Getting Started Painting Miniatures

Whether you’re painting miniatures for a game or to display in your home, painting miniatures is a great hobby! In this article we will show you everything you need to get started and paint a miniature to tabletop quality. We will demonstrate by painting Riyo Chuchi from the Star Wars Legion: Vital Assets box set.

What You Will Need

You need primer, brushes, miniature paints (such as those from Citadel, Vallejo, Reaper, P3, Secret Weapon), shades/washes, and/or Contrast Paints.

Brushes

I like the Citadel Layer Small/ Medium as a good all-purpose brush. You can use these brushes for applying paint to your model, wait for the brush to (at least mostly) dry, and use the same brush to apply shades and Contrast Paints. I also like the Medium Shade brush for adding shades and Contrast Paints to larger models. There are a lot of good miniature painting brushes and sets, but Layer Small/ Medium brush is a good place to get started. I will be using them to paint Riyo Chuchi.

Note: A pro and a con of using Contrast Paints is that some of them will make your bristles stick together if you don’t wash the brush really well after use. If they end up sticking together in a point, you can end up with a really great fine detail brush!

Primer

Before painting, you’re going to want to use a Primer. A primer really helps the paint grab on to the model. Primers come in all different colors, and you may want to consider the main color of your model when choosing a primer. For example, if you’re painting a knight or a robot you may want a silver primer. If you’re looking for an all purpose primer, I recommend Corax White or Wraithbone or Grey Seer to easily get bright colors. Wraithbone is a warmer color, good for alive things like people, and Grey Seer is cooler, and good for things like vehicles, undead, or aliens. I primed Riyo Chuchi with Grey Seer.

Prime outside. I use painters tape to tape the model to an old box. I typically prime the back of the model, wait until dry, then flip over for good all over coverage. Primer usually takes less than 15 minutes to dry. 

Note: If you are working on WizKids Unpainted Miniatures, they come pre-primed so you can skip this stage!

Coloring Book Stage

The “Coloring Book Stage” is the stage where we get the all the regular miniature paints in approximately the right place on the model. I mostly use Citadel paints, but any of the brands mentioned above are designed for painting miniatures. I use Citadel Base paints and Layer paints interchangeably. Any miniature paints will need to be thinned down with water. Ideally, you’re looking for a consistency like runny ice cream. If your paint went on thinner than you would like, it’s better to wait for it to dry and add a second coat than adding paint that’s too thick.

I like to get as much detail in as possible during this stage as it’s easier to fix before applying a shade or a Contrast Paint.

Note: Cheap, all-purpose craft paints may seem like an attractive option price wise, but I highly recommend using paints specifically designed for painting miniatures. Speaking from experience, the difference in quality of the miniature paint job is worth spending the money to get the right paint!

Shades/Washes

Shades/washes add detail and bring out the love. Ideally, you want to have the shade match up to the color you have used (example: a red shade over a red paint). But if you don’t want to purchase a lot of colors right away, you can get away with brown or black in some cases.

Always shake your shades/washes before using. To apply, use a dry or mostly dry paint brush, and add liberally. Do not try to carefully paint this on or it won’t do it’s job. If you don’t get enough shade on your model it won’t allow the shade to pool in the recesses and get that detail. For lighter colors, you can mix up a lighter shade by adding Lahmian Medium. Lahmain Medium is essentially a clear shade. Do not mix shades with water!

Contrast Paints

Contrast Paints are a regular miniature paint and a shade all in one! And you can use them right over your primer and they will color your miniature and add your shade in one easy step! White or any other light primer is recommended if you’re planning to use Contrast Paints. You can also use them over other colors as well for different results. Shake your Contrast Paints before using or they won’t work properly! Treat them like a shade and apply liberally. If they pool in a way you don’t like, wait for it to dry and then mix the Contrast Paint and the color underneath together on your palette and you should be able to blend it in and fix it. If you want to thin down Contrast Paints, you can mix them together with Contrast Medium. Do not mix Contrast Paints with water!

And here is our finished Riyo Chuchi after applying shades and Contrast Paints (and just a few touch ups afterwards). I liked the face detail and colors and wanted to keep it, so I thinned down a blue Contrast Paint quite a bit to add just a little bit of extra detail. Transversely, I just wanted a hint of the purple on her pants, so I didn’t thin down the Contrast Paint at all before using it.

And that’s how easy it is to paint a miniature to tabletop quality! I hope you end up loving this hobby as much as I do!

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