Miniature Preparation Techniques:
|Back to Top|
One of the best things you can do to ensure a smooth and tidy paint job on your figures is to invest a little more time in preparation of the miniatures prior to painting. Removal of mold lines - the unsightly raised "flash" that encircles each figure (or each piece of multi-part castings) where the two halves of the mold come together during casting/pouring - is very important to the overall look of a finished model. There's nothing more annoying once a paint job's been finished to discover an untouched mold line, and nothing that screams "sloppy modeler" than leaving mold lines, venting tails, and the like completely untouched.
The most common and expedient method, especially with plastic figures, is to use the edge of a hobby knife dragged backwards across the mold lines at roughly a 45° angle. For this type of work it's always best to use as sharp a blade as possible and to take extreme care not to cut or stab yourself, generally by cutting away from you. Another common method - a little more involved but producing smoother results, I feel - is using needle/hobby files to smooth out the flash and other irregularities in the figure. Personally, I seem to get the most use out of my Flat, Half-Round, Round, and 3-Square (triangle) needle files. A combination of knife "scraping" and filing produces the best results, but this all depends on personal choice, the tools available, or maybe more importantly: the actual mold of the miniature.
If you're looking for more worn but straightforwards notching than you get with a hobby knife blade on things like sword and axe blades, I'd recommend using a 3-Square (triangle-shaped) hobby file - it's got nice sharp angles and a little bit of filing will get you a solid, nice-looking notch with a minimum of fuss. Another bonus of the 3-square file is that it's excellent for filing off lengthwise mold lines from ribbed power cable sculpting and the like without deforming the ribbing.
Different Paint Brands/Types:
|Back to Top|
Games Workshop/Citadel Colour paints are of average consistency with decent amount of pigment, and so need to be thinned for a smooth finish but some of the colors suffer in terms of coverage as a result. Otherwise, their paints are well-made and their Ink and Metallic ranges are excellent - I'd say their metallic colors are on a par, appearance-wise, to alcohol-based metallics!
Games Workshop/Citadel Colour Foundation Paints are ssentially a higher-pigment formulation of the regular Games Workshop paints available in a selection of more muted colors, and are specifically intended for (shading) basecoats. Their consistency is a little bit thicker than the regular GW formulation, more of a creamy thickness. They interact well with regular GW (and other brands') acrylic miniature paints and can be used in color mixtures, washes, glazes, etc. but generally need to be thinned roughly twice the amount compared to regular GW paints to achieve the same effect in washes and the like. Foundation paints tend to separate quickly (both on the palette and in the bottle) and require a decent amount of shaking/mixing fairly often to keep the color/texture consistent during use. They cover strongly over dark or light undercoats when used as-is, more or less comparable to Privateer Press' P3 paint line or certain Vallejo Model Colors - if you want a smooth finish, however, they definitely still need to be thinned at least slightly (and so still require multiple coats for coverage - just not as many compared to regular GW paints).
The one major fault I find with the GW Foundation Paint line is that they dry much more rapidly than pretty much any other acrylic paint I've used, and I find myself needing to add a little more of my usual thinner mixture (with dry time extender) compared to other paints to get a similar amount of workability out of them.
Vallejo Model Color paints are fairly thick, but have extremely good pigmentation, and so need to be thinned but really suffer no adverse affects coverage-wise as a result. They come in an amazing range of colors, primarily military-esque and "natural" shades and have handy dropper-style bottles.
Reaper Paints (Master Paints and Pro Paints) are of creamy consistency and similar in amount of pigment to Games Workshop's paint line, and their color range is generally grouped into threes for easy painting of basecolor, shadow, and highlight. Their paints do need to be thinned and their metals aren't nearly as good appearance-wise compared to Games Workshop's.
Vallejo Game Color paints use a different binder than other brands and so have a more durable finish compared to many acrylic paints (think vinyl-esque) and, while not as thick as their Model Color line, still have very rich pigmentation. They do need to be thinned and their metals aren't nearly as finely ground compared to Games Workshop's metallic line. They come in a similar range of colors to Games Workshop paints and have handy dropper-style bottles.
Coat D'Arms Paints are of the old Citadel Colour formulation from many years back - a smooth, creamy consistency with good amount of pigment. It still needs to be thinned, but generally has better coverage than the current Games Workshop line of paints and their metals are fairly comparable to Games Workshop's current range, however I've read that their color lines aren't as true as some other brands (like Games Workshop paints again, for example.) By this I mean that one batch of their Royal Blue, just to pick a color name out of a hat, might have a slightly different shade than the jar of Royal Blue you buy a few months later.
