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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 method.


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.

  1. Prepare the figures.
  2. Black undercoat.
  3. White drybrushing.
  4. Outlining.
  5. Stain painting.
  6. Shade with washes.
  7. Drybrush highlights.
  8. Add Details.
  9. Finish coating.

Detailed explanation

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.

Black Undercoat

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 heavy drybrushing.

White Drybrushing

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.

Stain Painting

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 of it.

Helpful hints:

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.

Helpful hints:

Drybrushed Highlights

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.

Add Details

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.

Finish Coat

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 contact me.

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Page last updated: January 13, 2003
Copyright ©2003, William Scarvie

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.