Contrast Paints – Maximised!

Well, after a few months of using contrast paints, I think its worth taking a look at what really works for me with contrast paints, and what I’ve learned through experimentations and from others.  

Let me qualify all of this, though, by saying that painting is a very personal hobby.  While I’ve found this tremendously useful, your mileage may vary.  I’m not going to jump in with tips and tricks, though – I’m going to go systematically through contrast paints, as I’ve found understanding them in some detail has made working with them much more productive.  We’re going to begin with looking at the paints themselves, look at how important the underlying primer or base paint is, then thoughts on methods of applying them, and finally some thoughts on how to work with other techniques rather than just pure contrast to kick things up another notch.

Understanding the Paints

It sounds silly.  Its paint.  You put it on a brush and slap it on a model.  Whats to understand?  Well, if you understand how contrast paints work on the model, how they inter-relate with other paints, washes and shades, and how they are designed to be used, you instantly get two benefits – you know how to get the very best out of them,  and also avoid frustration when a paint doesn’t work for you because you are trying to use it in a way it really isn’t designed for.  This isn’t an in depth technical guide to how the paints work – its a practical hands on look.

Contrast paints use a range of different pigments in a different medium that are designed to separate out, with the darker pigment being drawn into the slower drying recesses as the liquid contracts.  It is designed to separate on the model.  This leads us instantly to the first practical consequence – contrast paints need bloody extensive shaking to fully mix the pigment to get the proper effect on the model.  If you don’t, you’ll get odd tones and often insufficient main colours or contrasting dark colour in the recesses.  You need to shake them much more thoroughly than normal paints.

Another consequence of the nature of the paint is that the paint is designed to separate as the contrast medium dries.  The key to that sentence is the contrast medium.  If you add water, you change the nature of the medium.  It doesn’t separate as much, and starts acting as a wash or glaze.  That’s fine, people say, I don’t need to thin it, so water isn’t going to be a factor.  But how are you cleaning your brush?  Not drying your brush a little after washing it is one of the main reasons I see streaky effects with contrast paints.  A tiny amount of water doesn’t make much difference, but if you have a habit of using a fairly wet brush, it really can damage the contrast effect.

Finally, contrast paints are designed to be applied straight from the pot.  This is one of the factors of the paints that far too few painters step back and think about.  This paint is designed to be used for a specific effect straight from the pot.  It isn’t designed for a particular shade of colour so much as its designed as three shades of colour to achieve a specific goal – a highlight (close to the primer colour), a layer, and  a recess (and the colour visible in the pot tends to be the latter).

If I pick up a pot of Magos Purple, it looks really washed out as a purple.  There’s a reason for that.  This is, I firmly believe, a paint designed to be applied from the pot as a gene stealer hybrid flesh tone.  The colours are spot one for such an result, and the clue is in the name.  This is true of a lot of the range.  You aren’t applying a colour, but an effect designed to work straight from the pot, and if you use a colour designed to be light flesh tones, it needs to be light.  You sometimes need to try the paints out – Shyish Purple is the strong purple for general coverage.  Aethermatic blue can leave you with quite a washed out blue – its really more to add a mysterious blue glow effect over part of the model and designed to pick up the recesses, I think.  Think effects with contrast paints, rather than colours, and you’ll lose that frustration.  And many of the paints are gloriously vibrant – the reds, shish purple, volupus pink.  These are just so much fun to get on a model.  One useful tip – if the colour mentions a space marine chapter, its for space marine armour, and will have excellent vibrant coverage.

You can always wait and add additional layers of the milder contrast paints to get a stronger effect, or thin the stronger ones down with contrast medium (volupus pink mixed 50/50 with contrast medium is an absolutely note perfect colour for Witch Elf Hair, for example), but understanding the reason for the effect in the first place makes things a lot less frustrating.

Putting paint on the model first

Its very easy to jump into contrast paints and not think enough about what goes on underneath the contrast, but the choice of primer determines the entire underlying tone of the finished piece, and is absolutely vital to the end result.  People look at pics of contrast paint over the various primers, choose a primer, based on that, and away they go.  And … well … that’s just not enough to get the absolute best out of contrast.

The reason why primer is so important when working with contrast is basically that contrast paint is thin and translucent, drying more opaque in the recesses and almost transparent on the edges as the medium contracts.  That means two things – the colour show through, which is what changes the tone, but also that the paint has to contract over the primer.  A lot of people don’t pay enough attention to the latter.  You need a smooth primer, and its one of the main reasons to use wraith bone or grey seer as off whites – straight white paint tends to dry grainy.  Almost every single picture I’ve seen on twitter where people have slapped contrast on a mini and said its rubbish has had an obviously grainy primer on first.  Effectively, the paint recedes around the grains rather that the detail on the model.  It breaks the effect.

You also don’t have to stop with a single colour primer.  People tend to spray wraithbone or corax white, maybe add some metallics, and stop.  But you can do just so much more here.  Paint sections grey for dark tones.  Paint flesh in wraith bone for warmth even if the armour looks better with a general grey seer primer.  Drybrush a lighter tone over the primer to get exaggerated highlights.  There’s so much you can do quickly before applying contrast, and it all improves the effect if you understand what you want to achieve, rather than just thinking about getting contrast on quickly.  

A real highlight with contrast paint is zenithal priming, though I think its something a lot of people get wrong.  Contrast needs a tone to show through on the highlights, so doing a traditional black to white gradient ends up with black highlights in places!  It works far more effectively to go mid grey (administratum or halfords), go up to grey seer, go up to wraith bone, then go up to white (corax or halfords), making sure the coats are all smooth.  This looks fantastic, and gives a tremendous lighting effect while contrast takes care of the recess shading.  You can double down with an airbrush by doing multiple light source effects this way in very little time.

Finally, one of the most difficult things with contrast is, frankly, applying contrast paint quickly and effectively.  You usually have an all white or all cream model to start with, and while its easier to see the outlines than with black primer, it is so easy to miss details.  Particularly for larger, more complex models, add a light wash of agrax or nuln oil first.  It makes a massive difference to what you can see on the model, and lets you paint in the sections much more effectively, minimising any time on clean up.

Applying Contrast Paint

We’re now ready to slap some paint on the primed models!  Huzzah!

Let me first address one of the most unfortunate marketing slogans  – “One Thick Coat”.  Its a clever parody of the two thin coats motif used over and over for how to use standard acrylic paints, and with contrast (assuming you have the right paint for the effect), you do indeed just apply one coat from the pot that you haven’t thinned down.

It has led to more contrast screwups I’ve seen on social media than bad priming.  The idea isn’t to apply a thick coat.  The idea is to apply one coat from the pot.  Slapping on contrast is like slapping on a agrax wash – you want enough coverage to apply an overall tone, and to highlight the recesses, but not so much you get the paint pooling all over the model.  A smooth even application is the goal, and the contrast medium will take care of the rest.  Don’t try to apply a thick coat – just one coat from the pot.

Applying contrast itself is an usual art, and quite personal, so please bear that in mind for this next section.

Ideally, you want a brush that holds a reasonable amount of contrast paint in the belly.  When you apply the brush, it feels like you are putting on normal paint, not a wash (despite the fact it looks like a wash).  if you run the brush over raised areas, like you do with a wash, you’ll leave chunks of model unpainted.  You need to approach it like your normal base coat.

The one technique you need to take from applying washes is reducing pooling by sucking up any over application of contrast onto the brush.  If you don’t do this, the application will look patchy and terrible.  

Contrast is hard on brushes.  Because of the way it separates, you will need to stop and clean your brush frequently – and as already mentioned, you’ll want to make sure the bristles are reasonably dry after you clean them.  It doesn’t have to be 100% dry, but any droplets of water that run down the handle will destroy the medium effect.

One of the very interesting things with contrast paint is that darker contrast paints cover lighter ones amazingly well.   Even when people notice this, they often don’t think through the logical consequences.

We’ve been trained for years to paint models from the inner recesses to the outer trim.  It makes sense – if we get paint on the outer bits reaching while reaching the brush through, it doesn’t matter.  Normal paint will just go over all that.  That doesn’t work for contrast though.  Blood Angels Red can’t cover black templar at all, effectively.

Instead, if we plan our approach by colour, painting the lightest colours first, and painting increasingly carefully as we apply darker and darker colours, we can effectively go over the lighter colours leaving almost no trace of the lighter one, without needing to repaint the primer colour to clear it up.  Its tremendously quick compared to re-edging every colour.  In addition, if you have applied a light wash over the primer, picking out areas as you paint is much easier, leading to much fewer mistakes (and also hiding any little gaps between the colours from speed painting).  Its so much more efficient!

