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Miniatures Painting For Dummies

Don't have time to paint miniatures?
Don't have the patience to do all of the little details?
Don't have the talent to do it very well?
Still want to have painted miniatures as aids for your gaming?
Here's a trick that allows anyone to crank out simply-painted miniatures fast without the need for talent or advanced technique.

Things You Need

    1 can of white spraypaint (actual miniatures primer, available at most hobby and craft stores)
    1 can of black spraypaint (ditto)
    1 can of brown or tan spraypaint (ditto) (optional)
    1 bottle of superglue (Zap-A-Gap is the sort that's normally available in hobby stores)
    1 silver fine line paint pen (you know, the smelly ones that became popular in the late 80's, such as the Liquid Silver brand, available in stationary stores and even some stores such as Safeway)
    1 green fine line paint pen (available at craft stores ... it can't be an ink pen, it has to be one of those pens with actual paint that you have to push the tip in for a bit to get the ink flowing the first time)
    1 red fine line paint pen (ditto)
    1 brown fine line paint pen (ditto)
    1 blue fine line paint pen (ditto)
    1 black fine line paint pen (ditto)
    1 can of matte plastic finish (available in hobby or craft stores) (optional)

Here's a picture of the pens I bought at Michael's craft store for about $18 total:

Altogether, these supplies might cost you $30-$35.

What To Do

1. Get all of the paint pens ready. Pretty much this means doing the initial tip-push to get paint flowing into the end of the pen.
2. Pick out the miniatures you want to paint.
3. Remove any extra metal bits that don't look like they belong on the mini (usually left over from venting the mold when the miniature is made). It doesn't have to be filed down and smoothed -- you don't have time for that, and with what you'll be doing you won't be able to notice it much anyway.
4. Glue the mini together. If the bits don't stick together well because they don't fit together perfectly, hold them together while gluing and allow the glue to dry, then add another drop of glue over the whole mess to make a big seal. It won't be pretty, but that's okay for your purposes.
5. If the mini has a separate base, glue it to the base.

Steps 1-5 are best done in batches -- it's easier to do things in batches than to do it one at a time. However, if it's your first time doing this, just try one.

6. One you have several minis prepped in this way (and the glue is dried), put them on a piece of cardboard, go outside, and spraypaint the hell out of them. You don't need to get them dripping wet (and it's better in the long run if you don't), but be sure to get full coverage (you don't want any obvious bare metal spots). The kind of miniature determines what color of spraypaint to use: most living things are brown, things that you want to be mostly black should be black, and things  that are mostly skeletal should be white.

This coat of paint is called "primer," just like the coat of primer you'd use on a house or a piece of furniture. You prime a mini so the other paint has a more uniform texture to stick to (especially on metal minis, as the paint sometimes doesn't want to stick to metal) and to make it easier to see the details of the mini (the metal sheen on an unprimed mini makes it hard to spot details).

For this example, I glued these four cheap plastic minis onto a paint stirrer I got for free from the Homet Depot and then spraypainted them.

7. Let the minis dry overnight -- you want the spraypaint totally dry before you start painting. If you were going to paint these nicely instead of quick-and-dirty, you might want to do a second coat, but for our purposes one coat is fine.

8. Grab a mini. Here's one of the guys I primed in step 6. Notice that you can see some of the base grey of the plastic under the primer -- I guess that's because the primer doesn't stick well to some plastics (and why you would do a second coat if you were planning on doing a better paint job). For this mini, we don't care.

9. Figure out the primary color patches of the mini in question. For this guy, I want his bracers, blade, and helmet to be metal, his clothing to be red, and the haft of the weapon to be brown. It's easier on you if you plan ahead like this so you don't have to go back and redo pieces that you missed or forgot.

10. (Make sure you're doing this in a well-ventilated area, because these paint pens contain solvents that can make you sick if you inhale too many of them in a closed space.) Grab the paint pen of the first color. For me, that's the red for the clothes. Now, color the miniature where you want the paint to be. Yes, just like coloring a coloring book. Note that it might be easier to apply the paint by dotting all over the target spots rather than making long strokes (because of weirdness in the texture of the paint against the texture of the pen tip). You'll find that there are some spots where the pen won't fit. Don't worry about it, just do the best you can.

11. Wait a minute or so to let the paint dry (you can paint the first color on another mini if you want to save some time waiting). Repeat with all of the other colors you want to use. For me that's silver, brown, and black. I lightly drew the black over the bony parts of this mini to show some of the texture, but on the other ones of this type I ignored that because I was lazy. I then used the black to color in the base, because I find a dark base is less distracting when on a battlemat or whatever.

12. When the last color is dry, and you have several minis done, take them back outside on the piece of cardboard and spray them with the matte finish sealant. Once the sealant is dry (best to wait overnight on that, too), you're all set.

I did the other three in red, blue, and green color schemes to help tell them apart (I like to be able to tell my grunt NPCs apart easily, too, just so the players can refer to which one they're attacking without confusing me).

That Looks Like Crap!

Yeah, I know they don't look too good (in fact, my girlfriend refers to them as the "Power Rangers" because of the primary-color-on-white setup). However, you have to realize that when you're using a mini, you're not looking at it up close like this -- you're looking at it across the table top, and the small details (or lack thereof) can't be seen. From a distance, the "Power Rangers" look like this:

As a comparison, here's the "Green Ranger" and a Diablo Skeleton that I painted in the normal way (with brushes) at the same scale.

Notice they don't look that different at this distance. The Green Ranger took me about ten minutes to paint. The Diablo Skeleton took me about three hours to paint (they took about the same amount of time to prime, of course, and I took more care cleaning and filing the Diablo Skeleton).

As another example, here's the TSR 25th Anniversary Bugbear, primed in black.

After using the paint pens on it, it looks like this.

And from far away, it looks like this (hmm, kinda like Captain America).

If you are annoyed with the bright primary colors of the minis, try some other paint pens that aren't quite so preschool-vivid. However, whether painting with brushes or pens, I have found that minis that are painted ultra-realistically (shades of gray for metal, brown for clothing and leather, etc.) are kinda boring to look at and hard to tell apart, whereas minis with more bright colors stand out better and look better from a distance.