Minature Painting Techniques: Applying Finishing Touches

Miniature Painting Techniques: Applying Finishing Touches

Radiant magical energy. Hot blood dripping from a dagger. Pools of rippling water. These are just a few of the many (many) effects that add those special finishing touches to your miniatures or bases that take them from good to great, even grand. (Sometimes gory.)

In this article I’ll explain some common techniques and effects like weathering, blood, slime, water effects, and object-source lighting. Included are links to numerous tutorials created by other painters to provide you a good place to begin for each effect.

weathered carriage
Gory Paint Effects
Slimy Paint Effects
Water Elemental
Source Lighting Paint Effects

To begin, let’s talk about the second most important step for any miniature after priming: sealing your work with varnish.

Matte varnish

You’ve invested lots of time, resources, and energy into painting your miniature. It’s important to protect that investment! Varnishing a miniature does just that.

It’s how you should finish your miniatures every time. Before you add those finishing touches.

Matte varnish places a hard barrier between the world and your miniature that protects it from damage, preserves your hard-won color values and saturations, and marries all the various textures of your paint together. Varnish also takes the glossy shine off your paint and smooths everything into one cohesive non-reflective surface.

The difference in the overall look of a miniature once a coat of matte varnish dries can be quite dramatic. It’s my favorite step of the miniature painting process. Everything just…comes together.

You’ll apply any finishing glossy touches or effects after you’ve varnished, of course, so you don’t lose their shine.

Choose a brush-on or spray matte varnish. Spray varnish is a bit messier to apply but leads to more reliable and even results. Testors Spray Lacquer (aka Dullcote) seems to be the standard for most miniature painters. I personally use this on every single mini I paint. 

Now let’s talk finishing touches that give your miniatures that extra oomph. 

Blood, slime, and sludge effects

I’ve grouped these three together since they’re similar in application and approach. In general, these effects are the most common kinds of gory, slippery, or downright nasty finishing touches for miniatures you’ll see. These effects are applied after sealing your painted miniature with matte varnish in order to preserve selective glossy effects.

Blood effects on miniatures

We’re talking about the red stuff. Human juice. Those of you seeking info on how to paint goblin or terrasque blood will have to quest elsewhere.

There are two basic types of blood effects with which you need to be familiar: dried blood and wet blood. The good news is they’re applied in pretty much the same way, because blood (well, on Earth, at least) behaves in certain specific ways and dries in predictable patterns.

It’s easy to find reference images for blood spatter. Make good use of those resources.

For me, the best wet blood effect paint for miniatures has been, and always will be, Game Workshop’s Blood for the Blood God. Its translucence, true-to-life color, and shine look so much like real blood it’s startling. This technical paint is also suitably thick and viscous like blood, which makes it easy to splatter and drip realistically.

Dried blood is generally more brown-red and, of course, has no glossy shine. I recommend Vallejo Dried Blood for it’s realistic shade and ultramatte finish.

These links will give you a more in-depth look at techniques behind applying blood effects.

  1. Blood FX and Theory, by Miniatures of Tomorrow 
  2. How to Paint Realistic Blood and Gore, by Tale of Painters
  3. How to Paint Blood Splatter and Gore on Miniatures, by TheMiniJunkie

Slime effects on miniatures

The stuff in the wake of a gelatinous cube. Glistening machine oil. Magical residue. Saliva. If it’s slick, sticky, or stretchy, it’s a slime effect in my book.

I painted Wiz Kids’ transparent Gelatinous Cube miniature using nothing BUT slime effects, with some underpainting. I estimate it took 15-20 layers of Greenstuff World Lim Fluor UV resin to achieve the look I envisioned:

Gelatinous Cube Miniature Slime Effects front by Jay Pike
Gelatinous Cube Miniature Slime Effects back by Jay Pike
Gelatinous Cube Miniature Slime Effects side by Jay Pike

Slime effects are glossy and liquid. Slime effects are usually semi-transparent. You don’t always need a special product, though. You can sometimes achieve the look and high gloss of a slime effect just by applying some gloss varnish over areas you’ve painted; other times you may choose to use a polymer glue to make stretchy ropes of goo. How gross you make it is up to you. 

