Miniature painting, like most artistic endeavours, has a language all its own. To get good – really good – fluency is a must.
This highly bookmark-able glossary not only grants its user +3 Wisdom; its lists of need-to-know miniature painting terminology will define many of the important techniques, artistic and technical jargon, and tools you’re likely to encounter as a painter.
Miniature painting techniques
Base coating: applying the first coat of paint colors to their respective areas before blending or other techniques are used. Sometimes referred to as color blocking in miniature painting.
Basing: adding decorative and stylistic elements to a miniature base.
Blacklining: describes using a black or dark shade of paint to deepen the innermost recesses of a miniature.
Blending: the process of applying paints in order to achieve a color gradient.
Dark lining: describes a technique in which a thin line of dark paint is applied at the intersection of two colors in order to create the illusion of depth.
Dry brushing: a painting technique used to accentuate the details of raised areas and textures on a miniature. In dry brushing, most of the paint is removed from the bristles of the brush before applying.
Edge highlighting: a type of highlighting focused on the edges of flat or perpendicular surfaces.
Feathering: a blending technique in which one color of paint is gradually blended over the top of another color to achieve a gradient. Feathering differs from wet blending, which utilizes two colors simultaneously blended into one another.
Flecking: a technique where thinned paint or ink is sprayed across the surface of a mini using the bristles of a toothbrush, brush, or other tool to create a splatter pattern.
Freehand: the act of painting anything on a miniature that is not represented by the sculpt.
Glazing: using layers of paint, typically thinned with acrylic media, to subtly transform or change the color of underpainted areas of a miniature.
Layering: the process of building color, highlights, and shadows using thinned paint over an underpainted or base coated surface.
Loaded brush: an advanced painting technique that works by loading two or more different paints into a paint brush so that multiple colors appear together and blend when a brushstroke is made.
Masking: covering an area of a miniature to prevent paint from reaching the surface. Commonly used in airbrushing.
Non-metallic metal (NMM): a painting technique that mimics the look of metal using various colors but no metallic paints.
Object source lighting (OSL): when one or more light sources depicted on a miniature is an actual object on the model (or its base). The objective of OSL is to use paint to mimic the way that light falls on and interacts with objects in real life.
Overbrushing: a variation on dry brushing, where less paint is removed from the bristles in order to more densely apply color to raised areas of a miniature.
Pinwash: a focused method of washing which targets specific recesses or other shadowed areas.
Priming: applying a primer to a miniature’s surface using a spray can, airbrush, or brush.
Shading: adding darkened areas to a miniature to simulate natural shadows.
Sketching: applying rough coats of paint to explore a preliminary idea or color scheme on a miniature that will eventually be realized with greater precision and detail.
Sky-earth non-metallic metal (SENMM): a NMM technique that simulates the highly reflective surface of some metals using natural matte colors such as blue, white, and brown.
Sponging: using a dry or damp sponge to simulate organic textures. Related to stippling.
Stippling: adding small dots or irregular shapes of paint using the tip of a paint brush, a sponge, or other tools.
Thinning: using water, acrylic media, or other fluids to increase the viscosity of an acrylic miniature paint.
True metallic metal (TMM): a painting technique using metallic paints to mimic the look and shine of real metal.
Two-brush blending: a technique in which paint is applied with one brush and blended using a second brush loaded with an acrylic medium such as a dry retarder.
Undercoating: refers to the layer of paint applied after priming, before using other techniques such as layering, highlighting, or blending. Often referred to as “base coats.” Primer is not an undercoat.
Washing: a painting technique that emphasizes shadows by allowing a thin mixture of color (a wash or ink) to flow into recessed areas of a model.
Weathering: taking steps to make a miniature look aged, damaged, or affected by its environment.
Wet blending: a term for blending two paints together on a miniature’s surface before either has dried. Wet blending often employs dry retarders or other media.
