommend that you buy every single shade that you want to use. Not all guides do this, but there are painters out there that DO NOT mix their paints. Buying every shade of every color you want could put you over $100, easily. You do not need to do this.

The thing is, acrylic paint is acrylic paint. Period. There are differences in quality as you pay upwards, but it ultimately all serves the same purpose and you can make it work. If you’re doubtful about what craft paint is capable of doing, just look at these miniatures and decide for yourself. These were all done with Wal-Mart craft paint. If you like what you see, then you’ll know that craft paint is perfectly acceptable. If not, well, just be prepared to spend more money.

minis group

All of these miniatures were painted with Wal-Mart craft paints.

Ultimately, I found that the tradeoffs in quality between craft acrylics/artists acrylics were more than worth the massive price reduction. Even if you don’t go Citadels, reliable artists paints such as Liquitex are a few bucks per bottle. Also, do not buy “artists paints” from a mass retailer like Wal-Mart. After using craft paint for awhile, I decided it was time to “upgrade” and I bought a set of “artists paints” from Wal-Mart. I had used my cousin’s Liquitex paint and I liked it, so I figured that, if it was labeled as an “artist paint,” it would produce similar results. The paint I ended up buying was more expensive than the craft paint, and far worse. It felt exactly the same in terms of texture, and didn’t bond well to my matte/gloss finish (more on that later), and ended up being a waste of money. If you don’t get craft paint, make sure the brand you’re buying is reliable.

There are a few differences worth mentioning. Craft paint, by nature, is much more thin and watery than artists acrylics. Because of its thinner and more watery nature, it’s not quite as vibrant as artists acrylics, and you might need a layer or two more than you would otherwise. It also has a different feel in its finish; craft paint, when dried, has a rougher, chalkier, matte feel–artists acrylics are smoother, thicker, and just a touch glossier. Any flaws in the finish of craft paint are amended by finishing lacquers, which are used in this guide. Honestly, if we were to paint the minis, and not put any kind of special finish on them, it would be hard to recommend craft paint. However, we WILL use finish, not only because it makes the mini look fantastic, but because it’s a necessary step that protects the paint from chipping or wearing off.

Craft paints are fifty cents each at Wal-Mart. THAT is cheap. The only colors I used were red, blue, yellow, green, brown, khaki, black, white, silver, and gold. That’s eight colors. Four dollars. The great thing is that, if you want more colors, then go for it! You can buy TWENTY colors, and still only be at $10. Even better, because the paints are so cheap, you can allow yourself to be liberal with them. Use as much as you want! Mix as much as you please! It only costs $.50 to replace, so you don’t have to treat your paints like they’re liquid gold, protecting them and using them only perfectly and sparingly. I loved the liberation of using cheap paints, because I didn’t have to worry about “wasting” anything. I feel like, if I had used more expensive paints, I would have been much more “safe” and conservative with my painting. Boring.

Finally, you can get gloss finishes with acrylic paints. I do not have very much experience with me. Actually, I needed a refill of white the other day painting Return to Hoth, so I cruised over to Wal-Mart and picked up some white, only realizing once I got home that I picked up “gloss white.” This stuff is thicker, and will give you a finish more similar to artists paints. For figures such as stormtroopers, it will help them to appear more shiny. Feel free to experiment with it!

Gloss/Matte Finish 

matt gloss

Currently, I’m using Vallejo Matt/Gloss Varnish, but I prefer Testors Dullcote/Glosscote, and I only ended up buying these when I ran out of the latter.

What I used: Vallejo Matt/Gloss Varnish ($4-$5 each), Testors Dullcote/Glosscote Lacquer ($4-$5 each)

This is one area where I decided to go less cheap. The finish makes the model. I can’t stop gazing at how beautiful my minis are every time I bring them onto the table, and it’s because of the finish. Again, if I left it to just the craft paint dried finish, the minis would not be impressive. It’s important to use finish, because it not only makes the mini look way better, but it also protects the paint from wearing off in the future. The latter reason is the most important reason to use finish; you’ll want a good, protective layer that will seal the paint onto the figure and protect it from wear and tear. What’s the point of painting, after all, if it’s all going to come off later?

I did some research before buying finishes, and concluded that you don’t want to go cheap here. Honestly, I don’t have experience with other brands. All I know is that I read comments from many people who used the wrong type of gloss or matte finish, and it ended up looking “cloudy” after drying. Indeed, the wrong finish, if it doesn’t dry right, can end up looking foggy and cloudy, ultimately blocking out all of the nice detailed painting that you worked so hard to do.

