Is Painting Miniatures Hard? Five Tips for Newbies

Miniature painting is a dedicated and detail-oriented hobby that is very satisfying to those who enjoy it. If you are interested in taking up the art of painting miniatures, you should first understand what is needed to start the process, so it doesn’t become too difficult or daunting.

Is painting miniatures hard? The hobby of miniature painting isn’t hard when you practice, pay attention to detail and take the time to learn some tips and tricks to make it easier. Here are 5 Tips for beginners:

  • 1.            Prepare Your Miniatures
  • 2.            Take Care of Your Brushes
  • 3.            Choose the Right Paint
  • 4.            Learn Your Colors
  • 5.            Practice, Practice, Practice

Whether you are a newbie painter or a seasoned hobbyist, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a painting project is amazing. Not to mention, your tabletop game will look so much cooler with your standout, creatively hand-painted pieces.

Transforming a dull-looking character miniature into a personality-filled one can be very satisfying. The creative process and chance to slow down and pay attention to detail can also be a relaxing respite from a stressful day.

Don’t be tempted to dive right in and start painting, however. Just like the process itself shouldn’t be rushed, you shouldn’t attempt to jump in without learning some tips and tricks. Otherwise, your final product may end up in the trash, and you might end up frustrated and angry instead of relaxed and proud. Following the five tips below will help you on your way to becoming a seasoned miniature painter.

1.   Prepare Your Miniatures

Before you even start painting, you will need to prepare your model. This is key to both getting your paint to adhere properly and to getting the best-looking miniature you could want.

Cleaning

The majority of models will be made by putting material into molds, whether they are plastic, resin or metal. The molds are coated with various release agents to help keep both the mold and the model intact during removal.

Washing your model will help remove the release agent used. You can use warm water mixed with a few drops of mild dish soap and vinegar. Take an old soft-bristled toothbrush and scrub your miniature along the broad surfaces and into the crevices for a complete clean.

Material Removal

Typically, every model will have excess material on it that should be removed before painting. You may see mold lines – which is material that get into the part of the mold where the two halves of the mold meet. You could also have flash – which is where material enters the mold’s vents that are supposed to allow air to escape and prevent air bubbles.

For a more refined and finished end result, you should take the time to remove the excess material. You can use a hobby knife and clippers for most material removal. You might want to eventually purchase a jeweler’s file (available at most hobby shops) for making more refinements and final touches, especially on metal pieces.

Material Addition

Besides having mold lines or flash, your models could have gaps from not fitting together perfectly or air bubbles that cause surface imperfections. Both can undermine your end result, so it is wise to fill them. For large gaps, use a two-part putty. For smaller gaps, the easiest thing to use is white glue – just fill, wipe and let dry.

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Priming

Priming your miniature accomplishes two goals. First, it allows the paint to adhere better to the model. Second, it gives you a base coat or color for you to work from.

The key to priming is to paint in multiple thin coats. If you spray in a single, solid and heavy coat, you stand the chance of your prime coat being too thick and your model’s detail becoming obscured. Spray a few light and thin coats, letting each one dry in between coats.

If you are just starting out, priming in the color black tends to be the easiest. It helps with places on a model that are hard to reach with a brush. Typically, they are places where a natural shadow would occur, so leaving it dark works well. There are also primers in a variety of other colors, so if your model is predominantly one color, you might want to choose a primer that matches.

Another tip about priming – try using sticky tack. Using a small amount of sticky tack on the bottom of your model and securing it to the area will help tremendously. It will keep them from falling over with the force of the spray paint, and it will keep you from leaving dirty fingerprints on the wet primer because you had to pick them up.

2.   Take Care of Your Brushes

Besides the paint itself, the brushes you use to paint your miniatures are the most important tools you will need. Knowing how to take care of them will not only help you paint better, but you will protect your investments by not having to replace them as often.

Keep Paint Away from the Ferrule

When loading your brush with paint you should always avoid getting paint near or in the ferrule (the small metal part of the brush). The metal ferrule keeps the bristles together in a sharp point. If paint gets into the metal, you cannot get it out. When the paint dries, it will harden your bristles, making your brush feel more like a stick. This will cause you to lose the tip, and the brush will split when you try to paint with it.

Take Paint Out of the Pot with a Different Brush

Don’t use the same miniature paintbrush to scoop paint out of the pot as the one you are going to paint with. If you do, there is a chance you will get paint in the ferrule. Even if you don’t get paint in the ferrule, you will almost certainly get paint at the end of the bristles. That paint can have a thick consistency, making it harder to clean your brush later on.

As a rule of thumb, you should only use your good brushes when applying paint to the model. So if you need to mix your paint, either to achieve a specific consistency or to change the color, use another brush (like an old, split-bristled brush).

Never Let Paint Dry on Your Brush

Over time, thick dry paint will damage your bristles. This will render the brush unusable for any detail work. You need to rinse your brushes in water constantly while painting. Never put the brush down without quickly shaking it in a cup of water.

Always start out with a cup of clean water. After each application, take your brush and spin it quickly in the cup, avoiding contact between the bristles and the bottom of the cup.

Change Water Regularly While Painting

When you start to see your painting water get dark and murky, it’s time to change it out. The brush may look cleaner after taking it out of the water, but, in reality, it isn’t.

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The murky water has a lot of paint particles in it and, if your brush dries after being cleaned in it, you can damage the bristles and the ferrule.

Store your Brushes Properly While Painting

Don’t ever store your brushes in the water cup while painting. Not only is the water damaging over time, but putting the brushes upside down in the cup is messing up their bristles by putting pressure on them.

In order to preserve their tips, you should either store the brushes flat on your painting station or in some other way that will not damage the brush.

