A couple of days ago, my miniatures arrived. Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about painting them. But the last time I painted miniatures (20 years ago?) I wasn’t very happy with the way they came out. This time I decided to do a bit of research first.

The reason for my dissatisfaction in my previous painting endeavor was largely due to my choice of supplies. I went to a local hobby shop (instead of a gaming shop) and asked what I should get. Maybe they really didn’t know. Maybe there were no better choices back then. But what I took home was a bag full of Testers brand Glossy Enamel paints and a couple of nylon brushes. As it turns out, these are not the paint supplies of choice.

Starter Supplies

I’ve only performed a very basic search into what I need. Here’s what I have so far (criticisms and corrections are welcomed and appreciated):

  • Paint
  • Paint Holders
  • Paint Palette
  • Primer
  • Sealer
  • Washes
  • Liners, Inks, and Additives
  • Brushes
  • Brush Cleaner
  • Brush Holder
  • Tools
  • Bases
  • Additional Modeling Supplies

Paint

For painting miniatures you will want to use an acrylic paint. The top three manufacturers are Citadel, Vallejo, and Reaper.

Most people recommend Reaper so that’s what I’ll be using. Until recently, Reaper offered two series of paints: Master Series and Pro Series. However, it appears that their Pro Series has been discontinued. The Master Series Paints (MSP) are separated into two lines: Core Colors and High Density (HD). The MSP Core Colors line includes 216 colors “including liners, inks, washes, primers, sealers, and additives”. The MSP HD line offers an additional 38 colors. Both lines consist of non-toxic, water-soluble, acrylic paints.

Reaper separates their paints into triads (each containing: a base color, shadow and highlight). This is extremely useful for novices (like me) to tell us which colors to use to accent a base color.

Clearly, the paints themselves represent the bulk of the investment. The two lines, combined, contain 254 colors. On the Reaper website these sell for $3.29 each. That’s $835.66 for them all. But I like to look around when it comes to large purchases. I discovered that Miniature Giant greatly discounts these paints. They sell the same bottles of Reaper paint for $2.43 each (that’s a 26% savings). Plus they sell sets of paint at even greater discounts (which also include a great storage case).

Even at greatly discounted prices, you are still looking at a huge investment in paint if you want them all. So the question becomes “What do you actually need?”. Theoretically, with red, green, and blue (and black and white) you can make whatever colors you want. I really don’t want to rely on my untested mixing skills right off the bat, so I’d rather come up with a list of minimum choices.

Let’s start with the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and the secondary colors (orange, green, purple). I’ll also want: white, black, silver, gold, gray, light brown, dark brown, and at least one skin tone. At $2.43 each, that’s $34.02 for 14 colors. That’s actually a lot less than I expected. But there’s a reason why Reaper groups their colors into triads. To produce a good looking painted miniature, I’ll need to add shadows and highlights. I could mix my own colors to do this but that involves a little skill and it’s difficult to reproduce the mixture when I need more. I think it’s well worth the extra money to get full triads of each of the colors I want. That’s $102.06 for 42 colors. I was originally hoping to stay within a budget of $100 for everything I would need. I can see that that goal just wasn’t very realistic. I’m guessing $200 will be closer to the mark. I really don’t think 42 colors is excessive; I want to have enough colors to be able to do a decent job.

In fact, I can see already that this set is too limiting for some pieces. I’d want at least three more skin tone triads in order to give some variation. For lizardmen, giant toads, giant snakes, and similar creatures, I’d like to have at least two more green triads (and probably one or two more yellows). There are probably a few more that haven’t occurred to me yet. Still, I think the 42 listed above are a good start. As I work with those, I can make a list of what I need to add in a second set down the road.

Paint Holders

If you have more than a few bottles of paint, it becomes necessary to organize them. Not only do you want them kept together, they need to be arranged by color and triad and displayed in a manner in which you can easily see all the colors. A plastic storage case would be convenient (and portable, which might be handy) but doesn’t allow you to easily see all the colors. Ernst at DnD Lead describes how to make your own paint holder, cheaply and easily, with nothing but a two-by-four and a drill. His solution looks perfect for my needs and, best of all, it is practically free.

