Painting tutorial for newbies : part 1 (paint and brushes)

” I painted miniatures and figures for over 10 years. Now, I work as a freelance miniatures modelling designer, specialized in scenery and dioramas…but I know 2 or 3 things on painting and customizing minis.

I’ll try to spread my knowledge with some tutorial and articles, first focused on a newbie approach, and later on “advanced” painting and customizing technics. So let’s start with the tools choice ! “

For painting, you will basically need two things : some paint and some brushes !


some minis' paint !

Personaly, I use classic miniature paints in most of the cases. These paints are acrylic (water) based, the advantages of it are obvious :

  • Odorless
  • fast drying
  • miscible with water
  • easy brushes cleaning (water)
  • huge ranges of colors

You can find a lot of brands for that; pricing and quality may vary, of course. I will not give you a complete brands list, or say “that brand is the best” :  I just can tell you what I personaly use every day.


This brand is quite huge. You will find basically 3 ranges of products : the GAME COLOR range, the MODEL COLOR range and the AERO range.  This 3 ranges are good for painting, but the game color is the cheapest range. The bottle design is very convenient too : you can measure one drop precisely.

PROS : the price, the bottle design, the number of references (especially if you add the 3 main ranges).

CONS : the paint bottle needs to be shaked and mixed a lot  before painting.


Very well known company, one of the biggest wargaming and miniature business of the world. Their painting range is really good, the paint is one of the best you can find, especially the metallic range. But it ‘s more expensive than some other brands…

PROS : quality of the paint (especially the metallic paints), huge range, easy to find.

CONS : the price


A company that only a few people know…but stills one of the best brands around. This company made the Citadel (games workshop) range in the 80’s. So you’ll find a great paint in that brand. The bottle design is one of the best too, and the price is really fair (the bottles are ones of the biggest in the hobby).

PROS : the paint excellent (the best in gaming minis painting purpose?) quality, the big and very well designed bottles, the price (more expensive than VallejoGame Color, but the Coat d’arms bottle is bigger).

CONS : sometimes difficult to find (but you can find it on the famous auction website), the colors range is not as huge as other major brands.

You can find these brands on the famous auction website, or in specialized hobbies shops. Like I said before, other brands of great quality exists, like Andrea Color, Formula P3, etc…You can also use Artistic paint (Liquitex, for example) but you’ll have to mix it more with water to make it “minis friendly”.

Colors chart : search on official websites of these brands, or on Google : you’ll find usefull color charts to make your choices.

My point of view concerning solvant based paints :

I know some people use enamel paints too. Personaly I rarely use it, except for metallic painting (since enamel metal colors are better than acrylic), since solvant based paint smells, take a long time to dry, and attack the brushes faster, in my humble opinion.

Now…let’s talk about brushes !


Here the choices are easier. To paint minis, basically  you will need 2 brushes : one standard brush and a fine detail brush.

some brushes

What quality should I choose ?

You will find 2 types of brushes on the market : the synthetic ones, and the natural (Sable or Kolinsky Sable most of the time) ones. If you are on budget, or you don’t want to spend a lot of money to start, synthetic brushes are a good choice. For the price of  a good natural brush, you will be able to buy 2 or 3 good synthetic brushes.As a newbie, you will probably ruin some brushes before learning the good way to use it and take care of it too. So perhaps to start you don’t need a 20 USD Kolinsky brush…

The thing you have to look after is the sharpness of the brush hair : with your saliva (or water, if you’re the hygienic kind of people ^^ ) wet a little the brush hair, and pass the brush on your hand : the head of the brush should stay in a single sharp shape. If some hair go left or right when you do that, or if the hair starts to curl : don’t buy it.

As a newbie, you will probably not see the difference, after all.  But be aware that natural brushes, in the good hands, are more eficient and durable.

Synthetic brushes :

PROS :the price, and….the price !

CONS : the paint “tank” of the brushe is often smaller than natural brushes.  Synthetic brushes are less durable than natural ones (after some time, the brush start to “curl”, and you can’t do nothing about it). You can’t repair a  synthetic brush.

Natural Sable brushes :

PROS : the paint tank is very good, and if you take care of the brush, it will last  years. When you will be experimented in painting, you will feel the diference simply painting !

CONS :  a low quality natural brush is worst than a good synthetic one.  The price for a good brush (or a high grade quality one).

What sizes should I choose ?
I believe you just need two brushes to start. Better choose 2 good brushes instead of 4 or 5 bad ones ! The usefull sizes for miniature painting is size 1 or 2 for standard detail (main jersey, skin,  or pants colors, for example), and size 2/0 or 3/0 (sometimes called 00 or 000) for fine detail painting (stripes, eyes, etc…).  As usual, a good 2/0 brush will be better to paint details than a poor 3/0 one…

What brand should I choose ?

