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Friday, October 31, 2014

Dirty Jon's Basic Tips for Painting Miniatures

In this article, I will set out some of my top beginner tips for painting 15mm miniatures for Flames of War.  I will be focusing on achieving good effects for playable models, and not trying to get you winning painting contests.  When one paints hundreds of tanks per year like I do, the focus really is on getting those miniatures on the table top.  I generally ink my figures, so I will assume you are doing that too -- it really does save time and give a good effect.


You have your models purchased, so now what?  I recommend painting a playable unit like a platoon all at once. The next thing to do is to pick your color scheme and gather your paints.  The books published by Battlefront usually have a good guide - with specific paints - in the back for infantry and tanks.  I would also search out the Osprey books, which have really good color plates that you can match up to your paints.  Here are some prep tips:
  1. Use cheap black spray paint as primer - sue me, white primer fans!  $1 at big box stores.  Black lets you make mistakes on small infantry figures and have no one notice.
  2. Take the time to really trim all the flash off of your figures!  Nothing ruins a paint job more effectively than horrible flash lines.  Take the time up front and clean those figs!
  3. Brush off the white-ish dust (release agent) on the figures, if present.  I have never really had much of a problem with this, but when I do see the stuff I use a stiff brush or a quick wash with soapy water before priming.
  4. Paint a platoon at a time. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to continue.  It will also help tie the platoon together as a unit.  Even if using the same techniques and materials, it is difficult to exactly replicate a paint job.
  5. Order/buy everything you need before starting! 

The Painting

Once those models are primed, you will want to get your base color on your models.  With infantry, I usually do a layer of dry-brushing or two with a basic color that I don't mind showing through if I miss something.  Grey for Germans, Brown Olive for US, English Uniform for UK, etc.  For tanks, I use a large brush and some relatively thin paint and cover the entire vehicle in the base color.  For camo tanks, paint on the color scheme right after the base color.  Now, some tips:
  1. Paint infantry inside-out.  After the dry-brush, do the face, then equipment, then hands, rifle and helmet.  This keeps you from messing up the details as you paint.
  2. Don't try too hard to avoid getting paint on things that are going to be painted over anyway.  For example, when painting infantry pants, you don't need to keep the boots clean.
  3. Because we have a base color down, don't kill yourself covering every single millimeter of area with paint.  No one will see it, and if you ink, that will fill in anyway.
  4. Some tank models have tracks that have no fenders or anything attached to the main track pieces - I am thinking Shermans, Tigers, Panthers.  For these, do not glue these to the tank for priming.  Leave them off and prime separately.  Dry-brush heavily with dark then light greys and let dry.  Next, fill in the wheels and other areas with the base color of the tank and glue to the other model.  This saves time and gets tracks done quickly.
  5. Be aware of how capillary action and surface tension work and incorporate that knowledge into your painting.
  6. Don't use metallic paints much.  It really looks bad.  Tracks, guns, etc. look much better without using metallics.  I have found no good substitute for brass.
  7. Remember that you have to change your rinse water after using metallic paint.
  8. Avoid black paint.  I substitute black grey or German grey for almost all blacks, like boots, tires and parkerized rifles.  I think this looks much better, and is a technique I stole off of someone.
  9. Use a pencil to color in metallic things like tools.
  10. This is a tip from Steven by way of the Battlefront Studio - a light dry-brush of Iraqi Sand makes just about every tank look good.  This brings out the edges.


Decals can really complete the look of your model.  Get several brushes to help apply the decals and to soak up any excess water.  Lately, I have been applying decals last, but it can be better to do it before a wash - up to you!  Let's go to the tips!
  1. Spray or brush on a layer of gloss varnish before applying decals and let that dry.  This makes the surface smooth and avoids silvering.
  2. Make sure your water is not too hot when soaking your decals.  If the water is too hot, the decals will curl up a lot.
  3. Put a drop of water on the place where the decal is going.  This will help make sure you can move the decal around a bit after placement.
  4. Use the hard tip of your brush to move decals around on the model.  Make sure to do #3 above or you might tear the decal.
  5. If there is excess water, use a brush to wick away some after positioning.
  6. After drying, apply a decal film over the decals.  This allows the decals to sink into recesses on uneven surfaces.
  7. Use a very light drybrush -- VERY light -- over finished decals to blend them into the model.  I use a brownish color to simulate mud based on the color of the vehicle.   


Finishing up a platoon is a wonderful thing.  It usually means you have something else to put on the table in your next game.  Finishing up is part paying attention to details, and part choosing which details to not worry about! 
  1. Make sure your infantry helmets look good.  This is the most-viewed part of the model.
  2. Use a good quality wash, like CGR Painters Magik Mudd.  No need to gloss coat to use this.
  3. Experiment with your chosen wash - many are well served by hitting the model with an all over gloss varnish before using.  
  4. Find a good matte varnish and seal the models.  I use Testors Dulcote and I love it.
  5. If using a brushed matte, warm the bottle in some heated water for a few minutes, then shake.  This should mix up the contents and keep your matte varnish from being semi-gloss.  That one is from Steve-O.
  6. Green Ochre tends to be a good color for mud on tanks.  Use this for all tanks except German dunkelgelb - for those, I use Flat Earth.
  7. A piece of sponge with some dark grey can be used to lightly add chipped paint to your tanks.  Do not go overboard with this, but hitting the edges can look very good.
  8. Use a pencil to apply some graphite to your tank turrets - this will help them slide smoothly.
Well, that's it for now!  I hope this helped get you thinking about your next paint project!

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