How to Reduce Eye Strain While Painting Miniatures (Solutions)

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain While Painting Miniatures (Solutions) - prevent eye strain - eye pain while miniature painting - banner

Painting miniatures can be an enjoyable hobby for many people. What many of these miniature painters don’t know is that painting miniatures could also be causing them eye strain and discomfort. What are some of the ways to reduce or eliminate eye strain and the associated pain while painting miniatures?

This article will discuss how to minimize or eliminate eye strain while painting miniatures, as well as how to prevent it all together!

Key Points

  • Painting miniatures is a lot of fun, but it can also be tiring and cause eye strain
  • Here are some tips for reducing eye strain while painting miniatures
  • Find out how you can reduce your risk of eye strain while painting miniatures!

What is Miniature Painting “Eye Strain” and its Prevalence?

Eye strain happens when you do too much close work (like painting miniatures) without taking breaks or resting your eyes. It is common problem you’ll experience when you stare at something for a long time–say concentrating on painting those pesky purity seals on a Warhammer 40k space marine.

To understand eye strain, you’ll have to know that your eyes constantly focus on subjects through fine motor movements in your eye sockets. Muscles continually contract and expand to control how the lenses in your eyes focus light on the light sensitive nerve sensor, i.e., the retina.

The ability to see details up close while you’re painting miniatures, strains the muscles in your eyes.

When you’re trying to focus on a static object that isn’t moving, the same muscles strain to hold focus. It’s like clenching your fist on a tennis ball for a long-period of time. It hurts after a while, and your arms start to ache.

This is similar to what is happening with your eyes when you’re painting miniatures and aren’t allowing your eyes to relax. The muscles that control your eyes’ ability to see and focus on objects tire out, leading to pain and discomfort.

Symptoms of Eye Strain While Painting Miniatures

  • Headache, dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Body fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Pain

It’s the long term exposure to a certain focal point that causes the problem of eye strain. After a while, your eyes feel tired, fatigued. This can lead to headaches, dizziness, and even nausea (source).

Sure, you may think you’re dehydrated or simply in poor health. But, it’s also possible that you just need to take a break from focusing so hard on your scale model, miniature, or whatever task you’re forcing your eyes to see for long-periods of time.

Short term pain or discomfort often goes away after a short rest period. Longer periods of exposure can lead to long term issues like dizziness and headaches; not only is this uncomfortable, it will make future painting sessions much more difficult so you want to avoid this.

Why Does Painting Miniatures Lead to Eye Strain and Discomfort?

It’s quite simple. Painting miniatures is an activity that puts a lot of pressure on your eyes. With close subjects, your eyes need to work harder to keep things sharp and in-focus. Here’s how it does that and why it can lead to pain over time.

When you’re trying to focus on details, your eyes must maintain a strict depth of field (DoF).

What is depth of field?

Depth of field is a measure of how much of a subject you can keep in focus and sharp. DoF is determined by the shape of your eyes’ lenses–which focus light on the retina–and the opening size of your iris, respectively. The iris in humans is a thin, circular structure that functions to control the size of our pupil. It allows more or less light into the retina depending on what we need at any given time.

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain While Painting Miniatures (Solutions) - prevent eye strain - eye pain while miniature painting - depth of field example
To achieve a larger depth of field, the pupils in your eyes have to get smaller, just as the aperture in a camera does.

For good DoF while painting miniatures, your eyes must strain with smaller pupils, reducing the amount of light that gets to your retina. This means the lens needs to work harder to focus that limited light on a smaller region of your retina. But, to ensure you have enough brightness to “see” enough detail, your eyes must continually move, twitch.

By twitching, your eyes are moving the focal point of light on a larger surface area of your retina. This gives you the needed “resolution” to work on your miniature that is likely closer to your face than your normal everyday objects.

Of course, to move your eyes constantly requires that the muscles that do all the moving are working significantly more. And, so those muscles tire out, which leads to problems with strain, fatigue, and all the associated complications of trying to see your miniatures while painting them without a break.

Three Proven Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Eye Strain

To reduce eye strain while painting miniatures or working with scale models, you can do these 3 things:

  1. Take breaks from working with your miniatures and look at distant subjects
  2. Use better lighting
  3. Consider magnification aids

1. Rest your eyes

The easiest thing you can do to prevent or reduce eye strain when you paint miniatures is to take breaks. Allow the muscles that control your eyes to rest. Instead of focusing hard on near subjects, look away into the distance, e.g., across your room or go outside and take a 10 minute walk.

I don’t recommend using your smartphone or computer while you take a break, because your eyes won’t get any rest this way. Similarly, if you’re already experiencing a headache, try not to take any medication. Anti-inflammatories, e.g., ibuprofen or similar drugs, may reduce your pain and discomfort, but they are overkill for alleviating eye strain.

Even better than looking away from your hobby desk and models is to close your eyes for a while. Shut your eyes and listen to a great audiobook or some good music. After 10-20 minutes, the rest you give your eyes will make painting and working with your miniatures more tolerable.

