Are you looking to paint your Dungeon and Dragons or other RPG miniatures faster? I’ve played in a number of role playing game campaigns where we used miniatures to resolve combat encounters. Painted miniatures added a lot of flair and ambience to the narrative and helped immerse us in the story. Of course, if you have a bulk of RPG models to paint, you’ll probably want to get them finished efficiently but still look good for the tabletop. The same goes for board games with miniatures that could use a nice paint job, e.g., Zombicide, Gloomhaven, and many others.
In this article, I show you the speed painting steps I use to quickly finish painting models while maintaining a quality finish. For more about the difference between tabletop quality and display/competition paintjobs, you can check out this article.
Here are the 5 basic steps for speed painting a miniature or model:
- Applying only a few base colors
- Use a suitable wash
- Paint details (optional)
- Varnish the model
When you’re trying to get a large bulk of RPG models complete for a campaign, but don’t require the highest quality finish, learning how to speed paint is a great skill. So, how do you do get your models painted fast? Read on and see the video summary below!
What is speed painting?
Okay, let’s get some context. What is the definition of speed painting? Everyone paints miniatures at different speeds, depending on the outcome they are aiming for. For role playing games like DnD, Pathfinder, or Frostgrave, the miniatures are only placeholders for characters whose flesh and bones reside on paper. But, in-game, the physical models appear within scenarios. The immersion factor of these miniatures draws every player into the fun. Suffice it to say, when the miniatures are painted, everyone benefits!
Speed painting is a technique you use to finish an art piece in a limited amount of time. For painting miniatures, the time limit varies. But, the time to complete a paint job is usually a hour or less per single 28 or 35mm scale model, e.g., Reaper, Darksword, or Warhammer miniature scales. Most painters would agree that speed painting a model should take less time than a usual paint job, which could be from an hour or to several hours.
Why speed paint miniatures?
Here’s a quick note about why you should learn to paint models faster. There are side-benefits beyond simply finishing your paint jobs quicker. Speed painting is significantly beneficial to your skills as a miniature painter. The act of learning to work faster and ignore that doubting voice in your head is a major benefit to learning to speed paint. Sometimes you have to race against the burnout that chases all of us.
From a technical standpoint, the process of speed painting hones your ability to focus on what elements of your miniature need paint, helps you see what major forms on the model require your attention, and how to be efficient with your brush strokes. All of these skills make you a better miniature painter overall. Learning to speed paint also helps you experience that sense of accomplishment when you need that extra motivation to finish a project.
Steps to Speed Painting a Miniature
In the following example, I painted this RPG miniature in less than 20 minutes. As I show you the painting steps, there are tips and tricks that you can take note of that will help you finish the paint job quicker without losing quality. The model I painted here is from Origin Miniatures, which produce models for fantasy RPGs and more.
Step 1 – Primer
It all starts with primer. Priming your models shouldn’t take long at all. The best primers are easy to apply with a spray can, airbrush, or brush. In my case, I found that Vallejo Surface primer is the most versatile and useful primer for all sorts of models. I use Vallejo primer for nearly every application in miniature painting.
For a truly fast paintjob, start with a black primer. In the example in this article, however, I used white because it was better for the camera work. The reason black primer is a better color for a speed paint job is because it naturally shades details. The problem with black primer on the other hand is the need to use really good acrylic paint that covers well. Otherwise, you’ll end up with streaky colors as the black shows through the paint layers.
Step 2 – Apply only a few base colors
Reducing the number of colors you paint with will speed up your miniature paint job. In most miniature speed painting projects, I found that I could consistently produce good results with as few as 4 main colors and a good wash. Check out this article about the best washes for painting miniatures.
For speed painting, I do not recommend using a wet palette. A regular glass or ceramic palette is best for mixing and working with your acrylic model paint. Deposit all your paint colors on the palette without thinning with water and try and use up all your paint before it dries.
This small metagame of painting with the paint undiluted on a dry palette forces you to apply the paint to the model with less hesitation. If you dally around too long, your paint will dry up on your palette.
For this model, I followed a painting reference and chose four colors: green, dark blue, ivory, and red paint. The brand for any paint job isn’t as important as using colors that have good coverage. For this work, I know that Reaper Series miniature paints have amazing coverage and dry to a nice matte finish.
Use the biggest brush you can control (key tip). If you want to paint faster, you’ll want to use the largest paint brush you feel comfortable controlling. You want your brush to hold a lot of paint so you don’t need to reload the bristles as often. Also, for each brush stroke, you want to sufficiently cover a large surface area. In general, a larger paint brush will make each brush stroke more efficient.
