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The 2020 Ultimate Miniature Painting Guide to Get Started

players handbook

Growing up, Dungeons and Dragons was a big thing in my family. When we weren’t crawling through dungeons and rescueing entire realms from destruction, we were scouring our local gameshop for the perfect miniatures and miniature painting supplies to bring our games to life. Back then we didn’t have Google, YouTube, and Amazon to guide us. We had to figure it out and rely on our local shops to stock the goods. If I had had a guide back then to show me how to get started, this is the exact guide I would have wanted. 

Though painting miniatures takes a good deal of practice to master, it takes very little to get started. With all of the guides, videos, and readily available supplies and miniatures, there’s never been a better time to get started painting minatures.

What supplies are must haves to get started with Miniature Painting?

There are three main sections to this guide which follow the main supplies needed:

  • Paints and Primers
  • The Paint Brushes
  • Extra Necessary Supplies and Some to Make Your Life Easier

After reading through and following this guide you’ll be prepared to paint an entire party of adventurers, ready to set out to defeat goblins and beholders. While this guide will not step you through the painting process itself, no matter your gaming or hobby niche, this guide will walk through and quickly review the paints, brushes, and supplies you’ll need to get started on the path to miniature painting greatness!

Whether you are a seasoned miniature painter or brand new, there is a bare minimum of supplies you’ll need to get started. These are the actual paints and brushes, spray primer, a palette, and at least one miniature (though once you get started, you won’t want to stop there. You’ve got lots more paint after all!). There are a large variety of paints and brushes to choose from, and even more miniatures. Follow along to see what types of paint to choose, paint sets to get you started with the right variety of colors, starter brushes, and the additional supplies you’ll need for your miniature painting kit.

Best Affordable Miniature Paint Sets To Get You Started With Quality Colors and Shades

Whether you just ordered your first Dungeons & Dragons Barbarian, or whole Warhammer army, you can’t get started without at least a small range of colors to bring these figures to life. Some sets like the one I started with come with as few as ten colors (along with a random miniature). Just be prepared to be creative with the lack of color variation! Fortunately, may companies such as Vallejo and The Army Painter release paint sets that include a larger range of colors. These sets include a spectrum of colors from flesh tones, leathery and earthen browns, and metals, to more general primary and secondary colors.

Do You Need to Buy Expensive Miniature Paints?

While high quality paints are good to invest in, there’s no need to break the bank just to get started. While some prefer traditional enamel paints, we’ll focus in this guide on acrylic paint sets, because they are easier to work with and to clean up and we want to ease any friction that might occur between you and your painting. If you are new you don’t want any hurdles to hinder your progress, such as having to mix and thin down paints with turpentine, just go with acrylic. You can always practice with other paint types later as you improve in skill. 

Two of the best known paint brands when it comes to painting miniatures are Vellejo, and the Army Painter. Both have a good sized starter set that will provide more than enough colors to get you going. I got my start with The Army Painter Dungeons and Dragons Official Paint Line Adventurer’s Paint Set which comes with ten colors and a miniature to get started. It is in my opinion a great place to start. The following kits both offer a comprehensive set of colors to begin with:

vallejo paints color set

Vallejo Paints Color Set

  • In my experience, Vallejo paints provide smooth and vibrate colors for miniatures
  • High variety of colors means less need to mix colors to acheive desired effects
  • Does not come with a miniature, but provides a broad spectrum of colors to add to your collection
dungeons and dragons paint line monsters paint set

D&D Official Paint Line Monsters Paint Set

  • 36 hues gives this set a huge variety of colors
  • Includes an “Owlbear” monster miniature to get you started
  • Includes basic colors and metallic paints as well as more advanced washes.
  • All around amazing starter kit or even as a follow-up once you get started

Priming Your Miniatures Makes Life Easier

In addition to your starting paints, you’ll want to pick up a can of spray primer. Priming your figures before use fills in the microscopic pores of the miniature, allowing the later layers of paint to be applied more fluid and smooth. Any brand will do, but the brands made specifically for miniature painting have smaller sized pigments, which can prevent the primer from covering small details on the miniatures.

You can pick any number of paint primer colors, but I recommend starting with white or black to keep things simple. I prefer to prime in black, because as a less experienced painter, any black primer that doesn’t get painted over tends to look like shadows on the character. White primer that doesn’t get covered by subsequent coats of color tends to stand out more. Both options have their pros and cons, and some experienced painters prime in shades of black, white, and grey. The options are limitless, but to get started here are quality primers that you can get with a click. This is the black primer I got my start with and highly recommend it.

the army painter color primer, matt black

The Army Painter Color Primer, Matt Black

  • Versatile with Excellent Coverage
  • Affordable primer that will work perfectly for miniatures and model painting
  • Like all Army Painter primers it is non-toxic and dries quickly
the army painter color primer, matt white

The Army Painter Color Primer, Matt White

  • Like the Matt Black primer, this has excellent coverage and matches the Army Painter white paint when bought separately
  • Affordable primer that will work perfectly for miniatures and model painting
  • Like all Army Painter primers it is non-toxic and dries quickly

What are the best size brushes to get started painting miniatures and how many do you need?

