In part one of our Painting Essentials guide, we took a look at the must-have equipment and steps we should take before putting brush to plastic.

Shake Your Paints Well

If you pick up a new pot of paint, you have probably noticed that there is often more than one color layered up on top of each other. This is due to pigmentation separation. Good quality paints are manufactured using pigments finely ground into a powder, and this is mixed into a viscous medium or base. The type of paint used within the model making and wargaming hobby is mostly water-based acrylic and has the advantage that it can be easily mixed and cleaned with water.

Specific quantities of the various pigments are mixed together to make the specific color paints, and each manufacturer has their own secret recipes. These pigments don’t always mix well and can become separated during shipping and also if left alone for long periods of time. Paints in this state will not give you the desired color you are after; in short, always shake/mix your paints well until a solid color is reached… and then shake some more to be on the safe side. There are commercial paint shakers available that can do this quickly but unless you are painting all the time, they may not be worth the cost.

Thin Your Paints

Once you have shaken your paints and popped the lid you will have paint ready to use. Take a couple of brush loads and add them to a palette. Most paints are too thick for our needs from the pot and should be thinned down using a thinner, or even just clean water. When thinning your paints you are looking for a consistency similar to 2% (semi-skimmed for the Brits) milk. You can check this by drawing a loaded paintbrush towards you over the palette and see how the paint flows. It can take a bit of practice to get right, but once mastered your models will look better for it.


Watch The Ferrule

The ferrule is the metal part of the brush that holds the bristles to the handle. Avoid loading your brush with paint to the point where it touches or covers the ferrule. This paint is wasted as it will not be used and you run the risk of damaging your brush through overzealous cleaning and/or dried paint getting stuck.

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Applying The Paint

Before you begin slapping paint on the mini, remember the third rule of paint club: Acrylic paint is not opaque. When you apply it, don’t expect full coverage or solid color in one pass, this is normal. To build up solid colors, multiple thin layers of paint should be applied. Come to think, that should be the fourth rule; Always apply thin coats. A minimum of two coats should be applied. Don’t worry about losing detail, as long as you have thinned your paints correctly you will be fine.

There are plenty of video tutorials online from manufacturers like Games Workshop and Army Painter. These can be a great reference for painting, both in general and specific models and armies.

Base Coat

The base cost is the first coat of paint added following the priming stage. Beginners will be looking for a single mid-tone color from which to work with. A mid-tone is basically a middle tone of your desired color. You also have a low-tone and high-tone, a lighter and darker tone either side of the mid-tone. For example, if you are working with blue, you may have a ‘primary’ blue for your mid-tone, a sky blue for your high-tone, and a navy blue for your low-tone. The high-tone represents the highlights and the low-tone the shadows.

Applying Shadows

Examine your model and look for the areas where there should be a shadow. Your low tone can be used to enforce shadows and can be further darkened if necessary with black. Use this sparsely as too much shadow won’t look realistic and could destroy the effect. Shadows will naturally occur on areas away from the light, and on edges and recesses between areas.

Creating Your Highlights

Conversely, highlights are the areas of a mini facing the light. You will achieve highlights by using your high-tone and in rare cases a very small amount of pure white.

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As already mentioned, paint should be applied in layers, but you don’t have to paint the entire surface to create a layer. For example, calculate where your shadows should be. This should be a small area away from the light. Typically these will be under or behind the mini, or into recesses. Apply layers of paint to just this area until the desired effect is reached.

A more advanced technique can be achieved by creating a gradient or transition effect by adding further layers to the shadow, each one slightly smaller than the last moving away from the light. You can also darken your low-tone if needed by adding some black. The inverse is true for highlighting

Paint manufacturer websites often provide painting tips. Citadel Colour from Games Workshop has some great painting guides that showcase their products.


Washes are a quick way of adding definition to your model. A wash is a very watery ‘paint’ that when added to an area, flows in the recesses. After a wash has been applied give it plenty of time to dry before moving one. You can also use a wash to add shadows instead of/in conjunction with layering.

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is a special technique where a brush is loaded with paint and then has most of the paint wiped onto a paper towel till there is very little paint left. This is then gently 'dry brushed' onto the model leaving tiny bits of paint behind. This is a great way to bring highlights to a model if used carefully, or for highlighting heavily textured areas such as fur.

In Conclusion

You are now armed with the basics of mini painting and with practice, you will see your craft improve. Try not to be disheartened if something doesn’t work out the first time, it can take a while to learn the technique and it is only through failure that we can become better. Get feedback on your works from friends and other gamers. The only time you will have truly failed is if you give up.

Youtube is a great resource and there are many great painting guides. Some of our favorites are Miniac, Goobertown Hobbies, and Squidmar. Happy Painting.

NEXT: D&D Homebrew Tips: Using Software To Aid Your Building Your World

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