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Oh boy oh boy oh boy. That big Vampire box of unpainted miniatures has arrived from the Reaper Kickstarter!  (1)

Then it sinks in. Painting this huge batch will be a daunting undertaking.

Fear not. There are some ways to approach this project.

 1. Stay positive

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of figs you’ve ordered.

The thing to remember is this is a long term investment in your game. There is no deadline here.

If painting figs is new to you, look upon this as a learning experience — a chance to develop a skill with deep roots in the gaming hobby, reaching all the way back to the painting of tin soldiers for wargaming.

Approach this with enthusiasm and you’ll be rewarded with a set of colorful figs that will enhance your gaming experience.

2. Prioritize

Ask yourself: What’s in the box that really, really drew my interest?

steampunkheroFor example: The item that sold me on this Kickstarter was the Clockwork Dragon sculpt. It’s going to be part of a steampunk themed diorama (that will include the Reaper Chronoscope fig my wife, the Motorcycle-Riding Librarian, had me paint in advance). Painting the Clockwork Dragon will be the first fig I tackle.

Likewise, you should pick the one fig that matters most to you.

  • Did you see a must-have fig for your player character?
  • Do you have a need for a specific monster in your game?
  • Did the fire giant catch your eye because it’s just so darn cool?

Whatever the reason, take that fig and set it aside. That’s a special fig. (We’ll get back to it in a minute).

Now go through the box and organize the figs along the lines of your needs as a GM. Do you have a lot of orcs as opponents? Then think about moving them to the front of the line. Is there a rival NPC party that challenges your table’s characters? Select them from the assortment. Are you more likely to encounter vermin and goblins or giants and drow?

This process need not be itemized on a list. But it’s a good idea for you to go through the box and decide upon the figs that will be next on your “to paint” list.

3. Can you paint?

If you can, then grab your special fig and go to town.

If painting is a new experience for you, then go back through the box and find something simple to start on, say some of the small monsters or the townfolk npcs.

You’ve got to learn on something. And while there is value in learning to paint on your special fig, it might be discouraging if it doesn’t turn out as you hope.

4. Assemble a painting kit

Here’s what you ABSOLUTELY need: (2)


Water dish. Between putting paint on the brushes, you need to wash them clean.

Palette. I use a small plastic tray. Discarded plastic coffee container lids are useful. Paper plates work, as do scraps of cardboard. It’s all good.

Hobby knife. Used to remove seams from the molds. (A small file can also be helpful, but careful use of a knife can get you through.)

Brushes. At a minimum, you need a #1 or #0 brush. (If you feel like splurging, get a #10/0 or a #20/0 for really, really fine work.)


I recommend acrylics. They are water based, dry quickly and are forgiving (meaning you can paint over your mistakes). Generally, they come in three categories of quality. Here they are from least to most expensive:


Hobby craft acrylics.
craftacrylicsCost: 50 cents to $1 a bottle
Available: Discount retailers and craft stores.
Qualities: Paint lays on thick and may obscure fine details of the sculpts.
My take: I’ve painted hordes of metal minis using craft acrylics. Sensible choice for a beginner on a budget.



Art acrylics.
artacrylicsCost: $15 to $20 for a starter set of about a dozen foil tubes.
Available: Craft and art stores, some discount retailers.
Qualities: These are designed for painting on canvas as an alternative to oils. While not as thick as craft acrylics, art acrylics still have a thicker consistency than is optimal for resin minis.
My take: I love to use these when I have a need for their brilliant colors or I’m in the mood to blend paints for a special color.





Flow acrylics.
flowacrylicCost: $4 per inch-high bottle.
Available: Game stores and some hobby shops.
Qualities: Applies a very thin coat; Reaper has its own brand.
My take: My preferred choice these days, especially since the local craft stores have started carrying brands of flow acrylics. Works exceptionally well with the resin Bones.

What’s The Fuss?

Why all the fuss about what category of paint to use? It comes down to how you plan to thin your paint. I’ve used flow additive in the past, and that’s a way to go. But fact is, nothing’s quicker or easier to do when painting than adding water to acrylics (even the flow acrylics) to get that thin layer of paint you want. When painting on primed metal, it’s an elegant solution.

There’s just one problem. The Reaper Bones resin is designed to be used without priming — which is a big bonus — but paint that’s thinned too much by water won’t take to the resin figs. It just slides right off.

On the Reaper message boards there is a lot of help for folks looking for advice on how to thin paint so it sticks to unprimed resin figs.

What Colors Do I Need?

Here’s the baker’s dozen of paint colors that has sustained me.

