Wednesday 3 February 2016

6mm Painting Masterclass…

Ok, let’s be honest. This will certainly not be anything even remotely resembling a ‘masterclass’. It might not even be a tutorial. What this post is intended to be, is more of a 6mm painting cheat sheet. I’ve been asked a number of times now to put a blog post up showing stage-by-stage how I paint my 6mm miniatures, so here goes. I’ll list a few general thoughts about painting 6mm (AKA the finest of scales) first, and then have a mini phot tutorial.

I’ll preface absolutely everything by saying that I am not a first class painter by any standard. I am competent, but I am also very slow. It’ll take me half a day (as in 6 hours straight) to paint three, or maybe four, 28mm figures. In the same time I could be several hundred 6mm chaps.

Start with a detailed range of figures.
I like Baccus and Rapier ancients/medieval because they are (generally) sculpted with a bit of an exaggerated style with high relief. This is going to be important. Baccus colonials are also very good – perhaps the best 6mm figures I have seen. I have found that Dark Realm do nice sci-fi stuff.

Start with a good bush.
I have only one brush that I use for 6mm figures – a size 0. You don’t need a finer one, as there is a limit to the amount of detail to paint, but a thicker brush will not really be good enough.
Admittedly I do also use a 4 for slopping brown paint on the bases.

Use a dark undercoat.
I prefer to use a dark brown undercoat. There are a couple of reasons for this.

A white undercoat means you need to be far more careful when applying the basecoat (stage 1), making sure you get into all the creases, as when you ink the model (stage 2), the white will show through the ink if not fully covered.

Black is a possibility, but I find that a black undercoat can make the application of your basecoat (stage 1) tricky, depending on your palette. Neither my yellow, nor my brighter red will cover a black undercoat and therefore need multiple coats.

Brown, however, is the king. Not only is it dark enough to allow you to me a little ‘rustic’ when applying your basecoat (stage 1), but basecoat colours tend to adhere better, generally/always allowing for only one coat.

Also, brown is just about the most common/useful ‘default’ colour. What do I mean by default colour? I mean the stuff on the figure you don’t necessarily want to spend time painting. This, for me, includes the backs of shields, trousers, pike shafts etc, and at least 50% of horses.

Most horses are browns, bays and chestnuts, that means you can get away with a undercoated brown body, just adding different colour to the manes, tails, a star or blaze on the head, and socks.

Unfortunatley, the only unit I had ready prepped to paint were my Baccus Maddhist camelry which I use/substitute as pre-Islamic Arabs. And that means they are all on camels. Which are not brown. So I kind of missed the ball there. Anyway...

Unless I am painting a very open-order unit, I usually stick most or all of the figures to some form of strip before undercoating. I might still glue some to the base, normally one rank or a loose scatter. So long as I have room to get my brush around I am happy enough. If the unit is only going to be a loose scatter of figures I will generally glue all figures straight to the base before undercoating.

You are painting a unit, not a figure.
It may surprise some people, but it is possible to spend a lot of time adding great detail to a 6mm figure. But you don’t have to. The beauty of the scale is that players and passers-by focus on the mass effect of the unit, not on individual figures. It is the mass effect, not the fine detail that is important.

Stage 1 – the base coat.
This is the stage where the main colour theme of the unit is decided. Try to keep the colours to a minimum. Try to keep to two, maybe three primary colours. You want these to contrast is possible to really make the figures ‘pop’ when finished. You should try to leave a tiny bit of the dark undercoat showing where the primary colours meet if possible.

If you want a more irregular look to your unit, use different shades of the same colour – it the colour theme is blue and yellow, use blue and yellow on 1/3 of the figures, and sky blue and yellow on the last 1/3.

I tend to start with torso and work my way out. That way, I find it easier to be a little rustic and much faster in the application of the paint without having to go back later and fix mistakes. Skin is normally left to last as skin is usually at the extremities – faces and hands, sometimes legs.

Stage 2 – the ink wash.

Ink is your best friend. All of the mistakes and messy bits from the base coat will now be cured. The ink washes over the figure, gathering in the incisions/creases and pooling in corners. It obviously adds shading and obscures the joints.

While the ink dries, I take a moment to paint the edges of the unit’s bases.

Stage 3 – return of the base coat.

Up to this point, I find painting a chore. But once the ink has dried (or mostly dried), I start to enjoy myself. The ink will have dulled all of your stage 1 base colours. Using the same colours, return and just lightly apply it to the most exposed areas: the centre of the torso, the tops of sleeves, the upper half of the face of the shield, the top of the helmet.

