Victory Points is a new weekly column here at The Escapist, where veteran miniatures gamer Joe Perez gives out wisdom and advice about the craft, art, and play of miniatures games – from Warhammer to Warmachine, Infinity to Flames of War.
One of the attractions of miniature tabletop warfare is the ability to collect, assemble and paint your collection of miniatures however you want, customizing them to match your vision of warrior supreme. Though if you don’t start the process right, that army you are so proud of can chip, peel, or yellow over time and through use, and as a tabletop war game you will be using them. I spend time as a commission painter, and today I would like to give you some quick and easy steps you can do to make sure your miniatures stand the test of time.
It may sound a bit overdone, but miniature painting is about 80% preparation. Making sure you take the right steps before putting any paint on the miniature ensuring the miniatures stay assembled, painted, and looking good for a long time to come. The first thing you are going to want to do is to clear any flashing or mold lines from your miniature. Through the casting process, regardless of the material the miniature is made out of, there will be bits of flashing and mold lines that are left on the model. You will want to clear these off before anything else, as not clearing these up can cause your miniatures to look strange or warped. While at first it sounds like it will take a lot of time and effort to do this, honestly, it’s fairly quick and can be done without the need of expensive tools.
Cutting the model from the sprue or clearing large amounts of flashing is your first obstacle. While you can use many tools for this, my favorite is something called a flush cutter. These are essentially wire cutters designed to get into very tightly packed or high density places. They are relatively cheap and perfect for cleaning miniatures as they allow you to get into very tight places common on miniature sprues without gouging or destroying the miniatures. I picked up a pair on Amazon for under $6 USD, but they can be found at any local hardware shop. They are perfect for cutting through plastic, resin, and the soft white metal used for miniatures, and because of how the head is shaped, leaves little to no marring behind to have to deal with and will let you get rid of all the nasty flash or release the models from the sprue with minimal effort.
The next key item is a hobby knife or X-Acto knife, a simple and cheap tool that can be found at any hardware store. It is a perfect tool for removing mold lines, the trick is though that you don’t use it like you would think you would. This is the perfect tool for removing mold lines from miniatures both metal and plastic. You will want to not use the bladed side, but flip the blade around and use the blunt part of the blade. You will want to be careful not to cut yourself as you scrape the blade across the mold lines, but this will allow you to grind down the mold lines without biting into the model with either the sharp part of the blade or files. These two very simple things are the first steps in making your model look amazing.
After you’ve removed all of the flash and scraped all of the mold lines, you have one more step before you are ready to assemble your miniatures, and it is a step most people overlook. Due to the nature of casting miniatures, molds are sprayed with a release agent chemical that allows the models to be removed from their molds without tearing apart the mold itself. This is particularly true of metal miniatures, while plastic and resin suffer from this a little less. These chemicals can cause your paint not to stick to your miniature, and sometimes cause your adhesive agent not to work when attempting to keep all the bits and bobs attached to the model. Now, you don’t need any fancy chemicals or cleaners to remove this, but rather a little bath in a bath of room temperature water with just a little bit of dish soap followed by a quick rinse will do the trick. You will want something to put over the drain like a mesh catch or a cheap mesh strainer from the dollar store to make sure any small bits don’t fall down the drain. Once you are done rinsing the model, let it sit for a while on some paper towels to dry off. After it is completely dry, the model is ready for assembly. This will ensure that your model stays together on the tabletop during gameplay and will help make sure that the paint stays on the model. It will also help with any gap filling or modifications you want to make to the model with any putty or epoxy, as will help ensure there is a clean surface to adhere to.
Acrylic paint does not adhere well to metal, and sometimes plastic, no matter how clean your miniature is. Primer creates a bond to the model that gives the acrylic paint something to hold on to in order to stay on the miniature. It sounds like a simple concept, but it is very important to maintain the health of your models paint job. Not only is it important to prime your miniatures, it is important to prime them the correct way. Just make sure to do it outside or in an extremely well-ventilated area.
Now, there are some misconceptions about priming that should be addressed here regarding. You do not need to spend a large amount of money on primer specifically for miniatures. While they are great products, they tend to be rather expensive for not a whole lot of product, and they can be difficult to locate locally and sometimes even online. You can get wonderful priming results with nothing more than a rattle can from your local hardware store. This is far easier to obtain, and much lighter on your wallet. Stick to matte or flat colors, and stick to spray cans that are specifically primers. Krylon and Velspar make great primers for metal and plastic, but really any brand will do as long as you get flat finish primer. Colors are up to you, but bear in mind that anything you use as a primer acts as an under coat to the miniature. This will affect how your paint looks on the miniature when it’s done. My recommendation is grab a can of flat black and flat white. That will cover almost all of your priming needs for a long time to come.
How you prime your miniature matters far more than how much you spend on the primer. The first mistake most people make is to over prime the miniature, giving it a plastic like sheen and smoothness. This leaves too much primer on the model and obscures any details the model has, on top of not giving your paint a surface it can cling to. This is a situation where less is more, and you want to keep that in mind as you spray your models. It is OK if some metal or plastic shows through, you do not need to cover every centimeter of the model. Instead, you will take care of that through normal painting. Your goal is to have the model feel almost as if it is covered in very fine sandpaper, as this will give the paint something to cling to.
Here’s the method I was taught, and over the last twenty years of painting, it has yet to fail me. Hold the model out at arm’s length in your non-dominant hand. Then, using your dominant hand, start spraying with your rattle can. Move your dominant arm so that you bring the can across the model with a light dusting. Continue to do this while turning the model in your hand to get at all sides. Do this until most of the model is covered, and don’t worry if you see a little metal or plastic peaking through in hard to reach areas, that’s quite alright. This allows the primer to build up in very light layers that dry quickly, and it allows you to easily control the spray of the pain on the miniature. When you are done, run your finger lightly over the miniature, if it feels slightly rough, you’ve got it perfectly.
A slightly more advanced priming technique is to use two colors, black and white, on the same model called double priming. To do this, you follow the same steps as above with a few simple variations. First, using the black primer, tilt the model slightly away from you. Follow the steps above of moving the spray can across the model while turning the model to ensure coverage. After you’ve laid a little black primer down, tilt the model towards you and follow the same steps as above with the white primer. When you’re done, you should have a two toned model. The benefit of this is that you just created a natural shading on the model through priming. Colors will appear darker from lower on the model and the bits that got the dusting of white from the top will appear brighter. This natural shading actually saves you time and effort later and helps to give your models a more well-defined look in the finished result.
Try this out on a few models that you really don’t care too much about first, just to make sure you got the technique down. When you are happy with the texture you are achieving, you can safely start priming regular miniatures. As a reminder, with spray cans, make sure to do a couple of test sprays not directed at the model in order to make sure there are no clogs. Spray cans have a tendency to clog after some use. These few tips may seem odd at first, but they will help to make sure you have a great starting point to have fantastic looking models on whatever battlefield you choose to take. You will find your models are more durable, look better longer and will be the way to being the envy of all your opponents.