Hobbies: Tips For Painting Tabletop Game Miniatures

Basic techniques for painting the models used in tabletop games - an introduction to dry-brushing, highlighting, and applying inks and washes.

Painting miniatures is a personalized process. This article should be taken as a set of guidelines - by no means should you do everything exactly as is stated here, as each person will tend to develop their own style and techniques for painting. You are encouraged to find your own way of doing things, as ultimately it will lead you to faster and more effective ways of dealing with your miniatures' paint jobs.

There are, however, several basic painting techniques that most if not all hobbyists employ. Firstly, it is important to undercoat or prime your miniatures. A good undercoat will ensure that the paint sticks and spreads properly. There are both brush-on and spray primers available, although you can also simply use flat white or black spray paint. If your model will be light, use a white undercoat, and if you will be painting in darker colors, use a black undercoat. Be sure not to spray too close, or you may end up with of excess paint obscuring the details of your model.

When painting, it is also very important to keep your tools in top condition. When you finish with a brush, wash it thoroughly with clean water. Never leave a brush to sit in a dish of water as this will bend your bristles. For fine-tipped brushes, roll the bristles into a point afterwards, and they will hold the shape when damp.

A quick and easy way to bring out the details of a model is a technique called dry brushing. This involves dipping your brush into the paint and then wiping most of the paint off again on a piece of scrap paper. The brush is then lightly dragged across the surface of the model. This results in paint being applied only to the more raised areas to bring out details with minimal effort. It is a good idea to do all of your dry brushing first, and then moving on to the solid painting, as dry brushing is not an exact science. Note that this technique will often fray your brush, so be sure to select a brush you don't intend to use for other tasks.

It is a good idea to begin by painting the recesses of the miniature so that you are less likely to mistakenly put paint on an area you have already completed. Start off with a slightly darker color than you intend to use in a given area. This color will form the shadows or shading on the model. After this, paint the area again in the desired color, making sure to leave some of the darker color in the places that should be shaded. If you're having trouble determining where shading should occur, it is easiest to leave the recessed areas dark. On higher flat surfaces, it is a good idea to choose where your "light source" is in comparison to the model. For example, if you are painting somebody who is firing a weapon, the light source might be the flare of his weapon. Therefore, the shading should be the points away from the flare, and the highlighting will be nearer the flare. When you highlight, use a slightly lighter color, or simply add white to your base color. On larger surface areas, several highlights may be desired for a suitable effect, and different colors will highlight in different ways depending on which colors you add to them. For example, if you are highlighting red, you could add white to make a more pink-like highlight color. However, if you add yellow, the highlight will have more of an orange hue. Different colors will tend to imply different types of light. In the example above, adding orange to a red base color would be appropriate due to the light source being the explosive force of the weapon firing. Some colors are difficult to shade and highlight, and will take some experimentation. White, for example, can be shaded by using a light gray for the shadows, but a light blue might create a more suitable look. Yellows can also be tricky, but browns tend to work well for shading this color.

Another way to apply shading to a miniature is with inks or washes. Inks and washes are watery paints which will spill into the crevasses of a model and fill them in, emulating shading. An ink can be bought bottled, whereas a wash is created by simply adding a dab of paint to a small amount of water; just enough to turn it the correct color. Washes are used well on metallic colors such as silver, bronze, or gold. Black washes work well over silvers, and a brown wash is appropriate over golds. Washes can be used to create other effects as well - a bit of watered down red in a brown wash and applied to a silver area will replicate the appearance of rust, for example. On smaller miniatures, hair can be easily shaded by applying inks and washes. As always, don't apply a lot of ink or wash all at once - it will spill over, and it is far easier to add your wash bit by bit than it is to repaint the area in the base color.

Once you have completed your miniature to satisfaction, it is a good idea to add something to protect your paint job. Using a clear flat sealer will allow your miniature's paint to stand up to the handling it will endure and protect it to some degree from chipping. Glossy finishes can be used as well if the model is meant to look shiny, polished or wet.

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