We all make mistakes. Some are worse than others. As miniature painters, we are no exception to overlooking good practice and making mistakes with our work. I’ve painted miniatures for years and have made a TON of errors in how I approach a project. Popular miniature painting mistakes continue to haunt me when I work on models. The only way to avoid mistakes is to practice and put time into your hobby.
In this article, I highlight the top 100 most common mistakes in miniature painting. Whether you’re a causal miniature painter or professional commission painter, you’ll recognize some or all of these errors.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- 100 ways you’ll probably mess up your miniature painting
- How to feel bad and better about your work
- Comadre with your fellow painters when you realize you’re in the same boat
- Why you should paint more
Look, I’m not perfect. So, whatever you read here is directed to myself as much as it is to you. Hopefully, we agree that we can all improve. If you see something below that doesn’t make sense, or if I missed anything, please let me know! Learning from each other is the best thing about being in a miniature painting community.
Here are 100 common miniature painting mistakes and how to address them:
1. Not being organized
2. Failing to properly glue your miniatures
Well, I’ve done this before and had models fall apart. The worst is when it comes apart when you’re playing a game. How embarrassing!
Try these glues.
3. Using blunt hobby knives
A blunt knife requires more pressure to operate. More pressure is more danger of slipping a blade.
Slip your knife, and who knows where your blade goes….Into yourself, maybe?
Here’s how I sharpen even my cheap hobby blades.
4. Spending too much money
I’ve said it before, expensive tools doesn’t equate to better miniature painting. Only time and practice works for getting better results.
5. Not preparing your model’s surface
This means cleaning, smoothing, and priming your models for paint. Whether your using acrylic or oil paint, a good surface prep will make your job much easier and enjoyable.
6. Failing to prime your model
Use a good primer no matter what your model is made of. It doesn’t matter if your model is plastic, resin, or metal. Primer will smooth our tiny surface imperfections and prevent your overlying paint job from chipping and scratching off.
7. Not cleaning mold lines
If you’re doing any kind of advanced paint blending, you’ll absolutely need to clean mold lines for best results.
Mold lines are not only frustrating for painting miniatures, they also show up really well in photographs. If you’re sharing your work on social media (like I am), cleaning your model’s mold lines will help for a better look!
8. Sanding with power tools
Unless your model is HUGE, don’t use power tools to sand your work. Even 3D printed miniatures will lose detail in the sculpt with over-sanding.
Importantly, you’ll be able to get into the nooks and crannies with a simple fold of sandpaper. Or, you can use diamond coated jeweler files.
9. Using automotive primer on small models
On miniatures, automotive primer will disappear those precious small details. That’s because automotive primer has filler in it, designed to cover up large scratches on cars and other vehicles.
Automotive primer is great, however, for large PLA 3D prints. Better yet, use XTC-3D resin.
10. Painting yellow over black primer
You’ve tried to do this, right? Ugh, I still do this.
Yellow acrylic paint is infamous for its poor coverage. Why make it harder on yourself by painting yellow over black.
Here’s an example of how I paint yellow on smaller miniatures.
11. Trying to brighten red by mixing in white
When you add white to red, you get pink. Pink isn’t the most attractive highlight color for red colored painted surfaces (there are exceptions).
Try mixing in a bright orange or yellow to highlight red. Not too much!
12. Using an uncomfortable desk chair
Is this really a mistake? Well, if you paint for more than 30 minutes at a time it is!
I’m eyeing a standing desk for miniature painting nowadays.
If you’re painting a lot, get comfy!
13. Painting on a desk that is too high or low
It’s all about comfort. If you’re slouching or stretching to paint your miniatures, at some point, it’ll hurt.
You should be comfortable, with your lumbar back region arced and your neck straight (not craned over).
Your elbows should be able to rest comfortably on the edge of the table edge.
14. Painting or modeling in poor light
The number #1 tool you have for a better miniature painting experience is good light. Find a good lamp that provides diffuse, bright light over your work area.
15. Using lamps with an incandescent bulb
Incandescent bulbs emit light that is “too warm”. The color of your light strongly affects how you paint miniatures.
Use an incandescent bulb for reading. For painting miniatures, use a daylight spectrum lamp.
16. Failing to paint with good contrast
Contrast is key to a great paint job.
You can be messy, but if your contrast is high, your minis will still look good on the tabletop.
17. Not thinning your paints
This is common knowledge, but worth repeating.
Painting your models with paints that are too thick is a recipe for the “my 3-year old painted your mini with a crayon” look.
