How to Paint Your First Miniature

Painting miniatures can be a daunting task. Especially if you have never done it before. There are some many little pieces and different techniques. It is hard to know where to start. You are filled with so many questions that you can't answer. How many paints do I need? What brushes should I get?

It can be a lot to get through. So to get you started on your own, and so you can avoid the same mistakes I made, this How-To will let you know what you need to get started painting minis.

What You Need

As exciting as getting new minis is, it is important to keep a clear head and remember that you also need to spend some time (and money) to make sure you have the right tools to make them look awesome.

So here is a short list of items you need to get started.

Paint Brushes 

You will want a couple different brushes to do bases coats, detail work etc. You will want about 5-7 different brushes, and you should have at least these particular ones in your collections:

1. Size 00 Winsor & Newton Fine Sable Brush

Get it here.

2. Size 0 Winsor & Newton Fine Sable Brush
Get it here.

3. Size 6 Flat/Bright Brush (8mm wide)

4. Size 2 Flat/Bright Brush (4mm wide)

5. Size 2 Round Brush (3mm wide)

Here is a brush guide to help identify the different brush types:
Reaper site

Get the two Winsor & Newton brushes off Amazon or Ebay. Trust me they are worth it! The other brushes you can snag at any art store. Now you can get your brushes from modelling/gaming stores, but you are often charged a premium. The cheapest option is to go to your local art supply and buy some of their mid range brushes.

To determine the size of the brush you are buying, lookat the side, the size of each brush is normally listed along its leng. But just ask a sales clerk for help if you are not sure.

Some other brushes worth considering are 0000 Round brush (super duper small) and a size 2-6 filbert brush. But take a look at what is available


You can use any paint you like, but there are of course paints that are specifically designed to work on miniatures, and these will give you a better finish, then your regular art store paints.

That being said, the art store paints are much cheaper so if you can find a good quality brand (something that is smooth and failry runny) go for it. Your wallet will thank you.

If you would rather get miniature specific paints, then there are three different major companies who make miniatures paints (that are worth using):

1. Reaper Paints
2. Games Workshop Citadel Miniatures Paints
3. Privateer Press Paints

I use a combination of Reaper and Citadel, but I mostly use Reaper, which Is what I would recommend. I like Reaper paints because they have a matte colouring, so they don't glisten under a lamp, and you don't have to give them a matte finishing spray when you are done.

You can get them off of the Reaper site, and here is what I would get to start you paint collection.

Basics - Every mini you paint will have at least one of these colours on it.
Pure White
Pure Black X 2 (every mini has black on it, you will use a lot)
Skin Tone Light
Skin Tone Dark
Silver of Your Choice
Gold of Your Choice

Primary Colours - Your colour palette. Pick shades you like.
Light Red
Medium Red
Dark Red

Light Blue
Medium Blue
Dark Blue

Light Green
Medium Green
Dark Green

Light Yellow
Medium Yellow
Dark Yellow

Light Tan (Beige)
Medium Tan (Beige)
Dark Tan (Beige)

Light Brown
Medium Brown
Dark Brown

Light Grey
Medium Grey
Dark Grey

That will give you a total 27 colours. Which is a really good start! I know it seems like a lot, but keep in mind I have 70 different colours and could use more. To give your minis vibrancy, the more colour options you have the better, so pick some that you like and increase your palette.


Minis will often need more work than just painting. Some will need to be assembled, almost all of them will need to be trimmed. To deal with this I recommend three tools:

1. Exacto Knife

Now I don't mean the one your dad kept in his tool box. I mean a hobby knife.

Be careful. These are really sharp, and I have cut myself badly more than once. So keep any lid they come with and keep it capped when not in use!

2. Tweezers
Any old tweezers will work, and 10 bucks says you know some one who has a pair they would be willing to part with. If not, just get a pair from your local drug store. You can get tweezers from hobby shops, but you will be charged a premium for it, and you are honestly paying for a logo.

3. Super Glue
To assemble your minis you will want a good super glue. I use a gel super glue that I find at my local dollar store, and would recommend using a gel glue since regular super glue is often very runny and hard to work with.

Again places like Games workshop sell super glue, but at 10x what I pay at the dollar store. It just isn't worth it.

Painting Your Minis

Now that you have your paints, brushes and tools you are ready to paint.Here is how to get started.

Step 1 Study Your Mini.

 I know this is a very pretensions step one, (assuming you haven't done this already) But this is very important first step. Find every part on the mini, follow every line, and start to come up with the different paints you are going to use.

Here you are trying to figure out what part of the mini is its shirt, its sword, shoes, or anything else it has. Compartmentalising it will help you make the right colour choices, and save you from needing to paint something over.

Step 2 Trim your Mini

Use your hobby knife and in some good light trim off the excess bits from the molding process that surround your mini. These will appear on both pewter and plastic minis, either as part of the injection model process, or some spill over from the press.

