Author’s Note: Check out the original article on Helium!

Here you are, a newly recruited General for the armies of Warhammer Fantasy and/or Warhammer 40,000 and/or some other war-game that I haven’t mentioned, and you need to assemble your army for glorious battle. But, you don’t have the faintest ideas as to where to begin with all of your various sprues (unassembled plastic models) and metallic warriors.

First thing’s first, take a deep breath and remember that you are not required to have the best painted or best converted army right out of the gate. This will require three things from you: rudimentary knowledge of colour theory and lighting, as well as a lot of patience for both yourself (you’re learning) and the process (it takes a while). It will also require you to pick up the following materials from your local hobby store:

  • Plastic cutters, to separate the pieces from the sprues and to snip chunks of flash off of your metal miniatures
  • Super glue and/or plastic glue
  • Modelling putty aka. Green Stuff (use the GW (Games Workshop) stuff, if possible, as I’ve found it to be the most pliable)
  • Exacto knife with some extra blades (use with caution!)
  • A set of small files to get rid of flash and flash lines
  • Black Primer, from GW
  • ‘Ardcoat, from GW
  • Paintbrushes: one for base-coats, for medium detail, and fine detail
  • Paint (use Vallejo or GW)
  • Cup and saucer for the mixing of the paint

Find yourself a large table to set up shop and tell anyone and everyone in your house (including your pets) to stay away for fear of your wrath. I made the mistake of leaving my miniatures out around my dog when he was a puppy. He thought they were toys. I lost a squad of Space Marines to his tiny, gnawing teeth. Set out your shiny new tools and bust out the box that your army came in. You ready? Let’s get started.

Definitions You’ll Need to Continue

Sprue – all of your plastic and metal bits that are attached to one another, due to the crafting process

Flash – extra bits of model that are left over after you extract them from said sprues

Flash lines – ever present on your models, since no models are made in one piece. These lines really detract from the finished product, so make sure you get rid of them!

Assembly: Green Stuff, Super Glue, and Your Fingers

We’re going to make this into a basic tutorial so we won’t go into how to convert your miniatures into customized pieces of awesome. We will, however, go over how to assemble your miniatures and not have them fall apart before you have a chance to prime them for painting. Let’s go over how to assemble your basic plastic mini before getting into the complexities of metal assembly.

For plastic minis:

1. Cut the required pieces off of the sprue, using your plastic cutters, being sure not to cut the actual piece itself. Believe me, this is more difficult than it seems.

2. Slice off the extra bits of flash left over from your extraction process, being careful to cut away from your body and towards the table. As my good friend Nathan once said, “The hospital doesn’t sew flaps, just super glue your finger back together.” Super gluing one’s wounds is not a pleasant process. Lesson here is to not slice your fingers open.

3. Using a round file, gently file off the flash lines until it looks like the mini was always supposed to be one piece.

4. Use conservative amounts of plastic glue on the pieces that need to be put together. Careful not to get much (if any) on your fingers. If you do… don’t be foolish and try to wipe it off on your pants or tissue or whatever. Chances are, you’ll stick to everything. And that hurts.

5. Once your mini looks something like the picture, you can take a breather and wait for it to dry. I’d suggest at least an hour, but it’s best to let it set overnight before you get onto the priming process. Repeat the process for however many miniatures you need to assemble.

For metal minis:

1. Check “Plastic Minis” Steps 1-3.

2. Mix your green stuff: slice a small piece of the blue and yellow and start working it together between your fingers. You will need to use water from your cup (make sure it’s clean) to keep it from being to sticky. Set it aside. You’ll need it in a few minutes.

3. Check “Plastic Minis” Step 4, substituting Plastic Glue for Super Glue.

4. Grab that green stuff you set aside earlier and apply it to the seams of your previously glued bits. Smooth it down, using the flat side of your Exacto knife. Don’t use too much, or too little. Too much of it will look too bulky and too little won’t hold it in its place. Slice off the excess and allow the green stuff to dry overnight. No exceptions!

For all of the miniatures you’ve assembled, make sure that you’ve glued them to their bases by using Super Glue/Plastic Glue. This is a source of debate amongst hobbyists, but I suggest it only because it’s easier to hold onto your miniatures once you’re ready to paint them.


Root around your house/apartment for some spare cardboard, gather up the miniatures you’ve put together, and bring them and your primer outside with you. Why outside? It’s ventilated and you won’t spray a piece of furniture/wall by accident. Or, in the case of my first bout of priming, your father’s face. No, really, it happened, and his eyes were only saved by his glasses. We were happy for his terrible eyesight that afternoon, let me tell you.

