Equipment

I  believe in having the right tools for the job. For a long time like a lot of people in the hobby, I bought the minimum number of paints, cheap brushes and made do with other tools that I already had but I’ve found that if you spend a bit of money on a few quality items, it will save you time and aggravation and give you much better results.

PreparationEquipment
Assembly
Sculpting
Basing
Priming
Pre-highlighting
Painting
– Brushes
– Paints
– palettes
– Pigments
– Peripherals
Sealing
Finishing


Preparation

Whether the miniature is white-metal, polyurethane resin or hard polystyrene, it will have been moulded and will likely need to be taken off of some sort of sprue and have some flash and mould lines removed. I might also want to do some conversion work. For these purposes, I use the following:

Preparation

Side cutters – try and find some with a coiled spring rather than the flat springs as this always seem to wear out and get out of line.

Razor saw – you want at least a fine toothed blade but a coarser one can be handy too.

Craft knife – a heavy duty knife with heavy duty blades can be handy for cutting through metal figures or carving wood for bases.

Scalpel – it’s useful to keep several handles around with different blades. Pointed blades are useful for carving details and curved blades are more useful for scraping off mould lines.

Cutting mat – for use with any of the above.

Files – an assortment of needle files and riffle files is essential. Personally I favour the diamond coated variety rather than the normal tool steel as they are a bit finer.

Abrasive papers – wet and dry, glass or sand papers in a variety of grades from coarse papers for removing material quickly to a very fine grade for finishing and polishing.

Wire wool – for polishing metal.


Assembly

Assembly

Different materials require different adhesives and it’s worth pinning metal and resin miniatures as the surfaces are only cemented together by the adhesive whereas polystyrene cement isn’t actually a cement, it’s a solvent which dissolves the surface of the polystyrene so that the two surfaces are effectively melted into each other. This bond is usually strong enough not to require pinning. I always completely assemble a miniature before painting it as this allows me to judge colour harmony and the correct lighting and also saves removing paint from an area which needs to be glued and then having to touch up areas and so forth. I always think that if I can’t get my brush to an area, then it is probably in shadow or cannot even be seen. I use:

Side cutters – try and find some with a coiled spring rather than the flat springs as this always seem to wear out and get out of line.

Wire – garden wire (without the plastic coating) or paper-clips are cheap sources but even thin copper wire can be used but this may require folding over.

Pin vices – it’s handy to have several with different drill bits in them to match different gauges of wire used for pinning or common model gun barrel sizes.

Epoxy adhesive – comes in two parts, a resin and a hardener, which need to be mixed. Make sure to get one of the fast curing ones. They normally say ‘five minutes’ but they normally take a bit longer than that to cure properly.

Superglue (cyanoacrylate) – get a good quality, thin one, hobby store varieties seem to be unreliable. You can use this with sodium bicarbonate to make a hard filler. You can also get accelerators and cleaners but I’ve never felt the need for either of these. Cyanoacrylate reacts with water in order to cure so using thin layers and breathing on it can work to make a faster bond.

Polystyrene “cement” (butanone) – a solvent which dissolves the surface of polystyrene allowing two surfaces to be essentially welded together, which comes in tubes containing a gel or bottles/applicators containing a thin liquid. I always find it handy to have both around.

Fillers – you can get various fillers, which come in a variety of forms and consistencies. The only thing to choose between them is personal preference.

Sculpting tools – wooden tools, metal probes, home-made/improvised tools and silicone brushes.

Water jar – keep some water around for dipping tools in to prevent them from sticking.

Files – an assortment of needle files and riffle files is essential. Personally I favour the diamond coated variety rather than the normal tool steel as they are a bit finer.

Abrasive papers – glass or sand papers in a variety of grades from coarse papers for removing material quickly to a very fine grade for finishing.


Sculpting

Whether I plan to sculpt a whole miniature or add something to or tidy up a cast miniature, I will usually need to do some sculpting. The following are useful for this:

Side cutters – try and find some with a coiled spring rather than the flat springs as this always seem to wear out and get out of line.

Wire – garden wire (without the plastic coating) or paper-clips are cheap sources but even thin copper wire can be used but this may require folding over.

Soldering iron

Platicard – comes in all shapes and sizes and can be useful for make some components.

Epoxy puttiesSuperglue (cyanoacrylate) – get a good quality, thin one, hobby store varieties seem to be unreliable. You can use this with sodium bicarbonate to make a hard filler. You can also get accelerators and cleaners but I’ve never felt the need for either of these. Cyanoacrylate reacts with water in order to cure so using thin layers and breathing on it can work to make a faster bond.

Polymer clayEpoxy putties – these come in a variety of consistencies but they are invariable a two part, resin/hardener combo. It’s best to have at least one which cures rock hard and one which cures slightly elastic so that they can be mixed in different proportions for different applications.
SculptingPolymer clays – these also comes in a variety of consistencies. They are little use for converting miniatures as they require cooking to cure them but for sculpting, they’re perfect as they can be worked for days or even weeks and then cooked when you’re happy. Again it’s a good idea to have some which are softer to work and some which are harder to work so as to be able to mix them according to what you’re doing.
Sculpting tools – wooden tools, metal probes, homemade/improvised tools and silicone brushes.

