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A Good-Looking Army in a Reasonable Amount of Time

Caesar's Legions Box Set (48)
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Sgt Slag writes:

Nice article.

If you want to have hundreds of, or 1,000+, minis to play games with, you either invest the time to paint them to a high standard, and wait until that is done to play with them…

Or, you lower your painting standards, adopt faster painting techniques, and get them done sooner. Of course I am referring to people who have to work a day job outside of painting minis.

I have been using The Dip Technique, brushed on, since 1998. I don't paint minis very often, yet I have over 1,000, 28mm, painted minis, ready for the tabletop, in my collection.

To be brutally honest, with the minis sitting on the tabletop, it is not easy to really see the higher quality paint work of my friend's superbly painted 28mm figures, compared to my block painted and Dip'ed minis. It is only when someone picks them up, and looks at them from a few inches away from their orbits, that the superior painting can be appreciated.

I view my minis from arm's length, or further, 98% of the time. I paint for the 98%-ile, ignoring the 2% of the time when people pick them up and look at them closely.

I paint assembly line style, grouping minis by poses. I apply the same color, same brush stroke, on an entire group of the same pose, in succession, until they are completed. I average 10 minutes of painting time, per figure. This includes the time spent brushing on The Dip. Since I do them in large batches (20-100, for a single army), when I finish painting a group of minis, I typically finish an entire army at once.

I am a gamer, first, and foremost. I paint because it is necessary. Painting is a small aspect of my gaming hobbies. For me, painting is a requirement for gaming, and it is not one that I enjoy very much. I do enjoy the results of my painting efforts, though. Cheers!

Revision Log
1 November 2010page first published

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Warcolours Painting Studio Fezian writes:

How to Have a Good-Looking Wargaming Army in a Reasonable Time

This is a question that every wargamer has had to face since the beginning in this hobby. Painting miniatures is an acquired taste, I could say - some (like me) love it and find it rewarding and relaxing, others absolutely loathe the thought of it. In this case, to make matters worse, we are not speaking of painting a single miniature, but a whole army which, in most systems, means a quantity of miniatures ranging from several scores to some hundreds.

It should be at this stage quite clear that painting a wargaming army is a completely different beast from painting a single miniature for display, yet the single most common mistake novice wargamers make across the world is to tackle the painting of their first army with the same approach they use for a single miniature, which is a sure recipe for not having the army finished within a single lifetime.

To this, we should add the fact that new toys come out all the time, so it is all too common to get new miniatures, new armies, new game systems, and to lose focus on the army we are painting to start a new project (raise your hands, anyone who never fallen for this, I sure have!) and from here starts the unpainted lead (or plastic) mountain syndrome! (I am sure you all know what I mean...)

Obviously, this means we have to approach the painting of an army differently, aiming to a simpler and faster method of painting that still looks good on the table or, as many say, from three feet away. A tried and trusted method consists in using a single layer of shading on the base colours and one or two layers of highlights, without blending, creating a stark contrast that works well on the tabletop for all the rank-and-filers, spending a little more time on characters and command groups to give them a more refined finish.

This method too requires quite some time, though; I am not the fastest of painters, but I have found that I can paint about ten or twelve figures in the average eight-hour working day with this method. Surely fast, but an army still takes time this way.

For my 28mm scale figures, I use a method that is faster and still, in my opinion, gives good-looking figures on the tabletop, and it is dipping.

Now I know that dipping is not completely new: many people use it and each painter has his own recipe, so I simply will give you mine, which is only slightly different from others I have seen.

To demonstrate it, I will use a box of Roman Republican Legionaires (made by Wargames Factory) that Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian has sent me for this task. The box contains 48 figures, including three command groups: this equals to three full Battlegroups for Field of Glory, or twelve Bd bases for DBA/DBM, or a couple of medium-size units in Warhammer Ancient Battles - in short, a good chunk of an army under any gaming system you might use.

The figures were cleaned, assembled and primed white. Tip number one when it comes to dipping is to prime white and use bright colours, since the dipping is going to darken the general tone and create the contrast we want to make the figures stand out, and this works best on brighter colours.

I used yellow tac (the stuff you use to stick posters on the wall) to attach the figures on sections of wooden rulers, so that I can handle a number of them at one time and work in an assembly line fashion, to save time.

