There are a ton of different miniature painting techniques and all of them have some cases where they are great to use and other instances where they are not the best choice. Knowing about several miniature painting techniques and styles, what they are and how can you best use them will help you a lot when painting miniatures.
Hi my name is Niall and i’m a miniature painter.
I’ve been painting models for more years than I care to count, but despite that, I do still remember what it was like to be a new painter. It can be a very intimidating hobby. Whether you regularly paint on canvas, or other traditional or digital media or you’ve never picked up a paintbrush in your life, getting to grips with miniature painting can be quite frustrating.
While its popularity has been exploding in recent years it’s still quite a niche pastime and in my humble opinion, there are few other creative endeavors that have a skill set quite like miniature painting.
Yet fear not, for now, there is a wealth of information readily available on how to progress as a painter from beginning your first miniature to fine tuning advanced techniques.
This article will serve as my humble offering for new painters looking to penetrate some of the jargon that we miniature painters frequently use and also explain a series of techniques and styles for new and seasoned painters alike. We’ll cover what each miniature painting technique is good for and when it is most applicable.
One piece of advice to remember for anyone who is ever feeling discouraged when beginning their painting journey is that in the long run hard work trumps talent.
Editor: “You can see more of Niall’s work over at his Instagram. Niall also does commissions, so if you want to get your minis painted up to an amazing standard you can contact him via his Instagram and work out the details.”
1: Cleaning, undercoating and basecoating (the basics explained)
The first thing to do once you have your miniature assembled is to clean it. When we talk about cleaning miniatures painters can mean different things depending on what material the miniatures are made from.
Remove mold lines on plastic models and assemble the model
Most games workshop miniatures are made from a grey plastic that should be looked over for mold lines once it has been assembled. These are the lines that have been left behind by the mold the miniature was made in. The best way in my opinion and from my experience to deal with these lines is to scrape them off gently and carefully using a craft knife. The technique for this is to hold the knife as perpendicularly as possible to the edge and carefully drag it along the length of the mold line to remove it.
There are numerous different companies that sell what they claim to be specialized tools for removing mold lines however in my experience none of these are quite as good as the humble craft knife.
Editor’s Note: I admit that I am not the most precise person in the world. When using the craft knife method I regularly destroy pieces of my model by cutting off bits that should stay on the model. So when I need to work fast, I really like the Citadel Mouldline Remover. I can work faster with it and can watch something while I assemble miniatures.
When assembling plastic miniatures the best glue to use is glue that melts the plastic, thus creating a very strong bond. You can read more about that in our guide to buying glues for miniatures.
Give your miniatures a bath (if they are resin or have release agent on them)
An additional step that is required if you are working with forgeworld miniatures (or other resin cast miniatures) is to wash the miniatures before you paint them.
Rather than plastic, forgeworld models are cast in resin and the molds are coated in a releasing agent to assist in the removal of cast pieces. The problem with this is that if the model is still coated with this releasing agent then our paint will not properly adhere to the model and will chip off quite easily. Thus we need to give them a bath.
The method I have found quite useful is to get some warm water mix in some washing up liquid / dish soap and allow the models to soak in this mix for approximately twenty to thirty minutes. Once this is completed, remove the pieces from the water and scrub them all over with a soft brush like a nail brush. This will remove the now softened coating and your models will be ready for undercoating.
Side note: make sure the water that you are using is warm and not hot as hot water can be enough to soften the resin itself and this can lead to some models losing their shape.
When assembling resin miniature you need a strong super glue. If it is a really chunky model, you might also need to pin it.
Once your model is ready for painting the next step is to undercoat/prime it.
Prime/spray/undercoat your miniatures
Priming is the process of putting down a special type of paint all over the miniature, covering the bare plastic and giving you a better surface to paint on. This is also called “undercoating” your model.
There are many different opinions on what color is best to undercoat with. Some people swear by black, some grey and some white. My personal preference is to use a matt black primer either applied with a spray can or through an airbrush. It just works best for my style of painting and the miniature painting techniques I like to use. Others very much like to spray black and then do a zenithal spray with gray or white (and get ready to do some of that popular “SlapChop”.
But my advice would be to try all three options and see which one you like best. I would also advise investing in at least a spray can if not an airbrush for this step as it will save you a large amount of time.
My personal favorite undercoat is Chaos Black spray primer from games workshops citadel range of paints. However, it is important to keep a few things in mind that might save you some hardship when using rattle cans.
Make sure you spray in a well ventilated area
Using rattlecans in a small indoor hobby space is just a bad idea and can be quite dangerous. So do be sure to use them in a well ventilated area like an open shed, workspace or even outside. However, if you are going to spray outside do be careful of the weather as even very slight rain will leave marks on recently sprayed models and wind can catch the spray and throw it back at you which can be quite nasty.
One last thing to consider is the temperature of your can. If you keep your paints in your home this shouldn’t be much of an issue. However, if you were to keep them in a shed or uninsulated area and you live somewhere that can get quite cold then try to spray them you may find that the spray is oddly textured. Another thing is that very high humidity can cause weird effects on the paint.
