How To Ink Figures

Hi guys,

I've been asked to write a bit of a tutorial on how to paint figures using only inks. But in truth, I feel rather ill qualified, and am a little nervous about expounding any personal techniques because I truly feel my modelling skills aren't that special and I'm afraid of passing on my own bad habits to anyone else. My style certainly is unique, but I'm not sure I'm exactly The Painting God of Inks or anything like that. Perhaps I can take the middle road... and explain a bit about how I get my inky results in the hope others can improve upon my mistakes; and I guess there will always be a few aspiring modellers out there who might genuinely learn something from my haphazard way of doing things.

Why do I paint in ink?

Well, when I was a kid I loved all those children's adventure stories, filled with colour plates of the action. Similarly, I adored the gentler atmospheric tales such as Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, and all the Beatrix Potter books. The ones I liked best were those which contained lavish water colour plates... you know, the ones that were softly dabbed with a brush - almost stylised, where you could often actually see bits of the white book paper showing through underneath the colour print. I always thought these looked absolutely amazing; and in fact in later life, I blew a lot of these up and framed them to put on the walls of my home.

During an earlier stage of my adult life, I was a pro modeller working for one of the larger companies producing and selling pre-painted miniatures for connoisseur collectors, and naturally I used to paint all these figures with ordinary (standard) modeller's paints. My work varied from simply painting chess sets to single one off cameo pieces for hobbyist collections round the world, and the standard of modelling was just 'suppose so'a lot of the time, because of the sheer bulk of repeat numbers we all had to churn out in an endless production line of clone like 54mm duplicates. But I did learn one important thing by doing this... I learned to paint very, very fast indeed.

A couple of years in this job and I ended up hating painting models with a vengeance verging on mania, and it is only now, after many years buying pre-painted wargames miniatures (such as Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars Skirmish Miniatures, Mage Knight, and HeroScape wargame figures, etc, etc) that once again I managed to re-gain any pleasure in painting models for my own enjoyment.

However, when I returned to indulging in this aspect of the hobby, I decided to put my nostalgic love of watercolour pictures from children's book to good use, and so I started experimenting with inks... which I found gave me a decent facsimile of the wonderful paintings hanging on my walls.

The following semi-tutorial (too short to be a true tutorial) is thus, my own developed style. I don't enjoy painting enough to spend hours and hours poring over a single miniature (my hat goes off to those gifted people who can and do), and I guess my experience at getting fairly pleasing results quickly, coupled with my usual impatient desire to get my finished figures out and ready to use on the wargames table, means I have discovered a way of painting a great number of miniatures quickly and without too much fuss; which I can tell you if you have as many unpainted leads as I do at the end of the day, this becomes a massive plus factor.

A special hero or character figure for my games might, for example, take me from between 10 to 20 minutes to complete, and a unit of 10 to 16 infantry might take me a few of hours. Handy way of making sure my impulse buys don't tend to pile up on me. I already have way too many unpainted models sitting unopened and unloved in their boxes, collected over a life time of ill advised purchases when that "OOooooo I must own some of those" moments befuddle and completely take over the brain. Nowadays, I am a lot more careful, and anything I buy tends to get assembled and inked within a few days of them arriving in the post. I always buy on-line due to my isolated location in the mountainous, banshee mist shrouded wilds of Southern Ireland; put it this way, the nearest games store near me is half a day's drive away in the next county, and probably wouldn't have what I want in stock in any case.

So, here goes:

First of all, make sure you are happy with the base sizes of your figures, which will of course, depend what you intend to use them for, single mounted pieces or multi base units? Do the preferred set of rules you like to use for your games demand specific base sizes?

For example, I like to use single mounted metal models for my 28mm Pulp era games, but the miniatures I use tend to come on fairly small and often irregular shaped bases, which (left as they are) are quite tippy and would mean my figures would constantly be falling over on the table when I play with them. Besides, I like to add stones and flock to my bases, which means I need to re-base them on a larger surface. I do this by cutting out 1 inch roundels of cardboard, and gluing the smaller metal bases on top of these.

Inks are also easy to rub off prior to varnishing, so I'd advise you to base your figures at this stage in any case... preferably before you even undercoat them. This means you will be able to handle the base edges instead of the figures when it comes to the actual inking part.

I put between ten and twenty unpainted figures on a flat piece of wood or a sturdy box. The reason I undercoat so many at a time is simply to maximise the amount of paint that actually goes on the models. If you only do a few at a time, you'll be amazed exactly how much paint ends up wasted... just look at the temporary surface your whitened models are sitting on to see what I mean. So even if you only intend to paint a single piece, or a small unit of four of five figures... try and get a bunch more undercoated at the same time, just to save paint if nothing else. Though naturally, this also saves preparation the next time you feel the modelling bug hit you, and you'll have a bunch of stuff all primed and ready for you.

I place my initial batch of unpainted miniatures in a zig-zag formation to ensure the spray undercoat can reach all around each model. It can be quite annoying to spray a large number, only to find you've missed whole parts because the paint failed even to reach them.

