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Once a certain level of painting is achieved, a customizer might want to expand their skills by trying their hand at painting the details on their customs. There are so many details that can be added or brought out that will add tons of character to a custom. Look at your custom figure and ask yourself what feature will best emphasize who the character is and what skills he/she possesses. By adding those details it will go a long way to making the custom that much better. Lastly, have fun and know that get better each time you do it. Below are a few ideas on why to do it, how to do it, and what to do.


Why do it?

Detailing can make a so-so custom good and a good custom great. The small things we as customizers add or bring out can really increase the level of realism and give some flavor to the character we are trying to create. Dirt and weather wear on a uniform shows the character has seen some action and is battle tested. Shiny buckles and buttons or a sharp edge on a bayonet indicate the character's professionalism. Hasbro did a pretty good job on giving their molds nice detail but did not have the presence of mind to paint them. When the painting of dials or tools on a back pack is completed the finished product just looks cool.

Tools Needed

  • Paint (duh!)
  • Small paint brushes (size 0, 00, and 000, basically the tiniest brushes you can find)
  • Sewing needle (tooth pick or nail will work as well)
  • Water
  • Paper towel
  • Q-tip
  • Pencil
  • Reference material
  • Good lighting
  • Lots of patience

Work Setting

The setting that you work on your customs in is very important. A good light source that allows you to see well is of the utmost priority. You do not want to miss something while painting. Try to be in an area that allows you to concentrate and not be distracted or cause you to hurry. If possible customizers should be in a physical condition where they can hold their hand steady. Being well rested and eliminating caffeine for this time would be helpful. When applying the paint try holding your breath. That should take away the movement of the body while breathing. You might also want to steady your hand up against the edge of your work table or with your other hand.


For extremely small items such as buttons, bullets, or eyes, a small tipped utensil like a sewing needle or tooth pick work great. Of course, the pointed tip of a very small paint brush will work too. Since the tip does not grab a lot of paint you will only be able to paint a small part at a time. It is a very taxing technique but extremely accurate, allowing you to paint the smallest detail. In order to avoid a big glob of paint drying on the item or brush, occasionally dip it in water and wipe clean. Needles and tooth picks tend to get build up that increases as you paint taking away the fine point. Brushes get clumps that cause the bristles to spread apart.

For tattoos or intricate camo designs (jungle camo or pixel camo comes to mind), the first thing you want is reference material. Having a picture or other point of reference right in front of makes everything else so much easier. Using a regular pencil, draw an outline of the picture or pattern you want to use right onto the base coat of paint or figure itself. This takes away the "free hand" aspect of the painting and lets you just fill in the colors. Also keep in mind the articulation of the figure, a snake going right down a figures arm looks cool, but will it look so good if the arm is posed differently?

Dry Brushing

Dry brushing is one of those paint techniques that is essentially very simple and yet because of the amount of practice and patience it requires is pretty difficult for most customizers to pick up. When done correctly however, dry brushing can bring out the details in weapons by making them look used, make items look older by adding rust, and make a leather jacket or blue jeans look more realistic.

For this technique you will need a brush with really spread out bristles. I have two. One for large areas and a smaller one I cut to about an 1/8" for smaller, confined areas. Older brushes that no longer hold their point are perfect for this. Second, paper towels to absorb paint.

Now whatever you are painting whether it is jeans or leather coat or weapon should have the darker color as the primary base coat. I've tried it with the lighter color first and dry brushing the darker color on and it does not look good. Take the lighter color on your brush and wipe or paint it all but a faint trace of paint away on the paper towel. It is better to have too little here than too much. Try to find a spot that would be the least noticeable and begin to paint because I find that the first stroke usually has more paint on it than I think it will. Only a few scattered areas should be receiving any paint. Repeat all the steps until the part or weapon is finished to your liking. You don't want to over do it. The technique works by its limited application. Most of the pit falls for most customizers first attempting dry brushing involve applying it in too many instances or applying it with too much paint.

joemichaels70 did a video tutorial for our Basic Training section.

Inking and Wet Brushing

Using inks or highly watered paints, it is possible to enchance the realism and character of a figure by simulating shadows and other effects. Inks can be bought, and require little to no watering down, or paint can simply have water added to it. Pre-bought ink saves on labour, but when using watered down paint it is easier to get the colour you want (For the purpose of simplicity the term ink shall be used throughout, though they are interchangeable).

