Do you get used models for your miniature hobby and tabletop games? It’s quite popular to buy used and repaint miniatures for tabletop games, e.g., Warhammer 40k, Warmachine. Sometimes you get a used model with a bad paint job and you have to refurbish it. How do you refurbish and repaint a used model or miniature? It’s not hard to re-paint used models, with exceptions.
I often avoid getting used miniatures because I don’t enjoy fixing them up. But, I was given a commission project to do a complete refurbish with a tight deadline. As someone who doesn’t shy from a challenge, I accepted. Here’s what happened!
Here are the 5 basic steps for repainting used miniatures and models:
- Repair the surface
- Decide on color scheme
- Re-prime and base coat the used model
- Paint details, finish the base, and add special effects
Read on below for an overview of the general workflow of repainting old models, my tips and tricks, and for more details about the process for how I speed (re)painted a model.
Is Repainting Used Models Worth It?
If you’re trying to expand your miniature tabletop army collection and want to save money, getting used miniatures is a great way to extend your hobby budget. The issue with used models is that they often come in various states of disrepair. Some are badly painted or broken.
You may be lucky and get used models in good condition, but these tend to sell a close to new prices. So, if you’re asking whether used models are worth the trouble, then the answer depends on how much time you’re willing to spend to refurbish them.
In this particular case, you can pay for someone (like me) to fix and repaint your miniatures. As you will see below, this is exactly what I did for a client with a particular spin that he wanted me to finish the project in less than a week.
Quick Tips for Repainting Miniatures
1. You will need a few supplies before you start painting miniatures. These include:
- A dedicated work area
- Check out these other essential supplies for miniature painting
2. Choose the colors you want to use for your miniature. It is important to have a color palette in mind before you start painting.
3. Decide on a method for painting your miniature. In general, for best results repainting models, I find that you’ll want to apply paint in an even layer over larger swaths of the model’s surface to start. This may involve the use of spray applications, e.g., airbrushing. You don’t need to do it this way, but it helps.
4. Begin by painting the base color of your miniature. Work each base color onto the model, making sure each layer is as smooth and even as possible. This helps you add other paint layers over the top, if required. Once the base colors are dry, you can add additional layers and details above.
5. To paint detail colors, use a brush of the appropriate size (i.e., use the biggest brush you can control), and paint in the areas you want to highlight. You can also use washes to add shading and depth to your miniature.
6. Once you are finished painting, let your miniature dry completely before sealing with a clear coat varnish. You’ll also want to store your miniature in a safe place until the varnish is dry.
Repainting miniatures can be a fun and rewarding in its own right. With a little practice, you’ll be able to take an older model and refurbish it into something new and fresh. These quick tips and the actual process I show you below will help you get started repainting your own miniatures.
Should You Strip Old Paint or Re-Prime and Paint a Used Miniature?
There is no single answer to this question as it depends on a number of factors, such as the type of paint used, the condition of the miniature, and the desired final result. In general, however, it is usually best to strip old paint off a miniature before repainting it. This ensures that the new paint will adhere properly and will create a smooth, even finish.
On the other hand, if the old paint is in good condition and you are happy with the color, you may be able to simply prime and paint over it. However, this can sometimes lead to an uneven finish or paint that chips easily. Ultimately, the best course of action will depend on the individual miniature and your personal preferences.
For a more professional look, I always consider paint stripping first, since it gives a nice, clean slate to start with. You can use a variety of methods to strip paint, including chemical paint strippers, sanding, or even heat guns. The latter two methods will often damage the original surface of a model, if not outright destroy the miniature.
What Chemical to Use for Stripping Old Paint from a Miniature?
My suggestion is to use a detergent solvent, such as Simple Green, which is gentle on the original material of the miniature. If you’re unsure that your solvent is going to work, or concerned that it may harm your model, then test it on an inconspicuous surface first.
How to Remove Paint from Plastic, Metal, or Resin Models?
Whether you’re trying to remove old paint from Citadel, Vallejo, or Reaper hobby brands, the process is the same for plastic, resin, or metal miniatures. The idea is to dissolve or degrade the overlying old paint and primer with a chemical solvent, e.g., a detergent, without damaging the original model surface.
A detergent is a surfactant or a mixture of surfactants with cleaning properties in solution. They work to remove old paint by emulsifying, dissolving, or suspending it in water so that it can be rinsed away. The right choice of detergent is crucial to avoid damaging the model surface.
Industrial strength detergents are better than conventional dish-ware soaps because they’re more resistant to being degraded by the the paint substance itself and don’t leave behind a greasy residue.
Tips and Process for Stripping Paint from Old-Painted Models
To speed up the process for stripping paint, you can use an ultrasonic cleaner with a solvent in it. But, make sure you check the safety of whatever chemical you put in the ultrasonic cleaner bath. As the machine heats up, it is possible that some chemicals will give off a harmful vapor.
In the case of using ethanol (alcohol) as a paint stripper, which some painters recommend, be aware of its flammability. Alcohol vapor is explosive in high enough concentrations.
To use Simple Green or other similar non-toxic solvent to strip models, this is all you need to do:
- Soak the model in the undiluted solvent for a 3-8 hours or to a full-day. Don’t worry about leaving your model in Simple Green for too long. It won’t harm the miniature (which is why I like this product).
- Scrub the surface of the model with an old toothbrush or other similar brush to loosen the paint.
- Rinse the model under running water and allow it to air dry.
- Repeat steps 1-3 as necessary until most of the paint is gone.
