Jump to content

Welcome to Model Ship World
Register now to gain access to all of our features. Once registered and logged in, you will be able to create topics, post replies to existing threads, give reputation to your fellow members, get your own private messenger, post status updates, manage your profile and so much more. If you already have an account, login here - otherwise create an account for free today!

Painting Small Scale Miniature Figures

painting miniature figures tutorial guide acrylic citadel vallejo metal

  • Please log in to reply
6 replies to this topic


  • Members
  • 146 posts


I recently posted an extensive tutorial on how to paint cast metal ornaments for ship models. In this tutorial I will skip the basics of preparing and priming your model detailed in the previous tutorial, and instead skip straight to painting some small scale historic figures.


Step 1: color block

The first step after priming your model is to block in its basic colors. Simply use a fine brush and paint the elements of the figure in the color you want. I advise to use a small amount of colors as this makes it easier and results in a better looking model. Using more than 4 or 5 different colors is usually a bad idea, as it will confuse the viewer and look amateuristic. 


Note: For this tutorial I used a white primer because it photographs easier. Normally I would use a black primer as its easier to get good coverage. A white primer is harder to cover with colored paints, often needing two coats to get good coverage.








Step 2: Wash


After you have applied the colors on your model it does not look great... yet. A very easy way to bring out the details in your figure is to apply a wash. This is a specialised, watery thin ink that runs into the recesses of your model while staying clear of the raised areas (sort of). Paint manufacturers like Citadel and Vallejo have a range of these, in various colors and I can highly recommend them. 




The trick with washes is to be very generous in applying them. Use a larger brush and "flood" your figure, allowing the ink to run over it and into all the recesses. If a certain area is heavily flooded, use a brush to wipe it into different areas of your model until you get an even coverage. Don't be put off if it looks "too much", after drying the effect is much more subtle. In fact you could use a second layer of wash after drying to get more intense shadows. Usually one application is enough though. Washes take a long time to dry (relatively speaking for acrylic paint) so you can speed things up with a blow dryer if you want. 


I used Agrax Earthshade (brown) shade from Citadel on the entire figure. You could use different color washes on each section but I wanted to get this aged, slightly yellowed painting look anyway. Usually its not worth the trouble using a blue wash on blue parts etcetera unless you are aiming for a specific result. 99% of the time I use a black wash or a brown wash for everything. 




Step 3: Highlights


Once the wash has dried your figures will look pretty good. One could stop here, if you are happy with the level of detail. However, with a bit more work the models can look even better. 


By adding some highlights you further bring out the details and "depth" in your models. You could argue that the natural lighting falling onto your model is already doing that, but experience learns that small figures need "a little help" to augment this lighting. We do this by adding highlights to areas of the model that would naturally "catch" light. Usually the raised areas.


To make highlights simply apply a lighter color of the one underneath with a fine brush. Using acrylic paint its very easy to mix up a nice range of colors quickly. Be sure to thin down your paint a little bit wit water so it flows easily. Don't paint straight from the pot as it will give a blotchy result and often is a struggle to apply. 




In the picture above I added lighter browns to the raised wrinkles in the trousers. I used a beige color to touch up the shirt of the guy on the right and the flesh/face parts on both figures. You can already see the model coming to life. Let's add some more detail highlights:


I mixed some lighter blue and touched on the jacket in places. Don't overdo it, just a few small fine lines here and there is all it needs. I used white to clean up parts on the left guy, his belts and ends of the jacket arms. I used a gray to highlight the black hat and boots, with a fine pure white dot on the boots to suggest "gloss". The shirt of the guy on the right was finished using some lighter beiges. 




Finished & Some Thoughts

Here's some pictures of the finished figures, which took less than 1 hour to paint up.

Some final thoughts I'd like to share on painting miniatures like this:


Small scales:

As you can see from the examples above, small figures like these don't hold up well when photographed up extremely close. The result can look disappointing when in reality when viewed from a normal distance they look fine/great.


Keep in mind that when painting on a very small scale (these are 1:85 I believe) it is really difficult to paint each individual detail. Often the detail is simply not present in the cast model, because of its small size. Things like eyes, lips or even hands are merely "suggested" at than really sculpted. This calls for a more "suggested" style of painting too. You should aim to get an overal look of a figure, letting the shadows and highlights doing its work. By keeping things a bit vague you let our brain "fill in the blanks" often giving a much better effect than trying to paint in all details. Overdoing the highlights or trying to paint in eyes or other small details often results in a weird cartoonish look. 









