Zenithal Dry Brushing to “SlapChop” Paint Miniatures

Want to paint your miniature army fast without sacrificing quality? Speed painting miniatures is something I’ve used in competition, as well as in some commission miniature paint jobs I’ve done. When you want to reach tabletop quality miniature paint jobs, getting your models battle-ready for example, then the slap chop approach using a zenithal underpainting is a great solution.

In this article, I’ll explain the concept of zenithal dry brushing and how it can help you reach that tabletop or even competition level miniature quality in a fraction of the time. We will also dive into the slap chop approach to see how this technique works and what materials are required. So let’s start our journey!

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - vertical banner feature image

Key Objectives

  1. Discover how to paint your models fast using the popular slap chop method
  2. Understand how to use dry brushing in three easy steps to paint miniatures fast
  3. Find inspiration and motivation to experiment and paint more miniatures
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - painting a tau model using a pointed rounder brush
“Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” – US Navy Seals

What is the technique of “Slapchop Painting”?

Slapchop painting of miniatures is a technique for speed painting miniatures. While there are several approaches to slapchop miniature painting, the core idea is to start with a black and white underpainting, or grisaille. Often, this underpainting starts with a zenithal priming or highlighting step.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - airbrush spray zenithal highlight infographic cartoon
You can use an airbrush to paint zenithal highlights. But, if you really want to get the job done with less prep time, then a simple dry brush approach works, too.

(You don’t need an airbrush or spray paint to zenithal paint the undercoat. You can use a regular brush to recreate the zenithal underpainting. See below for how to do this).

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - painted Horde grymkin miniatures using the slap chop miniature painting approach
With zenithal highlighted miniatures, you can add high-contrast color in a matter of minutes using transparent inks, glazes, or washes.

For 28-35mm scale miniature painting, e.g., Warhammer 40k models, a skilled slapchop painter can probably finish painting a single model to a fairly high-quality tabletop standard paint job in less than 20 minutes. I agree with many in the miniature painting community that the slapchop technique is often considered the fastest painting method, providing a balance between speed and quality.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Speed painting using the slapchop painting method on a host of miniature precursor knights
I painted this entire collection of Warmachine miniatures in a single weekend using speed painting techniques.

In general, the slapchop method consists of an binary (dark/light) underpainting, followed by a glaze or filter of translucent colored paints, e.g., contrast paints, ink, or glazes, followed by a dry brush or quick sketch of highlighting color to bring up the model’s volume.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Underpainting and glazed miniature for Horde tabletop wargame
I painted this almost entirely with glazes and washes applied over a black and white zenithal under-painting.

Here are more details for how to use the slapchop technique to paint miniatures.

How to Slap Chop Paint Miniatures for Speed and Quality

For fast paint jobs, I often start with the following three basic steps:

1. Prime the Miniature in Black

Begin by priming the miniature with a black base coat. This foundational layer ensures that subsequent colors adhere well and provides depth to the miniature’s features. If you want to paint any miniatures fast, e.g., speed paint, slapchop, a black base coat of paint or primer will always be your first choice.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - unpainted white plastic model mercenary for Warmachine tabletop game in spray booth
A bare plastic model is now ready for primer.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - black primed miniature close up
I used a dark gray almost black colored primer to start this paint job.

2. Drybrush White or Light Gray Over the Top of the Model

Next, use a drybrush technique with light gray paint to cover the entire model. This step helps to accentuate the textures and create a subtle gradation of shades. Focusing on the raised areas will create a more three-dimensional appearance, giving life to the model. (See more tips for how to do this below).

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures -  Close up dry brush on surface of black base coat of model
After applying a black base coat of color, I applied a dry brush of white paint over the raised surfaces of the model.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - drybrush characterful texture applied over top of miniature close up
Working my way from the top-down, I dry-brushed the white paint to recreate the visual effect of an imaginary light source from above.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - final zenithal highlighted model using a regular brush, no spray
Here you can see the zenithal highlights against the black base coat. Together, they create the contrast you’re looking for in your underpainting.

3. Paint the Miniature with Translucent Paint or Glazes

Finally, apply a glaze or translucent (thinned) layer of paint over areas of the model. This will allow the black and white zenithal highlights you applied before show through, increasing the contrast in your colors automatically.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Loading green ink close up onto a brush
I load my brush with Green Stuff World Dipping Ink. Any paint medium with transparency will do.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Green stuff world dipping ink product photo of bottle
You can find a huge variety of Green Stuff World Dipping Inks in all sorts of colors. They come in huge bottles and will last you a long, long time!
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - applying green translucent glaze over under painted model
A single layer of dipping ink or contrast color paints (Citadel) will allow your underlying black-and-white paint job to show through.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - green glaze from dipping ink applied over entire armored surface of the miniature
Applying that first single layer of transparent color took less than 2 minutes. Allow this layer to dry fully before applying another, or moving to paint another part of the model.