If you find that you can’t get your hands on a spray can or airbrush for whatever reason you can prime your models with a brush. The same chaos black paint is available as a brush on paint too. The trick with this is not to apply a huge amount of paint at once to a model. You need to thin your paint down using water before applying it sparingly to a model. This will take some time but be patient and slowly build up the layers. Doing it in this way will ensure that the details are not lost and that you build up a nice clean opaque coat of paint. It’s also very good practice, but can be hard to get right.
With a model undercoated it’s time to move on to the next step.
Basecoating your models
The base coat is generally the most abundant color on the miniature you’re painting. So if you are painting space marines for example it would be the armor color of whatever chapter or legion you are painting that would be a base coat.
It’s also usually the case that darker colors are used as base coats as they can then be built upon using brighter colors afterwards. Once again there are options for spray cans and brush painting when it comes to base coating models but here is where the airbrush really shines.
While it can be a bit of an investment for new painters it will reduce the time it takes to undercoat your models dramatically and open up opportunities for new painters to do advanced techniques like zenithal highlighting (more on that later).
You can also brush paint a base coat using a very similar method to the one I described when undercoating. Thin your paints down and apply thin coats to your miniature building them up slowly until you have a nice solid color.
With this much done, I will now cover a selection of techniques that can be used to take this undercoated miniature to the next level. Think of these as potential tools for your tool box. Things you can try and see what works for you, what doesn’t and what you would like to hold on to and keep using.
2: Shading / Washing miniatures
Shading or washing is a technique that has a long history in the hobby. It even predates the availability of ready made washes. In the past, you would need to take the color paint that you would like to wash your miniature with and thin it down with water or other thinners until you had a wash. This is still a technique that can be useful today despite the extensive range of washes available (but more on that later).
Shading / Washing is one of those great techniques that are really well suited to new painters. For the most part, it’s quite a forgiving technique with little room for error. Once again this technique can be really useful for people who may struggle with hand eye coordination or have difficulties holding a brush steady. Yet there is a lot of room to expand this technique and a lot to get your teeth into.
How to wash or shade your miniatures
Washing and shading are traditionally used as a method of providing more contrast to a miniature by darkening the indented and recessed areas. You can almost think of this as the opposite of dry brushing (more on drybrushing later). This is done typically by using a wash or shade paint.
Pretty much every miniature paint manufacturer these days has a line of washes available in a variety of different colors however the most commonly used ones and those that I would personally recommend to new painters are black and brown. The classic examples from the citadel line are Nuln oil and Agrax Earthshade. These are great shades and even now I still use them regularly.
Applying a shade to a miniature can be tricky at first but there are different ways of approaching it.
For a true beginner or someone who might have some difficulties with fine motor skills my advice would be to coat the entire miniature in the wash of your choice using a brush. This eliminates a lot of the room for error and when your miniature dries all the recesses will be filled in, providing a lot of definition to the miniature.
The one thing to be careful of with this method is that you don’t apply too much. If you allow large amounts of wash to sit in unwanted areas they will dry and form clumps that will work against the overall effect. But as long as you catch them before they dry it’s quite easy to either move the wash with a brush to another part of the model that needs it or use a q-tip or some tissue paper to absorb the excess wash.
Next up, a method that’s a step up in difficulty from what we have just covered here.
How to do “Recess Washing / Shading”
For this, you will be using a fine tipped brush to gather a small amount of the wash and place it carefully into the recessed areas of the miniature avoiding larger panels and smooth surfaces. The idea here is to only get the wash in the recesses and entirely avoid getting it anywhere else.
This can take some practice and some angles on some miniatures can still prove challenging even after years of practice. However, once you get the hang of it this is a really rewarding technique, and combined with the dry brushing technique we will cover soon can really create a lot of definition and contrast for the miniature.
Another way to use washes that was a really big turning point for me when I discovered it was an airbrush technique that I have come to call undershading. This is a technique that requires an airbrush to use but is quite an accessible technique even if you are not too confident yet when using the airbrush. The technique is quite simple and something that works best if you haven’t glued your models to their bases yet. However, if your model is already stuck to the base then you can still perform the technique you just may need to be a little bit more careful.
What this method involves is filling your airbrush with a dark shade of your choice. My personal favorite is Games Workshops Drakenhof Nightshade.
Then turn the model upside down and spray it from underneath with the darker shade. If your model is not glued down be sure to hold the model on a part that is not in the path of any spray or you may end up with some patchy lighter areas amongst the shadows. If your model is already stuck to your base you will need to spray it at an angle rather than from directly underneath but try to get as close to directly underneath the model as the base will allow for the best effect.
Using oil washes
Oil washes occupy a strange place as they are a technique that is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of difficulty. As the name suggests oil washes are made using oil paint diluted with paint thinner.
For this miniature painting technique, I generally use artist paint thinner that’s available from any craft stores that sell oil paint, and it is widely available online. The key to this technique and the most difficult part in my opinion is mixing the shade. It can be hard when starting out to get the consistency right for an oil wash. Too much oil and it will turn into a bit of a mess when you try to apply it, too much thinner and there won’t be enough color.
