Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

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Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby martelloint on Tue Feb 17, 2009 7:45 pm

Originally published in Wargames Illustrated during 2008.

I'll begin the process of editing from today so it's usable on line, (thanks for your patience while this happens).

Painting 1/72 scale Miniatures
By S. Emmett

I have been painting 1/72 scale, (or as they are more popularly known, 20mm scale) military miniatures for over 15 years and in that time I’m often asked for tips and asked ‘how to do’ type questions.
An abortive attempt many years ago at producing painting guides for both SHQ and the SOTCW barely answered the questions to mine and the questioner’s satisfaction, so here after a fashion is my ‘best shot’ at writing a simple yet detailed guide to painting these popular military miniatures using Vallejo acrylic paints.

The Basics

• Research - Before starting a painting project have your research material to hand, books, photocopies or ‘live’ off a computer screen, (very popular these days), nothing worse than starting painting and not knowing how a piece of uniform/equipment is to be painted!

• Work area - Ideally paint in an area that is dedicated to your painting, your personal space, free from small children and interfering relatives, preferably a dedicated workroom/hobby space or a place where drying models can be left undisturbed!

• Pre-Painting equipment – All metal miniatures have flash or mould lines that need removing, the best tools for the job are needle files, (round, half round and flat) and Swann Morton scalpel blades. Use a good quality cutting matt to work on, and a small pair of cutters to remove heavy bit’s of flash.
Use a thick cyanoacrylate, (superglue) to bond metal parts such as loose arms, flag poles and Weapons to the miniature; if you make a mistake positioning an arm, you have time to adjust before the glue sets.

• Light – No getting away with it, an ordinary light bulb or natural light will not be up to the task of painting 20mm scale miniatures. You will need either a daylight simulation 100watt blue bulb or a florescent lamp, (both used simultaneously are best in my experience).

• Paint Brushes – I don’t compromise when it comes to buying brushes, I use sable Kolinsky’s size 00000 or 0000 brushes. Expensive, but essential for painting detailed insignia on miniatures, (after all you collect/game with 20mm miniatures because you can paint uniform detail such as rank insignia or unit insignia on them)! Use the oooo brushes for painting large areas of the miniatures, the finer brushes for the detailed work. You’ll also need a small glass of water to clean your brush of paint.

• Paints – I prefer to use water based acrylic paints, (though I occasionally use oil based enamels too – remember to buy turpentine to wash enamel paint off your brush, do not use water) to paint my miniatures. I use Vallejo paints, purely because I get good results from them and they have a very large selection of colours and shades to choose from. They dry quickly and do not obscure detail when they dry.

• What Paints? – Look at your references and photo’s; write down what colours you see in them. Use this list against the paint type colour chart you’re using to choose your paints. I’d recommend buying at least two shades of any colour you need, plus white and black, (this may save you mixing shades later on?). You will find that different nationalities need different colours ie WWII German Army and the US Army.

• Rubbish – You can never have too much rubbish! An old plastic ice cream box with a lid is perfect for saving scraps of metal, wood, part’s of old miniatures, tomatoe puree foil, (to make flags) and pieces of plastic to use for basing.
A perfect tool for mixing paints is a large plain white wall tile, easy to clean after use and great for ‘keeping’ to one side a mixed colour for the next time you paint!
Pre-Painting Preparation

• Basing - You have cleaned off all the excess metal and flash and washed the talcum powder off the minis, now you should base your miniatures. Basing choices depend entirely on what rules you use, (if your preparing miniatures for a diorama or small scale gaming)? If Basing individually, glue your miniature on to your base of choice, (plasticard, (cut to size), thin balsa wood, plastic slot bases or metal bases.
If you are planning to use multi-figure bases with more than one miniature per base, then at this stage, base your minis on old soft drink tops or wooden doweling, (use anything that stops you touching the miniature while painting will suffice!

We will return to this topic later in the article.

