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So you’re looking to start painting miniatures, but you don’t have loads of cash to throw around – you might be relying on pocket money, a part-time job or just have other responsibilities that prevent you from spending boat-loads of money. So what do you do if you want to get started at Warhammer on a budget? Read on and find out how you can begin in the hobby without having to take out a loan! For those in the UK I will also provide links to where you can purchase some of the recommended items.
Note: This guide is intended for those that don’t own any modelling or painting supplies who are looking to get started with the absolute basics – for those that are more established in the hobby, you may get more use from my Ultimate guide to cheap Warhammer. There is some cross-over between that guide and this one, however this guide is intended to deal with the bare essentials.
Before we start though – if you can obtain any of the below items for free, do it!
Whether it’s an old pair of clippers that your dad has worn out (snip more carefully if this is the case!) or some half-empty, slightly dried up paints your friend used to paint with (thin them a little more if this is the case!) something borrowed or given for free is always better than something that costs money when you’re first starting out. While it sounds a little negative there is always a chance that you will decide this isn’t the hobby for you, and the less money you’ve spent on it the better if that happens! Once you know you’re in, however, you can start replacing or expanding on what you already have, and that’s where the fun really begins!
Right, let’s get started shall we? This section deals with the things that you’ll need to get your models off their sprue (the plastic ‘frame’ that the parts come on), cleaned, assembled and ready for painting. We start with…
Clippers are what you use to remove parts of a model from the sprue.
When you’re first beginning in the hobby clippers (also called ‘nippers’ and ‘sprue cutters’) are something you probably don’t want to give too much thought to. You can either buy a cheap set of hobby-branded clippers like the Army Painter ones here (£7.65), or you can take a trip to the local hardware store and have a look for some wire cutters of a similar size (up to £5). Anything with relatively small, thin blades will do so long as it’s cheap.
Regardless of which route you take these aren’t going to last you forever – my pair of Army Painter clippers had started to wear out within about a year, and when I replace them it will be for a much more expensive pair (see the What to look at next section), as you really do get what you pay for here.
You will be using a blade of some description to clean up any plastic left when using your clippers to remove models from the sprue, as well as to clean up any mould lines created when the model was cast.
There are plenty of knife brands that market themselves to hobbyists, and in my experience most of them are overpriced for what is, essentially, a sharp piece of metal. My advice (as mentioned here) is to look at a surgical scalpel – my personal preference is a Swann-Morton #3 handle (£4.46) with #11 blades (£0.95 for 5)
The handle will last you your entire hobby career, and the blades are both cheap and easy to find. There are also blades in different shapes and sizes for specific jobs that you may later come across.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that scalpels don’t come with a cap, cover or protector for the blade. When you’re not using it you either have to remove the blade, or simply place it somewhere that a) it won’t damage anything, and b) you’re not going to accidentally cut yourself on it. The handles are flat, so they don’t roll, but a live blade is still a dangerous thing if you forget about it! I simply place my handle and blade in one of the boxes I use for my tools (I replace the blade often enough that any minor wear and tear from storage isn’t an issue) and make sure that I’m careful when taking anything out.
Swann Morton do also offer a retractable handle so that you can store the blade safely when it’s not in use, but as you can see here it’s a little more expensive (£12.38)
A cutting mat is quite simply a mat that you cut on. It isn’t necessarily essential, but using one as your workspace can save you a lot of headaches – accidentally scoring a line into the dining room table isn’t going to make you very popular!
There are hundreds of brands of cutting mat available, both in and out of the hobby world. They all tend to be priced fairly consistently, so just pick a size (I like an A3 personally) and find one that’s cheap. You shouldn’t pay more than a few pounds for one – mine was a shade under £6
Files can be used for much the same purpose as the knife above, however they are slightly more limited in their overall versatility.
This section has been included in the guide primarily to warn you away from buying sets of hobby files. These will usually cost you around £10-15 for a set of files that are often too coarse for using on detailed plastic miniatures. If you really want to use files you should either buy high-grit sandpaper (available cheap in any DIY store) or foam sanding pads/strips (like those from Flex-i-file, for example), which are simply sandpaper attached to flexible foam strips. They’ll give you the smoothness that you actually need without costing the earth. Failing all of that search the house for a nail file/emery board – it might not be perfect but it probably won’t do too bad a job!