  1. White
  2. Black
  3. Dark Brown (for dark skinned flesh and leather)
  4. Caucasian flesh or peach (for fair skinned flesh)
  5. Red
  6. Light brown or beige
  7. Yellow
  8. Green
  9. Blue
  10. Purple
  11. Dark gray
  12. Gold
  13. Bronze or silver (metallic of choice) (3)

But to each his own. If you’ve got more monsters in the mix than people, then you can swap in shades of green and brown and go without gold or flesh.

Experiment with mixing paints. White is your friend (and your enemy). The more you play around with mixing colors the more this is true. It’s unlikely you’ll get to the point where you are buying just the three primary colors, but the utility of this skill grows as you become more comfortable with the process.


5. Dive in

An advantage of the Bones resin figs is they do not require primer. Once you’ve got brushes and paints and a water dish, you can basically start painting. The first brush stroke of paint on a fig is the biggest hurdle. Just remember kindergarten, when you learned to color between the lines. Try to do that, and you’ll do fine.

Some things to consider.

a) Going solo. If you’re self-conscious about your early painting attempts, or you prefer the solitude of painting (just as some enjoy the solitude of fishing), you might prefer painting quietly, alone. Some find painting alone, free of distraction, to be a zen experience.

b) Painting party. Then again, if the goal is to get some paint on a lot of your figs for game play, you might enjoy inviting friends over to paint. Make sure you establish ground rules for a group project — such as that these figs are being painted for group use. (There is a tradition of paint and keep – that if you paint a fig – it’s yours to keep, so be clear up front).

c) Start small. I mentioned this before. Paint some easy figs, such as vermin or goblins or simple townsfolk before tackling your first monster or heroic character. Likewise, consider limiting your color selections, say three to five colors. That may speed up the process, challenge your creativity, but also keep each paint job manageable.

 d) Technique. There’s plenty of advice on technique all over the internet, including on Reaper’s own website. Avail yourself of what people have to say about their methods. I tend to paint “flesh out,” that is, start with exposed skin and then paint layers of clothing. But you’ll discover your own methods over time. You’ll come across words like washes, lining, dry brushing and dipping. As you grow in confidence, you’ll explore those techniques as you gain confidence. But first, feel free to lay on some thin strokes of paint on a fig and see where that leads.

e) Get inspired. Don’t know what colors to use for a certain fig? Look at photos of completed miniatures for inspiration. Reaper and Cool Mini or Not have online galleries. I was never schooled in color theory, so when I look for complementary color schemes, I go to the JC Penney catalog, see what people are wearing and try to emulate that. I also have a couple of books of fantasy art that I reference from time to time. Of course, many game products are loaded with artwork that can be a reference, too.


6. Your special fig


Remember that fig that sold you on this Kickstarter? (For me it was the clockwork dragon.) Once you’ve got a couple of painted figs under your belt, try your hand at that special one.

Above all, don’t be discouraged. Painting is fun and rewarding. And that Vampire box is filled with a ton of wonderful painting opportunities. What types of paints do you prefer for your miniatures painting? What other techniques would you recommend for the Reaper Bones Minis?

(1) This advice need not be limited to recipients of the Reaper Kickstarter. Any batch of minis from any source will do.
(2) Each painter assembles their painting kit to suit, so different painters will tell you different things about what you’ll require. This is just the basics.
(3) What, no orange? Unless you plan on painting a lot of pumpkins, I’d take a pass on orange for your first paint purchase. Mixing red and yellow works well enough when the need arises, and you’ll get more work out of a light brown, sand or bone-white color.

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.

10 Responses to Troy’s Crock Pot: Tackling a Reaper Vampire Box – Basics Of Painting

  1. I agree with most of what you say here, Troy, especially about source for paint.

    Allow me to respectfully offer a few additional ideas and to take issue with Reaper on one point.

    1) The most important step in mini prep prior to painting in my experience is washing the minis. I use warm water with a few drops of detergent in a sinkful of water (I do minis by the handful when I do them at all). The next most important thing is to rinse the washed minis in cold water, blot them dry and allow them to air dry in some sort of covered but ventilated container.

    2) Aluminum foil makes a spiffy palette, as does a ceramic tile. In fact, as I type I’m about to buy a single white tile from Home Depot for my vacation, when I shall do a small amount of painting. Tile can be washed and even scraped dry. Foil can be bent into shapes to retain e.g. inks and can be tossed afterward.