I find different paints require different mixes so I would advise doing some tests yourself before trying this out on a miniature.
Once this hurdle has been overcome however it is smooth sailing from there as the magic of the oil wash is the capillary action. When you apply this wash using the recess shade technique we discussed earlier you will notice that if you simply dab your oil wash in one part of a recess, for example, the joint in a space marines armor you will find that the oil wash fills it itself almost by magic! I won’t go into the details here of how or why capillary action works this way but it most definitely serves our purpose.
Overall washing and shading is an incredibly flexible technique, there’s far more to discuss here but for now, I must move on.
3: Dry brushing your miniature
Dry brushing is a hugely flexible technique that can be used to achieve many different effects depending on how you use it. Many use it as a quicker alternative to edge highlighting (another technique that I will cover later in this article), yet it can also be used to get a great textured base coat down on your models, to add battle damage or to create lighting effects.
In my opinion it’s a particularly great skill for new painters to develop as it is relatively quick and easy to get started with and there’s little to no chance of it causing any large headaches. Another great thing about this technique is that it’s often been quite useful to people who find it difficult to hold a brush steady or struggle with hand eye coordination.
All and all, while dry brushing is a very forgiving method of painting don’t underestimate it too much or write it off if you are a more seasoned painter. It is a technique that’s easy to learn but takes a long time to fully master.
Drybrushing is one super useful technique to have in your toolbox but it seriously damages your brushes.
Most smaller brushes are not suitable for it, but cheap makeup brushes are absolutely perfect.
So what is dry brushing?
Dry brushing is a technique that involves getting a very small amount of paint on a relatively wide brush and using it to cover the edges of a miniature.
The best way to do this is to either put some paint out on your palette or take a little bit straight from the pot with your brush. Whichever option you choose less is definitely more. Once you have the paint on your brush get some tissue paper and dab your brush gently on it. The goal here is to get the paint almost entirely off the brush leaving only the smallest amount left on the end. You can always add a little back on if you take too much off. So if this is a technique you are using for the first time my advice would be to err on the side of taking too much off rather than leaving too much on.
With that done the next step is to apply the paint to the miniature.
Gently run the brush over the miniature with a mild level of pressure, what I always think of when i’m dry brushing is that it reminds me of a similar motion to dusting. As you do this you will slowly see the paint begin to catch on the raised areas of the model. The goal here is to hit all of the raised edges on the miniature.
This can work whether it is the armor panels of a space marine, the fur of a chaos warriors cloak or the bark of a fallen tree. If you find that you still have too much paint on your brush after your first try you can always dab it again on the tissue paper to remove any excess paint. Next, we’ll move on to some more advanced applications for dry brushing.
Making Texture and Lighting via dry brushing
Making texture is probably my favorite application for dry brushing as it accomplishes so much in quite a short amount of time once you get the hang of it. For example if you were using this technique to texture a space marine rather than trying to slightly angle your brush strokes towards the edges you may want to focus more on some of the flat surfaces, shoulder pads, leg armor etc. This can give the effect of some light weathering or very fine scratches.
Another more advanced technique for dry brushing is creating lighting.
A lot of painters will use an airbrush for lighting effects but if you find yourself without one, a version of these effects can also be achieved through dry brushing. If you are painting a lightsource, remember that light travels in straight lines and in all directions unless obstructed so if you have a bare lightsource it will create a circle.
First things first you should start with the darkest color. So if you are painting a bright yellow light for example start with a dry brush of dark orange covering the area the light will cover, then a brighter orange, then a yellow getting brighter towards the center.
As you complete each of these steps paint a smaller and smaller area centering around the light source and finish with a small amount of white where the light is at its brightest.
Two last pieces of advice:
- When dry brushing the same area more than once be wary of applying too much paint and losing detail.
- There’s no need to clean your brush in between paints if you’re dry brushing to create a lightsource. The paints will mix on the brush and overall help smooth the overall transition of color.
4: Edge Highlighting Miniatures
Edge highlighting is the technique that I would describe as the most advanced of the recommended beginner techniques. It is also one people can struggle with for a long time.
As discussed previously this is not because it’s a technique solely for new painters as it’s a very popular technique throughout all levels of ability. I describe it this way as it’s been a part of Games Workshop’s recommended paint process for quite some time and of those recommended steps it is, without doubt, the most challenging. It’s even a key part of Games Workshops classic ‘evy metal painting style and is often used to add a lot of controlled contrast to your miniatures.
Dry brushing is unquestionably a solid technique and there is nothing wrong with that approach. ButeEdge highlighting offers you a greater level of contrast with far more control over where you apply the paint.
Another point of difference between the two is that dry brushing can often leave a texture behind on the flat panels between edges but with edge highlighting you can pick out the edges and avoid any excess application.
One isn’t better than the other, it just depends what effect you’re going for.
So what is Edge Highlighting?
Edge highlighting is a pretty straight forward technique.
