When I was a new wargamer, I kept hearing people refer to Tabletop Quality. It was things like “The tournament coming up this weekend has a painting requirement of basic tabletop quality”, or “man my minis aren’t even tabletop quality”. I had no idea what they were talking about at first.
Basic Tabletop Quality sometimes called tabletop standard, means that your model has been painted and looks reasonably good on the tabletop from the side of the table. It has multiple colors that distinguish the different areas of the model from each other. The base of the model has something on it even if it is just sand.
The three foot “rule”
On the tabletop, you are generally looking at the models from around three feet away. This is the distance that you are concerned with when you are trying to achieve basic tabletop quality.
For this painting standard, you are not trying to look good in extreme close up pictures, or even when someone picks up your model and gives it a turn in their had to look at it.
When I am painting the grunts of my army, I usually don’t take the time to paint small items such as making the bullets two different colors for the casing and the bullet, I don’t paint eyes on 100 grunts in the army.
Why would you want to paint to this standard instead of doing your best on each model
There is a trade-off between the amount of time it takes to paint a model and the amount of time you have to devote to the hobby. If you ever want to play the game with painted models, you need to get them done.
Accepting that there is a certain level of trade-off between efficiency and how good a model looks you can set a certain minimum level of acceptable craftsmanship for your army and paint it to that level.
This minimum level is subjective and different for each person as they build their army and paint it. Some gamers are perfectly fine with unpainted models because they choose to put all of their hobby gaming time to the gaming aspect.
In some games, you have a lot of models that are basically the same. You might need to paint 100 space marines for your Warhammer 40,000 army.
If you paint these models to basic tabletop quality you might be able to get them done in a couple of weeks. If you put your all into each and every one of these marines it could take you months or even years to paint all of those models depending on your painting speed.
My preference is to paint the grunts of my armies quickly and simply, to a basic tabletop standard and not worry if they are the level of painting competitions.
The center point of my army, my HQ, Commanders, Warcaster etc. is where I feel like putting my best efforts into making an amazing model stand out from the crowd.
Use Blocking: different colors for different things
Blocking is what we call the method of painting when you use different colors to represent things. The skin of the model will be one basic color and metal objects will be another, cloth and leather will be distinct colors from each other. When you base coat things like this it makes it easy to keep things straight and to paint them as in an assembly line method.
Painting your miniatures using an assembly line method will increase your speed when you are painting a lot of the same model over and over. For example base coat the skin of all of the models that you will be painting. Then move on to the armor for each of the models, etc.
I prefer to start with the lightest colors first and then move to the darker colors later. The reason for this is that the lighter colors are easily covered by the darker colors, but darker colors that accidentally get in the wring spot are harder to cover up with a lighter color. Read my article all about base coating here.
Using a simple wash can give quickly give depth to the models in your army. It will take the blocked out colors from flat and lifeless with no difference in the way it looks over the surface of the model, to having depth and contrast that will look much better.
You can use different color washes for different areas. This lets you use the same base color and end up with different results in the end.
A shirt, for example, can be given a sepia wash that will make it look dirty and grimy, or you could use a black wash to bring out the shadows of the natural folds.
The same shirt could be given a color shift by applying a light coat of a colored wash such as a green color wash over a blue shirt that will make it look more aqua in color.
A wash, is also a quick way to distinguish things that you base coated with the same color. If you paint the jacket and trousers of a mini the same color tan for example.
Using a slightly red wash on one will make it look more like leather, and using a brown wash on the other will make it a deeper brown color. But these quick washes will create distinct differences between the two areas. Read my article all about using washes here.
Choose a base style that you can replicate simply for each of the models in your army. The bases of your army can tie them together even if the individual models are different colors or styles. If each model in your army is slogging through the mud it gives them a measure of unity as they feel like they are in the same location together. Read my article about basing your minis here.
Beyond the Basic Quality
The next level beyond basic tabletop standard is display level painting. This is where you take the time to paint small items on your model like eyes, rivets, etc. You may also make more of an effort for gradual transitions in shading between colors.
You will also want to use highlighting to accent the brighter areas of your models, making it look like there is a direction that the light on your models is coming from. This level of painting is for the models that you expect people to look at more often during the course of the game and after the game as well.
The level of painting after display painting is competition painting. These are the models that you invest a significant amount of time into painting. You will generally only do this level of painting if there is an actual competition coming up or if you are trying to get to the level where you could be competitive in competitions.
There are different levels of competition as well. Many tournaments will have a vote for best painted unit or model. These are informal competitions that are more of a consolation prize for those who didn’t win the tournament.
Then there are store level competitions. My friendly local game store has a monthly competition where they will have a category to paint. You bring in your unpainted model, they take a photo and then you paint it up for the competition. The patrons of the store vote on their favorite and the winner receives a gift certificate.
These local competitions are fun and generally for bragging rights more than the store credit. These are the types of competitions that most of us will enter at some point.
As you improve, there are very prestigious painting competitions at large gaming conventions such as Adepticon, Gencon, and Lock and Load to name a few. If you are interested in these competitions you had better be great at painting miniatures.
You will pay close attention to the smallest details of the model and usually plan out the exact color scheme long before you apply paint to your model.
Lots of attention is given to shading with different colors including warm and cool tones for directional lighting. Highlighting will be built up in gradual layers to achieve an imperceptible transition between colors.
The highest level of competition painters will spend months on pieces that they intend to enter into high-level competitions. If you gave each model in your army that type of attention you would never come close to finishing your army. You would have the best looking units around, but most of your army would be unpainted.
Basic Tabletop Standard is a great way to maximize your time in this hobby and still have time left over to actually play the game. For a guide to getting started painting tabletop miniatures check out our beginners guide to painting miniatures series.
Some of my favorite paint is army painter this is a link to a good starter set.
Flow improver also helps your paint to cover the model and stick as well.