18. Working with cheap hobby craft paints
Craft or cheap-grade hobby art paint will not work well on miniatures. This is due in part to the low pigment density and the addition of fillers that work great on paper, but poorly on 3D sculpts.
For best results and less hassle, use dedicated model and miniature paints like Citadel, Vallejo, or Scalecolor.
19. Not mixing your separated model paints
Paint pigment in model paint pots and bottles will separate. If you want to have good even coverage when you paint, you need to mix or shake your miniature paints.
I recommend a few model paint mixers and shakers here.
For large pots and bottles, use a vortex mixer. Keeping your paint homogenous will save you time and frustration.
20. Failing to properly close your hobby paint caps/tops
This is important to address to prevent your paint from drying out. For Citadel paint pots, this may also help prevent you from the dreaded spill.
21. Spilling your open Citadel paint pot
Look, it happens. You are using your Citadel paint wash and you accidently tip it over. Ouch! It’s a mistake, and you’ll learn from it. Consider decanting your Citadel paints into a dropper bottle.
22. Not using a wet palette
If you’re trying to save paint or work with glazes a lot, a wet palette will go a long way. It’s not really a mistake to not use a wet palette, just highly recommended by a lot of miniature painters. I know a lot of professional painters who don’t use a wet palette, in fact. If you’re planning to DIY your wet palette, I suggest using this parchment paper.
23. Using a wet palette too much
A wet palette will thin your paints automatically. There may instances where using paints that are too thin isn’t productive.
In this case, stop using your wet palette!
24. Not cleaning your wet palette
A wet palette is always moist and damp. It’s a homestead for bacteria and mold. Both of these problems creeping into your work not only is bad for your painted minis, but for your health.
It also looks gross.
25. Thinking expensive tools is always better
This is a more common misconception than you think. Expensive tools are only better if you BOTH need them and know how to use them. Only buy the quality you need for painting miniatures. Or, go big!
26. Underestimating the need for a good dry palette
I don’t know where it started, but the dry palette has lost some respect in many miniature painting circles. The porcelain glaze palette is amazing for mixing paints, washes, and inks. Use a good one. Here’s what dry palettes I recommend.
27. Ignoring the utility of a hair dryer
Here are 3 key reasons you need a hair dryer for painting miniatures.
28. Placing your hair dryer next to your water pot
Safety first. Water and high voltage electricity don’t mix.
Well, they do, but you don’t.
29. Using your hair dryer on the hottest setting
Sure, melt your miniatures.
More than that, acrylic paint has a melting point of something the range of boiling water (and a hair dryer can easily reach those temperatures).
30. Storing your resin miniatures near a window
More melting and warping. Direct sunlight will heat up any object nearby, especially when that heat is trapped behind glass.
Oh look, your model is the Witch from the Wizard of Oz: “I’m melting!!!”
31. Storing your miniatures in your car
It doesn’t matter if its cold or hot outside.
The inside of a car is always colder or hotter than you think, and your models hate extreme temperatures.
Cold makes glue brittle. Heat makes things liquify.
32. Leaving your models outside
How is this even a common mistake? But, I’ve known a few people who’ve done this. Wind, water, and animal wildlife will wreak havoc on your minis. Just you see if you happen to leave your models outdoors to the elements.
33. Transporting your painted models without a proper case/bag
Models hate abuse. Paint hates it even more. In return, they fight back by breaking or chipping.
Avoid the abuse and use a proper army storage case or transport bag.
34. Not cleaning your brushes
Treat your brushes like your body. Clean them for best results. Here is a simple guide to great brush care and maintenance.
35. Using your airbrush without cleaning it
If you don’t clean your airbrush, it’ll break down. Simple.
36. Cleaning your airbrush with a wire brush
Most wire brushes are made of hard metals. Your airbrush is made of softer metal. Which one wins this battle? The loser goes in the trash. Here’s a guide for airbrushing miniatures.
37. Ignoring the usefulness of an ultrasonic cleaner
An ultrasonic cleaner makes cleaning any of your art instruments faster and gentler (with proper use). Check out the best ultrasonic cleaners for airbrushes and miniatures.
38. Leaving your brushes in your water pot for too long
Your brushes have wooden handles. Waterlogged wood expands…and poof, there goes the glued-in bristles.
39. Storing your brushes with tips down in a cup/mug
Do you like curved bristle tips? If so, leave your brushes with the tips down inside a cup.