You can also use pre-made Contrast Paints, such as those from Citadel/Games Workshop (reviewed here) or Green Stuff World Dipping Inks. This step adds color and definition, completing the process and resulting in a table-top ready piece.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Slap chop speed painted first coat of glaze and wash
This is what the model looks like after I applied 2-3 layers of the green dipping ink, followed by accent details. I painted the metallic parts using Army Painter metallic paints. I also applied a thin wash of Agrax Earthshade to parts of the model to emphasize the armor panel lines and texture. To get to this step, it took me about 20 minutes of work, and most of this time was waiting for underlying layers to dry. Use a hairdryer if you want to work faster.

Summary: How to Use Zenithal Dry Brush with Glazes to Slap Chop Paint Miniatures

StepDescriptionKey Points
1. Prime the Miniature BlackBegin by priming the miniature with a black base coat to ensure that subsequent colors adhere well and to provide depth to the features.– Provides strong foundation
– Adds depth to features
2. Drybrush White or Light Gray Over the Top of the ModelUse a drybrush technique to apply white or light gray paint over the entire model, focusing on raised areas to create a three-dimensional appearance.– Highlights textures
– Creates gradation of shades
3. Paint the Miniature with Translucent Paint or GlazesApply a glaze or a translucent layer of paint to allow the black and white zenithal highlights to show through, thereby increasing contrast.– Enhances contrast
– Adds color and definition

In the following sections, I share more tips and information about the zenithal dry brush technique, including what types of paint and brushes work best, as well as how to get the most out of your supplies. I also include detailed step-by-step instructions for achieving the perfect dry brush effect.

Best Zenithal Dry Brush (Tool Recommendation)

Yes, you can paint zenithal highlights without an airbrush or using a spray primers. To paint the underpainting you need to start with in the slapchop speed painting approach, the best way is to use the dry brush technique (as mentioned above).

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - product photo of generic cosmetic brushes side by side
Affordable, and near-disposable, these cosmetic brushes work perfectly as dry brushes. Just don’t expect them to last a long time.

In my opinion, the best drybrush for creating a zenithal underpainting is an inexpensive cosmetic brush, or an inexpensive hobby-branded drybrush.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - The Army Painted Drybrush set for speed painting
I’ve been using The Army Painter Masterclass Drybrushes for years.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - loading a dry brush in white paint, dipping in a pot of citadel base ceramite white
Using the Army Painter Drybrush. Load up!

When you’re looking for a brush to apply a zenithal highlight, it is a good idea to find a drybrush that you don’t mind treating roughly. For new painters, this is extra important because you’ll want to learn as quick as you can for the least investment upfront.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - close up angled photo of the bristles of dry brush
Stiff, durable bristles make a dry brush worth its weight in…paint.

Importantly, find a brush with fairly stiff bristles. This will give you more control over how the paint deposits on the raised surfaces of the model. It also creates the desired effect of keeping your shadows intact.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - OSL painted stone ruin base using drybrushing
You can combine dry brushing with other techniques, e.g., glazing and airbrushing, to create some amazing special effects. Check out how I painted this stone base using a combination of basic painting techniques.

Using your dry brush to paint zenithal highlights: How to Mimic a Light Source

The very top of the raised textures on your model should be highlighted. The shadows should remain dark within the recesses. The great thing about using a dry brush approach to applying the zenithal highlight is that it creates a final result that is effectively the same as you could achieve with spray cans with black and white primer (or paint).

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - side view of underpainted, black and white dry brush miniature
Notice how the drybrush application of white paint leaves behind a textured, characterful surface. This is the hallmark appearance of a zenithal highlight paint job applied with a regular brush. I love this effect.

In my experience, to get the smoothest effect with dry brushing, make sure to use a light touch. You shouldn’t have to apply much pressure from your dry brush onto the working surface of your miniature. Pigment should deposit fairly easily.

person holding white light bulb
The zenithal highlighting technique replicates the appearance of a light source shining above your subject. This is a photo of such an effect in reality. Take a close look at how highlights and shadows juxtapose each other (i.e., above versus below), creating a high contrast scene. You can use a variety of miniature painting techniques to achieve this. The slap chop speed painting approach using a zenithal highlighted underpainting is the fastest way to achieve this effect. Photo by Luca Nardone on Pexels.com

Dry Brushing Zenithal Highlights Takes A Few Layers

If you’re worried that paint isn’t applying fast enough or in thick enough coats, then my advice here is to be patient. It will take a several layers of dry brushing when you’re doing it correctly to get decent coverage. This is especially true when you’re painting a white paint color over black undercoat.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - close up of a drybrush on the scales of an age of sigmar miniature, work in progress painting
The dry brush technique is versatile. Use a light touch when brushing with your dry brush. You’ll achieve a higher quality finish, allow the highlighted pigments to stay on the upper surfaces of your miniatures.

