Are you looking for ways to save money in your miniature painting hobby? The miniature hobby can be as expensive or as affordable as you want. As commissioned miniature painter, I’ve learned a few tricks to budget-saving tips without sacrificing the quality of my work.
In this article, I share 10 money-saving tips for painting miniatures and models. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get great results in this hobby!
Keep reading below for tips and insights into how you can stretch your hobby budget!
Are You Spending Too Much Painting Miniatures?
Painting miniatures can be expensive. The monthly expenditure for an average tabletop miniature painter is around $100-$320 USD, according to some estimates*.
Miniatures can be a great value, but sensible money management is required for this hobby to work within your budget. Only you know what your wallet and time are worth so manage wisely!
In my first year of painting miniatures as a serious endeavor, I probably spent more on the materials than on my electricity bill. That’s not a mistake I will ever make again!
Since though early days, I’ve wised up to my spending habits. I now use every opportunity to save money on miniature painting. Read on below for 10 of my favorite tips for doing just that!
*A non-scientific survey of online communities, e.g., Reddit, Facebook, and other online internet forums.
10 Ways to Extend a Miniature hobby budget
1. Learn to Make Your Own DIY Washes and Glazes
Making your own acrylic washes and glazes is an easy way to save money on supplies, especially if you want a lot of different colors. When you buy hobby brand glazes and washes, the expense can add up quick.
There are plenty of mixing tutorials out there for this, but it’s really not that complicated with a few basic materials. Here’s more info about washes, the best to buy, and how to make them yourself. Just be sure to use the right type of paint with your medium–oil paint in an oil-based wash; watercolor in a water-based wash, etc.
2. Use an Airbrush
An airbrush is a fantastic tool for miniature painters because it allows you to use less paint. By spraying the paint on thinly, but evenly, you can save a lot of money on paint while still getting great results.
With practice, you can use an airbrush to reduce wasted paint when painting with a regular brush. With a regular brush, a lot of paint stays in the bristles and doesn’t get onto your model’s surface. You also need more paint on your brush to get good surface coverage.
On the other hand, with an airbrush, almost all the paint that you have in your paint cup is useable. You can check out this article for a comparison between using an airbrush versus a regular brush to paint miniatures.
3. Clean Your Paint Brushes
One of the easiest ways to save money on your miniature painting hobby is to keep your paint brushes clean. If you let paint dry and harden on the bristles, it will be difficult (and sometimes impossible) to remove. Not only will this require you to buy new brushes more often, but it can also damage the brush fibers, making them less effective for painting. Here is how I keep expensive sable brushes clean.
You can also prolong the life of your paint brushes if you store them properly, as well. When you clean a brush, dry it well and store the brush bristles-up in a non-airtight container. You can also keep your brushes horizontal using a brush holder or paint brush stand.
4. Stay Organized
“Time is money.” Did you know that a messy workspace is the MOST TIME WASTEFUL variable in productivity studies? If you want to save money, invest in ways to keep yourself organized. The faster, more effective you can work, the less resources you’ll need to complete a project, which includes money (source).
Things you can do to improve your organization and save time is to use a good paint rack or storage case where you can find what you need at-a-glance. Sure, you need to spend a bit of money up front. But, once you realize how much time you save, you’ll realize that the value of your investment.
For example, have you ever accidentally purchased a paint color you already owned because you didn’t you know you already had it? In reality, you just couldn’t find that color in your messy box of stuff so you ended up having to buy it, again.
5. Find Alternatives to Expensive Brushes
Not everyone needs expensive kolinsky sable brushes. Not all miniature painters and scale modelers use those types of brushes because the quality of your work doesn’t require it.
Look, I’m not saying you’re bad at painting. Instead, you should only use tools that match your expected level of painting outcome. For example, if you’re painting to a tabletop quality (just to have a painted army on the table), then you don’t need to spend money on expensive brushes.
Expensive paint brushes allow you to perform more sophisticated painting techniques easier, but aren’t necessary for 90% of any paint job. You should be using hobby grade or lower brushes for priming, base coating, and simple paint applications.
Save your money and don’t use expensive brushes, unless you know they will make your job easier and more efficient to achieve a high-quality result. You can read more about the difference between a tabletop standard and a high-quality paint job in this article.
6. Recycle Old Paint Brushes
When an old paint brush loses it’s bristle shape, e.g., sharp point, what do you do with it? Most of us may throw them out or put them in a box, wondering what they could be used for.
Here are some recycling ideas for old paint brushes. One great idea that most miniature painters could use old brushes for is to repurpose them as a glue applicators or dry brushes. As glue applicators, old brushes are wonderful, especially for creating DIY terrain or flocking bases with sand.
Dry brushing is an easy technique for highlighting miniatures, and doesn’t require fancy paint brushes. In fact, old brushes with stiffened, broken bristles tend to work really well.
As a commissioned miniature painter, I rely on dry brushing a lot for adding texture, highlighting, and blending color. It’s such a versatile technique that I often look forward to digging into my stock of old brushes for dry brushing.
The great part about recycling old paint brushes is that you not only have tools for other paint jobs and projects, but you end up saving money!
7. Use Energy Efficient Hobby Lamps and Lights
Every miniature painter needs a good hobby lamp. I use a Neatfi XL task lamp on a daily basis for all my modeling work. Bright, diffuse, and simple to operate, it’s been my workhorse for years and years.
I’ve tried many lamps and lights for modeling and painting miniatures. For a while, I bounced around a few magnifying lamps and LED task lamps. Here’s what I learned about the energy-efficient LED lighting for miniature hobby work. Notably, you can find some really cool money-saving arch lamps on Etsy, too.
