The Tools of the Mini Painting Hobby


One of the first things you will encounter as a new miniature painter is all of the stuff. There is so much stuff aimed at this hobby. And there are all sorts of people saying different things about what you need. I am going to break down what you actually need vs. what is nice to have vs. what is a waste of money.

Of course, it is important to remember that this is all my opinion, your experiences may be different than mine.

Paint Brushes

The humble paintbrush is your primary tool in this hobby. you can make do without most other tools for a little while, but finger painting isn’t really a good option for painting miniatures.

This is only an introduction to paintbrushes, I dive deep into brushes later in this series of articles. You can jump right to the article on brushes by clicking on this link.

Brush Material

The main debate that you will see around the wargaming community about brushes is, whether you should use natural hair brushes or synthetic brushes. Some people feel very strongly one way or the other, some just use whatever is on hand.

Even top tier painters disagree on this topic, there are Golden Demon award winners that use both types. In my opinion, you should start with synthetic brushes because beginner painters tend to feel more comfortable with the way that they perform.

Brush Shape

The next thing that you need to consider is the shape of the brush. Round brushes are the most commonly used because they are simple to use it doesn’t matter the direction that you hold it. Flat brushes are useful for dry brushing and other technical applications.

Brush Size

You will need to have a couple of different sizes on hand for painting your minis. The main workhorse of your brushes is your base coating brush. You should look for a brush that is fairly large so that it can hold more paint at a time and speed up your painting time.

In your friendly local game shop, the brushes will all have different names, it might be called a base coating brush, or a layering brush. If you go to an art supply store or a craft store the brushes sizes are given numbers rather than names. The size you want to look for is 0 or 1.

These are the brushes that I recommend for new painters.

Army Painter Regiment Brush

Army Painter Character Brush

Army Painter Dry Brush

If you have a large budget this set will give you all of the brushes that you will need

Paint

Even the best paintbrush is worthless without paint. There are several things to consider when you are deciding what paint to start using. This is an introduction to the basics of paint.

This is only an introduction to paint, I dive deep into paint later in this series of articles. You can jump right to the article on choosing the right paint by clicking on this link.

Factors to consider when choosing what paint to use for your minis

Local Availability

You can find anything for sale on the internet, including paint. I think that the best place to get your paint is from your friendly local game store. Not only does it support local small businesses, but it also means that if you run out of paint or want another special color, it is easy to run to the local store and get it without waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

Paint Base

Acrylic Paint

Most of the paint you find in your friendly local game store is water-based acrylic paint. The water base means it will most likely be non-toxic and it won’t have any harmful fumes. It is simple to work with and comes in a variety of finishes.

Acrylic paint can be used in a room that doesn’t have great air circulation or closed windows. It is simple to clean up. To clean your brushes you can simply use clod water and a brush conditioner. If you spill, you can just clean it up with soapy water and a sponge or rag.

Enamel / Lacquer / Oil

Other paints have harsh chemical bases or require harsh chemicals to clean up. They require harsh chemicals such as paint thinner to thin and to clean up. You need to use then in a well-ventilated area.

These paints are useful and shouldn’t be written off as not for painting minis, but I would definitely start with acrylic paint that you can find in your local game store.

Thickness

Different brands of paint come in different thickness levels and require you to thin more than others.

Variety of Colors

The paint lines that you will find in your local game store have dozens of different colors, metallic colors, pre made washes, and a variety of finishes etc.

My local store only carries the Citadel and Army Painter paint lines. But I can drive about an hour to a larger city and find several other paint lines.

Many other lines are more specialized and have fewer more specialized colors. These specialized lines might be available in your local market or only online depending on the popularity in your area.

Pots vs. Droppers

Paint comes in two different types of bottles. They either come in pots that open the top and pour or with twist-off tops that you squeeze out drops of paint onto your palette.

I prefer dropper bottles to pots. You can keep track of the amount that you mix to get custom colors much easier. I also tend to waste less paint this way.

Recommended paint for beginners

I recommend that if your local store carries the army painter brand, go with it. They have a good paint system, with a large variety of colors that are very beginner-friendly.

Here is a link to a good inexpensive starter set.

Here is a link to a larger if you have a larger budget

If they don’t carry Army Painter they will most likely carry Citadel paints. This is also a good choice, the main reason that I prefer Army Painter is for the dropper bottles.