Keep “swishing” your dry brush bristles over the model. Light coats of paint will stick to the raised surfaces of your model. Continue in layers, applying the pigment over progressively smaller and smaller areas until you’re satisfied with the result.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - miniature photo of a slaves to darkness Games workshop miniature with smoke effects and dramatic lighting
Do you enjoy photography? I love photographing my painted minis using unique special effects, e.g., smoke and dramatic lighting.

The mimicked light source effect will emerge slowly. It will appear as though a virtual light bulb shining above your model has left a shadow on the under parts (e.g., the recesses) of your model. Your dry brushing should appear to “cast a shadow” or a kind of fake inverse shade.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - zenithal highlighted weapon on a Conquest miniature, using an airbrush
Using zenithal highlighting techniques, you can make all sorts of sculpted shapes “pop”. The contrast is what helps your painted miniatures stand out from the crowd.

Optional Steps for Extra Special Effect

The final step of any drybrush application is to make any corrections to the surface with another thin layer of highlights or shadows. The ultimate goal of zenithal highlights is to recreate the effect of light shining directly overhead of your miniature.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - close up a sharp pointed round paint brush used for edge highlighting and battle damage painting
For emphasis, you can use a sharp pointed round paintbrush to edge highlight panels. The strong, bright pigment will further push the contrast of the underpainting. This process also gives you a tad more control over how your final paint job will look at the expense of taking up more of your time.

Optionally, I know some sticklers may paint additional edge highlights in spots to make sure the proper angle of any light reflections are clear to the viewer. This, of course, means you’re going to take more time to reach a completed model. I prefer getting the idea down quickly in true slapchop fashion.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - edge higlighighlightinghting close up on a sword model
Use edge highlighting to emphasize the hard shapes and volumes on your models.

Remember: zenithal highlighting mimics a light source. Use the drybrushing method to replace the use of normal spray cans or the use of a spray primer. Avoid using airbrush paints with a regular brush, if you can. These paints are too thin, i.e., runny, and hard to use properly with a dry brush technique.

REmember to Base Your MOdels and Give Them a Varnish

After putting in the work of painting your miniature, you’ll want to base your model and varnish it. These steps serve as the proverbial cherry on top, providing both aesthetic and functional benefits to your work.

Why The Base Matters

The base is the presentation, the picture frame that surrounds your masterpiece. It grounds your work in a space and time you have total control over. Base your models to create the context required for your model to pop.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - side by side vallejo texture mud pot and the model on a citadel painting handle
Vallejo Texture Mud is an acrylic medium that you can apply to any surface with a small spatula or sculpting tool. It dries fast, looks amazingly real, and creates a lovely base alone or when combined with other basing materials.


In gaming settings, a well-based miniature can provide clear demarcations for gameplay mechanics, making it easier for you and your opponent to see what is happening apart from the tabletop landscape.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - applying vallejo texture mud to the miniature's base
Apply your basing texture wherever your mind imagines it should go. There’s no real wrong way to create a compelling base. For those looking to get the job done quick, however, I suggest using pre-made basing materials, such as Citadel Technical paints or Vallejo texture effects.

You can use simple materials to base your miniatures. Or, you can sculpt an entirely new model for your painted piece to stand on. The world is your oyster and for many, including myself, the process of basing a miniature can become a hobby in itself!

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Vallejo texture mud earth color tone on the model's base
And, done.

The Importance of Varnishing

Once the model is painted and based, a layer of varnish serves as a protective coat. Here are three reasons you want to seal your painted miniatures with a high quality varnish:

  1. Physical Protection: Miniatures often face rough handling, especially during gaming sessions. A varnish acts as a safeguard against chipping, scratching, and even the occasional spill.
  2. UV Protection: Over time, the colors on your miniature can fade due to exposure to sunlight. A UV-resistant varnish can preserve the vibrancy of your colors for years to come.
  3. Better contrast and color: A matte varnish, in particular will greatly improve the appearance of your painted model. By creating an even non-reflective surface over your model, color vibrancy and contrast will be greatly improved. Matte varnish can also be used to bring out the details of your model, as well as protect it against wear and tear from handling.


Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - spraying a matte varnish from 6 to 12 inches away in cardboard box
Spraying a matte varnish from a distance avoids pooling and frosting.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - top down view showing texture contrast and color after varnshing
With a matte varnish, color and contrast look great. It also makes photography easier.
Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - final miniature photo on a black backdrop in a studio setting
The final complete model; painted in less than 45 minutes.

