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A Poor Man’s Guide To Painting Miniatures


Getting into painting miniatures can seem daunting. You might be coming at this concerned that you’ll ‘ruin’ the miniatures in your favourite board game or might feel that the cost of entry is simply too high. Either way, I hope to quell your fears, though here I will be focusing more on the latter concern.

Regarding the concept of ruining your minis, this is just something that you’ll have to get your head past. You’re going to start not as good as when you finish. Each model will be a lesson and you shouldn’t get bogged down with regret after you’re done. Besides, they’re often going to look better than the matte grey look they’re sporting already. A lick of paint and some shading might be all it needs to bring your figures to life.

If that reassurance isn’t enough, rest easy knowing that paint can always be removed again. I’ve done it myself using Dettol antibacterial solution and a toothbrush. It doesn’t entirely strip it down to its completely original state, but rids it of enough colour for you to re-prime it and start again.

Now, what do you need to get started?

Here's my recommended list and I'll break down your cheaper and more expensive in this article:

  • Paints
  • Brushes
  • Additional Tools
  • Miniatures


So, your paint can be separated into  primer, base, highlight, shade and then extra technical stuff.

To make your paint properly stick to the plastic, your minis need to be 'primed'. This is adding a layer of special paint that will cling to the mini, which can then be painted on. You can get nicer prime made just for minis from Citadel or The Army Painter. I bought mine from a general store for ~£6. There's not much in it price wise, so you'd be forgiven for upgrading to the better stuff. Also worth checking that your mini isn't already primed or you'll be spending your money unnecessarily.

Your base colours are colour to make up the majority of what you’ll be using. Though there’s a huge range of model paints out there to use for this purpose, I just used standard acrylic paints from my local craft store. For around £6 for around 20 different colours, you can make a huge saving if you’re just dipping your toes into this hobby.

If you want to invest more then you might want to check out the Citadel Base Paint Set. This will set you back a little over £20, but you might be grateful for that extra quality once you start getting serious about this stuff. There are other reputable brands too, such as Vallejo and The Army Painter, but I’m most familiar with Citadel’s products.

After basing your minis, they’ll probably look rather two-dimensional. To fix this, you’ll need to apply some shadowing to all of the recesses. The best way to do this is with a special paint called a ‘wash’ or ‘shade’. This is thinner and more transparent than your standard paint and will add some depth to your hard work. The cheapest way to do this appears to be using Vallejo Black Wash 17ml, at around £2.50 a bottle. That said, many of the painters I watch on YouTube seem to settle on Citadel’s Nuln Oil 24ml at a little over £4. Comparing the two, Vallejo is ~14.5p per ml versus Citadel’s ~17p per ml. There isn’t much in it, but if you’re on a tight budget, Vallejo would be a good place to start.

Now your mini looks too glum. It’s dark, it’s broody and it’s not the look you were going for. Never fear! You just need to highlight. This can be done by painting the edges more brightly, where it might can light. Thankfully, this can be achieved using the same base colours we used earlier. As the mini is darker than it was before, the original base colour you used might do the trick, or you can add a little white in there to brighten it up if needs be.

Extra technical paints exist for doing fancy bases, like Citadel’s Agrellan Badlands, which is what I use. There’s also special paint for doing blood, such as Citadel’s Blood for the Blood God, which I haven’t had the pleasure of using yet. Regardless, these are luxuries that aren’t necessary for your first foray into the hobby.

One closing note on paints. If you need metallic paints, like I did for my necrons, it might be best to bite the bullet and grab some fancier stuff. I tried cheap metallic acrylics and they weren’t much good. However, one tub of Citadel’s Necron Compound was ample to get through my squad on necrons and super, super easy to apply on top of a grey base coat.

Oh, and water down your paints. Honestly.


This one is nice and simple. Some brushes from your local craft store will suffice here. I think I bought a pack of 10 for around £3. You’ll mostly need three brushes: one small-medium size one for slapping on the majority of your paint; a smaller one for details; and maybe a bigger, stiffer one for applying your highlights, using a technique called dry-brushing (a story for another article). Anything more at this stage isn’t necessary, but is always nice.

There are, of course, fancier brushes out there. I personally don’t have much experience with higher end brushes, but the obvious upgrade would be The Army Painter’s Most Wanted Brush Set for just shy of £10. Citadel also has a range of brushes, but from what I’ve read, my recommendation is the best bang for your buck.

Additional Tools

Now these bits are entirely superfluous, but will make your painting far easier. What's more, the following couple of tools can probably be made from items around your house.

First up, a miniature handle. This is used to hold your miniature comfortably, so you can get to all the tricky bits without your fingers getting in the way. Citadel sells one of these and is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you're just getting started and want to keep things cheap leaving it off your shopping list would be wise. For the frugal folk out there, you can just use a bottle top with some blu-tac. I've used this method for months. Although the mini is less secure than with a proper handle, it does the job fine.

My second recommendation would be a wet palette. This is a palette with a moist layer underneath it. This past water into your paint and prevents it from becoming dry during or between sessions. You can find these from a range of sellers online, upwards of £10. However, a bargain alternative exists out there. Grab some spare tupperware with a lid, put a wet layer of kitchen paper on the base with a layer of baking paper on top. Done. Paint goes on the top the baking paper and reseal the lid between sessions. I've kept paint moist for months doing this. This is particularly useful if you've been mixing paints and might struggle to replicate your creations.


For those that came hoping to paint your board game minis, your job is done. Go forth and frolic, with your paints and your brushes

For the rest of you, there's one last hurdle. Every painter needs a canvas and yours is a miniature. There are many, many options available to you and I will sadly only be discussing three of them. With so much choice, this last step will rely mostly on your preference. I therefore encourage you to explore the internet for something that takes your fancy.

The options I will be discussing are Nolzur's Marvelous Unpainted D&D Miniatures and Citadel's Warhammer 40k. The D&D minis are pretty cheap, you get a couple of them and they're pre-primed. Easy-peasy and a respectable range of fantasy options, but low in number. Similarly, Reaper Bones had a range of cheap fantasy minis that are worth your attention. I haven't got any experience of them and they don't come pre-primed, but I have heard good things.

I personally opted for a smaller set of Warhammer 40k minis. There are a range of forces to choose from costing £15-20. There are more to practice on and probably better quality than the above options. The additional caveat with this option is that you're going to need more tools: clippers to remove the parts from the sprues; a small, sharp blade to remove any extra plastic notches; and plastic glue to stick the components together. Clippers and knife you can find cheaply from a poundshop, with Citadel's plastic glue setting you back £3-4. If you're on a tight budget, there are definitely more appropriate options for you.

And that just about wraps everything up! Best of luck with your painting and don't expect yourself to be perfect from the start. Keep an eye out for more mini-painting articles because this is something I'm growing increasingly passionate about and I'm eager to share my journey with you.