Tools of the Trade: Minis: Bones

“So, last time you said you’d tell me all about Bones minis. What’s the story there?”

Before we get started I’m going to start by saying there is a lot of information here. That said, here we go.

Bones material, sometimes called “Bonesium”, is not made from bone. Developed by Reaper Miniatures, Bones is a softer, white, polymer plastic that allows the miniatures to be somewhat more flexible. This flexibility allows them to take abuse on the table and not ruin your paint job. It also gives the perk of sometimes being able to bend back a weapon or shield or what have you to paint a hard to reach spot which can be very handy.

“Cool, but what is the detail like if they’re so soft?”

While many of the first generation Bones lack some detail on some models, Bones has come a long way since then. Many people are skeptical when they see pictures online of an unpainted mini this is because they are a very bright white which makes photographing detail difficult. It really is better to judge how you feel about them by seeing one up close.  

Bones, in some cases, can compete with metal in terms of detail at a fraction of the cost. Take for example the “mini” Ma’al Drakar the Dragon Tyrant. It is available both in Bones and resin. In Bones it only costs $150 USD. This sounds expensive, but you must take into account the size of the model. It is over 12 inches tall and has a 13 inch wingspan. Now it doesn’t sound so expensive does it? Well, if you still think it does, take into account that the resin kit of the exact same model retails for $700 USD.

“Wow! That really is a lot of money saved! I want to go buy some right now, but what do I need to know about prep for painting?”

So this is a quick rundown on how to prepare Bones for painting: First remove the mold lines, this can be tricky on Bones, so if you are using a hobby knife and are not careful you can gouge or even, in some cases, totally cut through the model. If you’re doing a conversion this might be what you want, but I’m going to assume you’re not converting the mini into something totally different and cutting straight through it is bad. If you decide to use a file you should start by filing in one direction. Then to remove the burrs by filing in the opposite direction.

Next, if there is something extremely bent or misshapen, you will want to boil the mini, focusing on the bent part. To do this you’re going to hold the model, using some kind of safety equipment like silicon tongs, in boiling water. Let it sit in the water for a minute or so, although this can take much longer if doing large parts like dragon wings, then remove from the water and bend the part that you want to fix slightly past where you want it to be when cooled. Once you are happy with the positioning of said part, remembering this over correction, immediately put it in ice water. Leave it for at least one minute. I will usually put it in the ice water and walk away and forget it for a while, this to me at least seems to make it set stronger but that might just be my imagination. After you remove it it should stay in the models new shape unless exposed to heat, it can then revert to its original shape. If you wash the model after you reshape, and this is a good rule of thumb in general, you will want to use cool water so it will not bend back.

Please use caution if you are boiling Bones. They will become very hot when left in boiling water so as mentioned above tongs, or something like a mesh strainer, are suggested for holding the mini while placed in the water. Also, something to note, you probably shouldn’t let the model get in direct contact with the pot. It could damage the mini and possibly the pot. I have found to avoid this you can pre-boil water and pour into a, preferably, glass bowl and continue the process as usual. This will at the very least save you a pot if something goes wrong.

Okay, next: glues, putties, and paint strippers. Any type of super glue (cyanoacrylate) will work well for gluing Bones to either itself or almost any other material. All of the major brands of putty that Reaper tested work well with Bones. Milliput and Green Stuff (kneadatite) are two common ones that are recommended. Thirdly, paint strippers. If you are for whatever reason not happy with your paint job do not fear, you can start over. Reaper recommends using Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner for 12 to 24 hours. I have found that if it is not a large model or a small amount of paint it may only need an hour or so to remove the paint. Once soaked you will want to use a old, soft, toothbrush.

“I noticed you didn’t say anything about primer…”

Ah, yes. This was intentional. Unlike most other plastic models Bones are marketed as paintable right out of the box., meaning no primer needed. A good washing with dish soap and cool water is highly suggested before the first drop of paint is applied but even this is not always necessary. This is a selling point for some people. If you don’t mind a bit of mold line or slight bend here or there there is no reason to not just skip everything I just mentioned about prepping the figure, except for washing it.

“Why is washing Bones so important?”

Bones are slightly hydrophobic – meaning they repel water, so if you decide to thin your paint with water the paint may bead up and not adhere to the mini.

“Wait, what? I don’t need primer? Then what do I use as a base coat?”

Bones miniatures were formulated to work with undiluted Reaper paints for a base coat. Any of their lines of paint will work well as a base coat. This is not to say that other brands of hobby paints won’t work, it just means they are made to work with the Master Series Paint lines (MSP, MSP HD) or the Bones Ultra Colors line.

Personally, I do not use a primer. It has been found by users on Reaper’s forums that most of the liner specific paints work very well as a sort of “primer.” They can be diluted some without being repelled or beading up on the surface. This will bring out the detail without clogging it up as may be the case with other primers if applied too heavily.

For a durable painting surface it is the best choice to use un-thinned acrylic paint, preferably paint meant for miniatures, as the first coat…

“Wait. What if I want to prime them?”

That is an excellent question. There are many options for priming Bones. As a good rule of thumb using a brush on primer applied either with a brush or an air brush is pretty safe and should not damage the mini. Reaper’s Brush-On Primer is a good place to start, it comes in black, white, and grey. However, many other brands of brush on primer will work as well, not just Reaper’s primers.

Gesso, a product used to prepare canvases to be painted, of the liquid variety is sometimes used. However, it is debatable as to how durable it is in the end.  So if you decide to prime with gesso it is probably best to use on models that won’t be handled much.

If using aerosol, commonly referred to as “spray on” primer, you want to be very careful. There are recommended spray primers but there is the risk that any aerosol based primer can cause the primer to never fully cure on the mini. This leaves the mini tacky or sticky. While there are some recommended spray primers, like the Army Painter brand colored or white primers, it is still best to test your intended primer on a small Bones figure you don’t care about in case there is a bad reaction between the material and primer.

There are additives called mediums that can also be used as a type of primer. You’d want to use an acrylic medium since acrylics take to Bones material best. Examples of mediums that work well as a primer are Reaper’s Master Series Brush-On Sealer, Liquitex Matte Medium, and Liquitex Glazing Medium among others. A downside of some of the mediums is that they can be quite thick and sometimes the paint will still bead up some when applied over a dried layer.

That was a lot of information and while important we should move on.

“So, you mentioned that Bones are durable. How durable are they?”

Extremely, and not just when compared to resin or metal. These minis can be put through the ringer. Thrown off buildings, run over by cars, thrown in back packs and much more. Because they are so lightweight, when they’re dropped it doesn’t have as much mass behind them therefore making them able to absorb impacts whereas something like resin would break very easily. Even though they are so durable it is very easy to cut them apart for conversions with a sharp hobby knife.

Even the paint jobs are very durable when the Reaper paint lines are used. The minis I paint are primarily used for gaming. They have seen abuse on the table and are even abused off the table. They are transported in unsecured, reusable plastic containers, mostly jumbled up together with both painted and unpainted figures and while, on occasion, the paint jobs will chip in small places this can be avoided by sealing. However, the durability of the paint job is also highly dependent on the brand of paint you use. Some brands are more prone to rubbing off than others.

“That was a lot to take in, is there anything else?”

In fact, there is! A new and exciting version of Bones is now available for sale. Dubbed Bones Black. I will talk about this next time. In the meantime, happy painting!

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