- If you want to, you can try and use a fine-grit sandpaper (600+) to remove any residual paint or to smooth out the surface of the model.
- Prime and paint as desired.
With this method, you should be able to remove most, if not all, of the old paint from your model. And, if any paint remains, it will be easier to cover with primer and paint. Again, if you do choose to repaint, be sure to prime the surface first to ensure that the new paint will adhere properly.
I’ll note that stripping paint is a slow process and doesn’t always work even with the best methods available. This is especially true for resin models. More about this below.
Why Stripping Paint from Resin Miniatures is Notoriously Difficult
Acrylic paint and primer is resilient, especially on resin miniatures. That’s because resin is porous, and models made with resin have surfaces pockmarked with microscopic holes. You may have noticed that resin miniatures have a rougher surface texture than plastic or pewter/metal models.
The tiny holes and microscopic texture in resin that fills with overlying primer and paint and helps it stick better. The disadvantage of course is that this makes it really hard to remove old primer and paint off resin surfaces.
Even aggressive chemical strippers and solvents will have trouble removing old paint and primer from resin (without damaging the resin itself).
So, in the case of repainting resin models, I tend to recommend painting over the old paint job whenever possible. It’s simply easier and faster.
The “Repainting Project” Begins (The Client Ask)
At our local game store, a new visitor asked if I could restore and repaint his Cygnar Stormwall colossal.
He gave me a time limit of 6 days (until our next gaming night). I accepted! This impulsive nature of mine needs to stop. It often gets me in trouble with my hobby. There was that one time when I tried to paint an entire 10,000 point Tyranid army with a small point #1 sized brush….
I gave up and ended up using multiple airbrushes for the project.
Step 1 – Inspection
The first thing you have to do with any used miniature before a repaint is perform an inspection. For example, when you buy a used car, you want to make sure it works. Or, at least find out what needs fixing and if it’s worth your trouble.
The same is true for used models that have bad paint jobs. You need to figure out whether you should strip the paint down to the original surface, or if you can simply re-prime over the old paint.
After a quick survey of the used colossal I decided stripping the paint would be too time consuming. A Warmachine Colossal is a large model with multiple complex parts. For this used model, my inspection confirmed that the best course of action was to re-prime over the old paint job.
Step 2 – Repair the surface
Before priming a used model, you should make sure the surface is as even as possible. In other words, the original surface of the miniature should be intact and as close to new as possible. Any cracks or chips in the model should be smoothed out or filled in.
This particular model was in bad shape. The model had torn and chipped paint, poorly glued pieces, and cracks in the resin. This meant a bit of scraping to smooth out the underpainting, re-gluing parts, and filling gaps. For glues, I used super glue as recommended for resin, and my favorite gap filler, Vallejo Plastic Putty.
Since I wasn’t going to strip the model, I worked to restore the surface. Any parts that felt lose or glued badly, I removed (with pliers if I needed to). I cleaned off the part as best as I could so it would glue back on without interruption. A bit sanding and filing and I was able to fix the worst offending parts in an hour or so.
Gap filling was easy with the Vallejo Plastic Putty. This only took a few minutes. I knew the primer job would even out any smaller imperfection and micro abrasions on the model. Wow, was this model treated poorly!
Step 3 – Decide on color scheme
If you’re repainting used models, you probably already have a color scheme in mind. If you’re stuck, here’s an article with ideas about how to choose a miniature color scheme.
In this case, my client already had a complete army color scheme ready to go. My job was to try and match those colors on this re-painted model. I had to dig through my library of paint pots to see if I could match his army’s scheme. A close examination of these paints showed that the army needed a desaturated red/brown tone, accented with baby-blue colors in various places.
I also needed to decide on highlights for the repainted basecoat. All I could think of is “pumpkin” orange. Skipping ahead, since I was under time pressure, I locked down the basecoat colors and mapped out the major zones of color.
Step 4 – Re-prime and base coat the used model
I worked panel by panel. Of course, I realized about half-way through that I needed to paint each and every rivet in gold metallic paint! Crap! That’s going to slow me down. Thankfully, I knew exactly best kind of metallic gold to use. Retributor Armour gold metallic has the best coverage of any gold I’ve used before.
To speed up the paint job, I used an airbrush. I mean, obviously, there were huge open surface areas on the model. This is the perfect scenario for airbrushing versus normal brush work.
Step 5 – Paint details, finish the base, and add special effects
For this repainting project of this used model, my aim was to get the piece to a nice tabletop standard. This meant decent contrast with good dynamic range between light and dark values, and distinct vibrant color zones between parts of the model. I also wanted to give the model a bit of flair, so I planned to paint some OSL in some places.
For more about these different painting techniques, you can check out the other miniature painting articles here.
When I finished painting these elements on the model (you can see in the photo), I worked on the base. I created the base with a mix of PVA glue, water, and sand. I spread this “sandy slush” on the base and let it dry. Afterwards, I then gave it a heavy wash of brown ink and let that dry, too. When I was finished painting the model, I gave it a solid 2-3 coats of Testor Dullcote varnish.
Here is the completely repainted model!
Re-painting used model is an inexpensive way to expand your miniature army collection. I tend to surf eBay for used models for clients. Although I don’t like getting used models for my own collection, my experience for how to repaint anything has come in useful.
I hope you found this article useful and encouraging. This refurbishing paint job took less than a week to complete. And, for the final outcome, I think this model came out great! Did the client like the end result? He sure did!
Thanks for reading! Happy painting!