Instructables
Hello there! First I'd like to start off by saying that this is my first instructable and any and all comments would be appreciated!

Are you a budding adventurer or an established one that can't find a mini that represents your character? Are you a DM looking for the perfect mini to represent that incredible boss monster you just came up with? Not a problem! Follow this guide and you'll be on your way to bringing your characters/monsters to life at a tiny scale!

I'm not a professional sculptor and I have no art training so this guide is written from experience and practice so there are probably better ways of doing many of the things I do in the guide, feel free to suggest them!
 
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Step 1: Materials

There are many materials you can use to make miniatures, the most famous is the notoriously expensive "Green Stuff". I opt for the much less expensive sculpey which has many more uses than Green Stuff, but unfortunately makes a slightly more brittle mini so you'll need to be careful with them when you're using them. Anyways... on to the list!

-An Idea: This can be in the form of a written description by a player, your imagination, a drawing, etc.

-Super Sculpey: I use a combination of regular (beige) super sculpey and the firm (grey) variety. They'll each cost you about 20 bucks at a hobby shop so if you're on a very tight budget you may just want to use one of them. Each kind has its pros and cons. The regular kind is extremely soft and sticky when compared to its firm counterpart which can be great when making parts of a mini that are thin or added on later such as cloth, pouches, etc. On the other hand, it also has the problem that it is much more difficult to smoothe out at small scales. The grey kind is great because it's much more rigid while you're sculpting and can make sharp and smoothe edges with ease. Unfortunately it doesn't stick very well to the rest of your clay. Sometimes I even opt to mix the two clays together for an intermediate consistency, which may give you the best of both worlds in some cases or the issues of both depending on what you're making. On a side-note, You can make a lot of minis with a single block of super sculpey. I have yet to go through half a block and I've made nearly a dozen.

-Wire for armature: I use two different kinds of wire for minis that I simply happened to have on hand when I started making them. The first is a thick (1mm diameter) steel wire and the second is extremely easy to find "twist tie" wire. Every household has twist ties lying around, if you remove the plastic (or sometimes paper) layer around them, you have a handy and bendy wire!

-Pliers: Even if you're only using twist tie wire, two pairs of needlenose pliers make it much easier to bend the wire as you want it. Fingers are often too big for small bends for arms and legs.

-Sculpting tools: Because you'll be making something extremely small, regular sculpting tools aren't always the most functional. I've been told that dentistry tools are pretty useful, but I opted to make my own tool at a fraction of the cost. All you need is wood branch, a needle, a flattened out paper clip and some epoxy and tadaa! You have an excellent tool.

-An oven: I use a toaster oven to conserve energy. All it needs to do is go to 130 Celcius (275F) and be at least a few inches tall.

-Acrylic paint: The paint needs to be acrylic if you're painting super sculpey. Oil based paints will seep into the clay and make it even more brittle or even make it dissolve. Because I like to have a variety of colours I mainly use the primary colours and black and white and mix them to whatever colour I need at the time. I also have a few other paints on hand such as silver because it would be impossible to mix that.

-Small paintbrushes: You can buy a tiny paintbrush for a couple of dollars at most art stores. I bought a few different kinds to find out which kinds I prefer, So far the cheapest nylon brush I could find is the best for me.

-A flat, well-lit workspace: I use my desk and a fluorescent light. If you have an incandescent lightbulb, keep it far away from the clay. Because this project can take a lot of time, the lightbulb's heat can make your creation melt and sag so a fluorescent bulb (or if you're fancy an LED bulb) that generates little heat is optimal for use with polymer clay.

-Magnifying Glasses: I have tried a couple of different ways to magnify the minis as I make them. First I tried making an articulated stand for a dollar store magnifying glass, it's somewhat useful, but It'd need many more articulations to be perfect. Next I tried a magnifying headset. It's also somewhat useful, but kind of uncomfortable. These items can be useful for you to detect imperfections that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

-Time, patience and practice: I've made about 10-12 minis so far using the methods I'm about to describe and I feel that I learn something new with each one. They can be extremely time consuming to make at times or extremely fast to make depending on your level of inspiration, concentration and skill. My first mini took about 13 hours to make, but I am now able to make them in under 6 hours. My advice is to take your time and stop if you get frustrated. Skill takes practice to develop. I feel that I'm getting better at making minis, but that doesn't stop me from producing something sub-par every now and then.

(Optional) Sandpaper: More on this in step 6.

