Hobby: Preparing Miniatures for Painting

Needed Material

Most of these are readily available at a good hobby or gaming store. Others are best found at hardware stores (usually cheaper there too); they are noted below. I’ve listed specific recommendations for some products, but other brands are acceptable. Ultimately, you’ll have to find out which brands work to your liking anyway…

  •     needle files
  •     x-acto knife w/sharp blade
  •     super glue or 5 minute epoxy
  •     brass tubing
  •     pin-vise and drill bits (basically a mini hand drill with different size drill bits)
  •     wire cutter (hardware store)
  •     epoxy putty (Milliput, etc.)

It’s hard to do a good paint job without prepping the figure right in the first place. Depending on how well cast the miniature is you may have a very easy job, or a grueling task. Generally if you buy figures which are recent releases you’ll have less mold lines to deal with: the older the casting mold gets, the more mismatched the two halves of the mold become and the worse the lines on the miniature will be. You may also find flash (excess metal forced from the mold during the casting process); it appears as a flat sheet of metal between appendages, etc.

 

Cleaning the miniatures

To clean the figure, use a sharp x-acto to carefully cut away any large mold lines and flash; cut away from yourself to avoid injury! You can also use the blade to scrape away the lines by running it gently down the line; this works fine for simple mold lines, like those on folds of clothing.

But for more tricky lines (such as on hair or chainmail) or to smooth out the ones you’ve almost gotten with the x-acto, use needle files. These are 3-4″ long miniature metal files, usually sold in plastic sleeves and in assorted shapes. Gently run your file across the mold line to feather it into the surrounding metal. I find it’s best to use a half-round or round-shaped file when smoothing lines, as only a small area of the file will touch the figure, unlike a flat file, which files the entire area it touches. If necessary, use the file’s tip to get mold lines and flash in intricately-detailed areas (like strands of hair). Work gently when using files, though, as a few overexuberant swipes can accidentally wipe out texture or detail.

 

Assembly of miniatures

You may need to assemble figures with multiple parts, or ones which attach to a slotted plastic base, before primering them. Use your judgment here, as some miniatures are better painted as separate pieces and then assembled at the end. If you choose to do that, paint the figure as outlined in the Painting section below, then put it together using a clear 5-minute epoxy. Some people recommend crazy glue for this, but a good 5-min epoxy works much better, as well as providing a bullet-proof bond.

But for figures you’ll need to assemble first (say a dragon): take a minute to examine the pieces and see how they fit together. If need be, trim the parts with the x-acto and files to make them fit better. You can glue them in place right now, but for heavy parts that need extra support (such as the dragon’s wings), I recommend you pin them before gluing.

Pining is a simple technique: a piece of brass tubing is inserted between the two parts and glued in place (you can use snipped paper clip pieces if you can’t find brass), providing a stronger bond as well as support for the heavy part.

Taking the example of a dragon miniature, if you need to assemble one wing to the body: after checking the fit of the parts, use a pin-vise (with drill bit) to drill a 1/4″ deep hole in the tab on the wing that fits into the corresponding slot in the body. Snip off a 1/2″ or so of brass tubing and test-fit it in the hole (you may need to use longer or thicker tubing, depending on how heavy the part you’re supporting is). Buy brass tubing that’s a little thinner than the drill bit you plan to use; this’ll leave room for the epoxy to fill around the pin in the hole. Paint some bright paint on the end of the pin, then push the wing into the slot quickly (about where it’s supposed to fit). Drill the resulting paint spot in the slot and you’ll have the matching hole for the pin in the wing.

TIP:
When drilling hard pewter minis, you may have to use some cutting oil on the drill bit to ease the drilling: a little 3-in-1 Oil or WD-40 on the drill bit periodically helps a lot, especially if you’re using a Dremel Mototool for your drilling. However, be sure to wash the mini with dish detergent afterwards to get rid of the oily film on the metal, or it’ll make the primer adhere poorly.

Next, use a toothpick to mix up some 5-min epoxy on a piece of scrap cardboard; clear epoxy is fine for smaller jobs, but for the best bond, I use a 5-min epoxy made for metal. They form a gray semi-paste that has a high enough viscosity for you to apply them precisely and mold them a little as they dry. Apply a small amount in each hole with a toothpick and press the tubing bit into the wing tab; spread more on the tab itself and corresponding slot in the body. You can use the epoxy to fill in minor gaps this way, but don’t use too much, or you’ll be cleaning up all the epoxy oozing out between the two parts.

Press the wing w/pin into the hole in the slot, smooth the epoxy with a toothpick a little and hold the parts together until they set. For larger parts, you can use rubbers bands or tape to hold them together while they set.

 

Filling Gaps

If you have any unsightly gaps left over between glued parts, etc. you can use a two-part modeling epoxy putty, such as Knead-a-tite or Milliput, to fill them. Both can be smoothed with a wet brush or finger. Milliput is easier to find at hobby stores, though it can be pesky, since it begins to come apart like wet clay when too much water is used to work it.

When using either putty, just pinch a small amount from the two different colors of epoxy and roll them together until they are completely mixed. Pick off a small bit of the putty with a toothpick and press it into the gap you want to fill. You can then use a toothpick, a damp brush, or wet finger to smooth it into the seam. Its a bit tricky to do at first, but the results are worth it! If you need to re-create some details to match the area surrounding the seam (a dragon’s scales, perhaps) or fill pock marks in a figure, the toothpick or some dental picks (available at a hobby or medical supply store) can be used as fine-work tools to smooth and shape the epoxy.

The epoxy usually sets in an hour and can be primered immediately thereafter. Try to use small amounts at a time, as both as these can be rather expensive ($8-12). Steer away from hardware store ‘plumber’s putty’ and the like, though, since they aren’t made for fine detail work and smell pretty toxic!

 

Apply a Primer

First, affix the miniature to a small bottle, like an empty vitamin jar, with some poster tack (you know, the blue, sticky stuff). This gives you with a nice handle to turn and tilt the figure when priming and later when painting it. I prefer spray primer, as it leaves a fine coating that paints adheres to well; Army Painter Primer is the best at this job (in my opinion, but feel free to try others). What color primer you use depends on your taste – white primer makes it easier to paint bright colors on a miniature, without having to undercoat them with white paint, but gray primer makes as a good neutral undercoat. Some people primer by painting the miniature with white paint, but I’ve never had any luck with that method.

I recommend you make a cheap spray booth by taking a small cardboard box, laying it on it’s side and ripping off the top flap. Leave the bottom and side flaps on it. Always spray outdoors or in a well-ventilated garage to avoid the fumes, but don’t spray when its too cold or humid outside as the primer doesn’t coat well under those conditions!

Place several minis inside your box (in a row) and begin spraying. Spray from about a foot away, and sweep the can side to side, starting before the first mini and ending after the last. The spray box will help you avoid overspray as well as keep winds from blowing away your primer. To coat each side of the figure evenly, turn the bottles after each spraying, to cover the front, back, left and right side of the figures. Try to spray several light coats, rather than a single, detail-smothering one!

If you need to, hold and tilt each bottle individually to get underneath arms, etc. You may want to wear disposable or dishwashing gloves to avoid spraying yourself. You’re never going to get every part of the mini, but you can go back with some base colors (the good thing about Army Painter is that their primer is exactly the same color as the smaller doppler bottles on sale). Let them dry for 24 hours to be on the safe side (preferably outdoors or in a garage- primer really stinks!), ideally – although most people start painting on them after 5-10 minutes waiting time.

 

 

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