Because darker colours overpower weaker contrast colours so much, mixing colours isn’t very effective.  It adds a slight hint of the lighter colour to the darker colour.  Where that is very useful is just adding a tone – a hint of navy to black with leviadon blue mixed with black templar for a judge dredd style dark shiny leather, or wildwood brown with black templar for a warm black leather look.  It still looks black, but the note of colour brings out a difference so you can use the same colour on a model for different areas.

If you want to get more of a mix on lighter colours, i find adding 50% of the main colour, 25% contrast medium and 25% of the tone works well – blood angels red with some shysish purple gives a lovely deep red tone (though Fleshbearers is already brilliant neat!  One area where people complain about contrast is the washed out look for some of the paints – these are fantastic mixed with other paints to add depth to the recesses while not affecting the layer and edge areas of the model.  Look for ways to make the paints work rather than complaining about the deliberate effect.

Using Other Techniques

One of the oddest things I’ve come across with contrast paints is the way so many people seem to see it as all or nothing.  I just use contrast as a tool in the arsenal, though it is the primary tool when speed painting.

However, adding other techniques to the mix really brings up the overall quality, and doesn’t have to add much time.  Have some magic runes?  I have a Morathi with blue runes in the midst of scaly black.  I blobbed aethermatic blue over the runes, painted the bulk of the scales black, then dry brushed over the runes with abaddon black.  It gave crisp, clear, vibrant runes in a tiny amount of time while letting me use Black Templar to paint a massive amount of the model.

Want to improve the depth of colour?  Use contrast over an area, dry brush it white or off white, then put another coat of contrast on.

Want to really make edges pop?  Then do some classic edge highlight key areas that stand out to the eye after getting a quick coat of contrast on the model.  You can highlight after contrast – you don’t just have to use that paint.

Want an edge highlight look in a different colour for a tron effect? Paint the area with black templar or basilicanum grey, dry brush with white, the use a layer of vivid contrast over the top.

My favourite effect at the moment is to use the lighter contrasts over metals (like magos purple over gold – glorious!), then use gloss medium or a gloss wash over that to bring up the shine.  Gorgeous, genuine metallic look with ease.  Aethermatic looks great over bronze!

That’s just a few quick ideas right away, but you get the idea.  Mixing traditional techniques selectively with contrast to add improvement for minimal effort?  Total winner.  They are really a whole new style of painting, so keep trying things out, and focus on what you find works for you …. not that you think Magos Purple looks washed out.

A Quick Guide to Miniature Painting Terminology

This guide attempts to define a lot of the words you’ll hear from seasoned painters when describing how to paint your model using acrylic paints.  Rather than being ordered A-Z, it’s grouped by the rough stage through the process, so you’ll find terms that are often used together grouped together.  The phrases are generally applicable, but generally refer more closely to GW terminology as the market leaders in miniatures.


Priming a model, or Undercoating, is applying a type of paint called Primer that goes on the model first, and is designed to grip to the surface, providing a base for the other paints to stick to.  It’s particularly important when painting metal models, as acrylic paint can chip off metal models easily if they are used heavily as game pieces.  The colour of this undercoat has quite an impact on colours painted over the top – black primer will tend to make the model feel subdued and realistic, while white primer will pop and be vibrant.  Grey colour starts with a neutral palette.  Some techniques will require specific undercoats to work – Citadel Contrast paints, for example, require a very light primer, normally a off white cream called Wraith-bone.  Some coloured primers will also effectively work as one of the main colours on the miniature, saving you a lot of time.

Primers can be applied by brush, airbrush, or by aerosol cans.  The latter requires a certain amount of caution – a small number of materials on the market can react badly to spray primers.  Reaper Bones in particular shouldn’t be primed by spray aerosols as a rule of thumb.

Zenithal Priming

Zenithal priming is an interesting concept.  Essentially, we aren’t going to cover the model with a single colour undercoat.  Instead we prime the whole model in a darker colour, and then pick a direction.  We then spray increasing lighter colours from that directly, moving in smaller arcs to cover less of the model each time, so the effects is to have gradation of colour from light to dark for the painting to go over, creating subtle shadows. 

Because this gives a gradation of colour from dark to light underlying the other paints, this can sometimes be referred to a zenithal highlighting.

Tabletop quality or Battle ready

Not every miniature is going to be a golden demon award winner, and if you want to field entire armies for games, you simply won’t have time!  There’s nothing wrong with painting to a decent basic standard that looks great at the average 3ft distance when playing games.

There’s no exact definition of what constitutes tabletop standard.  Perfectionists might call a beautiful layered and highlighted model table top, because they haven’t added a few last touches.  Tournament players sometimes use the minimum tournament standard as the definition of tabletop, which is a 3 colour minimum for tournament standard, but most people accept that normal tabletop standard involves basecoating the various parts of the models cleanly, together with at least one technique to add depth or highlight to those colours.  It might be a wash, or a drybrush, or the initial base coat may already include that depth with contrast paints, but some technique to accentuate the details.

Display Quality, Competition Quality or Parade Ready

Like tabletop standard, there isn’t really an exact definition of this.  Essentially, it involves painting the miniature to the best of your ability, aiming to produce a model that could enter a competition like Golden Demon, or be displayed on a display shelf.

Generally you’ll use multiple techniques to add not just highlights and shadows, but also simulate textures and lighting directions, and all the smaller details will need to be added.  For tabletop quality models designed to be viewed from a distance, painting eyes really isn’t essential.  For a display piece?  You’ll need to master all those additional detail techniques.

Parade Ready can be  a little lower than full competition quality – it essentially takes all the processes through 2 or three more layers or finer highlights to achieve a much better finish, but it may still fall short of a full Display Quality piece, and be closer to what some people call “High tabletop”


Basecoating is the process of putting an initial set of the main colours onto the model.  If you’ve sprayed the whole model in a coloured primer, like blue, all the blue parts may already be done!

There are some subtleties to base coating a model.  If you intend to “layer” your colours up, your first base coat will be much darker than the final colour.  If you intend to “wash” or “dip” your model at the end of the process, then your base coat will need to be lighter than the final colours.

If following a painting guide, the base coat will be the first colour in the process on each of the areas.

“Two Thin Coats”

This is a phrase often used in painting circles, and refers to the fact that it is much better to be patient, and build up multiple thin coats of paint to get a solid coat of colour than to apply thick paint that will dry unevenly, show brushstrokes, and flow unevenly off the brush, leading to mistakes.  Don’t take the name too literally – you aren’t aiming to apply two thin coats in reality.  You want to apply enough thin coats of paint to achieve a consistent colour, letting the paint fully dry between each coat.  Paint should be thinned to around the consistency of semi-skimmed milk.  With dark colours like black or brown, two thin coats will probably work perfectly.  If you try to apply a yellow over a black undercoat, you’ll probably need more!

“One Thick Coat”

Games Workshop have recently released a range of paints called Citadel Contrast.  These paints are designed to be applied straight from the pot, but actually dry as a very thin layer, effectively going on a translucent coat that recedes from the edges, giving the effect of a “base coat”, a light “drybrush” and a “wash”.  One thick coat just means you apply it carefully from the pot rather than thinning it down like traditional paints, and the way the paint  works means you only normally need to put a single coat on.  Do not deliberately try to put a “thick” coat on by slapping loads on.  That isn’t the intention of the phrase at all, and caused more than a few people to discount a wonderfully effective technique.


A wash is heavily diluted paint or ink applied over an area of a model – in some cases, a wash may even be applied all over a model to give a consistent tone and simple shading all over.  While it’s often used for large areas,  it can be applied much more carefully for specific effects like on hair.

  • Pin Wash – a pin wash involves applying a small amount of wash around tiny targeted areas of a model, like around rivets or bolts on a metal panel.  Its a technique most often used when painting vehicles as washes don’t work as well used over big flat panels.


Drybrushing is a technique where you apply some paint to a brush, then take most of the paint back off again with paper towel or something similar!  Now, when you drag the bristles gently over the model, only a little paint catches on the tops and ridges of the models, applying a quick and easy highlight.

Drybrushing used to be a more prevalent technique, but it is deprecated in the current very clean look popularised by Games Workshop’s display team, the ‘Eavy Metal painters.  Their own terminology guide relegates dry brushing to use on bases or terrain only.

Many experienced painters love drybrushing for organic materials.  The slightly random way the paint adheres to the raised surfaces gives a very natural look, and on surfaces like rock, bark, fur and hair, it can give better results than manual highlights for all but the very top painters. 