Zenithal highlighting: an undercoating technique using an airbrush or spray can that reproduces the light and shadows produced by an imaginary light source outside a miniature (such as the sun or moon).
‘Eavy Metal: a common miniature painting style that emphasizes glazing and bright edge highlights.
Common terms in mini painting
Accent: emphasis given to certain elements on a miniature which directs the viewer’s attention.
Archival: materials that meet criteria for non-destructive permanence such as acid-free, lignin-free, and pH neutral.
Base: the part of a miniature that touches the tabletop.
Base coat: the first layer of paint applied to a miniature.
Battle damage: refers to weathering that simulates specific effects of warfare, such as heat scorching, smoke, or bullet holes.
Brush control: refers to the skill with which a painter uses a paint brush.
Brushwork: the characteristic way each artist applies paint onto a miniature.
Chiaroscuro: how light and shadow are rendered on a miniature to create the perception of depth.
Color theory: the combined science and art of using color.
Color wheel: a circular visualization of visible colors organized by their chromatic relationships to each other. The color wheel was invented in 1666 by Isaac Newton.
Contrast: juxtaposition of colors and values; in miniature painting, this most closely refers to the degree of difference between the lightest and darkest parts of a miniature.
Conversion: adding additional elements to an existing miniature model to create unique sculpts. Can also refer to subtracting parts of a miniature. Conversion is typically done using a bits box or greenstuff.
Flash/flashing: refers to burrs or seams of extra plastic, resin, or metal on a miniature resulting from the moulding or casting process.
Fluorescent: pigments that exhibit luminescence (glow) when exposed to long-wave UV radiation.
Fugitive colors: colors known to fade when exposed to long periods of sunlight.
Highlights: the brightest or lightest shades on a miniature. To the human eye, light colors “advance.” Highlights are typically at an object’s highest point(s) corresponding with a light source.
Lightfastness: the ability of paint/pigments to resist fading due to light exposure.
Loading: filling the belly of a paint brush with paint.
Medium/media: any substance intended to be mixed with acrylic paint to affect its texture or viscosity.
Opacity: a measure of the amount of light that passes through an acrylic paint.
Painterly: forms defined by colored areas, not by lines or edges, where the artist’s brushstrokes are visible.
Patina: a gloss or discolored sheen on a surface resulting from age. Related to weathering.
Pigment: granular solids that give paint its color.
Pinning: inserting thin rods of metal to secure parts of a miniature together for durability.
Saturation: the intensity of a color of paint. Saturation is often related to pigment quality.
Shadows: the darkest shades on a miniature. To the human eye, dark colors “retreat.” Shadows are typically at an object’s lowest point(s), corresponding with a light source.
Terrain: refers to the collection of scaled buildings, trees, rocks, and other elements that simulate an environment or scene on a tabletop for miniature gaming.
Value: a measure of how light or dark a color is.
Viscosity: the thickness/thinness of an acrylic miniature paint.
Materials and miniature painting tools
Airbrush: a handheld device used for atomizing paint into a conical aerosol spray.
Airbrush medium: ready-to-use medium that thins acrylic paint to the right consistency for spray application. Airbrush medium typically contains flow improvers.
Bits box: a collection of pieces such as helmets, extra heads or arms, weapons, scenic elements, and leftover model components designed to facilitate conversion.
Cyanoacrylate (glue): a quick-bonding glue composed of cyanoacrylate, an acrylic monomer that transforms to a plastic state after curing. The industrial name for “Crazy Glue” and other super glues.
Dry palette: a hard surface made of paper, wood, plastic, or glass on which to mix acrylic paints. Also known as, well, just a palette.
Dry retarder: an acrylic medium that increases the time a paint remains in a wet state. Often used when wet blending.
Flock: another name for static grass, a synthetic fiber product used to simulate natural textures such as grass or snow.
Flow improver: an acrylic medium that affects the viscosity of a miniature paint by breaking water tension to increase flow.