Step 2: Making a Base

The first thing I do when I make a mini is make a base. The typical D&D mini has a base 1inch in diameter. Larger monsters have a base that is a multiple of that such that it fits on a grid with 1x1inch squares.

1. Pick up a piece of sculpey: The firm variety is the best for bases because it's easy to smoothe out after you've scratched it during the sculpting phases.

2. Work it until it's softer and then roll it out to a couple of milimeters in thickness,

3. Use something that's 1 inch in diameter as a guide for the size. I used to use a Canadian 25 cent coin, but now I use pill box with a hole in the base.

4. Cut off the excess clay and smoothe out the edges: Flipping it over before smoothing is often helpful.

Step 3: Make the Armature

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1. I usually begin this step by cutting a piece of the thicker wire to a reasonable size for a 3cm tall mini (a little more than 5cm long). More is better than less because you can cut off the excess

2. Use the two pliers to bend the wire to the desired shape of half the body. What I mean by this is, bend the wire such that you get a leg, the torso and an arm out of it. This is the most important part of the mini because it acts as the main skeleton. The thinner wire can then be attached to the thicker wire to make the other arm, leg and weapon if need be.

3. Strip a twist tie: Scrape it a bit with the pliers and it should remove the plastic or paper that's immediately above the wire, you should then be able to grab the wire and rip it out of the rest.

4. Twist the wire into the desired shape using pliers. You may want to wrap it around the torso a few times to secure it.

5. Pose the armature.

You'll notice that I didn't make anything for the head. I usually just make the head out of regular super sculpey so it binds without a problem and doesn't really need the armature to be secured.

Step 4: Start Sculpting!

Here's where you start to get creative! It's time to sculpt!

1. Start by putting some sculpey at the joints and torso to secure the wire in place. Regular super sculpey works best here, but you can do it with the firm one as well.

2. Move on to coating the rest of the wire with as thin or thick of a layer of clay as necessary for your mini.

3. Start shaping the clay with your tools: Flatten it with the flat side of the tool and smoothe it with the needle. You can also work in details using the sharper edges.

4. Add clothing, armor, etc. I tend to do this by working the armor and clothing in my hands and then slowly working the edges into the rest of the clay using the flat edge of the tool. This works best when combining two pieces that are made of regular sculpey or one of each. Firm sculpey is much more difficult and you cand use regular sculpey as a binding agent between them and over the edges since you'll be painting it after anyways you don't really have to worry about the difference in material or colour, once they're baked and painted, it'll should be pretty seamless.

5. Make one last check before baking that the wire is all at least under a bit of clay. It can often still be seen through regular sculpey because of its slight transparency and you can still cover the wire with paint, but it's best to keep it as centered as possible in the clay.

Step 5: Bake and Wait!

Preheat your oven to 130C or 275F and put the mini in the oven on a plate for 15 minutes. Make sure it's not a plastic or metal plate because it'll either melt, catch fire or transmit too much heat to the clay. Once this is done, set the plate out to cool. Another 15 minutes should be ample time.

Sometimes my clay gets a bit burnt in the oven due to the fact that I use a small toaster oven. A bit of browning doesn't seem to be anything to worry about, but keep an eye out if you're putting a bigger mini in a smaller oven.

Step 6: Sanding! (Optional)

Picture of Sanding! (Optional)
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Sometimes I feel that a bit of sanding is required once the mini is out of the oven. I use #400 metal sanding paper to do it. It works especially well for regular super sculpey because it's hard to smoothe it out before baking and hard to see the imperfections before baking.

Sanding can leave little bits of dry sculpy or dust on your mini, so it's a good idea to brush it off once you're done.

Step 7: Painting!

Picture of Painting!
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I'm no pro at painting so I don't really have many tips for this section, but here they are anyways:

1. Base coats can be useful: If your mini is going to be mostly lighter coloured, I strongly suggest to do a base coat of white, especially if you sculpted it mostly out of grey sculpey. This will allow you to put less coats of paint and make forgotten areas look more acceptable. If your mini is mostly darker colours, you can paint it black for the same effect.

2. I usually start by painting the base black. This isn't necessary if you want to make a more elaborate base, but it helps me figure out the edges of the sculpture and the base while painting. By the end there are all kinds of colours splashed on the base which are then easy to cover up with a final coat of black.

3. if you notice holes in your sculpture due to bubbles bursting during baking or something (this rarely happens, but I've seen it before), you can fill the hole with the paint. Since it dries up leaving a rubber film, it'll often even out imperfections if you put globs of paint on them.