For assembling plastic miniatures there’s only one kind of glue you need: Tamiya Extra Thin Cement (£3.40)
This stuff is magic in a bottle! It’s by far the best substance out there for sticking models together, and can also be used when cleaning your parts as explained here. One pot will also last you pretty much forever!
Rather obviously you’re going to need paint to paint your models!
This is the paint that you put onto the bare plastic of your models. It usually comes in a spray can, and this is definitely the easiest place to start.
Take a trip to your nearest pound shop/dollar store/cheap place to buy things. Look for a can of black spray paint and one of either white or ivory/light cream – you want these to be either matte or (preferably) satin, but not gloss. Your total cost should be somewhere around £4-8 at absolute most. This will give you the option of priming your models black, white, or even better with what’s called a zenithal prime. This is where you prime with black, and then pointing down from above with white, giving you highlights and shadows to work with from the very start.
Don’t worry too much about the brand or marketed use of the spray can – it’s all pretty much the same stuff!
This is the paint that you put on over your primer – the actual ‘painting models’ paint!
Unfortunately this is also where things can get a little more expensive than we would like. Individually a pot or bottle of paint isn’t that expensive, but there are a lot of colours out there made by a lot of manufacturers, and while you might not need them all you definitely need a least a few of them!
Every manufacturer has a starter set of some kind, but for me the best starter paint sets to look at are the Vallejo Game Color Introduction Set 72.299 (around £30) or the Vallejo Model Color Basic Colors USA set 70.140 (around £30). I personally prefer the Model Color line to the Game Color line, but both of these sets give a good range of colours to be starting with.
Unless you’re intending to paint with your fingers, you’re going to need some brushes!
Before you go and start looking at brush ranges there’s a video I would suggest you watch first:
The key takeaway point from this is that you don’t need to spend a fortune, particularly as a novice painter. While at the pound shop/dollar store/cheap place to buy things searching for spray paints, take the time to have a look at paint brushes too. 👍
Your palette is the surface that you will use to thin, mix or otherwise hold your paints.
Citadel paints come with a little lip inside the lid that you can take paint from, but very few other brands do this and it’s not actually that beneficial. The majority come in what are known as dropper bottles – you squeeze individual drops of paint out onto your palette, from which you can mix, thin and otherwise work with your paint.
Your needs for a palette are very simple – it simply has to be a flat, non-porous surface. You might use an old plate (I was given an old side plate by my Nana when I first started out 😁), the glass/plastic from an old photo frame, a spare kitchen tile, even just a piece of baking paper! At a push you could even use your cutting mat if you had to!
You’ll be transferring your paints onto this surface (whether you use Citadel paints or not) so that you can thin them slightly with water before applying them to your model. When you’ve finished your painting session simply wash away any wet paint as best you can and dry it off (or in the case of baking paper just throw it away!)
If you thought that the paints were going to be the most expensive part of your hobby journey then I’m afraid you’re probably about to be disappointed.
Buying high-quality wargaming models is rarely a cheap experience, but if you read this section from my previously-linked ‘ultimate guide’ then you will see how you can save yourself some pennies.
As a new hobbyist you really have three options for finding your first models to paint.
- Head to a game store/game store website and buy yourself a box of models. When I first started in the hobby 20 years or so ago, I bought a Space Marine Tactical Squad. Your eye might get caught by the Aeldari Guardians or some Ork Boyz, but you want to buy a box of simple troops. You’ll get some experience cleaning and assembling models, and you’ll end up with the first squad for your first army. Try not to get too tempted by the flashier looking models (my eye was first caught by the old plastic & metal Devastators), as these are often tricker to assemble and paint.
- Head to eBay and see if you can pick up some pre-owned models a little cheaper. This might save you a little money, but it does usually mean that you have to put up with somebody else having cleaned and assembled the models (possibly badly) and maybe even painted them (also possibly badly). If this is the case then I do have a guide to stripping miniatures, but ideally you don’t want to be stripping paint before you get the chance to apply any!
- Pester a friend for some spare models. If you know somebody who is already involved in the hobby then there is a good chance that they have some models hidden away that (if they’re being honest) they know they’re never going to assemble and paint. They might not be the exact models you want, but if it means you get them cheap (or even free!) then it’s an opportunity that you can’t pass up!
Basing your models used to be a simple affair in the 90’s – PVA some green flock down and call it done. It looked awful, in retrospect, and thankfully these days basing your models is a slightly prettier affair! Below we’ll look at some cheap basing options for a beginner.
