Painting & Basing Guide

by Pete Duckworth

To me painting figures is a key wargaming activity. I strive to balance quality with speed.


It is vital to remove ‘flash’ (mould lines left from the casting process). Plastic figures always, and sometimes metals need clearing up with washing up liquid to get rid of oils used in moulding. Spears can then be added and where appropriate bendy cast spears replaced. I favour using metal pins for durability pin heads can be flattened to look like spear heads. With metal figures I like to solder spears in place even for 15mm figures; however a good grip can be obtained with an epoxy resin. Also the best thing for fixing shields to arms and riders to horses.

After much experimentation with temporary basing I have concluded that this is wasted time so I now favour gluing figures to their bases before painting. This is a big time saver and although this may leave some hard to reach recesses, equally though, these can’t usually be seen so another time saver.


Figures can now be undercoated. I favour a dark brown for most periods. This provides a good background for a wide variety of colours including flesh, browns, linen, red and orange so it is a flying start. If your figures are to be predominantly white you might consider a mid grey. Only if the figures contain a lot of metal or lacquer armour do I resort to black. I generally undercoat horses in yellow or light brown for use with inks – see below.

I don’t find paints sold as undercoats very useful. It also adds an unnecessary process so best avoided as another time saver.

For metal figures I use Humbrol Matt – usually chocolate brown #95.

For plastic figures I overcome my personal aversion to aerosol sprays as Plasti-Kote Projekt Paint – Matt Super is perfect for covering plastics it will flex well with the figure rather than flaking and takes other paints acrylic or enamel very well

Painting – Basics

To make figures look real you need to add shading as well as colour. Models don’t have clear undercuts like the real world. Look at your own cuffs or layers between clothes. The lines of contrast are extreme – very dark shadows are what you need to indicate. Its not actual detail you need but the impression of detail. Be brave and swift style is much more effective than accuracy. Go for it!

I now try to build up the paint in layers. The hard thing is edges so covering colours should be done last. Start with the ‘lower’ levels on the figure. Usually this means the flesh first though if only hands and faces are visible especially where hands cover equipment or other clothing this may not be the best start point.

I generally use acrylic paints as they tend to be low odour and avoid the need for thinners but I rather like the colour of Humbrol matt flesh so often still use that.

The idea is to start each layer with a dark shade (which is often the undercoat) and add layers one or two will be fine as required. So for flesh I will highlight the undercoat brick red, leaving the chocolate brown at edges like collars and cuffs and in dark recesses. I then add a flesh cover to the highlights. If there is a lot of flesh or if I’m dealing with a personality figure, I “Dry Brush” with white or a very light shade. This involves getting a little paint on the brush and delicately dragging this over the very highest points of the relevant area of the casting. Dry Brushing brings out subtle detail so very useful for hair mains buttons etc.

The figure is built up layer by layer usually finishing with packs straps or shields.

Painting – Metals

I still tend to use Humbrol enamel Metallics but have recently been very impressed with acrylic metals but do make sure they dry thoroughly before the next phase. For armour spear points engines etc. the detail can be brought out beautifully with a wash. You can make your own with a little brown/black in varnish but you can also buy “Smoke” from Tamiya, an acrylic that does the job perfectly. Beware Tamiya acrylics though; they can be very smelly.

Again, you may wish to dry brush (this time with a little silver or gold) as required to enhance detail.

Painting – Horses

I try to paint these before the rider. Try to do some research about the right colour for your troops. Some ancient armies had less range of horse colours available than was the case later. In C18/C19 armies an attempt as made to select similar colours for particular troops black for Cuirassiers etc. This can help to give the right impression so may help the game. In reality on campaign one might imagine a wider variety of mounts would be used.

The commonest colour is a chestnut brown, often with black or light brown main and tail. I like to use inks for this. Games workshop offers a chestnut brown and a dark brown. Either of these or a mix of the two give good horse colours when applied over a base colour of yellow sandy brown or light grey. This brings out detail and gives a different texture o the horse which helps.

Horses usually have a mane and tail and sometimes legs in a contrasting colour. Paint these as normal. For greys I also use the ‘normal’ technique starting with dark grey highlighting in stages ending in white.

Most horses have a patch of white on their faces and or nose. They also often have 1-3 legs with a white “sock”. Adding these, just splashes of white – no need to layer; really brings life to model horses. It’s well worth the effort.

Add reigns etc in a contrasting colour black on chestnut and greys, leather brown on black horses. This colour choice is a bit of a cheat but the contrast really helps.


This is a vital stage – not to be missed. A varnish coat protects all your painting hard work. Even better it adds lustre depth and contrast to your painting. It also adds a look of unity and wholeness.

Avoid spray varnish. This can produce a white sheen, a disaster. Similarly, poorly stirred enamel varnish can leave white powdery film. Don’t give yourself this grief.

Consider whether to use a matt or gloss varnish. Gloss is harder wearing and less prone to problems with finish, see above. Matt looks better with dull hues especially camouflage colours. Gloss can enhance the feel of bright colours and larger figures so I often use it for fantasy subjects and 25/28mm medieval figures. Look carefully at figures you like, ask yourself what has been used on them.

Make certain that the paint on your figures has completely dried out before applying varnish. This is particularly important if your varnish uses the same medium as your paint. Acrylic on enamel or vice versa will not dissolve all your hard work so you can varnish the same day, another time saver.


Two methods


Mix light brown acrylic paint (i.e. emulsion or big bottles of Rowney/other acrylic from a hobby store) with Pollyfilla Woodflex. It Must be this product – it is water based, not bleached – hence takes colour & chips and is flexible. Slap that on with a palette knife. Let it dry (only 20 mins if you don’t add too much paint). Then dry brush with a very light mushroom/cornmeal colour (I buy the emulsion testers from Hardware stores for this) any near white creamy colour will do. Enhance with flock & mini pebbles to suit. Some grassy bits break up the dull surface. I paint on rivulets of thinned PVA glue and sprinkle on dyed green leafing material (crumbled cork/sieved sawdust) from railway hobby shops (they use it for trees). You may want to dry brush this with very light green/yellow.


Disguise edge of bases with coloured (see above) Pollyfilla Woodflex. Cover whole base with slightly thinned PVA glue. sprinkle a rivulet of mini pebbles then cover the rest with course dry sand. Let it dry less than an hour if you have not diluted the glue too much. Then thin down “Burnt Umber” acrylic paint (see above). This really brings out detail on mini pebbles and sandy texture. Dry Brush with creamy wholemeal colour (see above). Add Grassy material (as above).

For both methods dry brushing is the key. I favor a largish (#3) old brush loaded with paint. Then take much of it off onto the palette for a semi dry brush that scrapes over to pick out the highlights.