Water jar – keep some water around for dipping tools in to prevent them from sticking.

Files – an assortment of needle files and riffle files is essential. Personally I favour the diamond coated variety rather than the normal tool steel as they are a bit finer.

Abrasive papers – glass or sand papers in a variety of grades from coarse papers for removing material quickly to a very fine grade for finishing.


Basing

I usually try to base the figure before painting it as this allows me to think about colour harmony and correct lighting from the start. There is no limit to what can be used but the following may be useful:

Epoxy putties – these come in a variety of consistencies but they are invariable a two part, resin/hardener combo. It’s best to have at least one which cures rock hard and one which cures slightly elastic so that they can be mixed in different proportions for different applications.

Moulded parts

Etched brass

Wood

Cork bark

Cork tables mats

Slate, stones, gravel, sand, etc.

Twigs and roots

Flocks, scatters and turfs

Wood glue (polyvinyl acetate) – get a fast drying, waterproof one.

Superglue (cyanoacrylate) – get a good quality, thin one, hobby store varieties seem to be unreliable. You can use this with sodium bicarbonate to make a hard filler. You can also get accelerators and cleaners but I’ve never felt the need for either of these. Cyanoacrylate reacts with water in order to cure so using thin layers and breathing on it can work to make a faster bond.


Priming

Priming

I use an airbrush for priming as I can achieve a thinner and more even coat than with an aerosol or a brush and also direct the spray at the places I’ve missed more easily. I also find that the weather in Wales will often get in the way of using an aerosol, which should be used outside, because if it’s not raining then it’s too windy or too cold, which can create an undesirable blotching effect. I almost always use a mixture of black and grey primers and some blue or purple paint as it aids the way I work. The following are required:

Spray booth and mask

Compressor

Airbrush – most airbrushes will do for priming but an internal mixing one will give better atomisation.

Polyurethane primers and paints

Airbrush cleaner


Pre-highlighting

Again, I use an airbrush for this. It’s not a step that a lot of people do, instead they go straight in with a brush after the primer, however, it is a technique which I have been using for a while now and I find it suits me well. It’s also sometimes called pre-shading, zenithal highlighting or colour modulation. I will often use a sequence of layers from dark primer, to a to pale yellow as this will give my shadows a cold feel and warmth in my highlights. Sometimes, however, if a miniature has a lot of one colour, it is appropriate to use that colour instead to save work later. I use:

Pre-highlighting

Spray booth and mask

Compressor

Airbrush – a dual action, internal mixing airbrush is best. Look for one with air pressure and paint flow limiters.

Acrylic paints

Airbrush thinner

Airbrush cleaner

Water jar

Waste jar

Old brushes – for cleaning the needle tip and mixing paint in the colour cup


Painting

Brushes

I would always recommend spending money on handmade kolinsky/red sable brushes and preferably ones which have only been made from the hairs of the male. Artificial bristles don’t taper like natural hair so they never keep a point and they tend to wear down quickly which often leads to the point splitting or curling over and becoming quite impractical to use, the paint also doesn’t seem to flow as well. Real hair has a texture to its surface and the hair of the Siberian weasel or kolonok, particularly, has a very fine, scaly texture which holds more water or paint than the surface of artificial bristles, some of which actually repel water. Cheap kolinsky sable brushes are tolerable but they never keep their point quite as well as the more expensive brushes because they tend to be a mix of hairs from the male and female and they also tend not to be so well shaped, especially if they’re not handmade.

The best kolinsky sable brushes for miniature painting are:

Brushes

Winsor & Newton Series 7 – the size 1 is the brush I use most from this range.

Winsor and Newton Series 7 Miniature – sizes 2 and 00 I find most useful from this range. I have a 000 but I find it doesn’t hold much paint so the paint dries on it too quickly without additives.

Raphaël Series 8404 – I prefer the bristles on these to the Series 7s but the handles are too thin on the finer brushes so I mostly use the size 2 and size 1, which are slightly larger than the size 2 and size 1 from Series 7, respectively.

Raphaël Series 8400

It is also worth keeping a large, soft, artificial haired brush for dusting miniatures which have been sitting around for a while; a small hog hair brush (you may want to saw the handle down as oil painters use longer brushes than the rest of us but the Winsor & Newton Azanta Black range have a short handle version and they’re dirt cheap!) for dry brushing rough areas on bases and suchlike and some old brushes, which are too worn to paint with, for mixing paint in your airbrush, applying glue and doing other rough, messy jobs.

Some brush cleaner or brush soap is also worth using occasionally.

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Paints

PaintsThere are many manufacturers and types of paints for miniatures. I prefer paints which come in dropper bottles for ease of dispensing and to avoid spills and I use acrylics exclusively. You can use enamels but they come in tins, which tend to get very messy around the lid, they stink and they require a solvent like white spirit for brush cleaning, which will ruin your nice brushes. Some people use artist acrylics but these require significant thinning and tend to be highly toxic so never lick your brushes! I tend to keep some retarder and flow improver around just in case I need them but 99% of the time I thin my paint with inks and water. Good acrylic paints include:

Reaper Master Series – this range has an excellent spectrum of colours. It also has the best range of flesh tones I’ve seen. They also make plenty of inks, ‘washes’ and transparent paints, which are useful for my glazing techniques. The paint range is mostly designed as sets of three colours giving you a mid-tone, highlight and shadow for each colour. This gives a good range of shades but isn’t so beneficial to the way I paint.

