How-To Paint a 3D Printed Miniature with OSL

So, you’re looking to paint your 3D printed miniature. Painting 3D printed miniatures and figures is similar to painting other types of kit-type miniatures and models. This is especially true if you’re using model acrylic paints, such as Citadel or Army Painter model paints.

In this article, I show you how I painted a 3D printed miniatures from Heroforge.

Continue reading for tips and tricks on how to paint a 3D printed miniature.


How-To Paint a 3D Printed Miniature with OSL

How do you clean a miniature before applying primer and paint?

Every miniature and model should be cleaned and washed.

Bits of debris, dirt, and oil (from your fingers or the manufacturing process) can interfere with proper primer and paint adhesion.

So, cleaning a model properly is standard operating procedure (SOP) in my workflow.

For the quickest, more thorough cleaning job, I toss my miniatures in an ultrasonic cleaner.

Here are some affordable ultrasonic cleaners that I recommend.

How-To Paint a 3D Printed Miniature with OSL - washing the miniature - How do you clean a miniature before applying primer and paint?
The 3D printed Heroforge miniature in my ultrasonic cleaner. It works great!

It doesn’t take long.

5 minutes in an ultrasonic cleaner filled with water is enough for cleaning miniatures.

Make sure you dry off your miniature before moving on to the next step. I use a paper towel or hair dryer (just not too hot).

How-To Paint a 3D Printed Miniature with OSL - washing the miniature - How do you clean a miniature before applying primer and paint?
The clean miniature, ready for primer.

How do you prepare a 3D printed model for paint?

It’s easy!

Two steps:

A 3D printed miniature is different than a model you buy as a kit. With Heroforge miniatures, the models are printed using a high-precision 3D printer that constructs the prints as a whole-piece.

No assembly required.

The only challenge is making sure the build-layer lines are smooth.

The smoother the surface of your miniature, the more advanced paint blending techniques you can use.

How do you prepare a 3D printed model for paint? - How to. paint a 3d printed miniature or model heroforge - how to paint heroforge minis
Light sanding smoothes out some of the rougher surfaces

You can smooth out a model by:

  • Sanding
  • Using a gap filler (followed by sanding)
  • Applying layers of a good quality primer, which will gently fill-in and hide the build layers

You can use a combination of the above to prepare the surface prior to painting the model.

For this paint job, I used a 2.5x magnifying headband visor to see details.


How do you prime a 3D printed miniature or model?

For any model, priming is the most important step.

A good priming job can make or break the ease to which you paint the model.

How to paint dnd miniatures - How to paint a 3d printed miniature or model heroforge - how to paint heroforge minis
I used an airbrush to apply the primer

A bad priming job for example, can create a really rough surface, or a surface that doesn’t stick well to the overlying acrylic model paint. Bad news bears!

Best primer for 3d printed miniatures and models
I prime all my miniatures with this primer.

Good priming can hide imperfections in the sculpted miniature, which is great for 3D prints (which have print artifact layers).

How to prime 3d printed miniatures - how to paint heroforge models
Just two thin coats of primer were enough for this model.

My suggested primer for almost any scale model or miniature is Vallejo’s Surface Primer.

Tutorial - how to paint 3d printed minis and models - heroforge miniature painting
Careful spraying allows you to coat the model evenly and maintain all the fine details.

The best way to prime a 3D printed miniature is to spray it on. This provides you with the most even coat. The thin layers you can achieve with an airbrush also makes these kinds of applications much more consistent than brush-on primer.

Of course, everyone will have their preferred method.

If you are comfortable with brush-on priming, or don’t have an airbrush, then the only suggestion I have would be to make sure your primer is applied in multiple thin layers, instead of thick coats.

You’ll ensure that you don’t lose details in the 3D print.

Tutorial - how to paint 3d printed minis and models - heroforge miniature painting - tabletop gaming miniatures
A few thinned primer layers (with airbrushed Vallejo Surface Primer, Grey color) is all you need to prepare the model. You can apply more, but you risk losing details as the recesses fill-up.

Why is applying the first paint base coat hard on 3D printed models?

The first base coat is harder than you think.

Most people think this is the easiest step for painting miniatures. But, in reality, it only seems easy because base coating a model is usually fast.

