Rob Cook

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Painting miniatures basics - tools and equipment


So you've glued together your first miniatures and are wondering how to go about painting them? Good news, this book is for you!

Tools and equipment

To paint miniatures you are going to some basic supplies:

Paints and washes

There are many, many, makers of paint for miniatures. A complete listing of all brands is beyond the scope of this book, but some of the most popular and commonly found ones are as follows:

All of the above brands are water based acrylic paint. Whatever brand you settle on, this is the type of paint you are after. Water based paints don't smell bad, and can be thinned with normal tap water. Acrylic is hard wearing (ideal for miniatures that will be used for gaming), and dries quickly. You can also freely mix colours from different brands (as long as they are also water based acrylic).


Before you can paint a miniature you need to prime it. Priming is an important step and should not be skipped. Applying a primer will give a good base for subsequent layers of paint to adhere too. A bottle of brush on primer in a neutral colour like grey is a good investment. Some prefer to use black, but this can make details on the miniature hard to see.

My recommendations for primer are Brush On Primer from The Army Painter, or Black Surface Primer from Vallejo.


The colours you need to start with will vary depending on what you are painting. Fantasy miniatures for example will want a good variety of bright, bold colours; whilst World War 2 would require more muted greens and browns. That said, there are a core of colours you'll want to own regardless of the subject matter.

My recommendation for these core colours are: black, white, a mid or neutral grey, red, yellow, blue, orange, green, purple, brown, and a basic flesh colour. In addition to these you'll want an off-white such as ivory or buff. This can be used to mix in with the other paints to make a highlight colour.

I'd also recommend picking up some metallic paints - silver, gold, and bronze should suffice here. Metallic paints contain tiny flecks of mica in them to look shiny, and are an easy way to paint realistic looking armour for example.


Washes are very thin, watery paints that are used to apply shading to a miniature. Whilst you could mix your own washes from regular paint, it is almost always more convenient to buy them ready made.

There are many brands of wash (or shade) in a range of colours. One of the most popular is a range of tone washes from The Army Painter. From this range I would recommend picking up the Strong Tone Wash as a good all purpose shader. If you can afford more, then the Soft Tone Wash, Dark Tone Wash, Flesh Wash, and Military Shader Wash are good additions.

The range is also available as a set, which may be cheaper than buying several washes individually.


The final step in painting a miniature is to varnish it. This protects the layers of paint that have been applied. This is particularly important if the miniature is going to be used for gaming.

There are three main types of brush on varnish - gloss, satin, and . Gloss gives a shiny finish to the miniature, matt gives a flat finish, and satin is in-between the two. Matt and satin are the more general purpose varnishes, and can be applied all over a miniature. Gloss is used on items that need to remain shiny or glistening - gold and wet mud for example.


Finally you will need a palette to use your paints from. Paint should always be dispensed to your palette, and not used directly from the bottle. Some people improvise a palette from an old CD, but plastic ones from art shops are generally cheap that you may as well pick one up.

An alternative is to use a disposable pad of palette paper. This is a heavy paper with a shiny surface that can take paint and water without going soggy. Games Workshop sell a good sized pad of this stuff, but art shops are also a good shout.


As with paint, there are many, many, makers of paint brushes for miniature painting. Try not to be overwhelmed, and resist the temptation to buy a huge set of brushes in one go! Most painting tasks can be accomplished with just four brushes.

Base, detail, and drybrushing

There are three good quality brushes you'll need to perform the techniques described in this book. Whilst it is possible to spend a small fortune on some brands, it is not necessary. That said, quality is important here as these are your main workhorses. Thankfully it is possible to pick up a set of all three for a reasonable price.

The base brush will be your most used brush. It's job is to apply the main colours to your miniature, as well as washes. A size 1 is ideal for this task. Some brands don't use numbered sizes, so in those cases look for a base brush or regiment brush.

The detail brush will be your next go too. It's job is to apply highlights and fine details to your miniature. It needs to be big enough to edge highlight armour plate, yet small enough to paint eyes (if you are up to the challenge). A size 0 or 00 are the most suitable sizes here. For brands that don't use numbered sizes, look for a detail or character brush.

Unlike the other brushes mentioned here (whose use are for delicate tasks), the drybrush needs to be hard wearing. Drybrushes are usually made of stiff synthetic hair. In this case traditional art brands probably are not going to help, its the dedicated wargaming brands that will have what you need. Most all of them will label this as a drybrush, or small drybrush.

As mentioned earlier it is possible to pick up all three of these brushes in a set for a reasonable cost. My recommendation is the Hobby Starter Brush Set from The Army Painter.

Priming and varnishing

Using your normal painting brushes for these tasks is a sure way to wear them out quickly. Instead, purchase a single cheap synthetic brush to be used for both tasks. In both priming and varnishing you are covering the whole miniature with a single coat. Therefore look for a reasonably large brush - a size 2 is good. Any brand of brush will do here, as we are not too concerned with quality.

You could always buy an extra base brush, and apply a bit of tape round the handle to distinguish it from your main one so you don't mix the two up.

Basing materials

Once painted and varnished, your miniature is ready for action. A lot of people like to go the extra step and apply some basing materials. The small round (or square) base the miniature stands on is usually just big enough to accommodate this.

In terms of materials, you will need the following: PVA glue (some brands call this basing glue), flock, stick on tufts, and texture paint.

PVA glue is ideal for affixing basing materials to the miniature's base. It is water based, so can be thinned with tap water to get a thinner consistency. Be sure to leave plenty of time for it to dry fully.

Flock is a fine powdery material in the colour of grass, dirt, or snow. This is a quick and simple way to add a base to your miniature. The Army Painter do a good range of flocks in small tubs (which are ideal for dipping miniatures in). If you are unable to get hold of them, then model train suppliers or Woodland Scenics are a good alternative.

Tufts are a great way to add little embellishments to your flocked bases. They come in a wide range of colours and sizes, and can be used to add patches of long grass or even flowers to make your miniature stand out. Once again, The Army Painter do a good range of these.

Texture paint is a relatively recent addition to the hobby scene. It comes in a range of colours, and once dry can be painted on. Games Workshop do a great range of texture paint as part of their Technical range.

If you do decide to go this route for basing, you can buy larger tubs of grey texture and simply paint it once dry to the desired colour. This can be cheaper than buying several smaller bottles of coloured textures.