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How To Prepare Figures for Painting

There are as many different methods for preparing a figure for painting as there are painters out there. The method I'm setting out here works for me. Have a look, maybe try it out and ignore or use as you see fit.

Preparing the Figure

The first thing to do is to visually examine the figure- check out the location of the sprue, casting vents and mould-lines. The sprue is usually located under the base, and in most cases has been fairly decently removed1. Casting vents are thin sprues on some of the extremities, usually places where the mould-maker anticipates air-bubbles being trapped and thus causing an incomplete casting. They are usually very fine, less than mm thick, and will usually be found at the end of fingers or bayonets and similar thin items. Mould lines are where the two halves of the rubber mould join, and, in most cases, are made to fall on natural creases where they will be less noticeable. They very often run along the centre-line of the figure all the way from the foot, along the leg, up the torso, along the arms, over the head and down the other side- almost as if someone had cut the figure apart into a front and a back half.

A figure, as delivered
Picture of As Delivered figure, before clean-up.

File or cut off the sprue, and sand and scrape off the vents and mould-lines, making sure to get the finish as neat as possible- once the surface has been painted, even small blemishes stand out like a sore thumb!

A cleaned figure
Picture of Cleaned figure, showing lessened seams and signs of clean-up.


I usually base my figures at this point. For some bizarre reason I haven't figured out yet, I basing my ancients figures on slotta-bases, but won't touch them for my post-1900 figures! I now base all my 20th century figures on 20mm washers (30mm if the figures are particularly active or perhaps prone) and plastic card for support weapons and vehicles. I will also usually add any groundwork now, building it up to hide the metal base under the figure.

A based figure
Picture of 1st stage Based figure.

A based figure
Picture of Completely Based figure.


I prime my figures with a car-body primer, available from most motor stores. These work well enough for me, and are considerably cheaper than the hobby-specific ones out there. Best of all- they really work. I'd suggest trying out one or two on spare figures to see which works best for you- you want good coverage, but not so thick as to obscure all the detail on the figures. If the primer comes away, then anything you have painted over it comes away too, which would be a bad thing! I also won't go into the debate about what colour primer to use- each to his own. My personal choice goes with white. It works for my way of painting and choice of palette and brands of paint.
I've seen (and tried) black, grey, brown and white. I personally prefer white or grey for my figures, simply because it doesn't deaden the colours I paint onto it, and the fact that black tends to hide the detail (to my eyes, anyway) and makes it more difficult to paint the model.
When you've reached this stage, it's simply a case of choosing your colour schemes and painting your model!

A based and undercoated figure- ready to paint!
Picture of Undercoated figure, ready to paint.

1 - a massive amount of spruing or flash is usually found on home-cast figures and can be an indication that you have a re-cast figure.

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