I decided to play it safe, and get a brand that had good reputation. I went to a local game store, and all they had was Testors Dullcote/Glosscote lacquers. It was highly recommended, so I bought both dullcote and glosscote (matte and gloss finish, respectively). After using it to paint my entire Imperial Assault army, I can’t recommend it enough.

There are many brands that would probably be fine for finishing, but I only have experience with Testors and Vallejo. I would recomment Testors before Vallejo. The vast majority of my figures were finished with Testors.

The other question here is spray-on or brush-on? I settled with brush-on lacquer. The reason I chose this was to make sure I had total control over the finish on my minis. Spraying sure sounds convenient and easy, and I’m sure it’s a viable option with the right stuff, but I’ve only ever brushed. The other great thing about brush-on is that you can combine matte and gloss finishes to make certain parts of the mini stand out.

boba fett

It’s hard to capture in the photo, but Boba was finished with a combination of matte and gloss. When it’s moved around in person, the cloth elements of his outfit remain plain, while light reflects off his helmet, armor, gun, and jetpack. It’s very satisfying to see this effect on your minis in real life.

Take, for example, my Boba Fett mini. I put a matte base layer on him to protect the paint, but then I put glossy coat on all of the “shiny” parts. Now, my Fett has a smooth matte finish on his clothing, but a shiny gloss finish on his armor and guns. This looks exceptionally amazing in person; the light reflects off all the places where it would in real life, and it makes the minis look all the more cooler. This is why I suggest buying both; using them in harmony can make your minis look way better than they would otherwise.

It seems like every store I go to has different options for finishes. I found mine at a store, but the Testors finishes I used can be found on Amazon, right here. Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to pick up some Lacquer thinner. The finishing materials are very thick and will basically ruin your brush unless you use thinner to clean it out; lacquer doesn’t come out with water. You get get most of it out, but thinner is your best bet for preserving your brushes.

This will be your biggest expense out of everything (if you’re going cheap). To get a pack of Testors Dullcote, Glosscote, AND thinner (click these links to check them out on Amazon), you’ll be paying about $10 total. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to pay shipping should you buy them online.

Testors is not your only option. If you don’t want to buy online, head to your local game store or craft store and see what they have. Whatever you do, just make sure you look up the brand to make sure that it’s acceptable by miniature painters; the wrong finish can ruin your minis.

Brushes

brushes

These all came from a basic brush pack at Wal-Mart. My brushes are looking a little worse for the wear, so it will soon be time to replace them. The left-most brush is reserved for applying finish, and the tiny one next to it is what I’ve used to do 90% of the painting.

What I used: Wal-Mart Brush Pack ($3-$5)

I didn’t find that you need any kind of super high quality brushes. In my opinion, the best best is to just buy one of those brush packs that you’ll find in the painting aisle of Wal-Mart. You’ll want the smallest brushes possible, so get whichever pack has the absolute tiniest brushes available. While I use a couple of different brushes, 90% of my painting is done with my smallest brush.

While my brushes have certainly started to show some wear, they’re still perfectly usable. Brushes are relatively cheap, and they will last you a long time. If you buy a pack of them, it should keep you happy for a while.

Miscellaneous Supplies

misc supplies

Here’s my palette, along with some napkins and toothpicks. Paper plates are my go-to solution for palettes. I’ll use one pretty heavily before I swap it out–this one will likely be replaced soon.

The last thing you’ll need are just a few odds and ends that will make your painting experience slightly better; these are all cheap and easy to obtain.

A palette

You’ll have to use something as a palette. I generally use a paper plate, but most anything will do. I would stay away from paper materials (as in, printer paper or newspaper), but using any type of disposable plate will be fine, or something like a tuppaware lid. Despite your variety, my highest recommendation is a disposable plate. Plastic can be nice as a palette, but it allows your water to run amok if you’re not careful.

Napkins/Tissues/Paper Towels

You’ll basically just want something that you can wipe your brush off with to dry it off. You’ll be using water a lot, so you’ll often have a wet brush. Have something nearby that can get the water off your brush.

Toothpicks

Why toothpicks, you ask! Great question! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen this recommended by anyone besides myself, but I picked up a habit of using toothpicks for select circumstances that require immaculate precision. I’ll talk more about toothpicks later, but it suffices to say that they’re incredibly useful. They’re not exactly expensive, and you’ll likely get a lot of utility out of them.

