Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis? Unleash Your Creativity with This Essential Beginner’s Guide

Wet Palette Space Marine

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis? Unleash Your Creativity with This Essential Beginner’s Guide

Our team here has loved playing Warhammer and painting miniatures for over 20 years, We often get asked by new hobbyists – “Do you really need to paint your Warhammer minis?”

The short answer is: No, you don’t HAVE to. But I highly recommend it! Painting brings these incredible models to life in a way that only you as the painter can achieve. It lets you put your own creative stamp on your army.

In this long guide from the Warhammer Universe team, We’ll walk you through everything you need to know as a beginner for painting your first Warhammer models and army.

We’ll cover picking your goal, choosing miniatures, essential tools and paints, basic techniques, all the way through to basing and finishing touches. Our aim is to help you with an easy step-by-step process so you can get an army painted up to a good tabletop quality standard, learn core skills, and more importantly – have fun with this amazing hobby!

Looking to get started Painting? Check out our guide here for The Best Paint Sets for Warhammer Miniatures

Choosing Your Goal and Motivation

When starting out, it’s important to figure out what you want to achieve. This keeps your efforts focused. For new painters I’d recommend setting these goals:

  • Finish painting your starter army or collection within a reasonable timeframe (You know who you are.)
  • Learn more techniques to a competent level so you can paint easier
  • Develop your skills with each new model and try new things! Trying new things by failing is the easiest way to learn
  • Get models up to a tabletop standard, you can play without paint but it’s like playing without pants.

Your motivation might be:

  • To get into the hobby and understand painting and learn
  • Complete your first army project so you can finally tick it off your list
  • Quickly expand your number of painted armies to then do battle with others!
  • Deepen your knowledge of core skills to be able to not have to carry a rule book (Good luck!)

Write your goals and motivations down. Read them back to yourself if you ever feel demotivated. Knowing why you want to paint will help drive you to finish. This technique here can be applied to anything in life. Write. Down. Your. Goals. 

Feeling nervous about painting? Don’t worry! Read our Beginner Tips for Painting Miniatures

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Choosing Your Warhammer Miniatures

Once you’ve figured out your aims, now comes selecting those all-important models! Here’s my advice:

  • Choose an army with appeal to you because they look badass and are awesome. This connection will keep you painting, as it’s all about what YOU want.
  • Focus on starter sets or patrol boxes to begin with. Around 500 points is very easy to use.
  • Make sure the playstyle suits you if gaming is the goal. Read some battle reports to understand factions, there is also a battle report YouTube channel here: SN Battle Reports
  • Consider some of the easier to paint armies for beginners like Space Marines.

Don’t buy a massive 2000 point army straight away. Start small. You can always expand later. Smaller starter forces help you understand solid painting basics without getting overwhelmed.

Color wheel

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Paint Scheme

Once you’ve purchased your models, learning a painting scheme is the next step.  A few pointers here:

  • Complementary colors work well as a foundation. Green skin with purple armor plates for example. Use the color wheel above as an example for colors that work, the opposites are the best ones.
  • Neutral tones like metallics, browns and greys make good accents.
  • Lighter overall tones are beginner friendly as shading can quickly add contrast.
  • Don’t do advanced blending and wet effects until you have more experience.

I’d recommend painting a test model to trial your colors before committing a whole squad to the firing line. Work on the scheme until you’re happy then stick with it!

Want to take your paints up a level? Read our guide on How To Layer Paints for Warhammer Miniatures


Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Essential Tools and Paints

Now you have your miniatures, below are the most needed hobby supplies:

Brushes – A starter set with variety of brush tips.  Raphael and Winsor & Newton make quality brushes.

PaintsCitadel and Vallejo paints designed for miniatures work perfectly.

Wet Palette – Essential for keeping acrylic paints useable for longer painting sessions.

Lamp – A daylight bulb lamp prevents eye strain and helps you see colors better.

Primer Spray – Creates a smooth basecoat for paints to grip onto. Army Painter makes great primers.

I’d recommend The Army Painter Most Wanted Paint Set coupled with their Wargames Starter Brush Set to get going. Top quality tools for great value.

Read a full overview on The Best Paint Brushes for Miniatures 


Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Building and Preparing Your Models

Before painting, your miniatures need to actually be put together! (Shocking, we know). Carefully follow the instructions, using plastic cement(Or glue) to glue pieces together. Here are some tips:

  • Remove any mold lines or flash (excess plastic) gently with a hobby knife – Don’t go overboard, a great Gordon Ramsay quote simply is ‘We can always add, but we can never take away’
  • Dry fit pieces first before applying glue to check fit. Adjust as needed.
  • Work in stages for larger models if that aids painting later, no need to have it all done at once!
  • Build in batches e.g. make 5 troopers at once rather than individually, this way you can spend more time thinking about what to paint instead of making the next model.

