Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A bit of philosophy on painting 3mm

Over the past few weeks on TheMiniaturesPage.com, on a number of different threads, the topic of which way to go about painting 3mm minis has cropped up. 

I have noticed a marked sameness about the answers that were posted. "You need to paint MUCH lighter than you normally would" and "always use contrasting flock" pop up almost on cue. So I've been moved to provide my views on this, even though I once did a post on nothing but my 3mm painting philosophy. 

First off, you don't NEED to paint in any style, least of all in a style someone else thinks you ought to. Militaries, from time immemorial right up until this very minute, use differing shades of the same paint because they use multiple suppliers. No two vehicles have been exposed to wind/sun/rain/heat/humidity for the exact same amount of time. No two vehicles have had the same amount of time pass since their last overhaul and repaint (anytime a vehicle has major work done on it at the motor pool, it always gets repainted before it leaves).

Most wargamers (and indeed modelers) want to get as close to reality as is feasible with their painting, terrain, etc, and I'm no exception, but I'll be the first to admit that 1/600 scale minis do benefit from a slight "tweaking" of what the full-sized vehicle would look like in reality. The same can be said for 3mm terrain, including vehicle bases. 

Let's be honest. These things are damned small! And they're small so that large games can be played at 1:1, or close to it. In a large game with a large table, I can get an entire 1:1 division on the board without crowding. So, "table loss" is a reality here. At 4-6 feet away, with realistically colored terrain and bases, you definitely can lose quite a few of these suckers on the table. So, going a bit lighter with the paint colors and the shade of flocking can definitely have a beneficial effect. A bit!

However...I can honestly say that I have seen other folks' minis which seem to need "Ringling Bros" painted on the sides. Virtually neon circus wagons. Now, to be sure, those folks should paint in a style that pleases them. Whether I like it or not is immaterial. Whether it looks even vaguely realistic or not is also immaterial. If they like it, that's all that matters.

I, on the other hand, like my vehicles to be closer to REAL reality. Sometimes I hear that my paint doesn't provide enough contrast and that my flocking is too close to the color of the vehicles. I disagree. The whole purpose behind painting military vehicles is to help them blend into the background (along with helping to protect the metal). I use a shade of flocking that is just slightly lighter than the vehicle. I want what I paint to be as close to reality as is possible without losing too many things on the tabletop. I go slightly lighter on the flocking shade I use, but I'm NOT going to use flock that makes it look like my vehicles are on the fourth green at Pebble Beach! I also give each vehicle a bit of bright, but historically relevant color ("bling").

So, as this is my blog and therefore it's about my opinions, I'll say that the knee-jerk "paint it way lighter" neon minis I see do NOT look even vaguely like real military vehicles. If mine are too dark and too realistic and don't have enough contrast to make them "pop", they're that way because that's what's realistic and I'm good with that. So can we get the game started now?


  1. I think what you have written can be applied to every scale of miniature. I see the same thing written about 15mm and 28mm. I agree with your philosophy, I paint the way I like and if it looks realistic to me, and if I'm happy then that's what matters. I tend to like a more dull and worn look to miniatures but that does not mean I don't like miniatures painted in a bright 'eye popping' style, but its not my style. I do find it annoying on forums when someone criticises a shade of dunklegelb for being too dark or olive drab for being too light. It's what the individual likes who painted the model. There are so many variables which can effect the colour of the real thing, then how can one person's opinion of what is the right colour for a model be the one true way! This whole topic is a bit of a bugbear for me (you may have gathered), and there's nothing worse when I read some one's hard work being judged negatively by a jerk, who believes they know best. So I say good for you, stick to what you like, it's your figures, to be used by you in your games, and displayed on your blog.

  2. Exactly! If someone likes painting circus wagons for their wargames, then more power to them. But I paint what I remember seeing when I was in the army. I try to make it look as realistic as the scale allows

  3. Agreed. I had an Armor company once (real world) that had 10 Woodland pattern M1s, 1 Dark green and 3 desert Tan (1 with green skirts) No one seemed to really care.
    When it comes to 3mm and 6mm the only thing I am really learning is to take an impressionistic approach. Fine detail and subtle color variations vanish at about 18 inches. Anyone who gets wrapped around the axle about contrast and shades, should go back to Napoleonics where others are happy to discuss button colors and lace ad nauseam

  4. This is also why 1/600 sci-fi is so much fun: you CAN use outrageous color schemes and that helps bring the vehicles out a lot! With historical stuff, you are pretty much limited to putting a bit of "bling" on the vehicle, like you said.

    I am having to go a lot more "neon" that I would like with my 3mm Napoleonics, however. This is because otherwise most of the sirface of the figs is white or black. If you want to see French blue on the table, it needs to be pretty intense! However, since no one cares of Napoleonic armies look like peacocks....

  5. Napoleonics are SUPPOSED to look like peacocks!