    3) I hear from many places that their plastic (whatever) does not need primer. This is a popular thing in the model railway world where people are justifiably concerned that tiny scale details will be obliterated by even a fine primer. Detail on minis is not so easy to kill. The hinges on that dragon’s wings would be about 5 inches thick in “real life”, and an average Reaper sword belt more than two. 8o)

    What is also acknowledged by the experts is that any surface that has been painted without a primer had better be a) sealed afterward and b) never handled directly or the paint will come off.

    Minis get a lot of handling. I own some of these Bones minis and reckon they’ll need priming like everything else or the bones will start to show through the skin. However, one must be careful because not everything sold as primer these days is, in fact, really a primer.

    One large vendor of Gothic Sci Fi games, minis, paints, scenery and I dunno what all else sells black and white primers that are just re-labeled top coats. These will not do the job. What is needed is a true primer that will not only adhere to the substrate like white on rice, but will provide a proper surface for the subsequent top coats to key to.

    I used to use Poly S white primer but they don’t make it any more, or at least, I can’t get it round here.

    Tamiya make a very fine (as in “not coarse”) primer but it is expensive and very temperamental, and needs a much lighter touch than I bring to the painting booth.

    I’m currently experimenting with Armory primers, but have had mixed success with their colored range which I suspect is, again, really a matte topcoat relabeled as a primer. A shame; you can get really neat effects by painting over a color not black or white.

    Try that thin Vallejo red over a solid bright yellow base and see what I mean, and starting with a dark blue base is a great way to get lining for white subjects that make the finish look “cool” (as in color temperature). Francis Elyard (I think) did some Terminators about 20 years ago that used the technique and the results were nothing short of staggering.

    One last thing (Hurrah!): If you like to “dip” minis to bring out the detail and help blend the colors, you might like to know that the $30 dipping stains are just relabeled wood stain, which is available for about 1/3rd the cost.

    Light Oak is about the same as the medium dip some companies sell, and cherry looks about the same as the dark one though I haven’t used it yet. There is a large selection of tones to pick from, but the results will probably be the same for a given range of “close” finishes, and you can get really small tins of stain to experiment with. Watch the fumes.

    • TL;DR summary – wash Bones with soap and water for best painting experience. Unthinned paint on Bones really is as or more durable than using primer. If you must prime, brush primers work best.

      On point 1) – you’re right, washing Bones with soap and water is very helpful! While you can paint them straight out of the blister, the surface becomes less hydrophobic if you wash them first.

      On point 3) – I have to disagree, though I understand completely where your advice is coming from. I’ve tested the Reaper Bones for durability of paint with primer, straight paint, and a variety of other preparation substances. Straight paint on Bones is the most durable. There are a few prep methods that are comparable, but why spend the extra time and money for a primer if you don’t need to? (There are a few situations where I’d prime, but I mean purely if you’re talking about durability.)

      I tested my first batch of figures by tossing them in a plastic box loose with other Bones and a metal miniature and carting them around through Gen Con and Pax Prime, where they were all handled by dozens of people as well as bounced off of tabletops for demonstration purposes. I didn’t have any cons to go to with the next batch, so I put the box in the dryer to simulate wear and tear.

      You can see photos of my results and more information on what substances I tested here: http://www.reapermini.com/forum/index.php?/topic/48669-bones-the-first-coat-is-the-difference/

      Spray primers often do not react well with plastic, and that seems to be the case with Bones. Some people have had success with Army Painter primers and Duplicolor Sandable, though others have not, which is probably due to the impact of temperature and humidity. A bad primer reaction doesn’t hurt the Bones, it just never really cures.

      So if you do want/need to prime, you’ll have better luck with brush-on primer applied with a brush or through an airbrush.

      I understand why you’re skeptical, and I would be too, but really, truly, you don’t need primer! I say this as an award winning display painter of metal miniatures that I treat like sacred artifacts (and always prime!). But my painted Bones? I’ll pick ’em up by the handful and not bat an eye at a player knocking them down or whatever.

  2. Sounds like you’ve got a few fun months ahead of you!

  3. Took my own advice and started small … Three white rats and three black rats.

  4. Great article! I hadn’t thought about the impact the great haul would have on those who aren’t used to having ridiculous hordes of unpainted miniatures lying around, so tips to tackle the pile are a great idea.

    You linked to a subforum on the Reaper site. I would also recommend people check out this subforum, as a lot of discussion specific to Bones, and painting them, occurs here: http://www.reapermini.com/forum/index.php?/forum/48-bones-miniatures-legendary-encounters/

  5. One thing that is sort of a correction. Reaper Bones minis are not resin, they are indeed plastic.

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