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Painting Miniature Figures in 28mm and 15mm
An illustrative example of highlighting
By Neldoreth
May 12th, 2009

The following article is a step by step guide to painting miniature figures. This is the way I have been doing it for the past few years (since about 2006). I have gone through many different styles and methods, and this is the one that I have (more or less) settled on. I have been using this method since about the end of 2005; the first time I used it in earnest was with my Alternative Knights of Dol Amroth, and I have been using it ever since. By no means do I claim it is the best, or the method that everyone should use, but it is my favourite.

General Method

The above picture basically starts on the left and progresses to the right. The figure in the tutorial is a Persian peltast from Xyston's 15mm Late Achaemenid Persian range, but this method is the same one I use for all my 15s and 28s. See the text following the numbered steps for the differences between 28 and 15mm painting. The steps in the picture are described below:

  1. The primed figure. I always prime in black, although I used a mid gray for this article as the black didn't translate to the computer imaging as well as it should have. I think that people that claim that a white undercoat produces brighter colours are incorrect. Don't believe them, they just want you to conform! Use what works for you.
  2. I put the base coat colours on the fig. I typically always put all the base coats on before I start highlighting because it allows me to develope the colour scheme of the fig. If you highlight one colour and decide it doesn't work with the rest of the colours on the fig and you want to change it, you've just wasted a lot of work. That being said, if you know the colour scheme already then it isn't a big deal. Contrary to what the picture shows however, I highlight one coliur at a time from start to finish.
  3. The first highlight goes on here. I typically don't blend all that much on the first highlight. I find it isn't typically necessary. Of course, the larger and more flat the surface, the more blending you will require to make the fig look good. Not that the light source in all the figures I do (for the most part) is very diffuse and generally above the figure.
  4. Second highlight done with more blending layers. The colours are brighter now. For 28mm figures, you can stop here and have the fig look good; you don't need to take your highlights as high on larger and flatter surface areas... But you can if you want.
  5. The final highlight goes on here. It is typically a very light highlight and it is applied to only the highest parts of the figure. As you can see with the red especially, the highest highlight is applied only to the tips of the knees and shoulders etc. Typically this is where you light source will fall most strongly.
As you can see, the highlight colours are illustrated under the figure in the picture. For some colours, such as the skin in this picture, you don't need to go so high. The last two highlights on the skin are the same, meaning that I didn't apply a third skin highlight.

As I am sure you know, there are differences in the painting of 15mm and 28mm figures. For the most part the same method is used, but there are some differences worth noting. Basically, the smalled the figure or surface area you are working on (so, this includes small details on 28mm figures) the less gradual the transitions need to be. So, the smaller the fig, the more abrupt the transition. And, the larger the surface area, the more gradually blending of highlights is applied. The reason for this is that the detail depth of (most) 28mm figures is greater by far than that of 15mm figures. So, in order to highlight the detail and make it more noticable in 15mm, you need more abrupt highlights. So, what exactly is blending and how to you apply highlights? Read on...

Blending (using a layering method)

The whole purpose of blending is to make smooth transitions from one colour to another.Typically it is used in miniature painting to transition from dark to light or light to dark. You can use it to transition from one colour to another as well. In this discussion, I use the layering method to blend the shades. There are many different ways to blend shades/colours, but I find that layering on highlights is the best way.

Firstly, I pick my highlight scheme. When doing red, I start with a dark red-brown as the base colour. Then I go to a dark red (the first highlight), then to an orange-red (sometimes called 'true red' - the second highlight), and finally a medium pink(the last highlight), as illustrated in the above image going from lightest colour to darkest. So, I only use four different colours in total. If your surface area is small enough, you don't usually have to blend. If you are working on something with large, flat surface areas you will have to put a lot of effort into blending. Most of the stuff you paint on miniatures will fall somewhere between those two extremes.

The first step is to put down your base colour. I always start with the darkest colour and go lighter, which makes using a black undercoat a good option. I take time to make sure that the colour uniformly covers the surface area. So, using the red scheme as an example, above you can see a surface area that is entirely covered in my base colour for red.

The next step is to take our first highlight colour, the dark red, and water it down. You don't have to water it down too much, but just enough to allow the base coat colour to show through. I find that somewhere around a one to one mix is good, but experimenting is the best way to figure out what works for you. Once the paint is watered down, put the first highlight on the raised areas of the fig. In the above picture you can see where the first highlight was applied, and also see that the because the fist highlight is watered down, it doesn't completely cover the base colour. This is the effect we want because it allows us to blend colours and create smooth transitions.

Okay, so now you put the watery first highlight down on your figure. It's time to apply the first highlight again. Don't entirely cover up the first layer of highlighting you did. So, move your highlight up a bit onto the higher areas of the fig. The above illustration shows the basic idea. Note that we are still using the same watery first highlight colour as we were before, but because we are putting it over top of our previous highlight, it covers more of the base coat and so looks brighter, which creates the transition.

This step is the last time we will use the first highlight. Again moving up onto the higher parts of the fig, leaving our previous two passes visible, we add yet another pass of the first highlight. At this point, this final pass should look the same as if you had put the first highlight undiluted onto the fig. The above illustration shows where we are at this step.

Now we move on to the second highlight, the true red (or orange-red). As before, we water this one down at about 1:1 or just enough to allow the colours underneath to show through. Once we have the watery paint, we are ready to start applying the second highlight to the fig. We start at the higher areas and apply the highlight. See the illustration above for reference.

Again, we apply the second highlight to the higher parts of the figure, careful no to cover our previous highlights. As you can see in the above picture, we are making the transition from the dark red first highlight, to the true red second highlight.

Finally, we add the last layer of the second highlight. Again, this last layer should be pretty close to the true red itself. As you can see above, the transition is quite gradual, and although it is still obvious in the above picture, keep in mind that at 28mm scale, those transitions will be tough to notice on any surface except the largest and flattest.

We move on to the last highlight, similarly diluted at 1:1. Again we apply the highlight to the highest parts of the figure,g careful not to cover the previous highlights.

Finally, we add the last highlight to the very highest areas of the surface of the figure. Once done, your figure should be well blended. A few things to note in my above discussion are:

  1. The 1:1 ratio depends entirely on how thick your paints were to begin with. Experiment to find the best ratio for your paints; you may need a different ratio for each bottle of paint you have.
  2. You may need more transitions. If your surface area is large and flat then your might need to water down your paints even more and apply more transitions than illustrated above. The larger and flatter the surface area, the more obvious the transitions become. Play around with the above formula until you get something that works.
  3. You may need fewer or no transitions. One example would be a face or hands in 15mm. At that scale and one something with a lot of detail like a face or hands, the transition will not only be unecessary, but nearly impossible to execute. In those cases, you can likely apply the highlights directly onto the base coat/previous highlights without losing any quality.

Here's and example of a figure that I took a lot of time blending. The red on the dress shows the blending most prominently in this picture, and I also chose it because it is the same red scheme I used in the above example. Also notice the blue butterfly patterns on the dress. Those were transitioned from dark blue to a very light blue. The transition was done with fewer layers because of the small size of the designs.

The last example I will show has it all. Note that the shield surfaces (not the designs) are all blended from dark on the bottom, to light at the top. A more detailed description of how I painted the shields can be seen in the Painting 15mm Hoplite Shields article. The blending for those shield surfaces was done gradually. Also note though that the shield designs themselves are blended with few layers. As a matter of fact, the shield designs as well as the faces on the figures are not really blended at all; each highlight is applied not watered down at all. This is done simply because the area of the blending is so small that your eyes can't really notice it, and it would be nearly impossible to do.