Paint Palette

Most acrylic paints need to be thinned before use. Therefore you will need a paint palette where you can put a small amount of paint and a thinning agent (in our case water). This is also necessary if you intend to mix your own colors.

It’s important to get a palette with small wells that have rounded bottoms. If the bottom of each well is flat, or the well is too big, the paint will spread out which exposes more surface area allowing the paint to dry more quickly.

Ernst recommends using epoxy to attach a short piece of large gauge wire (or similar handle) to a penny. The penny can then be placed on the paint in the palette (when not in use such as during short breaks) in order to keep it from drying out.

Primer

It is necessary to prime the miniatures prior to painting. Many people recommend a spray-on primer. Any type of spray requires ventilation and I find that spraying anything always makes quite a mess. Therefore, I’ll stick to brush-on primer.

Spray primer can save a great deal of time though and many people recommend it. For a large number of miniatures it may be worthwhile to take them all outside and spray them.

Either way, it’s a good idea to let the miniatures sit overnight, after priming, in order to dry thoroughly before proceeding.

Note that even if you don’t intend to paint your metal miniatures, it is a good idea to prime them right away. When you touch a miniature, residue from the metal gets on your fingers. This residue then gets on the chips, pretzels, and other forms of health food frequently found at a gaming table. Ingesting lead, or other elements, commonly found in miniatures is decidedly bad for your health. Some of this residue can even be absorbed through the skin. Priming seals the miniature, reducing the risk of health problems from these metals (the primer itself is non-toxic).

Sealer

Once the miniature is complete, paint can come off through normal handling. A sealer prevents this. Like primer, you can get spray-on sealer. I’ll stick to brush-on sealer. I might be willing to take a bunch of miniatures outside for priming. But I don’t think I’d want to take painted ones out for sealing. A little dust falling on the miniatures as I’m spraying the sealer could be a real pain to remove. And spraying sealer inside is messy and requires a great deal of ventilation.

Washes

Apparently, one popular technique is to apply a darker shade of “wash” (thinned out paint) over a lighter shade of the same color. The darker color settles into the deeper areas and creates a more organic variation of color over the area applied. Many people create these washes themselves, but premade washes are also available.

Liners, Inks, and Additives

I really don’t know what makes these three different from plain old paint, but reaper’s website describes the MSP core colors line as “including: liners, inks, washes, primers, sealers, and additives“.

Brushes

Nylon brushes are the absolute worst brush you can get. Natural hair brushes are significantly better and the price difference from the worst to the best is very minimal (for the size brushes you will be using).

A Kolinsky Sable is generally recommended as the best type of brush available. Within this type, they also vary by manufacturer. The Escoda Kolinsky Tajmir appears to be the most favored. A size 0 and size 1 should be sufficient to get started. These run around $8 each plus shipping.

Brush Cleaner

Each day, when you are finished painting, you will need to thoroughly clean your brushes. Master’s Brush Cleaner cleans the brush and also applies a conditioner to the natural hair bristles, protecting them and keeping them from becoming brittle.

Brush Holder

After cleaning, brushes are best stored upside down. Otherwise, water collects at the base of the bristles and dissolves the glue that holds the bristles to the handle. Amazon sells an inexpensive brush holder for $13.60.

The coil at the top holds the brush in place. Note that the coil is arched in the middle. This causes the tip of the brushes to angle towards the middle so that any drips will fall inside the can.

Tools

Miniatures often have rough edges and extra bits left over from the casting process. These need to be smoothed and/or removed before you can start painting. An X-Acto knife may be sufficient. A dremel may also come in handy. Games Workshop offers a number of more specialized tools that may be useful as well.

Bases

I prefer metal miniatures that are cast with an attached base. However, in order to make them more sturdy, I glue a penny to the bottom of the base, apply terrain (made out of putty), and paint it. This also provides a uniform sized base that works well with my battlemat. For those that don’t like pennies (or want a different size base), Games Workshop offers a large assortment of bases that could be used instead.

Additional Modeling Supplies

Games Workshop also offers various glues, putty and bits of pre-made terrain that can enhance a miniature. Glues will be necessary to assemble multi-piece miniatures. Where two pieces come together, putty can be used to fully hide the seam. Sand, and other bits of terrain, can give the base character.

Tips, Tutorials and Recommendations

Here are a few other sources worth reading: