How to Base Coat Miniatures: Eliminate Frustration and Achieve Smooth Finishes in 9 Simple Steps

Warhammer 40k Space marine

How to Base Coat Miniatures: Step-by-Step Guide

As a miniature painting enthusiast and founder of, I’ve painted hundreds of minis over the past 20+ years. Achieving a smooth, clean base coat is one of the most important first steps for any great paint job. After trying countless techniques and products, I’ve honed an effective step-by-step process for flawless base coats.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned about prepping miniatures, choosing paints, mastering brushwork, fixing mistakes, and more. Whether you’re new to the hobby or a seasoned veteran, these tips will help you base coat like a pro. So let’s get started!


How to Base Coat Miniatures: 1 – Choosing Paints and Tools

The right supplies form the foundation for smooth base coats on minis. Here are my top recommendations:

Paints For most minis, I highly recommend quality acrylic paints designed specifically for miniatures, not craft paints. Brands like Vallejo, Reaper, and Citadel offer rich pigments and optimal adhesion. I’d start with Vallejo’s Basic Set – it gives you 16 essential colors to play with.

As your skills improve, build a palette of coordinated colors for your preferred factions. Research concept art, video game assets, movie stills for inspiration. Limit colors at first for a cohesive, balanced look.

Primers Primers prep the miniature’s surface for painting. For plastic and metal, I suggest Stynylrez or Vallejo primers applied with a spray can or airbrush. Brush-on primers work too. Match primer and paint formulas for best adhesion.

The right tools allow for precise brushwork. Invest in a set of high-quality sable or synthetic brushes in various sizes – you’ll need a larger brush for broad areas and a smaller detail brush. Proper brush care is also key – always clean brushes gently after painting.

If you are looking for brushes, look no further! read our full overview on The Best Brushes for Painting Warhammer Miniatures

Other essentials include a wet palette, painting handle, quality lighting, and acrylic thinners.

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 2 – Preparing the Miniature

Proper prep ensures paint adheres smoothly. Carefully inspect models for imperfections, then address:

  1. Mold Lines – Carefully scrape away with a hobby knife. Smooth remaining roughness with fine grit sandpaper.
  2. Gaps and Seams – Fill these in smoothly with modeling putty, then sculpt putty flush when dry.
  3. Flash and Excess Material – Again, hobby knife and sandpaper are your friends here. Remove all residue.
  4. Oils and Release Agents – Use mild dish soap and an old toothbrush to remove. Rinse fully and allow to dry before priming.
  5. Priming – After cleaning, apply primer evenly over the entire model. Allow to fully cure before painting.

Warhammer 40k paints

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 3 – Mastering Paint Consistency

The key to smooth coverage is all about paint consistency. Here’s how to thin paints properly:

  • For base coats, thin paints with water or acrylic thinner to a consistency resembling milk.
  • Test paint flows on your palette first. It should glide off the brush smoothly without dripping.
  • Too thick? Add more thinner, mixing thoroughly. Too thin? Add a dab more paint.

Finding the “just right” consistency takes practice as drying times vary across brands and colors. But with experience, you’ll be able to quickly eyeball the perfect ratio. A good wet palette helps maintain moisture longer.

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 4 – Brushwork Technique for Flawless Coverage

With properly thinned paints, precise brushwork ensures perfectly smooth coverage:

  1. Load a sufficient amount of paint into your brush, then wipe gently against palette to prevent excess.
  2. Apply paint using light, smooth, unidirectional brushstrokes. Avoid short choppy strokes.
  3. Allow paint to just barely pool, then move to an adjacent section, gently feathering edges into wet areas to prevent tide marks.
  4. Work systematically from inside out, deeper layers first. Paint shirts before coats, for example.
  5. Give paint time to dry between thin layers. Acrylics dry quickly, so patience prevents paint buildup.
  6. Brace hands against each other or use a handle for maximum stability. This takes practice but pays off!