I always use cans of matt white spray to undercoat, because the results are always even, and this way I can do all ten or twenty pieces in a matter of moments, as opposed to spending an hour of so hand whitening each piece with a brush.

Once all the figures are undercoated, they won't take long to dry... depending which make of spray you are using. Games Workshop spray can white is the fastest drying paint I know (taking literally only a matter of minutes to dry), but I rarely use this brand because here in Southern Ireland, it's not easy to get hold of, and Games Workshop refuses to ship this product via on-line ordering due to air mail safety issues.

The reason I use white as an undercoat is simply because, from experience, I have discovered (strangely) that it is the ONLY undercoat colour the inks will adhere to properly when it comes to actually painting the figures.


Undercoated and dry... the first inks are applied.


Slowly build up the colours.


I like to ink the bases, the colour helps add a bit of tone which, when combined with the flocking/stoning effect which will be applied later on, brings a bit more depth to the miniatures.

Next, simply start with a large area, probably the trousers, jacket, or maybe the backpack, belts or webbing... then work outwards filling progressively smaller areas as you go. Inks will run easily, so try to be careful. You don't really want to cover any areas you will later need to paint in different colours... that's another thing about inks, usually when you paint over an area already painted, the colours change and become something entirely new. So, until you get used to which colours mix well together, it's usually best to be a little careful about splashing inks onto unwanted areas you still need to keep white.

Should you make a slip - these things do happen, and more frequently than we'd like to admit - just wait for the unwanted ink to dry, and dab some white (undercoat) paint over the offending area, then start inking again when you are ready.

By layering and combining different inks, you can create an amazing range of unique colours and tones. Common sense and an aesthetic eye will soon tell you what works and what doesn't.

When it comes to doing the flesh, I only ever use one type of Ink... Games Workshop's Flesh Wash. I'm sure there are others you can use that are equally as good, but I haven't found them yet. I think a watered down Chestnut Ink might do the trick, but I've never actually tried it myself. I'd advise you to pick up several bottles of this Flesh Wash when you come to purchasing your ink bottles... you'll get through a lot of this (presumably, almost all your human type miniatures will have exposed skin: faces, necks, hands, legs, etc). Once again remember inks run given half a chance.

When it comes to Flesh Wash, this can be an advantage, because it means a single 'dob'of ink will often run into all the hard to reach cracks and crevices making your job a lot easier. Likewise, you don't usually need to be too careful about brushing over sleeves, neck lines, and so on with your Flesh Wash, because a lot of the time (unless the adjacent colour is something like white, or cream) the colour next to the flesh colour will mask any slight mistakes you make. This may sound like a contradiction to my earlier advice about trying not to get unwanted ink on white areas, but it isn't. The skin is usually one of the last bits to go on, so I'm assuming (like most modellers) you are following suit here too. In which case, the Flesh Wash hardly changes the inks already applied and adjacent to these fleshy areas.

If you feel the flesh tone is too dark, or if you want the face you are inking to look pale, simply water the Flesh Wash down a bit before applying to the figure. For a dark skinned miniature, just add a bit of dark brown or even black to the Wash.

Finally, do the metal bits (guns, knives, water bottles, etc), I use silver and gold, and tone them down as required using other inks to mix and match as and when desired.

When your figure is finished splash some appropriate colour onto the base (or as I often do, paint the base early on, right after undercoating). You don't need to be too precise about this because, if you're like me, your base will probably be flocked or stone finished prior to final stage varnishing.

When you have your inked miniature looking the way you want it, the base is primed (painted), and all those little details have been added; simply take the figure between two fingers... top of the head and bottom of the base and start varnishing the base. Use liberal amounts and I do mean liberal amounts of any varnish you like. Big hardware store cans are ideal; you're only using it at this stage to act as a light glue to allow the basing effects to adhere nicely.

Cover the base of the miniature, being careful not to get any on the boots or anywhere on the figure itself. Then dip the base in your chosen tub of green flock, tiny stones, or dry coloured sand. Remove the figure and gently tap off the excess.

You don't need to wait for the varnish to dry, and you can immediately place all your finished figures back on the flat board you used to undercoat the figures, and use a well shaken spray can of matt varnish (aim from about one foot away) to coat all the figures and bases at the same time with a fine mist of protective varnish. Take especial attention of the base, because you want to ensure a lot of the spray goes onto this area so your base effects remain firmly in place when you later go to handle the models properly.

Be very careful not to tip the figure too much at this stage, or you'll lose half your newly glued base terrain.


There, five Chinese baggage handlers in the paid emply of our intrepid heroes, all inked, varnished, and ready for service in the game. Total paint time from start to finish... about 1 and a half hours.

That's pretty much it.

Experiment and play around to achieve a result you find pleasing. What I like about inking and using a white undercoat is that you can achieve the same effect I was talking about in those children's book watercolour plates. Don't be afraid to let the white show through in places I find it actually adds to the visual appeal.

© 2008, Stephen A Gilbert