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Painting Techniques and Preferences
A note to the Warhammer crowd before we begin: Now, Citadel's tools have improved noticeably with their last release of items; however, they tend to charge more than what you can get for tools elsewhere. For most tool needs, I highly recommend Micro-Mark for your small tool needs. You can get things for either cheaper, or if an item is more expensive, it is almost definitely of far more stellar quality.
The tools I use for assembling and conversions are pretty standard: an X-acto knife for cutting off flash, some plastic, and cutting into putty; needle files of many shapes for smoothing off mold lines; clippers and sprue cutters for cleaning and cutting up models; needle nose pliers of various shapes for gently bending metal miniature limbs for conversion and for any other manipulation I need. My pliers and clippers were a gift; they came in a nice little leather case by Craftsman from Sears. I have a Citadel pin vise and jeweler's saw from Citadel, though the former needs to be replaced and I will probably get something from Micromark when I replace it. Citadel no longer makes a jeweler's saw and instead sells a razor saw, which is probably more preferable for terrain work than for delicate conversion sawing. The "pins" I use for pinning are small and large paper clips (hold these in a rag when you clip them as they tend to go flying).
I have a table-vise with rotating head and padded rubber "jaws" from Micro-Mark; this thing is awesome as it safely holds miniatures at all kinds of odd angles, making it much easier to saw or drill into figurines.
Tips and tricks:
Like most folks I know, I fill large gaps and do conversion sculpting, I use Kneadatite Blue/Yellow Epoxy Putty, aka "Green Stuff" (bought in a ginormous tube from the Warstore). Other gaming companies sell "green stuff" in strips, and often charge the same price for a few ounces as the large handful you get from the Kneadatite name brand, and it's exactly the same stuff. I also use Kneadatite's "brown stuff" (Brown/Aluminum), which has a crisper texture and is good for something you want to give an edge to. More talented people than me use Green and Brown Stuff and similar putties to sculpt entire models from scratch, so it's good to learn to use it in case you ever get ambitious and want to try making your own models. For tools, I have a Citadel sculpting tool, plus another sculpting tool I bought at a train store, and two dental probes I bought at Target (it was part of a braces care kit and cost about $2.50, which is the best deal I've ever gotten for my tools). I also have a potter's pick for poking holes in. I've seen these massive "probe sets" with 9 or 10 tools for lots of money, and they're probably great for people who do full on sculpting, but if you just want to do some easy conversion work, a sculpting tool and some dental picks should be just fine. Green Stuff gets sticky, so I keep a pot of water at hand and some Vaseline to keep my hands and tools unstuck. The Vaseline is great to help keep tools particularly unsticky, but be very careful--don't get the Vaseline mixed up too much with the putty, or the putty won't stick to the model, which defeats the purpose.
My current favorite brushes are Windsor and Newton's Artist's Water Color Sable, which are a very nice quality kolinsky sable brush that aren't quite the arm and a leg that their Series 7s are. The primary size I use is a 2, which is great for all but the tiniest detail or for something that requires a bigger brush. I have found that a good brush really can make a huge difference in painting quality--sure, of course you still need practice and attention to detail first and foremost, but a good brush that keeps its tip and has a nice smooth fiber can be absolutely essential to do certain blending and detailing without completely going insane.
Many people avoid buying a high quality brush because they're expensive, but the fact is, one very high quality brush that is taken good care of and cleaned as soon as you're done will last you a very long time. You're spending more if you buy 3 $6.00 brushes over the course of the year rather than one $14 brush. (Also, I often find my brushes on sale at a local art store near a college; they frequently have discounts to encourage students to buy so try finding your art supplies at places like that). For terrain or rough basecoating, any old brush will do; someone gave me some Citadel drybrushes ages ago that work just fine; and I have a taklon "cat's tongue" shaped brush that's great for drybrushing models.
For teeny-tiny details like eyes, I use a Loew-Cornell Golden Taklon spotter. Taklon is a synthetic and is stiffer than sable. Synthetics tend to curl at the tip but as long as it stays clean it's pretty good.
