A Guide to Bases for Tabletop Miniatures


One of the things that can really set your miniatures apart, is the base. A finished base, even a simple one makes your model look so much better.

Many times a good base can serve as a theme that brings your army together as a harmonious team even though some units look quite different from each other.

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Plan a Theme for your army

I know we all have shown up at our local game store to play a match, and the other player’s army all have similar bases that tie them together as if fighting on an ice field, lava flow, or in the desert. You have to admit that this really raises the appeal of that person’s army.

My friend Riley’s Space Marine army all have ice jutting up from the bases. This effort that he has put into the base of each model really sets it apart from any other army he faces, even if he is facing the same faction that is painted similarly to his.

Thematic bases can tie your models to a location or terrain. If you have put together a team of snow troopers, for example, it would be more thematic to have them all on bases that had snow and ice on them.

The bases don’t need to all be identical but common themes really make a group more cohesive. Even if your army has several types of armor and or camouflage, having bases that are similar can still tie them all together.

Sometimes you need extra hold to get your minis to stay on your bases. Check out my guide to pinning minis to their bases here.

Glue items to your bases using white PVA glue

Regular white glue (PVA or Elmers) works quite well for attaching fine particles to your base.

In a well on your pallet, mix equal amounts of water and glue. Using an old, worn-out brush, apply the glue liberally to the base that your model is standing on.

Be careful not to get any glue on the feet or legs of your figure because it will look very out of place to have pieces of sand on their leg. At that scale, a piece of sand looks like a small rock.

Build in Layers

Start with the largest objects first. When you get started basing models you should get creative, placing twigs or larger rocks on the base of your models. These can add variety and interest to your base and model.

It will look better if you place these objects first before adding sand or other filling materials to your base. The reason for this is that it will make it look like the object is partially buried under the dirt giving it the appearance of weight. Then add grass, moss or other items that would grow on top of the dirt over it.

Use Materials that are easy to find

Sand is very plentiful and you my be tempted to go out and get some from the sandbox that your siblings or children play in. Please refrain from doing that. You never know if it has been used as a litter box by stray cats or if it has other things that you don’t want on your models in it.

I got a 5-pound bag of fine sand from my local hardware store for just a few dollars, and I don’t think that I will ever run out. Because I did this I will always have some basing medium that is consistent both in color and size across all of my units that get a sanded base.

My local hobby store has a wide selection of grassy substances. They range from green fluff that you sprinkle onto the base, to shaped bushes and tufts of grass that you place onto the base by using tweezers and other tools. These are simple ways to add variety to your bases.

Twigs from trees are often available from fallen branches and can usually be found under trees around your house or neighborhood park.

When you are looking for real wood to add to your models keep the following in mind. Only use dry, dead wood that you find on the ground. Green branches even freshly fallen ones that have naturally separated from trees will shrink and change shape slightly as they dry. This can cause them to separate from your base.

Keep your scale in mind, most games are 28 to 30 mm bases. If you use a twig that looks like it is a tree next to your model, place it in a manner that supports that scale. Arrange it to look like a fallen tree or log.

Add some paint and washes

By adding thin washes to your base material, you can make your basing sand look dirtier, not like playground sand. It can look like it has been around for eons not just a few days.

Using a brown wash can make the base look muddier, and even dirtier than before.

Using red could make it look like there has been blood spilled recently.

Painting and using a wash on the rocks that you added to your base can make them fit in uniformly with the other objects on the base or like they are from another planet.

Paint the sides of your base to help it match the top of the base

Once you have finished with the top of the base, it is a good idea to paint the sides. Many people use black paint around the edges to give it a nice even clean look and coverage.

I have several friends that break out black sharpies and just run it around the base to clean up any paint that has gotten onto it.

I personally like to match the general color tone of the base. It feels better for brown mud to be surrounded by a brown base that is similar in color. I think it makes it feel more cohesive.

Some games have firing arcs that matter for the way that a particular model is facing. Many players will mark the arc on the base with another color to make it easier to find the angles for targeting the opponent.

Most of all have fun with your bases

Regardless of the materials or theme that you end up choosing, have fun. These are your models and there is no right or wrong way to decorate the bases.

These will be the models that you will hopefully find enjoyment using for years to come and it is you, not others, that needs to be happy with the efforts that you gave in getting your army to this point.

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