Miniature Wargaming Club Leuven
Schild & Vriend

'Schild en Vriend' is an old Flemish battlecry, used in the rebellion of the city of Brugge against the French, May 18, 1302. Legend tells that it was used to differentiate between the French-speaking (who could not pronounce 'schild') and Flemish-speaking citizens. Nowadays, historians tell us that it was probably 'Des Gilden Vriend'.

Painting techniques and terms

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Priming is the first step in painting any miniature: it involves coating the bare metal of the figure with a layer of special (or not so special) paint, designed to give the actual paint used to paint the figure something other to grip than the metal itself. Some of the most frequently asked questions on miniature painting involve priming: should you prime and if so, with what?

The answer to the first question is short and sweet: yes, you should prime. After that, it becomes largely a matter of personal taste. You can use brush-on primer, or use a spraycan, either from your local hardware store or from the hobby shop.

One of the most heatedly debated questions is which color to prime with: black, white or grey. Black primer makes it harder to get the lighter colors to 'shine', while white makes it harder to get good shadows, but results in really brilliant colors. Grey is often seen as the compromise, although some use a black prime and then drybrush white over that. Again, it's all a question of personal taste. For what it's worth, I prime grey on most 25mm figures and black on all the rest.

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Shading and highlighting


A realistically painted miniature needs to have shadows and highlights to define the different folds and creases on the miniatures and to enhance the 3D-look of the figure. Look at a photograph of a real person: one of the first things you notice (subconsciously) is that the person is not flat, although the photograph itself is. The reason for this (apart from the fact that we know that the average human being is not flat, of course (-: ) is that a 3D effect is created by the shadows and highlights on the person's face, clothes etc. To achieve the same effect on a miniatures, one has to recreate those shadows and highlights by somehow painting them on. These processes are called shading and highlighting, respectively. Many of the techniques listed below can be used for this. Drybrushing, for example, can be used as a very fast way of highlighting, while washing can be used as an equally fast way of shading. Staining, another useful technique, even combines the shading and highlighting in a single step.

One last thing concerning shading and highlighting: due to something called scale color (basically, you not only scale down the dimensions when working with a miniature, but also need to scale down the colors - other people are much more knowledgeable than me in the theory behind this) it is best to exaggerate the shadows and highlights on a figure compared to a full size person: make your shadows darker and your highlights lighter than they are in full size reality. A good explanation on this can be found in Shepherd Paine's "Building and Painting Scale Figures" (see below).

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Drybrushing is a technique often used to quickly highlight a figure, although it has other uses as well. It involves "painting" with a brush almost completely devoid of paint, so that it only leaves the faintest traces of paint on the high points of the area painted.

To drybrush, load your brush with paint and then wipe off the great majority of paint using a piece of tissue or something. When the brush is all but dry (hence drybrushing), drag the brush across the area you want to paint, moving across the grain of the figure: if you are drybrushing a cloak with predominantly vertical folds, for example, drag the brush across horizontally. You will see that after a couple strokes of the brush, some paint will have been deposited onto the high points of the area drybrushed, even though the brush itself looks almost empty of paint. You can experiment a bit with the amount of paint left on the brush, but for most applications it is just right when the brush barely leaves paint when dragged across a piece of white paper or tissue.

Most people find drybrushing easiest to control when using a flat-headed (i.e. not coming to a point) brush. A word of warning though: drybrushing is very hard on a brush, so don't use your best brushes.

Drybrushing can be used to highlight by simply drybrushing with a lighter shade of the basic color of the area painted. Drybrushing is also often used to paint such things as hair, fur and chainmail armor, where the great amount of relief (sp?) makes drybrushing the ideal way of painting them.

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Washing is, in a sense, the opposite of drybrushing. Where drybrushing is used to paint the higher points of a figure quickly, washing is used to deposit paint in the folds and low points. Consequently, where drybrushing can be used to highlight, washing is a good technique for quick shading.

Washing involves painting with extremely diluted paint (more thinner than water, actually). A wash is nothing more than thinned paint, somewhere in the ratio of 3:1 thinner:paint, although the exact ratio varies - experiment till you find the right ratio for you. When this wash is applied (sparingly!) to the area being painted, it will flow into the lower areas, leaving the high points relatively free of paint. That way, by using a slightly darker wash over your basecoat, you can shade the figure, depositing darker paint in the shadow areas of the figure.

Or at least, that's the theory. Washes are fine when you are using oil-based paint, but when you use water based paints (and most hobby acrylics are water based), you'll inevitably run into problems. This is because of the surface tension of water, which tends to 'pull up' the pigment from the lower areas while the wash is drying. This leads to the unsightly effect of a ridge of pigment around, but almost no pigment in, the low points of the washed area. This effect can be partially avoided by not flooding the area with too much of the wash, and by adding a surface-tension reducing agent to the water used to thin the paint, such as ordinary detergent.