Polly S/Floquil Acrylics are fairly decent in use, but of thinner consistency and average amount of pigment. They have a limited range of metallic-style colors, but their paint lines are color-matched to documented real-world military and rail line shades.
Tamiya Acrylic paints have very thin consistency, strong pigments, and somewhat decent coverage (for being so thin.) They come in a limited range of colors (both gloss and flat, though) and are geared more towards model/RC vehicle painting. Where the Tamiya Acrylic paint lines truly excels is in airbrushing. (Their Smoke color is extremely useful as a wash, as are their clear colors!)
Craft paints - Delta Ceramcoat/Apple Barrel/Folk Art - are of thinner consistency and grainier pigmentation (not as finely ground) compared to paints specifically formulated for miniature painting. They don't need to be thinned compared to other lines to achieve a fairly smooth finish, but their coverage is likewise poorer in comparison due to a lesser pigment ratio, and as a result they are more likely to obscure detail on figures due to the need for multiple coats for certain colors. I haven't used them specifically, but I'd imagine metallic colors of craft-style paints suffer in the same way when compared to paints specifically formulated for miniature painting. Craft paints come in large-volume bottles, however - much cheaper when looked at from a cost/volume standpoint - and thus are ideal for painting terrain and similar applications over lots of surface area. Craft paints also come in a much wider variety of colors in comparison to most miniature paint lines and so its much easier to find single matching colors for basecoat, shade, and highlight colors. Despite shortcomings when used for miniature painting as compared to paints specifically blended for it, especially when used for more advanced techniques involving thinning or blending, they do have some advantages of their own, especially with larger scale projects.
Artist-quality Oil paints have extra-thick consistency and extra-full pigmentation. They do need to be thinned, but are extremely workable and very well suited to blending as they have an extra extra long drying time right out of the tube (think overnight, if you're lucky.) Some colors, depending on the manufacturer, might also be toxic (any color with heavy metals, for example - true Cadmium Red being a perfect example.) I'm unsure of the finish quality of metallic artist's oils, but it's likely a given that they'd have good coverage. There is also an amazing range of potential colors in artist's oil paints that you'd never see in other ranges.
Testor's Enamel/Testor's ModelMaster are good paints with a wide range of colors and smooth alcohol-based metal finishes. Unfortunately, they need to be thinned/cleaned with turpentine/mineral spirits (which melts plastic,) and due to quick dry times and difficulty in thinning, are not really conducive to advanced miniature painting techniques like blending, glazing, etc. I'd not particularly recommended these for miniature painting if you plan on using advanced techniques like washes, glazes, and blending although they are widely available and fairly inexpensive compared to more "specialized" acrylic brands. One excellent angle of ModelMaster paints are the spray paints, which come in a reasonably wide variety of colors and are excellent for quickly covering display plinths or applying solid basecolors where an entire figure covered in a particular color is not an issue. Likewise, their "matte" spray paints are truly flat, and Testor's Dull Cote makes and excellent final sealer for a true matte finish, even if it's a little more expensive per volume compared to other brands of spray sealants.
I have not used Polly S paints in years (but checked on 'em for this little summary here), have only read reviews of Reaper Pro Paints (but am comparing them mentally to the old Ral Partha paint line, which I used to use frequently - they sound about the same in usage) and have not used Artist's Oil paints for miniatures personally, but have read numerous writeups on their use for miniatures. I haven't used Coat D'Arms paint, specifically, but the majority of my paints are from the range and formulation that Coat D'Arms bought to use as their own, so I'd say I'm "familiar" with 'em. I used to use Testor's/ModelMaster paints exclusively, but after making the switch to acrylic paints, I don't see myself ever going back to enamels for miniature painting, just for acrylic paint's sheer versatility.
I'm personally familiar with and have used everything else to greater or lesser degrees, however. Any clarification/correction would be appreciated, though, by folks who have used multiple paint brands and wouldn't mind dropping me a line.
|Back to Top|
This is one of the things I've gotten into recently that I hadn't really done before in a formal way. One of the best things you could possibly do is "invest" in a palette of some sort, rather than painting straight out of the bottle. A palette need not be anything fancy: I know that a lot of people use the blister packs from miniatures, or paper plates, or pieces of tile. The idea behind a palette is that you've got something solid and non-absorbent that you can use to mix colors as you need them. Unless you want to keep scrounging up new blister packs or plates all the time, I'd recommend something washable like a piece of tile or a food container lid.
