Be it wargaming armies or Dungeons & Dragons minis, there’s something magical about watching that tiny little figure you’ve spent hours laboring over come to life on the game table.
Do you want to get into mini painting and aren’t sure what to ask for for the holidays? Does your friend have approximately 100 unpainted Orcs that they field every single game and you’re sick of facing down a tide of gray? Don’t worry, because I’m here to suggest the perfect gifts for your mini-painting friends, both beginners and established hobbyists alike!
1. Mouldline Remover
While not explicitly a painting supply, a mouldline remover is a nifty little metal tool that allows you to scrape off any rough bits on your mini before you start priming and painting. Most miniatures are going to have mouldlines somewhere on the model from where the mold seam was during casting, and left untouched, those lines will stand out like a sore thumb once paint is applied to the model. These scrappers allow you to clean up those rough edges, ensuring you get the prettiest model you can to represent your half-elf werebear life cleric on the D&D table. If you can find a different brand scraper, go for it! I believe Army Painter makes one, too.
2. A flat matte black primer (Option 1 or Option 2)
Primer may vary based on your model, but its hard to go wrong with a flat black primer as a starting point. Most mini paints will cover up the black without any issue, even the lighter colors, and the black paint will work well in the recesses that are hard to reach with a brush. I’ve listed both Army Painter and Citadel paint here to give two price points, and in my experience, you get what you pay for: Citadel is a little more pigmented and will give you better coverage, requiring one fewer coat, and Army Painter is cheaper but may require an extra pass before you can start painting. Both are really solid paints, so either will serve you well.
Protip: if the person you are shopping for is painting a wargaming army (like, say, an army of Plague Marines for Warhammer 40k), and therefore has about 70 minis to paint, look to see if you can get a primer in their primary color. This will save your gift recipient some of the legwork of having to paint all their power armor that charming fetid green color—the only downside is the price tends to be higher.
2.5 Paint brands
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to delve further into paint brands before I move on, because it is definitely an overwhelming topic when first starting out. Here is the crash course: never use craft acrylics—they are too thick and obscure the details on the mini. They are tempting because they are extremely cheap, but mini paints are made to be a specific consistency and pigmentation for a reason.
That said, there are a few brands to choose from: Army Painter, Vallejo, and Citadel are all popular brands I’ve seen in gaming stores. Army Painter is cheap and readily available, but just like their base coat, the paints are not as pigmented, requiring more coats to get the color you want. Vallejo is about midway between Army Painter and Citadel in price, but I haven’t tested it out, so I can’t speak to its quality—I have heard good things, however.
Citadel paint is the Games Workshop brand of paint and the most expensive of the bunch, with a single pot running about $4, but it’s smooth, very pigmented, and, if you’re painting Age of Sigmar or Warhammer 40k armies, the colors are exactly what you see on the box of minis you just bought, so it’s easy to match. I’m partial to Citadel myself, but it’s really going to be a matter of personal preference.
Okay, time to get off my paint brand soapbox. Moving on…
3. The Four Pillars of Brushes: a Basing Brush, a Shading Brush, a Drybrush… Brush?, and a Detail Brush
Okay, so I literally just made up the four Pillars of Brushes thing, but I’ve found that I can do just about anything I need with one of these four different kinds of brushes.
Now, disclaimer about brushes: they are kind of a personal thing. The brushes I love to use are ones my partner never touches. You sort of just trial and error it until you find what ones you like.
This brush set is an incredibly cheap starting point and will likely contain a detail brush and basing brush your painter will like using. I have a very similar old craft set that has served me well, although the handles are beginning to fall apart after about three years of use.
As for the shading brush, I’m partial to this one from Citadel, and the drybrush I use is included in this set here (which also has a detail and basing brush, though I can’t speak to their quality). With these four brushes, you can make a solid mini with base coat, highlights, and shading that will look great on the table.
4. A Desk Lamp
It is a universal rule of all apartments that there is never enough direct lighting to work on detailed craft work no matter where you sit. Save your painter from having to squint at their minis in the dim light of their computer monitor and get them a clamp desk lamp, preferably one that gives them some range of movement to twist and turn the thing for best mini viewing. This one is nice because you can swap out the bulb for one that has lighting you like (this bulb comes highly recommended).
JoAnn Fabrics also has regular deals on lamps, so if you’re looking for a deal, keep an eye on their coupons. I’d avoid getting a lamp with a magnifying glass on it unless you know for sure that you want it—my depth perception is terrible and I think they’d only make painting the minis harder, but your mileage may vary.
5. The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver
I. Love. This. Stuff. Seriously, if you paint at all, miniatures or otherwise, get some. The paint you use when painting minis tends to be super pigmented, so brushes will stain and become stiff with paint residue very quickly. This brush cleaner not only gets out all the stubborn dried up paint, but it also works wonders for reshaping your paintbrush bristles back into the nice crisp point that is so crucial to detailed mini painting. I’ve brought old, neglected brushes back from the grave with this stuff, it is absolutely worth buying and is a total miracle worker.
Mini painting can be an overwhelming hobby to break in to, but the end result is incredibly rewarding. Give your tabletop gaming or wargaming friends the gift of mini painting so they, too, can have boxes full of Warhammer minis and bags of paint sat on every flat surface in their house.
Book reviewer, game player, writer, and editor, Heather can be found on Twitter @terminality_, where she mostly posts about her cat.