4. Many details you sculpted can be made clearer and more obvious by using paint properly. In the mini I was making in the pictures, I felt that the loincloth wasn't obvious enough and could lead to confusion. Lining it with a red border made it much more obvious and delimited it nicely. Similarly, adding silver buttons to the many pouches on the mini makes them stick out.

Step 8: Make More!

If you enjoyed making your mini, make more! I've made some for all the other members of my D&D group including their new characters after they died and alternate versions of my character who was recently zombified and a flaming sphere. Here are a few with the hopes that they inspire some of you!
purecajn1 month ago

Why not just use the Canadian Quarter as the base.

GreatAssGoblin (author)  purecajn19 days ago
I've been away a while it seems. In case you're still curious, I didn't use the quarter as a base because I find that it doesn't look 'finished'. Also, after seeing a friend of mine attempt it, I noticed that the sculpy doesn't stick rights and is brittle. this may have to do with the heat transmission.
snozzle18 months ago
nice job man I make a lot of
miniatures myself yours Instructable is inspiring
mharvey22 years ago
Loving this instructable! I have taken your advice and I am currently waiting on some Super Sculpey to arrive, but in the meantime I have been doing some practise pieces with cruddy dollar store, air-dry clay I had around. I am slowly better understanding the logistics to the armature and making the positions look right. I will post pictures of completed successes!
GreatAssGoblin (author)  mharvey21 year ago
Thanks for your comment, I look forward to seeing the results!
I've been working on making minis for all of the PCs of my current campaign - 6 of us! A big undertaking, hahah. So far I have 3 fully painted; 2 more are nearly done, and one is primed. They're bigger than standard minis since I felt I needed more to work with in terms of getting details right. Bigger than that, I have a mini I made of a Warhammer character for my brother's birthday. =] I've found this Instructable really helpful; thanks! I've also been looking into tutorials on painting techniques for minis that have been invaluable since painting my Avenger on the left there, hahah.
Ack, didn't link the pictures in. Ohh well, Imageshack to the rescue!

http://imageshack.us/a/img818/7648/firsthalf2.jpg
http://imageshack.us/a/img255/8981/firsthalf3.jpg
http://imageshack.us/a/img812/6439/firsthalf4.jpg
http://imageshack.us/a/img811/4716/gotrek5.jpg
Periwinkle12 years ago
I really like what you're doing here. I was scratch building D&D models from DAS air drying clay in 1982. Crumbs 30 years and still doing similar things. At the time I couldn't afford the manufactured minis, so made my own. However, what I would say to you is... if you can possibly afford the best materials to work with, then you should get them. Your work is actually worth it. When you look at all the hours you've spent here, in planning, armature building, sculpting and writing the Instructible, and the entertainment value you've had from those hours... the actual cost of green stuff for the entertainment value per hour, is probably very small indeed. Great sets of dentist's tools (they're not real dentist's tools, they're steel copies of the stainless steel ones your dentist uses) are available on ebay for about £6 UKP, that's under $10 USD. And they'll still be good for use in 30 years time. Put them on your Christmas list in any case, along with a cheap pair of magnifying glasses (search ebay). I had a go at sculpting in green stuff a couple of years ago: http://www.lgtilley.co.uk/hind.htm
GreatAssGoblin (author)  Periwinkle11 year ago
Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your experience!
spiralbound3 years ago
You have a good thing going here, keep at it! From everything I've read, you'll eventually hit a ceiling with what sculpy can do, after which you'll need to switch to the green stuff. Apparently, if you want the best details in your minis, green stuff is the way to go. I personally don't know about this myself, but your instructable is very inspiring! I think I'll have to get some sculpy of my own!
GreatAssGoblin (author)  spiralbound3 years ago
Thanks for the comment! It's actually surprising how much you can do with sculpy. Since I posted this instructable I've gotten quite a bit better and am now able to do a lot more detailed work than previously! Practice really does help! So far the only limitation I've encountered with super sculpey is the brittleness. A few of my minis have suffered some damage when dropped a few times from a table. I expect that green stuff is probably a lot more resilient and maybe I'll give it a try if I have too much money lying around for some reason :P
There is no real "upper limit" for details at this scale using polymer clays. Most of the Rackham Confrontation masters were done with it. The only real "limit" is that it needs to be baked.
Yes, but I understood that sculpy softens a tiny bit as it heats up, removing fine details. Perhaps I'm wrong on this, but it's what I remember when I last used sculpy a very long time ago.
Sorry, I know I'm late to the party, only found Instructables recently.

