Painting Minis and Gaming Components

See also: airbrush/

i am not a painter! i do, however, sometimes apply some paint and/or acrylic ink to miniatures and other gaming components. i lack the artistic eye, hand/eye coordination, and steady hand needed for detail-oriented painting so my shtick is "stylized" paint jobs, typically using black for shadows, white for highlights, and sometimes a single color. i work solely with cheap acrylic paints - inexpensive generic brands like El Greco - and acrylic inks, though i have learned the hard way not to buy cheap no-name inks (Liquitex, Schminke, and Pelikan are my preferences). As of this writing (May 2020), ink is my preferred medium.

Single-color minis
Examples of single-color paint jobs, from the Ogre war game. Those minis are each about the size of the tip of a pinky finger.

Photo Albums

Recipe: Flow Aid

Six parts water and one part glycerin. Done. Flow aid is typically used in very small amounts (5% or less of a given mix), so a tiny bottle of this goes a long way.

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Recipe: Generic Acrylic Wash

When painting minis, a good wash is worth its weight in gold... except that i'm far too cheap to actually buy a ready-made commercial wash. This post describes the homemade wash formula i've come to love and trust since first stumbling across it in the Summer of 2018 in an online video comparing multiple washes. It hasn't let me down a single time.

  • 10 parts (50%) acrylic medium (matte or gloss, as you prefer)
  • 9 parts (45%) distilled water
  • 1 part (5%) flow aid (my flow aid is 6 parts distilled water, 1 part glycerin). If you like to use soap as a flow aid, you probably need much less than 5% - i don't recommend using soap in this wash.
(This mix is called the "Les Burley wash", after the fellow who apparently first published it.)

That creates a color-agnostic base which can be colored using acrylic ink: 1 drop per 1ml of wash base is the recommended value, but i've been known to vary that by +/-25% or so, depending on what i'm painting. The precise amount of ink is largely dependent on the brand and density, so some experimentation may be needed. It's possible to color it with normal acrylic paint, but in my experience the paint quickly separates from the mixture (within 10-15 minutes), requiring frequent thorough shaking during use to keep the consistency usable. (My unproven hypothesis is that the separation is a saturation issue, since the acrylic paint is largely made up of acrylic medium. Adding more water to the mix might (untested) resolve it.)

Bottle of Les wash base
50ml bottle of Les Burley wash base.

This can be mixed up en masse in advance and doled out as needed. The bottle shown above is 50ml, which is easily enough for 8-10 batches of wash (i typically mix only 4-5ml per batch (and sometimes, but rarely, go up to 7)). Since wash is typically used only a few drops at a time (in my painting, anyway), 5ml of wash goes a long way. Tiny (10ml) dropper bottles are ideal for storing and dispensing this wash (they can be purchased online in packs of 50 or more).

Dropper bottles of wash
These are 10ml dropper bottles. i add a couple pebbles to each bottle to improve their "shakability". The labels on each refer to entries in my "painting book", where i note the exact mix of color/base for future reference and tweaking purposes. The L6 bottle (second from the left) contains acrylic paint (as opposed to ink) and demonstrates the color separation problem mentioned above. Ink mixes don't separate like that.

Depending on the exact acrylic medium, a ratio of 50% might be a tad too much to be absorbed by the water, and will result in sediment settling to the bottom of the bottle. i haven't felt the need to adjust the formula for my particular brand of medium, though. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That said: if yours settles like that, make sure not to allow large amounts of that sediment into a given batch of colored wash, as the results (when applied to minis) can be absolutely horrid. (Been there, done that.) In that case you may be better off just tossing out the last 6-8ml of the wash base, rather than trying to salvage it.

i have no idea whether this wash works reasonably well as a "dip". i haven't wanted to expend (and potentially waste) the necessary amount of acrylic medium to try it out. If you try it out, i'd love to hear how/whether it works.

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Recipe: Cheaply Sealing Painted Minis with PVA

For sealing and protecting minis from damage in day-to-day handling, many people use aerosol spray sealants. For those who, like me, are averse to spending that kind of money on sealants, there is an inexpensive alternative: plain white glue (a.k.a. PVA). For most minis i'll start with a watered-down layer of glue (at least 1/4th water, maybe as much as 1/2), as it's easier to apply that way. This first layer is basically there just to hold the paint in place while thicker follow-up layers are added. After that's completely dried i'll go over it with undiluted, or slightly diluted, glue, usually twice. "Hotspots" - areas where minis are most likely to get touched - will get at least two such coats, sometimes three.

Notes and caveats:

  • Brushing on glue is tedious and time-consuming, but it's dirt cheap: a single 1-liter bottle of glue is enough to seal untold thousands of minis.
  • It's important that each layer dries completely before applying the next, else it's likely that sticky web-like stands form during brushing, caused by the previous layer's PVA "reactivating".
  • If the minis will be stored clumped together, allow them to dry out for a week or more being doing so. If the glue has not completely dried out, minis which are pressed together for long periods may stick to one another. Likewise, storage in particularly humid environments "might" reactivate the PVA enough to cause packed-together minis to stick to each other. You have been warned. If minis are not stored clumped together, this is not an issue.
  • If you notice that some of the color from the model's paint is in the brush (picked up by the glue), wash it out immediately to avoid carrying that color over into different parts of the model.
  • Don't stroke too quickly - doing so creates bubbles! You might (or might not) get better results by dabbing on the glue, rather than stroking it on.
  • i find it useful to wash off the brush after every 5-10 minutes, or at least wet it, to keep the glue on the brush from stiffening.
  • If the gloss of the paint doesn't appeal to you, the minis can be given a matte finish with either (in order of costliness) a matte spray, a brush-on matte varnish, or with a light coat of matte acrylic medium (brushed on or sprayed on with an airbrush).
  • This approach is very probably not "archive-safe", nor is it water-resistant. Theoretically (but untested) the glue can be softened for removal years later by soaking it in water or alcohol. (i have, in fact, accidentally reactivated PVA on a mini as much 10 months after sealing it by brushing an acrylic varnish over it. It transformed into a thin, rubbery layer and just peeled right off.)

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