World War Two Australian infantry. The soldier on the left has been undercoated and drybrushed, accentuating the crisp detail of these Revell figures. The man on the right has been stainpainted and 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 and still allow the black shading to show through. The figure is not shaded enough, it lacks contrast, and 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 and produces attractive results. The combination of a black undercoat followed by white drybrushing, and stainpainting, is a novel approach. An American figure manufacturer by the name of HERITAGE advocated stainpainting in the late 70s and early 80s. The company produced a range of acrylic hobby paints specifically for this purpose. Even beginners achieved amazing result with this technique, and in much less time than would normally be required to paint and detail miniatures. Stainpainting works best on miniatures with crisp detail. Stainpaint flows off the raised surfaces, and into the engraved lines, resulting in a very pleasing shade and highlight effect.
Tools and 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 figures. 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 figures. 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 figures 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 and Drybrush
A black base coat applied full strength out of the bottle is the first step. Wait for this to dry thoroughly over night, and 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 and 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 and black for the relevant area of the figure. The proper consistency depends on the particular color and brand of paint you are using. Experiment a little, and you’ll get the hang of it very quickly. The paint should stain the white areas to the appropriate color, and 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 and 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, and 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 and Varnish
I mount the finished figures on fender washers, steel washers about 2 cm to an inch across with a very small hole in the center, and then flock the entire base. The figures are then sprayed with a flat varnish.
I paint large groups of figures at the same time, applying one stain to all of the figures before moving on to the next color. It takes me about four hours to paint 40 figures with simple color schemes, like World War Two American or Russian infantry, or half that number of 19th Century Highlanders or figures with complex camouflage patterns.
A Word of Encouragement
When I first tried this technique I despaired about half way through the first batch of figures. The colors looked washed out, and all the remaining white patches made me think the figures would never turn out. But, once all of the white had been stained in the required colours, the figures really looked nice and I’ve stayed with the technique ever since.
Recently I’ve been using this technique on 25 mm metal figures 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, and sharp creases in the uniform, highlighting them even more. When the figure is stained, the different levels of shade and highlight look very attractive. I’ve used this technique to paint hordes of Arabian infantry and cavalry from the Crusades era, and 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 figures using more traditional techniques.
Several articles in Military Miniatures Magazine discuss stainpainting of plastic and metal figures, and they are listed here for easy reference.
- Painting Techniques: Stain Painting
- Painting Techniques: Drybrushing
- Painting Techniques: Speedpainting Type 1: Drybrush
- Painting Techniques: Speedpainting Type 2: Patinate
- Figure Painting Examples: Horses and Farm Animals
- Figure Painting Examples: Wagons and Gun Carriages
Give fastpainting a try, I think you will like the results.