If you ever pick up the sculpey again, it certainly does soften up quite a bit but generally the details will not be lost or deformed. Depends on the "details" though, if it is a long thin unsupported nose or finger or strand of hair, for example, it might collapse...but that's one of the main reasons for the armature. Aside from complete collapse under its own weight, the details should remain intact.
Appollo643 years ago
These are awesome! Do know of any other types of clay that will work?
GreatAssGoblin (author)  Appollo643 years ago
I haven't tried any other clays for this application. A friend of mine tried to make minis using Fimo, but it apparently didn't turn out too great. Fimo also tends to expand when cooked which is an unwanted property when you work with small things with fine details.

"Green Stuff", a sort of expoxy compound, is supposed to be the best material for making modifications to miniatures and so presumably you could use it to make an entire mini, but it's quite expensive.

I think the most cost effective material for the result is super sculpey. Hope this helps!
Greenstuff is a very popular putty but doesn't stand up to the hype with many of the more experienced users. As with all arts and crafts, your own knowledge, experience and desired end result will play a large part in how you get on with any medium. For example, greenstuff has lots of memory, making it good for organics, but bad for hard edges, weapons, electronics, etc. So, ya know, use what works for you and take all advice, mine included, with a grain of salt, most companies like to pretend they don't have any competition, but they do. ")

A friendly alternative (both in terms of cost and ease of use) is Magic Sculpt. I'd highly recommend anyone start with that. There's also ApoxieSculpt, ProSculpt, the list goes on and on.

If you already have greenstuff, you can try mixing it with a putty that is also probably locally available, called Milliput, to get something a little more user friendly, easy to use, only worth doing for the details, no use in bulking out an armature.

You can get most of these putties far cheaper, especially greenstuff, if you look online, consult local forums, etc. EBay is generally good at offering at least very close to the best price online for most hobby supplies. Just make sure to only send your money to a reputable dealer, as always.
Green Stuff is VERY expensive for the quantity. Those of us who have been in Miniature Wargaming for a while learn that customizing minis is great, and Green Stuff is the best by far to do it with, but for about $20 for 2 sticks, which is enough to make maybe a single mini, then I decided to go to the modelling clay instead.

Another idea would be to make a single mini with your clay and then make a plaster mold of it. You can then make plaster sopies of your mini en mass (I did this with Warhammer 40K Tyranid Hormagaunts and got splendid results.)
at miniwargaming they sell greenstuff for $17CA for a hundred grams
yeah, but then they kill you on shipping.. It's nearly $15US to ship to me, plus whatever it costs..
GreatAssGoblin (author)  lunius3 years ago
Thanks for the comments Lunius. I definitely agree about the high cost of Green Stuff.

I've actually been looking into making molds of some of my minis and just pouring in resin to make plastic minis. From what I've heard and read, silicone is ideal for this sort of thing.

Plaster sounds like it would work too, but I don't know how well details will show. I've also never actually had to have more than a single copy of a mini before I started DMing and have been a little too busy to try it myself as of yet, but I'll definitely look into plaster though, sounds cheaper! Any tips on selecting a plaster for the job?
go to youir local DIY store and tell one of the people there what you plan to use the plaster for and see if they can give you some good plaster and ideas..
njamspike2 years ago
this is a pdf about painting  rpg mini characters
flapper5012 years ago
SUPER AWESOME
lacs983 years ago
Any way to do this fast?
gunman153 years ago
wat if u have no twistie ties
GreatAssGoblin (author)  gunman153 years ago
After a bit of experimentation with other wires, I can say that 20+ gauge wire that you can often buy in rolls at your local dollar store will do the trick, they're also easier to use than twist ties! Thanks for asking the question, I probably wouldn't have investigated this without your comment!
no problem i was just asking
or use small paperclips.. Office stores carry them for like $2 for 150.
daximos3 years ago
made one of these today, took a while to get it right but i was really happy with it.
great instructable, thank you
GreatAssGoblin (author)  daximos3 years ago
Glad to hear it went well! Thanks for commenting!
omegpirate3 years ago
Flaming sphere looks great. you have a great eye for flames
GreatAssGoblin (author)  omegpirate3 years ago
Thanks!
ChrysN4 years ago
That's great sculpting for someone without any training. I was thinking of trying my hand at something like this and I was wondering if you can do it without the armature or is that necessary, is it for support?
GreatAssGoblin (author)  ChrysN3 years ago
Thanks for the kind words! I've tried making a mini without the armature and I found that it sags, especially arms and legs because the pressure from the tool is enough to push the tiny limbs out of shape.
Thanks, good to know.