One thing to note: slime effects aren’t always green! Experiment and discover your own special colors and formulae. 

  1. How to add slime or goo or drool to a miniature, by Watch It Paint It
  2. Pools of Slime, by Goonhammer
  3. Citadel Colour Special Effects: Slime, by Games Workshop 

Sludge effects on miniatures

We’re talking thick toxic runoff, quicksand, squashed innards, battlefield mud, chunky vomit, and whatever oozes out when you squeeze one of Papa Nurgle’s lesions.

Truly dreadful stuff like this:

Sludge Effect example miniature front by Jay Pike
Sludge Effect Example Miniature back by Jay Pike
Sludge Effect Example Miniature back by Jay Pike

Sludge effects are a lot like slime effects, but can feature a wide range of different opacities, textures and finishes, which is why I’ve categorized them separately. The easiest way to try adding sludge effects to your minis is to use premade products, like Vallejo’s Vomit or the classic Nurgle’s Rot that have already perfected the gut-turning color and opacity of their namesakes.

Remember: sometimes the chunks make the sludge. Try experimenting by mixing things into those pre-made technical paints like dried leaves (yes, straight from your spice cabinet), streaks of paint or blood, sand, or static flock to achieve different consistencies and levels of yuck.

Here are some good beginner tips for sludge effects on minis that you can expand on in your own work.

  1. Hobby Cheating 171 – How to Make Bubbling Ooze Bases, by Vince Venturella
  2. Splatter Effects on Miniatures – Blood, Mud & Dirt, by 52 Miniatures
  3. Nurgle Swamp Base, by Mengel Miniatures

Applying Water effects to Miniatures

These can range from standing pools of water, to splashing raindrops, all the way to water elementals. Most of the time water effects are featured as part of a miniature base, but there are lots of other ways to make your minis look wet.

A note before you begin: you’ll spend more time waiting for your water effects to cure than you will applying the stuff. Water effects just take a long time to get right, but the downtime is worth it. 

Typically, you’ll use either a gel or liquid to create water. My go-to products for creating realistic water effects on miniatures are Transparent Water by Vallejo (a gel) and Still Water by Vallejo (a self-leveling liquid). I used a combination of both, with some underpainting, to create the water elemental miniature below.

Water Elemental Effects painting front side example by Jay Pike
Water Elemental Effects painting back side example by Jay Pike

Water effects, just like blood effects, are based on the natural behavior of a substance. Water foams, flows, and undulates in its own very specific ways, and the first key to painting realistic water effects on a miniature is to mimic those movements as closely as possible.

The second key is to remember that water itself does not have a solid color (in fact, it doesn’t have a color at all). Instead, it picks up colors from around, beneath, and above itself. Accurately depicting the ever-shifting values and surface tensions of moving water on a miniature scale, frozen in time, is a process that requires many layers, clever use of washes and underpainting, and a lot of restraint.

These folks can show you how:

  1. How to make water effect bases, by Squidmar Miniatures
  2. Vallejo Water Textures, by Vallejo Colors
  3. Making Waves – Creating splash, wave and water effects for miniatures, by Sproket’s Small World

Weathering

Adding natural-looking wear and tear to your miniature is a great way to amp up it’s realism. As a bonus, it also provides a method of hiding mistakes in your painting (hey, they happen) and can even be used to conceal flaws in a miniature’s sculpt, like ugly mould lines or gaps.

What “weathering” means in miniature painting

When you weather a miniature, you’re taking specific steps to make a model – or just a portion of it –  look aged, damaged, or in some cases, affected by its environment.

