Getting into the hobby of painting miniatures sounds easier than it actually is. Sure – you might have just bought your first Warhammer set or a board game with boringly greyish miniatures. Now it is time to give your miniatures a pretty new look. For me, it was quite difficult to actually get started. Something was always more important to do right in that moment and I could never really find the time to start painting. More and more unpainted miniatures stacked up. I finally sat down and started painting.
But before I got started, I came up with a ton of questions. Those same questions I had, I will now answer for you in this miniature painting for beginners guide.
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What tools do I need to start painting miniatures?
Before you actually get to paint, you should make sure that you have the needed equipment and tools for painting.
I have put together a short overview of the necessary tools (plus some nice-to-haves) for you in the image (just press the different tools to read more about them).
It might help you to get to know your tools and colors before you get started. Just grab your brush and a color to your liking. Now you can try the color out on a piece of paper and a bit of plastic. Get used to holding a brush and learn what a color looks and feels like. This way, you can already get the hang of density of this color and might even find out how much to dilute it to make it work nicely.
How do I start?
Once you gathered everything you need, you can set up a small space as your painting area. There is no need for very fancy equipment or lots of space, but it helps to stay organized: It helps to keep up the motivation for painting if you can just get started right away.
Make sure to have good lighting on your paint station. You should be able to see the miniature in all its details and so that the color of the paint is not falsified (this can happen with too yellow a light). Get a comfortable chair, maybe put some music on and get started.
This is the most important aspect when getting into the hobby: Overcome your doubts and just get started!
How do I get and stay motivated to paint miniatures?
Do not let yourself be discouraged by others – and most importantly not yourself! It is important to keep trying and learning. Of course, your first handful of models might not look perfectly like what you aimed for. But keep in mind: It is okay to start small. There is no need for perfectionism, especially not if you are just getting into the hobby.
Do not worry about technical terms. There might be a ton of unfamiliar expressions when just getting started. Just learn how to paint on a basic level and keep improving. Once you have the general knowledge and experience, you might want to look up new techniques or talk with others about getting better. Take one step at a time and do not rush things.
What about distractions?
If you have too many other things on your mind or feel too distracted, do not postpone your wanted painting session – if possible. Instead, take a deep breath and allow yourself to take a break. Tell yourself that it is okay to sit back and paint just for a short while. Painting can be incredibly relaxing and can help clear your mind.
If you cannot postpone your chores or what distracts you, you can set up a fixed date for your next painting session. This way, you can get everything done beforehand and enjoy painting your miniature without any pressure.
What choices for colors and paint do I have?
There are a couple major companies producing paint: Army Painter, Citadel, Formular P3, and Vallejo are the most common ones. The color options are endless, so you should just pick a couple that match your color scheme for the miniature you are currently painting.
Some companies also offer starter kits or genre- / series-specific kits. You might still want to buy individual colors, since a pre-packaged set could come with some colors you might never use. This choice is up to you!
A game-changer to the painting scene is Citadels “Contrast Paint” range. You can easily get good results by applying only one coat of paint to the model (which is kind of insane).
Where do I get my inspiration from?
Inspiration is a curious thing that is sometimes hard to come by. But don’t worry: In most cases, the publisher already gave you some hints on a color scheme which matches the miniature you are painting.
But do not hesitate to get creative: If anything anywhere looks like it might be a good idea for your painting, try it out. Depending on the game you could also try to match a certain miniatures appearance to your favorite role in your favorite movie.
What miniatures should I start painting first?
Some people recommend starting on a cheap, disposable miniature. This way, if you are not happy with your results, you can just throw it out and start anew (or strip the paint of the mini). I am not a big fan of this method. For me, my painting efforts feel a little worthless if I just keep throwing out the miniatures I am not completely satisfied with.
There are also kits that teach you to paint miniatures. Those kits come with a couple of different miniatures and the needed colors. The kits vary in difficulty and included miniatures. The company “Reaper” has produced a couple of “Learn to paint” kits, but some of them are out of stock at the moment (try and check amazon if it is something you are interested in)
I recommend starting on a miniature you already own that you are motivated to paint. It does not matter if it is a very cheap miniature or something more expensive. The most important thing is that painting this miniature is something that you actually want to do.
Do I need to use a primer?
The short version: Yes. The long version:
The two main methods of priming a miniature are either a spray-on or a brush-on. Both methods have pros and cons, so you should just try both and find out what works best for you.
A black primer is often recommended for beginners, but do not hesitate to try out other colors: For example if you work on painting some green-skinned Orcs from Warhammer 40.000 you might want to use a greenish primer. This way, you have not only finished priming, but already got some parts of the miniature completed before starting the actual painting.
Priming with white or grey can be good for beginners, because it will be very easy to get good coverage with one coat of paint.
How do I do the painting?
After applying primer to your miniature, you apply the paint. Do the largest section of the miniature first. This way, you can allow yourself to be sloppy. Most colors need about two to three layers of paint before they get the needed opacity (but it all depends on the colour and the primer used). Do not forget to let the paint dry before using your miniature in a game!
How can I improve my painting skills?
Always keep in mind that the more you paint, the better you will get. Just try, try again. If you want some extra motivation, you might want to ask friends or miniatures artists if they want to show you some earlier works of theirs. You might be surprised that their first steps in painting probably do not differ that much from your first handful of miniatures. Why not ask for some tips and tricks that they might have learned along the way?
Should I keep older models or just re-do them when I get better?
If you are very unsatisfied with your work, in most cases you can still strip your miniature of the paint. Most paints are more or less soluble or easy to clean off the miniature. So if everything else fails, you can just start over and try again.
But keep in mind: Your first painted miniature might still hold a special spot in your heart. It marks the start of your hobby. Also, if you keep a miniature from the beginning, you are actually able to see improvements in your painting level. Just compare your current painted model to older ones every couple month and you can see that you already got better.
What do I do when I’m done?
First of all: You will probably never really be done. In most cases, you might have finished your current project or at least the miniature you wanted to paint. After that, more miniatures are to be painted. Whether you just move on to other miniatures you already own or buy a new set to expand your army.
But also think of the fact that you finished something! It helps me a lot to be able to look back and be proud that I actually got something done. In that moment, it does not matter to me if it is a bit rough around the edges. It matters to me that I actually finished a little project and that is what makes me happy.
Are there more things I should keep in mind?
Of course! There are many, many more tips to keep in mind, but the above mentioned are just the basics. What I think is important to add is: Keep having fun. Painting and probably playing with miniatures is a hobby – and a hobby is something that should make you happy! It is okay to take a break from it if it stresses you out.