Greenstuff: a 2 part blue and yellow epoxy/polyamide putty used to fill gaps or sculpt on a miniature. The resulting emulsion is green, hence the name.
Inks: highly pigmented liquids most typically used for washing and pinwashing in miniature painting.
Lahmian Medium: an acrylic medium produced by Games Workshop that changes paint into wash.
PVA (glue): polyvinyl acetate, a water-soluble thermoplastic adhesive commonly referred to as wood glue, white glue, or Elmer’s glue that cures at room temperature.
Paint brush: a handheld tool used to apply paint.
Paint handle: a handheld tool designed to hold a miniature while painting to prevent damage, smudging, and fingerprints.
Palette knife: a blunt tool used to mix and apply paint.
Primer: paint-like substances chemically formulated to bond with a surface to prepare it for paint.
Resin: in miniature painting, refers to a 2-part organic compound (a resin and a hardener) that, when mixed together, polymerizes to form a hard and durable plastic.
Swatch book: a journal with paint-friendly pages used to sample colors of paint, record color schemes and recipes, and preserve important information about painting processes.
Technical paints: paints made by Games Workshop that contain additives and acrylic media to simulate special effects.
Tufts: preshaped fibers, usually self-adhesive, designed to simulate clumps of grass or foliage.
UV resin: a type of resin that polymerizes and cures in a short time using energy from ultraviolet radiation or devices.
Varnish: the clear final protective layer applied to miniatures after painting.
Wet palette: a tool that allows water-based acrylic paints to be reused after mixing by keeping the paint moist. Most wet palettes consist of an airtight container, a slightly damp sponge, and specially designed palette paper.
Anatomy of a paint brush
- Bristles: hairs or filaments that make up the head of a paint brush.
- Belly: the widest part of the bristles, where paint collects.
- Toe: tip of the bristles, where paint flows from the brush.
- Heel: the point where the bristles enter the ferrule on a paint brush.
- Ferrule: a metal cuff on a paint brush that holds the bristles in place in conjunction with glue.
- Handle: the part of a paint brush held in the hand.
Note: never, ever, ever let paint get into the ferrule of a brush. This leads to split toes and stray bristles and, ultimately, the breakdown of the glue that holds the bristles in place.
Anatomy of an airbrush
- Needle cap: protects an airbrush needle’s tip from contacting any surface.
- Nozzle cap: focuses fast-moving air in front of the nozzle.
- Head cap: the metal end piece that holds an airbrush nozzle tightly in place.
- Nozzle: the part of an airbrush that separates fast-moving air from liquid until the moment of atomization.
- Needle: the long, sharp rod which acts as a flow limiter and directs aerosolized paint in a tight spray pattern.
- Lid: on a gravity feed airbrush, this refers to the flat disc of metal that closes the fluid cup.
- Fluid cup: the receptacle for paint on an airbrush.
- Chucking nut: used to tighten the needle of an airbrush inside the housing, allowing the trigger mechanism to grab the needle and pull it back.
- Chucking guide: a metal cylinder that safely guides an airbrush needle into place within the housing and contains the auxiliary lever.
- Needle spring: the spring responsible for an airbrush needle’s back-and-forth movement.
- Spring guide: metal cylinder that holds the needle spring tightly in place.
- Handle: the rear end of an airbrush that covers the internal mechanisms.
- Trigger: mechanism used to start/stop air flow and spray.
- Auxiliary lever: the tab in an airbrush trigger housing that reduces back-and-forth finger movement.
Compressor: a device that supplies high-pressure air to an airbrush.
Air hose: the hose that supplies air from the compressor to an airbrush.
Did we miss anything?
There you have it – a comprehensive list of important miniature painting terms, techniques, and tools! Have an idea for an addition to the Miniature Painting Glossary? Send us your terms and definitions on Twitter (@MasterDaDungeon).
About the Author
Jay Pike is a writer and artist living in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter, IG, and in any MMORPG at @snuuurch.