Using a fine brush you use a brighter color than has been previously laid down on the model to paint all of the models edges thus giving the model far more definition and really making it “pop”.
This is a pretty simple idea in theory however in practice it can be a real test of fine motor skills.
One of the biggest pitfalls that I fell into with this technique when I was a new painter was the assumption that to correctly perform this technique you needed to paint the lines on the edges in the same manner that you would paint a line on a flat surface, that is using the tip of the brush.
While there are some instances and awkward angles that have to be approached this way it’s quite easy to make a mistake this way if you’re not careful as the hairs of your brush can be split by the edge causing them to spread out and create a line much wider than desired.
However, there is a method that is far easier, faster and generally when people talk about edge highlighting this in my opinion is the best way to approach it where possible.
Rather than using the tip of your brush to highlight the edge, use the side.
Tilt your brush and instead of the tip run the side of your brush along the edge that you wish to paint. The hair of the brush is too long and compact to separate with this technique and the result will be a nice clean line. One other piece of advice I would like to add to this is that like dry brushing and most other miniature painting techniques really make sure not to overload your brush with paint. If you’re a new painter or in doubt about how much is too much, play it safe and use less than you think you need. It’s much easier to add more paint to your brush and try again than it is to try and cover up a mistake on a model.
That being said though whether you are a new painter starting your first miniature or a veteran with years of experience everybody makes mistakes and edge highlighting is no exception.
If you do find that you have made a mistake with your edge don’t worry you can always go back over it with the base color either entirely to start from scratch or if you feel confident you can just touch up where your edge highlighting strayed from the desired path.
However, there is an additional step that can be added on top of this if you want to give your miniature even more contrast.
Highlighting your Edge Highlights
It sounds a little strange when you read it but it is once again a straightforward idea. If this is something you want to do with your miniatures once you have finished the usual edge highlighting you need to take a lighter color again than the one that you edge highlighted with previously or even add a little white to the paint that you performed that step with.
Once you have the right color apply this paint using the methods that we discussed previously on the edges / corners that you think would catch the most light.
My advice is to be careful with this and to be sparing, letting it be quite a subtle enhancement used on the points of some corners where two edges meet and other small areas. This is because if you use too much you may lose the original edge highlighted color and gain a contrast that now looks unnatural. This idea of highlighting the edge highlight is once again commonly seen in the ‘evy metal style of painting.
Final tip for this, less is definitely more.
Once you get some practice and gain confidence with this technique, more advanced uses can become more accessible and there is a lot that can be done once you are confident in your ability to paint lines.
Next up is a method I use lines for all the time in my own painting.
Doing Scratches on miniatures
As I mentioned previously a scratching effect can be achieved through dry brushing, however using lines to create scratches once again gives us far more control over where we place the scratches and how we place them.
The trick in my experience when placing scratches on a model is to think about where they would appear naturally.
Is the environment the character that this model depicts likely to cause scratches on their knees, elbows, shoulders etc. Have they been fighting something that could leave scratches on their armor, if so where would those strikes be most likely to have landed?
These considerations can help you with your placement but when it comes to the technique of applying the line I find that the easiest place to start is close to an edge when learning the technique. Angle the model so that you will be painting the scratch in a downward motion and then place your brush on the edge.
Rather than making a slow pull on your brush I recommend a quick flicking motion as doing it this way can often capture some of the movement that we often see when we look at scratches.
5: Stippling as a miniature painting technique
Stippling is a technique that can be used by beginners or more experienced painters to achieve a wide range of effects. While it has some similarities to dry brushing it gives you a little bit more control over where and how you place the paint on your miniature.
The main reasoI use stippling is if I want to add texture to a model and this can be done in a number of different ways. You can use a relatively large brush to cover a broader area and create large contrasting shapes or you can use a tiny brush to place tiny repetitive dots on a miniature.
One of the interesting things about stippling is that there is an alternative for using a brush when applying paint with this technique.
Why I use Sponges when Stippling
I find that sponges are fantastic if you want to try and add battle damage or chipping to your models.
I find that when I use them I get a much more random chaotic looking pattern than we normally could make by using a brush alone.
You can use any kind of sponge for this but I generally use cheap kitchen sponges. All you need to do is tear a corner off of one so you are left with an irregular shape. Once this is complete make sure that the size of the piece you have removed is the correct size for the miniature. For instance, you wouldn’t use the same size piece for painting infantry that you would for painting a tank.
If you are unsure what size to use, tear off a piece that is smaller than you think it needs to be, it’s always easier to add more later than to cover it up if you add too much.
Once you have the correct size it’s time to apply paint to the uneven torn side of the sponge. Dab it in your paint and then use a similar technique to dry brushing. Dab it on some tissue to remove the excess paint. One key difference here between this technique and dry brushing however is that you don’t need to remove as much as dry brushing.
A handy way to tell how much is correct is to remove some with the tissue, then using the same motion tap it on a sheet of paper. This should give you an idea of the kind of pattern that’s being produced by the spouge and once this gives you an idea of how much paint to use it’s time to use this on a miniature.
