Tools of the Trade: The Essentials

So you’ve decided to delve into the hobby that is painting miniatures. It can be overwhelming at first, and one of the most challenging things is figuring out what tools you need right away and what tools you don’t need quite yet. This week’s post is about the essentials, the tools you’ll need to get started.I will go over each of these topics in more depth in future posts, but this will be a pretty bare bones intro.

First and foremost: There is no “right” way to paint minis. If you are having fun and enjoying it, you’re doing it right.

“Let’s get this started! What do I need?”

Obviously the first thing you will need are miniatures.


They come in all sorts of materials and sizes. Minis come in many different materials from different metals, or plastics, or resins – and more. I enjoy painting minis that are plastic/plastic like or resin for the most part.

Minis also come in tons of sizes. In my experience it was easier to start with a “normal” sized mini, that is something that is between 28 and 32mm. There are minis that are much larger, 54mm and bigger, and minis that are much smaller, 6mm are about the smallest you can get. I have found using these “normal” sized minis will really give you a feel for what you are doing at such a small scale.

However, this is just my opinion. If you want to start by painting a huge dragon, by all means, do so. Your first minis will probably not look amazing but it is a learning experience and a journey before you get into the groove of what works for you and what you consider to look good.

“Enough about the technical aspects of minis, I want to paint!”

To really begin brushes are the next thing you’ll want.


Now, there are tons of different brushes available. Most hobby stores will have brushes in packs for very cheap, and they can also sell single brushes for what seems like a lot when you’re starting out. It may seem like the smaller the brush the better results you’ll get, but that is not necessarily true. In fact, it is much easier to get good results using the biggest brush possible for the job.

Brushes come in a variety of materials. For introductions sake we’ll talk about synthetic and natural brushes, these terms refer to the materials the bristles are made of. Synthetics are, commonly, made of nylon whereas natural hair brushes are made from different types of animal hair.

Synthetics can be found in most places that sell paints used for crafting and painting in general, including big box stores. While synthetics are not the ideal brushes to use they definitely have a place in miniature painting. I started out with synthetics and used them exclusively for a couple of years until I built up good brush care habits.

Natural brushes can easily run $10USD and up for one brush. It can be quite the sticker shock but it is well worth it. When I use my kolinsky sable brushes I get a much nicer result than just using the synthetics. Kolinsky sable seems to be the favorite among miniature painters that use natural brushes.

“That’s neat and all, but what about paint?”

It just so happens that next up are paints!


Like brushes, paints are something that come in tons of varieties. Picking paint can be daunting. There are many different types of paint from enamels to acrylics to craft paints and more.

There are paints made specifically for painting miniatures, generally called hobby paints, but you do not have to use paint specifically made for miniatures to get good results. I’ve found though they are easier to work with than, say, craft paints. All hobby paints, like any other paints, are not made equal.

Paints also generally come in two types of containers; dropper bottles and paint pots. I prefer greatly the dropper bottles because it allows less air into it and less of a chance to dry out quickly.

Another thing along the line of paint you will need is a primer, which allows paint to adhere to the mini. This is especially required if you are painting a miniature that is not pre-primed or otherwise made to paint right out of the box, although even these can sometimes benefit from being primed as well. Primer comes in many brush-on and spray-on varieties.

“Once I have the paint, where do I put it?”

A palette!


Palettes come in various forms but I’m going to talk about three kinds; wet, plastic, and ceramic, each of which have perks. Ceramic palettes are easy to clean even if the paint has dried onto it. You can go cheap with these by buying a ceramic tile from your local hardware store. Plastic palettes can be found almost anywhere that have a section for painting and come in all shapes and sizes.

Wet palettes can be found in hobby stores like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or art supply stores. Wet palettes also allow you to have a longer working time with paint. If used properly you can sometimes have paint stay fresh for days. This is particularly nice when you are mixing colors so you don’t have to remember the exact formula you used. I personally like the ceramic and plastic ones. I have yet to figure out my wet palette so I have no opinion either way on those. 

“This seems like all the basics, is there anything else I need?”

Yes, having water cups to rinse your paint brushes while you work is extremely important.


It is also somewhat important that you don’t use something that looks like your coffee cup or you’ll end up with paint in your coffee or drinking your paint water.

Generally you’ll want two cups; one for rinsing regular paint and one for rinsing metallic paints. Now that may seem like a waste of water but it will keep your regular rinse water from being contaminated with the metallic flakes. This is a problem because it will then get into your paint on your palette and then onto the miniature. It’s never fun to find shiny bits in places that shouldn’t be shiny.

One thing I will also mention that is very important. When rinsing your brushes out DO NOT leave them sitting in the jar bristle down. This will cause the brush to get misshapen and sometimes render them unusable.

“Now can I start painting?”

Almost! But obviously you’ll need a place to paint.


This doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy or dedicated. I know a lot of people who will store everything then pull it out and sit at the dining table to paint. Some people have desks dedicated to it. No matter where you paint and hobby you should protect your area.

Personally, I use a mat made for cutting fabric so any cutting tools I may use won’t ruin the top of my desk. It does not have to be very big but it is very handy. If nothing else you should use some newspaper to cover your area in case of spills. You may also want to use something to protect your clothes as some paints are really hard to get out of fabrics. Don’t forget the paper towels for wiping off your brushes!

That wraps it up for essentials, next week will be things that are handy but not necessary. See you next week!

One thought on “Tools of the Trade: The Essentials

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