  • Over-brushing is an interesting variation on drybrushing, where you take off less paint from the brush, leading to the paint effectively covering the model except in the recesses.  I’ve also seen this referred to as slop-brushing.  Its a quick but effective technique for layering, especially when combined with a lighter drybrush afterwards.


Layering is the process of adding multiple layers of paint to an area of a miniature to achieve a gradation of colour – from light to dark, dark to light, or even across a spectrum in odd circumstances.  For a simple effect on a red cloak, you might start with a dark reddy brown, then paint a layer of mixed brown and red slightly higher on the folds, then paint a layer of of red higher again.  Advanced painters might put on many more layers of slightly different colours between the top and bottom of the range.  The more layers, the smoother the colour transition appears.

Layering is often combined with Blending to smooth the transitions between the different layers even more, or with a Glaze over the top to smooth the transitions out by filtering it through another thin level of paint.

In general, most painters will start with simply basecoat, wash and highlight or drybrush techniques, and gradually increase the complexity of their starting colour with additional layering over time.


Blending is the process of mixing two different colours together in a transition on the model.  Some people see layering as a form of blending, and use the terms interchangeably.  There are various techniques for blending colours effectively, including:

  • Wet blending – essentially, you paint some of one colour on, and before its dry, paint some of a second colour on, and mix the still wet paints together to blend together on the model itself.  It sounds simple, but can be very difficult to pull off!  
  • Feathering – feathering is a technique of using the brush in a gentle zig zag pattern, like tickling with a feather, to thin out a little paint over another to achieve a transition.  Because of the gentle erratic effect, it breaks up the sharp line between colours for a much smoother 
  • Two Brush Blending – Here you use one brush with paint, and one brush with water to thin out the edges – you’d often use feathering with the second wet brush to achieve the blend.
  • Double Loading –  load your brush with the lighter of the two colours, get the paint off the tip, then carefully load the tip with the darker colour.  Now, if you sweep the brush sideways, the colours will blend with the pressure of the stroke as they leave the brush. This is fast, but can be a little rough, and often softened with a glaze afterwards.


A highlight is a lighter shade of paint painted over the normal colour that will stand out.  Sometimes layering can be described as highlighting, but in modern miniature painting highlights generally refer to sharper changes in colour than gentle layering.  It is normally intended to simulate the effect of light on the surface, but can be an artistic decision to draw attention to a particular part of the model.  There are many different type of highlight in miniature painting.  4 specific type of common highlights used right at the edges of panels by the ‘Eavy Metal team are:

  • Chunky Highlight – This is about 1.5 times bigger than your final highlight, and only slightly lighter than the main colour of the panel, building a transition.
  • Edge Highlight – This builds on the chunky highlight, and starts building the contrast.  For simple use of the edge highlighting technique, this may be the only highlight applied.
  • Final Highlight – This is the brightest highlight, defining the shape of the panel. It should be reserved for the most prominent edges, and help illustrate light falling on the model.
  • Spot Highlight – This is the last highlight, applied only at the very corners to initiate light catching on the hard surface.  On hard surfaces, this is generally very bright, often white.  Soft surfaces may miss this step, or use a softer colour contrast than hard surfaces.


Stippling is an interesting technique, using a stiff bristled brush or a dedicated circular stippling brush.  Essentially, you make sure the paint is loaded evenly, and then, instead of painting with brush strokes, you dab straight down onto the surface, using the pressure to govern the amount of transfer straight under the brush.  This is a fantastic technique for breaking up edges of overlapping colours when blending,  applying spots of colour for animals, or over a surface to apply texture to cloth.


A shade is used to define the form of a model, defining recesses.  2 types of shade as used by the ‘Eavy Metal team are:

  • Soft Shade – A soft shade is used to define softer shadows than the tighter recesses that we need to deep shade.  Applying gentle shadows to the folds of  a cloak with very dilute shade paints is a great example of a soft shade.  In many ways, soft shading can be a form of layering building darker colours down into gentle folds.  It can also be used to add contrast to normal layering – a soft shade with a hint of red on a green cloak in the recesses can be very effective if you study the colour theory.
  • Deep Shade – A deep shade (or recess shade) is only applied in the very deepest recesses of the model, like shading the fine panel lines on armour.  A useful tip is that diluted normal paint will give better control than using normal shade paints designed to be applied as washes.


A glaze is quite difficult to define.  Essentially, it’s a thin coat of a colour applied to gently tint the model.  Unlike a wash, we aren’t intending for paint to settle more in recesses and define shadows – we want to tint the area of the model evenly.  There’s no hard and fast rule as to how thin the paint should be, as that will depend on how well the starting paint covers.  Dark colours will need to be thinned significantly more than lighter ones for the same translucent effect on the whole.

Applying a glaze over gently layered colours will unify the tone and improve the colour transitions.  Glazes can also be used to make colours seem richer and more vibrant while preserving the subtle colour differences from layering or highlighting underneath the translucent glaze.

 NMM – Non Metallic Metals

Non Metallic Metals are a fantastic concept.  If you read a comic book, or study a lot of art, actual reflective metals weren’t available.  Using the reflections to simulate the colours we see on a gold, running from brown, though yellow, to pure white glints, we can paint the illusion of metal reflecting light from a particular angle.  It’s a very advanced technique, as to do it well you have to really understand light sources and how it reflects from metal surfaces.  Many people frown on the technique for tabletop minatures, partly as it is very time consuming, but also because NMM involves assuming the location of imaginary light sources.  Multiple models reflecting apparently different light sources because of their position in the game can look wrong to the eye, though they look fantastic posed together as a display unit.

TMM – True Metallic Metals

TMM or True Metallic Metals is synthesis of using NMM techniques to simulate metal from dark to light, with actual metallic paints!  Instead of painting silver straight on and then applying a wash, you’d paint dark metals to the very lightest metals as if you were simulating metal with non-metallic paints – maybe a very dark metal in the shadows, through gun metal and up to silver on the edges catching light from an imaginary light source, and maybe some brilliant white glints to simulate the normal reflections.  It can be tremendously effective, but requires all the expertise of NMM painting and understanding of light, combined with working with metallic paints, which don’t always flow as nicely as many acrylics.  But when done successfully the metals truly pop amazingly for display pieces.

OSL – Object Source Lighting

Object Source Lighting is a tricky concept to implement successfully.  Essentially you need to paint light sources on a model, like headlights on a tank or a candle next to a miniatures leg – but you don’t just paint the source, but paint nearby surfaces to take into account the brighter or coloured light.  A glowing blue sphere in a wizards hand might tint nearby surfaces blue as well, for example.  This might be achieved by glazing surfaces to tint them, or can be achieved in a very quick and effective way with an airbrush – spraying the light source with an airbrush gives a hit of colour in the centre fading out as it gets further away, and works perfectly for this effect.

Basing your minis

Grantosaur over on Twitter asked a really interesting question about upping his basing game, and I found it a really difficult question to answer!  Why?  Because as a hobby we’ve moved to tutorials on doing specific effects like ice or lava, and don’t really talk about the basics of basing any more.

I thought it might be worth taking a look through my own ideas about basing in a bit more detail, and see if that helps at all!   This next discussion assumes we’re starting with blank bases, not custom bases with lots of detail already!

For me, basing seems to involve several distinct stages:

  1. I tend to add any bigger chunks of terrain designed to elevate the models.  
  2. I add texture.
  3. I add any additional detail pieces.  
  4. Next comes painting.
  5. Finally we add any final effects

Elevating the model

I have to admit, I fairly often skip this stage entirely, myself.   For heroes and leaders, it can look very effective to raise up a model.  It can also be useful for older models which are smaller than current equivalents to be raised up and get a bit more presence.

Obviously, this stage can get as complex as you like.  You might use a big chunk of a broken vehicle, build a plasticard set of stairs, or use any of hundreds of big bits of resin or plastic terrain.  

The two classic options that are easily accessible tend to be cork boards, broken and built up as rocks, and bits of slate.  If you are building several layers, especially if you have a heavier metal model going on top, I thoroughly recommend pinning cork into place!  Slate bases look really effective too, and can add a nice heft to the base of minis that can otherwise tend to tip.  Both can be picked up cheaply – cork coasters or tiles from hobby stores are cheap, and often also available in bigger options for army basing at DIY stores.  Slate can often be found really cheaply in DIY stores in the garden section as opposed to small expensive packs from hobby stores.

