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Preparing Miniatures for Painting

These are the materials and techniques I use to prepare miniatures for painting.

Materials and Equipment

  • Hobby knife with #1 blade. (Commonly called an X-Acto, but that's a trademarked name.)
  • Hobby files (small rat-tail, flat, and triangular files).
  • Simple Green or similar household cleaner. Pine-Sol works, too, but Simple Green is biodegradable, and doesn't smell nearly so bad.
  • Spray primer, or airbrush and thinned paint.

Clean Up the Figure

First, use a hobby knife and, if necessary, hobby files, to clean up any mold marks and flash on the figure as much as possible.

I usually just scrape the knife along the mold lines to remove them, but sometimes it is necessary to actually cut off mold flash or chunks of excess material, depending on the mold quality.

If you have to cut off chunks of material, try to sculpt the cut area so the surgury is not too obvious.

Wash the Figure

After cleaning up the mold marks, wash the figure to remove any residual mold-release agent and skin oils from the previous stage. You can often get away with skipping this wash stage, but it's easy, and you can never tell by inspection whether the figure needs to be washed, so it's best to always wash it. I use Simple Green and a toothbrush (which is dedicated to this use!). Pour the SG into a glass dish. I use a small Pyrex baking dish with a snap-on lid, also dedicated. If you use SG concentrate, dilute it about 4:1.

If the figures are metal, place several figures in the dish. Carefully, but thoroughly, scrub each figure in the liquid with the toothbrush, then rinse it in the sink under running water and place it on a towel to the side.

If the figures are plastic, set them beside the dish, and scrub them one at a time. The cleaner can actually dissolve the plastic if they are left in it too long, though I've had no problem with leaving them in it for a few minutes. Scrub and rinse them the same way you would metal figures.

Prime the Figure

I've always achieved the best results when I applied a fine coat of primer to a figure. On un-primed figures, I've had problems ranging from difficulty getting paint to adhere to paint chipping off. I've never had paint chip off down to the metal of a primed figure unless the figure was abused in some way. (I have had paint chip off when I dropped and bent a figure or an earthquake threw it across the room. In fact I have quite a number that were damaged in the 1992 Los Angeles earthquake.)

I use spray primers; brushed-on primers go on too thick. A variety of primers are acceptable. Ral Partha offers a good white primer, which is generally available where their figures are sold. Krylon Sandable Primer is my favorite, and Krylon "Living Colors" water-based primers can even be used directly on styrofoam. The Krylon primer dries more slowly than the Ral Partha, but costs significantly less. Your local general hobby store (such as the Hobby Lobby in Colorado) or home center/hardware store (such as Eagle) probably carries the Krylon primers.

Rather than using a paint that is specifically designated a primer, you can simply apply an acrylic base coat using an airbrush. This and basecoating are, in fact, about the only things I use my airbrush for. This works as well as a so-called primer, but allows you to select from a wider range of base colors. For example, if you are preparing a figure that shows a lot of skin, like many female "fighter" figures, you can use a dark flesh color for your base coat, and save yourself a step when you reach the painting stage.

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