Cleaning and Undercoating Miniatures

Painting Miniatures in 1:72 Scale

Undercoated miniatures mounted on strip of balsa wood.

Revell British Infantry, undercoated in umber acrylic paint. The man on the left has already had his uniform drybrushed red.

Tools and Accessories

  • X-ACTO Knife and Scalpel Blades № 11
  • Dishwashing Detergent
  • Wooden Ruler, Balsa Stick, or Magnetic Painting Handle
  • Elmer’s Glue
  • Artist Acrylics
  • Plastik Tray or Palette
  • Size 10 Paintbrush
  • Primer Grey, Dupli-Color 132636

Removing Flash

Figures are cast in two-part moulds. Where moulds are joined, mould lines will appear on the figure. Older moulds even permit molten plastic to seep throught the joints, creating areas of flash on the figure. Mould lines and flash need to be removed with a sharp knife in order to give the figure a more realistic appearance. If a dull knife is used for this work, flash and adjacent areas of the figure may unravel into stringy pieces of plastic, destroying the figure. With a sharp X-Acto blade, flash can easily be lifted off the figure without damaging the uniform.


During the casting process, moulds are greased to facilitate separation of the figure sprue. In addition, miniatures are constantly touched when they are taken out of the box and separated from the sprue, applying a thin layer of grease from the hands to the figures. This greasy substance must be carefully removed before the plastic figures will accept paint. Clean the figures thoroughly with warm water and dishwashing detergent, then dry them with a towel. The cleaned figures should be handled as little as possible, it is best to hold them by the base.


Individual figures are very awkward to hold and paint without getting them dirty again or accidentally smudging a fresh paintjob. It is much more convenient to glue an entire regiment onto a strip of balsa wood, a narrow wooden ruler or, better yet, a magnetic speed painting handle which can be easily handled during the painting process. Use UHU or wood glue to attach the figures, they can later be pried off the ruler with a small screwdriver. Intervals between figures may be as narrow as 1 cm, but it is important that all areas of a figure can be reached with the paintbrush. Infantry is usually mounted side-by-side and turned 45 degrees to the left, cavalry one behind the other.

Particularly with the infantry it is important to mount the same figure poses immediately next to each other and facing in exactly the same direction. This will allow you to repeat the same brush stroke on a whole batch of figures, increasing your painting speed and giving you much better results as you learn to execute the stroke correctly. If you decide to adopt this method, you will be able to paint entire armies in very little time, you will be more motivated, more patient and much less fatigued.


When using acrylic paints on soft plastic figures, a thorough undercoat will make the paint stay on for a long time, particularly if the figures are to be used for wargaming. Acrylic paint shrinks onto the figure as it dries and it forms a strong bond with the plastic. The undercoat must not miss any areas of the figure, because the thinned paint we use for detailing will run off a surface that is not properly coated with acrylic. Acrylic paint may also be used to disguise small joints in a converted figure, simply by smearing the paste-like paint into the crack and letting it dry overnight.

Apply the undercoat with a size 10 broadheaded paintbrush. White acrylic paint can be used on most figures, brushing it on generously and repeatedly rubbing the paint into folds and recesses. Excessive paint usually collects in small globs between the legs, under arms and around equipment, and it must be removed before the undercoat dries.

It may be useful to undercoat some figures in a shaded tone of the intended uniform colour. This is a trick which saves a lot of time and delivers surprisingly good results.

Umber Undercoat

  • British and Hannoverian infantry in red coats
  • Confederate troops in butternut 1863–1865
  • Arabs and colonial troops in khaki uniforms
  • Allied, German and Italian troops in Africa 1941–1943
  • Japanese troops and U.S. Marines in khaki, during the Pacific War

Indigo Undercoat

  • Continental infantry during the Revolutionary War
  • Prussian, Hessian and Württemberg troops of the 18th and 19th century
  • Union troops 1861–1865
  • French Foreign Legion

Dark Grey or Black Undercoat

  • Confederate troops in grey uniforms 1861–1863
  • German infantry 1939–1945

Dark Green or Black Undercoat

  • Jägers, Rifles, Sharpshooters and similar troops
  • Russian infantry in the Napoleonic Wars
  • Gurkhas, Chindits and Commandos in Burma

Light or Medium Khaki Undercoat

  • Horses
  • Wagons and gun carriages in natural wood

In some cases, the undercoat may even be dispensed with. ESCI produces U.S. Paratroopers already moulded in a dark green plastic which only need to be drybrushed with a highlighted colour to achieve a realistic effect. Afterwards, the faces, weapons and boots are painted to complete these figures.

Painting Miniatures