Supply Rundown
  • Spray-on plastic primer (~$4)
  • Craft paints (~$5-$15, depending on brand and amount of colors chosen)
  • Brush pack (~$4)
  • Matte/Gloss Finish (~$10)
  • Toothpics/Palette/Napkins (~$1-$4)

Preparing to Paint

Okay, so you’ve finally got your stuff! One of the most important steps is now out of the way. Time to start painting. For this guide, I’ll be painting an Imperial Snowtrooper as a “live” example. Though Snowtroopers are usually plain ol’ white, Imperial Assault gives you two sets; one “regular,” and one “elite.” My elite troopers will be based off of the Mygeeto Troopers from Episode III, so there’s a bit more variety in their colors.

Step 1: Prime Your Figures

primed

Here’s my primed Snowtrooper ready to go. Once your whole figure is covered and dried, it’s time to start painting. One tip of advice: Don’t substitute the primed base layer (whether it be black or white) for actual paint. Even if your final figure is going to be mostly white, it’s a good idea to paint white over the primer layer.

The first thing you want to do is prime your figures. Assuming you’re using spray primer like I recommended above, this is very easy. Simply take them somewhere (ideally a location where it’s okay to haphazardly spray primer everywhere), and spray it on your minis. Spray from a distance; too much primer in one spot can accumulate and wash out the finer details of the mini’s mold.

I generally spray four to five minis at once. Also, it’s not enough to spray in front and behind–you’ll find that several parts of the mini, such as underneath their arms, might be missed. Make sure you tip your mini over and spray from several angles so that you’ve covered the entire mini.

After they’ve been sprayed, leave them out to dry for a little bit. In my experience, you don’t have to wait very long. Ten or fifteen minutes is often enough, but it’s up to you.

Step 2: Come Up With a Plan

Mygeeto Troops

The figure I’m painting corresponds to the “elite” group of Snowtroopers, so I decided to use the Mygeeto Trooper design from Episode III. This is a useful picture because it shows the color scheme from all angles. (Credit goes to sandtroopers.com for the picture)

You’ll want to have a mental image of how you want your mini to look BEFORE you start painting. The reason this is important is that it’s best to paint the “regions” of the mini in a certain order, so you’ll want to make sure you have a plan. If you have a reference picture, find it and put it on display. Also, by creating a plan, you’ll be able to take a look at your paints and determine if you have all the colors you need, and so on.

Painting the Figure

Note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive, how-to, step-by-step guide. I’m outlining my process here, but these are meant to be treated first and foremost as guidelines. It’s impossible to teach exactly how to paint every mini perfectly, and will mostly come down to what you learn doing it yourself. The following steps will give you a good idea of where to start. If it feels right to deviate from what I’ve mentioned, don’t be afraid to try it!

THIN YOUR PAINTS

thin paints

When you thin your paints, it allows the paint to seep into the details of the mini, instead of covering them up. With thicker paint, Chewbacca’s fur texture and/or the Trandoshan’s scaly skin could potentially be obscured once the paint dries and clumps together.

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN THIS ENTIRE GUIDE. FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, DON’T SKIP THIS PART.

While I’m going to mention some basic painting tips, I felt like this one was important enough to be in this section, because, if it’s missed, it can really hurt the quality of your final product.

It’s incredibly important to thin your paints. This is done by adding water, which will water it down (obviously), and make the paint thinner, runnier, and more opaque. You’ll want to add the water to your palette, mixing it in with whatever paint pool you’ve made for the color you’re using. By painting with thinner paint, you’ll preserve the details on the mini’s mold. Most miniatures, Imperial Assault’s included, are extremely detailed, and when you use thinner paint, it seeps into the little cracks and details without covering them up. Thick paint, once dried, can clump and cover up the fine details of the mini.

Furthermore, it’s easy to spot the inconsistencies in dried, thick paint. Brush strokes are more visibly audible, and you can often tell how much paint was used, and when. You might only need one layer with thick paint, but that one layer will look a whole lot worse than it would have with thin paint. You’ll have to paint a few layers with thin paint, but it will have a smooth, consistent feel that doesn’t block out the details on the mini. This is what you want.

There are various degrees of thinned paint. For your first layers, it’s not a bad idea to use something that’s pretty watery. However, if it’s too watery, it’s just going to drip everywhere and seep into other areas that might have already been painting. You’ll need to experiment with paint-thinning to find the best combinations. I generally use a pretty thin base layer, and then move up to a slightly thicker version to add some real pigment. The easiest way to know if your paint is too thick is to imagine how the model would look if the current paint on top of it was dried. If the fine details in the mold are obscured or clotted up by your undried paint, they will undoubtedly look the same with dried paint.