• Converting Miniatures – I will not go in to detail here, but the experienced painter may wish to convert miniatures, (change their appearance), swap heads or change weapons, (please check with the manufacturer that this is ok first). A good modelling medium for filling gaps, sculpting new equipment or uniform is magi-sculpt or Duro.

• Bulk Painting – While many hobbyists like to paint their miniatures singly, I prefer to paint ten miniatures in one sitting, (you may wish to paint many more than I, this will depend on how much detail you wish to paint or how much time you have to paint)? So at this stage, choose how many miniatures you are comfortable painting in ‘one go’ and prepare to undercoat your miniatures.

• Undercoating – There are three main schools of thought when it comes to basing, one is the black undercoat method: you cover the miniature in black paint, (paint or spray) then paint increasing brighter colours over the undercoat creating your own creases. This has the effect of adding shade and depth to the finished model without the need to ink wash. A popular choice of method for wargamer’s who want their miniatures to stand out on the table!
The second method is a white or light grey, you add your base colours, which are then washed with ink or a black paint/water wash and then lighter colours are applied to the creases which add depth to the model.
The third method I know of is to undercoat your model with the predominate colour, (i.e. German infantry use Field Grey), paint the flesh tones and other colours on the miniature before applying a black/brown ink or paint/water mix wash, once dry highlight the model as you would the first method.


Painting Your Miniatures

You have chosen your miniatures, cleaned and based them, chosen the paints you wish to use and decided what method suits your temperament and skills, now the easy bit!
No one can teach a person to paint, you either can or won’t! In my opinion, anyone can paint a military miniature; it takes time and practice to achieve results that you’re happy with. Personally, I would look at painting miniatures as your hobby, not the gaming, or collecting, it’s relaxing and enjoyable and should be seen as a pleasure, not a chore.

Don’t be afraid to mix styles and paints when painting your miniatures!

• Painting Flesh – I use the first method described above, (what I call the special forces/Bill Brewer method after the painting company I first saw use it) with Vallejo paints. I begin by choosing a dark flesh tone, (Cork Brown 843 or light brown 929) and paint the bare flesh parts on all ten miniatures first. I never paint eyes on a 20mm scale miniature, leave the eye sockets dark! Once dry, highlight the nose, cheeks and chin. Paint knuckles and fingers on the hands using flat flesh 955 or 845 sunny skin tone. Use an ooooo brush for this job.

• Painting weapons and metal parts – Check over the miniature’s and see where there are metal parts. Highlight or paint, (where appropriate) these bits using 865 Oily steel. Paint all wooden parts with 826 camouflage medium brown, this is mixed with beige and applied in irregular stripes creating a wood effect.

• Webbing and Boots – If the webbing is black, highlight with 862 Black grey, lighten the grey if necessary, (?). Whatever the colours of the webbing on the miniature paint it with the appropriate colour and then highlight with a lighter tone.
Boots are usually black or brown, either block paint using 862 Black Grey or
dark brown, (such as 822 cammo brown) or dry brush the colours across the creases, (whatever looks more pleasing to you) as you finish one miniatures boots and webbing, move on to the next miniature and so on until they are all painted.

Note: You may wish to use a white undercoat if you’re concerned that the undercoat will darken the subsequent colours painted over it?
Always keep your choice of paint shade lighter than the real uniform, most colours appear lighter at a distance than the actually are!

• Painting the Uniform – After painting the flesh tones, webbing, equipment and weapons you will need to paint the uniform using a 0000 brush. Choose the first paint, (it must be darker than the uniform colour to allow for highlighting, either use a ready available dark tone, or mix your own using small amounts of black) and cover every part of the miniature that reveals the tunic and trousers. Don’t paint in the creases, over belts and webbing or paint over equipment; leave a fine line of black undercoat between each colour to accentuate the shadow effect.
Once dried, begin highlighting using a colour that more closely matches the ‘actual’ uniform colour; remember you want to see the contrast between each shade. Highlight the creases and areas that are more visible to the viewer. Again, once dried, add a second lighter highlight, (mix a little white with the colour) and paint the elbows, knees and any part of the uniform where the light falls most visibly, don’t over paint, you want the illusion of depth!
Lastly paint buttons and insignia, use the appropriate colour/s for insignia using the 00000 brush and paint metal buttons using 865 Oily Steel.
Remember to wash your brush carefully between colours and dry off toward the point using kitchen towel.