Hankering for more information? Read up on our post for Brush Tips for Painting Miniatures

Repeat until achieving flawlessly smooth, even coverage. Multiple thin layers prevent obscured detail and texture.


How to Base Coat Miniatures

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 5 – Strategic Painting Order

Approaching sections systematically ensures crisper details:

  1. Base coat largest contiguous areas first with main armor/clothing colors
  2. Move on to smaller areas like pouches, holsters, detailing
  3. Finish with metallics, fine linework, and facial features

A technique/workflow is vital for painting, View a guide here on Miniature Painting techniques for Warhammer

Allow sections to dry fully before advancing. With patience, you’ll build vibrant, professional-looking foundation.

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 6 – Troubleshooting Common Base Coat Issues

No one gets it perfect every time. When issues emerge, remain patient and course correct:

  1. Paint Pulling or Peeling – Ensure model was properly prepped and primed before painting.
  2. Brush Strokes Visible – Use high-quality brushes and properly thinned paint. Apply with light, smooth strokes.
  3. Uneven Coverage – Allow paint to dry thoroughly between thin layers for smooth buildup.
  4. Pooling Paint – Quickly wick away excess paint with corner of a dampened paper towel.
  5. Paint Drying Too Quickly – Use a wet palette, or experiment with retarder medium to slow dry time.
  6. Bumpy or Grainy Texture – Agitate paints before applying and avoid using paints that have separated or expired. When spraying primer, use light quick passes about 12 inches away.
  7. Color Mismatched – Always test colors on spare plastic or palette before committing final coats to prevent wasted effort.

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 7 – Refining Your Technique

As your expertise develops, further refine your approach:

  • Explore paint additives like retarders and flow improvers for smoother blending
  • Practice loaded brush techniques to create quick gradients
  • Try underpainting – apply a monotone basecoat to establish value ranges before adding color
  • Consider incorporating an airbrush for broader coverage faster
  • Take inspiration studying works of talented painters online and in miniature painting communities

Dry Brushing

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 8 – Fixing Small Mistakes

When learning a new skill, you have to expect a few hiccups until reaching mastery levels. But don’t abandon a piece the moment an accident occurs! Here is your game plan:

Remain patient and wait for underlying paint to fully cure before attempting touch ups. Then, surgically apply the correct base color over any errant areas using the edge of a detail brush. You can easily fix small mishaps this way without negating all your hard work.

Over time, these little corrective procedures will become second nature. Plus, most casual observers will never notice a small slip up or two. Your finished pieces will still impress far more than unpainted minis across the tabletop!

How to Base Coat Miniatures: 9 – Expanding Your Painting Horizons

Once achieving mastery of essential fundamentals like smooth basecoating, an exciting new world of advanced techniques awaits. Under your practiced hand, minis transform from mundane molded plastic into vivid, nuanced works of art brimming with life.

The journey towards painting expertise never truly ends. There is always room for growth and innovation. I hope this guide has furnished you with knowledge to take the next step on your artistic path. May it bring many hours of creative fulfillment at the painting desk and across imaginative battlefields!

If you’re looking also for a video check out Artis Opus on Youtube!


To wrap up, getting nice, smooth base coats on miniatures takes some planning and practice. The main things to focus on are:

  • Prepping the miniatures properly by cleaning them and applying primer spray. This helps the paint stick well.
  • Using the right model paints and thinning them out to the consistency of milk. That makes the paint flow just how you need.
  • Painting carefully with smooth, light brushstrokes. Take it slow, and work section by section.
  • See any lumps or drips? Fix little mistakes right away while the paint is still wet.
  • Keep practicing to get better and to learn cool painting techniques. Don’t worry about making every base coat perfect.

If you follow these tips while base coating, your miniatures will look much nicer, with vivid colors. Use what you’ve learned here, be patient as you build skills over time, and have fun making mini works of art!

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