Materials Used:


Vallejo Model Color

Red 947
Natural Steel 864
Bronze 998
Beige Brown 875
Saddle Brown 940
Black Grey 862
Flat Flesh 955

GW Foundation

Tausept Ochre
Khemri Brown
Dheneb Stone

GW Citadel Colours

Bleached Bone

GW Washes

Badab Black
Ogryn Flesh

First of all, I painted the rank-and-filers, which I had assembled in two equal groups: one armed with gladii and the other with pila, 18 figures each. I tackled one of these groups at a time, painting them in simple, basic colours: red for the tunics, steel for the chainmail, and bronze for the helmets, with Saddle Brown for the leather bits and Beige Brown for the wooden ones, including the scabbards: as you can see, a simple, clean job, nothing fancy.

A simple, clean job

Now it's time to dip them! As I said, each painter has his own recipe and his own favourite materials. As far as I am concerned, I have tried several brands, and the one which gives me best results, and which I used here, is the Army Painter dip (in this case, the Super Light Shade). This comes as a thick paint, syrupy in consistency, in which you dip (obviously) the whole miniature and then shake off the excess so that the paint, which is brownish in color, can create the shadows in the recesses and the contrast needed. Many painters prefer to paint the dip on the miniature instead of this method, but I found that while it gives you a little more control, the result is less contrast and it takes more time.

The key to the process, I have found, is to make sure that the excess paint is shaken off towards the top of the miniature, so that when the figure is put right again to dry, the paint can slowly trickle down and accumulate in a more natural way. This is normally done gripping the figure base with pliers or something of that sort and by shaking it vigorously, This, of course, needs to be done outdoors, as the results are more than a bit messy if done in areas you don't plan to cover in randomly scattered drops of brown paint!

To overcome this, I have come up with this solution: a salad rinser. This is basically a simple plastic container with a basket inside that can be turned at a reasonable speed by a small crank in the cover of the container itself, so that the centrifugal force can drain away the water from the salad. Obviously I needed something to hold the figures with their head outwards, to replicate the effect of the shaking, which I accomplished building a small rig with what I had at hand (i.e., a piece of plasticard, some plastic tubing, and some wire). I am sure more ingenious people than me can come up with better and more esthetically pleasing solution, but it is functional for me.

The rig

So I grab a figure by its base with a pair of pliers...

Look out, Mr. Bill!

...and I dip it completely inside the paint.

Oh no, Mr. Bill!

I then place it on the rig...

Get ready...

...close the container and get it turning with the crank. Personally, I found 15 to 20 turns of the crank give the best results.


A Note on Safety

Even if this method allows you to dip indoors without making a mess of your house, the product still uses solvents that you don't want to breathe - so use it in a well-ventilated area or use a protective mask (better still, both).

Below, you can see a batch after having been dipped. You might notice that they look quite shiny, but this is going to be taken care of with a simple coat of matt varnish. The good thing about dipping is that it also acts as an additional coat of varnish, and an exceptionally sturdy one - your paintjob is going to be nigh-on indestructible, believe me.

Painted rank-and-file

The command groups received a little more work, to attract attention: The flesh areas of the figures received an Ogryn Flesh wash, and the metal areas got a Badab Black wash, to create an additional layer of depth. After having been dipped, they were highlighted with the base colors once again, to create more contrast. The wolf pelts of the Cornicens and of the Signiferi were basecoated in Khemri Brown and, after the dip, drybrushed in Dheneb Stone and Bleached Bone.

Tausept Ochre was used for the spine of the shields, on which I applied the excellent rub-on transfers (from Little Big Men Studios) that came with the set, before attaching them to the figures.

Here you can see the whole set completed (at the request of Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian, I did not base them):

Finished Romans
Finished Romans
Finished Romans

I think you will agree with me that it's a good-looking bunch that would look great on any battlefield, and the great part is that all of this was completed in about 16 hours (i.e., the equivalent of two single working days). This means approximately half of what it would have taken me to paint them using the three-layers approach, which is not something to sneeze at!

Additionally, as I said, the paintjob is not going to suffer from the wear and tear of gaming in a million years, and I also think that the dip creates more natural, subtler, and more muted shadows: not your piece of cake if you like a more cartoonish style of painting, but if you like more natural and muted colors, you are going to appreciate it.

Well, that's it for now, folks: a slightly unusual Workbench article maybe, but I hope that you will find it interesting and useful. I would love to hear your feedback.