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"Speed Painting" Miniatures
This article describes a method for quickly painting toy soldiers.
This method was originally developed for painting 1/72 scale soft
plastic miniature figures. These figures are very flexible. They
will inevitably flake paint off after some handling. I wanted a
painting method that would be so fast that I wouldn't mind
repainting figures when the paint failed.
The results were quite nice, in my opinion. I soon tried the method
on metal figures, too.
The method works best on figures with deeply incised detail. Most
modern 15mm or 25mm figures will paint up just fine using this
Below is a quick-and-dirty summary of the technique. Many of these
steps are optional, depending on the desired effect. Each step is
described in more detail in the following sections.
- Prepare the figures.
- Black undercoat.
- White drybrushing.
- Stain painting.
- Shade with washes.
- Drybrush highlights.
- Add Details.
- Finish coating.
Each step of the technique is described in the following sections.
Preparing the Figures
Wash the figures in soapy water to remove any residue left over from
the casting process and oils from your fingers. I usually mount the
figures on some kind of base immediately after washing them so that
I avoid touching the figure itself while painting it.
For soft plastic figures, some painters recommend coating the figure
in a layer of PVA glue (e.g. white glue). When this glue dries it
forms a flexible layer around the whole figure. I haven't tried
this myself but it may increase the life of your paint job,
especially when the figures are likely to be well handled.
Paint the entire figure with a black undercoat. I recommend acrylic
brush paint, as it remains somewhat flexible after it dries. Be sure
to make this black coat thick enough to cover well and to survive
Drybrush the entire figure with white paint. This drybrushing should
be on the heavy side, leaving black in the creases and pure white on
the highlights and broad areas. Sometimes two drybrushings are
necessary in order to bring out true white highlights.
Figures with shallow relief sometimes end up with white paint in some
of the creases where shadows would normally fall. This is
particularly true of large scale plastic figures. If necessary,
outline major areas, joints between areas of different color, and/or
shadows with thinned black paint. The idea here is to restore the
shading erased by the drybrushing.
The colors are laid onto the figure using thinned paints. The paint
should be thinned down to the consistency of milk. When applied onto
the figure, the black shading should show through, but the white
highlights should be colored by the paint. It is difficult to
describe in words just how thin the paint should be to achieve the
right effect. But, try it a few times and you will soon get the hang
- Light colors will need to be thinned less than dark ones.
- For silver metallic areas, stain the area black, then drybrush
silver onto the area. The resulting black shading looks very
realistic, in my opinion.
- For gold areas, stain the area dark brown and treat as for
- For bronze, use a dark brown/green stain under the drybrushed
- Paint flesh onto the figure full strength. If the black shading
shows through it makes the flesh looks sallow. Instead, shade with a
brown wash (see next section).
Shading With Washes
If the shading on an area doesn't look strong enough, apply more
shading with a wash. A wash is paint thinned even more drastically
than a stain. The wash should collect in the recesses and only
slightly tint the base color.
- Shade cool colors (e.g. black, blue, green, red, white, etc.)
with a black wash.
- Shade warm colors (e.g. brown, flesh, yellow, etc.) with a dark
- Adding a touch of dishwashing liquid to a wash will reduce its
surface tension. This can help it flow better onto a figure. This
will also help the wash pool in the recesses and stay there as it
dries, yielding a more satisfactory finish.
The highlights on bright colors can be dimmed too much by the
application of shading washes. If necessary, re-highlight an area by
drybrushing with full strength paint the same color as you used to
stain the area.
All fine details are added at this point. This includes eyes, rank
insignia, tattoos, whatever. I paint these details on using full
strength paint and traditional painting techniques.
All paint jobs will last longer if a clear protective coat is applied
before the figures are handled. This is particularly important for
soft plastic figures and metal figures with long, flexible weapons
(e.g. pikes, spears, etc.). I use a matte spray coating, but others
prefer a gloss or semi-gloss coating to get that traditional
"toy solider" look. Brush-on coatings will protect a figure
even better, and the finish can be used to affect the look of the
figure, area by area (e.g. glossy leather, matte cloth, semi-gloss
horse coats, etc.).
The painting technique described above can be used very quickly.
After some practice, I have been able to turn out a group of five or
six 54mm plastic infantry in two or three evenings. My picture
gallery contains images of
several examples of figures painted on such a schedule.
If you try this technique, I'd very much like to hear about your
results. If you have any questions, please
Page last updated: January 13, 2003
Any advertisements below are placed there by Angelfire, not by me. Companies or links advertised below do not imply my endorsement of these places. For the places I like to visit, please see my Links or Rocketry Links pages.