Learn How to Paint Miniatures: The Complete Guide for Beginners

So, you’ve picked up your first models and it’s time to paint your first miniatures, but where do you begin and how do you even paint them? I’m here to help guide beginners through the process of painting miniatures and make it less intimidating.

Let’s just dive in!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. The commission earned helps maintain this site.

How to Start Painting Miniatures

There’s a lot that can be said about painting miniatures. However, the basics are very simple and that’s what I want to discuss to get you painting your first miniature quickly.

I’m not going to bog you down in lingo and make it seem an impossible hobby to get into. Painting miniatures is a lot of fun and that’s what I want you to come away with here.

Miniature Painting Preparation

Depending on the miniature will depend on the preparation needed. Some models come as snap-fit figures, which are very simple to put together and don’t require glue.

There’s other kits out there, namely those from Games Workshop, that are multi-part miniature kits. The multi-part kits have a lot of pieces, often various options, and require more work to assemble.

In either case, you’re going to need something to cut the parts for the model from the sprue. You can buy expensive sprue cutters for this, or you can get some at a craft store pretty cheap. The craft store will often have these in the jewelry section and refer to them as flush cutters.

Of course, you can also find these online as well.

Also, you will need a hobby knife. X-acto is a go-to knife in the miniature hobby because it’s affordable, easy to find, and works very well.

The big thing you’re going to use the hobby knife for is to clean the mold lines off the miniatures. Mold lines are visible lines on the model from the molding process to create the miniatures.

You want to remove these mold lines from the model and you can do this very easily by using a hobby knife and scrapping the mold lines.

Hold the knife perpendicular to the miniature and at a slight angle. Then, drag the knife carefully towards you to clean the mold line.

Here’s a video from Games Workshop on the process as well. They use their mold line remover for the process, but it’s the exact same with a hobby knife. I’ve never used their mold line remover tool but I do hear it works great.

You’ll also use a hobby knife for cleaning up seams from gluing together your models. Here’s another video that shows what I’m talking about, and again you can use a hobby knife for this despite them using their mold line tool.

Cleaning mold lines and seams may seem unnecessary, as often they aren’t all that obvious, but this is a habit you really want to get into. It might not seem like much at first, but once you start painting a miniature, then all those mold lines and seams stand out. I have seen amazing painters not clean mold lines off a model and it just ruined the whole look.

Among a sprue cutter, super glue, and a hobby knife there are some other hobby tools you’re going to want eventually. I do have an article that covers hobby supplies like this to help you through understanding what you need.

Miniature Hobby Supplies

Priming Miniatures

Once the model is cleaned of mold lines and ready to be painted it’s time to prime it.

Primer creates a bonding surface for your paints. An unprimed model, whether it’s plastic, metal, or resin will not hold paint well. The paint has nothing to grip to and so the paint will rub off.

However, primer is made to stick to surfaces like plastic, metal and resin and it’s also made to create a surface to receive paint. Do not make the mistake of not priming your miniatures.

There’s a few ways to prime miniatures. The easiest for most people is a spray (rattle can). There are also primers you can buy for an airbrush, as well as brush-on primers.

This is a subject I won’t cover too fully here only because I have an article that covers using primer in much more detail. If you’re new to the hobby, or are unfamiliar with primers, then definitely check that out.

If you want to see the process then check out this video from Games Workshop.

Miniature Painting

This article won’t tell you how to paint a miniature, that’s a guide all its own, but instead get you on the road to painting your own miniatures.

Basically, I want to help you get setup with the tools you need and some basic knowledge going into it. I will, however, give a few tips with miniature painting.

First, use thin layers of paint. When you’re new to painting it’s easy to overestimate how much paint you need on your brush and in turn the model. Miniatures have very fine detail and too much paint will hide that detail.

Also, painting too thick will leave brush marks on the model and built up areas of paint. It just looks terrible.

This will take some practice, but using thin layers of paint will let you get a solid color on the model without obscuring the details. You can always add more layers of paint but you can’t take them off.

Here’s a great video showing you how to thin your paint and showing you why you should.

Second, have patience and practice. Nobody is amazing when they first learn to paint miniatures. Yet, if you have the motivation and drive then you can get better and learn to enjoy the process of painting itself.

I have been painting miniatures since 2006 and I am still learning new things. It’s in that learning and pushing myself to be a better painter that I find enjoyment. It can be frustrating at times, I won’t lie, but it’s also very rewarding.

Aside from layering, dry brushing is another great technique to learn early on. It’s simple to learn and gives great results quickly, which really helps with the morale and motivation.

Now, I do have some other articles on this subject that you may enjoy. One article covers common painting mistakes and how to avoid them. That’s a great read for new painters.

The other is on ways to become a better painter which offers tips and advice I’ve learned over the years. That one is about the mindset of painting and not about having expensive tools. You should enjoy it.

Miniature Painting Tips & Advice

Paint Brush Information

I’ll keep this short and sweet seeing as this can be a very long topic.

Starting out with cheap brushes you buy at Walmart or a local craft store for a few dollars isn’t a bad way to start with miniature painting. As you’re learning to paint you are going to destroy brushes. It’s just the nature of the process.