If painting over a colour such as a mid blue colour, the ink wash would idealy be a deep blue to emphasise the shadows. This is better than simply using black to darken the areas as using black darkens the tone, rather than deepening it. Brown can also be used in place of black, particularly for yellow. A very light beige or blue-grey is excellent for a 'soft' white (such as cloth), while black will leave it very cold (such as armour).

Clockwise from top left: The right hand glove has had a light brown wash applied, darkening the crevasses and bringing out the detail. The thigh has been given a dark blue glaze, deepening the overall colour and providing shadows in the creases. The gun was originally all gunmetal, then given a black wash.

Inking is very simple to do, you just need to take a clean, moist brush, dip it in the ink and apply a small amount to the area you wish to paint. The effect should be that the base colour is darkened, and the ink will flow (often of its own accord) through the creases and crevasses of the figure, blending in nicely. The ink should not be so thick as to obscure the base colour, but not thin enough to dry in a puddle. Starting with a small a very light wash, then building up with increasingly darker shades will result in smoother blending, but is alot more time consuming and requires great patience and concentration to get all parts evenly shaded.

Inks can be used to create richer, brighter colours. By using a glaze, where the whole area recieves an even coat of one colour, the base colour can be affected dramatically. For instance using a yellow glaze over a mid or light red will give a warmer, richer colour.

Inking can be used to bring out the detail in parts as well, by running the ink through the channels and crevasses it will make it so much more noticable. Other applications include environmental dustings such as sand or snow, "salt and pepper" gray hair, 5 o'clock shadows and stubbled hair, and liquid stains like oil or grape soda. Be careful that the paint is not too watery or it may run. If this does happen, a cotton swab will help to remove the unwanted paint. Experiment with different techniques and see what you can come up with.

A variation on this theme is to use a tooth brush instead of a paint brush and flick the paint on. This creates a wonderful splatter look that is great for mud, snow, blood, moss, or mildew.

Painting Camouflage

The trick to painting good cammo is knowing the pattern you're going to paint. It seems obvious, but having a sample or a sketch to work from helps immensly. Once you have the pattern you want to work out the layers of the pattern.

The way the layers cover each other and the ammount of each is often key to a good looking pattern, as the eye is drawn more to certain colours (white in particular). For example if one of your patterned areas had a big white stripe, twice as fat as normal, it would really draw the eyes to it, in the same way an unusually vacant or un-patterned area can.

Detail ger2.jpg

This model a four colour pattern - sandy brown base, blocky green middle, and red-brown top layer with black 'disruption' lines. I painted the base colour all over, then sketched the outline of the green before filling it in. This ensured an even, eyepleasing dispersion of the green, and if I decided to change it, there was only one line to fix up, not a whole filled in section. It was also easier to make the edges 'hard' by painting the outline first I found - whereas filling the whole area at once it is harder to control the shape.

This is a very simple pattern, but still took alot of time to get right, mainly concentrating on spacing the colours evenly and trying not to have the same pattern over and over (ie a kidney shaped green bit with a dark brown bit in the middle bit).

Detail choc1.jpg

Here we have the classic 'Chocolate Chip' pattern. The base colour is layed down (desert yellow), the brown stripes are put on and any shading is done now to the brown and yellow, as it will show up on the white spots later. The spots are all marked out in black, then gone over with white. Since they are not evenly edged, precision is less stringent, so the white can be easily put over the black in a single drop.

For the spots, I find it best to use a 000 or even 0 size brush (what I use for most of my work anyway)as the larger size tip holds its shape better and I find easier to control (I used all 0 sized brushes on my GP Daina as a case in point). I put the tip, with a fair amount of paint on it, in the centre of the black spot, then press down and pull away to one side. This leaves one side generally lined with more black than the other.

Detail ger1.jpg

These Germans illustrate an important technique - colour choice. They both have the same pattern on all over, but the figure on the right has differently coloured pants - but the pattern looks very different in greens instead of browns/yellows. I often use a test piece to practice a new pattern or sketch out colour combinations to get a rough I dea of what it'll look like first (paintshop is good as it is easy to swap colours around). The actual pattern was acheived by putting on the base, then the inner splodge clour with a smooth edge then lining it 'roughly' with the third colour. Putting the outline down first then filling can work too, but as the inside is scalloped the outer line needs to be made thicker acordingly.

Patience and practice are really key to great cammo work, and even studying various books and websites with different patterns in them can help. Also many hobby stores will also have painting guides for 'real world' patterns and figures, and most 1/35th kits come with colour charts on the back (Tamia and Dragon do at least) as do many books on military uniforms.

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