Want to paint miniatures faster? Everyone wants to get more done! I’ve been a commission painter for many years and time is money. Most of my projects are for bulk army paint jobs. Of course, you might not be painting miniatures for this reason. It’s supposed to be fun, right? But, sometimes you’re just bored and mentally stuck with the idea that you have so many models to paint. You want to paint faster, but also keep your paint job quality at a decent level.
Speed painting and quality don’t usually mix well. But, with some planning and a few shortcuts, you can get a decent quality paint job on a miniature with little effort.
What if you could paint faster? That might make it easier for you to achieve your hobby goal of having your full army list painted and ready for the tabletop.
Read on below for the 3 ways you can paint your models faster!
Speed Painting is an Art
So, you want to paint faster? Miniature painting is art. As an “art”, painting miniatures is simply the expression and application of human creative skill and imagination (source). All you’re doing when you speed paint is create art faster.
You want your speed painted miniatures to look great, of course. Painted miniatures that make you say “wow” have three elements in common. If you can rapidly paint a miniature that incorporates these concepts into your project, then you’re on your way to becoming a master speed painter.
Master Speed Painting With These Elements
- A painted miniature is a conceptual idea made tangible. A miniature dragon that is flying over a mountain is different than one sleeping in a cave. Can you paint your miniature so that a viewer can clearly envision where it is in space, time, and realm? Part of your success here is the quality and aesthetic of the bare sculpt (usually pewter or plastic). Before you speed paint a model with an eye for beauty, ask yourself if the model looks compelling unpainted. Follow your gut.
- A highly-prized painted miniature always has a visual dynamism. What do I mean? A well-painted miniature has a visual tension that pulls you into the miniature’s conceptual space. An artist accomplishes this emotional feat through the use of color (or lack thereof) and contrast (the distance between light and dark value and warm and cool color). Contrast is key. Numerous painting techniques will help you speed paint a miniature with high contrast. Although your method of paint application can improve contrast, remember that technique is secondary to your goal of completing a speed painted model that achieves the “wow-factor”.
- If you’re a photographer, then you will understand the term “figure-to-ground”. Figure to ground is the relationship between a subject (in this case your miniature), and its environment (the ground). This term has its origin in art theory (source). Good news: If your speed painting goal is establishing good figure-to-ground, then you don’t need to worry about being a clean painter. You can be messy!
3 Simple Rules for Speed Painting
1. Paint with a Simple Color Palette
If you don’t have a reference photo available, such as the box art, then don’t try and incorporate too many colors into your miniature painting. Keep it simple.
Games Workshop models are some of the easiest to paint, because they don’t require a lot of colors to look good. The company has tailored the Citadel paint line for this simplicity as well.
Tip #1: Choose 5 colors maximum
The best tip for speed painting is to keep your palette clear of excessive color choices. The number one thing that slows people down is having too little or too many choices. Remove choices by limiting your color palette.
Tip #2: Use a warm color, a cool color, two neutral colors. Then, choose an accent color that ties the miniature together.
Remember that your goal is to incorporate vision, contrast, and good figure-to-ground into your painted miniature. You want to do this quickly. The easiest way is to add contrast through dark and light color choices, and a consideration of “temperature”.
What do I mean?
For example, if you’re painting a trooper model from World War 2, there’s green as the main color. The green might be dirty, grundy from the mud and dirt from the battlefield. This would give that green tone a “darkness” and a “warmth”. So, add another color to contrast this green with, such as a blue-toned backpack or boots, or a deep purple shadow color in the folds of the cloth.
How do you add contrast quickly?
- Formulated to help you quickly dark line the edges of major elements of your miniature.
- Adds contrast between shapes and material-types.
- Useful for adding shadows to cloth and fast glazing
- Dries matte, which maintains micro-contrast
- The standard “wash”, also known as “liquid talent”
- Comes in a variety of colors
- Formula allows the wash to dry evenly
- Not necessary to thin with water (convenient)
- Made for bulk painters!
