How to Paint Wargames Figures for Beginners

Updated on November 29, 2016


Painting is a huge part of the wargaming hobby. This article will show you how to paint your miniatures quickly and easily, even if you’ve never painted before.

Almost all wargamers paint their armies. It makes your figures look better and allows you to make your army unique by using different colours and techniques than other players. If you’re new to wargaming the prospect of painting a whole army of fifty or more troops can seem very daunting, so take it slow – there’s no need to paint everything all at once! Just start out with a few simple models and before you know it you’ll be a confident, skilled and quick painter.

The methods we’re going to be using are simple enough for any beginner to have a go at. Your first few models won’t be perfect, but keep practising and soon you’ll have a good grasp on all of the basic techniques painters use. We’ll walk you through each technique before we start, so you can have a go with each one before you go ahead and paint a full model.

Materials and Tools

Before you start painting, there are a few things you’ll need. I use two brushes when I paint – one medium-sized brush for painting all of the larger areas like armour and legs, and a very small brush for details like eyes and fingers. If you’re new to painting you can get away with just one fairly small brush that will allow you to paint most models accurately, while advanced painters frequently use four different brushes or more.

You’ll also need some newspaper or scrap paper to catch any paint spills and drips, as well as a cup filled with water for washing out your brushes. Get some paper towels ready as well, so that you can use them to wipe excess paint off your brushes when you change colours.

There are a number of different brands that produce high quality paints designed for use on miniatures. Tamiya make excellent quality paints, but you get less paint in each bottle meaning they work out more expensive than other brands. Humbrol (owned by the same company as Airfix) make good quality paints that are a little cheaper than Tamiya, while Games Workshop make some great paints available in a whole host of colours. If you’re unsure which brand to go for, ask at your local hobby store.

Which colours you choose depends on what model you are painting. Look at examples that other people have painted and see what colours they have gone for. If you’ve bought your figures from a popular manufacturer (such as Games Workshop, for example) the box will often tell you which colours you need. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need lots of different colours for just a few models – three or four base colours (along with black and white) will be plenty.

Techniques and Terms

There are many different techniques that modellers use to paint their figures. Start out by practising painting solid areas (you can try this on a scrap piece of plastic) to get used to how the paint flows. Once you’ve got the basic idea of this, you’re ready to learn about the following simple techniques.

  • Undercoating. Most modellers use an undercoat on their models to help the colours stick to the model better. An undercoat is just a flat coat of paint (usually black) that covers the whole model. You can either do this by hand or you can buy a black spray can. Many paint companies sell black undercoat sprays designed specifically for this purpose.
  • Dry-brushing. This is a technique used to quickly add highlights to the raised areas on a model and make it look more three dimensional. It is a very easy technique and one that is used by almost every wargamer. To dry-brush, dip your brush in paint and then wipe off all the excess paint onto a paper towel so that the brush is almost completely dry (hence the name). Then, lightly stroke the paint onto the figure. You’ll find that the paint sticks to all of the raised areas of the model and doesn’t go into the recesses – this is what makes the model look more detailed.
  • Washing. A wash is the opposite of a dry-brush; you can buy them from hobby stores. They are very thin paints that, when applied to models, run into the recesses and make them darker. They are great for easily adding depth to your paintings and are superb for making your models look “dirty” – ideal for medieval peasants and fantasy orcs! At first you can get away with using a simple black wash over the whole model, but when you become experienced you may wish to experiment with different coloured washes to get different results.

These techniques are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to painting, but they’ll give you a great foundation on which to build.

The Painting Method

This is the first method for painting your miniatures. It is a very common way of painting and is very straightforward.

  1. Undercoat the model black
  2. Apply your base colours to the model so that everything is painted
  3. Apply a black wash to the model to make the detail stand out

And that’s it – it really is that simple. When doing the base colours, paint the recessed areas first so that if you accidentally get some paint on other areas of the model, you can cover it up easily later.

Once you’ve got used to this method, you can add a fourth step: highlighting. Mix your base colours 50/50 with white paint and very lightly dry-brush this new colour over each area of the model. This is an easy way to brighten up miniatures after a wash, and adds quick and effective highlights to the raised areas of the figure. When doing this, make sure that nearly all of the paint is rubbed off the brush – otherwise the drybrush will be too heavy and you’ll end up with a messy result. Instead of mixing your base colour with white you could use a different pot of paint that is already a paler colour, but this can quickly get expensive (especially if you’re painting a model with lots of different colours).

Let’s have an example of this four step method. If I wanted to paint the skin on a fantasy orc, for example, I’d undercoat the model black before painting all of the skin areas green. I’d then let them dry before applying a black wash to the model, which would darken the recesses and make the raised muscles more prominent. Finally, I’d mix the green paint 50/50 with white paint and lightly dry-brush this new colour over the skin of the orc to make the raised areas stand out. This is a very simple way to get a great result every time you paint.


The best way to get better at painting is to paint! Don’t worry about making mistakes, and don’t push yourself too hard – just have fun and take your time. Use the tips in this article to paint your first army, and have ago at painting different kinds of figures to get a feel for the different techniques.

At the end of the day, they’re your models so you can paint them exactly how you want! Have fun and get painting!

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