It hurts, but it’s over quickly.

Tutorial - how to glaze 3d printed miniatures and models
After priming, I painted the entire model black. Then I started blocking in the major color of the Duster Cloak (brown). See below for more details.

Base coating 3D printed miniatures is hard, in particular, because:

  • You don’t know how paint will behave across the model due to the build layer lines (e.g., thinned paint will seep across the surface with capillary action)
  • Color bleeds into areas unexpectedly because the 3D print build layers (e.g., another description for this effect is “the paint feathers out”)
  • It takes significantly more pigment build-up to completely cover the surface a 3D printed miniature (the build layers “absorb” paint; there’s effectively more surface area for paint to cover)

When it comes to painting 3D printed miniatures, just be aware that certain techniques you’re used to on regular models may not produce the expected result.

You’ll need a slightly different mindset.


What brush do I recommend you use to paint a 3D printed miniature?

For this 3D printed miniature, I first painted the entire model black to start.

I did this with my favorite workhorse brush from Citadel. It’s a synthetic mix brush with a flattened bristle tip. This allows me to work quickly and evenly across a variety of model surfaces.

Best brushes to paint 3d printed miniatures and models - best detail brushes for painting minis
The entire model was painted primarily with a Raphael 8404 pointed round size #1.

For more control, I used a Raphael 8404 round pointed #1 (or other kolinsky sables). I began painting the base coat colors for the major elements, like the duster cloak, with this brush.

Actually, I love the brush so much for this job, I used the Raphael 8404 for the rest of the project.


What is the best model paint for painting miniatures?

Scale 75 color paints are my favorite paints for small miniatures.

The pigment density and matte finish when dry is great for a wide variety of high contrast “looks” and styles.

The best model paints for painting miniatures are those that cover a surface evenly and completely in only 1-2 layers when undiluted.

With dilution, or thinning, with water, the best model paints become translucent whilst maintaining their binding properties (e.g., they don’t become runny; you still have control).

The best model paints can be used as a reliable glaze that filters the underlying paint job evenly, when thinned with water or acrylic medium.

Continue reading on for what I mean about glazing.


Why take your time with the base coat?

You need to be patient when base coating a 3D printed miniature.

As mentioned above, there are unique painting challenges associated with 3D prints.

How to basecoat a 3d printed miniature
Back view showing the final base coat finished. Notice how even and smooth application of thin provides a consistent finish.

For the base coat, you’ll need several (maybe 5-8 more than usual) to completely cover your first primer layers in a smooth even coat.

For this model, I applied the first light brown layer (Scale 75 Orange Leather) in multiple thin coats with my Raphael 8404.

The Scale 75 paint was thinned with water.

How to basecoat a 3d printed miniature - 2nd view
Front view. Scalecolor 75 is great because it covers so well and evenly. This is the “Orange Leather” colored paint.

I let each layer dry before applying the next. This is so important.

Always let each layer dry before working on top of it. If you don’t have the patience to watch paint dry literally, get a hairdryer.

I love my hairdryer.

Absurd, I know….


Can you glaze on a 3D printed miniature?

Yes!

Well, sorta. The challenge here with glazing a 3D printed model is because the surfaces are generally not as smooth as you might think.

RELATED: MAGNIFYING VISORS HELP YOU PAINT BETTER!

For this model, I mixed two dark colors together.

How to glaze and wash a 3d printed miniature from heorforge
Mixing this with other paint and water creates a glaze you can use for creating deeper shadows.

Scale 75 Dubai Brown and Eclipse Grey (my favorite dark, not black, color for adding shadows on miniatures) were mixed in ceramic palette.

How to glaze and wash a 3d printed miniature from heorforge
I mixed Eclipse Grey with Dubai Brown to create a glaze (thinned with water in a dry palette that you can see in this photo).

I added water to thin the mixture.

(I do not describe the ratio of the mixture. But, it doesn’t matter because you’ll probably have some idea of what works best for you, anyway).

Add enough water to create a thinned solution. To ensure you’re not losing the paint “stickiness”, you can add a bit of matte medium.

Colors for shading and painting a 3d printed heroforge miniature - Scalecolor 75
These are the 3 colors I used for the cloak. Combined in different amounts, using water as a thinner, you can create all sorts of useful effects. In this case, I kept it simple with a layering and glazing approach.