- Add contrast fast by dipping speed painted models into the shade
- See example picture below for a step-by-step
My results using the Quick Shade approach are fantastic, especially for board game miniatures. Speed painting Zombicide? The Army Painter Quick Shade approach is awesome.
When you’re looking to improve your figure-to-ground (the ability to distinguish the model from its environment), adding contrast is the fastest way to do this.
Additionally, basing the model with a contrasting color tone helps as well. For example, if your miniature is a lighter tone, then add a dark mud or asphalt looking surface.
Tip #3: Remember, if you can keep your miniature painting approach simple and maintain high contrast (with light/dark and warm/cool colors), you can be a bit messy.
Speed painting is often messy. But, if you keep your approach simple (e.g., not too many colors), and maintain high contrast, you will find that being messy is okay!
Everyone will have a preference for their best workflow when it comes to speed painting. Speed painting successfully is embracing a different way of thinking.
“What about Citadel Contrast Paints?”
I personally think Citadel Contrast Paints are great for a variety of reasons, including speed painting. Contrast Paints act as washes and glazes at the same time. In the right hands, they have the potential to change the way we paint models; making it easier to paint quicker and maintain a level of quality that most of us would be satisfied with.
Say goodbye to that grey plastic on your desk – you’re not going to be seeing it for much longer. Contrast is nearly upon us!Games Workshop (source)
2. Assembly Line Painting
I’ve written about ways I stay motivated to paint large numbers of miniatures. Sometimes your army collection gets too large, and you slip into a painting rut.
Tip #4: Paint your models faster with a factory mindset. Be robotic!
The assembly line painting method is a proven way to avoid the tedium of trying to paint a single model at a time to full completion. In fact, historically, Henry Ford invented the assembly line as a way to increase the productivity of his car factories (this is a fascinating read). Follow Mr. Ford’s innovation and setup an assembly line.
I use multiple Citadel Painting Handles to accomplish my assembly line. There are many types of ergonomic handles designed for painting miniatures (see my full review on the Citadel Painting Handle).
Here’s what you do to increase your mini painting productivity.
Paint more than a single model at a time. I might setup a painting assembly pipeline with multiple models of different genres. I might jump across a Games Workshop 40k Space Marine, a Warmachine Warjack, and an Age of Sigmar Skaven model.
In any single painting session, I’m probably applying paint on 3-6 different models. With a bit of minimal color planning (see above) and a nicely prepared wet or dry palette, this isn’t too difficult.
You could also paint a full unit of the same model this way. Setup your first color and exhaust it before you move onto the next.
The great part is that the normal stop and go between models also creates a flow, wherein blocks of time alter between rest and work. Good flow leads to better productivity, because each action is honed and deliberate.
Take an assembly line approach: apply one paint color at a time across multiple models.
3. Choose the Most Effective Tools
This is actually the most important consideration you, if you want to paint minis faster. Your tools must be perfectly suited for the job. Do you remember when I mentioned that “too many choices can slow you down”?
The right tools also means keep the number of tools you paint with few. No gimmicks either. Don’t listen to the marketers who promise a tool that can do-it-all. At the end of the day, the best tools for speed painting are the ones you’re most familiar with.
Paint Faster with 6 Important Tools
1. Ceramic Palette (glazed)
- Use a high-quality glazed ceramic palette (try my favorite).
- Ceramic glazing keeps the surface smooth and easy to clean. Kind of like a toilet bowl (I guess?).
- A glazed dry palette will help speed up your painting by forcing you to paint with only 1-2 colors at a time. You can even play the meta game: how much paint can I apply before the paint on my palette dries out?
- Because a dry palette with deep round wells keeps paint in one place, you’re also able to predict how paint will behave. Unlike a wet palette, paint mixed or deposited in a dry palette won’t thin out and lose its consistency.
