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A beginners guide to painting your first Warhammer army

Painting your first Warhammer army can be a big challenge. The number of options and pitfalls are staggering and most never people actually finish the projects they start. This is a beginners guide to painting your first Warhammer army (be it Age of Sigmar or 40k).

Over time I have developed a quick and clean method of finishing models and armies quickly. This is the method I am going to describe here as a step-by-step guide. The painting will be tabletop standard, so do not expect to win any awards. What it will do is get a painted army on the tabletop.

If this is your very first miniature, you might consider reading our “How to Paint your First Miniature” instead.

You can also watch this painting guide as a video on my Youtube channel

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1. Pick your goal and find your motivation

As a new painter, it is easy to get bogged down, frustrated and confused about your new painting hobby project. Therefore it is important that you make an overall strategy for what you are doing.

In order to succeed, it is very important for you to have a clear idea of what it is you want to achieve.

These are the goals and motivations I think would be best suited for new painters:

Your goal:

  1. To finish your army or collection of miniatures in a reasonable timeframe
  2. To learn and master the basics of painting miniatures while painting your army up to a respectable painting level
  3. Pick up a few advanced techniques and colour understanding along the way
  4. To improve the quality of the painting for each new model you paint

These goals will let you paint an army, get very proficient in the basics paint techniques, learn from your mistakes and finish the project you set out to do.

You will never achieve your goals if you are not motivated to do it. Therefore, think about what your motivation is for doing this?

Example of motivations

  1. You want to learn how to paint
  2. You want to finish an army
  3. You want to complete more armies quickly
  4. You want to learn the basics of painting more in-depth
  5. You just want a quicker way of painting okay looking models.

Adjust your goals and motivations as needed, but write them down to make them more tangible for you.

2. Decide on a strategy to complete your goals

Now that you know what you want to do and why you want to do it, it is time to decide how you are going to do it.

Below is a strategy I have used to get my first few armies painted and friends have used to learn how to paint while getting an army ready for the table.

The overall strategy used in this guide:

  1. I will use basic painting techniques were I learn how to paint while painting up my army. It is very likely that each model will be slightly better than the last one, but this is okay because I am doing this to learn.
  2. I am going to pick up a small force of models that I would like to paint but also to play with. I am starting small in order to make sure I am going to finish the project.
  3. I am going to paint models and an army that will make it easy for me to paint, but that I also very much like the aesthetics of. Picking something too complex will make it harder to achieve my goals.
  4. I am going to pick a paint scheme that I like that look of, but I am going to make sure it is something easy. This means that I need to like the looks of my models after they have been basecoated and shaded.
  5. I am also going to make sure I do not need too many different paints for the project. This will make it more manageable for me but also a bit cheaper.
  6. I will take shortcuts on each model, but I will make up for it with different tricks that will lead attention to different areas of the miniature (the face, the eyes and the basing).

This is the strategy I am going to apply in this step-by-step guide and I highly encourage you to try it out.

If it all possible, it would be great if you had an experienced painter that could help you along. It will really cut down on how long it will take to learn to paint if you can get some tips while you acutally paint.

3. Choose and buy a Warhammer Army or collection of miniatures you want to paint

So you need some miniatures or an army to paint. A few tips can be helpful with this selection:

  • It is important that you like the style of the miniatures and the army. You need to really want to paint it, or else you might never finish the project
  • If you are very much into the competitive side of things, I suggest you only buy and paint the miniatures you need for your exact army list. If you are a collector, just buy the models you think look cool.
  • It is a good idea to figure out if the playstyle of the army will match the playstyle you generally prefer in games.
  • If you are in doubt on what army to take, you can take a look at this guide to what miniatures are the easiest to paint and what AoS armies are good for beginning painters.
  • Read up on some lore on your army (we have a primer on AoS lore if you are interested) to find something that tickles your fancy.
  • Do not go out and buy 5000 points of models. Chances are you will never finish that project and miniatures lose quite a lot of value over time (and just from taking them out of the box). Instead, buy a small force. A Start collecting box or one of the sides from the starter sets would do nicely (I have written a bit about the different starter sets here). 1000 points should be a good starting point for beginners and will be manageable to get painted.

4. Choose a paint scheme for the army (and do a test model)

A paint scheme is the colours you will be using for the miniatures in your army. To get a nice uniform look, use the same colour and technique across all of the models in your army.

Pick a colour for the skin, the cloth, the metal, the bone, the wood and so on. Find a shade/wash paint that you think will work with that colour (Agrax Earthshade for wood and bone, Biel-Tan green for green and so on). I like the shades that Citadel makes, but others are also very good.

