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Painting for tabletop armies vs display


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#1 WolfDreamerNZ

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 07:33 AM

I haven't painted many minis in my life - but of the ones I have done - I have always tried to paint to display standard. This means lots of little things that show up well at close inspection range.

Now I am working on a WHFB Wood Elf army - and I am finding that if I set a few of my display painted minis on the table and view them from playing distance - they are nothing flash. All the little details are lost. Talking to a few friends - they said that is because they need stronger highlight/shadow contrast...almost cartoony to make them stand out from that far away.

So I have started researching - reading some old White Dwarf, looking at forums and CMON and it really is a mix out there. I'll show you what I mean....

White Dwarf - Issue 310 (Australian)
Very strongly contrasted figures - which I think look great at tabletop distance but not so great up close...
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vs these finely detailed figures which look great up close but lack the umph at tabletop distance for me.
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My question is - what do you think? Which do you prefer? Softer subtle colours with mega detail or brighter bolder figures that are best suited to stand out on the tabletop? Think about work you've seen, or played against...what did you like?

I look forward to your responses as this will help me decide the direction to go with this army. If I paint all of them to a display standard and it takes me a month or more to paint one unit - will it be worth it on the table?
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#2 Jackie-Paper

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 08:17 AM

Well, I really like both of the pictures you put up. I am not at a level to paint anything beyond table top quality myself. When I paint figures to use for D&D characters or such I usually try to do a better job though than with army figures. I feel that the typical rank and file troop types for a lot of mini games are going to get touched so much that putting a super paint job on them would just make me not want to play with them. I think a nice looking table top paint job that makes the mini stand out on the table is good. It helps you not to forget about him. Those wood elves in the trees may just get over looked if you camo them up really good, ha ha..

But seriously, as many hands that get on the typical war game figure, I want a paint job that won't make me cry when someone knocks him over or his arm comes off. With a large number, keeping the painting simple is also a plus.
In short, I think for war games the first picture makes a better unit, maybe not that paint job but it will get noticed. But then again minis that get noticed get attacked so it is a two fold arguement. Maybe your foe won't notice those wood elves in the trees with that good camo job?

#3 mattmcl

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 09:39 AM

In the bottom picture, the figures definitely need more contrast. More in terms of colors though. You can definitely paint bright and bold and still have the subtle details of a display model. Do a search under "Show Off" for Vikinglodge's minis. He uses a lot of contrast and subtle shading, but still has bold bright colors. Personally, if I were to paint an army it would take years. I put about 15-30 hours into a mini, and I do about 8 per year. Of course there are other painters a lot faster and better than me.

#4 Ironworker

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 11:13 AM

When I paint for amies or just for speed I go with a looser paint job with good contrast. You want to paint the details that really matter. If you do additional detailing like freehand it needs to be bold if you want it to show up on the table.

I've found that a layered paintjob looks better on the table than a blended one but the blended one does look much nicer up close. Layered paintjobs also go much faster. Drybrushing can also look very effective and even dramatic on the table but will not look so hot up close.

You have to decide for yourself what level of up close quality you are willing to sacrafice for speed and table appearance. It's not an exact science either. Some display models hold up just fine on the table but painting to that level will result in months or years even to paint a typical army depending on how much time you have to paint.

Jackie brings up another very valid point about gameing miniatures. How much is it going to bother you when they tumble from the table or some clumsy oaf who can't keep his hands to himself snatches your minis up to take a closer look at them? I often have people snatch up my minis without so much as a how do you do. Sometimes even with the game in progress. If I spend 1-4 hours on a speed paintjob it's still annoying but not nearly so much as if each trooper had 20 or more hours in him.

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#5 Heisler

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 12:13 PM

The other thing you have to consider is how badly do you want to play? If you are going to paint an army to a high standard its going to take time and you may lose interest in the army before you even get to play. My suggestion is to paint your units to a basic standard that looks good on the table. That can be nothing more than blocking in the colors and doing the basic details maybe with one level of shadow and one level of highlight. Now stop. Paint another unit, one after the other till all the units in the army have a basic paint job. You will have your army on the table and playing very quickly. Now you can take your leaders and go to town on them. After you have finished those go back to your units and pick one. With your army complete you now have the time to lavish all that attention to them that you wanted to the first time around and have the luxury of time to do it because nothing else is waiting to be painted. You may also decide at this point that the basic job looks pretty darn good and after seeing at least one movement stands worth of miniatures hit the floor that the basic job is more than good enough for the potential abuse they will suffer during a game.
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#6 Sergeant_Crunch

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 04:32 PM

With your army complete you now have the time to lavish all that attention to them that you wanted to the first time around and have the luxury of time to do it because nothing else is waiting to be painted.

While Heisler speaks truth, I found the text in boldface particularly amusing. Nothing else waiting to be painted...that's rich. :lol:

Seriously, if I'm painting an army that means there's a game I want to play. I don't want to spend all year getting the models painted so they get simple schemes that can be executed quickly. This has become a quicker proposition now that I've figured out that I tend to thin my paints too much.

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#7 Rastl

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 04:58 PM

I'm all for quick paint jobs on the lower point models and taking a little more time on the higher point ones. That's just practical based on how long the figure is going to be on the table. :poke:

Having said that I have found that I'm not pleased with my figs unless I've taken some time with them. I can't do the paint-and-wash method on any human figures. Something about that just makes me unhappy.
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#8 WolfDreamerNZ

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 06:29 PM

Thanks for the replies....they are very helpful!