Block in all four main colors onto the major elements of the model. The key here is to make it easy for a viewer to distinguish cloth from skin, and the weapon from the body. This means making sure you have sufficient contrast across the model. You don’t need to be super neat, but try your best to keep your paint colors on each major part of the model. Don’t bother cleaning up stray brush strokes. Editing your work slows you down, and keep these corrective measures to a minimum.
Make sure you cover every surface so primer doesn’t show through. Don’t mix or dilute your paint, and simply base coat 1-3 layers (or more, if needed) to evenly cover your miniature. Use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process between layers.
Step 3 – Apply a suitable wash
For more details about washes and how to use them to paint miniatures, take a look at this quick wash/shade guide. A wash is any semi-transparent medium, usually a dark pigmented color, that you apply to a model that naturally settles and shades recesses and crevices on the surface. Using a wash is an easy and effective way to draw out the details of a model and increase the contrast of a miniature.
You can make a wash with inks, regular model paints, or buy pre-made washes, like those from Games Workshop. Citadel washes are very useful because they are formulated for miniature work and don’t require any effort other than a good shake of the bottle.
After I let the base coat paint colors dry, I apply a liberal amount of Citadel “Agrax Earthshade” over the entire miniature. I use the same brush I painted with and simply “mop” the wash all over the model. I make sure the wash doesn’t pool excessively in any single area. But, I also let the wash settle in dark puddles where shadows might appear.
Don’t worry about painting in the conventional sense when using a wash. Simply apply the wash as a liquid coat, allowing it to flow where it may. Give the wash time to adhere to the surfaces. On many sculpts, the recesses and other textures will dictate where the wash pigments will congregate into a darkened shade.
Here’s a pro tip for washes: Use a hair dryer to speed up drying. Note that when you use a hair dryer to speed up paint drying that you should use the lowest heat setting. Some resin or plastic models will warp under too much heat. Although you’re speed painting, you still need some patience!
Step 4 – Paint details (optional)
At this point, you’re more than 90% done with the model in terms of “looks”. You could skip this step and finish the model with a coat of varnish. But, if you’re looking for that extra impact for the table, I would suggest investing a little time into a few key details.
If you need help seeing fine details, you cause use a magnifying lamp or a pair of headset visors. I use both to help me see a bit better and struggle less. The easier it is for you to see what you’re painting, the faster you will paint!
Focus on details close to the face of the model. The face should be your priority for details and adding a bit of flair. The facial features make a model that much more interesting to look at. After you finish adding details to the face, think about other major elements. What draws you into the model? Accentuate a few of those elements. Not all of them!
An easy way to add details is to use highlights. Of course, for a speed paint job, you don’t want to add more colors to your palette. Instead, mix your highlight using the colors you already have on the model. For this example, I mixed the ivory paint (the brightest color) with the other paints on the model to create the highlight.
Try feather blending your highlights
I used a bit of feather blending on the axe to add some flair. I also used dry brushing to pull up the highlights on the cloth. Both methods are quick for adding something a tad different to the model without investing a lot of extra time.
Remember to allow the wash to stay dark in the recesses to keep the model’s contrast high.
Take a good look around the model and make sure you didn’t miss any spots that could use an extra touch up of paint. Sometimes the wash step will darken a part of the model too much. In these places, feel free to add a bit of the original base coat paint back in to restore some of the vibrancy lost from the shading step.
Finally, remember to paint the base. For speed painted miniatures, I tend to paint the base black. This keeps the model front and center and avoids adding distraction. Black matches everything and on a tabletop looks good for most playing or display surfaces.
Step 5 – Varnish your model
To complete the model, you’ll want to varnish the miniature. A varnish does two important things.
First, a good matte varnish protects the model from handling and damage during gameplay. I always use Testors Dullcote, which is a reliable and durable varnish. You can use all sorts of products for sealing your models. Here are some varnishing options and tips for use. Second, a varnish evens out any differences in surface shine. This helps retain color and contrast and help a model look professional. This also has a side benefit of helping you take better photographs of your painted model.
Here’s a 2 minute video summary of how to speed paint an RPG model
In this article I showed you the principles for painting an RPG fantasy model fast. For those looking to paint bulk miniatures for roleplaying games, learning how to paint fast and efficiently is a nice skill to have. With practice, you can speed paint a lot of models without losing satisfactory tabletop painting quality.
The total time to speed paint this RPG model was less than 20 minutes. The key things to remember when speed painting miniatures of this scale is to use only a few select colors, a wash, and operating with a big brush. Don’t use a wet palette or thin your paint too much, either. When you’re speed painting, even the smallest hindrances add up and slow down the entire process. Remember that maintaining good contrast on a miniature beats neat lines, always.
Thank you for reading and happy painting!