As a beginner painting Warhammer minis, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. You’re confronted with a myriad of paint types, colours and brushes, then an endless number of ways to combine them to paint your models. On top of that, models are getting more and more detailed and you’re expected to paint an armies worth of them. It can all get a bit overwhelming.
While there are plenty of guides around, including some excellent ones from our team, we wanted to run through our top tips for beginner Warhammer painting. There’s a blend of practical tips and approaches to painting, and while this is aimed towards beginners a lot of the advice is useful to remember at all levels of painting.
Plan Out Your Scheme In Advance
This seems like an obvious ‘start at the beginning’ type of tip. Plan what you want your mini to look like before you start painting. Particularly as a beginner this is going to save you a lot of headaches. We aren’t saying you have to have every single detail figured out, but a rough guide (or even a couple of key colour choices for armour, guns and bases) will go a long way to giving you a direction to head in. Make sure you’re also considering how many times you’ll have to repeat this paint job – that fiddly way of painting a Termagaunt might look amazing, but do you want to do it like 75 times over?
Know What Your Goals Are
This ties in closely with planning your scheme but know your end point. Are you trying to get a model to a table legal standard? Or is this a centrepiece you want to show off? The difference between ‘battle ready’ and ‘parade ready’ is pretty large, and is going to determine how long you’ll be spending on each model. The reality is, not every model has to be perfect, and it’s going to be easier staying motivated if you can get through units at a reasonable pace.
For bigger models it can also be worth identifying just one thing you really want to push yourself on, and allowing yourself to be a bit quick and dirty with the rest. That might be a focus on painting the skin, putting a bit of texture or freehand on their clothing, or trying a new technique like non-metalic metals or OSL. Trying to do everything can be overwhelming but this way you can make the model special without making it a never ending job.
Set Up Your Painting Station
This seems like an obvious one, but we aren’t talking ‘make sure you have paints, water and a brush’ here. Even the most seasoned painters and guilty of sitting in rubbish positions for hours working on a project without moving. While you might be fine with this, it’s a super common way to start getting some back pain. Optimise your work station and set yourself up a routine to make sure you’re moving regularly. Your back with thank you for it long term. If you want a more in-depth guide to this check out our hobby physio article about managing it.
Always Base Paint
Step one should always be priming or base painting your model. Use a dedicated base paint and coat the model thinly – it’s going to be easy to lose details if you’re too heavy handed. You can always come back and add another layer, but taking paint off is another matter entirely. A solid base coat is what’s going to let you build your scheme. Using thinner paints like contrast directly onto the plastic just won’t have the right effect. You can’t build a house without laying the right foundation, so why try and create a beautiful paint job without prepping your canvas?
And Use Spray Paint To Base
While we’re on the subject of basing – you can base with a paint brush, but genuinely if you’ve got more than one model just don’t. And to be honest if you’ve got the kit use it on that single model as well. Spraying models is ridiculously more efficient and if you’re using an airbrush to do it you can get all fancy with different base colours and highlights (called zenithals) that will really add to your finished product. If you haven’t gone as far as buying and learning to use an airbrush then get yourself a spray can of base paint (often called a rattle can). Read the side of the can carefully, shake way more than you think you need to (use a timer on your phone) and make sure you’re spraying in a well ventilated area at the right temperature. As with base painting with a brush you need to keep it thin – don’t hold the can too close and keep it moving constantly.
Choose A Base Coat Colour That Fits Your Scheme
Now we’ve covered how to base your models we need to link it back to step one, your pre-planned scheme. There’s a lot of options when it comes to base paints, from both games workshop and other ranges. Having your scheme pre-planned lets you pick the most appropriate option.
We’re going to assume that for the most part as a beginner you’ll be using contrast paints, which come out quite differently depending on what they’re going over. A good rule of thumb is to use light colours for brighter schemes, as they’ll make your finished product bright. Darker basing colours will result in a darker overall tone so suit brooding schemes better. The other option to consider is using base colours that feature significantly in your scheme. Painting an Ultramarine you want a lot of blue, so base spraying them with a can of Macragge Blue will get you a large part of the way towards your finished mode.
The final thing to consider is that darker basing colours tend to be more forgiving, and make it easier to cover up mistakes when you’re adding contrast. It won’t suit every scheme, but it may be a good idea to start with something darker if you’re worried about how neat you’re able to paint.
Understand Paint Consistency
Now you’re ready to start getting paints over your base coat. The first thing you need to know is that different types of paint are going to be different consistencies, and that’s going to affect how they cover your model. These different sorts of paints all serve different purposes, and learning how to utilise them is what makes your minis look great. While different ranges have different names for their various types of paint, we’ll stick to the citadel paint variants for ease of explanation.
- Base – these are, like you might have guessed, the paints you base your miniatures with. They come in pots as well as sprays, and have high pigment counts to provide solid coloured coats to work as a foundation.
- Layer – Layer paints have lower pigment levels that the citadel base paints, and are a thinner consistency. Their purpose is to be layered up on top of base paints to develop richer colours and highlights. These are the most flexible of the paint here, and you’ll almost certainly use more of these than the other types.
- Shade – Shade paints are a very thin consistency paint made to flow into the recesses of a model and provide contrast to your paint schemes by building up the shadows.
- Dry – these paints are tailored towards drybrushing work, containing less thinning agents and so a slightly thicker consistency. They’re ideal for this quick technique to highlight models.
- Contrast – Contrast paints have been a bit of a revolution for painting minis. They’re a fairly thin consistency and are intended to be painted directly over a base coat, sitting thinly on the edges and gathering in the recesses to base, shade and highlight all in one go. They aren’t going to get your models parade ready without something extra to the recipe, but you can pull out a battle ready scheme really fast using them. Other brands call these Speed Paints, or Xpress paints.
- Technical – if you ask us the technical range paints are some of the most fun paints in the Games Workshop range. They let you create a number of cool effects on models, from cracked martian dust to ominous, otherworldly glows to pools of blood. Used correctly they let you add a whole other level of details to your models.
- Spray – like we already covered this range of spray cans is the most straightforward way to undercoat or base your minis, follow the instructions carefully and they’re designed to give you an even coverage of high pigment paint as a foundation for your paint scheme.
Use A Palette
Once you’ve got the right paints and you know the consistency you want, it’s time to start using a pallet. You can buy an inexpensive palette from an arts and crafts store, or get hold of an old tile or plastic box lid, to start getting paint out of the pot and messing around with it. It may seem wasteful at first but it’s the only way to start mixing paints, and changing the paints consistency.
If you want your paint to last a long time on your palette then we recommend you start using a wet palette. There’s lots of DIY tutorials to make your own, or you can buy one from Army Painter, Red Grass Games, Green Stuff World, and many more. These feature a container with a wet sponge, topped with some kind of permeable paper, that lets a little bit of moisture soak up from the sponge into your paints, without all the paint being sucked into the sponge. It’ll help you keep your paint longer, and make the next tip much easier.
Also Thin Your Paints
Thinning your paints is pretty much a requirement to ensure you get even coverage. As we said above, different paints across the Game’s Workshop range naturally have different consistencies. You want to make sure whatever paint you’re using is going to give you smooth flow and get the coverage you need. The typical advice you’ll hear is that you want to get your paints to a milk-like consistency. This should let it flow off the brush easily but still have enough viscosity to get good colour, though you may need a couple of coats.
To thin your paints put some paint on your palette, then add a small amount of a thinning medium (I.e. Lahmian Medium) and mix it in. Add more as required to get the consistency you’re after. Two key tips; firstly, you can add more medium, you can’t take it away, so go slowly. Secondly, make sure you don’t put a dirty brush in your medium pot because it’ll ruin your medium and that’s an expensive mistake.
Contrast paint works much better thinned with medium, but most acrylic paints can also be thinned with water. Some can be temperamental, and liable to split or go streaky, so see what works with the paints you’ve got.
Paint With Just The Tip Of The Brush
When you first get into painting miniatures it’s easy to see all the tiny details and get a bit overwhelmed. Most peoples first thoughts are that these tiny details need a tiny brush to paint, which is logical. But actually, if you’re thinning your paints properly, not overloading your brush and painting as gently as possible you should only need the very tip of the brush.
This means that to get those fine details on your brushes don’t actually need to be really small, just very pointy. Rather than buying yourself a wide range of brushes in various sizes get yourself a high quality all-rounder. Then do everything you can to maintain your brush and protect that point.
Don’t ever get paint into the ferule (the base of the brush)!
This is the absolute, must-follow rule of maintaining a paint brush. If you’ve decided to treat yourself to some high quality brushes, like a set from Artis Opus, then you need to maintain them. We’ve also just covered that a fine, pointy brush is your best tool for painting a mini. Getting dried paint up in the ferrule is the fastest way to ruin that nice point.
The best way to avoid this is being careful about not overloading your brushes. Using a palette or transferring your paints to dropper bottles is a real help here, as it allows you to better control what’s going on the brush. Dipping into the citadel paint pot is a quick way to overload your brush. If you don’t want to go through the process of swapping to dropper bottles (which is totally fair, especially for a beginner painter) then use a cheap, sacrificial brush to transfer paint from your pot to your palette – one that’s got ruined by paint in the ferule is probably a good call. You also need to be extra careful using contrast paints with some brushes (namely ones that use sable hair for the bristles) as the consistency means the pain can seep into the ferrule much more easily. We recommend a cheaper synthetic brush for contrast paints, saving your nice ones for layer paints.