There are only really two kinds of glue that you’re going to find yourself using on your bases – PVA (yes, the white stuff you used to peel off your hands as a kid!) and super glue (probably very, very thin super glue though). I use both, some people only use one or the other – given that they’re both very cheap I would suggest giving them both a go, and seeing which you prefer. If you end up choosing just one kind you may still find that both have a place in your basing technique later down the line.
PVA glue can be found just about everywhere. Like the pound shop/dollar store/cheap place to buy things, where you’re already looking for brushes and spray paint. It costs next to nothing and lasts for quite a while, too. Brand or intended use doesn’t really matter too much, so cheap kid’s craft glue is perfectly fine. Put a thick layer on your base, add your basing material and let it dry. Then add a second, watered-down coat over the top and let it dry again. Simple and solid!
Super glue for basing is a little trickier. If you’re going to be using it to stick down something like sand then a thick or gel-consistency superglue isn’t going to work very well for you. You’re looking for an extra-thin super glue, with a consistency like water or thinner. You can then drip it on top of something like sand and it will work its way down into the cracks, leaving you with a rock-solid base. This means you can take your time arranging your base before you glue, which is why I like it!
When it comes to basing materials there are a million and one products that you can use. There are paints, pastes, sands, water effects, cork, slate, even tea leaves and real dirt!
For your very first models though I would say that you want to start simple and just get hold of some fine sand. If you’re buying online this could be in the form of a simple hobby sand (£3.59) or perhaps a ready-made sand and stone mixture (£4.49). If you’re looking in-person then you might be able to grab a free scoop from a local DIY store (you may need to look for ‘ballast’), or you can definitely get a free scoop if you live near the beach (just be sure to thoroughly dry it out before using it!)
In time you will undoubtedly add more to your basing materials box than just ‘fine sand’, but for now this is a perfectly acceptable way to finish off your first models. Especially if you can get it for free!
Conclusion & biscuits
So there’s already been rather a lot to get through, and there’s been a lot of little expenses that are bound to have added up. Let’s take a look and see what you might actually be spending as a newcomer to the hobby painting your first models (I’ve rounded some of these costs slightly for the sake of easier maths!)
Knife & Blades: £5.50 (we’re going with the regular, non-retractable handle)
Cutting mat: £6
Running total: £20
Spray paint: £5 (taking a stab in the dark at £2.50 each, which isn’t unreasonable)
Model paint: £30 (either Vallejo paint set works!)
Brushes: £3 (anywhere from 1 to 3 packs from a cheap shop)
Palette: 0 (baking paper is already in the house!)
Running total: £58
First models: £28 (we don’t know anybody with spare models and had no luck on eBay, so we bought some Intercessors with an FLGS discount!)
Running total: £86
Glue: £1 (while writing this guide I saw a bottle in Primark for 80p that would last for ages!)
Basing materials: 0 (to even-out having to buy our models we’re going to get some sand from the beach or garden and dry it out)
Running total: £87
All told, £87 probably sounds like quite a lot. And it is, for something that you’re just wanting to try out! If however you can get a couple of models for free (possibly even by asking really nicely in a Games Workshop or other hobby store!) then our running total comes right down to £59
Included in that £59 is £30 of paint that will last you a very long time, plus some other tools and materials that will last plenty long enough to be worth their cost.
Another alternative is to replace our clippers and paints with the Citadel starter sets for Warhammer 40,000 (£21.45) or Age of Sigmar (£20.63)
Doing this could save us around £10, but there is a trade-off. While both come with a pot of Agrax Earthshade (a very nice wash) and a pot of basing texture paint (enough for your first squad, but the small Citadel pots of basing texture paints run out quickly) they also both have a much more limited range of paint colours – neither box has a mid or dark green!
Despite the savings these are an option that I would avoid, personally, as if you want to simply paint yourself an Ork then you’re already looking at buying more paint for all the skin!
I think that’s pretty much everything covered though! If you’re looking at getting into the hobby (or know somebody that is) then I hope that this has been at least a little bit helpful. If it has, or if you have any suggestions or think I’ve missed something then please do let me know – I’m always happy to expand or correct things when I can! 🙂
For those that want to read on a little further, however, below you’ll find a couple of suggestions for things you might want to look at when you’ve finished your first models and intend to explore a little more!
Biscuits. Cookies to the Americans. We all love them, and while writing these little guides they seem to be my primary fuel source.
