Experience you'll need: These instructions are designed for beginners but not complete novices. You should have at least some experience with painting and wargaming under your belt.
Items you'll need: All items should be available at a hobby shop or around the house.
- A model or several models to paint.
- A painting surface (newspaper or cardboard, I like to use the top of an old pizza box)
- Paints (paints designed for miniatures are best, but any acrylic paint is fine)
- Brushes (regular, thin liner [optional], and dry-brush)
- Spray Primer (white, black, or grey)
- Spray Varnish (matte or glossy)
- Shoebox lid (not pictured)
- Clean Water
- Paper Towels
Let's get started!
Step 1: Plan Ahead
Before you apply any paint to your model you need to think about what you want the end result to look like. You should never try to "figure it out as you go". Here are the questions you need to answer before you start:
- Is your model part of a larger force? Does this army/squad have a color scheme?
- What is the primary color? Secondary colors?
- Where are these colors going to go on the model?
Example: This Sisters of Battle model is part of a larger army of 50+ other models. The color scheme is black and red with a few bits of grey, silver and gold. I look at the unpainted miniature and decide her armor will be black, her sash will be a bright red and her gun and hair will be grey. Also there will be bits here and there painted either silver or gold, like the medallion hanging from her belt.
Step 2: Primer
Your first step should always be to prime the model. Primer is a special type of paint designed to stick to metal and plastic, and provides a good surface to paint on.
Primer comes in many colors but for painting models only three colors are typically used: White, Black and Grey. Each type has its pros and cons, so selecting the right one for the job is very important.
White: Use this type if your model is going to have many bright colors, especially yellows. Using white will make your entire model appear brighter overall, but it can be challenging to fill in the gaps of the model, since the white will shine through and be easy to spot.
Black: Use this type if your model has lots of metallic elements, such as armor or guns. A big advantage in using black is that mistakes blend in much better with the model, and you don't have to struggle to paint every crevice. Unfortunately, colors tend to look much dingier and require more coats.
Grey: This is simply a fine balance between the two. Use this one if you aren't sure whether to use black or white.
Primer is primarily applied using a spray can. This ensures a thin, even coat. You can buy primer at any hobby store, or any hardware store.
WARNING: Just like regular spraypaints, primer is toxic if inhaled. ALWAYS spray outside NEVER indoors.
Grab an old shoebox lid or something similar and place the model in the center. I like to use box lids because the sides prevent me from getting paint on my wrist. You can spray just one model, but it would be more efficient to spray multiple models at once (usually the entire squad). Make sure you don't put too many models in one area, since they can block the paint from getting on each other.
Hold the spray can about 6-12 inches from the model, and spray in short bursts (less than a second). Rotate the box as you go to get all sides. You shouldn't need more than one or two sprays per side. Excessive spraying can cause buildup and fills in the crevices of the model, reducing detail.
Let the model dry at least an hour (ideally 24) before starting the next step. You also might need to fill in any spots the spray missed with the same color paint and a brush.
Step 3: Basecoat
Now it's time to add color. The basecoat is just a flat color that we will be shading and highlighting later on.
Start with the most recessed color first. This will usually be the skin.
Dip your brush in the water to get it wet, then lightly towel it so that it is just slightly damp. Try to keep the brush point intact.
Dip the brush in the paint, only up to the halfway point.
Spread the paint onto the model, using smooth, even strokes. Avoid clumping or pooling paint, as that can cause it to look bumpy.
Re-apply paint to the brush often, and rinse the brush every once in a while so that it doesn't build up dry paint.
It's okay if the primer shows through at first, this will happen especially if you use bright colors or black primer. Just apply additional coats after the first one dries. It's normal to have to apply as many as 4-5 coats depending on the color.
When switching to a new color be sure to wash the brush thoroughly.
Step 4: Ink Wash
Ink washes are purposely thin paints that travel into the natural crevices of the model, creating instant shading. Ink washes come in a variety of colors but the two most often used are black and sepia (brown).
You want to apply ink washes to surfaces with lots of bumps and ridges, so that the ink settles in the recessed portions. Ink washes are no good on smooth surfaces.
Just like with painting, you dip your brush in the ink wash, but instead of brushing the paint on, you'll be using the brush more like a sponge. Unlike regular paint, ink washes are as thin as water. The brush absorbs the ink from the jar and then when you press it against the model the ink flows out, no stroking required.
Let gravity do the hard work for you. Hold your model horizontally so that the ink settles flat and doesn't drip down the model. The water will eventually evaporate, leaving the ink behind.
Make sure the ink washes are completely dry before continuing to the next step. (at least half an hour)
- Sometimes you'll get too much ink on the model, but it's okay. Dry your brush and lightly touch it against the ink pool. The ink will be sucked back into the dry brush.
- Practice practice practice. Ink washing is one of the most difficult techniques in painting, but don't get discouraged! The more you do it the better you'll be able to judge how much ink to apply.
Step 5: Dry-brushing
Dry-brushing is like the opposite of an ink-wash. Instead of coloring the recessed bits to create shading, it colors the raised bits to create highlighting. It involves getting as little paint on the brush as possible and applying it only to the bumps and ridges on a model.
Caution: This method will destroy a regular brush over time. Never use your regular painting brush for dry-brushing.
Specialty dry-brushes are flat and stiffer than normal paint brushes. You can use a regular brush in a pinch, but use an old one that you have no more use for.
There's no such thing as a specialty dry-brush paint. The technique uses regular paint, but it's important to pick the right color. You'll want a color that matches the color of the part you're dry-brushing, but much lighter and less saturated. So for example, if you're highlighting black you'd use grey, if you're painting blue you'd use a light greyish-blue, etc.
Caution: Just like the name implies, don't use any water. Even a slightly damp brush can ruin your dry-brushing.
Dip the brush in the paint, but really saturate it, so that paint gets between the little bristles. You want as much paint as possible on the brush.
Now that the brush is full to bursting with paint, get rid of it. Wipe the paint off on a paper towel, over and over again until you can't see any paint left on the brush. Just to be sure, run the brush along the paper towel until no more paint gets left behind.
Even though you can't see any paint, and the brush doesn't mark the paper towel, there are still little flecks of dry paint in the brush. Simply brushing the paint onto the model like you did before isn't going to work, so you'll have to be a bit more vigorous.
Run the brush back and forth over the raised bits in the model. Hard. Do it over and over again.
You won't notice any difference at first, but after a few strokes you'll see light color building up along the edges of the model, getting brighter as more of these dry paint flecks get knocked loose.
After a little while, you'll be left with a highlighted model!
- You might need to re-apply paint to the brush a few times to finish the model.
- You'll know right away if you have too much paint on your brush. The first stroke shouldn't leave any color behind at all.
- Just as with ink washing, dry-brushing takes lots of practice to perfect. Don't get discouraged!
- When you're done, you'll need to wash the brush to get any leftover color out. Make sure you are actually done dry-brushing though, since once you get it wet it won't be usable again for hours.
Step 6: Varnish
Models like these are not meant to be sitting in a display case, they're meant to be played with! Unfortunately, constant handling will rub off your paint in no time. That's why applying a varnish to your finished model is so important.
Varnish comes in spray bottles much like primer, and the process is the same.
Warning: Just like the primer, spray varnish is toxic if inhaled. ALWAYS spray outside NEVER indoors.
Varnish comes in two types: Matte and Glossy.
Matte varnish is designed to be completely invisible on your model, whereas glossy makes your model nice and shiney. It's up to you which one you want to use.
Use your box lid again and spray a smooth, even coat onto your model. Let it dry for at least an hour.
Your model is ready to hit the battlefield!