Thursday, July 23, 2015

Painting 3mm miniatures


I thought it was time to put a bit of a hobby tutorial up on the blog. The topic is my method for painting 3mm miniatures.

My painting method for 3mm miniatures is pretty simple and quick (I think). The miniatures are detailed enough that they will benefit from as much effort as you're prepared to put into them. However I find this method gives more than adequate results for gaming standard miniatures:

Step 1:
Mount the minis on a stick. Spray paint the miniature in an appropriate base-coat colour. I usually go with a Brown for infantry and a suitable colour for vehicles (olive-drab/green/tan/etc.).
Step 2:
Paint on an appropriate base-coat colour.

Step 3:
Add camouflage colours if required. In this case, it is a few stripes of 'yellow ochre' and 'black-grey' for the Chinese.

Step 4:
Dry-brush with a lighter colour than the base-coat colour. For most armies, I usually just use Vallejo 'Ochre Yellow' or 'Desert Tan'. But for others where this would not be suitable because of the base-coat colour, use something else.

Step 5:
Brush on Army Painter Quick Shade. I generally use the 'Strong Tone'.  I love this stuff, since it provides both the required shading for the miniatures, and also a sturdy coat of varnish.  I find that this varnish is important for the durability of my miniatures in play and storage. I tend to stack my stands on top of each other, or store units in little containers together, so the varnish helps them to retain their paint.

Step 6:
Dry-brush again (very lightly), with an appropriate lighter shade.  For camouflage schemes each colour needs highlighting.

Step 7:
Pick out the details with a small brush.  The aim with 3mm miniatures is the mass effect from distance - don't bother with details that won't be seen on the table unless viewed under a magnifying glass. For infantry, I paint the rifles and faces/hands. Packs, webbing etc will generally have been picked out by the dry-brushing, so there is little to be gained in painting them individually. Most importantly I find at this scale for easy recognition and effect is to paint the helmet a distinguishable colour  (based on nationality), and then dab a second smaller and lighter highlight right on top of the helmet. For vehicles, pick out MGs / Cannon etc. For vehicles and aircraft you can add decals at this stage if you use them.

Step 8:
Spray with Matt Varnish.  This is essential, as the Army Painter Quick Shade leaves the miniatures quite shiny!

Step 9:
Now to basing! Prepare the bases. I use 3mm thick MDF laser-cut bases.

I used to paint them brown before flocking. But then I realised I could skip this step. Now, I just coat in PVA glue...

Then flock with Woodland Scenics 'Earth Blend' fine turf flock.
Then I dab on some more PVA glue in random patches and add a grass blend that I have made myself.

This is my home-brew grass blend - it's mainly Woodland Scenics 'Grass Blend' fine turf flock, but I also add a little static grass, and some Woodland Scenics 'coarse turf' and 'bushes' to provide a bit of additional texture.

Step 10:
Glue the miniatures to the base (I use PVA glue).  Add clump foliage, static grass tufts etc if you wish. I think these details really finish the miniatures off.

The steps above allow you to quickly turn out miniatures that look good on the table and are completely playable. But to make them stand out a bit more, you can go back later at your leisure and add additional highlighting and detail.

Remember throughout that small scale miniatures benefit from using much lighter and brighter colours than real-world colours. This assists them to stand out from a distance and in lower light (many gaming venues seem to lack sufficient natural light...). So if in doubt, always err on the side of lighter colours.


  1. Nice tutorial mate. I think you really achieve the mass effect you are after really well.

    I think a terrain tutorial or walk through would complement this very nicely.

  2. Great tutorial- I have some 3mm tanks to paint myself though as to what game system I am unsure.



  3. How did you apply the paint in Step 3?

    1. I have added another line to step 3. They're just brushed-on stripes of other base colours for the camouflage.

  4. G'day mate,

    Absolutely love your blog. I'm looking at putting together my own 'Invasion Australia' game, but am stuck on base sizes. Are you using 40mmx30mm bases for your units?

    1. I use various base sizes. My rule of thumb is 10mm frontage per vehicle or squad in the unit (platoon or half-company in the rules I use generally). Although I tend to break my own rule for tank units (because the models are slightly larger) and nearly always use 50mm frontage for them, whether they have 4 or 5 models on them.

      So normally anything between 30mm and 50mm frontage. Depth of bases is generally 30-40mm. So yes, a lot of my bases are 40x30mm or 40x40mm. Tank platoons are generally on 50x40mm bases.

  5. Thanks for the excellent tutorial - I may finally get around to finishing my MRR if this really is as quick and painless as you make it appear. On that note, do you have a recommendation for spray paints? I am trying to find the line between cheap harware store paints that I fear may gum up detail (especially on 3mm) and modelling brands which are often difficult to get find and more than twice as expensive.

    1. I've used spray paints from The Army Painter and Plastic Soldier Company. I've found both adhere pretty well to the metal minis without obscuring detail (PSC may be slightly better IMO - perhaps strangely, given their name!).

      I've tried cheaper brands in the past, but some are too thick as you say, some don't get good coverage, and some don't accept paint over the top of them very well. That's why I now stick with those brands specifically designed for painting miniatures.