Acrylicos VallejoGame Color has lots of colour equivalencies for Citadel paints, Model Color has a vast assortment of camouflage colours and Model Air contains a good range of thinned down, finer ground paints which are useful for glazes and washes as well as for airbrushing, however, when using a brush, they tend to come out slightly satin. Vallejo also make a large assortment of inks, ‘washes’ and transparent paints as well as a lot of handy peripherals.

Andrea Color – they only seem to come in sets now and the range is quite limited but they dry very matt.

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Palettes

I use a wet palette, which is essentially a semipermeable membrane with water underneath. The water is drawn into the paint by osmosis and therefore prevents the paint from drying so quickly. You can buy them for around £10 and spend a fortune on refills or you can make one from a water tight tray, a large spongy dish cloth to hold the water and a roll of white/bleached baking parchment/paper (not grease proof paper). You want it to be a good size so that you have enough space to mix paint freely and not have to change the parchment too often. You should fill it up with water until you have a little more water than the sponge can hold and then place the parchment on top.

I also have a piece of MDF, which used to be my palette and has many years’ worth of paint and glue on it. This is useful for drybrushing, holding PVA, mixing pigments with acrylic medium and anything else which I don’t want to do on the wet palette. It stopped being my main palette because I started using the wet palette but also because I realised that the rough surface of dried paint was destroying my brushes whereas the sponge and paper of the wet palette is much gentler. I did try a ceramic palette for a while but it was a pain as it needed cleaning and disrupted my work. Some people use them for mixing washes and glazes but I don’t see the need as the wet palette is far better for this.

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Pigments

Pigments can be very useful for creating effects such as mud, oxidation on metals, soot, etc. It’s worth noting that pigments come in as many colours as the paints made from them and it’s possible to use them for applying ordinary colour to miniatures or to make your own paints, however, the pigments sold for weathering often seem less finely ground compared to the pigments in ordinary miniature paint so you’re probably better of getting pigments from an art shop if you want to try this and these will come in a greater range of colours too.

It is possible to just brush them on for a dry look, though this will wear off if not sealed so I normally mix them with water, white spirit, alcohol, acrylic medium, etc. to help them adhere or to create different effects. I would always recommend sealing them though and it’s best to spray the varnish on as a brush might start to pick up and move the pigments somewhere where they’re not wanted.

Mud – I usually use a lot of pigment with as little matt acrylic medium and water as I can get away with in order to make a thick lumpy paste.

Rust/verdigris – pigment with more acrylic medium than for mud and enough water to make a wash. This can be applied in a controlled way or more liberally to allow it to pool naturally. Without too much acrylic medium it will regain its powdery texture when dry. Vallejo also make a Verdigris Glaze which you can use on it’s own or mix with a green pigment instead of the acrylic medium.

Soot/dust – lightly wet the surface with something and then gently brush the pigment over the desired area with a dry brush.

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Peripherals

I also have:

Two water pots – one to wash the paint off and the other to wash off the dirty water from the other pot. This enables me to paint for longer without changing my water.

Dropper bottle with clean water

Matt acrylic medium

Gloss acrylic medium

Thinner

Flow improver

Retarder

However, it’s best not to add too much to your paint as additives may reduce the adhesion of the paint to the miniature, especially the flow improver and retarder.


Sealing

I always use an acrylic varnish and usually matt. If I just have just one miniature to do then I might use a brush but if I have several miniatures or a miniature with pigments which I don’t want to disturb, then I use the same airbrush as I use for priming. A lot of people on forums say they have trouble keeping acrylic matt varnish matt as it will often come out slightly satin. Personally, I mix the varnish with matt acrylic medium at a ratio of around 5:1 and then water at about 1:1 and apply a few very thin coats. I use:

Spray booth – I have the cheapest booth I could find and I wear a mask too.Sealing

Compressor – I have an on demand compressor so it is not on constantly. It doesn’t have a storage tank but I’ve not had any problems and it was about half the price of an equivalent model with a tank. When it wears out though, I will probably upgrade.

Single action external mixing syphon fed airbrush – this is perfect for priming and varnishing as the medium is not going through the mechanism of the airbrush. However, it is not ideal for anything else.

Matt acrylic varnish

Clean water

Airbrush cleaner


Finishing

After sealing I may wish to add some extra effects:

Static Flock – make sure the varnish is completely dry before using this.

Grease/oil – This can be achieved with Tamiya smoke, which is a smelly, gooey, glossy paint or by mixing a dark brown, grey or sepia pigment, paint or ink with gloss acrylic medium and water.

BloodTamiya Clear Red with the addition of some spots of black ink is ideal for this.

Water – small damp patches and shallow puddles can be made with gloss varnish but larger areas will require the use of some sort of resin.