A good video guide for cork bases can be found here

A good video guide to slate bases can be found here

Adding Texture

As we enter the second stage, I think its important to mention that you shouldn’t be too rigid on the order you do things here.  You might want to paint some pieces that will be obscured later in the process right away, or you might want to skip step one entirely for rank and file troops!  That’s all absolutely fine.  

Adding texture is a really important step, though.  Unless you have a completely styled resin base, you’ll also certainly want to ensure that the ground feels like a real surface of some kind.  There are a myriad of ways to achieve this, and I don’t think any one way is better than another.  The important thing is to be consistent through a particular force.

One of the simplest  and classic ways to add texture is to add sand to the base,  using PVA glue to fix it into place.  You can mix up the texture by having a range of sizes of sand and tiny stones, and it’s very accessible.  Cheap sand from a  DIY store is easy to find.  I started basing models this way back in Rogue Trader.  You can then paint it to match the environment with a base colour, drybrush and wash, and it can be quite convincing earth or desert with ease.

Many of the GW texture paints mimic this effect with granules inside a paint, like Stirling Battlemire.  Its a fantastic time saver, though comparatively more expensive.  It looks genuinely good for churned earth.

Other texture paints go for another effect to simulate cracked, dry earth, using a technique often called crackle.  Essentially the thick paint contracts as it dries, exposing the layer underneath.  It looks fantastic for dry cracked earth, and for red martian ground you’d have to go a long way to beat the Martian Ironcrust look. To get the best effect, you need to remember to paint the base first, though, as it’ll be revealed through the cracks, or repaint the whole thing afterwards!  There are many hobby suppliers of crackle medium allowing you to mix up this effect with your own choice of colours to get an effect just as you like it, but it often doesn’t work very well or gives too fine an effect.  It can be worth paying more for a pretty guaranteed success with the GW technicals.

Another good way of adding bigger, more complex textures like cobblestones or roads is to use green stuff and sculpt the texture onto the base.  If, like me, you lack all sculpting skills, you can cheat with a press mould or rolling pin!  Greenstuffworld has loads of options to roll onto green stuff that you can then pop onto a base for a perfect texture.  Fantastic and cheap alternative to resin bases for a whole army, and lets you use different parts of the mold for variations over the different bases.   

Of course, you can combine these – have a sculpted paving stone surrounded by earth made from sand and PVA!  The combinations are endless, but your aren’t generally aiming for a masterwork here – the important thing is just adding that texture to make the base feel genuine.

Adding Details

Now, it’s a fine line when it comes to adding extra details to the base.  Too busy, and the base will draw attention away from the model.  Too sparse, and it can end up looking like you haven’t paid any attention to it.  Often a model will already come with some detail under a foot already, so you may not want to worry about it.

However, adding a skull onto the ground, a lost weapon, a piece of a rivals iconography, it can add just another little note of excellence.  One thing I loved on the dreadnought bases, for example, was the shell cases that looks like the default assault cannon had been firing and firing.  Nothing huge, nothing to take attention away from the main model, but a lovely little detail to sell the whole narrative of the piece.

Skulls are a fantastic default option, work for both fantasy and sci-fi, and are everywhere.  The 40k hero bases come with loads of them.  The 40k basing kit comes with loads of them.  Every pack of marines or guard tends to have spare helmets, serving much the same purpose.  An easy touch that makes the base just feel a little bit special and unique.

My rough guide tends to be add one detail piece onto a base up to 32mm.  Add 2 for 40mm bases, and add an extra piece for heroes (remembering to count any details underfoot on the model in there).  Of course, that’s just a loose guide.  Feel free not to follow it.  Honestly, for rank and file troops like Imperial Guard?  I might not add any.  But the occasional detail here and there does make a difference.


So now we have a base, maybe with some rocks made of cork or slate to give some height, with texture on the base designed to give a particular effect, whether that’s cracked ice, church tiles or churned earth.  We’ve got a few little details, like maybe a skull or a dropped gun, or a dribbly candle.

Now we need to pull it all together and paint it.  If you are doing this separately to your model, remember to take your models colours into account.  You want the base to generally harmonise with the colours on the models and be a little muted.  Too sharp a contrast can draw the focus onto the base and off the model, and generally that’s the last thing you want, outside of a dedicated diorama.

Final Effects

When you finish painting, the base still won’t look quite done, generally.  You’ll want to add a final effect like grass or snow, or maybe some UV resin for a water effect if the bases are set in a swamp.  A simple, easy way of getting great results is gluing the prepared tufts you can buy from a range of different vendors like GW and Army Painter onto the base.

Static grass or flock can look quite good and be quite quick.  Apply glue, cover the base, shake off the excess.  To get the most out of static grass, though, you do really need to run it though a static generator to get the blades pointing up rather than being glued any which way.  Its much much more effective, and you can pick static grass applicators up from Amazon. Its also bloody easy to give yourself a shock!

Another extra point beyond straight grass tufts is to apply the similar tufts with flowers.  Applied sparingly through a force, they give another source of detail and colour without being overwhelming.

Snow effects can look absolutely amazing if applied right, and UV resins for water effects can be absolutely spectacular.  That’s not always a good thing – remember, the base should be designed as the foil to the main miniature – not the star.  In addition, applying them over a full army can be very time consuming and involved – it can be worth saving them for specific models or heroes to help mark them out.


I like to apply a spray varnish at this point, to help lock the base in place and keep it safe when you glue the main model onto it!  That’s not for everyone, and if you’ve used shiny effects on the base, you’ll need to regloss the dull matt varnish effect.

Final Notes

It really helps to have a solid theme in mind while basing.  It doesn’t need to be exact, but if you set out to have all your Sisters of Battle look like they are within a Convent, then you can tie it all together.  Greenstuffworld temple tiles give texture to the base, you could use cork tiles to make steps that you cover with the greenstuff for the heroes, add dribbly candles for details, and paint in drab rock colours with the occasional gold inlay detail.    There’s loads of room to work with individual models, but you’ll tie your entire force together.

I often simply go with just matching my Realm of Battle board.  Churned earth, static grass, skull details, it all goes perfectly with the board I tend to play on, and makes it consistent between armies for keeping the theme between allied imperial forces.

The theme doesn’t really matter so much as the consistency, and that it should add a little interest without detracting from the models.  But over an entire army, those bases are determining a lot of the overall look!  Its worth spending the time to do them right.

Getting the most out of GW’s Contrast paints

Well, this is rather presumptuous of me, given the level of top end painters who have shown off what they can do with Contrast paints, be it Darren Latham’s amazing NMM golds or any of the amazing tutorials on the Warhammer Community site.  Having said that … I think there are a lot of painters like me, who wouldn’t class themselves as top end painters,  but are struggling to get the most of out Contrast.

From my perspective, there are two main areas you need to look at to get the most from contrast paints by themselves, and then you can also look at moving beyond contrast paints by adding a little something extra with other paint techniques after contrast too.

First, contrast is a translucent paint that is designed to recede from edges and heavily pigment recesses.  That means, first and foremost, your choice of primer makes a massive difference to the outcome. 

1.  Primer

Well, for the contrast paints to flow properly, the primer has to be smooth.  If you get a grainy undercoat, the contrast paint will lock between the grains and you won’t get any sort of decent shade at all, regardless of the colour.  Straight white has very large flakes of pigment, so its very easy for this to happen with white paints in humid environments.

Next, the choice of colour will make a massive difference, and can deal with one of the constant criticisms of contrast paint I hear.  Contrast paints as recommended by GW go straight over their wraithbone primer for a slightly warm vibrant shade. While more nuanced,  it’s roughly the equivalent of using a bright white primer, using vibrant layer paints, then putting a light coat of a sepia wash like Agrax Earthshade on it.   That’s very different to the grim dark tones that have been mostly popular over the last year.

Now, I started painting in the 80s when white primers and vibrant colours and pageantry was the order of the day!  I rather like that.  But you don’t have to use Wraithbone.  If you start with a grey primer (like halfords grey primer, or mechanicus grey), you get a fantastic muted effect that looks a lot closer to the current palette.  On the flip side, the edges aren’t as effectively highlighted, because the darker grey isn’t as high a contrast in tone with the recesses.

My thoughts on different primer combinations, from my own experiments and what I’ve seen others do on twitter:

Pure white – really vibrant effects, but hard to get the smooth undercoat.  Thinner contrast flesh tones can look a little washed out over the sharp white.  

Wraithbone – awesome vibrant colours with a warm hint.  An initial wash of agrax can add extra depth while keeping that lovely warm tone and crisp highlights.  Cracking!