For the synthetic brushes, it ‘s almost impossible to give you a brand name, since these brushes are budget dedicated. If you don’t want to make mistake, you can go for wargaming hobby range of synthetic brushes : Army Painter, Games Workshop, etc…but even “no name” synthetic brushes can be good. You will have to try and find out by yourself !

For the natural ones, you can take a look in Arts shops, searching for watercolor technic brushes (“aquarelle” technic). The standard quality in natural brushes is made wit Sable hair (avoid any other hair type), and the best quality around is the Kolinsky Sable. In the miniatures painting little world, the “Royce Rolls” brush can be find in the Raphael brand. But other brands are good too : Isabey, Windsor and Newton, etc… (note : sorry, but I can’t tell you if these brands are available in USA… )

The good way to take care of  your brushes :

So now you’ve got some good brushes. To keep them in good shape for the longest time possible, there is some little rules you have to know :

  • Never dip the entire brush hair in paint. Put some paint on the first 1/3 of the hair, NEVER put paint between the metal and the hair.
  • Never wash your brushes with solvants or alcohol. Simply use some clear or soapy dry water.
  • Never rub the brush in the bottom of your water pot. Take your time to wash it without touching the water pot.
  • Never let the brush in water.
  • When you don’t paint, let the brush upside down (with the plastic cap on it, of course).
  • After painting, reform the “flame” shape of the hair with your saliva or your fingers.
  • Never let the paint dry on your brush.

The “curly syndrome” :

Sometimes the hair of your brush start to be “curly”. If the brush is synthetic, you can’t do anything (in my knowledge, at least). If the brush is natural, you can try to fix it : dip the head of it in olive oil, than let it rest upside down a week. It should help it to return to a straight shape.

Conclusion :

We saw the very basics you should know to start painting. It’s a great side of the Miniature Football hobby, and like other creative hobbies, it will learn you to be patient and calm, improve your manual skills too.  I heard it helped some people to quit smoking, for example (a famous french fantasy pro painter started minis painting for this purpose !).

“So have fun with painting…Soon I’ll post new painting articles soon !”



Comments (8)

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  1. Coach k-lo says:

    great start to the painting aspects of the site. Keep it going!

  2. Chris Stacey says:

    You have given some great tips /advice.Thanks.
    I especially like the “olive-oil” idea for re-
    shaping the brush.Didn’t know that.I prefer a
    natural sable brush myself.They just seem to
    hold and release the paint better than synthetics.
    They are a bit more exspensive,but well worth the
    investment.I also use in conjunction with water,Brush Cleaner & Preserver by The Masters.
    You wet your brush and swirl it around in this
    stuff until it works itself into a lather.You then
    rinse in water.Pretty good stuff.It seems to help
    the brush maintain it’s shape too.Most arts& craft
    store carry it.
    Your input is much appreciated.Keep it coming.
    Thanks again.
    Chris Stacey

  3. Dimitri says:

    thank you guys !

    I didn’t know the products you’re speaking about ! I’ll see that. You say it maintain the shape ? is it some starch based product, or something like that ?

    For the brush type, I agree too. But I believe that a complete newbie will not feel the difference, and will certainly ruin some brushes before learning to use and maintain them. Personaly I use a mix of sable and synthetic brushes, for example synthetic is good enough for drybrushing, or washing/shading.


  4. MANTARAYDRE says:


    Incredible write up on the world of painting. Your painting and modeling expertise will surely increase everyones knowledge as they enter into the world of designing miniature football figures. I look foward to more of your advice as the calendar moves long.


  5. Dimitri says:

    thanks !

    the next article will be very basic, we ‘ll speak about…light, minis basing, paint mixing and palette choice ^^

    As I said, I want to evacuate first the very basis of the miniature painting, so the next articles will be more exciting (advanced painting technics, customizing, and even sculpting…)


  6. detroitchild says:


    Thanks for posting this my friend. I’m headed to the kitchen now to get some Olive oil. :-)

    Looking forward to your next posting.

  7. Dimitri says:

    Remember that you ‘ll have to keep the brush the head upside down, so the oil can fall on the floor of the kitchen ^^ (and, allow the hair to become straight again).

    After that, wash the brush carefully with not too cold water (but not HOT) and soap, then wash it with pure water.

    If the brush is in too bad shape, it should not work…but it costs nothing to try.


  8. Coach k-lo says:

    what great addition to our family!!!!

    I love the break down of all the things in your blog. Never considered some of these principles before but will have to take them into account when I next get back to painting.

    Keep it going!!

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