This is the first entry in a series of articles about painting miniatures. From historical miniatures that run 10mm to futuristic running up to 28mm, and even bigger if you go for some of the resin.
I started painting miniatures when I was around 16 years old. A friend of mine I’d recently met, having moved to a new city recently as a military brat, introduced me to gaming. At the time it was called Fantastics and it’s where I went to play D&D and other games. The good news was that my friends knew the owner, so we got special privileges to stay after hours. Over the years that it was open, that never really changed. But it’s what introduced me to miniature table top gaming. So I spent a few years not having much in the way of additional spending money because it all went into buying miniatures.
I loved it though. I wasn’t great at the actual game part at first, and sometimes I wasn’t even good at it. Even now I’m probably average at best. But I always had fun, which for me was the point. I spent a lot of time there, painting various miniatures and learning more and better techniques to get the results I wanted. From smaller miniatures to a few large dragons and everything in between. I started out on Warhammer Fantasy, a good bridge between D&D and the much more expensive table top miniature games. These days of course there are a myriad of bridges between just about any game and some table top miniature version.
But oh how I love painting them. At first I was terrible at the painting part. The first month or two I tried painting them without priming them. Yeah, that was a disaster. Then some folks helped me out with a little direction and priming and off I went, painting and repainting. It’s a bit cathartic for me really. Peaceful and focused. So we’re going to start this out with when you first open your box and you’re blessed with sprue after sprue of bits and parts. Of course you’ll also have a few loose pieces here and there. Or you’ll get a box or blister of some metallic bits or even full figures. Whatever the case you have a decision to make.
Do you prime them and paint them, then assemble, or do you assemble and then paint them?
The greatest news I can give you now is this: the choice is yours. Please don’t paint them on the sprue because you’ll have spots where you cut them off the sprue and that just looks terrible. I have primed on a sprue and touched it up after cutting them out. When there’s a lot going on and you’re in a hurry this method can help. For those blister packs, or packs of minis that come in metal with bases already, do clean up the flashing and lines before prime and paint. It helps your paint job look much better.
Don’t prime on someone’s sidewalk. Prime on a surface that won’t be permanently affected, unless you don’t care about how your garage floor or driveway looks when you have all those lines and angles from various primer paints. Cardboard is great for priming as are other boards or relatively large surfaces. You can also use them as a painting surface later. Don’t worry, we’ll get into priming on the next article. This is more about ‘when’ to paint.
Most of the gaming miniatures will come in plastic on a sprue with multiple pieces attached. You’ll cut those out and either paint the pieces and then glue it together or glue the miniature together then paint it. First we’ll go with paint then glue and assume we’ve already done the priming. The issue you’re going to run into here is that the glue can often be spread over painted surfaces that don’t require glue. Mainly when dealing with smaller parts and pieces, there’s only so much space for the glue so it drops out of the small spaces. If your mini is a smaller piece (and most of them are) this can also lead to you getting your finger covered in glue. The way that the glue works generally will leave fingerprints and will also mess with the glue. So you have to be extra careful if you paint before gluing.
Then again, some metal figures handle this a little better than the plastic, or occasionally there’s that one piece that once put together wouldn’t have a good way to be painted so you have to paint it before you can glue it on. Or of course, it’s a larger piece and can be easily painted before assembly. The last issue with paint prior to assembly is that if you have a section that is covered with paint but is a gluing surface, the paint weakens the bond of the glue and if handled improperly can be a little more prone to breakage.
Generally, I recommend painting after assembly. The paint doesn’t interfere with the curing of the glue and excess glue can easily be scraped otherwise removed if necessary without worrying about destroying a paint job. Also of note for the smaller pieces, you aren’t going to be doing an up close inspection of every piece. When you’re done set the piece on the table and take a step back. If it looks good from there, that’s how it should look. Unless it’s a prized piece in which case, have at making it absolutely stunning. I recommend doing this at least once, with at least one piece. Then you can decide if you ever want to do that again. I have a friend that does this to about 1/4 of all his pieces. I love him to death but I think he’s crazy for doing it. And he’s really good at it.
Coming up in the next article we’ll talk about priming your miniatures.