• Helmets – Paint the entire helmet in a dark shade of the colour you need, once dry either block paint around the helmet spiralling from the top down to the rim, (leaving gaps or darker paint between the stripes) and highlight the edges and top with a lighter tone, or dry brush the edges and top with a lighter shade, leaving the sides in the original dark colour, then add insignia.
If the helmet has netting, I’d suggest dry brushing 886 green over a darker base colour.


Painting Camouflage Uniforms

Many Post WWI military uniforms or equipment are printed with a three colour disruptive pattern designed to camouflage the wearer from his enemy. Patterns are usually based on natural plants or cover.
Many Nations by WWII were issuing clothing or protected capes that can present a problem to the unskilled military miniature painter, but with a good colour resource and the correct paints, many are in reality very easy.
Where possible copy the pattern from the book/photo to the miniature, keep the patterns small and keep it simple!
Here I describe how to paint some well known WWII German camouflage patterns, often considered the most difficult to master using a small palate of colours, as you gain more experience you can invest in more paint colours saving time mixing shades:

• Waffen SS Oak leaf autumn – To recreate the 'Oak-leaf’ pattern for autumn as found on zeltbahn’s, helmet covers and camouflage smocks paint on dark brown base. Add splodges of 826 medium brown in a random pattern across the uniform, inside these medium brown shapes add smaller irregular leaf like patterns and dots of a lighter brown such as 825 violet brown.
In between the brown splodges, add leaf like patterns and stripes of 929 light brown, be careful not to paint over the dark brown patterns, but some over lapping is desired!

• Waffen SS Oak Leaf Summer - For the summer pattern follow the same procedure as the autumn pattern, but use a 823 Luftwaffe Green in place of dark brown, use a 833 cammo green in place of 825 violet brown, use 846 Mahogany brown instead of 929 light Brown.

• Waffen SS Plane Tree – Use the same colours for autumn and summer patterns, but observe how the pattern closely reflects the plane tree bark when painting the camouflage, (larger more defined patterns).

• Waffen SS Palm tree – Probably the most widely distributed pattern issued to troops during the first half of WWII the palm tree is painted in a very similar way to oak leaf pattern, using the same paints, but with the addition of very distinct stripes of black added over the first paints, creating a palm effect, (as though a palm leaf was resting on the pattern).
The stripes should be short, but painted closely together, do not paint them larger than 3 times the paint brush tip. Highlight the stripes with a very dark brown or a panzer grey, (826) to give that faded look.

• Waffen SS Pea dot - The so-called 'Pea’ pattern is often considered the hardest camouflage pattern to re-produce on miniatures, in reality it is the most simplest!
Though found most commonest on Tunics and Trousers, the cloth may have been tailored ‘in the field’ to produce diverse items such as parachute ‘bone sacks’ helmet covers and caps, (though photographic evidence is very rare).
To reproduce the 'pea' pattern, paint the trousers and tunic, (leaving creases and shaded areas black) with a brown such as English uniform 921. Once dried add irregular sized 835 salmon pink dots about four times the size of your brush tip over the uniform, you then paint similar sized black dots between the pink dots, (careful not to overlap), the black dot’s should not touch the pink!
The Dots should have no regular pattern to them; make them as random as possible, but make sure each dot is the same size! Add grass green dots between and overlapping both the pink and black dots, don’t obliterate the pink and black dots, be subtle in your application.


By now your head should be swimming with coloured dots, though some painters add as many dot’s as possible to the uniform, ‘actual’ uniforms were irregularly made, and some uniforms have few dot’s printed on them and have different colour combinations, (the author has handled an original pink and purple example).
Lastly add a smattering of tan dots across the uniform, to break up the dark patterns, add these over and between each colour.

stage 1 – Trousers are undercoated with Vallejo 921clumps of black and pink dots are added.
stage 2 – Add Vallejo 833 dots between the pink and black dots.
stage 3 – ‘Disrupt’ the pattern of the last three colour dots by adding dots of Vallejo 819.
stage 4 – The pea camouflage trousers are finished.
stage 5 – Finish the rest of the miniature.