The method you will be using to paint your models is primarily via a basecoat and shade/wash, so it is important to pick some colours that will look great when you do not highlight the shaded miniature.

Some things to consider to make this work:

  • I suggest going with lighter colours in general. Dark colours have a tendency to require more work to make them look good from a distance (this means highlighting a lot). If you instead start with light colours, a simple shade will make them look great when you view them on the tabletop while playing.
  • Pick two complementary colours and aim to use them as the foundation for everything that needs colour on your model. Complementary colours will be directly opposite each other on a colour wheel (see picture above). If you want to learn a bit about that sort of stuff, take a look at this great reddit thread.
  • The other colours on your model should be somewhat muted. Ushabti bone with Agrax Earthshade for bone and leather works wonderfully. A simple brown for the wood, some metal paint for the weapons and armour. Just try to use your two colours and everything else should have a natural/neutral looking colours.
  • For other colours than your two complementary colours, you should just use a brown or black wash.
  • Everyone has a colour they really hate painting. Colours I would generally avoid as a beginner at painting: black, white, purple, yellow and maybe red.
  • Colours that are generally considered easy to point (especially light versions) are blue, green, browns and beige.

For the example used in this article, I am going with a Bonesplitter Orruk. Seeing as he is predominantly green (and green is easy to paint) that will be one of my colours. Directly opposite very light green on the colour wheel is purple, so that is my complementary colour. Everything else on my test Orruk is neutral colours.

Now go ahead and do a test model with the colours you have picked out. If the result does not satisfy you, change a few colours and do another test model. Repeat the process until you are happy with the colours you have picked for your colour scheme for the army. Remember, you are going to have to paint a lot of models with this so it has to be quick and easy but also look good.

When you are done, write down a recipe of exactly how you are painting your army. This will be a lifesaver if you ever take a long break because you can always come back and pick up where you left of with the project.

If you do not feel confident enough to do a test model, do not worry. Just read on and you will learn a thing or two about it later.

5. Buy the models for your army, the tools and paint you will need

Below are the tools and equipment I would recommend for a person just starting out in the hobby. All of them are essential or at least something that is very nice to have.

Below you can find a list of the specific products I recommend:

6. Cut, clean and assemble a unit (or a miniature)

Ok, now the plan is ready, you have bought your stuff and you are ready to assemble some miniatures. You need the plastic frames from the miniatures and the assembly instructions that came with them. You need your cutter/clippers to cut them off the sprue, a tool for getting rid of mouldlines and some plastic glue. If you prefer watching how to do it, you can find a good video here or you can also find it on GW’s Age of Sigmar website under “build”.

  1. Look in the instruction booklet for the number on the piece you need. Align the flat end of the clippers towards the piece you want to cut (that way you will cut off the most amount of excess plastic). Cut that piece out as well as the piece you need to glue it together with.
  2. Remove excess plastic and mouldlines from the miniature. Excess plastic is the pieces of sprue still on the model. Mouldlines are those long weird lines running along parts of the miniature. Just hold your mouldline remover at an angle and gently scrape the plastic off.
  3. Now you should try and “dry-fit” the two pieces you have cleaned. Do they go together seamlessly? If not, you might have to remove a bit of plastic so they go together cleanly.
  4. Apply plastic glue on the parts of the plastic that will go together. I find that it is best to only put plastic on one of the pieces. For a strong joint, the glue must be applied to all the areas that going to be combined. Remember not to get so much glue on there that the glue is visible after the two parts have locked together. It can be a good idea to wipe excess glue of immediately.
  5. Repeat the process until you have assembled the miniatures you want.

A few tips when assembling plastic models

  1. I like to assemble miniatures in bulk. I find it cuts down on the time I need to do it if I assemble a unit all at once.
  2. Removing mouldlines requires minimal brain effort. I find it best to do something else while I clean and glue models together (or else I get bored).
  3. Sometimes it is better not to completely glue the model together before you paint it. A lot of big miniatures will have parts of the model blocking other parts of the model, and it can become a pain to paint it! For normal sized models, I tend not to worry at all about it.
  4. Remember to pace yourself. There is no reason to burn out on any one step. Some people will assemble a complete army before moving on to painting anything. I doubt that is the best way to do it. Chances are you will never finish it, and it is better to have different parts of the hobby you can go back and forth from (glue a bit, paint a bit, shade a bit and so on).
  5. Depending on how you do your bases, it can be easier not to glue your miniatures to the base until after they are finished. If you are in doubt, just glue the first unit onto the base and try to do the bases while they are on there. You will quickly figure out whether or not that optimal for you.
  6. When you assemble miniatures, look for the little symbol that tells you that you have different options. It times I get so involved in doing the step by step in the instruction manual, that I completely overlook that I have now decided on some weapon options that I did not want.