I will never be able to do a "quick and dirty" job on any figure I'm afraid but this was more a question of do you go extreme in the contrast when used for gaming vs more subtle palettes for display?

I think from what I've gathered - I could raise my contrast level on everything and still maintain my quality. Yes it will take me longer, but I am in no rush to play. I still am playing Warlord and working on those figures as well - so I have plenty of time....

As for nothing waiting to be painted - don't you die then? LOL
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Posted 20 January 2008 - 07:43 PM

I have used dark priming it is fast and only good for tabletop. You base coat it a dark color and then use very bright colors to exaggerate the high lights so from a few feet away, it looks good but up close it looks bad.

Another cheap technique you can use that is fast is paint the model with the brightest colors you want and then use washes to mute it down. You can get pigmented inks in many colors in big bottles for a couple of dollars, they are very densely pigmented you will need to thin them down a lot if you want to use them but they look better than paint washes if you try that way.

You can also drybrush and wash, do it a bunch of times it eventually looks ok and doesn't take very long to do. Wash after drybrushing so you get rid of the chalkiness.

You can also layer pretty fast and get better blending but it takes a bit longer. Base it dark and then use thin paint and build up the color.

I don't really do display painting as I suck at it.

#10 ixminis

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 09:54 PM

Things that work for me that are hopefully not already repeated in this thread:
  • Limited & Bold: High contrast created by alternating dark & light colors over the figure vs. going from low to high within each color
  • Well executed Shields and Weapons with everything else blocked in & clean
  • Well executed faces w/good executed everything else.

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#11 SaintRigger

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Posted 21 January 2008 - 01:57 PM

Thanks for the replies....they are very helpful!

I will never be able to do a "quick and dirty" job on any figure I'm afraid but this was more a question of do you go extreme in the contrast when used for gaming vs more subtle palettes for display?

I think from what I've gathered - I could raise my contrast level on everything and still maintain my quality. Yes it will take me longer, but I am in no rush to play. I still am playing Warlord and working on those figures as well - so I have plenty of time....

As for nothing waiting to be painted - don't you die then? LOL


Heyas - yeah, you've hit on one of the fundamental differences in army painting vs display painting. You can get away with more detail on skirmish models because they stand out more individually - but once you get them ranked up, find blending tends to disappear and extra detail makes the unit look really noisy.

It isn't so much as "Quick and dirty" - vs clean and simplified. Contrast here does help, as well.

A good example is look at the way the foundry painters paint up figures - much of the time they use block painting techniques - and up close there isn't really any blending of colors. Not so hot when looked at from 4 inches - but 4 feet away the contrast really comes into it's own and gives the model definition. Next, when ranked up with similarly painted models, it really creates a unified look and begins to bring an army together.
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#12 Joe Kutz

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Posted 21 January 2008 - 02:27 PM

To expand on what has already been mentioned here - there is also a different mind set for a lot of wargame painters versus display painters.

A display painter, generally wants to paint a mini so that it looks like a person has been shrunk down and will paint all the details, buttons and hairs. However, a army painter looks at things differently. Quite often they will look at the wargame table like a general overlooking a battle field. The miniatures aren't shrunk down people - they are real people...but so far away that they look small. When you view things like this, there are a lot of things that are not visible. The phrase don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes comes into play. Normally you can not see the whites of the eyes until someone is within 100 feet of you. With that in mind a 6 foot person represented by a miniature 28 mm tall would be the same as looking at that person from about 130 feet. At 130 feet, you can't make out buttons. The eye whites are not visible. Fine details like buckles, sashes and other accessories blur together.

If you look at each figure up close - they look pretty rough. However if you view the whole army displayed on a wargames table - you get the feeling of that general reviewing the troops before battle.

#13 smokingwreckage

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Posted 21 January 2008 - 04:34 PM

Don't paint invisible surfaces. Spend a bit of time on the faces, but not much, and don't bother much with eyes. Use a thinned black wash to shade; you don't want to have to go and stick a brush in every crevice to get rid of primer showing. Black priming works, you can then spray paint or spray prime white from the desired primary viewing angle, just briefly, to clean up the colours that will go there. Judicious use of washes will work better if your colour scheme is brighter or paler. If your colour scheme can handle black basecoat, layer, layer, glaze, then so much the better- this can be very fast. Picking out just one thing to do nicely can make the whole army look better, but make sure that thing is visible!!

Figure out a quick, handsome and consistent basing scheme, even if it's only drybrushed balast or a solid block of static grass, and do the whole army exactly the same!

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#14 VelveteenRabbit

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Posted 21 January 2008 - 11:23 PM

Try quick and dirty and see if that gives you any better ideas for what you really need to be doing. Take a simple sculpt, paint it up until you're ok with how it looks, then grab ten of his friends and have them done in 30 minutes each. I think you might be impressed how good something can look with minimal time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that GW models are not Reaper models. GW produces models with the army builder in mind. Not only are many of the models plastic, but the actual difficulty in painting them is vastly different. There are far fewer tough to reach areas, fewer different surfaces, fewer different textures, etc. They're just easier to paint. Once you paint up a couple units half hour or one hour paint jobs really seem viable.

I forget who said it but I saw someone mention that you're painting an army, not a model. I really like that and I've been using it to motivate me.
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#15 PaintByNumbers

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Posted 26 January 2008 - 07:08 PM

The electric blue lines are great. They really make it pop, the mass effect is excellent.

I need to work on the same sort of problem-- more contrast at 3-4 feet away.

Now that I have some new glasses I hope to train myself to hold the figure further away when I paint, and to discipline myself to give it enough contrast at that distance.




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