Painting Minis for Newbs - Advice wanted

I suspect that I am not the only person here who has never painted minis before but is tempted to try.  I have been doing some research into how to do this, and found a lot of advice that says "YMMV" and "it depends on the size/detail of your minis, the exact materials they were made with, and even what mold release agent was used."

With that in mind, is anyone out there willing to share specifics about what they found has worked for them?  Things like what specific primer, what kind of paint, and what sealant they used?

How much money would I need to invest to do even a basic job painting these (I got the base set and the uprising minis)?  I just read about someone using a can of something that cost $35 - how many of those am I going to need (hoping the answer is none)

Can I cheat and just color them with sharpies and then dip them in sealer?


What I've gathered so far:

1.  Wash the minis thoroughly in soap and water to get oil/mold release agents off.

2.  Prime them, but not so much that you obscure details.

3.  Experiment on your least favorite minis first.  

4.  Patience, Patience, Patience.


Thanks for whatever advice you can give or link me to!

Got a FLGS where wargames are played? You'll find painters there that can help.

Wash in soap and water. It isn't just for mold release agents, but skin oils from handling, as well.

Currently I'm using a Krylon Flat Black spray to prime some plastic BattleTech minis and some model parts. Haven't had issues with flooding, even after multiple coats.

Experimenting is good. Personally, I'd go with some flat or semi-gloss paints unless you're planning a dullcote sealer or the figure requires that shiny appearance.

Patience is good. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break and come back to it. If you find yourself getting frustrated just by coming back to it, go outside and relax. has a minis area where advice can be had or minis can be drooled over.

Here are a few things that I've found are pretty helpful.

Take it really slow, and let the coats dry before adding a new one. Work on a couple of minis at a time, so that you can set the drying ones aside and still have something to do.

work from the inside out. start with things like the eyes, and then move out to the face, clothes, scenery, etc.  That way, if your hand is a bit shaky and you get a dab of paint somewhere, its likely that you'll be able to cover it up later when it comes time to paint that section.

Make sure that you are working in a brightly lit area.

there are tons of supplies and extra things that can help.  At the most basic, you'll want two brushes- one that goes to a fine point (for detail), and one that has stiffer bristles (if you want to try your hand at drybrushing).  You'll want paints- Everyone has their own personal preference.  Reaper miniature paints are good, citadel paints are good.  

choosing colors can get a bit overwhelming.  I'd get a basic set that has the primary colors and a few secondary ones.  Once you get more confident, or have some specific colors that you find yourself wishing you had, think about getting some new ones.

Get an apron.  Your clothes will thank you.

Ditto on the prewashing and the patience. Messing up a miniature because you were in a rush is one of the nastiest feelings ever. 

I use Citadel Primer and Paint, but also have some highly pigmented artist grade acrylic paints in black and white (which I need a lot more of). Citadel sealant is also pretty good. I always seal matte and never gloss (unless it's supposed to look like shiny metal or something wet), but that is a personal preference. You can use black or white primer. Some swear by the one, some by the other. I lean towards black, personally, because it usually looks less bad if I miss a hard to reach corner. Unless the mini happens to be wearing white, of course. Either way, really really remember to shake up your primer and your sealant, that reduces the odds of unsightly blotches. And don't spray when it's really humid, no good will come of it.

I know it's tempting as heck, but stay away from Sharpies or marker pens in general. They will not adhere to an unprimered surface, and on a primered surface it winds up being really, really streaky, plus you will gunk up the pens beyond repair. I have, however, on occasion used a very fine brush marker to do the eyes. But that is really the only thing I'd ever use them for. 

Other hints: Water down your paint, and do lots and lots of layers. That way, you never get the blurred features that some Heroclix miniatures get. Start with the dark areas of your mini, and then gradually do the lighter ones. Mix the colours you need if you can, that way you will have to buy a lot less colours, but make sure you don't run out of your special blended colour, because you will probably never manage to recreate it again. I like to mix small batches of paint on a white ceramic tile, because it is really easy to clean up afterwards. If you want to get really fancy, you can try your hand at highlighting, drybrushing or inking, but to be honest, you will probably be glad to survive painting your first few minis at all, and if you don't seal your mini right away, you can always come back and do those things when you feel more confident. 

If I was to try to paint a set of Proletariats now, and owned absolutely none of the materials and was buying my prefered brand, I'd pay around 24 bucks for paint (red, green, black, yellow, white and brown), 33 for primer and sealant and another 15-18 bucks to buy myself a few decent brushes (I think a fine detail brush will be mandatory to paint the star on Proletatrats face). So you'd be looking at a 75 dollar damage there to paint all the Proletariats, but obviously the materials would last for a lot more miniatures than that. You can probably get through all the minis on one can of primer, if you spray a bunch of them at the same time. 

Not a painting expert but as an artist I do work with colour a lot. I would think that white would be much better as a primer for Tactics minis than black, because you want nice bright colours to get that comic book style. Inking or washing is pretty easy, and certainly easier than shading with different values of your chosen colour.