7. Prime/undercoat the miniature(s)

You now have your model or unit assembled and ready. It is now time to lay an undercoat of paint on the models. The undercoat (or primer) is necessary because it will make your paint stick much better to the plastic and it will create a more even surface for you when you paint. I strongly recommend only painting on a miniature with undercoat. Painting on bare plastic is just inviting a lot of trouble into your process (paint falling off, thin paint pooling up in areas and generally just a pain in the bum).

I would also recommend that you prime your miniatures white. There are a few reasons I think that white primer is better for our process, especially for beginners:

  1. No matter what colour you are going to paint on white primer, it will require very few layers to get the actual colour you are looking for. Painting on black will require multiple thin layers, and you might not have the patience for that when you are starting out.
  2. Painting very bright colours will be much easier on white (and this is what I think you should go for).
  3. It will be easier for you to see the details on the model while painting. When painting on black you will have a harder time figuring out what parts of the model are.
  4. I find that white primed miniatures are much more inviting to paint. When I see black miniatures, it feels like such a pain to go and do all of the details. Because the white primed model looks crisp and ready, I am much more likely to want to paint it. White primer just tricks my brain into wanting to paint. Black will, unconsciously, keep me from painting.

Some people swear by grey primer and others do black. Some find that black is easier for beginners because if they miss a spot it is not that visible. I find that is a poor way of painting for a beginner. Some find white hard for beginners because any missed spot will stand out. My thoughts on that are that you should not miss a spot, and even if you do miss something, some shading will cover it right up okay.

But if you are not following my recipe, go with whatever colour you like. Even priming with the colour the majority of the model has can work.

Go prime your miniature(s)

  1. Find something your miniatures can stand on (unless you want to prime your green lawn)
  2. Line your miniatures up with some space between them. It can be easier to stick them to some cardboard with sticky tac, so they don’t fall over when you spray them.
  3. Make sure the weather is neither too hot, too cold or too humid. The primer will crackle a bit and leave you with a model without a clean finish if the conditions are not good.
  4. Shake the spray can and make sure the spray can is not cold.
  5. Gently spray your miniatures from an appropriate distance. I suggest going very slow as a beginner, because the primer can quickly pool and destroy details on the model.
  6. Cover the miniatures in as much primer as you feel comfortable. On some models I just do a light spray, so the miniature is more grey than white. On others, I need all of the miniature to be white.
  7. Check and see if you missed any spots. Do not touch the miniatures before they are dry unless you want big fingerprints on your model. If you need to spray the underside of the models, wait till they are dry and then come back and do it.

Now you miniatures are ready for painting!

8. Basecoat the miniature(s)

So it is time to lay down some paint. The first layer you of paint you put on a miniature is called the basecoat. This is where you decide what colour each part of the model is and apply basecoat of that colour.

  • For beginners, I suggest painting all parts of the model before applying any shade/wash.
  • If you decided not to glue your miniatures to the base, you will need some kind of miniature holder. You can read about the Citadel Painting Handle and some alternatives here. If in doubt, use sticky tac on a paint bottle.
  • Start with the parts of the model that are hardest to reach without painting on other parts of the model. This is done so you minimize the number of times you accidentally apply paint on areas you have already painted. This is also called ‘painting inside out’ because you start with the parts that are “inside” other parts of the model. That would be the tongue in the mouth, the inside of a cloak and so on. On my Orruk, it was the green skin that was easiest to do first.
  • Do not worry about getting paint on parts of the model you are not painting, unless that part has already been painting. If you do it that way, the first few parts of the miniature you can do very quickly.
  • Paint one part of the miniature at a time. This will keep you focused and aware of what spots you are missing.
  • If possible, paint all parts of the model that needs the same colour in one go. This will cut down on the number of times you have to change paint (which will take quite a long time when you add up all that time).
  • Do thin coats with all colours. Use Lahmian Medium or water to keep the paint thin. If the white primer is showing through the colour unevenly, do two thin coats. The paint should flow easily from the brush onto the model. If you find you have to drag the paint onto the model, the consistency is too thick. If the paint flows too much around and runs into other parts of the model, the consistency is too thin.
  • In the start, I suggest you paint one miniature at a time. Later on, you can move ahead and paint two, three, four and then five miniatures at a time. When you batch paint like that, you paint the same colour on each model and after that move on to the next colour. This is quicker, but can also become boring (because you spend a lot of time doing the same thing over and over).
  • Remember to rinse your brush regularly. Remember to not get paint in the ferrule (metal part of the brush). Brush care is key if you want your brushes to last. You can read my article on brush care here.
  • Always use a brush of appropriate size. Beginners will have a tendency to use too small a brush when laying down basecoat because they are nervous about making mistakes. If you use too small a brush, it will take way to long to lay down the basecoat.
  • Consistency is key. A nice consistent basecoat will look much better once it has been shaded.

