Basic Painting


I am going to try and help give you the information that I have found useful for painting miniatures. There is a FAQ on my site reproduced from another.

READ THE FAQ!  It has the collective wisdom of many, many people over a great period of time.  Download it!  Learn it!  Love it!  It is really great and offers numerous techniques and "dos and dont's."  Learning by trial and error can be very frustrating and if you are like the vast majority of folks there will be at least one thing you settle on as the best possible solution to a problem, when it really is not that good at all.  The FAQ is huge, but I have no doubt in my mind that it is well worth it to lug it around on my websites.

Basic Steps

  • File bottom of base flat, if needed (I use a big metal file and run mini across it).
  • Clean up unwanted metal edges/fragments (knife/files).
  • Cleanse mini with mild soap and water (I scrub them gently with an old toothbrush) and allow to dry.
  • Prime the mini - be sure to READ THE FAQ!
    • ALWAYS shake the paint well
    • NEVER try to finish a can of paint
    • ALWAYS prime in a well-ventilated area
    • Color to use:
      • White = brighter look
      • Black = darker look, makes shading easier too
      • Gray = yep, you guessed it, the median of the two above
  • Paint the mini. (See my links page for guides)
  • Base - If appropriate, flock the base of the miniature and/or add terrain bits to it.
  • Seal?  Applying a matte is up to you.  I have a page on how I seal my minis. There are a lot of issues here, so READ THE FAQ!

Color Theory Basics

Color Wheel

I recommend picking up at least one good reference on color theory and a color wheel. Here is one link to a more detailed color wheel.

Also, here's a much more thorough and detailed page on color theory.

Picking Color Schemes

  • Complementary - Opposing colors on the color wheel go together very well, e.g. red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow.
  • Using three colors
    • Split Complementary - Pick one color, then pick colors half a step to the side of the Complementary color, e.g. if you want to use red, then the other two colors
    • Triad* - Basically, draw an equilateral triangle with one of your color choices at a vertex, e.g. if you pick red, then yellow and blue make up the rest of the triad.
      • Primary Triad - Red, Blue, Yellow
      • Secondary Triad - Orange, Green, Purple (I used this for my Tyranid army)

* - I like the triads the most whether or not I plan to use three colors. I feel the colors complement each other well while still giving me more variety.

There are a lot of concepts involved in color theory, but one other idea I'd like to mention is the notion of warm and cool colors. You should probably read a reference on this to fully understand it, but I will give one example to try and illiustrate it. With the sceondary triad you can use orange (warm) between regions of green (cool) and purple (cool) to good effect.

OK, that's it, now go get a book. I picked up Color Choices by Quiller (ISBN 0-8230-0696-4). I have no idea if it's one of the better books, but I liked it when I perused a small shelf at the local art store. If you know of a better book, please tell me. :)

Creating Shades and Highlights of Colors

This is not necessarily as simple as adding white or black. If you find your color is getting weaker, you can use the color wheel to help guide you. Looking at the color wheel with yellow at the top as pictured above, then add higher colors for highlights and lower colors for shading. For example, for yellow highlights, you could just add white, but for red highlights you might also need to add some orange, the color "above" red on the color wheel. For violet shadows, you can just use black, but for red shading you might also need to add some violet, the color "below".red on the color wheel.

In practice, what you will see is that using only black or white when its not appropraite, e.g. with red, will result in a gradual color loss and/or shift. Adding a bit of the appropriate shade/highlight color will recover the color again.

Highlighting and Shading Using The Stop Sign Approach

This is somewhat crude, but it gets the idea across and is easily extensible to more advanced application. Basically, you think of the faces of a miniature as a stop sign.

Stop Sign Faces

The horizontal faces that face up are #1, 45 degree down is #2, the vertical faces are #3, 45 degrees rotated is #4, and finally the horizontal faces that face down, e.g an underbelly, is #5. If you change your shades from lightest at #1 to darkest at #5, you will accomplish a decent shading effect.

For my Tyranid Army, I used 5 colors, 3 progressively lighter base colors with two median 1:1 mixes in between. For example, on the chitin, I did as follows:

  1. Base color is a 1:1 mix of Ceramcoat Medium Foliage Green and Dark Foliage Green. Highlight is pure Ceramcoat Medium Foliage Green.
  2. Base color is a pure Ceramcoat Dark Foliage Green. Highlight is a 1:1 mix of Ceramcoat Medium Foliage Green and Dark Foliage Green.
  3. Base color is a 1:1 mix of Ceramcoat Dark Foliage Green and Black Green. Highlight is pure Ceramcoat Dark Foliage Green.
  4. Base color is a pure Ceramcoat Black Green. Highlight is a 1:1 mix of Ceramcoat Dark Foliage Green and Black Green. [honestly, I often did little highlighting on these faces, especially on the very small pieces, like the Ripper Swarms.]
  5. To follow this pattern, I should have used a base color of Black and Black Green, and highlighted with Black Green, but I just used a Base color of Black Green without highlights.


Questions? Comments? Please let me know via my questions/comments form!