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7 Miniature Painting Essentials To Save Or Splurge On
G&S Painters GuildG&S Painters Guild

7 Miniature Painting Essentials To Save Or Splurge On

On The Painter’s Guild, host Will Friedle (who is new to the hobby) is joined by veteran hobbyists who show him the ins and outs of painting minis. Join him on his journey this Monday for the premiere episode airing on Alpha where Matt Mercer will be helping Will get a mini prepped and primed.

Whether you’re a newbie painter or a seasoned hobbyist, the is a feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing a painting project, not to mention how cool your table looks when you set up a game with a complete set of lovingly painted components.

There are certain essentials that every hobbyist should have (and truly needs to have) to get going. There are the standard supplies, many of which are actually quite nice, but moreover, there are almost always budget-friendly options that work perfectly well in a pinch. Sometimes it’s better to use your hobby dollars to buy more miniatures than buy supplies, sometimes splurging is worth it.  Here’s my basic list of things you’ll need to get set up, covering both higher-end options as well as a budget-friendly one.

Miniature Building/Prepping Tools


There are a few basic tools you’ll want to have to get building and prepping your minis, particularly if they don’t come pre-assembled. The minimum I’d consider hobbyists have is a hobby knife, clippers, and a file.

A Games Workshop hobby knife (whose grip is actually quite nice to hold) is going to cost more than a knife that uses the same blades from the scrapbooking section at Wal-Mart. One of them cost me closer to $30, one of them cost me $6. Similarly, hobby clippers (used to clip miniature components off of the sprue) and files (used to smooth surfaces of miniatures) can cost upwards of $20, but a cheap manicure set from the dollar store will come with nail clippers that you can use to clip miniature parts off of a sprue, and a nail file to smooth the surfaces of your miniatures.  Both options are perfectly serviceable.



You gotta see what you’re painting, after all. Every once in awhile, I get lucky enough to tackle miniatures in the daylight in a room with big windows. Sunlight is free and when using it as an indirect light source it isn’t so harsh that it washes out the detail on your project. It is also neutral toned – meaning that the way the paint looks on the minis is probably the truest it’ll be since it’s won’t be too cool or too warm.

392That said, painting in the middle of the day is a luxury, and the sun can be fickle, hiding behind clouds on the days where you steal those precious middle-of-the-day hobby hours. And often times I’m hobbying outside of daylight hours.  If this is the case for you, options for artificial light seem pretty straightforward. A cheap desk light with a daylight-toned lightbulb works well enough and will set you back as little as $10, though Ottlites are portable hobby lights that emit a neutral daylight-light, and promise low-heat and low-glare illumination, though they can cost as much as $80.



Anything you can put paint on can be considered a palette. On the budget end, I’ve used disposable plates, comic book bags with white backer boards, a white ceramic tile, and even margarine container lids (all of which have a hard cost ranging from free to fifty whole cents.) Ultimately, you want a smooth surface that is white (so the paint shows up true and you can get a sense of its consistency). If you feel like splurging, small packs of palette cups that cost $5 for a pack of six, pads of palette paper are about $10 and are great for traveling.


When I’ve felt particularly indulgent I’ve even bought myself an artist-quality Sta-Wet Palette ($15) from a fine art store (which works well for layered highlights and wet blending), though I did end up reverting to a cheap version of a wet palette, using paper towels and parchment paper cut to shape in my trusty plastic container (yes, you can make one yourself, as below using a trusty plastic container lid.)


Water Cup

Water is essential to the hobby. You need water to thin your paints (which you should always do with all but one or two techniques) and you should CONSTANTLY be washing your brush. So intrinsic is the water cup to the hobby space that companies have started selling hobby cups that reflect people’s factions for miniature wargaming, or favorite colors in their paint lines. Me, I’m slowly collecting an entire game’s worth of faction-branded cups, though they do cost a pretty penny (around $20 each). Some hobbyists paint with as many as three paint water cups: one for “dirty” water which they wash their brush in, one for “clean” water, which they use for thinning paints, and one for “metallics”, so that metallic paint doesn’t contaminate their clean water cup.

I’ll level with you though: I don’t use my cups for paint: they’re reserved for the other liquid essential to my personal hobbying: coffee. The single paint water cup I use was a jar that cost $4, and originally came with jam.

If it’s a container that can hold a sufficient amount of water that you can swish a brush in it, it’ll do just fine. One more tip: a cup that doesn’t look like your coffee mug will also keep you from washing your brush in your coffee unintentionally (learned from personal experience.)

Paint Brushes

I have synthetic brushes I’ve bought in bulk at the craft store that cost less than a dollar each, and I’ve own brushes that are made from butt hair of a special weasel (it’s called “Kolinsky sable“) that cost me nearly $30 each. While the higher end brush is something I constantly use when painting details, I still use my cheap brushes for basecoats, basing, and glue seals. What you want is brushes with a specific purpose, and how you choose to spend your money for those purposes is up to you. Natural fibers tend to be more expensive, synthetic fibers tend to be cheaper, and both have pros and cons.

I could go on and on about brushes, but I made whole video covering the subject, that helps break down the pros and cons of the different kinds of brushes:

Working Surface


Glue can drip, paint spills, inks splatters and washes can get everywhere. Cleaning up is the least fun part of hobbying, so it’s always a good idea to put down a hobby mat to protect your working surface. I love my hobby mat, though they can be somewhat expensive the larger they get. Newspaper works fine but because I tend to use more watery products (like inks), I favor wax paper as my cheaper alternative.  It also keeps newsprint ink from getting all over my hands, which sometimes transfers to the model.



Here’s the thing about paint: you can get great results with few of high-quality paints in just a handful of colors, so you don’t large quantities of paint nor do you need a ton of colors. Miniature paint is the best, and these tend to range from $3-5 a bottle. They cost a lot because they’re highly pigmented. More pigment means you can thin them out with water to the consistency of skim milk and still apply them to a miniature and get an opaque color wash on the miniature result without having to put globs of paint which would ultimately hide the sculpted detail on the mini.


If you want to save on paint, save by buying fewer paints (you probably don’t need as many blues or reds as I own) instead of buying cheaper paints. Your results will be better when you don’t have to fight your paint to get the results you want.

Looking to join the hobby journey? Be sure to join Will Friedle on The Painter’s Guild this Monday starting Monday on Alpha and jump on the miniature painting bandwagon! Share in the comments what the best hobby tool you use is!


Feature Image Credit: Teri Litorco

Image Credits: Teri Litorco, Ottlite, Masterson’s

Teri Litorco is a miniature wargaming and tabletop YouTuber, as well as the author of The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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