9. Shade or (or ‘wash’) the miniature(s)

Now all parts of your miniatures have basecoat on it and it is time to add some shadows. When you look at the miniature right now, it will look very flat and dull. After we are done shading it, it will look much more lifelike.

  • Use a brush of a good size. It needs enough body to get some shade in it, but not soo much that it will blob all over the place. In general, I will use a brush about one size bigger than the brush I used for doing the basecoat.
  • Load up the brush with a shade paint (I prefer the Citadel brand) of the same colour as the basecoat (green shade for green basecoat, purple shade for purple basecoat and so on).
  • Apply the shade to the painted areas. Try and move the paint around so it settles in the creases. In the start, you will get too much shade on model, but come back to those areas and take the shade from there to other areas that need shade. If too much shade dries on flat areas, it will look weird so try and avoid that.
  • Some will suggest you only apply shade on the recess. For the method we are using here I suggest getting it on all parts of the model. If you only shade in the cracks, you have to highlight the model to make it look good.
  • Do one colour at a time, applying the shade to all the areas. Let that paint dry before moving on to the next colour of shade, as the different colours of shade do not mix well together.
  • In general, it is better to apply too little shade than too much. If you apply too little, you can always come back and add more when it is dried. 
  • If you notice that the shade starts to follow gravity downwards on your model and pool, you are adding too much shade. Use the brush to get to soak up the pools and move it to other parts of the model (or take it off completely if needed).
  • When you have shaded all areas with the same colours, let it dry completely before continuing. The easiest way to mess it up is by tampering with almost dried shade.
  • Remember to rinse your brush in water a lot while applying shade. That stuff can quickly ruin your brush. Do not let it dry in that sucker.
  • After all areas has been shaded, your model is actually finished and ready for the tabletop. Now we only need a base for it to stand on.

10. Do the base for the miniature(s) and glue them together

A good looking base is one of the things that will make or break how your model and army looks like. Even though the base is really important for the overall look of your miniature, I still suggest that you find a simple way of making some good looking bases.

As a beginner, I suggest you take a look in the Citadel App under “Paint Bases”. That section will list various recipes for all of the Citadel Texture paint (that I really like). You can get some awesome looking bases with that, a bit of dry brushing and a few extra bits.

For all Destruction bases I use Agrellan Earth, dry brush with bleached bone and followed by a lighter toned dry brush. To that, I add a few tufts, some skulls and some homemade mushrooms mode greenstuff.

When you decide on a texture paint to use, think about how that colour will interact will all of the different colours of your miniature. I picked a very neutral looking base, but with red mushrooms to catch the eye from a distance.

A few tips for basing:

  1. Undercoat the bases so the texture will have something to stick on to. If you use a crackle effect texture paint, remember that the undercoat will show through (so white is not the best option here).
  2. Apply the texture paint all over the base (but not on the edges). Some textures you can mix for some great effects (a mixture of heavy coat Agrellan Earth, thin coat Agrellan Earth and heavy coat Agrellan Badland can look very good).
  3. Wait for the texture to dry completely before messing with it. I really take time to harden.
  4. Decide how you are going to make it look more alive. Some do a shade and a dry brush, but many different ways can look good. Some of the textures you can even paint a different colour altogether (but I would not recommend it for the crackle effect textures).
  5. Add a few basing bits if you want the base to stand out more (Citadel skulls, Citadel tufts and so on are classic).
  6. Paint the edges of the base. Some find black to be best (and I did that for a long while) but I find it attracts the eyes of the viewer too much. For beginners, I suggest a light brown colour (unless of course your base is red or something crazy).
  7. When your base is complete, glue your model onto it. For the most part you cannot use plastic glue for this. Plastic with paint on it does not take well to plastic glue and the texture paint will not melt from the glue either. I use a metal glue instead.

