Getting Started in Miniature Painting: A Guide To Paints & Brushes

Getting your miniatures painted can be intimidating, but we’re here to help! With these tips, we hope you can set yourself up for success and jump into the hobby so you can find the joy in painting your game’s miniatures!

Before we get into painting miniatures, you’ll want to make sure you have your supplies (including your miniatures) ready. It’s pretty frustrating to excitedly get to the table to paint, only realize you’re missing something important, have to stop, and leave for a supply run.

We’ll be covering the basics of what you need to get painting over the next few articles here on the Renegade Game Studios blog. If you haven’t already, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to the Renegade Society newsletter – we’ll let you know when a new article in this series goes up.

Ready to get started? Let’s talk about paint and paint brushes.

Paintbrushes

It might seem really tempting to go crazy and buy a pile of brushes to get started, but the reality is that you really only need 3 brushes to get rolling comfortably. A brush for applying base coats, a smaller brush for painting details, and a heavy-duty brush for drybrushing.

You don’t have to break the bank on your brushes. Natural hair brushes tend to cost more and usually hold their shape better over time (with proper care) while synthetic brushes are often more economical, have easier-to-control bristles for beginners, and are easier to care for. It’s up to you, but if you’re new to painting miniature, don’t feel as though you have to get fancy/expensive brushes to get a great finished result you can be proud of.

Your Basecoat Brush

There are lots of options for a basecoat brush, but this is the brush that you’ll do most of your painting with. It’s better to have a slightly larger brush than you think you’d be comfortable painting a miniature with – a bigger brush can hold more paint and apply it to larger areas, meaning you’ll make faster progress on your models.

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If you’re picking up your brush at your friendly local game store that sells miniature painting supplies, look for round brushes that describe themselves with the term large or basecoat. If you’re picking up your brushes at the a fine or or craft store, look for watercolor brushes with the terms round and with a number size #1, #2 or #3 (based on your preference).

Your Detail Brush

The small details on a model are often the ones that make a model pop off the table and detail brushes are fantastic for picking out those bits on a model that will make it look finished. They key to a good detail brush is a sharp, pointy tip – so look for brushes that have a great point (you don’t want to buy that brush that looks like it’s an angry porcupine).

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You’ll want your detail brush to between half to a quarter the size of your basecoat brush (in terms of width). Going too small often makes it hard to apply details before the paint dries on the brush (more bristles means more working time with the paint).

At your hobby store, look for the terms detail or fine detail on your brush. At your art/craft store, look for a watercolor round brush sized #00, #0 or #1. You probably don’t need to go as small as you think – avoid a brush if the bristles are very short, or if your brush has slashes in the number - like 0/3 or 0/5 – it’s too small for our purposes.

Your Drybrush

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Drybrushing is a staple technique that helps you quickly and easily apply highlights and metallics to a model. While it’s quick and effective, it is a technique that is very hard on a brush – the method encourages the paint to nearly dry in the bristles (hence the term drybrushing) so you’ll want to get a cheaper brush with synthetic bristles, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol to clean your brush (it helps break down that dried up paint).

My go to drybrush is a cheap $3 synthetic eyeshadow brush (available at big box retailers in the cosmetics section) because I drybrush as a first step. If you wanted to add a fourth brush to your arsenal, a second, smaller drybrush (a cheap eyeliner brush if you’re already heading to the cosmetics section) is a great addition.

Paints

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After you get your brushes, you’ll want to get your paints. If you’re new and starting out in painting miniatures, acrylic miniature paints are the ones you’ll want to invest in: they’re available at your friendly local game store, can be thinned with water, have a high pigmentation, and a lower amount of binder, meaning that you can apply them in thin coats on your miniature without obscuring the details. (There are many people who can paint miniatures beautifully with oil paints, enamel paints, and even dollar-store craft paints, but they’re much less user-friendly and require much more skill to use effectively.)

There are many miniature brands out there that are great – if your gaming store store stocks them, chances are they’ll work for you (and it’ll be easier to repurchase paints you use a lot).

I’ll be the first to admit: I have an embarrassing number of paints, but that’s an accumulated paint collection that’s been growing over the years I’ve been painting minis. You don’t need that many paints: I only used 12 paints to paint up the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid.

Buy the colors you know you’ll use, (make sure you grab a black, white, brown, silver and bone paint as well – they’re universally useful) and you should be set. (We’ll be posting a list of paints we used with every painting guide, so you can see just how many paint colors we used on every model.)

You’ll also want to get yourself some primer. You can get aerosol primers or brush-on primers: it’s a matter of preference. Just follow the instructions on the aerosol primers, if you go that route – they’re very specific about temperature, spray distance, humidity and ventilation.

For primer colors, it’s really a matter of preference. Black is a forgiving primer color because if you have trouble painting an area, the black makes it look like a shadow, so you don’t have to fret about getting into every nook and cranny on a miniature. It’s also a great undercoat color for metallics. White primers tend to make painting bright, vibrant colors easier: if you have rainbow-colored heroes, white might be the better option.

Make sure you subscribe to the Renegade Society newsletter to find out when we post more miniature painting tips and guides!

Want to get your hands on the miniatures featured in this post? Check out Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid! You can pre-order the game and expansions now!


Have questions about paints or brushes for your board game miniatures? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll try to answer them. And if you have questions about painting minis in general, let us know! Maybe we’ll answer it in an blog in the future.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Teri Litorco is the Senior Marketing Manager at Renegade Game Studios and has painted tabletop miniatures for over 15 years. She loves sharing painting tips to help gamers get started in the hobby.