Grey Seer – lovely vibrant colours again, but the cooler tone can leave flesh tones seeming a little more cadaverous, which is perfect for things like admech.  An initial wash of nuln oil can add extra depth while keeping that cooler, tone and the crisp highlights.  Brilliant!

Mechanicus Grey/Halfords Grey – muted colours, and the highlights aren’t as crisp, but we’re right in the colour tone for standard painting over black undercoats now.  An initial drybrush of wraithbone or Grey Seer depending on warm or cool notes will bring those highlights up really crisp while preserving the more muted vibrancy of the colours in general.  Perfect if you want to come closer to matching existing forces.

Leadbelcher – now we’re talking amazing coloured metals, with a metallic sheen thing through the translucent paints.   Absolutely amazing colours metal effects – using blues over silver for deep cool metallic blues is just fabulous, as are greens for classic chaos warrior effects.  Superb!  Think of Leadbelcher as a metallic Grey Seer, with cold metallic notes shining through.  An initial nuln gloss wash or shining silver drybrush (or both!) really takes this up a note to make it really pop.

Retributor Armour – More coloured metals!  Think of Retributor as a metallic Wraithbone, with warm metallic notes shining through.  An initial fleshshade gloss wash (or agrax gloss) with a light gold or silver drybrush really takes this up a whole other level for effectiveness.  Brilliant!

Zenithal Priming – I love zenithal priming, and it’s more effective with Contrast than any other paint type!  I would say, however, I think it works better going from grey, through off white, to pure white, rather than going all the way up from black – the black ends up with odd dark edges that don’t look right to my eye.  If you don’t know about zenithal priming, I won’t go into it here, but look it up – its a fantastic technique.

2.  Applying Contrast paints effectively

Let’s get the condescending part out of the way.  Contrast paints are a pain to clean up on your model, so you need pretty tidy brush work to get the most out of them.  If you slap dark contrast colours everywhere, you’ll need to repaint any overlaps with paint matching your undercoat, and that’s very time consuming, especially if you’ve gone an extra notch on your model by drybrushing or washing your undercoat first.

But it isn’t that hard!  I find contrast paints really nice to work with.  They are a really good consistency straight out of the pot, and apply like a paint, rather than running everywhere like a wash or shade.  The mistakes I see people making when applying contrast paints are:

  • Thinning with water – this is a major no no, and the contrast paints won’t flow right at all.  I even make sure my brush is pretty dry every time I clean it off.  If you want to thin the contrast down for a lighter colour, use contrast medium.  Add water, and it stops being contrast, and turns into a very expensive runny glaze.
  • Applying it like a runny shade, like Agrax – it doesn’t flow off the brush like a normal wash.  If you run a big brush over an area quickly, you’ll end up with areas of primer visible in recesses that haven’t been touched by the brush.  Let’s be clear – you apply it as if you were applying a normal base coat, in general.  You can use it as a heavy wash over another colour with the translucent nature – but you apply it like a normal paint.  I tend to fall for this one myself still!
  • Applying too much – this normally comes because someones either trying to apply it like agrax with loads on the brush, or because they haven’t checked into how to apply contrast and have taken the “One thick coat” line used when discussing it literally.  One thick coat means that if you have picked the right contrast colour for the job, you can apply it in one carefully applied coat straight from the pot.  It doesn’t mean you’re trying to make it extra thick.
  • Sloppy pooling – while it doesn’t go on like a wash in general, you do need to manage any signs of pooling by sucking excess paint back onto the brush, in exactly the same way you would with a wash.  And it dries faster than a wash, so you need to manage pooling faster.  I find breaking the application down to smaller sections helps me get better coverage and deal with any issues before moving on to the next.  Do one arm and check it over before moving onto the next, for example, rather than trying to cover both arms and legs in the same colour before checking it.
  • Not cleaning the brush enough – contrast can dry quite quickly, and is thinner than the paint many of use, though we probably should be thinning it more there 😉  Its important to clean the brush often or the paint can be sucked up and dry at the base of the brush, especially as contrast can dry deceptively fast compared to a wash.  If you don’t keep the brush fresh, your accuracy will get hammered quickly.
  • Shake the damn pots properly – contrast, more than almost any other paint, separates like mad.  It’s really what its designed to do on the models, so its no surprise.  But shake the pots up well or you get some bloody odd results.

How can you help yourself when applying contrast paints?  Darker contrast paints cover light ones really well!!  That means if you structure your painting from light paints to dark, being increasingly careful, you can really minimise any need to do any cleanup at all.

That doesn’t come to us naturally.  Normally with paints we paint from the lowest parts of the model up to the highest as its a little easier in terms of brushwork and clean up.  You need to forget that with contrast paints, apply them carefully, and go from light to dark to maximise the effectiveness.

In addition, you need to pick the right contrast paints.  Some paints give a much more washed out effect than others.  This is, I believe, by design.   There are light blues that seem too light and washed out but work brilliantly for tau skin, and magos purple seems designed for Genestealer Cultist flesh tones, not a deep purple.  Understand your paints before you apply them.  They each have a main goal in mind, I think, and are designed to be used out of the pot for that.  You can thin with contrast medium.  You can wait for it to dry and apply a second coat.  Always try the colour out before using it in anger or you can be very disappointed.

I love painting with contrast paints.  For me, applying paint quickly and neatly enough is fun, and because I see the model come to life without the “this looks terrible stages of base coats and highlights”, it maintains my interest painting the same colour over larger numbers of models.  My accuracy stays far higher than doing base coats normally, as I get bored and slop it on when I don’t get that instant result.

Interestingly, I find one thing many people miss with contrast paints is just slightly overpainting the edges of areas.  With the way contrast pools in the recesses and runs away from edges, its easy to have gaps between colours.  Running just slightly over gives you some lovely recess shading with minimal work, but just requires a light touch.  If you are just using contrast paints, remember you won’t be filling that gap with a later wash!

My final tip for application involved brushes.  Again, treat contrast a bit like a normal paint.  If it’s a delicate area, put it on with a smaller brush.  I find a size 2 brush with a decent point is working brilliantly for me generally, but I will happy use a smaller brush for smaller areas.  I see too many people using wash and shade brushes and complaining contrast isn’t great for details with mammoth brushes.   Interestingly, I find Contrast works better for me with a squirrel hair brush than the traditional sable, though both work just fine.  

Oh, and if you put a few areas of different primer on your contrast lids, then cover it with that contrast paints, you’ll know what it’ll look like.  The colour in the pot is way off!

3.  Going beyond Contrast

Honestly, though I love contrast … you can really improve your minis with a few extra touches.  

The first main area for me is metallics (assuming you haven’t done a metallic primer, of course!).  Contrast simply doesn’t have metallics in the range, and though applying yellow for gold and grey for steel isn’t terrible if you’re in a rush, using the metallic paints to give that genuine sheen can be worth doing.  Plan your contrast paints around the metal going on, and you can often find that you can speed up a lot of your painting as if the metal parts are going to get overpainted carefully, you can slap the other colours on faster around the awkward bits.  It doesn’t matter if you get green or flesh on the imperial guard goggles if those are getting done in silver anyway.  Again, careful planning reduces the clean up.  5 minutes before applying the paints can save you hours of touching up later.

The second main area is your initial assembly.  Contrast paints almost entirely rely on recess painting, and despite the marketing about “one thick coat” actually apply incredibly thinly, highlighting all the details on the model.  And that includes your mould lines, stubs from sprue cuts, and everything else.  A lot of that is often hidden slightly with traditional painting, especially if its slapped on a bit thicker than it should be.  Well, that isn’t happening with contrast – so spending a little extra time on the build will really pay off for the final outcome.

Third …. you don’t have to stick at contrast paints!  Do eyes with normal paints for coverage and control!  Apply extra edge highlights to increase the colour contrast and make hard edges pop even more!  Add a few details in over the top of bigger contrast areas, like buckles or buttons with normal paints.

Fourth …. a really nice trick can be to use a contrast paint more than once for depth, combining it with dry brushing or edge highlighting with the primer colour first to exaggerate the depth of colour from the recesses to the edges.  This can be amazingly effective, and can also combine colours really well.  If you use a dark contrast paint, drybrush it with the primer, then go over it with a lighter colour, you can really get some brilliant effects like light green edges over shaded black models, an amazing effect on Drukhari, for example. 

There will be loads more ways to add to models painted with contrast and to use contrast to improve your overall painting.  Hopefully this gives you a bit of an idea on using contrasts in simple, effective ways to speed up your painting, look effective in different ranges, and look at ways to take it forward too!