Once built, models need priming. Primers create a key for paints to bind to. Sprays like The Army Painter’s Uniform Grey give flawless, even coats. Avoid humidity and shaking cans vigorously. Lightly mist models from all angles until covered.

3d Printed

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Basecoats

With models assembled and primed, now we start actually using paint! yay! This first layer is called a basecoat.

  • Thin paints slightly with water or medium so they flow smoothly not and not super thickly, a balance between the both and learning it will help
  • Work methodically section by section on each model rather than jumping around. Concentration is key, if you need to step away for a moment do so.
  • Be patient doing 2 thin coats for solid coverage rather than 1 thick coat
  • Use larger brushes for bigger areas, smaller for details, don’t just whack a big brush across it and think “good job”
  • Allow each section’s basecoat to dry before moving to the next. Or don’t, It’s up to you. I mean what could go wrong with mixing wet paint?

Don’t worry about neatness at this stage. We enhance that next…

Made a mistake and not sure how to fix it? A guide here will show you Common Mistakes when Base Coating Miniatures

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Shading and Washing

Once basecoated, models will look flat. Flat is good (In Models at least) Now we bring them to life with shading using washes!

Citadel Shades are perfect beginner washes. They naturally get right into crevices and details. Use shades matching basecoat colors for more natural looking minis:

  • Load brush with wash and apply ‘liberally’ over target areas – Don’t go nuts
  • Guide wash around with brush to prevent big pools forming
  • Work on only one color sections at a time allowing wash to fully dry
  • Too much wash can look messy. Wipe away any big blobs with a brush. Big blobs are bad.

It’s better to build up shade intensity slowly, don’t rush things. Apply some protective varnish before oil washes as well.

Not sure what Washing is? Read our full guide here for What Are Washes and Glazes for Warhammer Miniatures

Warhammer 40k Space Marine

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Highlighting and Layering

With shading complete, we’ll further go into something with subtle highlights:

  • Mix base color with white for highlights
  • Apply thinned highlight mix along edges/raised areas that would catch the light
  • Best done in stages – Midtone first, then extreme edge highlight
  • Be careful keeping highlights thin. Less is always more, you can always add but never take away.

Take care and time here for that professional finish.

Layering can be tricky! A guide here for How To Layer Paints for Miniatures

Using Advanced Techniques

Once confident with basic skills, try working more on certain miniatures with advanced effects:

  • Glazing – Build transparent layers for blended color shifts
  • Wet Blending – Smooth seamless transitions between colors
  • Drybrushing – Catch raised edges randomly with paint stippling
  • Freehand Designs – Carefully paint intricate detailed patterns

Practice new techniques on test pieces first before tackling treasured models! I’m speaking from experience, I miss you, Bloodthrister.

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Basing Your Models

Basing completes your models, adding flavor and real beauty to units:

  • Apply grit, sand, texture gels or other materials to build landscape. Realisim adds character, always do this.
  • Undercoat bases appropriately e.g. grey for sand, brown for soil, take your time here. Can get tricky to get it right.
  • Wash and drybrush base colors, followed by scenic touches like grass and rocks, rocks are always fun!
  • Ensure colors complement the model without overwhelming, Again look up a color wheel and whenever you have an idea for paint, look at it!

Well made bases really make armies pop!

Fancy something more snowy? Read a guide here for How to Create Snow Bases for Miniatures


Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Finishing Touches

Finally, we suggest the following quick finishing touches:

  • Eyes – Add simple contrasting dot for definition and focus
  • Blood Effects – Sparing use of Blood for the Blood God technical paint works nicely
  • Rust Textures – Dab on orange rust effects for worn metal areas
  • Matt Varnish – Removes shine for a uniform finish across army

And we’re done! From your first tentative steps into the hobby to completing gorgeous models worthy of the painting god Duncan Rhodes himself!

Do You Have to Paint Your Warhammer Minis?: Next Steps

In this guide, we covered everything you need to get started painting your first Warhammer army to a solid tabletop standard.

But the journey doesn’t stop there! Along the way you picked up various beginner skills that will serve as building blocks for the next stage in painting your Miniatures

Where to go from here?

  • Revisit early models to improve them as your abilities progress
  • Take time focusing on mastering a new advanced technique through practice
  • Start planning a new army project utilizing lessons learned
  • Lean into the creative freedom of painting alternate paint schemes
  • Begin gently experimenting with simple kitbashing and conversions
  • Consider entering painted model competitions at your local club


Painting Warhammer models is hugely rewarding. And while optional, adding your own touch through color really makes any army unique to its commander.

Approach matters too. By setting clear goals tailored to your skill level, acquiring the right fundamental tools and paints, learning through on-going repetition, and accepting imperfections along the way, reaching a tabletop standard is very achievable for those new to the hobby.

I wish you nothing but success as you paint your way to glory, one delightful layer of paint at a time! As Duncan Rhode would assure you – “There are no mistakes on the road to perfection with miniatures…only happy accidents!”

Now get brushing young artist! This universe of creative possibility awaits…

Related Article