Finally, be mindful that poor posture, or sitting at a desk without proper ergonomics can also contribute to some more serious eye fatigue and other discomfort. Use a proper desk and sit upright, as much as possible, arching your lower back into its natural rested position. You’ll be amazed at how keeping other parts of your body in optimal positioning can help other parts work better, including your eyes!

2. Use a diffuse and bright hobby light

Harsh lighting that is too bright or dim can put undue strain on your eyes. It’s no surprise that a common cause for eye strain while painting miniatures is indeed poor lighting.

When the lighting you’re using at your hobby desk is too bright, the hard reflections on your working surface causes your eyes’ pupils to close and you will squint to protect your retina. All of these actions force the small muscles around your face to contract and strain. Do this long enough and you may feel discomfort and pain.

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain While Painting Miniatures (Solutions) - prevent eye strain - eye pain while miniature painting - kraken princess
The ability to see details on miniatures like this one requires straining your eyes for long periods of time. Magnification aids can help enlarge your working surface so your eyes don’t need to work as hard to focus on tiny details.

If your desk lamp is too dim, then you will lack the ability to see proper contrast and details. Your eyes will sweep the surface, twitching constantly, to make out texture and details.

This also puts too much demand on your facial musculature. Dim light will eventually make you sleepy, drowsy, and in some cases simply make you frustrated because you can’t do a good job with your miniature work.

For best results in your work, more comfort, including less eye fatigue and strain, use a high quality hobby lamp to paint miniatures and models. An LED arch lamp is another recommended option due to its ability to reduce harsh shadows and even diffuse illumination across a large surface of your workspace.

3. Consider magnification aids

When you are working with miniatures and scale models, your eyes need to focus on a closer subject than normal. That means your eyes must adjust to accommodate for the shallower depth-of-field (or the amount of your model that is visually sharp). To do this, your eyes’ pupils need to shrink to maintain focus with near subjects. This is similar to you needing to close the aperture of a camera to maintain depth of field in macro photography (i.e., read more about macro photography).

Suffice it to say, when you need to see details, your eyes need to resolve light and dark (i.e., contrast). It is the difference in contrast that lets you see form, structure, and shape on a miniature. When you’re up close, your eyes have to squint to maintain focus and that’s extra strain on your eyes’ muscles.

You can reduce eye strain–and extend your comfort working on miniatures–by magnifying what you see with an optical lens. Using a built-in magnifier in your hobby lamp, or a wearable magnifying visor headband, can help your eyes relax and allow you to work more efficiently and comfortably. Try it!

How Does Magnification Help Reduce Eye Strain?

With magnification aids, your model is no longer “too close”. Your eyes don’t need to work as hard to focus on small details. When I was painting miniatures and I felt tired due to straining my eyes, I tended to take breaks.

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain While Painting Miniatures (Solutions) - prevent eye strain - eye pain while miniature painting - optivisor
I highly recommend the Optivisor headband for all your 2.5x magnification needs when painting miniatures and working with scale models.

But, when I was in the zone I didn’t want to stop. So, I learned that using my magnification lamp helped me paint longer without worrying about getting the headaches or dizziness that accompanied eye strain.

Note that if you’re using a magnifying lamp, try backing away and looking through the lens at a normal viewing distance (~8-12 inches away from the optical lens). With a headband visor, a good tip is to find one that fits your head comfortably. If you get a headband that is too firm or tight, this can also lead to discomfort and headaches.

Overall, the best way to avoid eyestrain while painting miniatures is by taking regular breaks, using proper lighting, and keeping your eyes at a comfortable distance from the miniature you are painting.

Can Eye Strain Lead to Permanent Damage?

When you experience eye strain from looking at miniatures or a computer monitor too long, you will be uncomfortable and may experience some pain. However, this discomfort does not lead to any damage of the eyeballs themselves. In other words, eye strain does not lead to any eye damage or change the anatomy of your eyes in anyway (source).

So, if you are worried about painting miniatures for long periods of time, and constantly feeling discomfort, it is likely not due to the activity itself. Consult a medical professional if you have problems with your vision that does not go away when you stop painting miniatures or are working in favorite scale model hobby activity.

Final Word: Protect Your Eyes from Stress

Eye strain is a common problem among miniature painters. It can happen when you maintain the same focus on an object for too long without blinking or taking breaks to rest your eyes; and it’s often due to poor lighting in your workspace and not resting enough.

If you are experiencing eye fatigue while painting miniatures, then try adjusting the distance between yourself and what you’re working on. Use good lighting that isn’t glaring off your working surfaces or is too dim.

Take regular breaks so that your eyes don’t get strained by focusing continuously. Finally, consider using magnification tools to help you see details without squinting or focusing too hard with your eyes.

These simple solutions should help reduce eye stress as well as prevent chronic headaches caused by eyestrain after hours of painting.

I hope you found this article helpful! If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy miniature painting!

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