Assembly and Painting – Composition

Lets start off with the really hard one – Composition.  Composition is basically EVERYTHING that makes up your finished mini, and as such, I suspect I’m going to revisit this post lots of times as I go through the individual stages.  Given that, why am I tackling it first?  Because we need to have an overall eye on the goal when we go through each of the individual stages.

Every choice you make as you assemble and paint your model is going to make a difference.  If I pose and sculpt a miniature to look brooding and evil, and then paint it in cheery bright colours, it won’t be as potent as matching at overall theme.

A word used a lot in Golden Demon (and I’m going to refer to Golden Demon a lot in this process, as I’m going to try to use this to build a Golden Demon entry for 2020) is Narrative.  Your finished model is going to tell a story, and thats what the whole composition should be about.   In the same way that the best writers say “kill your darlings” to remove passages you love but don’t add to the story, you aren’t looking for excuses to use your favourite painting techniques or colours.  You want the model to tell the best overall story possible.  That isn’t to say you can’t use your best techniques – just don’t use them where they don’t work with the theme for the model.  Obviously a smart move for a painting competition is to work out your very best techniques and build a theme that really uses and highlights those!

Now, for Golden Demon, we’ve also got to make the narrative for our miniature tie to the world of Warhammer.  We can enter the best miniature in the world, but if it’s a Khorne Beserker in pink armour sipping a cup of tea, it doesn’t match the underlying official narrative of Warhammer.  (Incidentally, I love pink Beserkers – I just might not choose it for a competition judged on official themes!)

So, how do we tell a story, and what makes up the composition of our finished model?  We have an assembled model which is posed to reflect some underlying intent.  The pose should also be designed to draw attention to key elements of the miniature – if you plan to spend 90% of your painting time on one of the best faces the world has ever seen, you don’t really want the pose to emphasis a plain sword – you want the pose and lines of the model to draw the eye to that face!  You also don’t want the lines of the model (or overall diorama) to draw attention away from the model unless its to something specific elsewhere on the model or base.  We’ll talk about posing in detail, but its really a key part of the composition, and you need to take your final goal very much into account when posing a model.

We might have used some custom parts from other minis to customise the model, or gone as far to sculpt or alter the miniature.  We shouldn’t make these changes in isolation without thinking of the overall composition.  Putting a massive siege weapon on one army of the model may look cool in theory, but might make the whole model look unbalanced and clumsy.  Generally, most of these decisions are made for us when assembling a mini out of the box – when we start customising, we need to think much harder about the overall balance of the piece.  Is the miniature too busy?  Is it too plain?  If its plain, do we want to add details to the sculpt, or use the space to add details with the brush? If we haven’t thought about the overall goal, the end result will fall short of other pieces, regardless of how well each individual change is executed and how solid the paint job is.

Colour theory is a fantastic basis for picking the colours we want to paint with, allowing great choices for contrast and complementary colours to really build a fantastic, unified model.  But we still need to pick those colours in relation to what we intend to achieve.  A dark knight painted in bright blues won’t be a dark knight!  A battered, weary warrior painted in really crisp bright white won’t look like they’re straight from the battlefield.

A really important aspect of painting a display piece is understanding light sources – where the light should fall.  Where the shadows lurk.  Its very easy to mechanistically simply darken recesses and lighten raised points, and that works well for a tabletop mini, but when painting a display piece you need to go a step further and really work with light.  The process is still fundamentally the same, but the lightness of colours will be affected by where the light originates, not just the folds of the miniature.  And those choices of light sources again need to tie into the narrative.  Is there an unworldly glow from the minis eyes and hands?  Are they standing in the dark, illuminated by a nearby fire?  if they are simply on the field in the sun – where is that sun beaming down?  Where should the metals be reflecting that light?  These choices all tie into the story your piece is telling.

That ties into the next piece of theory – understanding the materials you want the miniature to exhibit.  Is that armour metal?  Bone?  Leather?  Is it hard or soft to the touch?  Is it woven, and need to exhibit more texture when painted?  What animal is that fur from?  Do you need to think about patterns like leopard spots?  Is that leather old and cracked, or new and shiny?  There are lots of painting techniques to reflect the possibilities.  If you don’t think of the overall composition, though, you’ll have jarring elements.  A weary battle scarred veteran with shiny new leather boots and battered armour?  That doesn’t quite gel.  Black and white zebra stripes on that leather cloak may look amazing, but animal hide patterns on a civilised knight will again tend to jar against the overall picture.   If we’re painting a glass bottle, do we need to paint the contents as well as the reflective surface?  And if that’s a liquid, it’ll look very wrong if you paint it so its an angle on the finished mini.  Liquid tends to stay level – what is level for this piece?  That may not be down for unusual magical or sci-fi environments – if you paint a zero-g piece, the liquid in the bottle actually runs around the internal surface, rather than being level!

Basing your miniature falls into painting for some, and assembly for others.  You may want a simple base to avoid detracting from the mini.  The base may be fully part of the story.  In some complex dioramas, the terrain on the base may be the key element of the story, and the minis only there to highlight a reaction to it!  No matter how simple or complex the base, though, it needs to tie into the story of the whole piece.  Having pristine grass underneath a being of molten lava doesn’t really work.  Having a delicate water elemental on a lava base will look wrong too, no matter how well done the elements are.  Basing is often forgotten or done as an afterthought, but it should be tied to the overall narrative.

In short, while we need to understand a lot of different concepts that we need to execute well to put together a fantastic model, we also need to keep our eye on the overall theme.  We need all of the elements to work together to tell our story.  We are composing a narrative, not slapping some parts together and executing separate painting techniques.  We all do this, but its often quite rare to step back and do this consciously … and for a top level piece we need to make decisions for the best results, not expediency.  If I just have standard flock, that’s probably what I’ll use for the base of a tabletop piece for a game next week.  If I’m painting for a competition, I need to use the best basing material for the piece, even if I have to order some or sculpt something from scratch.

Further reading suggestions on Composition

Creative Twilight has an excellent article here on composition in miniatures, touching on many of these points.  Well worth a look.

Warlord Games has a fascinating piece on How to Diorama, which covers lots of aspects of the overall composition, and I find a truly valuable reference.

Arcane Paintworks has a fantastic article focusing on integrating basing into the overall composition of display pieces here.


Assembly and Painting – The Craft

One of things we generally aren’t good at in the hobby is actually looking at the wider craft, skills and knowledge that underpin our fascinating pastime of assembling and painting little models.

That isn’t to say we don’t share skills and knowledge.  We do, all the time.  So many terrific painters will demonstrate individual techniques, or answer questions about specific paint recipes, or explain why they did something specific.  There are cracking tutorials out there for painting all sorts of different materials, colours, faces, animals.

So what do I actually mean?  Well, we aren’t often great at stepping back and looking at the overall process, and providing a wider context for those individual techniques, so I thought it might be interesting to try to do just that.  I’m not a naturally artistic person in many ways.  I can replicate techniques, and understand theory.  I’m good at the craft of hobby, rather than art, and so putting together a wider understanding of the field helps me attack top end work in a solid, methodical way.

I’m not looking at the gaming side here, purely assembly and painting, with the goal of producing the very best miniature I can at the end of the process.  And looking at it very much as a process, trying to understand what choices we should make as we go through.

Here’s a preliminary list of areas where I think I can put things in context and maybe put together useful links and examples to actual techniques.  I’m going to try and go through these all step by step over the coming year as part of putting together a Golden Demon entry  for 2020.  Lets see if we can make things as methodical and common sense as we can.

Theory – Composition and the iterative process


Theory – Posing 

Theory – Basing (as part of the structure)

Practice – Understanding Sub Assemblies and Dryfitting

Practice – Fixing the build

Optional Practice – Conversions


Theory – Colour Theory

Theory – Light and Reflection

Theory – Understanding Materials

Theory – The use of reference

Theory – Basing (as part of the overall paint theory)





Getting started with painting

There was an interesting thread on twitter where someone about to pick up a brush to paint miniatures for the first time got introduced to about 20 of the top painters, and me for some reason.  Unfortunately, I would have found the thread profoundly unhelpful, as it turned into quite a complex discussion of paint ranges, brush types and the like as all the painters started interacting.  It really didn’t seem very very helpful, and I thought “Maybe I could put down some of the things that would have really helped me decades ago when I picked up a brush for the first time, and address some of the phrases that get thrown around a lot.

Getting ready to start painting

If you are just getting ready to start painting miniatures, what do you genuinely need?