Another option for washing is using inks instead of paint to wash. Inks are usually slightly translucent and are thus eminently suitable for washing. Some brands of paint, including Citadel and Acrylicos Vallejo, also include special premixed washes in their line.

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Staining or stain painting, combines both shading and highlighting in a single fast step. Similar to washing, it involves painting with a watered down paint, but less diluted than a wash is. This is then painted over a light (usually white, actually) basecoat or prime, letting the paint flow freely over the entire area covered. This will (hopefully) result in an uneven coverage of the area, with most of the paint collected in the lower points, and with the white basecoat showing through in the high points, thus creating both shades and highlights in a single step.

Another variant of this is not to paint over a white basecoat, but over a black primed figure, which is then drybrushed white. This increases the contrast between highlights and shadows when the figure is stained, often leading to a more realistic effect when viewed from a distance.

If you want to see what can be done with the staining technique, check out Ed Allen's miniature gallery at The Hobby Hovel (he refers to the technique as 'the ink technique', as he uses inks to stain).

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Blacklining, imaginatively, involves painting black lines at the separation between two contrasting colors. For example, where a red cloak and a green tunic meet, it is often best to paint a black line to enable the human eye to keep the two colors separate. Other areas that are often blacklined are between hand and sleeve, around belts and weapon slings or between tunic and pants.

The advantage of blacklining is that it defines the different color areas of a miniature better, and that it might lead to an increase in painting speed, as it is no longer necessary to be excruciatingly careful when painting a color adjacent to another one. It has the disadvantage though, that when used too much, it can lead to a distinctly cartoonish looking figure.

Blacklining is often done with black ink instead of paint, as ink flows easier from the brush, which often makes it handier to paint straight lines. Also, the translucency of the ink makes the transition color - black - color smoother.

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Blending is a technique borrowed from larger scale painters, who use it more often. It involves creating a smooth and seamless transition between two colors by gradually mixing them on the actual figure. For example, when you want to create a transition between red and blue, the are between the two colors will change from red to reddish purple, to blueish purple, to blue. In 25mm and smaller scale blending is usually not necessary, except for larger, otherwise uniformly coloured areas such as mecha armour.

As said, blending in its pure form involves mixing intermediate shades of the two colors on the figure itself. Unfortunately, this 'pure' blending is only possible with oil based paints with their longer drying time. Acrylics, with a drying time of several minutes as most, are unsuitable for this form of blending, as they dry much too fast to allow mixing on the figure. To use blending with acrylics, one has to fake it. To do this, there are a few options. The simplest is just painting on a succession of subtly different shades without bothering to blend them at all. For anything other than close examination with a magnifying glass, and provided your 'steps' between successive shades are small, this is more than sufficient. If you want to fake actual blending with acrylics, one trick is to use slightly watered down paint and 'feathering' the transition between succesive shades, making the line between the shades not so much a straight line, but more like a series of parallel feathery strokes. Again, if your transition between shades is small enough, this will result in a (somewhat) blended transition.

One trick which seems to work when blending with acrylics is to use a 'drying retarder', which is a gel-like substance added to the paint to increase the drying time drastically. This way, acrylics can be blended just as oils.

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This is the technique I use for most figures I paint. It's actually a very simple technique, that has been around for ages, hence it is sometimes referred to as "the old geezers' technique".

Layering - imaginatively - involves putting one layer of paint on top of another layer. When using layering to paint an area, you normally use three shades of the color you're painting with: a darker shade, the color itself, and a lighter shade for highlighting. These three shades are then simply painted on top of each other, but successively leaving more of the underlying layer visible.

If, for example you're painting a cloak in say, blue, you would first paint the entire cloak using a darker blue shade. Then, after that coat has dried, paint the basic blue color over the darker shade, but leave the darker shade showing in the deep folds and recesses of the cloak. Finally, after the blue has dried as well, paint the light blue shade on the high points of the cloak, thus highlighting the cloak.

As you see, layering is a very straightforward and basic technique, but it can be very effective, especially when it is combined with blending to make the transition between the three shades used more natural.

As a final note, you can use more than three layers of course, and I usually do on figures that I want to have that extra bit of flair, such as leaders and personalities. How many shades, and which shades you actually use for the different layers is largely a matter of personal taste, but I find the most striking effects are achieved when extending the number of shades used in highlighting. Most of my layering on this kind of miniature consists of a dark shade, the basecolor and a few highlight shades.

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This page is maintained by Bart Vetters
Schild en Vriend Miniature Wargaming Club Leuven