Like when I talked before about making scratches with lines it’s good to consider once again where would these kinds of marks be found on a miniature. While it can be difficult to reach recessed areas with a sponge, keep in mind that for the majority of miniatures it’s the outer edges that would be the most exposed to this kind of damage in reality anyway so it plays into our desired result.
But enough about sponges you say?
What about stippling with brushes?
Well, the process is much the same when it comes to using larger or smaller brushes.
Take your paint, dab it off, do some tests and once you’re happy start to apply it on the model.
One thing brushes do have over sponges is that they can reach the more recessed areas if that’s something that you’re looking for. But the trade off here is that if you are going for realistic scratches or chipping you may find it more difficult to find that natural chaos with a brush than you would do with a sponge.
Where things really change however is when you get down to doing stippling with a really fine tipped brush. Then it can become an entirely different beast altogether.
Rather than dabbing on the surface to get a desired effect it becomes a method of carefully placing dots of paint almost like pixels to create it. This takes far far longer than any of the other stippling methods that have been covered here however by far it gives you the most control and it is the most flexible.
This method can be used to not only add texture or weathering to a surface but it can be used to add highlights, lowlights, and reflections to surfaces. Another trick to be used when trying this technique is to make sure that your paint has been properly thinned. As the slow build up of many semi transparent layers of precisely placed dots is how you can really make a fantastic texture.
Whether you are placing fine dots or stippling with larger brushes another thing that can be achieved using stippling is creating highlights and contrast in your miniatures. While a lot of techniques that cover highlights are quite precise and commonly involve working to create a very smooth finish a different take on the same concept can be achieved with stippling. This can be particularly useful for new painters or for those who have difficulties with fine motor skills or hand eye coordination.
A side note here is that I feel the collective fear in the miniature painting world of using too much paint and clogging details often makes people think that they have to plan everything in advance and follow each part step by step.
This is not always something that has to be rigidly stuck to. While having a plan is always a good idea and it’s best to avoid applying paint too thickly to your models as long as you thin your paints down quite a lot you can play around with a lot of different ideas with a model and not lose much if any detail.
I myself have painted over models that have been painted already time and time again without noticeable loss as the paint was properly thinned.
However, where I’m going with this is that once you have your base coat applied you can stipple varying degrees of color to create highlights.
For example if you have base coated your models a dark blue, use varying lighter shades of blue in a stippling motion over the model from a top down angle to create a sense of light and texture on the model. This will give a more weathered and mottled effect than some of the others but I feel it can achieve quite a nice and unique result once it’s been given some practice.
6: Wet Blending miniatures
The next technique that I’m going to talk about is wet blending. This technique can be a little bit intimidating at first but once you get the hang of it it can really open up a lot of possibilities for you.
I think it’s commonly pushed as quite an advanced technique and while I can see the argument I think beginners would do well to sink their teeth into it as soon as possible as there is a huge amount that can be learned here to really speed up your progress as a painter. Also, there are ways to do it that are not that complex.
What is Wet Blending miniatures?
The idea is to apply two colors to a surface and to blend them together while they’re still wet so that you can get a smooth transition between the colors.
Once you get the hang of this you can really get some great results quite quickly. While there are many different techniques for blending colors together I think this is the one that I would recommend to those wanting to extend their skill set. As blending this way with a brush gives us an opportunity to learn quite a lot about paint consistencies, application and transparency.
The first area that I learned wet blending on was a sword blade and this is what I would also recommend to those just trying this technique. It’s a small confined area that on most models gives you a lot of room to navigate around without fear of accidentally applying paint to undesired areas.
When trying this for the first time it is important to understand the structure of a blade. Generally speaking on a miniature a blade is often formed of four faces.
That might sound odd but think of it as each side of the blade is broken up into two halves down the middle with each of those two halves with the light hitting each one differently.
With that in mind, I approach wet blending on a blade one side at a time. I would recommend quite a simple blend between two colors, one light and one dark if this is your first time trying it.
As I mentioned the light will hit different parts of the blade with different intensities. However, if this is your first try I wouldn’t worry about that too much I would instead focus on getting a nice smooth blend.
Generally, for this you should apply the lighter color paint to the upper tip half of the blade and the darker on the lower half towards the guard. It can be tricky to get a feel for how much paint to apply for this step but as always I would suggest starting out with less than you think you need as if you need more you can always apply it later.
Once you have your two colors quickly clean your brush or take another brush and begin to blend these two colors together.
You can use either a horizontal or vertical motion when blending; these are both are valid approaches but make sure with each one that you don’t go too far on each side as we want to retain the pure color on each end so that we still have contrast.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to risk a miniature on a technique you are trying for the first time you can try this technique on a piece of undercoated sprue or other plastic to get a feel for it. I wouldn’t recommend trying out this technique on paper as while it can be useful to get a hang of the blend paper is also absorbent and plastic is not so it may skew your expectations for how the paint will behave once you apply it to the model.
If you feel it is super hard, you can always apply a wash on top of your blend to make the transition more smooth.
Once you get the hang of this and develop a level of confidence in this technique you can branch out and start to make it more complex by adding a number of blends across the surface.