Clean Your Brushes Properly After Painting

When you are done with your painting session, you will need to properly clean your brushes. This is essential to keeping them intact and ready for your next miniature painting session.

Most of the time, all you will need for this is warm water. Sometimes you can use mild dish soap, but you really should only need warm water. Don’t use hot water, as it may melt the glue holding the bristles inside the ferrule and cause them to fall out.

Using your fingers, gently squeeze the paint out of the brush while holding it under the warm running water. Pull from the ferrule to the tip, and continue to do so until the water runs clear. Be careful not to pull too hard on the bristles and try not to bend or break any of them off.

Store Your Brushes Properly After Painting

Once your brushes are clean, you will want to store them properly until ready to be used again. Typically, you will want to place them with the handles down and the bristles facing up. This will help protect the tip. You can store brushes in a cup or a special brush holder this way.

3.   Choose the Right Paint

Clearly, when you start a hobby like painting miniatures, you will need the proper paint. There are a few types of paint you can choose from but, as a beginner, there is only one recommended kind – acrylic.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylics are easily found in most hobby and craft stores. You can get them in packs of 6 or 8 colors, or you can buy them individually. They clean up well and thin easily with water. They are smoother and thinner than other types, such as enamel. Also, they are the least expensive to buy.

Enamel and Oil Paints

Some miniature painters use enamel paint, mainly for their metallics, but they are more tedious to work with. Enamel paint takes up to an hour to dry, where acrylics take under 10 minutes. With enamel paint, you will need to use smelly paint thinner to clean your brushes.

Oil paints are used at times due to their excellent blending properties. However, they are much more expensive than acrylics, require special paint thinners to clean your brushes and take forever to dry. Unless you are an expert painter with a lot of patience, avoid using oil paints.

The bottom line with paints, choose acrylics for the most versatility, ease in cleaning and lowest cost. As a new miniature painter, acrylic paints are your best bet. When you get more comfortable and more experienced, try expanding your paint portfolio if you want.

Protect Your Paint Job

Once you have completed the painting, you should seal your model. Sealing your model protects the paint that you’ve spent the time to lovingly and carefully apply. It protects it from the wear and tear of handling, the oils on your hands and from chipping off if it falls over.

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4.   Learn Your Colors

Good looking miniatures are ones whose colors work well together. If you are going to take up the hobby of painting miniatures, you should be able to paint them attractively (or correctly unattractive, in the case of an ogre). Colors should complement each other and contrast in ways that call attention to interesting details. Understanding colors are at the heart of the best-painted miniatures.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors

The three primary colors are:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

From these three colors, you can mix any other color. So, if you buy just these three colors, you can create a rainbow of colors at very little cost.

When you mix the primary colors together, you create secondary colors. By doing this, you will effectively double the number of colors you have. Secondary colors are:

  • Orange (Red + Yellow)
  • Purple (Red + Blue)
  • Green (Blue + Yellow)

Mixing a primary color with one of the secondary colors next to it will result in a tertiary color. The tertiary colors include:

  • Red-Orange
  • Red-Violet
  • Blue-Violet
  • Blue-Green (Turquoise)
  • Yellow-Green
  • Yellow-Orange

There’s an infinite number of colors you can mix by varying the proportions of the primary colors, but even the 12 listed above will give you a variety of color possibilities from the three primary colors you may have purchased to get started.

Combining the Right Colors

There are different techniques to remember when you want to combine the right colors together on your miniature.

Harmonizing colors means putting colors together that won’t clash or look bad together. Colors that are close to each other on the color wheel harmonize well together. For example, Red and Orange harmonize well, and so do Yellow and Green.

Complimentary colors work well together, as well. These colors are ones that lie directly across from each other on the color wheel. The colors Red and Green, as well as Blue and Orange, are complementary colors, and look nice together.

Warm and cool colors look exactly how they sound. When you divide the color wheel in half, you get warm (Yellow, Red, and Orange) on one side and cool (Green, Blue, and Purple) on the other.

Combining the Wrong Colors

Too many colors can produce a disjointed circus of colors. This will cause your eyes to wander around the piece, unable to focus on any one feature. When starting out, try selecting one warm color and one cool color that compliment each other and give contrast. Then choose a neutral color such as black, white or ivory to help the colors stand out.

Once you get a handle on correct color choices, you will be able to experiment with blending and creating unique shades. This way, you can paint your miniatures with confidence.

5.   Practice, Practice, Practice

The hobby of miniature painting should be fun, relaxing and satisfying, but you will need the patience to ensure that your models turn outright. Most importantly, you will need to practice.

Nobody is amazing when they first learn to paint miniatures. Yet, if you have the motivation and drive then you can get better and learn to enjoy the process of painting itself. It’s in that learning and pushing yourself to be a better painter than you will find enjoyment. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s also very rewarding.

You will fail. It’s ok, though, because you will learn from your failures. Accept it, embrace it, and don’t stop because the technique is lacking or the colors aren’t perfect. Finish the model and let it serve as a reminder to practice more, so you can perfect your technique.

As you continue to practice and get better than you can try new techniques. These techniques include layering, dry brushing, blending and edge highlighting. Most of these techniques are easy to learn and will really take your miniature painting to a whole new level.

Besides practicing, one of the best ways to help yourself become a better miniature painter is to watch instructional videos and read articles that cover the specific topic. You will be able to get more detailed tips and advice for you to use.

Remember, though, that it’s alright to get inspiration and ideas from other painters, but don’t try to duplicate their work. With practice, you will learn how to become your own unique artist with your own style.

Miniature painting can be intimidating at first, but so is learning any new skill. Ultimately, painting miniatures should be a fun, relaxing hobby. Once you have brought a few of your miniatures to life, you won’t want to stop until you have a full army of creatively hand-painted models that will make you proud.