Utilise The Different Painting Techniques
Painting in solid layers is great for establishing your colour placement, but it will only get you so far. Techniques such as shading, edge highlighting and drybrushing are simple ways to add some depth to your models. If you’re a little more confident, then techniques like blending and glazing can help you get some smooth colour transitions, too.
Now, having just told you not to buy loads of brushes in different sizes, we’re back tracking slightly here. You want different brushes to use for some of these techniques. For example drybrushing with the brush you normally highlight with is, if you aren’t careful, going to ruin the pointedness.
Choose How To Add Depth
Adding depth to your paint scheme is what takes your schemes to new levels. Like we said earlier going for overly complex schemes can be a rapid way to burn out, but a few highlights and a wash can really make a difference to the overall paint quality. It’s important to decide the best way to add this depth to your scheme though.
Obviously depending on what you’re aiming to achieve will determine your process, but generally you’re either going to be highlighting, shading, or both over a midtone. Colours that are naturally saturated (like bright yellows and reds) are more likely to benefit from some shading, while less saturated colours would suit highlights.
Weapons, Faces, And Bases Are The Most Important Parts Of Every Model
When you first start putting paint on plastic it can be tough to know what to focus on. A lot of Warhammer, especially the newer sculpts, can have an almost overwhelming amount of detail to paint. It’s quite easy to get caught up in a super complex recipe for painting Space Marine power armour and find yourself bogged down in making sure the purity seals are just right. While the centerpiece models of your army deserve that time commitment, painting burnout is real and you’re better focusing your efforts on the important parts for your rank and file soldiers.
Weapons, faces and bases. Simple enough list to focus on, though there’s obviously a lot of detail that can be included in just those aspects of a model. These are the points that will draw the eye on your mini, and so in a quick paint job they’re the areas that you should hone in on to get the most bang for your buck (or impact for your time). Make use of more complex, layered paint schemes so that they stand out, and make use of simpler schemes on the rest of the model for a fast paint job.
If You’re Struggling With Details Paint Them Black, Brown, Or Grey And Move On
While we’ve just said the best things to focus on are weapons, faces and bases, there can still be a lot of small details on a model that it’s hard to ignore, or hard to incorporate into your scheme. Depending on the sculpt you might have pouches, grenades, belts, canteens, holsters and other bits of kit that your trooper is carrying. It’s easy to get caught up planning ways to paint these details, but if you’re finding there’s too much to focus on then our advice is simple; give them a coat of black, brown or grey contrast and forget about them. Whatever colour suit your scheme best. While on a centerpiece model having those small details painted to perfection adds depth to the overall scheme, on a rank and file soldier a quick coat will allow them to blend into the scheme without taking up too much time.
Washes Are A Godsend
And while we’re talking about quick paint jobs and focusing on whats important lets take a second to appreciate the value of a wash. Washes are excellent for tying your scheme together, adding depth and hiding mistakes. The right wash over a paint job will take it from a series of different colours on a model to a cohesive scheme. A solid example of this can be seen in the third Cadian Mini of the Month scheme on this list. Other than the base, the whole model was painted with just three paints (and one of those was the basecoat spray) – Grey Seer, Imperial Fist Yellow and Black Templar. The scheme worked as it was, but looked incredibly basic and wasn’t the neatest painting I’d ever done. A generous coat of Agrax Earthsade brought the individual colours together and turned them into a true paint scheme. There aren’t many examples of paint schemes where giving them a wash, either at the end or as a part of a wider recipe, won’t add a whole new level to the recipe.
Know When To Stop
You’ve been painting a model for a while now, you set your goals at the start and you’ve given them a shot, now it’s time to stop. Perhaps not everything has worked as intended, but every good paint job is built on the bones of a lot of messy ones, so don’t be afraid to shut the book on this one and take what you’ve learned to the next model.
There Are No Mistakes That Cannot Be Fixed Later
This is possibly the most important thing to remember while you’re painting, especially as a beginner. This whole process is about developing skills and improving techniques. You’ll look back at models in the future and wonder what the hell you were doing with your brushes. You’ll try experimental techniques and not be happy with the results, pick colours that you later decide were terrible combinations and even just mess up with your painting. None of it is the end of the world. You can always go back and correct mistakes, repaint sections or change plans part way through a paint job. Everything that goes wrong with painting is correctable (apart from perhaps spilling a pot of Nuln Oil on your new carpet). Never forget that in the worse case you can always go Exterminatus and completely strip the model to start again.
If you use any of these tips let us know how you get on! Leave a comment here or tag us on Instagram at Instagram.
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