Best 10 Paints, Inks, and Washes to Use With the Zenithal Highlighting Technique

There are a lot of options when it comes to adding color over your zenithal primed model. For slapchop miniature speed painting, a translucent paint, ink, or glaze medium of some sort is what you’re looking for.

Here, I’ve compiled a 10 popular and less well-known ways to colorize your black and white under painted models.

For those looking for a larger volume of medium that you can “dip” your models into, or use liberally, I recommend taking a closer look at the Green Stuff World Dipping Ink line. These inks are formulated specifically for miniatures and there are a variety of colors to choose from as well, so you can get creative with your miniature painting schemes.

Top 3 Paints for SlapChop Painting Over Zenithal Primed/Highlighted Miniatures

If you’re looking for my choice of translucent paint and filters for speed painting over a zenithal undercoat, here they are:

1. Citadel Contrast Paint

Citadel Contrast Colors are designed to act as a base coat, wash, and highlighter all in one. They are especially good at bringing out the details of a miniature, saving time without compromising on quality. These paints have high flow and transparency, letting the zenithal priming underneath show through, which creates natural shadows and highlights.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - pot of Citadel Colour yellow close up product photo

The ease and speed of application make Citadel Contrast Paint an ideal choice for SlapChop miniature painting. The natural highlights and shades that emerge from the translucency of the paint saves you a lot of time, and offers a quick finished look with minimal effort.

Citadel Contrast Paints


  • Time efficient: one coat usually sufficies for most paint jobs.
  • Wide Range: Extensive palette provides flexibility in achieving desired colors.
  • Ease of Use: Beginner-friendly and reduces the need for multiple paint layers.


  • Price: They are on the pricier side compared to other options.
  • Less Control: The flow can be hard to control, sometimes leading to pooling in recesses, or loss of detail.

2. The Army Painter Speedpaint

Army Painter Speed Paints are formulated to be fast and efficient, offering base coating and shading in a single application. Like Citadel Contrast, they’re designed to work well over zenithal highlights, but they tend to be slightly less saturated.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - Product photo of The Army Painter Speedpaint starter set

Army Painter Speed Paints are a solid choice for SlapChop methods due to their quick-drying nature and ease of use. While they might offer fewer color options, they are cost-effective and still produce a quality finish. Make sure you varnish your models after applying speedpaints, as they can rub off and may reactivate when wet.

The Army Painter Speedpaint


  • Cost-Effective: Generally more affordable than Citadel Contrast.
  • Quick-Drying: Fast drying times facilitate speedy painting sessions.
  • User-Friendly: Simple to use, especially for those new to the hobby.


  • Limited Range: Fewer color options compared to Citadel.
  • Requires Clear Coat: For permanent finish, a varnish sealer is necessary

3. Scale 75 Instant Colors

Scale 75 Instant Colors are marketed as a direct alternative to Citadel Contrast Colors, aiming to provide an quick solution for shading and highlighting. These paints offer a wide range of colors and are somewhat thicker in consistency, which can make them easier to control.

Zenithal Dry Brushing to "SlapChop" Paint Miniatures - close up photo of the Scale 75 instant colors paint set

Scale75 Instant Colors are recommended for painters who are willing to climb a slight learning curve to achieve potentially superior results. Their thicker consistency allows for precise control, making them ideal for SlapChop painting methods where speed and efficiency are key, but so is the quality of the finish.

Scale 75 Instant Colors


  • Control: Thicker formula allows for more precise application.
  • Color Vibrancy: Offers rich, deeply saturated colors.
  • Versatility: Useful for both advanced techniques and quick applications.


  • Learning Curve: May require some experimentation to get desired results.
  • Availability and Expensive: Not as widely available as Citadel or Army Painter products, with premium pricing.
King of nothing painted with glazes close up
I painted this model almost entirely with translucence contrast glazes. “The King of Nothing” from the Grymkin faction | Warmachine-Hordes Miniatures game from Privateer Press.


As a commission mini painter, efficiency is key to timely project completion, striking a balance between speed and quality.

The Slapchop Technique is a game-changer, integrating zenithal dry brushing as its cornerstone, setting up for translucent glazes and inks that animate models. It’s economical, suits hobbyists at any skill level, and drastically cuts down painting time.

Paint choices, like Citadel Contrast Colors, Army Painter Speed Paints, and Scale75 Instant Colors, vary but all shine with zenithal dry brushing.

Whether seasoned or new, the SlapChop method is great for those looking for speed without losing that high-quality touch.

I hope you found this article helpful! Are you looking for more efficient ways to get your projects done? We love feedback, so leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Happy mini painting!

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