Taking Your Tabletop RPGs to the Next Level with Minis

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So many fantastic games use miniatures. Sure, there are whole systems built around the concept, like Warhammer, but minis are prevalent in other games as well. Tons of board games, like Blood Rage or the D&D Adventure series, feature miniatures to help bring the action to life. Some RPGs use them to establish position and movement. And they can be used in even the most freeform games as a way to set the stage and provide a visual representation of what’s occurring in players’ minds.

And while minis are always cool, they can look like drab hunks of grey plastic or metal when they first come out of the box. Functional, but definitely half as cool as they could be. If you really want to make them pop, you’ve got to get them painted up. A full color miniature looks good on the table, helps with game immersion, and will impress your friends.

But how do you do it? So often players are hesitant to apply paint to their figures out of fear that they will make a mistake and ruin it. We’ve all seen bad paint jobs and they definitely do not enhance the look of the mini. But take it from me, painting is possible. I have absolutely no artistic talent of any kind. None. I can’t draw, I don’t art, my musical skills are quite poor, and sculpturades is my worst Cranium category. Yet I’ve found a lot of success with painting minis and my games are definitely more enjoyable for it.

The goal, for me at least, is to get to “tabletop quality.”  Essentially, I want the mini to look good on the table. My pieces aren’t show pieces and won’t win any awards if you’re scrutinizing them inches from your face. But at the one or two foot distance from your eye to the tabletop, they look awesome (if I do say so myself) and provide all the immersion and fun of a professional paint job.

Tabletop quality isn’t hard to achieve. And, to help you get over any apprehension you might have, here are the basics.

Wash your figures

If you’ve been playing with them for a while, dirt and hand oils are inevitable. Even if they are brand new, they sometimes come with gunk or dust from the factory.

Prime your minis

Absolutely don’t skip this step. Paint doesn’t always adhere well to a naked mini. I prefer a spray primer in black. Black is a good choice because if you miss an interior area and the primer shows through, it can look like purposeful shadows.


Acrylic paints are the best. If you’re just starting out, you can get cheap ones from Hobby Lobby or Michaels and they work just fine. If you start to enjoy painting, there are dedicated miniature paints by Citadel, Vallejo, and Army Painter. My personal preference is Army Painter because it’s comparatively inexpensive and applies evenly.

Paint from the inside out and don’t fear overpainting. You likely want to start with skin and face. Don’t worry if it gets onto the hair or chest of the figure, you’ll just paint over that when you get there. Paint the shirt under the armor, then the armor on top.


Once the paint is dry, you should think about an ink or varnish. This step really takes your minis from paint-by-numbers to astonishing detail. The reason is that the ink or varnish gets into the recesses of the mini and really brings out the detail. Sometimes a layer of paint over a fur cloak or a beard can make it look like a solid mass. But when ink or varnish gets into the crevices, you can really see all those details and the mini pops.

Sealing and Matte Sprays

Lastly, you want to hit it with a matte spray. The matte spray does two things. First, it takes the shine away from the paint (or the super shine that varnish can put on). It will make your mini look more realistic, although, in certain cases, you might want to keep the sickly shine. Second, the matte spray seals in the paint. Once I’ve hit a mini with matte spray, I can toss it into a baggie or plano container and not worry about the paint chipping. Heck, even my four year old can play with them without damage.

And the end result is a fantastic piece that you’ll be proud to have on your table. With a little gumption and practice, you’ll do just fine. And if you start to really enjoy it, you can delve into more advanced techniques like drybrushing, wet blending, and even basing.

How do you feel about painted minis? Have you taken the plunge and painted any of your own? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credits: GeekInsight

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