So rather than it being a single transition from dark to light there can be several of these and now you can start to factor in where the light would truly be hitting the surface of the blade.
I will cover this in more detail in a later portion of this article but its important to remember whenever you’re trying to get a metallic effect using non metallic paints that polished metal has a huge amount of contrast.
Now we’ll move on to yet another use for wet blending.
Highlighting Armor Panels with Wet Blending
One thing to keep in mind when applying this technique is that the shape of the piece of armor must be reflected in your brush strokes. So if you are painting a space marine shoulder pad for example you should paint and blend in circular motions to better capture how light would play across a round surface. The same is true for the more cylindrical shape of the armor on space marine legs.
A side note here is that it can often be helpful when you are trying to bring any kind of highlighting to your miniatures to not get too caught up or intimidated by the nuances of the shape you’re painting. A space marine shoulder pad can be thought of as something close to a sphere and a space marine leg can be thought of as a cylinder.
Breaking things down to these rudimentary shapes can give us a better and simpler idea of how light would hit these surfaces and if there are more subtle elements like say for example carved relief on the armor panels, fancy edges or purity seals these can be dealt with after once the groundwork has been done.
Once again the order in which you apply the paint for armor panels matters greatly when you are wet blending. Always add the darker paint away from where you feel the highlight will be and place the lighter color where you think the light is going to hit the shape the strongest. Alternatively depending on your desired result you can cover the whole surface in the dark paint and then apply the lighter color at the strongest highlight and blend outwards from there.
7: Glazing your miniatures
Glazing is one of my favorite techniques and once you get the hang of it can really lend itself to getting some really great results. Its a method of painting that before I knew how to do it seemed like some lofty secret that only the very best of the best could achieve.
Now I know that is nonsense.
Once you get to grips with the theory behind glazing and get some practice under your belt you will see that it is really quite simple and can be a very forgiving technique.
How to Glaze a miniature
What Glazing boils down too quite simply is the method of thinning your paints down much more than usual before you apply them to your model. This allows you to adjust the color and build up the tones slowly and gradually giving you far more control over this than many other techniques.
One great feature of glazing is that because the paint is so thinned down it has virtually no thickness or ability to clog up detail allowing you to work on a surface for a very long time making tiny little adjustments over many many layers.
Another aspect that comes with thinning your paint down this much is one of the key strengths of glazing and that is transparency.
Having your paint being quite transparent is useful for two reasons.
- As I have mentioned that you can build things up slowly.
- Because you can see through this new layer to the layers beneath some of that color from below is visible this greatly helps our ability to create blends as it lowers the amount of contrast even between colors that would otherwise clash completely with one another.
However, the first thing that you need to get to grips with when you are learning to glaze is
How much should I thin my paint when glazing?
A lot of painters write down systems and ratios for paint but for me i’m inclined to just eyeball it and rather than go by a formula to get a feel for the right consistency.
I think building up these intuitive skills is something that is largely understated in miniature painting.
There’s also the matter too that different brands of paint and different colors will require different amounts of water to thin. As with many of these techniques I would recommend experimenting on something that you aren’t afraid of making a mistake on and at first add more water than you think you need to the paint, gradually lowering it until you find the right consistency.
Once you get a real feel for this you can vary the consistency to fit your purpose and you will find yourself with a large command of possibilities.
I feel it’s important to note for new painters that glazing is a technique that can be applied either on top of a base coat or undercoat. It will take you longer over an undercoat however if you are to apply it over say a black undercoat directly other than touch ups you will not have to paint in your shadows.
However it will take a longer time to build up the strength of your color over black. But one work around for this depending on the color and the desired effect is to first apply white in the areas that you will be applying the color too, this will help greatly with your coverage.
Alternatively if you are going to glaze over a base coat you will find that your colors will have good coverage however it is likely that you will have to paint in the shadows in a similar fashion. Both of these methods are perfectly valid. It just comes down to whichever method you are most comfortable with, my advice would be to try both and see what you like best.
What about doing Freehand with glazing?
While glazing can be used for blends on weapons armor and scenery to convey highlights it is also an essential part of freehand.
For new painters the term freehand refers to the process of painting symbols, icons, designs or even entire scenes on miniatures. Sometimes people choose to paint the chapter symbols for space marines on their shoulders by hand. Others might take the leg panel of a dreadnought and paint flames or skulls on its surface. Another common use for it and a really old school one is to paint a banner from scratch.
Essentially what freehand boils down to is painting something you would normally see on paper but painting it on a miniature instead.
In my experience of freehanding it takes a lot of layers to build up something strong with a lot of small adjustments on the way.
So in order to get this right without clogging the miniature with excess paint the thin layers of glazing come in quite handy. It’s also wise to start with a glazed sketch of whatever you are trying to freehand. Think of this as rough work for the image you want to paint all thats necessary here is to get the shapes and general idea down onto the model.
Once thats complete you can start to build that up with a base color. For example if you were painting a life like skull you might put down brown underneath it or if you are painting fire you might put down red underneath it.