One thing I've found is that for speeding up painting, if you're planning on painting a lot of miniatures such as with an army, it's maybe a good idea to "invest" in some empty bottles, jars, or other containers to store pre-mixed paint. Personally, I bought a model set with a few pipettes and 5 empty jars. You could realistically use old paint pots, hermetically sealed fluid sample containers, etc. If there's color mixtures that you tend to use frequently (like a Codex Grey/Black mixture for highlighting edges of black armor, for example,) you might want to pre-mix and store colors rather than spending time redoing them every time you sit down.
I've been taking a few stabs at different ways of mixing paints now, and I'm not sure what's working out best for me - time will hopefully tell. I have some syringes and/or pipettes that I use if I want to get an exact ratio for paints or thinners. For example 4:1 Bestial Brown to Chaos Black, I'd suck up some paint in syringes, drop out 4 drops of one and 1 drop of another and I've got an exact mixture. I also put drops directly onto my palette, so I can blend them and either use the thick mixture in the center or the thinned paint at the edges of the puddle. I also have a tendency to dip in one puddle on the palette and pick up paint from another puddle to mix colors on the miniature as needed. Folks using Vallejo paints have the bottles themselves with dropper-like tips, while some people transfer all their bottles of one paint into different containers entirely. It's all up to personal preference.
However you get the color you're aiming for is kinda irrelevant, it's the end result that kinda justifies the means. Get as creative with mixing and storage as you want.
|Back to Top|
Layering is essentially putting different overlapping layers of paint side-by-side or on top of each other in progressively smaller amounts to get the appearance of one color blending/transforming into another. Say you've got a square area, with Bright Red on the left and Bright Yellow on the right. In order to make this look like a smooth gradation, you'd want to layer a bunch of colors in order to work from one to the next with a clear, neat transition. Using the example square area, then, you'd paint Bright Red > Red > Red/Orange > Orange > Orange/Yellow > Yellow > Bright Yellow. You could go about this any number of ways, and call the procedure whatever you like. For the sake of example, we're going to call it "layering." You could start out with a Bright Red basecoat, paint on plain Red while leaving a little bit of Bright Red exposed on the left side. On top of the Red, you'd paint Red/Orange whilst leaving a little bit of the Red exposed on the left side. From there'd you'd paint pure Orange, leaving some Red/Orange exposed on the left side. So on and so forth. You could also start with Bright Yellow and work from right to left. You could start with Orange in the middle and layer other colors on both sides, working outwards.
There comes a time when you really need to consider how involved you want to get in order to achieve your desired end appearance. The more layers or colors you use to move from one shade to a different shade, the smoother the final appearance. On the other side of the coin, the more time and effort you put in, the longer the miniature takes to paint. Realistically, again using the above example, you could paint only three bands of color - Bright Red > Orange > Bright Yellow. You've got your layered colors with a beginning, a mid-range color, and an end color, but it might not look as good as if you took 15 steps in-between.
From a practical application standpoint, you can use layering to work up from shadow color to basecoat to highlight. Or maybe from basecoat to highlight to extreme highlight. Or maybe from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet, if you're feeling particularly frisky. Whatever you call it and whatever colors you move from or to, the idea is essentially the same - by layering different, subtle colors on top of or next to each other, it gives the appearance of a gradual transition.
Really, the only difference between straight-up "layering" and straight-up "feathering/blending/wet brushing" is that with layering the colors are just painted as-is, whereas with blending the border between two adjoining colors is "muddled" to provide an even more subtle transition between shades than simple "blocks" or "bands." Again, it comes down to how involved you want to get in order to achieve the desired end appearance...
|Back to Top|
The problem with miniatures, if you want to call it that, is that they're just so damned small! You're trying to take something at 1:25, 1:28, or 1:30th scale and make it look realistic. This is where shading (and essentially highlighting) comes in.
Ideally, in shading any color, you want to be using a deeper/darker version of that color. At the extreme end of the scale, the absolute darkest version of any paint color is black, just as the absolute lightest version of any painted color would be pure white. (Now don't go and bust out the whole spectrum versus color wheel versus paint hues thing on me, I'm intentionally trying to be simplistic here!) In order to achieve the effect of shading, there's a lot of different approaches, and most people seem to use at least one or more to some extent.
Layering is where you take a darker shade, use it as the basecoat, and then gradually build up layers of paint on raised (non-shadowed) areas at least to the ideal color you are aiming for, and then possibly beyond (through highlighting or glazing, etc.)
A combination of this and washing would be where you paint the ideal color, put a wash of a darker color over it, and then touch up the main areas to the goal color while leaving depressions and crevices dark to represent shadowing.
