Nick Capron - 2018-02-08

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Looking back over my first year of painting miniatures, I’ve learned a lot, but feel as I still have a long journey to mastering the craft.

After being inspired by Robert Oren’s videos, and a great blog post by Zach Hillegas, I decided to start trying to paint my boardgame miniatures. So I headed off to my local art supply store, to grab some painting supplies to get started.

My Failed Attempt of Obtaining Starting Supplies

After doing some quick research, I decided upon buying some extremely cheap acrylic paints, a pack of testor paints, a big bag of brushes, and a can of testors spray lacquer. I also bought a can of testors black enamel paint, which was a complete mistake. I wanted to buy matte finish, but between my baby screaming, and my wife’s stern looks, (I had already spent a considerable amount of time stumbling through the store), I accidentally bought the enamel spray paint.

For primer, I ended up buying a spray can of brand name Paint and Primer. Buying the paint/primer combo was another mistake, as you will want to buy a can of just straight primer. The paint and primer combo will apply to the model slightly clumpy, taking detail away from the model. If your models aren’t extremely detailed, you can get away with using paint/primer, but I do not recommend it.

The extremely cheap acrylic paints I bought were just awful. The combo of these horrible paints, and my amature painting skills was horrific. I was following advice to always thin your paints, but the cheap paint was so watery, by thinning them, I was just making them worse.

If I was to use these cheap paints again, with my current painting ability, I could do close to a low standard of tabletop quality with them. In the hands of a beginner, well, let's just say my Xcom minis are in desperate need of a nice soak in some simple green, to strip them clean.

The testors paint I bought is OK, but doesn’t work well with small plastic figures. I decided upon this paint, as I used it as a kid to paint up large model kits. It worked nice on model cars back in the day, but I can't recommend purchasing it for boardgame miniature projects.

On the positive side, the spray lacquer was a good purchase, I use it to protect the paint on my minis after I finish painting them. The cheap brushes worked well, for when I was learning how to paint. I'm still using this initial bag of cheap of cheap brushes for performing rough painting tasks today. If you are getting started, I'd suggest going with some cheap brushes until you learn what type of brushes you like, and how to properly take care of them.


I figured for my first project, I would start with a game that I don’t get out of the box that often. I enjoy Xcom, but most of the people I play games with, aren’t huge fans of its real time gameplay. I figured it would be a good test to learn how to paint, as if I botched it, not too many people are going to see it.

Well it’s a good thing I picked a game that I hardly play, because I completely massacred the models. I blame the awful job on my total lack of skill at the time, but the cheap paint didn’t help either. Look at the images below at your own peril.

Upgrading My Paint

After my failed project of painting Xcom, I decided to upgrade my supplies. The super cheap paint I bought had to go, so I took another trip out to my local art store in search of FolkArt brand paints.

Star Wars Rebellion

After the abomination of a job I did for Xcom, I figured I learned enough from my mistakes to take on a project for a game I actually play. Star Wars Rebellion seemed like a good choice as its figures look rather plain unpainted, and the small size of the figures don’t require a high level of detail to make them look great on the board.

I was pretty happy with how this project turned out vs my attempt at Xcom, let's take a look.

Taking a look back on my work here, I would do a few things differently if I was to paint them again.

I did end up using the extremely cheap acrylic paints for a few of the colors on these models (the red on the x-wings, yellow on the y-wings, and the orange on the airspeeders). I would of liked to use better quality paint for these colors if I was to re-do them.

To do some of the detail paint work, such as the black on the stormtroopers, and the red on the x-wings, I used a toothpick… As you can see, it kinda worked(looks really sloppy but OK when you play with them on the table), but I really should've bought a proper brush to do this work.

When I worked on this game, I didn’t have good quality washes(I just watered down my paint to mimic a wash), and didn’t really understand how to apply them effectively. Thankfully, as the models are so small, it didn't effect the quality too much. If I was to work on them again, I’d like to apply a proper wash and drybrush to finish some of the models up.

Another Supply Run

After wrapping up Rebellion, I was pretty proud of the work I had done, but, I was tired of using the crappy cheap acrylic paints, so I bought a number of Vallejo paints to replace them.

Vallejo paints are more expensive than FolkArt paints, costing about twice as much per bottle. FolkArt paints have over double the volume of a Vallejo bottle too, so why would you want to buy Vallejo paints?

I find Vallejo paints are faster to use, as the bottles have nice droppers, which make it easy to grab the right amount of paint for the job. Vallejo paints seem to provide better coverage than FolkArt, and I find I can do better quality work using them vs FolkArt.

I was told that vallejo washes are not as good as citadel washes, therefore I bought a bottle of citadel Nuln Oil, which is a great product for applying to your minis after putting your basecoat of paint on. Washes soak into the crevices of your minis, which really help to add some depth to your paint jobs and bring out the details in the model.