Once thats down it’s just a matter of slowly using more and more glazes of varying consistencies to bring the image out and to make lots of little adjustments to sharpen it up.
If you watch alot of online tutorials you might often get the impression that this techniques are done in a step by step process that progresses in a straight line. This is far from the case.
Particularly when it comes to freehand you might find that the process is more like one step forward two steps back as you might keep having to go back and adjust things or repaint whole sections to get it right.
It is definitely a technique that takes a long time regardless of your familiarity with it but if you’re prepared to give it the time it needs you can really get something unique out of it as no one else will have painted it the way you have.
8: Non metallic metal
Non metallic metal is, for many painters, something of an end all be all technique when it comes to high standard painting.
It’s something to aspire to and look at in awe when you see a more seasoned painter get it just right, or at least this was my experience when I was just starting out.
Non metallic metal can be quite a daunting thing when you look at a finished piece however once you break it down into a step by step process and develop a few tools to touch things up it becomes much more accessible.
Overall it has become quite a popular technique with a lot of painters and can really get some great results.
So what is non-Metallic Metal or NMM?
Non metallic metal is the phrase that we use to describe the technique of using non metallic paints to create a metal-like effect on a surface. This is done using a variety of techniques some of which we have covered like, glazing, wet blending and stippling.
But no matter what technique you use to try and pull this effect off the most important part I feel is that you have an understanding for how light plays across metal.
Stereotypically when we think of non metallic metal we think of models that have a large amount of contrast between the brightest of highlights and the darkest of shadows. This is very much the case if the kind of metal you are trying to communicate through your painting is quite shiny or polished.
A side note here I would like to add is that this is probably where I would recommend beginners with non metallic metal to start. The high contrast of a polished surface may seem daunting at first but the extremes of the lights and darks can clearly define the different areas and this gives a newer painter an opportunity to work on their transitions and fully understand the basic ideas of the technique, but I digress.
While highly polished metal is one method of non metallic metal you can also be more subtle with your highlights and shadows, this can often lead to an even more realistic effect. This in my opinion can be more difficult to balance than the harsh contrasts I have previously discussed as it is much easier to keep harsh contrasts consistent throughout the model.
When it comes to keeping the more subtle contrasts consistent the best approach in my opinion is to paint one area of the miniature until its fully complete and then to use that as a reference to set the tone for the rest of the areas on the model where the same approach is required.
Now we have another technique that can really help to sell a non metallic metal effect.
Doing Reflections with the NMM miniature painting technique
These can be anything that are close to the metal surface. It could be another panel from the same suit of armor, it could be a dull red reflection from a cloak or even the shine of a light source.
For a reflection the armor would have to be painted to communicate a certain amount of shine or polish.
However an important point is to paint the reflection in line with how shiny and reflective the rest of the armor is. So for example if the armor is painted to be spotlessly clean with and highly polished this should reflect an almost mirror like image of the object being reflective.
However then the opposite is true when it comes to armor that is not so shiny. Objects reflected on that kind of surface would be slightly less clear and more transparent. A handy technique for painting these kinds of reflections or any metallic reflections in general in my opinion is glazing.
As if you glaze these reflections you allow the color of the surface underneath to come through and further ground the reflection on the panel. Another approach to this technique is one that is far removed from the smooth sheen of typical non metallic metal.
Battle Damaged Non-Metallic Metal
While its still very important to make sure your highlights and shadows are placed correctly for this method, generally you don’t need to put as much emphasis on ensuring that you have the perfect blend between the two. While it does take some time to get right and find the balance I personally find this technique quite fun.
The goal here is to create your transitions between light and dark to sell your weathered metallic effect using a combination of stippling and small sharp lines. With these you want to imagine that the light and shadows are caught by a lot of tiny imperfections on the armor, small scratches and pits from battle or corrosion.
This can often require you to work over the same surface over and over again so don’t be discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t go well. It’s just important to make sure your paint is well thinned.
Whatever your desired version of non metallic metal I would always recommend finding a piece of reference that’s somewhat similar to what you’re looking for that you can use to help with your work. The most straightforward way of doing this is to use google images however it can be quite helpful to take a few pictures yourself with your phone of a shiny piece of metal or rusted object catches your eye as being similar to an effect you’d like to capture.
Overall non metallic metal is a fantastic technique. It can be a little intimidating at first, I know I certainly felt that way. But if you put in the practice it will definitely pay off and add a new level of contrast and uniqueness to your miniatures.
If you’re just starting out trying to learn this technique I would suggest trying it first on a model that has a lot of smooth surfaces without much intricate angles or embossed icons as those kinds of details can often complicate the process and make it more difficult to grasp where the light would hit the surface.
9: Underpainting and Mixing
Underpainting and mixing are topics that are hugely important for painters both new and more seasoned. Despite being two quite separate approaches to painting miniatures they are closely related in how they must be considered and in the effects that they achieve.
You can think of them in a way as two sides of the same coin. They both seek to blend colors together to achieve a certain effect and while there are some instances where they can be interchangeable I think it’s important for any painter to explore each option as while there are instances where you can use one or the other they both also hold certain aspects and advantages that the other can’t quite pull off.