Blacklining is where you use very thin lines of black in sharp edges or indentations to represent an extreme shadow. This is also good to separate broad areas of color, where instead of laying the colors side-by-side, you create an artificial division through blacklining.
From personal experience/painting guides from way back in the day, I find it looks much neater and cleaner to use a darker shade of your target color if at all possible. For a lot of colors, black is just too "abrupt" in my mind. For example, if you can shade greys with a darker grey it looks a little more clean than using straight black. For reds, yellows, and even oranges, I'd recommend using a dark brown as opposed to black if at all possible (unless a darker shade is available.) Cooler colors, on the other hand, I think are a little more forgiving - black doesn't look as awkward for shading. In most cases, you can even mix black with the target color to end up with a darker shade. Alternately, you can mix their opposite on the color wheel for a somewhat darker shade - ie mixing red with a little bit of green gets you a much darker red.
|Back to Top|
Highlighting is the "art" where by application of color and bright areas to a painted miniature, you force the appearance of scale-appropriate illumination onto the figure. In general, miniatures do not "hold" light well, due to their tiny size. They are supposed to be representing full-size people/animals/vehicles/etc., which in their original scale, would have light and dark areas from folds of fabric, reflection from the environment, etc.
Highlighting is tricky, because it is essentially an illusion. By painting lighter/brighter areas on edges or raised sufaces, you are giving the appearance of illumination where there necessarily is none. Taken to an extreme (and there's a lot of discussion of this specifically in painting groups and such,) you have forced perspective miniature painting, such as Non-Metallic Metal style (i.e. "Rackham"-style miniatures,) where the lighting, shadowing, and highlighting is painted to look realistic - but usually only appears that way from only a single viewing angle.
A more broad approach would be to assume a more ambient light environment surrounding the miniature, so only extreme edges and raised areas are highlighted, deep crevices and folds are shadowed, and so forth. This is what is usually seen on most painted miniatures nowadays (i.e. the "GW" style.) Taken to an extreme, though, highlighting can be overly exaggerated, with bright colors bordering on white placed at extreme edges - it can also be subdued, with minimal gradation between "average" areas, "raised" areas, and "depressions." Highlighting is more a matter of personal preference, and can cover a wide range of styles - what it isn't though is flat, untouched areas of color across an entire miniature figure.
|Back to Top|
The idea behind glazing is that it intensifies and evens out the color of anything underneath. You're essentially painting on a coating of a very thin color over the top of whatever else you're working on. Perfect example: you've just got done painting your model with lumpy dragon skin, and you've drybrushed to highlight and accentuate the "raised effect." However, having drybrushed, it's got that "patchy," "chalky" appearance that you get from having used white to highlight over another color. A glaze, or very thin coat of another color, will average out both the chalkiness and the darkness of the layers underneath and so the end result will look overall better than just a plain drybrushing and highlights alone, although not as "crisp" as if you had not added a glaze at all. Whether to glaze or not to glaze really depends on the overall look you're aiming for with the finished model.
Glazing can either work for you or against you, so I recommend if you do anything similar to glazing, there's a few things to keep in mind:
|Back to Top|
One of the most important things the average miniature painter can do is using acrylic paints is thin them slightly. Most of the popular brands (GW, Vallejo, Reaper, etc.) are slightly thick and while they go on well and tend to have decent coverage, they really don't make for a smooth finish at the end especially where multiple coats are involved.
Thinning paint, unfortunately, is somewhat of an art form and really comes down to personal preference developed through trial and error. The safest way to start thinning paints would be to use clean water (purified, even?) in maybe a 1:1 ratio of paint to water. This can be done a number of ways - after dipping your brush into a paint pot you dip it into another jar of clean water, you put paint on a palette and add in water to the desired proportion, or you go whole hog and pre-mix bottles of paint/water in the desired ratio.