You don’t need a lot to give it a try.  There is a heck of a lot you can buy, but honestly, to give it a go, you basically just need:

  • some test models.  Faces are often quite hard, so helmeted models are ideal.  I’m assuming you are happy building plastic models – I’m just looking at the painting side.  If you aren’t happy, look for all in one models like Reaper Bones, or push fit models like the “easy to assemble” line from GW.
  • at least one general purpose reasonable quality brush.
  • enough paints to cover the basic colours of your chosen test models.  You’ll hear lots of pros and cons of various ranges.  Honestly, when starting off, any standard starter set is probably fine, or just get the mini paints you need from the easiest supplier for now.  I’d suggest at least one neutral or sepia wash, like Agrax Earthshade from GW or Army Painter Strong Tone, as this will really help let you see a big jump forward in your painting effectiveness early on.
  • a jam jar or mug to have clean water in to clean your brushes and thin paints with.
  • a smooth surface to use as a palette.  A plastic palette from a starter set, an old tile, palette paper, plastic from packaging.  It just needs to be pretty level and not going to absorb the paint.
  • Stuff to put down on your painting area to stop getting paint everywhere.   Newspaper, old paper, painting tables, it doesn’t really matter.  Just don’t ruin the furniture!

You’ll hear all sort of suggestions, and honestly there is a lot you can add or try.  But to start painting, I think that’s all you need, with one more thing.  Patience.

There are two ways this is important.  In the process of painting, you often need to step back.  Let a model dry properly before putting more paint on, for example, and make sure the glue is dry on a model you’ve assembled before you start painting.  It  seems obvious, but it makes a tremendous difference, and its easier said than done when you want to get cracking!

Second, you aren’t going to turn out award winning models overnight.  It’s possible to do really nice tabletop models quite quickly, and practice and experimentation can let anyone get to the top end of the field over time.  But if you aren’t patient, accept that you’ll get better over time, and work on the basics, you’ll never improve.  You’ll either burn out by trying too much too quickly, or give up in frustration.  If you can enjoy putting paint on the models, and aim to do a little better than last time, you’ll have terrific fun and improve surprisingly quickly.

Painting your first models

Ideally, you could pop into a Games Workshop store and ask them if you can give it a go.  They’ll provide a model and paints, and an area designed to let you sit down and give it a try, and talk you through it.  It can be a fantastic introduction.  Of course, that’s not always convenient.  So whats important?

Well, this is where it has to get a bit vague, by necessity.  I don’t know what you are trying to paint, or what paints you have to hand!  Its really, really useful to find some youtube videos of people painting those specific models so you can actually see what someone does.  However, there are a some general principles that can really help.

First, you’ll hear a lot of talk about priming or undercoating your model.  Anyone who is a bit more experienced in the hobby does this for everything.  Essentially, if you spray or brush the entire model with a paint designed to go between a hard surface like metal and other paints, you’ll find the other paints rub off less.  If you use a spray paint coloured primer, you can also cut out the need to put on one of the big basic colours on the model.  Honestly, though, this step isn’t really that important for most modern plastic miniatures.  Resin and metal models need it more.  If you are just giving model painting a go, I wouldn’t worry about it right now.  Even the latest introduction guides to painting, such as those found in Warhammer Conquest, tend to skip this step now.

Next, don’t paint straight from the pots.  Put a little paint on your palette, and add some water.  It should be about as thin as semi-skimmed milk.  When you paint it on, you may find it doesn’t cover very well like this, especially lighter colours like yellow, and the temptation is to just ladle on the thick paint from the pot instead.  It’s far better to build up the coverage from lots of thin coats of paint that flow precisely from the brush than blobby, over thick coverage that will invariably not come off the brush smoothly and spoil the painting between the edges of different colours.  This is where patience comes in, as you need to let each coat dry completely before doing it again too.  As long as you don’t rush, you can take it slowly, treat it almost like a complex but fun paint by numbers.

Make sure you use a nice clean brush at every stage.  Thin the paint with clean water.  Clean your brush regularly – not just when you finish a colour, but if using a colour for an extended period, rinse off the brush every so often to avoid paint drying in the bristles and affecting the paint going onto the models.  Make sure your thinned paints on the palettes aren’t drying up, but keep them at the semi-skimmed milk consistency by adding more water every so often.  Once again, having the discipline to stop after a period of time, clean the brush, then keep going with the same colour will really pay off over time.

Once you have a reasonably tidy set of basic colours (and they are dry!), add a little water to your neutral wash, and paint the entire model with it.  It’ll instantly add depth, shade next to the corners (which helps tidy up any accidental brushstrokes), and the model will suddenly pop.  You’ll have done a model, and it’ll look pretty damn good.  I see plenty of models that haven’t had a wash and haven’t thinned their paints, and honestly, just with this you can get pretty nice tabletop quality minis.

Of course, that isn’t all there is to it.  So what are the next steps?

Well, a lot of it is basically doing this to enough models until you become sure and accurate with your brushstrokes!  Every model will improve.  There are specific ways you can expand your painting though.

Next Steps – Painting

Again, be patient – try these, but 

Undercoating your Model

We skipped past this for your first few models.  However, it’s really useful to spray them with an aerosol (except Reaper Bones miniatures – never use an aerosol as the propellant reacts badly with the material – they don’t need a primer!)  before starting to paint for several reasons:  

  • You can spray it a light colour like white, and lighter colours will look very vibrant painted over the top.
  • You can spray it a dark colour like black, and colours will generally look a little darker and more muted.
  • You can spray it a grey and have a neutral starting point on a surface all different types of paint and technique will set well on.
  • You can spray the whole model the main colour of the model, and reduce the amount you need to put on by brush.
  • You can spray the whole model the colour that is hardest to reach with the brush, so you don’t need to worry about trying to do it later.

It’s a fantastic way of getting consistent results, or saving time. In addition, it makes a massive difference with resin and metal models, where normal paint often doesn’t adhere as well.  Even on plastic models, it can help, and certainly starting with a colour or a light, neutral or dark shade all has effects.

As a bonus, if you give a quick spray with a lighter colour from just one angle (like a white over a grey), you get fantastic underlying colour layering with no effort.  Bonus!  This is called Zenithal highlighting and you can find much more detailed explanations elsewhere.

Adding more depth

We’ve basically looked at doing a simple base colour and covering the whole model with a single simple wash.  That’s actually really effective!  But we  can improve on it!  There are several ways we can add more effective depth to our colours.  We can do something called layering – manually add layers of colours, so we might paint a green area of colour a dark green, then leave the recesses and paint the rest a lighter green, then paint the top level an even lighter green.  My recommendations for a next step here are to try using 3 layers at first for colours that are on large areas.  The more layers you use, the better it will look.

We can apply more targeted washes or shades rather than just using one shade over the whole model.  You can get shades in gloss and matt variants – using a gloss version over metals looks much shinier.  Using appropriate colours, like a flesh wash over skin does look a bit better.  Using a very dark wash over strong colours like lead or gold looks great (in GW colours, that’d be Nuln Oil instead of Agrax).  Using a coloured wash adds depth without changing the underlying colour as much – you can match colours and add depth without changing the colours tone as much.  My recommendations for a next step here are to use a gloss darker shade on metal, flesh shade on skin, and still use Agrax for everything else. 

Finally, while a wash really helps add shadows, we often want a point at the very edges of a model that have really caught the light.  There are two main techniques for this – drybrushing and edge highlighting.  Drybrushing involves putting a very light colour on the brush, getting almost all the paint off a brush, and gently rubbing the brush over the model, so the very edges pick up the lighter effect.  You might use a lighter gold or even silver on gold, for example.  This technique looks particularly good on natural substances like fur or mud, where the element of randomness looks right.  Be warned, though, dry brushing ruins brushes, and you only want to use older brushes or dedicated dry brushes for it.   Edge highlighting involves a very careful tiny line right along the very edges of hard surfaces, like armour, and can really make a model pop.  Don’t use it on soft surfaces like cloaks, though, as it’ll tend to make it look like a fixed shiny surface instead.  There are lots of guides to both these techniques, provided by a range of professionals and companies.  I’d recommend trying drybrushing as the easier next step unless you feel really confident in your brush work.  If you want to paint fast to do an army, definitely look more at dry brushing!


Basing models is a skill in itself, but there are ranges of texture paints you can paint straight on and look pretty good.  You’ll want to pick options based on your normal battlefield, and the army itself, but normally you can just paint the base a light brown, apply a texture paint, dry brush the texture paint a lighter colour, and then either leave it, or glue on some flock or grass effect tufts with PVA glue.    There are lots of guides to basing, and it makes models look more finished, but you can do this to plain bases, or buy resin or plastic detailed bases and simply paint them like the rest of the model.  I really recommend checking into more detailed guides when you want to investigate basing options, but its a fun area to explore.

