Are you a new miniature painter, or want to help another painter get started? At first glance, the sheer amount of stuff you think you need may be intimidating. But, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need much at all to start painting miniatures. In fact, you only need 3 things: a good brush, paint, and the model. You likely already have a miniature or model in mind that you want to paint. Maybe it’s for Warhammer 40k, AoS, or other tabletop wargame. Maybe you want to paint up your favorite board game, e.g., Zombicide, or Dungeon and Dragon (D&D) minis for your next RPG campaign. Whatever the case may be, there are only a few essential tools you’ll need. Other supplies and equipment are luxuries that merely enhance the hobby.
In this article, I highlight the basics of what you’ll need to get started painting miniatures and models. The barrier to entry for painting miniatures is lower than you think.
Continue reading for more details about the essential tools and supplies you need to get started painting miniatures.
To keep things simple, you’ll want to know about the essential miniature painting triad. The triad consists of 3 items you absolutely cannot forgo when you want to get started painting miniatures and models as a new painter.
What is the Essential Miniature Painting “Triad”?
Did you know there are only 3 things you’ll ever need to paint a miniature or model?
Here are the key 3 things you need to get started painting miniatures. I call these 3 things the essential miniature painting “triad”:
All the other stuff is you think you need is supportive and secondary. If you focus on getting the best paint, the best brush, and the model that you are keen on painting, then your job is more than 90% done toward completing your starting miniature painting kit.
Oh, sure some of you may think I’m oversimplifying the entire process. But, in my experience over many years, I’ve realized that simplifying things, reducing complexity to it’s irreducible elements not only helps you become a better miniature artist, but a more productive one as well.
Given the simplicity of the “things” you need to work with, you can now go out and shop for the best supplies to get started painting miniatures. Boiling down your hobby needs to the essentials makes life so much easier.
If you’re on a limited budget, the essential miniature painting triad also helps you focus how you spend your money wisely. Get the best paint and brushes you can afford, then work up to other helpful supplies (see below).
How about other “necessary supplies and tools” for miniature painting?
Okay, now that you’ve internalized the essential miniature painting supplies from the triad, what else do you “need”?
- Good lights – to illuminate your work
- A dry or wet palette – to mix and thin your paints
- Brush cleaner/soaps – to maintain your hobby investments
- Primer – to prepare your model surface for painting
- Varnish sealer – to protect your completed painted miniature
- Water pot or cup/mug – for cleaning brushes or easy access to water for thinning paints
- Painting model handle – for ergonomic painting to reduce/prevent wrist or hand pain and discomfort
Of these other supportive supplies, a good light source will be your next important investment in the hobby. Here is what I now use for most of my work. The Neatfi XL lamp is an amazing lamp that keeps my work space lit with even, bright light.
Although I didn’t list it above, you’ll also want a comfy chair and a good solid desk to work on your miniatures.
If you’re planning to do any mixing and thinning of your acrylic paints (which most would highly recommend you do), then get a good palette that is easy to clean or toss away when you’re done.
Finally, if you want the best results for the miniatures and models, I strongly suggest getting a good primer and varnish. A primer application prepares your model working surface for paint; whereas a varnish acts a protective seal over your finished paint job.
How about tools for assembling miniature and model kits?
Do you notice how quickly this hobby outpaces your ability to keep your money wallet from withering into a dried husk?
Alright, you asked about assembly. Well, you’ll need these key things if you’re going to be doing any assembly of plastic, resin, or metal miniature and model kits:
- Sharp hobby knife – one of the most versatile hobby tools in your arsenal
- Sprue cutters or clippers – remove small parts, flash, and bits from plastic, resin, or metal model kits
- Glue – securely bond and put parts together
- Hands-free model assembly holder – when two hands isn’t enough
You’ll find that nearly every miniature you want to paint at some point will require some assembly work or preparatory effort (e.g., sanding, filing, mold-line removal) before you can start priming and painting.
A sharp hobby knife, such as a X-acto blade, will be versatile and useful for the majority of your assembly work.
Good sprue cutters or clippers will be a vital tool for removing parts from mold/cast sprues and kits. A good pair should last years and won’t require sharpening if you use them as intended. Most plastic, resin, and even metal kits are soft malleable material and should not dull a good pair of clippers. I prefer to use hardware store grade wire cutters and clippers, which are not only less expensive than hobby grade cutters, but also more durable.
If you’re like me and have slightly less fine motor skill for tiny parts, or hate waiting for glue to dry while holding pieces together, a third helping hand holder can be super useful for assembling miniature kits.
Soldering helping hands used for electronic work/hobbies tend to have really useful clips and flexible armatures. Check out some of the best helping hand devices here.
Do I need an airbrush to paint miniatures?
But, it can help. To read more about why (or why not), you can check out the comparison article of “airbrushing versus regular brush work“.
If you’re still interested to know more about airbrushing miniatures and models, take a look at this super-duper, engaging 18k word comprehensive guide about airbrushes with accompanying top 10 airbrush review.
In general, I don’t think airbrushes are necessary at all for painting miniatures. They can help with certain advanced techniques and effects, but aren’t an essential tool for miniature painters to achieve amazing effects and results. Take a look at the professional, award winning work by Marike Reimer. She did not use any fancy expensive tools.
Top 14 essential miniature painting supplies and tools:
|Paint||To add color to your miniature|
|Brush||To apply paint to your model surface|
|Model/miniature kit, e.g., tabletop wargames, board games, D&D, RPG minis, display busts and figures||Your essential working surface, your canvas|
|Light or lamp||To illuminate your work|
|Palette||Somewhere you can mix and thin your paints before applying to your model|
|Brush cleaner or soap||To clean and maintain your brushes and other essential tools|
|Primer||To prepare your model’s surface for paint application|
|Varnish sealer||To protect your completed painting, especially if the model is for gaming|
|Water pot or cup||For cleaning brushes and easy access to water for thinning paints|
|Miniature or model painting handle||To clean and maintain your brushes and other essential tools|
|Hobby knife or blade||A versatile tool for cleaning a model’s surface or other cutting needs|
|Sprue cutters or clippers||Useful for parts removal from sprues and kits, e.g., plastic, metal, or resin|
|Glue||Bonds parts together during assembly, e.g., super glue is best for most materials|
|Hands-free model assembly holder||Holds very small parts for you while you wait for glue to dry|
Miniature painting is an amazing hobby enjoyed by millions around the World. A strong community, an shallow learning curve with high reward, and low barrier to entry make the the miniature painting hobby fantastic for anyone age 2-200.
You don’t need much to get started painting miniatures. Remember the essential miniature painting “triad”: paint, brush, and model. Start your hobby from this point and you’ll find the search for what you need will be simply and easy.
If you’re looking for a do-it-all starting kit, I highly recommended the Reaper Core Skills Painting kit. It is an self-contained hobby box that includes, paint, models, brushes, and easy-to-follow instructions. I’ve given this kit away as a gift to those interested in the hobby, but didn’t know where to start.
Whatever you decide during your search for getting into the miniature painting hobby, remember there are tons of resources out there. My only take home message here is to keep it simple. It is easy to fall into the trap of buying everything you see as the excitement drives you forward.
I hope this article was helpful. I’m sure I may have missed a few points, and would love to hear your thoughts. Your feedback is always helpful and appreciated!
Thanks for reading and happy painting!