The reasons for thinning paint are many:
Now, onto the trickier stuff:
Using additives besides plain water often rely on a recipe, especially when making up pre-mixed bottled "thinner" beforehand to save on time when painting. Depending on the brands and products used, some should not to be too concentrated in a mixture or they affect the final appearance, whereas others do nothing at all if they are too dilute. Personally, I use the following recipe:
Once you've got your recipe down, how you use it and in what concentrations is up to you as it really depends, again, on what you're wanting to accomplish with your paints. For example:
Again, this is more of an art form than anything. If I'm glazing, I tend to add more thinner mixture (12:1 with paint) and use small amounts painted on directly. For lining-in areas of detail, maybe 1:4 paint/mixture for painting on straight or 1:8 if I want to to creep along depressions (such as narrow gaps between armor.) It all depends on that effect I'm going for. Regardless, now that I've started using additives and specialized thinning for my paints, I doubt I'd ever go back to plain ol' water if given the choice. There's so much more you can accomplish by thinning your paints strategically compared to using it straight out of the pot.
|Back to Top|
Key: GW = Games Workshop/Citadel Colour paint, VMC = Vallejo Model Color paint, VGC= Vallejo Game Color paintCrimson Red:
|Back to Tutorials|
What I call transitional blending goes by a lot of names - blending, feathering, gradiation, etc. - all depending on who you talk to and what "school" of painting they might be from. Essentially, I myself use a form of layering to smoothly transition from one color to another. My way of transitional blending is probably a combination of a lot of things, like moving from one color to another through a series of 1-drop steps, having flow improver in my thinner mixture, etc. If I had to pick a few things, though, that I feel make the process really "work," I'd probably narrow the list down to brush direction, paint consistency, and "puddling" - and they all sort of combine in theory.
The biggest thing I've found about brush direction is that ideally you draw (or push) your brush towards the area where you want the amount of color to increase - I'm partial to drawing the paint in the direction I want it to go, myself. This means I get into some pretty convoluted positions holding the figures, but it also means that I get a lot of control over where I deposit the paint. Even when I'm doing edge highlights and only use the sides of the brush to lay on paint, I angle the brush so that the thicker part of the brush base is towards me and I pull the brush towards where I want the highest concentration of color. Same goes for using the tip of the brush; I make a lot of small strokes and "pull" the color towards where I want it to go, and eventually I end up with a gradiated transition from one color to the uppermost layered color. I learned this through lots of practice, I guess, and while it's not as tricky as a two-brush blending technique using still-wet paints for a transition between the two colors, I feel it gets the job done nicely.
Paint consistency is about as important to me now as brush handling. Back in the day, I used to just dip into the bottle and a glass of water and just slap it on - even then, though, I added more water and drew less paint when I wanted to make a color transition. Now I use a daisy wheel paint well palette, individual drops of paint, and a dropper to add thinner with flow improver and dry time extender - but the idea's the same. If I'm doing highlights or blending on a new layer of color, I rarely if ever use paint that's more concentrated than maybe 1 drop of paint to 3-4 drops of thinner. Granted, this means I have to make more brush strokes to lay on color, but it also means I have more control over how much color I put down (how many "swipes" I make over a particular area) and the direction I want the color to build towards (direction I pull the paint, generally).
As for "puddling," I don't know what the hell you'd call it - maybe "micro-washing" or something like that. My smooth blends are essentially an illusion, in my opinion; I let the paint do all the work. Take the top of the blue shoulder pad, for example, when compared between here and here. I actually went back in and did a reverse blend back into the Ultramarine Blue because I thought the transition at the very top of the shoulder pad and along the facing edge was a little rough. When I'm tidying up like this, I generally thin my paint to about 1:8 paint/thinner, make a small puddle over the area I want to blend away from (the lighter color in this case) and start pulling the new color with my brush away from the other color - and then I just let it sit and dry. Because I have flow improver in my thinner, the paint generally settles with gravity/surface tension/paint fairies pulling the highest concentration of color towards the middle of the puddle; because I use dry time extender, the liquid part of the paint evaporates slower and gives it more time to settle - the end result, generally, is a smooth transition from thin at the edges to darker towards the middle. This tends to work better over flat surfaces as opposed to areas with lots of depressions or variations in height - but flat surfaces are generally the areas where it looks better to show off smoothly transitioned colors, so it works for me. I love painting over wet paint (not with two brushes, so it's technically not traditional "blending") and this is another way I force transitions - the gemstones on the axe of the above linked images of the Librarian Istaarn figure, for example, were originally finished green ones with highlights and everything. I didn't think they stood out enough next to the green axe, so I slathered 'em with a 1:15 glaze of Blue Ink and got 'em nice and watery (and tinted blue/teal now) and while this whole puddle covering the entire gem was still wet, I added thinned white (pulling it towards the bottom part of the gem) and some thinned black (1:8, maybe, 'cause I had been using it to line in around the gun casing and decorations and such) and pulled the black towards the top of the gem. A few more dabs of puddled blue ink in the middle section and I ended up with the gems looking the way they are currently. Again, I learned to force transitions through dragging of thinned glazes through lots of practice, as it takes a fair amount of luck/skill and some experience in working with dry time extenders.