- See in another article: “a dry palette can help you paint faster”.
2. Dry Brush (cheap cosmetic brushes are great!)
- Dry brushing is a tool used to highlight raised areas of miniature. There are a lot of tutorials about this process (here’s a good one). In general, dry brushing will speed up your painting workflow, because it adds contrast (via highlights) without the need to manually paint each raised surface.
- Any brush can make a good dry brush, as long as it has these traits:
- The brush won’t fall apart with vigorous brushing across a miniatures (e.g., a dry brush method uses friction to apply paint)
- Good dry brushes are usually made with hair tufts comprised of hog hair or synthetic filaments. These materials can withstand the abrasive action of dry brushing (the different types of bristles are described here).
- The brush has a relatively large belly and broad surface tip to hold and apply dried pigments. This helps to keep your application consistent over several brushstrokes.
- For this reason, filbert- or flat-shaped brushes are generally better than round-shaped brushes.
- Old make up brushes (recommendations) or worn out brushes in your collection can be recycled into dry brushes.
3. Airbrush (get the best you can afford)
- Arguably the best or worst tool for speed painting minis!
- Airbrushes can speed up your painting, but require more advanced skill (even for simple base coating), and take significant time to clean-up and maintain.
- Cost-effectiveness of airbrushes for speed painting depends on how well you can operate the tool.
- I would recommend any double-action, gravity-fed airbrush with a 0.3mm or greater sized nozzle
- Remember that you’ll need a reliable air compressor that can deliver a consistent 35 PSI or lower airflow. A moisture trap or air tank will prevent condensed water from disrupting your paint application.
- A no non-sense purchase would be a Badger Patriot 105 airbrush with an accompanying air compressor.
- Like most products for our hobby, you get what you pay for. Good tools generally help you paint faster, not better.
- Consider using an ultrasonic cleaner to speed up airbrush cleaning. They are easy-to-use and affordable.
4. The Biggest Brush (the one you fell in love with)
Okay, did you know brushes are like people? You form a relationship with brushes after working with them for a while. They all have their nuances and the better you understand this, the faster you will paint with them.
- The best brush for your painting style, speed painting or not, is personal (see my article about this here).
- My favorite workhorse speed painting brush happens to be a Games Workshop Citadel Medium Base brush. It holds a lot of paint, applies it reliably, and I’m able to paint small details with it. Of course, I’m only able to say this, because I’ve logged hundreds of hours with it.
- Bottomline: the more you use a single brush, the faster you will become with that tool. Choose a single brush and only use that one for painting everything.
5. Good Acrylic Paint (this is a can of worms)
What is the best paint for speed painting?
- Speed painting miniatures requires that you apply color quickly.
- Fewer coats required to achieve good coverage means a faster paint job.
- Similar to brushes, choosing the best paint for speed painting is personal. It’s up to your style and preferred method.
- Remember, the use of a high-density pigmented paint means that you may need to thin your paints. Use water. Keep it simple.
6. A Hair Dryer (make paint dry faster)
Did you know that a majority of your time painting is waiting for wet paint to dry?
- If you want to paint faster, you need your paint to dry faster.
- You don’t need an expensive hair dryer, but look for one that has variable heat modes
- Simply point your hairdryer at a model and operate at a minimum distance of about 2 feet. Any closer and you risk blowing wet paint into areas that you don’t want it to go.
- I personally use a Conair 1875 hair dryer. It’s indispensable if you want to speed paint.
If you want to paint miniatures faster, simplify your color palette, use an assembly line approach, and choose your tools wisely. I should emphasize that you shouldn’t over-think about painting your models.
I personally find that if I just relax and enjoy the process, I enter into a flow of work that keeps me moving at a nice clip. That also means I don’t take myself too seriously and remind myself why I’m painting these miniatures.
Examples of Speed Painted Miniatures
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Do you have a lot of miniatures and models to paint? Do you have any other suggestions for painting miniatures faster?