Beginner's Guide to Painting a Metal Miniature

Boy painting a metal miniature
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Choosing a Metal Miniature to Paint

You see them in the shops, the tiny packages with white metal figures which can barely be identified with the naked eye. There’s lots of information on detailing and painting them, but how easy is it for a beginner? 

First, it's important to choose metals which are safe to handle. Make sure your miniature is not cast from lead. You want miniatures cast from white metal, pewter or other safe-to-handle metals. 

Look for metal castings with crisp, clear detail lines, and look for clean mold lines. Examine castings for excess metal mold lines and flash, the extra metal which will need to be cleaned off before you can finish the miniature. And finally, make sure the miniature is the correct scale and matches the range of other figures or display pieces you intend to use it with.

Clean and Fill the Base Casts

Remove any extra metal, using fine-grit sandpaper, fine files plus a craft knife or a dentist’s tool. File and sand off any irregularities in the finish, and use a magnifying glass to see small details.

Fill any imperfections in the figures with Milliput or another metal filling epoxy. Use fine sandpaper to sand any filled areas down to blend the filler into the surrounding metal as much as possible.

Use a dentist’s tool to recreate lines if any end in the middle of a filled patch.

Clean and Apply a Base Coat of Paint

When the finish is correct with all extra metal removed, clean the miniature figures carefully with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. You don’t want any traces of oil from your fingers adhering to the miniatures.

Once the figures are clean and dry, apply a thin base coating of an appropriate undercoat, one which will adhere to metal and allow you to paint on top with acrylic paints.

You will usually get a better finish using spray undercoats. Choose the undercoat color based on your intended paint scheme. 

Allow the miniature to dry in a dust-free environment.

Apply the Base Paint Colors

To choose your color scheme, layout small amounts of acrylic paints on your paint palette. Choose paints which contrast well with each other. 

Using small brushes, fill in the general color areas as evenly as you can using an appropriately sized brush.

Avoid painting adjacent colors until the first color is dry, then go back and fill in the areas in between the colors you were able to paint the first time. The detail comes later, so just try to concentrate on getting one or two thin even coats applied.

Set aside to dry in a dust-free environment.

Apply Details to Your Metal Miniatures

Make sure you have a steady hand and good light for these steps. Magnifying eyewear is very useful.

Go over your miniature figures adding in fine detail, pupils for the eyes, lines in the deep creases of clothing, teeth in open mouths, details of costumes, etc.

When you have finished the fine detail, you may want to add a very thin wash of color like burnt umber to add a bit of depth to the deeper details.

Another technique which brings out highlights is dry brushing. To do this load the brush with a lighter color and then blot the brush on a paper towel to remove most of the paint. With the brush now mostly free of paint, drag it lightly over the figure and the detail will pop out.

Try it on the darker areas of clothing, then use it on lighter areas if you like the effect.

When the figure details are painted to your satisfaction, set the figures away in a dust-free environment to dry. 

Overcoating Painted Metal Miniatures

Apply a fine overcoat finish (matte or gloss depending on your preference) to your miniature figures to protect the acrylic finish. A spray coat is advisable, but you can use brush-on coatings if you prefer them.

Apply any finishing details you want to the bases of your figures.