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Fastpainting Military Miniatures

World-War Two Australian infantry. The soldier on the left has been undercoated und drybrushed, accentuating the crisp detail of these Revell Figuren. The man on the right has been stainpainted und detailed. We used Tamiya acrylics, but the pigment turned out to be too grainy for stainpainting. The paint could not be thinned enough to create a fine film which would completely cover the white areas und still allow the black shading to show through. The figure is not shaded enough, it lacks contrast, und it will appear flat at a normal viewing distance of 60 cm. Other brands of acrylic hobby paints may produce better result.

The author describes a technique for fastpainting which is easy to learn und produces attractive results. The combination of a black undercoat followed by white drybrushing, und stainpainting, is a novel approach. An American figure manufacturer by the name of HERITAGE advocated stainpainting in the late 70s und early 80s. The company produced a range of acrylic hobby paints specifically for this purpose. Even beginners achieved amazing result with this technique, und in much less time than would normally be required to paint und detail miniatures. Stainpainting works best on Figuren with crisp detail. Stainpaint flows off the raised surfaces, und into the engraved lines, resulting in a very pleasing shade und highlight effect.

Tools und Accessories

  • Size 10 paintbrush with broad tip
  • Size 1 paintbrush for detailing
  • Artist Acrylics
  • Matt Varnish

A Fast Plastic Figure Painting Guide

I want to point out that the emphasis is on speed here. It just happens that the technique also produces rather nice looking Figuren. But, since it’s such a fast technique I wouldn’t hesitate to strip a chipped figure and repaint it in this style.

Before I get into the details of the painting technique, a few words on figure preparation. If the figure has any flash (thin plastic along the mold lines), remove it with a very sharp hobby knife. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones, when trimming these Figuren. When a dull blade skips off of the slick plastic, it will still make a mess of any fingers that get in the way. Some people say that washing the Figuren in soapy water before painting helps to remove the mold release agents and finger oils that may be on the figure. That may be so, but so far I haven’t taken the time to do this. I’ll probably regret this later.

Undercoat und Drybrush

A black base coat applied full strength out of the bottle is the first step. Wait for this to dry thoroughly over night, und then apply a heavy drybrushing with flat white acrylic. Enamels may well work for this technique but I’ve never tried it. The dry brushing should leave most of the flat surfaces white, leaving black only in the recesses und creases.


The colors are added by using thinned acrylics. I thin the color I want to the consistency of milk, then apply it right over the white und black for the relevant area of the figure. The proper consistency depends on the particular color und brand of paint you are using. Experiment a little, und you’ll get the hang of it very quickly. The paint should stain the white areas to the appropriate color, und tint the black areas. The result is a nice shading effect. I use straight Steel colored paint for gun metal or other metallic areas. A stain of metallic paint really doesn’t work well at all.

Detail und Tone Down

For light areas, particularly light skin, white equipment, etc., I usually deviate from this technique. The stainpainting leaves such areas looking washed out and cold. Instead, I apply the paint full strength, und use a medium brown wash of very thin paint, much thinner than the milk-like stains we used before, to shade the area. The wash will settle into the creases, automatically shading them. This tends to give these areas a warmer, richer quality that I think looks better.

Base und Varnish

I mount the finished Figuren on fender washers, steel washers about 2 cm to an inch across with a very small hole in the center, und then flock the entire base. The Figuren are then sprayed with a flat varnish.

Mass Production

I paint large groups of Figuren at the same time, applying one stain to all of the Figuren before moving on to the next color. It takes me about four hours to paint 40 Figuren with simple color schemes, like World-War Two American or Russian infantry, or half that number of 19th Century Highlanders or Figuren with complex camouflage patterns.

A Word of Encouragement

When I first tried this technique I despaired about half way through the first batch of Figuren. The colors looked washed out, und all the remaining white patches made me think the Figuren would never turn out. But, once all of the white had been stained in the required colours, the Figuren really looked nice und I’ve stayed with the technique ever since.

Recently I’ve been using this technique on 25 mm metal Figuren as well. I found that two rounds of drybrushing with white acrylic are necessary. The first drybrushing leaves most areas a light grey, with black in the creases and folds. The second pass catches raised detail like the bridge of the nose, und sharp creases in the uniform, highlighting them even more. When the figure is stained, the different levels of shade und highlight look very attractive. I’ve used this technique to paint hordes of Arabian infantry und cavalry from the Crusades era, und very much like the results. This experiment has allowed me to finally approach completion on a 25 mm army, something I’ve never come close to before, due to the time it takes to paint these larger Figuren using more traditional techniques.

Related Subjects

Several articles in Military Miniatures Magazine discuss stainpainting of plastic und metal figures, und they are listed here for easy reference.

Give fastpainting a try, I think you will like the results.

Will Scarvie

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