The Ultimate Guide to Painting Miniatures
Would you like to know the secret to easily painting beautiful & functional miniatures?
D&D miniature painting is an art.
But there are secrets that you - a beginner - can use to shortcut your way to good looking miniatures.
We’ve painted thousands of wargame miniatures of D&D Nolzur’s marvelous miniatures, and learn a few tricks along the way.
So if you’re looking for a few techniques that even a brand new mini painter can pull off, you’ve found the right place.
BEFORE WE DIVE INTO SOME MINIATURE PAINTING SECRETS, HERE ARE THE MATERIALS & SETUP YOU WILL NEED:
- Miniature Paint Set
- Paint Brushes
- Unpainted Miniatures
- Miniature paint palette to hold paint
- Small desk lamp for illumination
- Spray primer for miniatures
As far as paints go, the best miniature paint set will not have flow problems and will contain 95% of the colors you could possibly need.
Pro painters will often mix their own colors, but for a beginner, you want a large variety so you don’t have to concern yourself with mixing mistakes.
Quick tip: It’s recommended to spray your mini with a miniature painting primer, as the primer helps hold your paint on the miniature.
Techniques for Beginning Painters
The #1 step to creating good, solid looking Pathfinder miniatures or D&D painted miniatures (as a beginner) is to determine the light source.
“Highlighting” or “laying highlights” is where you highlight areas of the miniature that sunlight or a bright light source is hitting.
Highlights is simply painting a light source - and you do that by painting a light color over the miniature.
For example, if you have an adventurer and she is traveling at midday when the sun is highest, the sun will cast shadows in-between the folds of her cloak and on her legs, while causing the tip of her sword (which is strapped to her back), to gleam, just like the crown of her head. Similarly, the tips of her cloak will be brighter, with the ripples closest to the sun being the bright highlights.
Say her robe is blue.
You will first paint the entire robe a blue color. Then, where the sun is hitting directly (the edges and the high ripples, not in the folds where the shadows are), you will paint a slightly lighter shade of blue to represent that area being lit up by a light source.
This adds a tremendous level of realism to your miniature because it will create the illusion of depth just like in real-life.
It is a very easy process and can turn a generic blue robe into cloth with depth and color.
1) Paint the “base color” - If you want the robe of your miniature to be blue, paint it blue.
2) Then let the paint dry.
3) After the paint is dry, paint a highlight where the sun is hitting.
If you’re feeling bold, there is a semi-intermediate technique called layering which expands on this technique of highlighting.
Highlighting is a secret “hack” that will instantly transform your miniature from bland to bold - regardless of skill level.
There’s a technique called “drybrushing” which means you paint without much paint on your brush.
The good news?
It’s super easy to perform.
The bad news is that the technique doesn’t work for everything.
For example, you cannot use dry brushing for the blue robe described above.
Drybrushing Specialty: Drybrushing works exceptionally well for hair, fur, skin, dirt, leather, rocks, metal, and other naturally occurring colorations.
1) Paint the base color for the part of the miniature you’re painting - If you’re painting a coyote’s fur, that fur will be brown.
2) Let the paint dry.
3) Then, take your drybrush. Drybrushes have short bristle length, are fat, with a cluster of tough bristles. Any paintbrush will have a similar effect, but you risk ruining the bristles if it's not a drybrush.
4) Dip your brush in a bit of a different color, such as a highlight color - If you’re painting brown for an animal hide or fur, then it would be a slightly lighter brown.
5) Now, using a napkin, paint 90-95% of the paint on your dry brush OFF. This technique doesn’t work if there is more than 5% of paint on your brush.
6) Now, “paint” with your drybrush. Repeat the painting motion until you see “results”.
After a couple of strokes, you’ll notice that there is actually a lot of paint on your brush!
The miniature will start to take on the color, in a very unique way, naturally highlighting the animal fur in a way that you couldn’t do by hand.
The key specialty of this technique is that the highlight color will look exceptionally natural - perfect for things from nature like fur hoods, a wolf’s coat, and skin.
Quick tip 1: This technique is amazing to put rust on metal objects.
Quick tip 2: Practice makes perfect. This technique is designed to naturally add color and highlights to objects like fur and skin.
Quick tip 3: Drybrushing can be combined with our third technique, washes!
WARNING: If you don’t see any color AT ALL, then you probably removed 100% of the paint from your drybrush. Remember, don’t wash your paintbrush off with water, just use the napkin to remove 90-95% of the paint.
A “Wash” is a type of thinned out paint. It is very watery and won’t paint the same way as other paints.
When you apply a wash to a miniature, the wash will run to where there is depth (the crevasses, pockets, ripples, and folds). Since a wash is commonly a dark color, it will color that area very dark, which is perfect because those hidden areas would look darker in real life (for example, underneath the hairs of a fur hood will be darker).
Repeat the process two or three times, and you’ll notice the deep areas absorbing the color of the wash.
Specialty of Washes:
- Great for darkening areas with depth (fur, cloth, leather, chainmail, flesh, scars, scales) - Great to highlight
- Pairs exceptionally well with dry brushing
- Amazing for skin
- Amazing for “dirty” clothes & leather
- Large, flat surfaces (like a tank)
If you’re painting Orcs which have a lot of skin, animals, or dirty clothes and leather, washes will leave dark brown or black (depending on the wash) splotches everywhere for a natural “faded and worn” look to these materials.
It will look like your character has worn that leather cloak for a dozen years!
Pro tip: Washes work exceptionally well with dry brushing because the dry brush will highlight the areas hit by the sun, and the wash will sink to the areas with depth.
Layering is a more advanced version of Highlighting that works especially well with cloth.
To layer, you will select 3 shades of the same color - For example, a dark blue, a blue, and a light blue.
Then, starting with the darkest shade, you’ll paint the whole article of clothing in that color. It won’t end up that way, but you have now effectively painted all of the shadows. Let the paint dry.
Then you’ll paint with the middle shade, but you will not paint over the areas where shadows are the strongest (not in the folds of a robe).
Next, once the paint is dry, you will paint the lightest shade, only where you want the bright highlights to be.
This is a simplified version of layering because layering can use as many as 10 shades and colors on a single article of clothing.
But for most instances, you’ll use between 3-5.
1) Select 3 shades of a color. If your miniature has a blue robe and you’re painting the robe, select 3 shades of blue - One for the shadows, one for the robe, and one for the highlights of the robe.
2) Paint the darkest color over the entire article of clothing.
3) Let the paint dry completely.
4) Paint the normal shade over most of the article of clothing, avoiding the areas where shadows exist (don’t paint in crevasses, folds, or ripples).
5) Let the paint dry completely.
6) Paint the last shade, the highlight color, only over the areas that you want the robe to be the brightest (where light would naturally shine off the robe).
Pro tip: Not sure what your miniature light should look like? Use the internet to find a real-life version, and see how the light falls on the object (make sure your light sources are similar).
If you’re a new miniature painter then bookmark this page so you can use all these techniques on hand when you paint your next miniature.
Some people will prefer different techniques, but technique isn’t what matters; you should just focus on creating a miniature you're happy with.
Roleplaying games are much more enjoyable when you can bring a miniature of your character, and wargamers would agree too!
Pro tip: You can get a collection of D&D unpainted miniatures from our store - every miniature that your party needs from Tabaxi Rangers to Dwarf Paladins, complete with monsters, baddies, and bosses.
If you’re a new painter, check out our list of supplies every painter needs. You’ll be equipped with everything you need to paint and prepare an awesome set of miniatures for your game.
Tag us with your Dungeons and Dragons painting, we’d love to showcase what you do with our paint sets.