So what is underpainting?
Underpainting refers to the layers of paint that sit below the top layer yet are still visible, subtly influencing the layers of semi transparent color that have been laid on top. This could be as simple as a yellow painted under a red to allow the red to really pop or a blue under a purple to give it a hint of coldness.
Underpainting can be as simple or as complex as you would like it to be but for starters the most simple and basic technique to show the power of underpainting is a zenithal highlight.
This is another buzz phrase that gets thrown around quite often and I remember wondering what that could possibly mean when I was just cutting my teeth at miniature painting.
Zenithal Highlights or Zenital Priming
A zenithal highlight put simply is a white highlight typically applied from directly above onto a model that has been undercoated black. This can be done with a brush or an airbrush however it is much simpler to use an airbrush to achieve this effect as the spray can mimic how light would fall upon a miniature quite well.
If you do choose to create a zenithal highlight with a brush, remember that light travels in straight lines and check frequently by looking at the model from the top down to make sure that you are hitting the right spots.
As always though if you do make a mistake when using a brush this way you can always tidy it up with some more black paint.
Once you have finished your zenithal highlight you can then apply your desired color as needed over the top. Having the zenithal highlight underneath will really push the color you place over it to the fore, contrasting with the dark black areas that have been left behind to give the impression of highlights and shadows.
However, if you choose to do this with white alone, depending on the color you put over it you might find that the white underneath partially desaturates the color that’s placed above it.
In some instances, this might be the desired effect and if that’s the case then great however if you are looking to achieve a zenithal highlight with a high saturation of color more underpainting is required.
Firstly we need to choose the color that we will use and this takes us back to color theory and the invaluable tool of a color wheel.
The first decision I usually make is whether I want the majority of the miniature to be painted with warm or cold tones
Once this has been decided I can then choose a warm or cold color appropriate for the color I will place on top of it.
For example, if I’m doing a zenithal of red after my white highlight I will add a warm yellow over it before adding the red, as mentioned previously this will really lift the red and allow the highlights to really stand out in contrast to the darker areas where the red is straight over the black.
There is a ton more to talk about here and is a technique that is getting extremely popular and varied, especially with the age of Contrast / Speed Paints. I suggest you do a short for Slapchop on Youtube and go watch what people are doing.
Mixing paint for miniatures
Mixing paints is something that anyone who has taken some traditional painting classes for board or canvas will be familiar with but there seems to be some reluctance to do so present within the hobby community of miniature paintings. That’s a response that I can understand.
It can be a little intimidating especially when the standard painting process that’s sold to beginners is a step by step process using particular paints in particular ways and only at those particular times. I think this is a good method for brand new painters to get to grips with painting their miniatures.
I feel once a painter has progressed beyond this point then it’s time to expand from that rigid structure and get a real feel for how malleable paint really is.
The most obvious door that mixing paint opens up is that if you are missing a particular color or a particular shade of a color you can often mix it together from the paints that you do have. My approach to a lot of hobbying is quite ad hoc and by that, I mean that I’m much more inclined towards making things up as I go along rather than sticking to a rigid process or plan.
This means that I often use the closest colors that are to hand and if I find myself without that particular shade of green or blue etc. that I can easily put one together from what I already have.
Not only is this a useful practical skill to have, it can also save you some money by removing the need to buy pots of each individual color that you need (that might dry out before you use all of it). As with a lot of techniques, my advice would be to experiment with something that’s familiar.
For instance, if you are used to painting Deathguard maybe add a little bit more yellow into your paints to make the green a little more sickly looking.
Or alternatively, if you have a Khorne army, mix a little orange into your reds to make them a little more vibrant. Once you’ve gotten some practice in and gotten a feel for what it’s like to mix colors and the control that you can have, the next step I would recommend is…
Mixing colors to achieve highlights and lowlights with your miniatures.
One of the applications for mixing that I have found quite useful is when painting object source lighting.
While a lot of contrast can be achieved with pure color as dictated by the color wheel, another factor that can be used is the warmth or coolness of a color.
For example if you have a space marine that has blue armor and is partially struck by a beam of light from a lightsource overhead one way to create more contrast is to take the standard blue you are planning on using to base coat your miniature and mix a darker blue or even a small amount of black into it. Using this mix you can paint the darker parts of the miniature that are not hit by the light. Then you can take the same base blue and mix in a very small amount of orange and use that to paint the panels of the armor that will be struck by the light.
Its a small thing to do but it really sells the harshness of a light in a dark area.
We have covered a lot there but it’s really just my humble offering of an overview of each of these techniques.
I really hope that this article shines some light on some of the terminology and techniques for new painters and might be useful as something to come back and reference.
Perhaps even some more seasoned veterans might have found something new to think about or a new way of approaching things.
However whatever your level of experience I hope you found this a worthwhile read. It’s been a fun one to write and it’s interesting to see some of my own more chaotic practices laid down on paper.
See you in the next one. Niall