40. Cleaning brushes with hot water
Hot water will melt the glue holding your brush together. Use hot water enough times and watch as your expensive brushes fall apart before your very eyes!
41. Not washing out your dirty water pot
Not only is it gross, but a dirty water pot will taint your paint job.
42. Using the same brush cleaning water pot with metallic paint and regular paint
Not only will those floating metallic flakes in your paint cup get into your brush, but will also make your entire model sparkle (unintended).
43. Painting with your brush tips only
Your paintbrush is a longsword. It’s made for more than just stabbing. Slice with it. Sweep your bristles. Protect the tip from damage by using the entire bristle edge. Paint miniature details better with these tips.
44. Letting acrylic paint dry on your brush bristles
Dried acrylic paint is like glue. It binds and contracts, which can damage your brush bristles (especially natural sable).
Try and keep your brush wet or damp while painting to avoid dried pigment in the bristles. If paint does dry and you have having a hard time washing it out, use Master’s Brush soap or my favorite, Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer.
45. Allowing any paint to dry inside your airbrush
The more dried paint in your airbrush, the less you’ll be able to use it properly. Clogs, splatters, and bits of debris will haunt your work. Keep your airbrush as clean as possible.
46. Spraying primer without proper ventilation
Your lungs are a vital organ. You will die without them. Spray primer in the air will make your lungs hate you. Use ventilation and stay safe from lung abuse. Consider using a hobby spray booth.
47. Spraying varnish in high ambient humidity
Humid air will make your varnish frost and clump. Use a hair dryer to reduce the humidity around your model (see #27).
48. Using aerosols indoors in a closed room
Read the warning instructions on the back of your spray can. It’ll tell you everything you should be doing (or avoiding).
49. Not shaking your aerosol spray cans before using them
Aerosols work by expanding chemical gas inside an enclosed container with paint/primer/varnish.
For a proper air/paint/primer/varnish mixture, shake the can first.
50. Spraying any medium too close to your miniatures
Not only do you waste paint or other medium, it’ll pool on your model and cover up those fine details.
51. Not properly adjusting your air pressure for airbrushing
For most airbrushing applications on miniatures, use no more than 30 PSI. Use the skin dimple test for proper airbrushing air pressure.
52. Using the wrong paint thickness for airbrushing
Your paint won’t spray if it can’t travel effectively through your airbrush nozzle.
And, if you jack up the air pressure to get thick paint to flow, you be painting your miniature…and the desk, and the wall, and the floor…maybe yourself?
53. Disassembling your airbrush after every use
What a waste of time. Just run airbrush cleaner or water after every paint session. As long as paint doesn’t accumulate in your airbrush, you shouldn’t need to disassemble your airbrush after every use.
(Exception, if your airbrush is cheaply made, you may have to)
Take a look at my favorite airbrushes for painting miniatures…I’ve tried them all.
54. Using tools to tighten parts on your airbrush
You can use tools to loosen parts on your airbrush. But, if you tighten anything on your airbrush with a tool, not only will you never get it off again; it may break.
Hand tighten things on your airbrush, only. Read your manuals. It says the same thing!
55. Letting your wet brushes dry with the tips pointing up
Water will seep into the wooden handle below the ferrule (the metal part). Expanding wood will destroy the glue attaching your bristles to your brush.
Watch as your brush slowly fall apart over time.
56. Stockpiling paints you’ll never use
Model paints can last years. But they take up space and you’ll never find the color you need if you have them all in a pile somewhere in a box. Buy paints only as you need them. Check out these great starter model paint sets.
57. Buying huge paint collections sets
To the contrary, you won’t save money buying paint collections in large sets.
95% of you won’t use every color in a set. See #58 below for why.
58. Not planning your project
If you fail to plan ahead, you won’t know what paints, brushes, or other tools you need.
You may end up buying too much stuff. Planning ahead saves you time and money.
59. Thinking you made a mistake before finishing your model
This is a beginner mistake. You won’t really know if you’re happy with your work until you complete finish painting your model.
Here are some other tips for beginner miniature painters.
60. Judging yourself too harshly
This is a mistake because it actually doesn’t help you become a better painter.
61. Judging others work
Unless you’re a painting judge in a painting contest, placing undue judgement on others’ work will make you a worse painter.
What you see as flaws in others is a flaw you have to examine in yourself. It’s a double edged sword that has no place in making great art.
62. Painting models to impress others
You’ll never be satisfied if you live to satisfy your ego.
Your ego is an bottomless pit.