Be diligent about this. A stray pieces of waste can really make something look odd when painted. Especially if it gets folded against the mini. So go over it a few times until you are sure you got everything.

You should also use this time to shave any rough edges from the molding process, say where two haves didn't perfectly meet.

Step 3 Prep Your Area

Everyone's painting area is a little different. But if I were to paint one of my Warhammer 40k Plague Marines this is what it would look like:

1. Sheet of paper.
This is so that you don't get paint on the table, and so you have something to wipe excess paint off on.

2. Light
This will help you see in the places normally obscured by shadows. If you are not painting under a light, your minis will have a lot of missed spots.

3. Pallet
When using Reaper paints, you need to squeeze the paint out of a tube on to something. Squeezing it onto a plastic lid means that it won't be absorbed by the paper and you get more bang for your paint buck. I use a Pringles Can lids, but anything works.

4. Water Cup
You will want to wash your brush regularly, almost obsessively. A Clean brush is a accurate brush, and this will stop clumping. You should almost clean your brush every time you go to put more paint on it, just to get in the habit of doing so. Dry your brush off using paper towel or a cloth. Do not use toilet paper or facial tissue it is cheaper paper and little pieces can stick to your brush.

5. Foam
Touching the minis you are painting will often cause an un-cured layer of paint to chip, or wear off. To prevent this, I take a page from the model train book, and paint on top of a piece of foam. This will allow your mini to properly dry, and gives flat surface to work on and push down on without damaging your mini's paint job.

5a. Another Approach
If you don't like the foam, the other way to do this is to get some tac (like the blue stuff you use to put up posters) stick it to the bottom of and then stick your mini to a pill bottle or something similar. You can then hold the pill bottle, and rotate the mini as needed.

6. A Mini
You gotta be painting something or what did you set this all up for? Here I am painting a Plague Marine which I have lightly primed with some matte black Spray paint, and assembled him partially on his base. How mauch you want to assemble you mini will depend on the mini itself and how you want to go about it. If you are not sure waht to do. Start assembling the mini  until you reach a point where adding more would create uncomfortable angles to work on.

I like to glue my arms and backpacks on my painted Plague Marines after I have painted the torso and legs. I find it easier to get at those tough angles when they are not attached.

Step 4. Prime the Mini 

Elijah and I actually had a rousing debate about the benefits of priming, and what colour you should prime.

Here is the verdict:

Yes you should prime your minis it makes painting smoothing and easier. However, The colour you should prime is a matter of style and preference. I personally prime everything I work on black (or dusty skin shadow for my Plague Marine stuff). I will often do 2-3 coats so that the none of the minis' natural grey or pewter colour shine through. Elijah likes to prime his minis white from time to time (he also primes black and grey as well). And he also make sure to get full coverage, but uses thinner coats.

Here is the difference.

Priming black means that the colours you are putting on will be darker. It will give you models a more "real-feel", t the cost of bright bursting colours. I prefer this as I try to go for realism.

Priming white means that the colours are going to go on exactly as they come out of the tube. Bright and vibrant. This will give your minis a more "anime-like" vibrancy. Elijah likes his colours to be vibrant, and prefers to prime white or grey. Grey will of course land you in between.

What colour you prime is your call, but You have to prime your mini.

Step 5. Base Coats 

Starting with the the largest area. Take the darkest shade of the colour you wish to use, and paint that area. With your darker colour. Try to be neat it will save you time in the long run. Cover the whole are with the darker colour and let that dry completely. You then want to take one or both of the lighter shades of the colour you are using and dry brush them over the darker colour.

Here is tutorial on how to dry brush. It takes some practice:

The dry brushing will accentuate the details of each mini, and give them the depth that the professionals have!

Once you are finished dry brushing, take the colour you primed, and touch up the unpainted areas, returning them back to the primed colour. This will ensure your colours go on nice and clean, as you will be painting over the same colour.

Repeat this process until major area of your mini is done to your satisfaction. Remember you don't always have to dry brush, just make sure you are happy with the result.

Step 6. Details

Now slowly, using your small brushes, paint on the details. Again we start with the darkest shade  of the colour you wish to use and then Dry brush with one or two lighter colours.

The small details don't always need to be dry brushed, sometimes a simple dot of paint is enough. You can be as detailed with this you would like to be, just make sure that your colour choices are consistent.

For example on my Ottoman Battleship from Dystopian Wars, I chose to paint every single bolt in the hull:

Took forever!
Once that is done, check for any mistakes; like paint going over the line, missed spots etc. Touch those up using the darkest colour used on the area, and the dry brushing with the lighter shade(s).


That should basically finish it up. You are going to need to experiment, and do your own research to find your way to paint. There are also many other techniques and tricks that you can find amazing tutorials for all over the internet.

Hopefully this tutorial will help you get started in your miniatures painting career.

And as always... Happy Gaming!

Written by: Andrew Gregory

How to Paint Your First Miniature How to Paint Your First Miniature Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 9/07/2015 02:00:00 pm Rating: 5

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