A tiny dab of matte medium will make sure your homemade glaze doesn’t run everywhere!


How do I apply a glaze on a 3D printed miniature?

There are several ways you can apply your homemade “glaze” (described above).

But, on a 3D printed miniature you need to be a bit more careful!

When I make my own glazes with a mixture of water and paint, I usually end up with a mixture that behaves like a runny wash.

A wash is essentially a pigmented media that is thin enough that you can cover an entire model and only the recesses will have a significant color change.

In my case, the glaze was a bit on the thicker end, because I added a dab of matte medium. This gave me a bit of control of where I applied this thinned paint mixture.

On a 3D printed model, this is important because the recesses are essentially everywhere on the model (the build layers are recesses, too).

glazing contrast on a 3d printed miniature from heroforge
After applying a glaze in select areas over the orange leather base coat.

And, I didn’t want to pull up the details of the build layer artifacts.

So, using my homemade brew, I controlled where my glaze went. I applied most of it in the shadow areas, or where I imagined shadows would go.

For example, I glazed the darkened color under the arms and around the bend. Inside the cloth curvature and folds, and along the collar of the cloak.

glazing contrast on a 3d printed miniature from heroforge - back view
Side view.

How do I add more contrast?

If you’ve been dabbling in the miniature painting hobby for a while, then you must have heard: “contrast is king”.

Well, if you’re going for the 3D pop “look”, then contrast is what you’re after.

Contrast is the character of a how far apart the brightest and darkest values are on a model or subject.

This is also known as “dynamic range” in photography. The more dynamic range you have in your subject, the more detail and information you’re providing the viewer.

Adding contrast to a 3d printed miniature with temperature
You can add contrast with color temperature, by adding cool colors to balance out warm colors. Here, I used Abyssal Blue to deepen the look of the shadows and further contrast with the warm leather cloak color.

You can add more contrast through darkening or highlighting.

Or, you can add contrast with temperature: by using warm versus cool paint colors.

Adding contrast to a 3d printed miniature with temperature - scalecolor glazing
After you are happy with blocking in the shadows, you can bring the color brightness back up by going back to your original color palette. Layering and glazing back over the surface pulls the contrast up even further. See more about how this looks below.

In this case, I’ve painted the cloak a warm-orange brown color. To add more contrast, in addition to the shadow mixture, I decided to glaze a dark blue color (Scale 75 Abyssal Blue).

This color has a cool tone, which will help me add contrast to the shadows when seen in the context of the warm colored cloak.

This also deepens the recesses visually. The darker blue-toned areas will feel like they are farther away from you.

When you highlight the rest of the model, this helps create that lovely “3D pop” look in miniatures, as you’ll see further below.

I glazed my dark blue tone into the same places that I applied the dark shadow glazing, e.g., under the arms, in the folds of the cloak.

Mixing glaze in a ceramic palette - how to paint a 3d printed model
I love using these small round-bottom welled ceramic palettes for mixing and thinning paint. This is a Jack Richeson palette.

How to finish painting the 3D print with paint layers and highlights?

After the steps above, it’s all downhill.

The hard parts are over, believe it or not.

(Yes, even the Object-Source Lighting, OSL, as you’ll see below is easier than you think).

After each material element on the model is base coated using the approaches I described above, re-add the original colors in layers back on top of the glazed/washed surfaces.

RELATED: GOOD MAGNIFIED LIGHTING HELPS YOU PAINT DETAILS

To maintain separation between parts of the model, I painted each section, carefully leaving a thin bit of underlying black paint showing through.

3d printed miniature with dark outline for 3d pop
This is what the model looks like after basecoating and layering the different material elements. Notice the dark line around the edges of each major element? That is simply an unpainted area that shows the black paint underneath.

You can see the thin black outline between the shirt and the cloak, for example. Or, between the necktie and the white collar. These are areas are merely unpainted areas of the model.

As with any miniature painting approach, apply paint in thin layers rather than thick coats. Slowly build up the pigments.

Be patient and let paint dry before applying subsequent layers.

Unless you’re wet-blending, which I don’t recommend on 3D printed models, painting in layers makes it easy to change things as you go.