With so many different games, miniatures, and paints to choose from, it should come as no surprise that there are enough paint brushes to leave anyone a little dizzy. Getting started, you should focus on getting just two or three brushes to get you started. Two of these brushes will be your main brush (one primary, and one as a backup when the first gets worn) and a third optional one for finer detail.

You can spend a long time working through the finer details of Bristle Length and Belly Diameter, but at the end of the day any #1 or #2 paintbrush of high enough quality will do. These can come in multi-packs so that you can replace your first when it has worn out. The most important aspect of the brush for getting started is that it maintains a decent point. More expensive Hair or Sable brushes will tend to hold a point longer, but purchasing one of these might need to wait until you have gained some practice with lower quality and more affordable brushes.

While this is highly subjective and up to the tastes of the individual painter, generally a size two brush is good to get started. It is small enough for detail, large enough to allow you to cover larger areas more easily, and holds a good amount of paint to maintain flow. It is recommended that you have a spare of your main brush, and some, like in the link above, can be bought in sets for just this end in mind. A size one brush is a good brush to have as well so you can work in some extra details along the way to bringing your miniatures to life. I would start with a multi-pack of both size 1 and size 2 brushes, so you won’t be stuck without a brush if one wears out. The brushes I have linked to are those that I have used to get started. They hold a good amount of paint, keep a good point, and are affordable when you need to replace them.

Like the paints, your brushes at this point don’t have to be very expensive, though higher quality brushes will tend to last and maintain a point longer. Once you get your feet (or brush) wet on a miniature or two, it is a good idea to invest in at least one high quality brush, and as you gain experience, you may expand your collection of quality brushes.

Here are Some Supplies to Improve your Painting Game and Quality of Life

You will spend a long time with these brushes, so getting brush cleaning products will help to maintain their quality. With a brush soap you can maintain the life of your brushes for a very long time, given a little care as you clean up after a few hours (or a whole night) of painting. This will come in expecially handy as the quality of your brushes improves and they become more expensive to buy. You can get brush soap to keep the quality of your brushes up and save you money in the long run:

general pencil masters brush cleaner and perserver

General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver, 1 Pack

  • Non-toxic and water soluable, so you don’t have to worry about passing out while you clean your brushes
  • In my experienc (children…) this soap will remove completely dried acryllic paint with a few passes. This is a game changer for saving otherwise destroyed brushes
  • Brushes with a light mount of paint dry quickly and maintain their shape and point after use

Wet-palettes Are Easier to Work with and Worth the Small amount of Setup Time

Of course you can’t start painting without something to hold your paint as you’re using it. You can pick up some plastic palettes for cheap, but my recommendation is to go with a wet palette. A wet palette, as the name suggests, is a sealable palette that utilizes a special acrylic palette paper with water to keep your paints wet for hour or even days under the right conditions.

I began using a wet palette at the beginning of my miniature painting hobby, and haven’t gone back. While any palette is essential, starting with a wet palette will ease your beginner journey and set you on the right path to better painting overall. I also keep a couple of the normal cheap palettes on hand for dry-brushing and to experiment with different paint qualities. Be sure to pick up both.

Drybrushing – Not Required, definitely worth the time to learn

One of the first painting techniques I picked up as I learned to paint miniatures was drybrushing. While completely optional for starters, learning even basic dry brushing will help you speed up the early painting process. Just make sure to dry brush in the early steps of painting, as it can be a messy step to apply later on. If you choose to apply dry brushing with your miniatures, a basic brush, from the ever reliable Army Painter, is a great place to start.

the army painter flat brush

The Army Painter Flat Brush for Drybrushing Miniatures

  • High Quality synthetic hair. As drybrushing is hard the the brush, you don’t want to go too crazy on the quality of this particular item
  • Durable and easy to use handle makes it a comfortable choice
  • This is an ideal brush for beginners and will continue to be a good choice as you improve in skill

What Are You Waiting For – Get Started Already!

With your paints, primer, brushes and other supplies in hand, you’re ready to set off on a great new hobby. Who knows, with all the new attention to role-playing games, and everyone having more time at home to enjoy them, you could turn a tidy profit re-selling your painted miniatures! Just an idea.

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide for miniature painting. If you have any questions or comments, be sure to put them in the comments below.

Note that links to products on Amazon are affiliate links. I may be paid a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking a link. You can help support Vorpal Collectibles by making purchases through these links. 

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