Stage 4 – highlight.
This stage is generally obsolete, although sometimes large areas such as a face of a shield, it can sometimes help to have a lighter shade of colour just along to top edge.

Stage 5 – basing.
My approach to basing is quick and easy, but relatively effective. I start with 3mm magnetised mdf bases. I know that some people prefer thin bases. Aesthetically I can understand why, but after spending time, effort, and a little bit of love, to paint my unit, I want them to survive being handled on the gaming table. Remember, even if you are the most careful, fine fingered gamer in the world, accidents still happen, and your gaming partners/passing child might not be as delicate. A thicker base allows the unit to be manhandled by the base and the figures don’t need to be touched.

After gluing down the figures, either in a scatter or in formation, I apply a coating of wood glue and cover the entire thing in paving sand. This is the fine-grained brown sand with regular inclusions of larger, irregular shaped grains used for brushing between pavers. Larger tiny stones can also be added now, usually just before pouring on the sand. They give more of an impression of rough ground.

It is important that the paint on the figures is completely dry before this point, or else you’ll find the sand sticks to the paint. When the glue dries, you’ll have 1) a good base ground cover, 2) your figures will be double stuck to the base (no chance of rebasing now… mwahahahaha), and 3) the ground level will be slightly raised helping to obscure the face 6mm figures tend to be cast on thick strips.

When the sand is stuck firm, I then put on smaller or larger patched of glue which are then covered in static grass. I use standard sized static grass, same as the stuff I use for 10mm, 15mm and 28mm figures. I have three different pots. A green, a dried yellow and a blend of the two. I usually use the patches of the green and the blend for lusher style bases, and the yellow and the blend for more arid bases.

Stage 6 – get gaming!


  1. I having the most difficulty with choosing an earth colour for the bases themselves. The shades of mid-grey or dark-brown that I'd use for a 20 or 28mm base seem too dark for 6mm and the figs blend into the base when viewed from a distance. I'm trying to decide if my figure colours are too dark or my base colours are too dark... or a bit of both...

    1. I would suggest that the earth colour that you paint your base is less important than the flock/static grass. Without flock, I always feel my figures blend into the sand I use, but post-flocking, they stand out more.

      If in doubt though, high contrast is the key. Use bright colours on the figures wherever possible.

  2. Very useful post. Thank you sir!

  3. Excellent post and a great tutorial. It reassuring to see a similar style to my own. I did a tutorial of my own a while back ( advocating the Brown undercoat... It raised a few eyebrows but it really does work.

    1. Och, there now. You see. That is a proper tutorial. Very nice.

  4. Thanks for this Nick!

    Do you spray varnish at the end?

    1. That is a good question. Yes I like to do two coats of matt varnish, but I only spray on dry days with a low(ish) humidity. Being in Ireland, that means that it can go months without the right conditions.

    2. Which one do you use?

      A mutual friend doesn't varnish his figures but I certainly do, and I don't see the static grass sticking without it.

    3. I used to like Dullcoat, but as that is practically impossible to find over here these days, I have been using GW Purity Seal. I haven't tried Army Painter varnish, but I do use there undercoat and as I'm out of both at the moment, I'll probably order them together.

  5. I also used Dullcoat and then bought Purity Seal, though I haven't used it yet. I have used ArmyPainter but found even their lightest shade rather dark.

  6. Excellent advice. Particularly the suggestion to use bright colours, ink and varnish will dull your basecoat down.
    Logic and physics would suggest that the inplied distance of small scales require a duller and lighter tones.
    In practice, such treatment leaves the figures looking bland and anonymous.

    I'd add a few findings of my own - learned through painful experience.

    1. In a massed unit, headgear, weapon points and shields are noticable - these reward some effort and neatness. Tunics, legwear and boots usually disappear into the mass.
    2. Each foot observation distance scales to about 100 yards. There's little point adding details that can't be seen at typical observation range.
    3. For some visible details (shako plates, hussar's busby bags) a tiny dot of colour is good enough.

    4. Basing is important, partilularly how you arrange the figures. Time spent here is rewarded: Pay attention to what you're trying to portray.
    * If your close order unit is several bases wide, should you minimise gaps at the edges of each base?
    * 6mm provides room to reflect closeness of order, formation depth, and regularity of lines.
    * Do you want your command groups in the front line, or standing our front?

  7. and presumably this will work with 10mm figures as well? asking for a friend :-)

    1. For sure. It is my standard approach.

    2. obviously but I may try the brown over black approach to undercoating :-)