63. Allowing doubt to overcome your fun
It is more fun to overcome your doubt.
Learn to have grit.
64. Slouching in your chair
I like chiropractors, and have friends and family who are chiropractors.
I just don’t want you to see them because of your bad posture painting miniatures.
65. Ignoring your health to paint miniatures
If you want to paint longer with more comfort, don’t ignore your health.
Here are some natural ways to strengthen your miniature painting endurance.
66. Feeling guilty you have too many unpainted miniatures
The only person who should feel guilty is the thief who stole your miniatures. Yes, this happened to me.
67. Having too many unpainted miniatures
What’s the difference with #66? Well, guilt is a sin to carry with you all the time. So, is pride.
Having too many unpainted miniatures means you’re either lazy, hate painting miniatures, or simply addicted to shopping for plastic crack. Which are you guilty of?
68. Thinking a particular product will save you from bad habits
True for any hobby, activity, or sport.
Better stuff doesn’t make you a better miniature painter. In fact, I love miniature painting as a hobby because it is a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what means you have in life, you can enjoy this hobby with others and grow.
69. Overusing paint washes
This isn’t really a mistake, but more like a crutch. Get out there and try out new things.
Washes are great for painting miniature quickly to a tabletop quality (what does this mean, anyway?).
70. Failing to experiment with your painting workflow
You’ll only improve if you take risks.
Experimenting with anything is risk inherent. Do it to become a better miniature painter.
71. Reading too much about how to paint miniatures
You truly only learn how to paint miniatures by doing it.
72. Trying to master too many techniques at the same time
It takes a lot of time to become good at a particular painting technique.
Focus on a single approach at a time. Build good foundation with solid skills rather than trying to reach the pinnacle on shaky ground.
73. Dry brushing with your expensive brushes
Dry brushing will destroy normal brushes.
Use inexpensive synthetic brushes, or dedicated dry brushes (usually made of hog hair).
74. Base coating models with too small of a brush
It will take you forever and is an unnecessary use of your time.
75. Using expensive brushes to paint tabletop quality models
Look, if expensive brushes is all you got, then by all means use them.
But, if you have a stable of brushes, save your expensive brushes for the high quality jobs.
Painting to a tabletop standard doesn’t require the precision or control of expensive paint brushes. Here’s my favorite brush line for painting most of my miniatures.
76. Babying your brushes
Freely use what you have. You can always buy more brushes (and they aren’t as fragile as you think). Just keep them clean after every use.
Babying your brushes just slows you down, and worse, can hinder your progress.
77. Using an air compressor without a tank for airbrushing
An air tank prevents water condensation from contaminating your air line.
Without an air tank, water builds up in your hose and will splatter out of your airbrush unpredictably, ruining whatever you’re painting.
Seriously, avoid this issue altogether with an air compressor that has a built-in tank. Check this affordable one out as an example.
78. Not varnishing/sealing your painted miniatures
A varnish protects your model by sealing the acrylic paint under a coat of hardened material. The best kind of protective varnishes are made of enamel or polyurethane.
See here for more about varnishes and how to properly use them on miniatures.
79. Allowing varnish to dry in a dusty room
Varnish will stick to anything. Do you want dusty miniatures…forever?
80. Using a gloss varnish for everything
A gloss varnish is shiny. It doesn’t have a risk for frosting, but it doesn’t look great on miniatures.
Gloss varnish reduces contrast through reflection.
Although, in some cases, gloss varnish does look good. For example, a gloss varnish is great for painted lenses, gems, and for creating the slimy wet-look.
81. Applying a matte varnish too thickly
A thick application of matte varnish has a greater risk of fogging over. It also creates a hazy surface.
Worse, yet, a heavily applied matte varnish reduces color vibrancy. You models will looks “flat” and even “gray”.
You don’t need too much varnish for it to be effective. Here’s a guide on best practice for using matte varnishes.
82. Airbrushing flow-improver or any surfactant without proper respiratory protection
Flow improvers and other soapy substances that make water lose surface tension (i.e., surfactants) are dangerous when inhaled.
They are chemical based substances that can hurt the fragile tissues inside your lungs. Imagine soapy suds and slippery bubbles in your throat and lungs.
Wear a mask, use a spray booth, or don’t airbrush spray flow improver.
83. Allowing pets to hop over your desk area
I see this all the time. How in the world do you let this happen?
Not only do they knock things over, but the hair and fur gets into all your paints and mediums. It’s just a dirty place to work.
