Wargaming Tradecraft: Guide to Getting Started with the Hobby


Guide to Getting Started with the Hobby

Example of more recent work compared to how I began
DON'T get discouraged looking at
stuff from other artists.
I've got a lot of content on this site for beginners, but the fact that I get questions about getting started tells me I need to put together some kind of overview on where to begin - so here it is. For younger hobbyists, parents can get an idea of what their children need to get ready and kids can point them here to do so. (Parents should take a look at my Parents Guide to Tabletop Miniature Wargaming for an in-depth look at what your kids are getting in to.) This will be a living document, meaning I'll update it as I write more docs or I feel I need to.

Remember, this is just a guide on the BASIC stuff you need to get started. When you want to expand, this site's got tons of information and you can always feel free to ask me a question.

If you want more information on anything touched on here, you can see a detailed list of steps from beginning to end, read about techniques to create specific effects, get some generic tips on hobbying and find detailed articles about specific hobby supplies.

So, you want to be a miniature painter? Well, here's a simple run down of the basic supplies you need in (roughly) the order you'll use them.

  • Clippers
  • Knives or Files
  • Glue
  • Primer
  • Brushes
  • Water Cup
  • Paints and Washes
  • Desk and Storage
  • Lighting
  • Army Case


When you buy your figures, they'll sometimes come in what are called "sprues". (Usually only if you buy boxes in minis, not "blisters" of single figures.) A sprue is the plastic or metal from the mold that holds all the parts together.

The best way to remove minis from sprues is to use "wire cutters." A local electronics shop will carry them. If all you have is a hardware store, they may only carry "side cutters." Side cutters are stronger but wire cutters are finer and will be easier to use. Price will be about the same.

Knives or Files

All minis will have "mold lines" which stand out from the detail of the figure as small defects left over from the molding process. Removing mold lines can be boring, (throw on a movie) but if you leave them, they will stand out when you paint the figure.

They best way is to use a knife as the fine tip will get in all the small areas allowing you to scrape and cut all those imperfections away. Too young for a knife? A set of small hobby files can work to a certain extent. Hobby and hardware stores will have both.


When you're ready to assemble your figures or glue them on to bases, you'll need some kind of glue. In the past, plastic glue worked best for plastic and super glue was used for metals like pewter. As more companies switch to resin figures (which can look similar to plastic) super glue is usually the best choice.

I still recommend Testors plastic glue for anything you know is plastic and super glue for pewters and resins. Parents concerned about kids or people who get messy with super glue should consider the "gel" or "heavy" versions sold now; it takes longer to dry because it's thicker, but it won't run all over the place and is a lot easier to use. Hobby and hardware stores will carry it.


You should almost always spray prime your miniatures. (The exception being Reaper's Bones miniatures, for reasons detailed in my review.) Primer helps paint stick to the figures and go on smoothly. You'll want either white, grey or black. While I prefer using black, white is easier to paint over for beginners. (Black shows through many colours and you'll need to get used to your paints.)

Your gaming store will probably carry at least Games Workshop primer. If you want an alternative that's better and more than half the price cheaper, go to a hardware store and buy a Matte (non-shiny) primer. I prefer Krylon brand. Just avoid anything that boasts double the coverage or prime and paint in one.

If you live in a climate that's too hot or cold, primers may not work well. It's possible to spray inside or in a garage, but not ideal - fumes are bad for you and it's messy. Priming with Gesso is another option and it's basically just a primer you paint on the figure. (Using an old or dollar store brush.) Little harder to come by though... either an art store, hobby store or online order.


You'll need a couple half-decent brushes and a rough one.

I recommend a few different sizes depending on what you're painting:

  • Painting most areas
  • Painting detail
  • Painting large areas on terrain or vehicles
    • Wider and flat instead of pointed.
  • Dry-brushing
    • Normal size, old or cheap (A regular brush works fine, but it's going to get ruined.)

Hobby store brushes will usually be labelled "Standard, Detail, Fine, Very Fine, etc." Art brushes use standard sizing, a number system. Size "0" is a good all around brush for normal use. As the numbers climb, the brushes get bigger. For smaller than size 0, they add on more 0's. I usually use a 0, 000 and a 00000. (or 5/0, meaning five 0's.)

There are a lot of types of hair used to make brushes. The cheapest and my favourite are synthetic. (White, pictured left) I've tried expensive ones and always go back to the fake stuff. $2.50 for a brush that lasts longer than what others pay $6 - $20 for works for me.

Water Cup

The hobby paint we use is "acrylic" which means it's water based. That's a big plus because you can clean your brushes in water and spills with a little soap.

Any cup will do of course, but something with a little style like mine is also nice.

Take a read about more details on water use.

Paints and Washes / Inks

Speaking of paint, you'll need some. Privateer Press Paints (P3) and Games Workshop (Citadel) paints are the standard brands, but there are others such as Vallejo.

Any of these brands are fine and the store you buy your miniatures from will probably carry carry one of them. As you get more experienced, you'll find paints have different textures and get favourites from each brand, but there's no need to worry about that now.

Sometimes you can buy a small box of paints with each of the colours for default armies. This'll save you money if you need all the colours. Otherwise, choose a small selection that fits your army. I suggest this tutorial to give you an idea of what paints to buy.

I prefer Games Workshop brand washes / inks and you don't need very many. Basically, washes are a watery paint available in a few generic colours that flow into crevices to add some shadow. (The above tutorial shows how great they are for new artists.) Black and brown are good starters... red, blue and green depending on what you're painting.

Desk and Storage

You'll need somewhere to paint, be it a dedicated hobby area or a kitchen table. Accidentally spilling paint isn't unheard of, so some newspaper wouldn't be a bad idea for younger hobbyists, or one of those plastic carpet mats.

To go along with your desk, some bins and boxes come in handy to keep all your supplies together.


Ideally, you'll have a window where you paint for some natural light. Otherwise, try to get some bright white bulbs or a nice desk lamp. These new CFL's are great because they emit a white light instead of the yellow of older bulbs.

Army Case

Finally, you'll need a case to transport your miniatures in so the paint doesn't get scratched. Simplest is getting a bunch of egg cartons for the small stuff and shoe boxes for your larger items.

If you've got the money, look at hobby boxes, tool boxes, high-end tackle boxes or custom foam lined transport cases from on-line companies.

A bunch of people suggest gun cases because they're cheap and durable. Buuut, it's not uncommon to hear about someone leaving one of these in the back seat of their car and having someone smash the windows because they think they're stealing a gun.

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