If I’ve managed to save you a little money in your hobby endeavours, perhaps consider helping me stock up my biscuit cupboard =]
What to look at next
So you’ve read this guide and decided that it’s worth a go. You’ve spent some money, painted some models, and now you want to know what to look at next. Wonderful news!
The following isn’t an ordered list, just a selection of general suggestions for things you might want to consider picking up.
I mentioned before that your cheap clippers won’t last you forever, even if they’re new. When the time comes that they start to show signs of misalignment or the cutting edge starts to dull or notch, you want to look at investing in a good pair. Fortunately for you this shouldn’t happen any time soon, but when it does take a little look at this for some clipper suggestions that should last you a long time and give better results
Metallic paints vary massively in quality, even between ranges made by the same manufacturer. Have a watch of this video to see Vince Venturella (a multi-award winning painter, and general repository of all knowledge) testing out a large range of metallic paints:
The result? Buy Vallejo Metal Color! These bottles are a little more expensive than other hobby paints but they’re also much larger, and the quality of the metallic finish is second-to-none. A lighter and darker silver, a copper and a gold will pretty much cover all the metallic paint needs you could ever have. Although for those looking to get the most from their gold, another one of Vince’s videos here about using the Vallejo Metal Color paints with GreenStuffWorld’s Antique Gold pigment is also worth watching!
When it comes to increasing your paint collection there are an almost limitless number of options. Paint ranges include the various Vallejo lines, Citadel, Scale 75, Monument Hobbies Pro Acryl, Kimera, AK Interactive, Reaper Master Series, P3… the list goes on. And that’s just hobby paints – I haven’t mentioned artist brands yet! Some of these lines have stand-out, must-have colours (like the Pro Acryl Bold Titanium White, Citadel’s Khorne Red or Contrast line, Vallejo Model Color Ice Yellow…), some have properties you may or may not like, and some you’ll try and then never want to think about again!
When it comes to expanding your paint horizons I would suggest picking up individual paints from any and every line if you see them used and like the result. If somebody on YouTube swears by using Scale 75’s Fantasy and Games line Huldra Blue (hi Byron!) and you like how it looks, add it to your next order. Don’t worry about picking up complete paint sets to try out different lines – just grab colours when you see them recommended, when you think the colour could be interesting, when you see it used in a text or video tutorial, because you haven’t tried that manufacturer before, or when you just need to spend an extra £2 to get free shipping on your order. There are plenty of YouTube painters that have made ‘must have paints’ videos where they explain why their favourites are their favourites, and these are often worth a watch too.
Once you start to get the hang of throwing paint at your models you’ll want to consider some better brushes for fine detail work. This is where you look at sable brushes, which use real hair rather than synthetic. Properly cared for they’ll hold a finer point, last longer, and generally deliver paint better. Companies like Winsor & Newton, Rafael, Artis Opus and plenty of others offer good quality sable brushes, but if you fancy giving them a go at a slightly lower price point then take a look at the Rosemary & Co Series 33 line. They’re still high quality, but a little more affordable.
A wet palette is used in place of a regular (or ‘dry’) palette to keep your paints from drying out while you’re using them. This reduces wastage, and also means that once your paint is at the desired consistency you shouldn’t have to re-thin it as it starts to dry, allowing you better consistency.
Instead of buying a palette, you can simply make your own with things that you’re likely to already have around the house. This video is my favourite on the subject:
If however you would rather buy something ready-made then you have options that include RedGrassGames, The Army Painter, GreenStuffWorld, or the Masterson art brand.
If you happened to buy one of the Citadel paint sets containing Astrogranite or Stirland Mud, or you’ve otherwise acquired a pot of Citadel’s basing texture paints, you may have noticed that they don’t seem to last all that long. The little Citadel pots are fine for regular paint that you’re going to thin down, but when you’re slapping it on thick they simply don’t hold enough! Fortunately there are other manufacturers that offer similar texture pastes in much larger quantities for much more reasonable prices – one of the most well known is Vallejo (example: Black Lava – £8.99), but you can find similar products from companies like AK Interactive and AMMO, or you can simply make them yourself by following one of the numerous guides on YouTube (they’re pretty much just sand and paint!)
pawl has been an on/off hobbyist since the late nineties but still possesses significantly more enthusiasm for the hobby as a whole than skill with a brush, and so is always on the hunt for fast, easy and lazy techniques that give good results. Despite this he sometimes still attempts to paint Space Marine helmet lenses, and occasionally even manages to stay within the lines!