Why black? Black does not show the imperfections in your base-coat. If you fail to paint a miniscule piece of your miniature and you’ve primed it black (as opposed to white), it will blend in and go virtually unnoticed.

Place the cardboard underneath your minis and spray in light bursts, not in a full-on blast. The light bursts will allow for a thorough coat that’s not too heavy in any one place. Once you’ve finished priming your minis, make sure you let them sit for thirty minutes. Don’t try to pick them up before then or you’ll smudge your priming job and you’ll have to re-do it… plus fingerprints.

The Base-coat

Get your colour scheme together and gather your paints. When doling out your paints onto your saucer/paint mixing container, make sure that you’re adding water to it. In my experiences, it should be “the consistency of cream”. Too watery and it won’t apply properly. Too thick and you’ll lose the detail. It takes practice to find that balance so don’t be frustrated if you don’t get it the first time.

Some people never go beyond the base-coat, as GW tournament rules only states that you need 3 distinct colours, to be considered a model that is ready to be fielded in battle. But you’re going to go beyond this, as scary as it may seem. Make sure that when you’re applying your base coat that you’re not over-painting (painting far beyond the boundaries of what’s being painted: ie., pants, shirt, etc.) or under-painting (not painting all the way to the boundaries). Instead, don’t panic if you go over but try not to. It takes a lot of patience and practice!

Let dry for an hour and then we’re ready to move onto the wash/ink/drybrushing.

Washes vs. Ink vs. Drybrushing

A wash is watered down pigment of any colour. An ink is watered-down, concentrated pigment. Drybrushing is a technique used by hobbyists mostly for terrain painting and fur textures. For our purposes, we’re going to use a wash, because it’s much less concentrated than the inks. I would recommend GW’s new Citadel Washes, not just because they’re name brand but because they’re the most amazing washes that I’ve ever used, including my own concoctions.

For this, you’re going to have to experiment with colour theory to determine what would be the best wash for your purposes. Remember to get the wash right into the crevasses – don’t be shy to use too much wash, as you’re going to be highlighted it back up anyway!

Drybrushing requires you to take a shoddy brush that has the bristles all pushed down and mangled. Dip your brush into the paint, take a piece of tissue and rub almost all of the paint off. Then proceed to rub the brush all over the parts of the miniature you want to paint with that technique. It’s an excellent technique to use for beginners but don’t get too attached to it. It doesn’t yield the best results all the time.


Take your base-coat colours and apply it to all of the parts on your miniatures that fall under the normal range of brightness. Mixing highlight colours from there is the tricky part. There are many techniques for painting the different colours and I won’t go into them here. I’m hoping to write an advanced painting article for those of you who want to know the secrets of mixing the perfect palette. For now, just add white to your base colour and continue to highlight your model, using your fine and medium detail brushes.

Don’t be afraid to highlight up through the whites but don’t get too liberal with the paint, otherwise you’ll have to re-wash it and try again. Keeping a steady hand is difficult, so balance the miniature either on the table or on your tummy (as silly as it seems).

‘Ardcoat! Or, “Let’s Play with Aerosol Lacquer!”

Once you’re satisfied with your paint job, the next thing to do is protect your miniature from the elements. The way you do this is by spraying ‘Ardcoat in the same manner as you did the primer. This will act as a lacquer and protective coat for your paint job, which means the paint will last longer and won’t chip as easily when you bring it to tournaments or your buddy’s basement.

Let dry overnight.

Storage and Future Protection

When storing your miniatures, make sure you put them in a place where children or pets can get to. Either put them in a china cabinet or a cupboard with doors. If you’re a really hardcore hobbyist, like my Dad, get yourself a custom-made cabinet with lighting and fancy glass shelving. Might be pricey. Failing that, just put ’em up on a bookshelf and dust them regularly, if you’re not playing all the time. For transportation, get yourself a proper case with foam lining that cushion the miniatures.

“Dunking” a Botched Mini

Let’s say the miniature got completely screwed up, somewhere along the line. Your next best step is to “dunk” the little guy and try again later. To strip the paint off of your metal miniatures, use a combination of Pine Sol and water (3/4 Pine Sol, 1/4 water) in a plastic container. You can do the same with your plastic model, but don’t leave them longer than overnight because the Pine Sol will begin to eat through the plastic and you’ll lose the detail. For plastic miniatures, I would suggest brake fluid.

Take an old toothbrush and scrub the miniature under running water until its stripped of its previous colour.

At the end of the day, this is a long process that will take you many, many hours to learn the basics of. To learn advanced techniques, you’ll need even longer. Don’t give up on yourself if you’re not like the guys from White Dwarf right away. Have patience, trust in the process, and have a blast.