• Italian WWII Camouflage Pattern - Paint irregular ‘splodges’ and ‘blotches’ of 846 mahogany brown over the tunic/trousers, In between paint the uniform 888 Olive Grey, this is highlighted with a lighter tone. The mahogany may be highlighted too. To the Mahogany ‘Mickey mouse’ shaped ‘blotches’ add one small irregular shaped Tan spot, (819).


• German WWII Splinter Camouflage pattern – Using 896 Dark Green, block paint the camouflage uniform, leaving creases, armpits and folds black to emphasis depth. Using 823 Luftwaffe Green, paint small thin geometric shapes in a random fashion over the 896 base. Once dry add similar patterns, (don’t overlap) using 826 medium brown, rectangles, and irregular squares look about right.
Once dry paint hard line thin Geometric patterns, ‘z-lines’ and ‘lightening bolts’ using 885 Pastel Green over the Dark green base and brown/green shapes to recreate the M31 camouflage pattern.

• Painting white uniform – White can be a tricky colour to work with, the results can be less than desired if painted wrong, either too thin, too much contrast or too thick?
Use 883 Silver grey or 884 stone grey as a base colour, let this dry then add the white as a highlight. Use broader paint strokes than you would on non-white uniforms and try not to use too much paint on your brush.

• Painting Horses – I personally dislike painting horses, it’s easy to overwhelm them with detail, the only method I have found to work to my satisfaction is to cover the horse in an acrylic Burnt Umber, Burnt Siena, Mahogany, black Grey, (whatever colour the horse is) allow to dry and then black wash the model.
Wipe away excess wash, dry paint a highlight, re-black wash, wipe and then add a final highlight, (making sure the subsequent highlight are lighter than the original). Finally add the black/white legs and markings.
I’d recommend trying different methods until you’re satisfied with the style that works for you.

• Painting metal - The two methods I use are to either polish the bare metal with a small piece of cloth, rubbing off the black undercoat, then mix a small amount of either brown or oily steel with matt coate varnish and paint on to get the required rusty or polished effect. You can try this with gold armour too, using 801 brass.
Or lightly dry brush 865 Oily steel across the metal parts, highlighting the edges and flat surfaces, build up the highlight slowly.

Finishing Up

Once finished your miniatures are ready to varnish and base. This is the boring job at the end, but with some effort a good base can only enhance the painting you’ve laboured over.

• Varnishing – I never use hobby matt varnish products, I always use artist varnishes. I find they dry thinner, (so you don’t lose any detail) and are more hard wearing and produce the best matt finishes, (no gloss shine). I’d recommend C. Roberson and Co picture varnish matt, available from all artist supply shops.

• Basing – I use a Gel medium and fine sand mix to achieve that rough, rubble look to my bases. I apply it with a wax sculpting tool, covering the entire base up to the miniatures feet. Once dry I paint the base using 826 Camouflage Brown, I then dry brush the entire base, (picking out rocks) with Iraqi sand 819.

• Grass – In small clumps using tweezers add Heki, flock or nylon grass using slow drying superglue to hold them in place. I mix Heki with woodland scenics nylon grass, (which can be cut down to size, this makes the grass look more irregular) and Carr’s flock to represent small bushes.

Making Flags
I use empty Tomatoe puree tubes to make flags, (they are made of tin) these are emptied, cleaned and pressed flat. Cut to the size desired and glue your printed flag to the foil. The foil can now be bent to represent the wind effect on cloth. Highlight the flags colours with a lighter shade of colour and varnish to finish.