If you are looking for easy basing solutions,  the citadel texture paints is a very good solution. You can read more the citadel texture paints here.

11. Do small extra bits on your miniature(s)

This step is skippable, especially if you are going to paint a horde army. That said, doing just a few extra bits can take your the look of your army to the next level. This does not have to lake long, maybe 5 min. extra pr. miniature.

  1. The human eye is naturally drawn towards the face. I strongly recommend painting the eyes of the model, as this will make it look much more complete.
  2. Gently give the face a bit of highlighting. Just use the same colour as you used when basecoating, and go very gently with thin paint. Do the same for the teeth and maybe the hair. This will give the face a lot more contrast and trick the mind into thinking the whole of the model has been highlighted.
  3. If you have not already done it, paint the nails and fangs of the miniature. As with the face, add a few highlights with the base coat on the hands.
  4. Now if you have the time, it can be a good idea to add a bit of flavour to the model. I am a big fan of adding some rust to the weapons. The method of adding daps of Typhus Corrosion followed by Rysa Rust is a quick yet very effective way of making your metal weapons and armour look stunning.
  5. For big centrepieces in your army (big monsters or vehicles) you should spend some extra time adding details. If they are very well painted, people are less likely to notice the shortcuts you have taken on your infantry models.

12. Adjust your process

While painting your first few models, you will find things that are working less well for you. You should adjust your process along the way, so the next models and units will become easier and better.

A few things to think about after you have completed a unit with the above process:

  • Some find it easier to do all of the bases in one go. After that, they glue on their primed models to the finished bases.
  • It is easier to see how the colour scheme works once you have done a few different miniatures and line them up together. Does the base really work with the colours? Do not second guess yourself, but have a think about it.
  • Are some of the colours coming out darker than you would like? Do you have to add more shade or less? Do you have to go over with more layers of basecoat or more layers of shade?
  • Sometimes it can add contrast if you apply a bit of Nuln Oil shade to creases and cracks. if you find your miniatures looks ‘washed out’ (very bright colours all blending together) this can be a trick you can apply to make it look better.

13. Repeat until your army is finished

This sounds like the easiest thing to do, but is actually the hardest. Getting those first few units done is the easiest because you are so excited about the project. The hard part is the end stage, once everything becomes boring because you have done it 50 times.

Here are a few tips to keeping you on the right track:

  1. Believe that you can do this. Know that painting armies only really requires patience and dedication. With the number of nice paints, tools and guides it requires only a minimum of skill and that is easily learned. Painting does not require artistic skill, art knowledge or anything else of that kind. Sure, that is going to help if you want to create art, but this is not what we are going to do here.
  2. Get help! If you have a friend in the hobby ask for some guidance. Get them to sit down with you and figure all of this stuff out. They will have a lot of stuff to teach you about how to avoid all kinds of noob mistakes. If you can get them to do it, sit down and paint beside them. Not only will you pick up some amazing tips, but painting together will keep you motivated.
  3. Do not compare your models or paint skill with some amazing miniature you find on the interwebs. That person might have painted his whole life. Right now you are learning the basics by painting an army. As long as you learn something new and get slightly better with each model, you will get to the level of paint skill you want someday. By getting very good at the basics, you will eventually be able to go to the next level.
  4. Find ways to motivate yourself. Join an online paint community. Find things to do while painting. Show your work to someone that will appreciate it. Join a club and paint with fellow painters. Just find out how you can stay motivated.
  5. Make sure it is easy for you to start painting. If you have to use 15. min just setting up your hobby station, you are not using your hobby time very efficiently. Make it easy and enjoyable to go and paint, even if it is just for 10. min.
  6. Stop not painting. I use soo much of my hobby time reading, making lists, thinking about painting and everything else that is not actually painting. Just. Paint. More.
  7. Stick with your colour scheme once you are happy with it. At some point, you will get bored painting it and you will want to change it. Do not do it. Do not start over. Keep trucking and stick with your goals. You will get better and better and the first model might not look that cool anymore. You can come back to it later, but do not fall for the temptation of stripping that model until you have finished the whole army.
  8. If you are really not enjoying it, stop and paint something else for a change. This will hopefully get you back in the painting groove, and make you able to come back to this project very soon.
  9. Write a detailed recipe on how you do each colour. Not only will it help you internalize the process better, it will also be much easier to go back to this project if you take a break. I do not have a count on how many times I have gone back to a project and I have to use 2 hours just figuring out how the heck I did this or that colour.
  10. Make sure not to stress the small details. Keep the big picture in mind: painting an army!

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