Close up for wip miniature from heroforge
Close up showing the dark-lining around each major element. The dark line is actually unpainted areas of the model that show the black paint underneath. This helps give the model a “clean” or “sharp” look.

How to paint skin flesh on a 3D printed miniature?

The hardest surface to paint on a 3D printed miniature or model are those that require you to create a smooth gradient surface between dark and light.

How to pain flesh skin on a 3d printed miniature
Simply colors added in layers can create complex effects.

Errors in gradient and blending are most apparent on fleshy or organic surfaces.

On human skin tones, the most compelling paint jobs use smooth blending, not the textured-look you might find on things like clothing or weathered armor.

How to paint flesh on a 3d printed miniature - painting miniatures and models
Using Scalecolor Pink Flesh I painted the skin tones on the model.

Using a dry palette (my favorite ceramic water color palette), I thinned down Scale 75 pink flesh.

How to paint flesh on a 3d printed miniature - side view
Side view.

Using my Raphael 8404, I applied multiple thin coats over the face and hands.

I did this until the surfaces were evenly and smoothly coated.

How to add skin toned paint on the flesh of a 3d printed model and miniature
Using thin layers helps keep paint applications smooth and even in the final result.

Although not shown well in these images, the skin was then glazed down with a mixture of the pink flesh and eclipse grey (same color I used for shadowing the cloak). Then I re-highlighted back up.

As you’ll see in the next few steps, I refined my miniature slowly as I worked in other element of the piece.


How to paint the object-source lighting (OSL) effect of the 3D printed fireball?

Easy!

Use all the same painting techniques I used for other parts of the model for shading and highlighting.

But, now to paint OSL, reverse the order of highlight to shadows.

Base coat using white paint the object that you want the lighting to come from (The Source of Light).

If you remember, we started other parts of the model with black paint.

Starting with white gives you a sense of where the fireball light will come from.

How to paint OSL object source lighting on a 3d printed miniature
The fireball was base coated with white. This helps show you where you need to focus the viewer’s attention.

I’m painting a blue fireball.

So, after the white layer, cover the entire surface of the light source in blue (or whatever your main color is for your OSL paint job).

How to paint the object-source lighting (OSL) effect of the 3D printed fireball?
Build up your preferred color slowly. In this case, I went with blue.

Dabble (also known as glaze with thin paint) areas of where you think the light from the blue fireball should go.

It might be on the cloak, certainly on the hand from whence the fireball emerges. There might also be some blue lighting might also be on the face.

How to paint the object-source lighting (OSL) effect of the 3D printed fireball?

Side view
As you make adjustments, remember that you can always smooth and blend color transitions using mixed-color glazes (the same way I describe earlier).

Once you decide where the glow will come from, and where it might go on the model (e.g., the cloak the face, the hand), then all you need to do is “push the color” back into the model.

You push color back into the model by glazing.

Yes! Use the same glazing you used above for filtering the shadows, e.g., adding the cool abyssal blue to the recesses, to push your OSL glow back down into the model.

Integrate the piece with glazing.

Glazing is your friend.

Then, when you’re done with glazing….

How to paint the object-source lighting (OSL) effect of the 3D printed fireball. Close up. view of the cloak and shirt glazing the OSL
Close up shows the blue-gray glazing on the shirt. And, you can see the brown-blue glazing on the cloak.

Add more glazing!

Glazing the glow of the OSL effect on the. clothing and hand
Working with layers and glazes is a powerful approach for controlling where to place paint and how it will look.

How to “push” colors into the miniature (color integration) via glazing:

  • To hide edges between colors, all you need to do is make another glaze mixture of the two colors. Apply that middle color in the transition area.
  • For example, mix blue and brown to create a middle color glaze to blend blue glow effects on the brown cloak.

Then, add more color to highlight and darken the fireball in the places you think look good.

Working distance view of the OSL effect of the fireball to check the effect on the other parts of the model.
The 3d printed and painted model as viewed from an arm’s length.

Use the same approaches as with the cloak that I describe above.

Base coat, then glaze, then glaze a bit more, then layer up and highlight.

Some people might say there’s a concrete formula, but I’m not so sure.