(No offense pet lovers. I have a dog, too, if that helps)
84. Using a light that is too bright or flickers
Your eyes will suffer. Keep your lighting at the right brightness without flickering and you’ll have a much better time painting miniatures.
Models won’t look so hazy through your eyes when you’re not squinting or wiping tears from your face.
85. Trying to gluing non-plastic models with plastic cement (toluene based)
Plastic cement only works on styrene-based plastic material. It will fail to bond anything else. More about glues here.
86. Using green stuff as an adhesive
It doesn’t work. I’ve tried. Others have tried. If Green Stuff works like a glue, then it’s not the green stuff I’m talking about.
Green Stuff is a great gap filler by the way.
87. Assembling models with glue without checking for proper part fit
To avoid gaps in your models, make sure you test whether parts fit before applying glue.
88. Painting small models before assembly
If you like painting sub-assemblies (the parts of a kit) before putting them together, then you’re probably making the process hard on yourself.
Most of the surfaces on small model parts won’t be visible after assembly. For example, why are you painting that elbow, when a giant rifle covers it up after assembly?
If you do insist on painting miniatures before assembly, these helping hand stands might help you.
89. Trying to glue painted surfaces together
Gluing painted surfaces of miniatures together won’t be a strong bond. Glue on acrylic painted surfaces will peel off, eventually, and your miniature will fall apart.
90. Sanding resin models without a dust mask
Resin in Forgeworld models isn’t hazardous (according to their instructions). But, resin dust can be a significant irritant to your lungs and cause/worsen all sorts of health complications, e.g., allergies, asthma.
Use common sense and protect your lungs with a dust mask.
91. Using an open flame to correct warped plastic or resin model parts
I’ve done this a few times because boiling hot water (the better way) took too long for my impatient self. I usually ended up with melted miniatures, or burnt fingers.
An open flame is really hot and you have very little control over how it heats your miniatures. If you’re trying to correct warped parts on plastic or resin, the best way is to dip it in hot water.
92. Mixing paints in your palette with the bristles of your brush
This is a fast way to mess up your good brushes. Though, for old crappy brushes, this might be okay. Of course, you’re wasting a bit of paint as it gets trapped in the bristles.
Try this instead: Use the back of your paint brush handle to mix paint.
93. Holding your brush too high up the handle
You’ll have a lot more control if you hold your paint brush closer to the bristles.
Sure, it’s less comfortable and you’ll be prone to cramping. But, you’ll get used it, quickly and find your work a lot more pleasing to the eye.
94. Free handing designs without testing for size and shape fit
If you have a knack for drawing, then applying free hand designs on miniatures won’t be too hard for you. But, make sure your design fits on your model before executing the freehand painting.
I’ve had to crop designs prematurely because they didn’t fit on the surface, or I misjudged the distorted look of it on a 3D curve.
95. Thinning your paints too much when wet blending
When you thin paints too much, you lose control. In wet-blending, you’re already borderline losing control of where paint goes.
Make it easier for yourself and keep your paints at the right viscosity. Also, paint thinned with water will dry faster. For wet-blending, the longer your paint stays wet, the more you can work the pigments to where you need them to go.
96. Dry brushing with a brush that isn’t dry
Wipe your brush on your clean paper towel (or similar) to keep the dampness out. You’ll have better dry brushing results if only the pigments remain in your bristles. If it ain’t dry, it’s not dry brushing.
Yes, this slows you down, but dry brushing was never meant to be fast.
97. Not taking painting breaks
You’ll enter psychological “flow state” a lot quicker if you learn to find a rhythm of work and rest.
98. Being a perfectionist
This is a mistake for any activity where you want to be productive. Perfectionism is a result of fear. Fear is the mind killer (source).
Don’t kill your mind with perfectionism.
99. Asking for feedback all the time
If you ask 8 people how well you’re painting your models, you’ll get 56 answers.
Don’t ask me how that math works out, it just does. Look, paint your miniatures and get feedback when you’re truly finished.
Also, side note, don’t value all feedback the same. Some advice isn’t helpful at all!
100. Focusing on your mistakes
Finally, if you’ve learned anything. Don’t focus on your mistakes. Instead, embrace your errors and protect your achievements.
Lick your wounds and move on. Focus on what you can do. Paint more!
I hope you found this helpful, maybe even entertaining. Remember, you’ll always make mistakes when you’re doing anything worthwhile.
Painting models and minis is fun. It would be a mistake to do otherwise.