Weathering in miniature painting can be achieved using lots of different methods, tools, and products, like:

  1. Pigment powders
  2. Inks and washes
  3. Acrylic media
  4. Paint additives
  5. Technical paints
  6. Chipping
  7. Flecking
  8. Steel wool

The key to weathering is to think about how parts of your miniature would react naturally to battle damage or exposure to the elements, then gradually build those textures and colors onto your work. Usually, these are nicks in blades, caked mud, dust, scorched metal, or rust. 

Here’s something I painted as part of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ran a few years ago. I call it the Hagwagon, and I wanted it to look old, beaten up, and like it had been rattling along forest roads for months. So instead of keeping the brightly colored panels and shiny tin roof of a brand-new off-the-lot carnival wagon, I weathered the whole thing with dust, chipped paint, rust, mud, smeared glass, and even added bird droppings, because why not?

High Detail weathering effects on miniatures - example cart front by Jay Pike
High Detail weathering effects on miniatures - example cart back by Jay Pike

Here are some easy-to-follow weathering tutorials from other miniature painters that will help cement the concept and techniques you’ll need to produce outstanding results.

  1. How to Paint Everything: Weathering, by Goonhammer
  2. Easy Chipping and Scratching, by Corvus Miniatures
  3. Heat Staining Metal the Right Way, by Tibbs Forge

OSL: Object Source Lighting – Finishing Miniatures with lighting Effects

Short for “object-source lighting,” OSL refers to when one or more light sources depicted on your model is an actual object on the model (or its base) – for example, a torch, magic effects, or fiery blade.

(This is a little different than general lighting effects, which imply light sources you can’t see, like the moon or a pit of lava.)

Pardon the pun: the object of OSL is to paint a convincing illusion that mimics the way that light falls on and interacts with objects in real life. It’s all about understanding chiaroscuro (the contrast of light and dark).

Object Source Lighting example for painting miniatures back - By Jay Pike
Object Source Lighting example for painting miniatures front - By Jay Pike

Painting convincing OSL is one of the most difficult finishing touches for miniatures to master because of the complexity of the ways light behaves. To get truly amazing results you’ll need to practice and learn along the way. Consider a few things when planning to paint OSL:

  1. How close is the light source? The closer it is, the stronger the light and deeper the shadows on your mini. Inversely, the further the light is from the model, the wider the radius of the light pool (and the light hits more surfaces, more dimly)
  2. What is producing the light? Fire, magic, and LED lights all behave in distinct ways of their own and may have different hues.
  3. How does the light interact with a surface? Leather, metal, and skin all absorb and reflect light differently. Light doesn’t just create uniform opaque colored shapes when it lands.

The best method of learning OSL for miniature painting is by using references and trying it on a simple model. Then another simple model, and another, until you’ve picked up the basic theory. Looking at real-life examples is a great place to begin.

Don’t forget to research art created by other artists, even those who don’t paint miniatures – there’s a lot to be learned about brushstrokes, color theory, and chiaroscuro from traditional painters (who didn’t even have the benefit of a three dimensional object to guide their work).

Some tutorials to set you on the path of light:

  1. Basic Object-Source Lighting, by Massive Voodoo
  2. Blue Glowing Effect w/o an Airbrush, by WeeMen
  3. Object Source Lighting (OSL) and Other Lighting Effects, by Light Miniatures

Finishing your minis

Learning techniques and theories about finishing touches for your miniatures is remarkably similar to the process of learning to paint miniatures in the first place:

Practice is everything. 

Blood, sludge, and water effects can add depth and story to an otherwise run-of-the-mill mini. For realism, nothing beats good weathering. The topics covered above are just the tip of the iceberg! To get good – really good – at putting the final flourishes on your painted miniatures, you’ve got to put aside comparing your work to that of painters you admire, step back from worrying you’ll get it wrong, and just get your brush wet. Technique comes with practice.

Luckily for us, painting finishing effects is fun even when it’s not technically, perfectly, perfect. Go enjoy yourself! 

Snuuurch

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.

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