I mostly use a mixture of Citadel and Reaper Master Series paints. Citadel now has three lines of paint; the first is the standard stuff they've always had, which works fairly well and thins nicely, though most of them I am slowly replacing with Reaper--EXCEPT for the metallics, which have a great consistency. Their "Foundation" paints are great for, well, foundations. They're a slightly thicker paint that dries relatively quickly and usually goes on in one or two coats. They are perfect for basecoats and terrain, and I am especially in love with their Mechrite Red, which is the best red basecoat I've ever found. However, what makes them great for foundations makes them crap for detail. They are thick and can obscure or overwhelm detail quickly; they don't thin well, and don't even think about trying to blend with them. As long as you understand the purpose they serve and keep them to their purpose, they're great. Finally, Citadel released a new series of washes; unlike inks, these settle more smoothly into crevasses and dry matte instead of glossy, which make them so very wonderfully useful for shading. I admit I am usually reluctant to tout Citadel products since they are wont to gouge prices, but these are really are quite nice. My other favorite paints are Reaper Master Series as mentioned (don't confuse with "Reaper Pro"). They are formulated with some flow improver mixed in, so they thin beautifully with just water and I find them especially ideal for blending and washes. The line of colors are extensive, and come in "triad" sets of midtone, highlight, and shade, so you can buy all three and have instantly matched colors (you don't have to buy them in triads). They are of quite a different consistency than other paints I've used, so take some getting used to. They also have some inks which are gorgeously vibrant; like most inks they dry glossy but when you want that they do the job exceptionally well. The only thing I really don't like from RMS are their metallics, which I find too watery/thin for what I want a metallic to be. The metallics are usable, but Citadel's are better.
I know a lot of people use Vallejo and swear by it. I used some Game Color and didn't like the consistency, but the coverage is excellent. Their thinner and glaze medium is very useful. (Reaper makes add-ins like this too, now, but I haven't had a chance to try them.)
As a matter of personal preference, I like black over white primer. I paint in thin layers and find that over white I have to paint as many layers as I would over black, if not more, because otherwise it looks blotchy. I also prefer that if I miss a deep recess, it stays black like a shadow, rather than stick out white in an area I can't easily get a brush to.
I don't usually spray primers because I live in an apartment where setting up a good spray area is difficult. Instead, I use black acrylic gesso and brush it onto a model. This stuff is awesome. The point of gesso is to prep surfaces for painting, so it shrinks as it dries--resulting in something that is covered but no detail is obscured. The shrinking does have a less desirable side effect that you will get tiny little blotches of bare model, but I still have fewer spots unprimed than when I tried to use spray paint. A little more gesso or regular black paint fills the few little gaps easily. Note that gesso when wet is quite thick; it's supposed to be that way and it's okay to daub it on a little thick (not too much)--the shrinking effect will do its thing and a leave cleanly primed model in the end.
For white primer I currently use Vallejo's white brush-on primer, but if I used white primer more often, I'd just get white gesso instead.
Again because of spray issues, I used to use Vallejo's matte varnish, but frankly, the stuff is unreliable. Half the time, I seem to end up with shiny models. So, I try to make sure everything is well ventilated or plan to leave the apartment for awhile and use Testor's Dullcote for varnishing. If I need to gloss something up, I brush on Citadel 'ardcoat after the Dullcote dries.
In all honesty, I rarely strip models. If I can try to fix an error without stripping, I prefer it. But sometimes there are mistakes too heinous (or too thickly painted on) to simply paint over, or sometimes I've bought badly and/or thickly painted models from other people that I want to re-paint.
I use Simple Green for stripping (this is a non-toxic all-purpose household cleaner, findable in most major grocery stores, places like Target, and automotive stores). I soak my models for at LEAST 24 hours (probably a couple days is best) in non-diluted Simple Green, and then rinse them off while brushing them vigorously with an old toothbrush. Most of the paint comes off very, very nicely. Sometimes a little bit of paint stays in the cracks, but as long as it isn't filling in any detail, I'm happy to leave it and simply paint over. Trust me, no one will know. *smile* Simple Green is safe on plastics (unlike many other strippers). What's especially good about Simple Green beyond the fact that it works is that it's safe to touch with your bare hands AND you can pour it down the sink, which is not safe to do with a lot of other products people use for stripping. And since it's an all-purpose household cleaner, and an excellent one at that, you can obviously use it for that purpose as well.
If paint is particularly stubborn about coming off, I use a soft brass-bristle brush to clean the model; this gets the paint off without damaging the model. I bought mine from a local model train store, and I think you can get these from Micro-mark.