What magnifying systems do you need for painting detail? To paint details on miniatures, you need good fine-motor skill and eye sight. Magnification aids in particular, e.g., visors, headsets, or reading glasses, can improve detailed painting.
I use a visor when I’m painting faces, eyes, or free handing.
When I’ve shown my work to others, and when they look close, I often get asked, “do you use a magnifying glass, or something–“
My answer is “sorta”.
The magnification aid I use for painting miniatures and highly-recommend is:
Donegan Optivisor Headband Magnifier (Glass Lens)
Why this magnifier? The best reason to choose a particular type of magnifier is comfort.
Comfort is the first and best reason why you should choose a particular visor system. You’re going to be painting for hours. Do it in comfort.
The other advantages of the Optivisor Headband is the ability to switch out the glass lens inserts for different magnification power (1.5 to 3.75x). This makes the visor incredibly versatile and can adapt to your personal needs and tastes for painting miniatures.
You can even adjust the headband part for your specific head-shape and size. Because it is an open air design, you won’t sweat or overheat from wearing it for long-periods of time. I’ve personally worn one of these headbands comfortably for more than 3 hours (for a big painting commission job).
Notably, the front lens part flips up when you don’t need to use magnification. This allows you to keep going with your task without removing the visor. This is very convenient. Finally, I am able to wear my normal glasses while using this visor. I can jump between normal vision and magnified vision with a flick of the wrist.
The following would be my choice if I wanted a cheaper option, with more bells and whistles:
The extra light isn’t necessary. You’ll have your desk lamp. This visor comes with lenses of different optical power. But, in contrast to the Optivisor (above) that uses glass lenses, this visor uses plastic lenses. Plastic lenses are cheaper, but don’t have the optical clarity of glass, and are more difficult to clean. Nonetheless, aside from more visual options, e.g., more lenses, a light, and a loupe, this visor has the same function as the Optivisor.
What is the best magnification power for painting minis?
I recommend 2.75x as the default magnification power.
At 2.75x magnification power you have sufficient improvement in seeing detail while also balancing out the drawbacks of too much or too little power.
In general, magnification power between 1.5 to 3.75x is sufficient for improving the ease of painting details on miniatures. Too much magnification and you lose depth-of-field (see article on how depth of field affects photographing miniatures), which can make painting more difficult. Too little magnification and you might as well not use any vision aids.
Why is focal length important?
Focal length of a magnifying visor is the distance between the lens and the magnified object. Focal length determines how much space you have between your miniature and your face. If your focal length is too short, then your brush will bump into your visor.
Generally, a visor/lens with a shorter focal length has greater optical power (also measured as diopter) than one with a long focal length; that is, it bends the light rays more sharply, bringing them to a focus in a shorter distance.
At 2.75x magnification, the focal length is 6 inches, which is for me is the perfect distance to hold a miniature while I’m painting it for detail.
If you wanted more distance between yourself and the miniature, you would need to decrease the magnification power, e.g., 2x magnification has a focal length of 10 inches (you can buy this lens plate for the optivisor).
At the end of the day, what magnification strength and focal length you choose is personal. Get what is comfortable and useful for your needs.
Two Recommended Magnifying Visors for Miniatures or Scale Models:
Headband Magnifying Glass with Light ($25.99)
If you don’t want to “wear” magnification, then use a magnifying lamp.
Thanks for reading!