Storing Miniatures

You’ve spent hours painting your miniatures; the last thing you want is to see them destroyed because of you did not store them safely! I’d recommend using either cardboard box files, (cheap, but keep them flat and somewhere they won’t be moved around too much).
Multi-drawer plastic containers are useful and reasonably priced; at the top end of the market are metal/plastic cases with foam compartments for each model, (Games workshop carry cases) and are very useful for transporting models to events of gaming events.

Suggested Vallejo Paints for WWII Miniatures

The following paints are a guide only, remember to add black for dark shades or white/grey for highlighting light tones!

• 1939-43 German army & Waffen SS

Tunic - 830 Ger. Field Grey
Trousers – 994 Dark Grey
SS Tunic and trousers – 994 Dark Grey
Collar - 970 Deep Green
Jack boots - 950 Black
Low boots -822 Ger. Brown Black
Webbing – 950 Black or 822 Ger. Brown Black
Ammo pouches - 950 Black or 822 Ger. Brown Black
G41/43 Pouches - 986 Deck Tan
Haversack - 986 Deck Tan
Canteen - 822 Ger. Black Brown or 846 Mahogany Brown
Mess Tin - 967 Olive Green or 865 Oily steel
Gasmask Can – 830 Ger. Field Grey
Helmet - 995 Ger. Grey
Utility Uniform - 920 Ger. Uniform or 912 Tan Yellow
M44 Tunic and trousers – 921 English uniform

• 1943-45 German army & Waffen SS

Trousers – 830 Ger. Field Grey
Ammo Cans - 912 Tan Yellow
MP Ammo Pouches - 914 Green Ochre
Gebirgsjager Anorak - 920 Ger. Field Grey
M39 Grenade - 975 Green
M38 Gasmask case V896 Dark Green
Gas Cape - 886 Green Grey
Spade Holder – 862 Dark Grey


• 1941-43 German Tropical Uniform

Tropical Tunic & Trousers - 924 Russian uniform
M43 Field cap – 830 Ger. Field Grey
Boots – 846 Mahogany Brown
Field cap – 830 Ger. Field Grey WWII
Helmet – 967 Olive Green
Ammo Pouches HL Grey 994
Webbing – Iraqi sand 819
Anklets – 975 Green
Luftwaffe tropical Tunic and trousers - 913 Yellow Ochre
Luftwaffe webbing – 846 Mahogany brown
Luftwaffe Tropical Field cap – 913 Yellow Ochre
Luftwaffe/DAK Helmet – 912 Tan Yellow
Boots – 818 Red Leather

• 1942-45 Luftwaffe Field Division

Steel Helmet - German Grey 995
Luftwaffe blouse and trousers – 964 field blue
Splinter Smock – 823 Cammo Green, 846 Splinter Brown & 885 Green
Webbing/Boots - 994 Dark Grey
Bayonet - 994 Grey
Field Flask -822 Black Brown
M38 Gas Mask Case – 964 field blue
Gas Sheet Case – 964 field blue
Collar patches – 968 Flat Green

• 1938-45 Panzer Crew

Field Cap – Highlight w 826 Black Grey
Beret – 826 Black Grey
Officer Cap - 920 German Uniform
Cap/Tunic/Trousers – 826 Black Grey
Waffenfarbe – 829 purple heart red mixed with white
Belt/Boots – 826 Black Grey
Shirt/Gloves -994 Dark Grey

• WWII German Fallschirmjager

Steel Helmet - German Grey 995
Luftwaffe blouse and trousers – 964 field blue
Splinter Smock – 823 Cammo Green, 846 Splinter Brown & 885 Green
Webbing/Boots - 994 Grey
Bayonet – 994 Dark Grey
Field Flask -822 Black Brown
M38 Gas Mask Case – 964 field blue
Gas Sheet Case – 964 field blue
Collar patches – 915 yellow
Bread Bag – 964 Field blue
Webbing/Pouches - 872 Chocolate Brown
Pistol holsters – 872 Chocolate Brown

• WWII British Army
Helmet – 896 Dark Green
Battledress – English uniform 921
Webbing – Iraqi sand 819 or 886 green
Anklets – 819 Iraqi sand or 886 green
Boots – 994 Dark Grey
Arms of service stripe – 829 Purple Heart red
NCO rank – 951 white
Gas cape – 896 Dark Green


