Tool Tips 00 – Getting Started

Tool Tips 00 – Getting Started

Hey Beginners!

While writing up the next series of Tool Tips posts, I thought this is probably a very good time to say “A lot of what I’ve gathered in these Tool Tip posts aren’t necessary if you’re first starting out!”. They might be nice items, but if you’re brand new to the hobby, it’s best to start very basic first. Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t run out and buy a $300+ Airbrush if you haven’t even attempted to paint a mini yet! You can get a bottle of spray primer for way cheaper, or you can even just paint directly on the plastic/metal to see if you even like it. The paint won’t stick as well to the mini if you paint directly on plastic/metal, but it’s better than nothing if you are strapped for time or cash.

Your first goal should be to get some paints and some cheap brushes. But the most important thing is, get some paint on the miniature. See how long it takes to paint all the different parts of a mini in the base colors first. Then ask yourself “Was it fun? Do I like how it looks? Can I imagine painting 10 more of these?”. If you’re pretty happy with your answers to those questions (Don’t lie to yourself), then I would start trying different techniques and tools slowly over time. I guess the second question is tricky “Do I like how it looks?”, as some of us are super critical of our own work. You might ask a friend their opinion or ask yourself “Does it look better than an unpainted miniature?”. I’m often really critical of my work, but I’ve learned that 1) I’m always learning 2) I have to be patient with the skill level I have 3) Sometimes mistakes lead to more improvement

Basic equipment to start with:

spray primer (recommended)


craft knife

brushes (cheaper the better)

Paints – red, green, brown, grey, black

As you can see, even the minimal amount of equipment starts to add up fast. For those items alone you are looking at $50 US. Miniatures might cost you another $30 for a box. $80, and we have to do all the work! As compared to a boardgame, you can get $40 and all the pieces are ready for you. Yea, it’s not the same, but just pointing out that there are certainly cheaper hobbies out there.

Okay, you made it this far. Spray Primer. Why? Well, this is how you make sure the paint you apply will actually stick to the miniature and not run off. You can think of it as a “paint glue” that will color the base model but also make the paint you apply over it, stick. I chose Tamiya Primer, as I’ve had good success with it in the past. There are cheaper options which I really wouldn’t recommend. If you have to save more money, you could try Armory Primer. That’s one of the early ones I used, and it worked okay. “There are so many colors…”. To start with, I would use either gray or black. Grey is a nice inbetween and you get the benefit of adding some shading depth. With black, it might be tough to build up lighter colors and take a lot more layers. White is not very forgiving when you make mistakes. So once again, go with grey, if it’s available. Also, wash your minis in soap and water and allow them to dry before priming or painting them. This will also help ensure that paint sticks and that they glue together better.

For paints, I would recommend Citadel paints. You might ask “Why?! In all your posts, you are using Vallejo?! What gives?!”. Basically, Citadel paints are easier for beginners, as there are a lot of color guides available. Also, Games Workshop miniatures are very popular, and having exact guides on how to paint the miniature you bought, makes things way more simple. Citadel base paints also have very good coverage and are a bit more forgiving for newcomers because of that. They aren’t the most inexpensive paints, but I feel the advantages outweigh the cost if you are starting out. For everything else, I would not buy name brand stuff as there are decent, cheaper alternatives.

Just buy a few base paints to start with. I linked a few in the list above. I would skip the washes and highlights until you’ve base painted 5 or so minis and really feel like this is something you want to do. Depending on the miniature, I would get 3 colors to try out. Say you were painting a Blood Bowl Orc, you could get started with just Mephiston Red (for the armor), Waagh! Flesh (for the skin), Rakarth Flesh (for the cloth), and Mournfang Brown (for leather straps). You could follow along with part of this guide, just to get the hang of it. Skip the parts for the colors you don’t have. There are other guides out there for Skaven, Humans, etc. as well.

Cheap brushes are a good way to start out. It will take you awhile to learn the different techniques and shapes of the brushes. It will likely take longer to learn the difference in points and spring and how a synthetic blend brush differs from an expensive sable brush. Once you’re comfortable getting paint on the mini, start playing around with the different shape brushes (if you bought a pack). See how rounds and flats and spotters and shaders, etc. work differently. Try using the point and the edge (side) of the brush. Once you’re getting the hang of those, and you’re liking it, I would try a sable brushe. Again, start with a cheaper one, so you can start to learn the difference between a nylon or synthetic blend or sable. Up until last year, I happily used a cheap brush for eons. There was one in my set (“Old Trusty” below) that held a decent point and I kept using it and using it. It didn’t have the smallest tip, and was by far the best brush, but it was what I had, and it worked. I even managed to paint eyes with that thing. So basically you can get away with pretty much any brush that is out there, as long as it is a decent size for minis.

“Old Trusty” on the left. The rest are a cheap set that I picked up on a deal.

The craft knife will come in handy for removing the miniatures from the plastic “sprue” material and you can use it to trim excess mould lines or other material. I used a craft knife for years and got by just fine. Glue is also necessary for assembly. There are a lot of suggestions about what glue to use and which one works best for plastic versus metal miniatures, etc. The “Loctite gel” brand I listed, has worked well for me on both plastic and metal minis.


Remember people aren’t really going to judge you by the tools you use. It’s the miniature that you painted, which will get the most attention. The best tools out there won’t make you a better painter, they will only help make things easier, once you’ve built up the skill set to use them. Start small!

Hope all this helps with getting you started in selecting your first set of tools. And of course in the immortal words of Duncan, “Always Remember, Apply Two Thin Coats!”.

Next up: Tool Tips 01