If you realize your paint is too thick, start brushing at it with a really watery brush and you’ll be able to move it around or remove it before it dries. Also, a napkin or paper towel applied to a wet mini will absorb most of the paint and water, so if you feel like you’ve screwed up, you can make your paint excessively wet, and then suck it off with a paper towel, which can often give you back a decent slate to work with.

“Block in” your background colors first

first layer

I decided that the legs should be one of the first things I paint. Notice how it’s not very dark right now–I used thin paint, and I’ll want to add a couple more layers later.

It’s all about layers. Not layers of paint, but layers of the actual mini. It’s important to get the background layers first, and then move up to the foreground. This is a practice that’s followed when you paint pretty much anything, be it a canvas or a mini–the background comes first. In a canvas, it’s much easier to paint the background colors, and then your subjects on top of it, rather than painting the subject first and then precisely brushing around all of its edges to fill in the “background.” The same principle applies in minis. If there are layers “on top” of other layers, it’s best to cover the lower ones first. It’s usually easier to paint on top of an existing layer than to paint underneath and around it without making a mess. Also, don’t be afraid to “block over” certain regions when you’re going to paint over them later. For example, if you’ve got a character with a utility belt going across their chests, or gear hanging off their belts, it’s easier to just paint over it to spare you the time of meticulously painting around it. Take this Echo Base Trooper, for example. He’s got this gun belt around his leg, but it was easier to just paint over it, and I’ll cover those details later when I actually paint the gun. For most minis, you can “block in” the general colors, and then paint over them more precisely when you’re covering the small details.

There’s no defined order in which you should paint each region of every mini, but it’s best to paint in such a way where you won’t have to re-do certain areas. In other words, if you paint the wrong regions first, you’ll probably get them messy when you’re painting adjacent areas, which will require you to go back and re-paint. I can’t tell you how to paint every mini, but this is something you’ll learn through experience.

base layers

Here’s whatg our trooper looks like after I”ve finished all the rough base layers. Now it’s time to get more detailed. You’ll make mistakes when you paint–notice how I thought painting the legs first would be a good idea, and then I ended up getting red on them from painting the underside of the cape. Oh well.

Cover the finer details once your base colors have been painted

details

After you’ve got your base layers, it’s time to get a little more precise–this is the time to start painting the little details that require more precision, such as this trooper’s belt.

Now that you have your base layers established, it’s time to start covering the finer details. This is where you need to be really precise, so use your smallest brush for this. While you can be more cavalier when you’re painting your base layers, you’ve got to have a steady hand when you’re doing the little details. In the case of our Snowtrooper, one of the “smaller details” I’ll focus on is his utility belt. I found it’d be easier to paint over it in the first layer to get all my red in, so now I have to paint back over it in my cream color without painting back over the red. There’s no easy way to cover exactly how you should paint small details every time, so I’ll just throw out some general tips:

-Slim down the paint on your brush:

You’ll want to use your tiniest brush for detail painting, but you’ll find that paint “blobs” together when you put it on your brush. Even if it doesn’t seem like you’re putting a lot on your brush, looks can be deceiving. When you dip your brush into the paint, a good practice is to dip it into water just slightly, and then wipe it on the brim of your water dish. Make sure some of the paint is still in your brush, and then apply it to your mini. If you don’t wipe anything off, you might have an unexpectedly large blob of paint when you make contact with the mini.

-Toothpicks can be useful:

tusken toothpicks

Toothpicks can be great for small metallic details, such as the buttons on this Tusken Raider’s belt, or the features on his mask.

For really tiny spots, it can be helpful to take a toothpick and touch on areas that you’re having a hard time getting with a brush. I want to warn you though, the toothpick can deceive you. Just like a brush, paint “blobs” on to the toothpick quite easily, and you’ll likely get a lot more paint when you bargained for, even when you’re using a measly toothpick. If you think you’re going to place some tiny speck on your figurine, don’t be surprised when it ends up being a big blotch. Once again, make sure you get only a trace amount of paint, and then apply the toothpick. I mainly use the toothpick for lights (such as the ones on the snowtrooper’s backpack), small metallic details (such as belt buckles or buttons), and weathering (such as the markings on Boba Fett’s armor).

-Be patient:

This is really the biggest tip I’ve got in this department. You just have to be patient. You WILL make mistakes, and that’s okay. Paint over those mistakes, and keep learning. You’ll find out with experience how best to use your brush, and when you like to use your toothpick. You’ll find out how much paint is too much, and how much you’ll need to water it down. Just keep trying, keep painting, and you’ll figure it out.

