Getting started with miniatures games can seem as intimidating as facing off against an Ultramarine. There’s the gluing, the painting, the army-building, the actual learning how to play Warhammer 40,000 or another of the many wargames out there, and the knowing what to even buy in the first place.
Each of these parts of the miniatures hobby comes with its own questions, concerns and endless array of potential products to gaze at on a shop shelf, too. Black or white primer? Should you learn how to play Warhammer: Age of Sigmar or jump into 40K? Who is the Emperor and why is everyone so keen on him? Why do Orkz love the letter Z so much?
We here at Dicebreaker can’t answer all of these questions (especially that Ork one), but we can answer your burning queries about getting into miniatures or where to take your hobby next.
Earlier this week we put out the call for questions about miniatures gaming as part of our latest regular Ask Dicebreaker column - from which brushes to use to whether you really need to spray your models first. (Yes, you do.) We’ve picked out a handful of the best questions and the team has collected their thoughts below, giving you some insight into the team’s own approach to enjoying the hobby and painting minis.
If you’re after more advice on getting started with painting miniatures, keep your eyes glued to the Dicebreaker YouTube channel this weekend, where we’ll be putting up the first in a new series of tutorial videos to help you brush up on your skills. (I’m so sorry.) And don’t forget to check out the Dicepainter streams that go live on Thursday and then go up on our channel - why not grab a brush and that model that’s sat unpainted for weeks and join Johnny, Wheels, Lolies and the team as we spend a couple of chill hours painting?
Read on for our tips on miniatures, and let us know what subject you’d like the team to tackle in the next Ask Dicebreaker column down in the comments - or offer your own handy advice!
Raimonds: If I want to play with Dark Angels or Blood Angels in Warhammer 40,000 can I just paint regular Space Marines in those colours or is the correct way to buy that specific unit box? Can I take weapon parts (arms) from different faction units in stick them to other faction units and generally use them? (Example: Space Wolves look identical to Space Marines but have axes as a weapon.)
Johnny: Of course you can! While some people are admittedly purists about playing the ‘correct’ models at all times, miniature games have a proud tradition of proxying other models or combining bits from others (kitbashing) in order to make something unique, striking and personal. As long as you’re playing with the correct codices, your opponent shouldn’t worry. For instance, I know someone who has an entire ‘counts as nids’ army of Tyranids that are, in fact, Skaven models. I’ve never heard anyone complain, in fact they mostly think it’s really cool. Long story short - your models, your hobby time, your rules (of cool)
Skelakey: What primer colour do you think is best? And what brand if you think there's a lot of difference?
Matt: I’ve always gone with white - partly because I started out painting lots of Tomb King skeletons for Warhammer and covering black primer with bone-white paint was tricky. As a whole, though, I personally find white is easier to work with - it’s easier to pick out details, get colours to retain their vibrancy and get decent coverage with lighter tones. After using Citadel paints when I collected and painted Warhammer, nowadays I use Army Painter stuff and find it to be really effective.
Johnny: Forgive me one moment while I clamber up onto my soapbox - NEVER buy expensive primers! ‘Official’ ones can be ludicrously expensive but, when it comes to painting models, there is no functional difference between a £12 branded can and one you get from a pound shop. I exclusively prime my minis with 99p cans and they do the job just fine - just make sure the can isn’t too cold and that you shake it really well before use.
Wheels: If you’re following Johnny’s advice on the above make sure you find matt finishes or cans that label themselves as primers - you can run into trouble if you end up using glossy or chalky paint! A good tip my old boss gave me is to prime with a grey undercoat and then to use the zenithal highlight technique that Johnny explains in one of the questions below. It’ll give you a good idea of where the parts of the model that should be catching the most light will hide and help you with highlights. If you’re using particularly thin paints (or using a thing called glaze medium to purposely thin them) then those highlights will persist underneath your paints as well and it’ll give some more depth to your colours.
cas: Where is the best place to get paints from?