As you improve and get better with brush control, you will want to consider getting better brushes. I have had good luck with Citadel brushes in the past and you can generally find them in most gaming stores, and of course online. They are decent quality brushes that aren’t too expensive.

From there, as you become an even better miniature painter, the sky’s the limit. However, we’ll leave it there for today since we’re discussing beginnings.

Now, I do have a much more thorough guide to miniature paint brushes if you’re curious.

Miniature Paint Brushes

Paints for Miniatures

At the end of the day, the paint you use is personal preference and convenience of buying it. However, there is one recommendation I have for anyone, and that’s do not use craft paints.

The craft paints you can buy in major retail stores are just cheap all around. The paint quality is terrible and learning to paint miniatures with it will just be an exercise in frustration. Craft paints are great for crafts, not for miniature painting.

There are some companies who sell paints for miniatures that you may have heard of. The major companies are: Citadel (Games Workshop), Vallejo, Privateer Press (P3), and Army Painter. There’s certainly more than that, but those are the ones you’re most likely to see and hear about.

For many of us, the choice of paint comes down to the ability to buy it. I really like Vallejo paint, however, I have much easier access to Citadel paint. So, most of the paint I use is from Citadel.

When it comes to paint I like to be able to see it in person and gauge it. I could of course buy any of the paints online, but there’s no substitute for actually seeing the paint in person. I’m picky.

So, the paint you go with may be subject to availability to you. Any of those companies mentioned are great choices for miniature paint. Learning to paint with quality paint will make learning much easier.

Saving Money on Paint

Of course, you can buy almost anything off Amazon, so you’ll find a lot of paint options there.

Some good options for starting off and saving money are:

The price ranges quite a bit in those sets, but each of them will offer you a savings in buying paint and all are quality paints. It’s a great way to go if you just want to jump in with both feet.

Basing the Miniature

The final step, though some people do this first, is to base your miniature. Basing is the process of adding decorative elements to the base of the model to make it seem like it’s in a setting.

The basing could be desert, snow, rubble from a city, an alien swamp, and an endless list of things limited only by your imagination.

Here’s a few of my models so you can see the variety of basing you can do.

Probably the most basic basing most of us learn is to put PVA glue all over a base and dip it in sand. It’s simple, and when painted it looks good.

That reminds me, most of the basing is done before you prime the miniature. I have it last on the list because it’s the last element I like to work on, painting it that is, but the process of adding features to the base is done sooner.

The reason for that is because even if you’re going simple and gluing down sand, you want to prime the sand and paint it. I know it sounds weird if you’re new to the hobby. I mean, who paints sand or dirt? We do!

There’s a few reasons you paint things like dirt, or whatever other real life things you glued down to the base, like twigs, rocks, etc. A big one is to preserve the elements. By priming, painting, and sealing a twig you glued to a base, you are preserving the twig so it won’t decay and fall apart on you.

The other side of it is to give you control over the colors. This lets you paint those elements to compliment the model. Maybe you want a purple rock on the base because it would look cool, but what are the odds of finding a purple rock to use? So, we paint these things to be what we need them to be.

Here’s a good video from Miniac that covers basing your miniatures.

You can also find bases for your miniatures that are already decorative as well. Not everyone enjoys creating the bases for their models, so buying awesome looking bases is a great alternative.

Plus, some of the scenic bases you can buy just look amazing and do things beyond the skull of many of us.

The takeaway here though is to spend a little time on the base of your miniature, whether you create the scene or buy it. Those decorative elements really help set the scene and bring everything to life.

Sealing/Varnishing Miniatures

Once your miniature is painted you want to protect it. A sealer, or varnish as some areas refer to it, adds a protective coating over your miniature. It prevents the paint from rubbing off from use, as well as adding a protection should you drop your miniatures.

Nobody wants to spend time working on a model and have that work ruined because they didn’t protect their paint job.

Same as primers, sealers come in many forms: spray can, airbrush, and brush-on versions all exist.

There can certainly be some nuances to sealers and I have another article that thoroughly covers the topic of sealers that I suggest checking out.

Sealing/Varnishing Miniatures

Conclusion

I hope I’ve provided you with some information to get you started painting your first miniature. I know it can be intimidating at first, but relax and have fun with it. Ultimately miniature painting is a hobby, not a job, and you only have to please yourself.

As you progress with your painting you will want to improve and learn things like edge highlighting and blending techniques. You’ll have a lot of questions and see a lot of painting paint terms you’re unfamiliar with, like those two I just linked to. I’ve got a glossary of painting terms to help you out there.

I have an article on miniature painting supplies that will help anyone new to this hobby get started. That will give you a rundown on the basic things you should have for painting miniatures, as well as a list of premium tools that are great to have down the road.

If you have any questions on miniature painting then let me know in the comments.

Miniature Painting Techniques & Guides

Learn the basics, as well as the advanced techniques, of miniature painting.

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WestRider

I definitely agree with putting most* basing materials on before priming. The primer really helps hold them in place, and keeps you from ending up with a carrying case with a bunch of sand down at the bottom.

Also, Duncan looks really stoned in the thumbnail for the Thinning Your Paints video ;)

*Not stuff like static grass or scenic turf, but sand, pebbles, sticks, anything that’s going to get painted.