Another couple of figures I did on this scale:








Take it easy

Don't worry too much about making things perfect. Even if you do a color block and 1 layer of wash, your models will already look great. Applying the small highlights is something learned with practise. I encourage you to give it a try, as you might be surprised about yourself. Even if you do it in a basic fashion it will provide awesome results. Whatever you do I assure you you can do better than just flat-coated figures with awful shiny Humbrol.


Love to hear your experiences, if you paint something up using my tutorial post some pictures here for us to see!

Edited by ChrisLinden, 09 November 2014 - 04:13 PM.

  • Ryland Craze, mtaylor, gjdale and 6 others like this

Finished: Pinta, Amati

Current Build:  Friesland Mamoli 1:75


  • Members
  • 94 posts
  • LocationSouth Yorks England

Excellent tutorial thanks I will have to be brave and have a go,the wash part is the bit I am always unsure about

  • Altduck likes this


  • Members
  • 3,887 posts
  • LocationCanberra, Australia
Another excellent tutorial Chris. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to develop this and share it with us all - especially those of us who are "chromatically challenged".
  • Altduck likes this


Current builds:


1949 Chris Craft 19' Racing Runabout - Dumas - Radio


Previous builds: Bomb Vessel Granado, 1742 - Cross Section - ScratchbuildHMS Victory (Mamoli 1:90), Cutty Sark, Armed Pinnace, Bounty, Santa Maria

At another place: Stephenson's Rocket (OcCre 1:24) (click the title to follow the link)



In the Gallery: Lancia Armata 1803, Bomb Vessel Granada, 1742 Cross Section


  • Members
  • 237 posts
  • LocationManitoba Canada

Maybe someone should suggest to the mods and admins that this and your other painting tutorial should be put onto the database with the other tips and tutorials. These are both great for beginner and experienced modellers alike.

  • justsayrow and BobH like this

Completed builds: AL Bluenose II 1:75  Gallery
                              Amati Hannah SIB 1:300  Gallery
Current Build: Bluenose II - SIB - unknown scale


Future (hopeful) builds: HMS Halifax
                                     HMS General Hunter
                                     Peterboro/Canadian Canoe


  • Members
  • 353 posts
  • LocationSouthampton, UK

I have used this technique to paint the figures for my latest build, the Italeri MTB 74 (scale 1:35), and am happy to say that it works wonders. The Citadel washes (such as Nuln Oil) are water based, so can be watered down to cater for a lighter wash on the faces and hand. Thanks Chris for posting this.


1-35 Figures.JPG




  • avsjerome2003 and Canute like this

Current Build:
Caldercraft HM Cutter Sherbourne Kit Bash - Scale 1:64 - http://modelshipworl...64/#entry317289
!!!ON HOLD!!! Mantura/Sergal HMS President - Scale 1:60 - http://modelshipworl...760-sergal-160/
In the Pipeline:
18th Century Longboat - Scale 1;48 - - http://modelshipworl...ys-by-jonnyamy/
Completed Builds:
40 Foot Gaff Cutter - Solid Hull Concept Model
Caldercrafter HM Mortar Vessel Convulsion - Scale 1:64 - http://modelshipworl...on-by-jonnyamy/
SCRATCH BUILD - Vagabond 19 foot Sloop - Scale 1:20 - http://modelshipworl...ll/#entry302726


  • Members
  • 146 posts

I have used this technique to paint the figures for my latest build, the Italeri MTB 74 (scale 1:35), and am happy to say that it works wonders. The Citadel washes (such as Nuln Oil) are water based, so can be watered down to cater for a lighter wash on the faces and hand. Thanks Chris for posting this.

1-35 Figures.JPG


Glad it helped! Looks fantastic Johnny

Finished: Pinta, Amati

Current Build:  Friesland Mamoli 1:75

Robin Lous

Robin Lous
  • Members
  • 465 posts
  • LocationThe Hague, Netherlands

Long...long time ago  :rolleyes:


Was fun to paint a complete army of these funny guys.


More or less the same method.

Edited by Robin Lous, 17 October 2016 - 05:02 PM.

  • mtaylor and donrobinson like this

WIP Dusek 1:72 Greek Bireme http://modelshipworl...ld/#entry432615


 Louie da fly: "I think it requires a special kind of insanity to choose a galley to build a model of."

0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users

Welcome GUEST to the Model Ship World Community.
Please LOGIN or REGISTER to use all of our feautures.