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!
- Discover how to paint your models fast using the popular slap chop method
- Understand how to use dry brushing in three easy steps to paint miniatures fast
- Find inspiration and motivation to experiment and paint more miniatures
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.
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Summary: How to Use Zenithal Dry Brush with Glazes to Slap Chop Paint Miniatures
|1. Prime the Miniature Black||Begin 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 Model||Use 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 Glazes||Apply 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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Army Painter Quickshade Washes: A lighter shade option that covers a broad spectrum of tones.
- Reaper Liner Series: Dark transparent pigmented media suitable for dark-lining and controlled washes.
- Citadel Contrast Colors: Specifically engineered for one-coat application, providing shading, mid-tone, and highlights. Contrast paints are popular for good reason; they work.
- Tamiya Clear Acrylics: Used for translucent effects, often in scale modeling.
- Scale 75 Instant Colors: Designed to emulate Citadel Contrast’s properties.
- Green Stuff World Dipping Inks: High volume, easy application for glazing, translucent shading, and coloring.
- Army Painter Speed Paints: A favorite! Speeds up the painting process with all-in-one capabilities.
- Liquitex Professional Acrylic Inks: Highly pigmented, artist-grade inks for tailored blends. May require thinning with glaze media or water for best results.
- Daler-Rowney FW Artists’ Ink: Fine art-grade inks suitable for custom shades. As above, may require thinning with other additives or media for best results on miniatures.
- P3 Formula Inks: Aimed at miniature painting, offering a solid range of colors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!