To save yourself some trouble, choose the less detailed minis first, and then work up to the more complicated ones. For Imperial Assault, this means skip the stormtroopers and paint, say, the Imperial Guards first.

four-detail

Here’s the figure from all angles after the detail paint. Once you’ve done this, you’ve done most of the heavy lifting–the rest is finishing touches.

Shading the figure

shaded

Our trooper with some shading. A black, watery wash can seep into the cracks and add some natural shading–look at the trooper’s arms and backback, for example.

Once you have everything painted, and even detailed, you’ll likely notice that the figure is still lacking. Don’t worry! It’s supposed to be that way. Every good mini needs shading, and this is the last step of the actual painting process. Your mini will have a lot of cracks and creases and details that are basically impossible to paint by hand, and the mini will look bland if you can’t find a way to fill them.

If you try to hand paint all of the shading, you’ll probably have a bad time. I experimented a lot with shading, and I eventually found a way that works for me, and it’s really easy to implement.

This is my own personal method, and it’s worked for me. Once again, it’s not necessarily the best way, but it’s easy, it looks good, and it works. 

Put some black paint on your palette, and wash it down with LOTS of water. You’re going to want this paint to be extremely watered down, arguably more water than paint. Get some on your paint, and then touch it (touch, not brush) lightly on the area you want to shade. You’ll find that the water will instantly seep into all the little cracks on the figure, which will eventually dry and give the figures a weathered, shaded look. Once again, this will take some practice before you’ve got it down perfectly. Just keep working at it, and you’ll start figuring out how to make it work. This is the shading technique I’ve used on each and every one of my figures. Just add some wet water, and let it seep into the cracks. If it’s too much, apply a paper towel and it’ll absorb most of it away. If it’s too little, just add some more black paint into the mix and you’ll get more visible results. The good thing is that, if you do this wrong, it’s relatively easy to correct.

I’ve found that the “water shading” technique works on every surface of the figure. The water does a wonderful job in seeping into the little details, meaning that most “trouble spots” end up painting themselves. Once again, we can find an example of this in our Snowtrooper. It’s difficult, even with a toothpick or a tiny brush, to fill in those eye sockets just right. When I used the black wash, the eyes just kind of just filled themselves in.

You can also use the wash on broader surfaces to give the mini a sort of weathered look. On the snowtrooper, as well as Loku Kanoloa here, washing their capes with the black water ended up leaving some unpredictable spots on the surface. Additionally, most of the water dripped down and accumulated at the bottom of the capes, which ended up giving the capes a “worn” feel, as if their rims had become dirty from constant contact with the ground. Ultimately, this ends up making the mini feel a lot more realistic.

This, quite honestly, is the only reliable shading method I know, and the only one I have patience for. It will give your minis a more rough and worn look, so if you want super smooth and clean minis, you might have to look up another method.

four-shaded

The shaded mini from four angles. The white specks are from the camera flash. Using the black wash makes your figures look a bit “dirtier.” Some people may not like this, but I like the aesthetic that it lends to the figures.

Finishing the Mini

finished

A finished trooper next to an unfinished one. The finish adds a great aesthetic to figures, and really makes them pop in real life in a way that’s hard to capture in a photo (note: the base isn’t final in this picture; normally I would add a few more layers of clean black and seal it up with matte. Also, forgive the fleck of dust on the finished trooper’s cape. Whoops).

Alright, so you’ve got all the painting done. You’re now ready for the final step: finishing the minis. This is where your matte and gloss finish is going to come into play. This is generally how I’ve finished my figures:

1. Coat the entire figure in a layer of matte finish

2. Apply gloss finish to anything that would be reflective or shiny

3. Reapply another layer matte finish to the areas you didn’t gloss

By following this process, you’ll apply finish in such a way that does justice to the image of the mini, AND you’re able to apply two layers of finish, which is a practice that’s generally recommended. Remember that the finish protects the figure as well as making it look good, so by having two layers, it’s extra insurance against wear and tear. Here are a few tips for applying finish:

Be gentle

The finish I use is brush-on. It’s mostly self-explanatory, but there are a few caveats. First of all, be gentle when applying finish. Sometimes, when you brush too hard, the finish will bind with the paint and then wipe it clean off, even if it’s dry. Applying finish when the paint is completely dry is important, because you’re less likely to run into this issue. Nevertheless, it might happen, so be careful. I often douse my brush in finish, touch it to the figure, and let it seep in, similar to the way I apply my black wash for shading.