Essential Tools

Clippers

You will need a good pair of flush clippers to remove your mini parts from their sprues. This is the pair that I own.

Hobby Knife

A good sharp hobby knife will help you when you are preparing your mini parts and removing mold lines. This is a versatile tool that you will use during your hobby time a lot. So get one that feels comfortable in your hand.

Glue

There are several types of glue that we use in this hobby.

Plastic model glue forms the strongest bonds for plastic parts because this glue actually melts the plastic of both parts and then when they set up they bond the plastic parts together like a weld. Because it reacts with plastic to form bonds it won’t work with models that are metal or resin.

Model glue comes in a variety of thicknesses from extra thin that can wick into small spaces to thick gap filling varieties.

Super glue can be used for any type of model because it creates its own bond. It can bond resin, metal, or plastic parts to each other.

White PVA glue is used a lot when basing your models. It is water soluble so it can be thinned easily for other applications as well.

Tweezers

a good pair of tweezers will help you get small pieces placed onto your models or the bases without your fingers getting in the way or glued to your pieces.

Tools that I use because they are useful but not essential for getting started

Wet Palette

A wet palette is a good tool for keeping your acrylic paint usable for longer periods of time. If you plan to have extended painting sessions then this is something that will be extremely useful for you.

Pin Vice

This tool is used to drill small holes into soft materials like plastic, resin or metal models. That is useful for inserting magnets or making pilot holes for converting model kits. Most of them are manual. I would avoid getting any of the motorized ones because you can mess up your mini super quickly with them. This is a good one to consider.

Magnets

These are useful for assembling models that have more than one possible configuration. Some games require that your minis have a weapon on the model for it to be used in the game. Magnetizing them gives you options when making your army list without buying multiple copies of each model.

Handle for holding your minis

When you are painting your minis it is best to hold the base rather than the model. This prevents the paint from rubbing off onto your fingers. Holding onto the base of the model can be really fatiguing for your fingers.

The handle that I use

The holder that I use is made by Game Envy. You can check it out at their website.

There are several brands of mini holders that allow you to hold onto something more comfortable that will allow for great control and longer paint sessions. This is one that is likely to be available in your local game store.

Cutting Mat

Cutting mats help to protect your work surfaces. They aren’t essential and many mini wargamers don’t bother with them. But if you are working on your kitchen table, or a desk that you might want to protect, then it is great to have something to protect it from knife blades, glue drips, paint etc.

My cutting mat looks pretty bad because of years of use, but the table that is under it is just fine. If I decide to change things up in the future it will be ready to use for whatever I decide.

As fate would have it I knocked over a bottle of wash on my cutting mat the day after I wrote this post while working on a skeleton miniature for another tutorial. I just wiped it up with a paper towel and moved on.

You can find a wide variety of cutting mats at your local fabric shop, your friendly local game store might carry them, but not all of them do. The one that I own is similar to this one.

Green Stuff

Green stuff is a two part epoxy that we use to fill gaps in parts that don’t fit together quite perfectly. It is also used to sculpt items for minis and bases.

Sculpting tools

When you use green stuff to fill the gaps in your models it is useful to have some tools to help you with that. If you use your fingers you can easily end up with your fingerprints permanently etched into your putty when it cures all the way. These tools can really help you get things done in tight spaces.

Files

Files can help you to remove small blemished from your minis and other models. You will want to make sure that they have a variety of shapes in the set. Round and flat files are both useful in their own way. Get yourself an inexpensive set of these and you will have tools that you can depend on for life.

Specialty paint

my favorite specialty paint is Turbo Dork metallic color-shifting paint. I used this color called ground is lava to base coat my blood angel army. It shifts from a dark brown/red to orange color depending on how the light hits it. I think it looks pretty good.

Airbrush

You might have seen your favorite youtuber using an airbrush to get some nice blends. Or like me there were people telling me that an airbrush is cheating because it makes painting minis too easy.

Well I’m here to tell you that yes airbrushes are nice, they can do many things that are difficult to reproduce with a manual paintbrush, but they definitely aren’t an easy button. There is a pretty steep learning curve to an airbrush.

Airbrushes can also be pretty expensive once you get the airbrush, an air compressor, and the other little things that make using an airbrush work. I would wait until you are sure that this is the hobby for you until you make the investment in an airbrush setup.

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