I'm actually planning something experimental for my minis - white primer base with colour provided only by glazes, which I'll mix myself (using alcohol inks and Future floor polish which is basically pure acrylic). I need to test the concept on some cheapo plastic army men first though.

Oh yeah, that's my best tip. Get yourself a couple of bags of plastic army dudes from the dollar store/pound shop and practice and experiment until you're confident that you have a "feel" for the techniques you want to use.

A few things to know about sealing (this comes from sealing steel, but I imagine it will apply to painted minis as well). You'll want to use at least 2-3 coats to provide good protection and ensure that you have full coverage. Typically, glossy and matte sealants are identical, but the matte version has something added to it that diffuses some of the light instead of reflecting it back at you. This additive also decreases the effectiveness of the sealant a little bit. So, what I usually do is lay down 2-3 coats of gloss sealant (to protect the piece) and then one coat of matte at the end (to reduce the shine).

As you handle the minis, the sealant will gradually wear off and need to be refreshed. Someone made the very good point on this forum somewhere that if you use matte sealant over a gloss, it will be easy to spot the areas where the sealant is wearing because they will get more glossy. Otherwise, the only indication that your seal is failing is when paint is starting to wear away. Using matte over gloss allows you to catch the problem and fix it before it wrecks your precious paint job.

Man I tried so many tutorials over there, and all my models still looked meh.  Practice doesn't create talent.  So many people do an amazing job on those minis, esp. when they start doing magnetic omni-mechs and custom equipment layouts, it's just crazy.


Practice can make awesome.  Check out and compare the first few comics with the last few.  Their art improved in leaps and bounds over a year because they practiced.

I spent 10 years trying to will and practice myself into being an artist, still can't draw a straight line.  Practice refines talent, I eventually came to terms with my lack of talent in artistic areas.

I picked up some paint pens at Michael's the other day, should be able to do some fine detailing with them. I'm getting the pre-painted minis for Tactics but have minis for Super Dungeon Explore I'll be painting soon. Will need to save up some money for all the paints I'll be buying.

When it comes to minis, the primer coat helps define how the minis will look. White tends to make a "brighter" figure, while black primer makes the figure darker. A friend preferred black because most of his painting tended to be more like drybrushing, allowing the black to shadow the figure more. I generally use white. The figures I'm using black for are lower quality plastic BattleMechs. Kind of an experiment on my part

I did not prime these - normally I do with a religous frevor, but the details are so shallow and my painting hand has always been a bit strong, that I was worried about loosing the details. 


Without priming you can tell the places either I held the mini to long to paint (feet/heads) or that they didnt get a good scrubbing to get the release agents off (under arms and such) where the paint is coming off easily. If you are sure on your light hand, and have the patience, prime them first. It's really good for holding the paint.


Ink wash when you're done. A black ink, or black model paint and water to make an inky type (i tend to put a dab of paint on a large brush, then dip it twice in water, and run it down some paper towels till its mostly just water, not paint) will make some greate definition for the models. Proletariats pants look /excelent/  because of all the flat angled sides to them and it creates some great definition. Inkwashing is a super important skill to learn for good model painting.



My final bit of advice - Don't stop! Once you finish the mini's with this set, browse your local game store for mini's you like. You dont even have to be playing the game they involve with - painting mini's is a great fun hobby and you can make some really awesome things if you take your time, stuff to be proud of!

Thank you all for the advice, especially Julia for the detailed example on what it would cost to do Proletariat.  

i started with black primer on absolute zero and put one coat of white over.  i think it will need 2-3 coats.  Is it better to take the paint off and reprime white?  if so what is the best way to get the paint off?

Purple Power I've heard is good.

If you plan on painting a light color, use white or gray. The base coat will affect the color that is laid over it.

So I started painting my mini's for Sentinel Tactics a while ago and noticed that after varnishing and drying them, they became sticky and dry on and off.

Has anybody had similar problems at one time or another or know how to solve this problem? I am contemplating putting them into the oven, but as I have no experience with this, I'd thought to ask here first...


Related question on sealant coats: if I go to the art store down the street (Blick), they have a variety of clear coats/sealants including spray and liquid varieties. Anybody have a reason to prefer one over the other? I’m leaning towards liquid, to make sure I get in all the folds of Wraith’s cloak.

Googling around, the specific recommendations I’ve seen towards brands are that (1) Krylon top coats are bad for yellowing and cracking, and (2) Testor’s Dullcote is the best. But I haven’t seen that Dullcote anywhere - looked in a few likely stores - and I think it’s only a spray version. Anybody used the Blick-branded stuff, or anything else?

As to come back on my problem with sticky mini's: Putting them for two times 5 hours in the oven did not solve the problem, but I ended up dipping them in a matte floor protection polish (HG, product #52) and using a brush to take off the excess. HG also has a similar product with shine. This last treatment seems to have solved the problem (up till now since last week).

Hope this helps others that have had similar problems.