To be honest, I’m not sure what causes the paint to rub off. It’s happened sporadically in my painting. Sometimes I can finish twenty figures and it never happens, and then occasionally I won’t be able to so much as touch the figure without the paint coming clean off. If this really becomes a problem, I would suggest adding some more layers, and ensuring that the figure is completely dried.

Use a separate brush for finishing, use thinner if possible.

Lacquer/Varnish is really thick and oozy, and it’ll leave its mark on your brush. Even after washing it extensively, you’ll find your brush bristles more stiff and sticky than they were before. One way to avoid this is to use thinner, which you’ll have to buy seperately. Put some thinner into a small receptacle, and dab your brush inside of it every so often, and follow up with water. Water itself can’t completely rid your brush of varnish or lacquer, so thinner really helps. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have thinner, because if you apply enough water, the brush can still be usable, but it will be more stiff than you’re used to. Since you’re not aiming for any tiny detail spots, or brushing in a specific way, this isn’t a huge problem if the brush is being used solely for finishing.

Don’t let too much of it accumulate in one place

Lacquer and varnish finishes are thick, and they seal to form a protective layer. It’s obvious, then, that if a bunch of it is in one place, that it will bind together all the same. If you’re not careful, you can have too much of it in one place, and it might cloud up and cover up the nice colors you worked so hard to paint. Just like I warned you to keep your paints thin, make sure that your finishing layer also isn’t too thick. Too much of it can wash out the mini’s details.

finished

Voila! One bona fide, painted mini. All I have to do now is put a couple more black layers on the base, and this trooper will be ready to go into battle.

Congratulations! You’ve just painted your first mini! Hopefully, by following these guidelines, you’re able to create something that you, personally, can be happy with. In the end of the day, our own standard of quality is all that matters when it comes to miniature painting. You don’t have to be extremely experienced, or oozing with money to paint some awesome minis–you just have to have a vision, and some time to spare.


What did you think of this tutorial? Got any tips or tricks you’d like to add? Chime in in the comment section! Happy painting!


About the Author

Zach Hillegas

Zach is an avid tabletop gamer, and he created Board Game Resource out of his love for the hobby, and his desire to see more people come into it. When he's not writing for or managing BGR, Zach might be hanging out with cats, hiking a mountain, or spending time with his lovely wife. Zach is currently studying for a degree in Business Management. Zach has also enjoys creating digital character art. You can check out his gallery here!

Comments

  1. That is very nice post on doing this. The mini’s do look good and amazed by the craft paint being used. I use vallejo and reaper from miniaturemarket.com which runs 2.45 to 2.47. I have used some apple barrel paint on the mini’s also. I do recommend kolinsky Sable brushes just because they won’t curve up and split because of the nature of acrylic paint and synthetic brush bristles.

    I also recommend a visor magnifier to help with the painting of such small mini’s.

  2. Hey I saw your post on reddit but can no longer find it. I followed uour guide and painted my AT-ST. My first painted miniature ever!

  3. Very Nice tutorial.
    You commented on paint not sticking properly occasionally.
    Sometimes the problem can be traced to skin oils. I make it a habit to always wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water before starting a painting session and to either place the subject on a “handle”, usually a piece of cardboard cut to a convenient shape and stuck on with a piece of tape [double sided works best but blue painters tape also works], or handle it only by the edges of the base.
    Another tip “wet water”. Add a drop of detergent to your water container and it will reduce the surface tension of the water. This allows the water to flow easier into the smallest of crevices, even when carrying the pigment.

  4. Awesome guide. I found the same 50 cent paints you presumably used, and they worked quite well for me. The best advice was definitely in regards to watering down the paints, both for regular use and for shading. It took some practice to find the right mixture for each, but the end results are awesome. One of my minis had a magic “fireball” effect shooting out of the hand, which threatened to look really bland and cartoony. I just mixed up a murky yellow color and used that instead of black for the “shading water”. The results were really good. Similarly, using a yellow base layer and then well-watered red over top provided a subtle effect reminiscent of “candy” paint jobs on cars. I wouldn’t have thought to water down paint so much, but it would have been impossible to work with them in their original consistency. Lastly, your step-by-step pictures gave me hope. A mini with just the first layer or two looks pretty terrible, and it’s hard to believe at a glance that it will get that much better. Knowing that yours started out looking bland helped me to power through and trust that the end result would be as detailed as I imagined. A+.

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