Painting miniatures is a fun and rewarding hobby, but it does require some planning and a few supplies. Fortunately, all you need to get started are brushes and paint — everything else can wait until later. People paint miniatures for different reasons. I enjoy painting miniatures for use in tabletop games, but others enjoy making dioramas, and some people just like to display them.
Different Types of Miniatures
Types of Miniatures Painting
Miniatures can be broken down in to three main categories: fantasy, science fiction, and historical. Within each category, you can paint vehicles or non-vehicles, such as people and animals. The type of painting you want to do determines what types of supplies you need to purchase. While some basic materials, like paintbrushes, are universal, you need different colors of paint for each type of miniature. Once you get in to putting your figures on bases or creating dioramas, you will need to pick grass, rubble, and other scenery that is appropriate for the type of miniature, too.
For detail, choose a brush with a fine tip instead of the tiniest brush. Minuscule brushes don't hold enough paint to be very useful.
First and foremost, you need paint brushes. High-quality paint brushes cost several dollars each, but this kind of quality is not necessary for beginning painters. However, you need to avoid purchasing the least expensive brushes you find. Generally speaking, these brushes are inexpensive for a reason. They tend to shed and will frustrate you, not help you become a better painter. You should purchase a basic brush set that is not from the bargain bin and that has an assortment of brush sizes.
Flat brushes are good for painting large surfaces, such as vehicles, while round brushes are best for detail and people. After some of your brushes start to wear out, retain them for use as 'dry brushes.' Dry brushing is a technique that allows you hit raised surfaces with a highlight without changing the color of recessed areas.
Always take the time to wash brushes as soon as possible after using them. Even small amounts of paint in a brush's bristles hardens and ruins the brush, unless clean it extensively using a paint thinner. When I paint, I keep a cup of water and a paper towel on hand. As soon as I finish using a brush for the time being, I rinse it off in the cup and then place it on the paper towel to dry. Do not leave brushes sitting in a cup of water because it bends the bristles and ruins the brush. After I am finished painting for the time being, I rinse all the brushes out thoroughly under running water and carefully reshape the point before storing them. Most brushes come with a protective plastic sleeve. If you can remember to replace the sleeve, you can ensure the brush does not get damaged in storage. If no longer have the sleeve, store the brush, handle-end down, in a cup or jar.
Paints for Miniature Painting
Paints for Miniatures
Modern acrylic paints are just as durable as enamel paints but are easier to clean up.
Once you have brushes, you need paints. You need to choose between acrylic, water wash-up paints and enamel, oil-based paints. Traditionally, people have associated enamel paints with better wear over time. Today's acrylic paints are just as durable as enamels, but do not need paint thinner to clean up. Especially if you are just starting to paint, I highly recommend using acrylic paints.
There are several brands of paints made specifically for miniatures, but you can also choose to use acrylic craft paints. If you decide to use acrylic craft paints, the paints will need to be watered down. A good rule of thumb is to water down paints until they have the consistency of milk.
If you want to save the hassle of watering down paints, invest in paints made specially for miniatures. Model Master and Tamiya paints are readily available in many hobby and craft stores, but I am not a huge fan of either brand for painting miniatures. In my experience as a miniature painter and former hobby-store employee, these paints are better suited to scale model building, not painting miniatures. Instead, seek out brands known for high-quality paints intended for use on fantasy or historic miniatures. Historic miniature paints come in replica colors to mimic uniform colors and vehicle colors. Fantasy and sci-fi paint lines tend to have more bright colors, such as brilliant blues, purples, and greens. Some companies, like Vallejo, make historic and fantasy lines. Games Workshop makes some of the easiest to use sci-fi and fantasy miniature paints. Reaper Minis also makes a high-quality line of miniature paints.
If you are new to painting, you may be surprised that a tiny jar or eye-dropper style container of paint costs several dollars. It is well worth the investment, and the paints last a long time because you use so little for painting a miniature. I have some bottles of Games Workshop paint from 1993 that are still perfectly usable!
Historical and Fantasy Miniature Painting Guides
The Games Workshop painting guidebook is one of the best painting books around. Games Workshop employees some of the world's fines miniature painters and this book walks you through important painting techniques.
How to Paint Miniatures
Painting miniatures takes time and practice. It does not matter if you are a skilled artist, or have never held a brush - you will need to practice if you want to become a competent painter. If there is a hobby shop near where you live, hang out and ask the regulars, or employees, for painting advice. Every shop I've ever visited has a core cadre of regulars that hang around the store playing games, painting figures, or just chatting. Most of these people are more than happy to explain their hobby and give you advice.
The gaming companies mentioned above all produce painting guides. The Reaper guides are called "Hot Lead," and they have free YouTube videos. These guides tell you which colors to use, where to apply them, and give pictures. They are a fantastic starting point, but make sure not to get discouraged if your work isn't instantly amazing! Almost every time I finish a figure I think its fantastic, but when I look at it later, I find many flaws. This is a good thing - it means you are growing as a painter and have learned how to recognize areas that need improvement.
Hot Lead: How to Paint a Better Miniature
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 27, 2012:
I never thought I'd be able to do it, either, until I tried - you never know!
Thanks for stopping by.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on June 27, 2012:
Good Hub. I don't have the fine motor coordination to work with miniatures, but it is very interesting to know about the process and the culture. Nice work. :)
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 20, 2012:
Thank you! I'm particularly pleased with how flat and matte the decals are on those pieces. I struggled with decals for a long time, most likely because I couldn't be bothered to get the correct materials.
Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to vote/comment, I really appreciate it.
JMCL162 from New York on June 20, 2012:
I haven't painted models or miniatures in a while, but the german sturmgeschütz pictured above is very similar to one of the models that I built and painted. Good article and voted up.
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 25, 2012:
Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed painting and liked this hub. I hope to write more on painting in the future, but I've been too busy for painting projects recently.
KDuBarry03 on May 25, 2012:
Ah I used to do this a lot as a child; though they were very simple, it is a lot of fun. Yes, it is important to know what you doing; however, it is more important to know what you do and to enjoy it :) Great Hub!
Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 22, 2012:
My main problem with miniatures is I love painting them and creating forces, but then I rarely play the intended game. I just start on a new force, instead! So I'm constantly selling miniatures and buying new ones. Seems like, at least in some way, you can understand, Angelo42.
Thanks for the votes, both of you. I really appreciate it!
Angelo52 on May 22, 2012:
Lots of good information for the beginner here on painting the little figures. I did some years ago. Soldiers I believe. Finally gave them away to a friend who used them on a war table. Voted up + shared.