Next Steps – Equipment

OK, you’ve painted up your first few models and got a hunger for it.  You know you enjoy it.  It’s time to think about spending a little more money on more than the basics.


We started off with a single standard brush – probably a standard brush from Army Painter or GW.  Most normal brushes aren’t bad, but will degrade quite quickly.  Over time, investing in a  better set of brushes can actually save you money, and you’ll get more consistent results with your brushwork week to week.  It’s really difficult to suggest brushes, as it is a very personal thing.  Kolinsky Sable brushes are generally accepted to be the best in the industry, but the individual handles and performance are very much down to the individual.  

Army Painter brushes have triangular handles that some people love and feel very stable in the hand.  GW brushes are really easily available!  I personally really rate the Workbench Warriors set from Rosemary & Co, which have been my favourite.  As you get try different brushes, though, you’ll find you like the way some feel in you hand, and you’ll want to look for ones with similar handles.

Its well worth investing in some brush soap to keep your brushes in top condition – think of these like a good shampoo and conditioner for your own hair.  The bristles will degrade quickly with no care, the shampoo will clear paint off the bristles, and the conditioner will make sure the bristles continue to stay soft and flow nicely.  Master brush cleaner is easily available from eBay or Amazon.

As an immediate next step, I’d just expand your brush range a little, and maybe try  brush or two from different ranges to see what you like in your hand, before spending too much.  Trying a few fine detail brushes can be fun, and maybe pick up a drybrush or a big brush to slap paint on a tank or monster.


Ah, painters can argue for hours about different paint ranges, and again, much of this comes down to individual taste.  It’s worth experimenting with new paints every so often to see if you like them.  My biggest recommendation is to get paints that you feel last, that look right for you, and that are available enough so you can pick up more without too much trouble.  Acrylic miniature paints are pretty compatible between ranges, and especially as long as you wait for one coat to dry before putting on the next, there’s not reason to limit yourself to one company.

Speaking personally, I like a lot of paints!  I think Vallejo metallic paints look amazing, though the GW gold is great.  Generally I like the GW line, but I don’t like their whites which I don’t find last very well.  I really like Army Painter paints as a good cheap option for the basics, and I find their dropper bottles easier to be consistent with if I make a colour by mixing paints.

A good rule of thumb is to stick to whatever line is most easily available that you feel happy with, and if you aren’t happy with how a particular colour goes, try an alternative from a different line.


There’s a lot of extra equipment you can buy.  Lamps, painting handles, specialist water jugs, paint tables.  Think about the space you have available, and reach out to people on social media for thoughts on specific items.  If you ask about everything you need, you’ll be flooded with too many possibilities.  If people discuss painting lamps, the remit is more manageable.

Most of the stuff in this category beyond the actual brushes, paint and models are really very optional areas, and I’d recommend investigating them slowly if you feel a need.  Try a painting handle if you find your hand hurts while (or after) painting.  If you don’t have anywhere to leave paints set up, a little painting table you can pop on a shelf and take down for a session will make a big difference.  If you have a regular desk area to paint in, but its away from the window or main lights, look at daylight lamp options – and look at LEDs that aren’t hot to avoid drying the paints as you work!


Its such an individual hobby that it’s difficult to explain the range of options without making everything seem far too complex.  Start simple, add some complexities as you gain in confidence, exploit the fantastic range of painting videos on youtube and guides in magazines like white dwarf, stay patient and keep trying.  Its amazing fun, tremendously relaxing … and if you play games, is so satisfying using painted minis instead of bare plastic.

Lazy Mini Painter – Painting Eyes

One thing that often comes up when painting models is the inevitably tricky bit – eyes.  Honestly, eyes are a real pain to paint well, take ages, and really aren’t too important to a 28mm model viewed from 3 feet away.  If you are painting for a competition, you need to do it well.  Painting for the battlefield?  You’ll make the model look worse a lot of the time.  Here, in increasing order of difficulty, are a list of techniques to simulate eyes with greater or lesser effect.

  1. Use a flesh or sepia wash over the face, which will darken the eye hollows anyway.  This is often part of standard painting, and honestly, looks pretty good.
  2. Go a step up from just the wash, and paint a dark colour like a brown on the eye before the wash.  This will add definition, make the model look a little less sleepy, but still be easy, quick and effective.  Gary Chalk recommends this level for tabletop  figures, for example.
  3. Go another step up, and paint a light colour over the brown.  DO NOT PAINT WHITE.  Its a really common mistake, but white actually looks terrible for eyes. A cream or light grey is far more effective.
  4. Get cocky, and dot the eye.  Its surprisingly difficult, but you can cheat quite well – use a technical pen to dot the eye instead of a brush!
  5. This is where we start getting tricky.  At this level – instead of painting the whole eye in a lighter colour, paint in white at each edge of the eye over the brown, and leave the brown in the centre.  Its much easier to centre the eyes better this way than dotting them, and easier to tidy up.
  6. We’re getting way out of Lazy Mini Painter territory here, so you should be looking at dedicated guides from this point up!  Essentially we start adding more detail – a little touch of white on the pupil, just off to one side matching the same point as the imaginary light source for all your highlights now makes the eye look much more vibrant and convincing.

Hopefully these suggestions help you start getting models done quickly and effectively!  Unfortunately, no matter how many lazy tips you adopt, practice still saves you the most time in the long run!

The Lazy Mini Painter – Drybrushing

Drybrushing.  Its a technique that’s been popular for decades, but of late its been generally replaced by more layering, blending, and edge highlights.  So why are we mentioning it?

Well, first, its a really quick, easy technique to add depth to models, and quick and easy is really what we’re all about!   The results look very natural and organic, so these days they tend to be used only on materials like hair, or fur, but can be used all over a model for a quick result.

How can we use the technique to produce really nice modern looking minis?  Well, there obviously for natural areas like fur and hair, we’d probably use dry brushing anyway.

For armour, we’ll probably stick with a few edge highlights and a wash.  BUT!  There is a great sneaky way of using drybrushing that looks great on armour too.  Instead of using dry brushing as a tool to apply highlights on the raised edges, we can use dry brushing to simulate wear.

Take an Imperial Fist in yellow.  If we drybrush with a lighter yellow instead of highlighting or layering, it’ll look OK, but a little old school.  Its a quick result, though.  If we drybrush quickly and lightly with a metal, like silver or gun metal, it’ll look like the paints rubbed off on the edges in the battlefield.  Fast, quick, efficient, and looks great and also in line with a more modern look.  Do it after a few key edge highlights, and you have a modern looking, weathered mini in very little time.

We’ll also probably want to use dry brushing on our bases to add a little more depth quickly – drybrushing an ochre over brown is a fantastic mud effect and so easy to do.

Another useful trick comes closer to layering than dry brushing.  If you have a bit more paint on the brush than just the tiny amount you normally use for dry brushing, and apply it a bit more heavily, you actually get an effect much more like a slightly sloppy layer rather than dry brushing.  This looks pretty good on cloth – trousers, cloaks and the like, especially before a wash to unify the colours.  Quick, fast, effective.  Its the Lazy Mini Painter way!

The Lazy Mini Painter – Basing

Well, its time to explore basing miniatures the Lazy Mini Painter way!  We want the bases to look reasonably good, and take very little time.  Whats the best way to do that?

Well, for me, the answer is – 

GW texture paints, specifically the microbead options.   Its effectively doing a layer of PVA and glue, at the same time as laying down the colour.  You can get colour matched paint (Dryad Bark matches Stirland Battlemire perfectly) to colour the base first (or just do the outer ring afterwards), and then a quick drybrush when dry with an Ochre looks fantastic, and really matches the early GW terrain packs colours magnificently – which happens to be the colours of my Realm of Battle Battleboard!

You can use the crackle options like Agrellan Earth or Martian Ironcrust, and put a wash over it instead!  That also looks pretty sharp!  Again, quick, easy and simple to colour match.  The problem with the crackle option is it often doesn’t work very well if you’ve used a very grippy primer.

I like to finish any of those with either a little PVA and flock, or some self adhesive tufts.  Quick, simple, effective, done.

No messing around with cork or slate.  No fuss dealing with PVA and sand.  No painstakingly painting tiny resin bases.  Just quick, simple effective techniques that look pretty bloody good over an army.  A Lazy Mini Painter win!