Memoir '44

After all the Star Wars painting, I decided it would be cool to switch up settings to World War 2, so I started painting up my copy of Memoir 44. Let's take a quick look at my work.

To help me on this project, my wife found some of her old high quality brushes, which allowed me to ditch the toothpick for the fine detail work.

To help me on this project, my wife found some of her old high quality brushes, which allowed me to ditch the toothpick for the fine detail work.

At this stage I was starting to use proper washes, and dry brushing more effectively then before. By using these techniques properly, I think you can really see the difference of quality between my Memoir models, compared to my rebellion models above.

In case you didn't know, dry bushing involves trying to remove most of the paint out of the brush before lightly dragging it across the model. If done properly, this is an easy and way to highlight the raised parts of the model with a brighter colour than its base colour.

With using the better equipment and techniques, I'm really happy with how this project turned out.

Sorastro's Painting

After painting Memoir 44, I felt ready to start throwing some paint against some more detailed models. As I looked online for some examples of Zombicide and Imperial Assault painting jobs, I came across Sorastro's videos on YouTube.

Sorastro's videos are great, and if you want to learn how to paint, I would highly suggest buying one of the games he covers on his channel, and follow his how-to guides.

Due to his primary usage of citadel paints, I’ve started to add some Citadel pots to my collection. Citadel's paint quality, at least to me, seems very close to Vallejo's, and both are available for around the same price.

Zombicide: Black Plague

After successful painting Memoir 44, I thought Zombicide: Black Plague would be a nice step up in project to test my painting skills. Upon opening the box, I was pleasantly greeted by a ton of zombies and heroes begging to be painted. After finding Sorastro's videos, I was even more excited to get painting these guys. Let’s take a look!

The Zombies are pretty easy to paint, but very repetitive. The heroes, necromancer, and the abomination are quite detailed, and took me a lot of time to get them to their current state.

As you can see I'm not fully finished painting these guys. There are so many minis in the box I started to burn out on painting them, and switched over to working on my Imperial Assault collection.

Once again I'm relatively happy with how they are coming out, but I went overboard with the bright colours with the zombies. As my good friend pointed out upon seeing them, “I think they just discovered dye, and just couldn't help themselves… ”. Other than my color choice, I'm still learning the right balance for applying wash effectively. One mistake I made, is I assumed there is only one type of Nuln Oil. Turns out that I've been using the gloss version of Nuln Oil, which is great for metals or shiny services. I should of probably used the Shade version of Nuln Oil for these guys, and for some of my upcoming Imperial Assault figures.

Star Wars Imperial Assault

After tiring on painting up my Zombicide set, I decided to switch up and start painting my Imperial Assault collection. I found the figures to be pretty beginner friendly to paint. The details on the models are quite pronounced, which makes painting the different parts of the model easy, and allows for a neat paint job, even if you are a little unsteady with a brush.

I’ve really enjoyed painting these guys up, I feel as my skills are slowly getting better with each model I finish. Here's a quick peek at some of the models I've finished to date.

I'm pretty happy with most of these, if you follow Sorastros Imperial Assault tutorials from the start, he does a great job of sprinkling new techniques along the way, at a slow pace, which has helped to improve my painting ability. My only complaint is I still don't have the ability to do eyes that actually look good, and I am not sure how to get better at doing them beyond trying again on another model. I'll probably go back and fix up the wonky eyes at some point when I can actually do them well.

Feeling inspired, but not sure where/how to start?

I decided to write this feature, as I hoped my story and examples above would inspire some people to try out mini painting themselves. If I’ve got you interested, here are some quick tips I’d suggest to get you started.

For your first game to paint, I’d recommend checking out Sorastro's Painting youtube channel and start watching his tutorials for a game you own.

If you don’t own any of the games on his channel, you could buy an Imperial Assault figure pack. This will give you a nice model to learn to paint on, for not too bad of a price. Just make sure you snag one that he has a tutorial for. I'd recommend a pack of rebel troopers, as they don't call for a lot of paints, and you get 3 models to try painting on.

Sorastro will call for a number of different paints in his videos, and buying everything he uses is a bit pricey. If you just want to try painting out, I’d only worry about obtaining colors similar to the base colors he uses in the video, and some Nuln Oil shade to wash the model. If you don’t want to buy the citadel base colors he uses, you can try to find similar Folk Art Paints to save money.

Beyond the paint, you will need a spray can of Primer and some brushes. When starting out, I'd just get cheap generic primer. Be sure the spray primer you buy is acrylic, and is just primer, not a paint and primer combination. For brushes, just grab a cheap bag of them at your local craft store.

Painting isn’t for everyone, but if you're interested, why not give it a try? It's a nice relaxing hobby(for the most part), and is a fun skill to try to continuously improve upon. Colouring up your plastic pieces, will help bring that extra level of immersion to your games. If you decide to pick up a brush, you won't regret it.

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