• WWII Red Army
Shirt – Russian uniform 924
Trousers – Russian uniform 924
Helmet – 896 Dark Green
Webbing – Iraqi sand 819
Leather belt - 872 Chocolate Brown
Boots – 994 Dark Grey
Greatcoat – 873 US drab
Winter padded jacket – 879 Green Brown

Parsons Jacket – 886 Green Grey
Trousers – English Uniform 921
Helmet – 896 Dark Green
Webbing – Iraqi sand 819
Leggings – Iraqi Sand 819
Boots – 994 Dark Grey
Greatcoat – English uniform 921
42 pattern parachutist uniform – 874 Tan Earth
44 pattern parachutist uniform – Russian Uniform 924

Material Suppliers

ReferencesMilitaria Magazine
Histoire & Collections Books
Graham Green painting article in Wargames Illustrated

Online ReferencesWeb site that’s are useful for tip’s, painting and information related to painting can be found here, I would also like to recommend the site’s run by painters such as Steve Dean, Kevin Dallimore, Holger Schmidt and Jon Pattison.



Throughout this article I have attempted to keep painting techniques and descriptions simple and also drawn on a small palate of colours that will not be expensive for the first time painter. The more experienced painter will of course use more varied colours, saving time mixing shades and develop more complex techniques to achieve better results.
Remember: Painting 20mm scale miniatures is easy, just keep it simple, don’t attempt camouflage uniforms, till you have mastered drab uniforms. If you want to paint your miniatures accurately I’d recommend good reference sources such as Militaria magazine which print terrific colour photographs of military uniforms.

Special Thanks
Andrew Stevens & Mike Percy

The Author

Stuart Emmett has been painting 1/72 scale miniatures for over 15 years, written many wargames articles for the SOTCW and Wargames Illustrated magazine and painted for companies such as Battlefield Miniatures, FAA, SHQ Miniatures and C-P Models.

Copyright Stuart Emmett 2007
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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby fsrpcunha on Tue Feb 17, 2009 10:14 pm

Great article!!!!


Can I ask if it is possible to add some more uniforms? Japanese?

And Moderns too (especially Israelis!!!!)

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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby Olivier on Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:10 am

the really cool stuff with your tutorial is that it goes deep in de tails, with Vallejo colour codes, etc..

the article in WI was great, but this is really top.

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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby martelloint on Wed Feb 18, 2009 7:51 am

Thank you guys, for the kind comments.

Its a work in progress.....

Japanese: 923 Japanese uniform or any of the light brown khaki shades

IDF; US Army OD mixing with 886 grey green to simulate fading

Hope it helps?

stuart :)
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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby fsrpcunha on Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:49 am

It surely does!!!!

Can't wait to start on the Israeli figures!!! But I do have two other projects to finish first.

I have saved this for future reference!

Great work

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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby iAugustus on Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:21 am

That's a whopper of a post!
Visit my Gallery.
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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby martelloint on Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:04 pm

Thank you guys, for the kind comments.

stuart :)
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Re: Tutorial - how to paint 1/72 scale minis

Postby martelloint on Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:15 pm

Painting guide for WWII Japanese Army

1938 Combat dress uniform.

Helmet – 979 Ger. Cam dark green or 822 Ger. Cam brown
Field Cap – 921 English uniform then highlight with 923 Japanese uniform
Tunic – 921 English uniform then highlight with 923 Japanese uniform
Half Breeches – 921 English uniform then highlight with 923 Japanese uniform
Puttees – 921 English uniform, outer straps, use 819 Iraqi sand
Boots – 822 Ger. Cam brown then highlight
Webbing & Haversack – 914 Green ochre and highlight
Leather parts – 822 Ger. Cam brown then highlight
Sword scabbard – 822 Ger. Cam brown then highlight
Water bottle – 821 Ger. Cam beige
Rank patches – 908 Carmine
Tropical combat dress –819 Iraqi sand
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