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Posted by Jens

In this tutorial I will explain the different steps that hopefully help you create smooth color transitions. Rather than providing a step-by-step I’ll show the most important steps and try to explain the reasoning behind these.

Part 1: Miniature Preparation

The first part of this tutorial deals with the preparation of the miniature before actually painting it. When trying to achieve smooth blending it is important to create an appropriate surface – we want  an evenly smooth surface.

The reasoning is fairly simple. If the surfaces have a visible texture the paint will naturally collect in the recesses and hence affect the smoothness of our blendings. This becomes particularly evident when working with non-opaque thin layers of paint. Even worse if the roughness changes along the miniature.

The roughness of the miniature surface tends to vary a lot depending on brand and size of the parts – larger tin parts tend to feature a bigger surface roughness. Some miniatures will require close to no work, while others might require many hours of preparation.

Acolyte (Privateer Press - Hordes) – Missionaire (Asmodée – Hell Dorado)


The Acolyte model has a fairly rough surface

The Missionaire model has a very smooth surface


1.    Sanding paper / Steel wool

The most common way to smooth surfaces will be using sanding paper and steel wool. This doesn’t work very well if the surfaces are hard to reach or feature many small ornamental details as we might damage them.

2.    Milliput / Matt Vanish

Applying a very thin film of matt vanish or heavily watered Miliput can help in particular on highly detailed areas or areas you cannot properly reach with sanding     paper or steel wool – they will collect in the fine recesses and close them. The advantage of Miliput is that you can finish the surface with steel wool or sanding paper later. This doesn’t work too well when using matt varnish, however, this is easier to use and will dry quicker. Be careful not to ruin any details of the sculpt.

It’s important not to forget to clean the miniature with some water and soap before continuing to remove any fine dust or mold release agents. You can avoid many troubles later on.


At this stage we hopefully have a miniature with a nice evenly smooth surface. Some might be tempted to directly apply paint,  however,  there is good reason for using a primer. Thinned paint would roll off the polished metallic surface – it needs a very slight roughness and this is provided by the fairly large pigments we’ll find in paints suited for priming.

The most common type are spray primers as they are very convenient to use. However,  you can apply some primers with brush or an airbrush – for tight and angled areas you might have no choice other than using the brush to apply the primer.

A typical mistake when using a spray primer is not to shake the can sufficiently long or over do it. When applying too much primer it tends to dry as a very smooth surface and as a result the paint has nothing to stick to and will start to roll off. It’s no problem if the primer doesn’t cover the surface with a opaque layer – the main reason for priming is to provide that slight roughness of the surface for the paint to avoid any pooling.

Part 2:  Visualize highlights and shadows

Simply highlighting all edges and shadowing the recesses won’t result in a natural painted lighting of the miniature,  although it helps to give it some extra depth. When trying to paint the miniature as if lit by a virtual light we’ll obtain a much more convenient result. This will take some experience but there are quite a few simple ways to help us visualize where shadows and highlights should be placed.  I’ll explain two possible solutions:

1.    Using a color spray or an airbrush.

A spraying can or airbrush can be used to simulate a lightsource. Many painters will use a black primer for their miniature and use a white spray primer to simulate the light source. Now you have all your highlights and shadows painted on the miniature. Personally I don’t like this technique that much, since you’ll see usually small spots from the brighter primer, unless you use an airbrush,  and it will take many layers of color if you want to get rid of them. However,  this technique is very fast if you don’t mind that spotted texture all you have to do is to color the miniature with thin glazes later on and the result is much better compared to dipping techniques.

2.    Using a light and a camera

The most obvious way to create a reference for our highlights later on is using a light and taking pictures of the miniature from different angles. It’s easiest to take the pictures at night with your desk lamp. With some post processing of the images you can easily exaggerate the shadows and highlights.

Part 3 – Painting the miniature

Finally we’re ready to start painting the miniature. There are numerous ways to create the blendings. I’ll present the technique that works best for me.

General Tips: It helps adding a bit of soap to your painting water as it helps to soften the water and reduce the surface tension of water.

1.    Base Color

The first stage to apply the base color and it’s best to apply it in many thin layers of paint. Ensure that the color is perfectly even along the surface.

I needed around 5 layers of paint until it covered the surface evenly. The color used is a mix of VMC: Hull Red and Schmincke PrimAcyrl: Burnt Sienna.

2.    Painting the first highlights and shadows

Using fairly thinned paint (ratio 1 color : 3 water – and a drop of VMC: Matte Medium) I started painting,  building up the highlights and shadows. I try avoiding using pure white and black and used VMC: Deck Tan in the mix for the highlights and Schmincke PrimAcryl: Payne’s Grey in the mix for the shadows. The payne’s grey is a very rich grey with a slightly blueish hint while the Deck Tan is a slightly yellowish grey. The color contrast of warm and cold colors helps enhance the depth of the shadows.

3.    Smoothing

Although I tried my best,  a close-up shows that the color transitions aren’t smoothly blended. If this happens all you have to do is soften the blending. This is done by using a mix of your base and shadow color and applying a very thin glaze along the complete surface. It is important to use thinned paint (1 color : 5 water) and remove all excess paint from the brush. This step will reduce the contrast of your highlights and shadows and hence reduce the visibility of the edges in your blending. Now you’ll have to to build up the highlights again. Rinse and Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until you’re happy with your result. It’s a matter of patience really.

Several hours later the miniature is finished: