Sunday, September 9, 2012

Paint by Numbers 5 – Base Coating/Preparing Your Miniature


by Gabriel Diaz

Remember that REALLY crappy Dwarf I first painted in like nothing flat and ended up looking like nothing? Yea, well this is one of the things that I didn’t understand at the time. There are several schools of thought as to HOW to base coat and what color to use when base coating.

For me I only base coat in Black. The reasoning is quiet simple for me. If you want your miniature to actually POP, look realistic and have that extra dimension to it, you need to shade particular areas. Like on the Dwarfs it’s usually chainmail. You look at chainmail and there are all of these little dips between the different links that make the chainmail right? What do you do? Some painters/artists go ahead and paint the chainmail in the desire color and then use a dark or black wash over it, this wash then collects in those small grooves and gives the miniature a sense of realism.

Personally I’m not a huge wash fan. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place and they are useful. They can be used to give that something that a figure is missing but I don’t enjoy relying on it constantly. I was taught that it was the easy out and it is. Who wouldn’t want to just slather paint on a figure and then just add a wash to give depth and BAM! Done. This “might” work for an army that you want to be able table top quality, where no one is going to pick it up and try to admire it. Basically you do this if you don’t want to play with bare plastic and give your army a cohesive look other than…grey.

That’s not really what we’re doing on PBN though; we’re trying to set a higher standard to what a figure should look like. That in mind I’ll tell you the three colors that are usually used most.

Side note: If you’ve read other tutorials about how to get your miniature ready for paint one of the things that I see occasionally is that they suggest that you first wash the parts in warm soapy water to get chemical residue off the plastic; this is supposed to make it easier to paint them. I don’t know if this is true, I’ve never done it because I’ve never felt it needed to be done. However I may be mistaken so I make a note of it here for you to be the judge of it.


The example above was pulled from the Episode Valhalla blog.

Ah white, one of the primary colors and one of the banes of my existence. The main reason to prime in white is if you’re going to be using bright colors to enhance your mini. Giving a white coat makes it easier for those colors to appear because let’s be honest, how easy would it be to make that Bad Moon Yellow (Or whatever GW calls it now) to pop on a model if you base in black? You’re talking layer upon layer of paint to the point where you might lose detail! We are paying hard earned money for these things, we want the full enjoyment. The other reason many people prime in white is because they feel they can see the detail better in a bright undercoat than in black. Which to an extent is true, how often have you tried to figure out where the pouches were on a figure and what the detail was when you were painting from a black base. It’s not easy.

The major (And I mean MAJOR) drawback to basing in white is that everything on the mini is white. So all of those little crevices that are supposed to be in shadow or appear black to give the appearance of realism are also white when you’re done painting. This is where a lot of the inks, washes and such come into play. Trying to paint in black lines after a miniature is completed painted is a recipe for disaster and I would never recommend doing that. Still, it’s not like you’re going to get the darkness you want in those nooks and crannies with one pass of wash, it will take two or three. In that instance the brightness you were shooting for by priming in white is eventually mired by the dark washes that you had to use to get the overall contrast that you were looking for. Personally I think that there’s a place and time for white but I don’t think it should be all over the miniature as a base. If you are really looking to make certain areas of your model pop, then base THOSE areas in white and not the whole model. Doing this will not only save you time but also the possibility of still not being thrilled with the look your models have once you’re done.


The example above was taken from BoLS.

One of my current projects is Grey Knights. I’m not a competitive player, I don’t go to tournies or anything like that so for me the reason for starting Grey Knights is two-fold.
  1. I love the lore. The story behind the formation of that particular group of warriors and what they stand for. If you can get behind a story for a model then you’re going to enjoy painting those models that much more. 
  2. The figures are frigging awesome! Have you seen how great these sculpts are? They remind me of knights from the King Arthur stories except instead of riding around on a horse they ride around in planes and tanks.
Now Games Workshop gives all of their armies specific color schemes that are recommended for use. However part of the fun of table top gaming is making an army your own. So while GW has decided to make GKs all shiny, I want them to have a dull look to them. Yes their knights but they’re favorite enemy is DEMONS! If you’re out in the universe trying to destroy demons would you really be wearing nice shiny armor? I wouldn’t, I’d wear dull colors to detract from my presence and because, let’s be honest, guts are really hard to get out of armor.

With that in mind I decided to give the GK a dull grey color. Now this is an instance where I deviate from my usual and primed them Grey. Part of the reason for that is aside from giving me a base coat; it also serves as a foundation coat for their overall color scheme. Added to that the fact that the armor they wear doesn’t have many spots that are in shadow and it’s a recipe to allow for a different color to be used. Some people even go as far as basing black, then painting grey over the black and finally white to allow that bright color they’re looking for to pop. You will run into the same concern of occluding detail by doing this though so if you decide to do it this way you should probably make sure that it’s a flat surface that doesn’t have a lot of micro detail to it.



The example above was taken from The Painting Shop blog.

“I see a red door and I want to paint it black. No colors anymore just want them to turn black.”
– Rolling Stones

To me black is the master of all base coat colors. It gives you the depth that you see in lot of your favorite figures that are displayed in various websites in the ‘net. There is the school that believes that it’s easier to base in black since it helps you with steps later on in your painting. This is true, what is also true though is that you need to pay attention to your miniature when you use black. As good as it is to base with, it also conceals detail. In this way basing with black is also probably the most difficult thing to do. You need to know what your miniature looks like either in bare plastic or on the cover to note what the finished product should appear to look like.

For example; Another project I’m beginning work on is Dark Eldar. If you don’t play 40k, Dark Eldar are for the most part Space Dark Elves. Pirates of the universe, who go out, get captives, steal booty and run home before you know what hit you. They’re slim and angular and they have lots and lots of detail. From chains, to pointy things and several flyer models, if painted properly they can be breathtaking. If done ham handed they can look like nothing but a melting blob of color. Because of their dark nature and back story, putting them in bright colors is pretty much impossible. Base coating in black is a must but at the same time, without having a reference to work off of, it’s a gambit that the scheme being used with work properly.

Best advice? If it’s a troop model where there are several of the same kind, keep a model that you’re not painting on hand and don’t base coat it. This gives you the ability to look to your clean model and notice something on it that you haven’t spotted on the figure you’re working on.

Spray vs. Brush

If you remember early on I was adamant that everything should be done with a brush. I’m going to recant that. I’ve been talking to one of my friends that happens to be a professional painter and he introduced me to a spray primer that’s fantastic and he assures me that all professional painters swear by it. You can pick it up at your local auto parts store for about six or seven dollars. It’s a sand-able primer that’s used to prime vehicles before they get the gloss color coat put on them. I have to admit that I really like it and it has cut down my painting time quite a bit. So you have an endorsement from me for a spray primer now, I never thought I would do that. The primer comes in several colors but so far I’ve only used black and grey, to fantastic results.

The paint Rich uses for priming/basing.

Thus ends the lesson for this week. Til next time!


  1. Painters touch has a grey primer that's fairly decent too but it takes longer to dry than they're flat black and doesn't come in the 2x coverage. I love that brand. Best one for the buck.

    1. Absolutely! I've never used a greay primer on my models... maybe I'll try that on the next unit. Seems like black is easiest to build from.

  2. I use their grey primer for everything, I find white is to bright and I've never had a good experience with black primer. So i use grey for everything is a good middle ground

    1. Their black is stupendous. It doesn't seem to pool in the details and dries to touch in like 5 minutes. You should give it another try just for the drying time alone. Super fast!


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