Matt: Often the best place is your local hobby store, as there’ll hopefully be plenty of staff and seasoned regulars willing to help you find exactly what you’re after and offer their own advice. If you don’t have a dedicated hobby store near you, there are some great outlets online - it just comes down to what you’re looking for. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I really rate Army Painter paints as a slightly more budget-friendly alternative to Citadel, though Citadel comes with the benefit of being extremely common so they’re often the reference point for online tutorials and guides. (They’re also good paints, but you pay a little extra for the name.)
Johnny: I’ve been playing around with some paints from Vallejo recently and they’re great. If you’re looking to get into glazes, their glaze medium is phenomenal.
Wheels: There’s a whole slew of miniature painting experts online and quite a few agree that the best quality/value for money starter set is probably the one from Vallejo’s range. You get decent paints in quite a variety of colours and you can add what you need from there. If you need to, grab them online - but always try and support your local independent hobby store if you can!
Mike: Can you explain how to best use a wash? How do you know which wash to use for what colours?
Matt: I’m quite new to washing myself, so I’m still experimenting - the pros on the team are much more knowledgeable than me. But for sake of speaking from my own experience: I’ve found myself brushing on the ink with a thick, heavy brush to allow it to fill out details, before using another thick brush to take off the surface excess and avoid everything ending up too dark or pooled in spots. I personally mostly paint miniatures from board games now, so I use quite a dark/heavy ink wash to try and bring out the reduced amount of sculpting detail in the lower-quality models compared to the finely-detailed miniatures of Warhammer etc.
Johnny: Matt knows his stuff! All of the above is good advice. In addition, you might want to try a pin wash if you’re only looking to wash very particular, small details like rivets or perhaps a skin fold. Pin washing is basically a fancy name for using a tiny brush and only washing the areas you want to darken down. I tend to use a mix of washing a model all over and then going back in to pin wash certain areas.
Wheels: Another top tip for washing: if you’re washing straight over a white primed model you can create some nice ghostly effects with your colour of choice. You can see a few them in my streams but I managed to create a purple spectral effect by priming some Nighthaunt in bright white, washing with Druchii Violet for a faint, pastel purple and then dry brushing the edges and ends of their ghostly trails with a bright, off-white colour called Pallid Wych Flesh. Coloured washes are great for bringing a bit more vibrance to your colours as well as darkening them down. I like to wash my golds with Reikland Flesh Shade gloss to make them warm and shiny but you can have similar effects with any range of paints, not just Citadel’s.
Laddington Bear: I'm new to board gaming and I've bought Mansions of Madness which has minifigures to paint. What would you recommend to be essential equipment needed for minifigure painting for a complete novice like me (other than the paints of course)?
Matt: Welcome, it’s good to have you join us! Mansions of Madness is a great choice to paint - I’m also a big fan and have painted most of the miniatures. When you’re just starting out, don’t feel the need to dive in at the deep end. A basic starter set with a variety of paints and brushes will treat you well (I used Army Painter’s starter set when I was getting back into painting). Once you’re comfortable with priming and layering the basic colours, you can begin to look at things like ink washes, highlighting and even basing with tufts of grass and sand/stones if you want to take things in that direction. The great thing about painting minis is there’s no pressure to have to do things a certain way, and you can always add to a previously painted model or even start over completely as your skills advance. Just try things out at first, find the things that interest you and that you enjoy most, and go from there!
Johnny: If you’re looking for a way to make the base plastic models in a board game look a bit more interesting but aren’t necessarily up for spending hours painting them, grab yourself a couple of spray cans - one black, one white (or any accent colour you like, which is useful if you need to differentiate between different players’ models). Spray the model completely black and then hold the nozzle of the can roughly 10cm above the model and give it a few short bursts. This technique, often referred to as a zenithal highlight, will pick up a lot of the edges and details of the model and simulate sunlight hitting it from the highest point in the sky (hence the name). It’ll add depth to your models and make them stand out a bit more, but it takes seconds. Easy! The best bit is you’re working solely with primers so, if you decide you want to go the whole hog, you can just paint over them later on.