Working distance view of the OSL effect of the fireball to check the effect on the other parts of the model - side view.
A slightly different angle to check for any missed details. Notice how the blue glazes here are bit too bright in certain areas? I eventually push those down by glazing the underlying color back on top of the blue color.

(I don’t like following art rules, generally)

Colors for shading and painting a 3d printed heroforge miniature - Scalecolor 75
The colors I used for painting the blue glowing fireball.

In a nutshell, this is how I used the colored paint on the fireball.

  • I painted the fireball with a base coat of Scalecolor white, followed by Caribbean Blue. Then, I painted the recesses with my Raphael 8404 with Scalecolor Deep Blue.
  • Mid-tone and highlights were a mixture of Mediterranean Blue and Caribbean Blue. The brightest highlights of the fire were a final mixture of Caribbean blue and white, then pure white in select places.

How do you use photography to check your model paint job?

Here’a great article on how to use photography to see where your model might need more work.

When you think you’re finished…well, you’re finished.

Photography to check for imperfections in a painted miniature - side view of the herofroge miniature painting.
Sideview photographed with a better camera and lens.

Unless, you want to really push it, you can stop when the model looks good to your eyes.

At some point, you’ll realize there is diminishing returns to continue painting.

When I do want to understand where I can improve I use photography.

A photograph reveals imperfections that your eyes can’t see normally.

RELATED: BEST LAMPS FOR PAINTING MINIATURES

Well, you might ask, if your naked eyes can’t see it, then does it matter?

No, but in painting competition or display showcases, the lighting and the environment may reveal things that your normal viewing distance would not show.

Finally, when you’re sharing your work online via social media, all those photographs will show every detail. This is especially true if you’re using a high resolution camera.

If your model looks good with a photograph, I’d say you can be pretty happy with your work. Nit-picking only slows you down from making more great art.


Why a photo light box helps show off your 3d printed paint job?

If you’re looking to really showcase your work, I’d recommend a photo light box.

Studio photograph of the painted 3d printed heroforge miniature - using a photo light box booth
Front view photographed in a photo light box. The black backdrop is simply a felt drop cloth.

This can really help you see those details you worked so hard to add in your miniature painting.

Studio photograph of the painted 3d printed heroforge miniature - using a photo light box booth - side view showing the OSl effect of the fireball
This photograph shows off the OSL effect nicely. The blur effect is from my camera’s settings that gives me a shallow depth-of-field.

In this project, the even lighting and dark background really reveal the OSL fireball effect nicely.

The blue glowing fireball draws the eye, and the glowing effects that we glazed so carefully on the other parts of the model really sell the effect.

Studio photograph of the painted 3d printed heroforge miniature - using a photo light box booth -three quarter view of the mini

Final Word

This post hopefully gave you some insight into how I approach painting 3D printed miniatures. I used this Heroforge miniature because it provides a simple sculpt with a flair (the glowing fireball).

As you might have noticed, I only used simple techniques throughout the entire piece. No fancy airbrushing of colors (yeah, just priming), or advanced blending techniques.

Sure, glazing is a major component of painting this miniature. But, as you’ll see glazing is one of. those core things you can do with acrylics that help you add interest and contrast with very little work.

A key feature of 3D printed miniature are the build lines.

Maybe, the technology will become so robust in the future that those tiny layers won’t show on the surface. However, until then, painting 3D prints will always have that slight challenge.

The best advice for painting 3D printed miniatures is to take your time. Learn how paint behaves and leverage your experience to your advantage.

In other words, practice!

Happy painting!

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2 thoughts on “How-To Paint a 3D Printed Miniature with OSL”

  1. Thanks for that – I’ve always found OSL difficult, but I’ll give this a go and see what happens.
    I’ve got an Ultrasonic bath, and I never even considered it for cleaning miniatures, something else to try!
    Totally agree on using photography to spot the areas you need to work on. I can be really happy with something I’ve finished, but then I use my SLR and it looks like a different miniature!

    1. Awesome glad this helped! Ultrasonic cleaners are great for cleaning and stripping paint off resin, or metal minis (as well as airbrushes). Btw, I love photographing miniatures 🙂 and the ability to see areas that need more contrast is just a bonus. Thanks for reading!

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