I’m not sure how much money you’ll save with LED lamps, as compared with conventional bulbs. But, if I understand correctly, LEDs are more expensive upfront, but tend to last decades of continuous use; whereas, in contrast, a regular bulb will require replacement every few hundred hours.
Suffice it to say, you’ll save a ton of money with a high quality lamp in the long run.
8. Try Oil Paints
Hobby grade acrylic paint is the standard for miniature painting for many reasons. However, you’ll find a lot of joy, frustration, and delight in trying oil paint as an artistic medium for painting miniatures.
Here is one example of a model I painted with oil paints that I’m proud of.
I use oil paints to paint miniatures because they allow me to explore color composition at a leisurely pace. Oil paints don’t dry very quick. In fact, it can take days for something I paint with oils to dry enough for me to touch.
A benefit I have not stated before, however, is that painting with oil paints is resource saving because you can cover a lot of surface with a tiny dab of oil color.
You will also find that a tube of student-grade oil paints (which is what I use) costs about the same as a pot of acrylic model paint, e.g., Citadel. But, that tube of oil paint will last way, way, way longer than a the same volume of acrylic modeling paint.
Try oil paint, if you want to save money and explore a new way to paint your miniatures. I personally love using oil paints for painting miniatures. Here is another example of a large model I painted with oils, and it didn’t require me to use much paint at all to do!
9. Paint More, Shop Less
More stuff doesn’t equate to better results. This is true in almost any hobby. At the end of the day, you’ll save money if you paint more rather than shopping online or exploring tools that you think will make you a better painter.
Sure, high quality tools can speed up your work and make hard techniques a bit easier to do. But, at some point it is diminishing returns. Figuring out ways to paint more, rather than always looking for tools, techniques, and styles will help you save money on miniature hobby supplies.
I find that the more I paint, the more I realize that what I own can already do the job. Yes, I’ve been tempted to buy that fancy model painting holder, or new airbrush. But, it was never about need or necessity at that point. Who doesn’t like new toys to play with?
If you’re on a budget and trying to save money, it is obvious that you should spend less on new things. To avoid getting into that trap that new things will make you a better miniature painter, all you need to do is paint more. Paint and paint and paint. Learn how to use the tools you already own to create your vision.
10. Spend Money to Save Time
Okay, so I said you should spend less on tools. There is a paradoxical concept, however, to spending on quality tools and hobby supplies. If you think that buying something will save you time in the long run, i.e., airbrush or pre-made wash, then you should get it.
This is especially true if you have a large army project with mutliple miniatures that you need to paint. I’ve come to learn in my own work that sometimes it is better to invest in things that make me a more efficient painter so I can spend time in other projects that yield rewards, too.
As a writer for this and other sites (freelancer), I need space and time to sit and think. I often craft entire pieces of writing in my head while I paint models. But, when it comes to punching keys on a keyboard–actually doing the writing on a computer–I need time; time that I don’t have if I get bogged down with a paint job.
If I can speed paint through miniatures quicker, I’m able to recoup my investment by doing other things. This could also mean having more free time to learn a new hobby skill, e.g., drawing or photography.
There are too many fun things to do out there. I think spending money in ways that save you time is also a worthy investment. Saving time with your spare money is a very unkept secret among “happiness experts”.
Though, I am not so melodramatic (or patronizing?) to say that money should be spent to make you happy. You should spend money on your hobby so you can do your hobby better, with less stress, and in a more rewarding way, however you define that.
Bonus Tips for Saving Money with Miniature Hobbies
Here are some other great tips I gathered from around the online modeling and miniature painting community!
- Focus on buying only the colors you need, rather than the brand of model paint. If you buy the colors you need, rather than sticking with a single paint brand and trying to make those colors fit your scheme, you’ll end up with a better result. When you achieve your goals with whatever you’ve invested, your return provides a better value.
- Use YouTube, Instagram, and other social media for free tutorials. Crowd sourced tips, insights, and lessons for how to paint miniatures better are often the “tried and true” methods. And, what is better than free?
- Sell models you don’t need, play with, or don’t like. You can sell your unwanted model kits, bits, and other hobby materials on eBay or at your local game store (LGS).
- Convert your gaming models with sculpting epoxy, e.g., green stuff, to fill out army lists that need that “special” elite or HQ model. For the unfamiliar, Warhammer 40k and other wargames, sometimes require special miniatures for certain battle conditions/scenarios. Instead of purchasing these models, a player can “create” them from scratch or kit bash/convert existing miniatures to meet these criteria. A model conversion can save you a lot of money! Check with your local house rules or tournament packets for modeling criteria.
- 3D print models you want to paint and play with in your home games, rather than buying them. 3D printing terrain is always a great way to build up an affordable gaming table with awesome looking scenery. Of course, there’s some debate whether 3D printing gaming miniatures is ethical or not. But, let’s face it–3D printing has come a long way and it can often be cheaper to make your own miniatures with a printer than buying one that may not even look the way you want it to.
It’s not about the newest thing in miniature painting. It is more about spending time with your hobby so you can enjoy it without feeling guilty or stressed. You are worth it!
Saving money is certainly something we all want to do, but if making a purchase will give you more time or make your hobby less stressful, then that’s money well spent.
As with anything worth doing, miniature painting is hard work. It’s difficult to sit down and paint at the end of a long day sometimes. But it can be made better with smart spending habits and a positive attitude.
I hope these tips will help you plan for your next miniature hobby purchase. If you are unsure about what to buy, ask for advice from other painters who have already made the same types of purchases that you’re thinking about making. You can always find out if it was worth the money by asking other painters who own it.
I hope you enjoyed this article! Please feel free to ask questions or leave your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to know what you all think!