So you want to get into miniature gaming but you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Well, have I got a deal for you. That deal is 1/72 scale plastic miniatures. In recent years, with the escalating cost of metal, plastics have become more and more viable for wargame figures. Often called “true 25s”, these figures typically stand about 24mm tall from the sole of the foot to the top of the head. So why buy plastic figures?
- Very inexpensive. On the average, you could buy one 28mm figure ($1.50) or three 15mm figures (50 cents each) or seven to eight 1/72 scale figures (21 cents each).
- Better visual impact. 1/72 scale figures are larger and give a better feel for skirmish gaming. They are small enough to paint easily but still look great on the game table.
OK. So you are probably thinking that this is too good to be true. There must be a down side. There is.
- Plastic figures are hard to handle when it comes to assembly and prepping. These figures are usually made out of a kind of plastic called Polyethylene. Paint and glue just won’t stick to this kind of plastic. Fortunately, there are some special primers and glues that alleviate these problems.
- Choices can be limited. If we equate the 1/72 scale plastic figure industry to a life span, I would say it is an adolescent. There are lots of choices out there but some of the ranges are conspicuously missing. Only recently, for instance, has anyone bothered to make Fantasy Figures. Caesar Miniatures has a rather nice range now.
- Quantity of purchase. You have to purchase in somewhat sizable numbers. Boxes typically come with 48 infantry or 12 cavalry. Perfect for massed battle games but not so much for skirmish games.
So have I scared you off? If not, read on!
PREPPING AND TOOLS
This is my first serious foray into the world of 1/72 scale plastic figures. I have not painted these figures in a long time (perhaps since 1975!) and even then it was only to get the faces and belts painted on. Back then, we were always bummed about how our hard work would flake off after a few days. It was a very real problem with figures made of polyethylene plastic.
Today, there are several new tools and methods for getting around the problems associated with plastic figures. So before we begin the prepping process, lets discuss what tools to use and what tools not to use.
- Sprue cutter. You will need a sprue cutting to remove the figures from the sprues. I have a pair from Games Workshop. They are a little bit expensive at about $20 but they only need to be purchased once.
- Hobby Knife. Often called an X-acto knife, this item is nothing more than a surgeons scalpel. I use a straight triangle blade not a curved one. This is important. The narrow point is useful for getting into the hard to reach places of the figure. The knife will be used to remove the mold lines and excess flash.
- Primer. This is a special kind of paint that is used to prep a surface to receive regular paint. I use Valspar plastic primer. It is clear so I also use a white primer. Mine comes from Armory. There are plenty of brands to choose from. You only need regular primer it if your plastic primer is clear. Krylon also makes a white plastic primer. I could not find it in my area but you may have better luck.
- Plastic Glue. I found, in the United States, that the only plastic glue that can be used on Polyethylene plastic is Loctite All Plastic Super Glue. It is essentially a primer stick and a glue tube. You primer both surfaces to be glued ith the primer stick. Then you apply glue to one of the surfaces and hold together for 15 seconds. I’ve had good luck with this product.
You will not need a file. This is a common tool that is used on metal and even hard plastic figures. They are not good for the softer plastic figures though. Filing soft plastic figures will only shred the surface and cause more harm than good. It is best to avoid files.
Now it is time to prepare the figures to be painted.
First, I cut the figures off of the sprue. I’ll be painting one sprue of figures at a time so I don’t get bored from repetition.
Next the figure needs a bath. That’s right. Some hot soapy water is needed to remove the mold release agent. I soaked my figures for about an hour and then rinsed them under cold water for 5 minutes.
The figures need to have the mold lines and flash cut away. If you see any mold lines or flash, simply and gently scrape the lines off with the hobby knife.
Then I added a 20mm square base to each figure and glued on any shields that needed to be attached. The plastic glue does work equally well on metal surfaces with plastic.
Now I am ready to prime. I sprayed on the Valspar primer first making sure every surface was covered. This requires turning the figures on the sides to get underneath. After the Valspar primer dries, I prime again with Armory white primer. I let the figures dry overnight.
So far the primer and paint bends with the soft plastic and none of the paint cracks. The plastic primer is holding. So far so good.
Now that we have cleaned and primed the model, we are almost ready to paint!
Before we start, here are a couple of basics.
None of the painting techniques I do is really difficult. If things are not exactly perfect and straight, don’t worry. You are usually looking at a model from 3 feet away or more. You won’t notice the imperfections.
I will be using a base color, a shade color and a highlight color on all parts of the miniature.
Base colors are the general color of the object being painted. You need only cover the whole object with the base color. Pretty simple really.
The shade color is either a darker version of the base color or a premixed color from a paint system like GW, Vallejo, Foundry, Armory, Reaper or others. The idea is to paint the color into the folds of fabric or low points of the model to help bring out the detail.
The highlight color is the opposite of a shade color. It is lighter than the base color. The idea is to dry brush on or paint it on the high points of the folds and details. This will really make the detail “pop”.
For small objects like faces, I will usually paint the whole thing a shade color and build it up with a base color followed by a highlight color. For larger items such as cloaks or tunics, I will paint a base color first, then paint in the shade color and dry brush on the highlight color. If the highlight does not come out strong enough, I will the paint on the highlight (not dry brush) in small areas to make it even stronger.
Dry brushing is a technique where you dip a brush in a highlight color and wipe as much of it off as you can. Then you gently paint the high points of the object in question. I usually wipe the brush bristles by pulling them out of a paper towel over and over. I do this 10 times. That will remove most of the paint. Make sure you are using an old brush. I use a flat brush about 5-7mm wide for this technique.
Watering paints down helps with the flow. Sometimes, you might need a couple of coats to cover the area with thinned paint but usually the results are worth it.
Well…enough theory! Lets get painting!
First I will paint the face. I use GW paints. For the face I used Dwarf Flesh for the shade, Bronzed Flesh for the base color and Elf Flesh for the highlight. Given the small size of the model, I might have been better served using dark flesh for the base to bring out the detail of the face. Then I could have used Bronzed Flesh and Elf Flesh to do the raised surfaces.
Next I will do the tunic. As this is a Roman officer, the tunic should be Dark Red. I used Scab Red for the shadow, Red Gore for the base and Blood Red for the highlight. Why oh why does GW have to be so violent with their names?
For the cloak, I decided to make it a rather common color. I used Bubonic Brown for the base color. For the shadow I used Snake Bite leather. For the highlight I used Bleached Bone.
Now it is time to color the leggings and shield face. I used bleached bone and skull white for a highlight. I figured since they are such flat surfaces, no shade color is needed.
Next, I will do all the metal pieces. I used Chaos Black to blacken the metal and Bolt Gun Metal to make the iron pieces a dark silver color. I used Shining Gold to hit the frame of the Spangle Helm, the belt end and the hilt of the sword. I was careful to let some of the black show through to dark line the more regular edges of the equipment.
Finally, I used Snake Bite Leather for a base color of the shoes and Bubonic Brown for a highlight. Again, not so much in the way of detail here but I could use a line of Scorched Brown to liven up the belt.
At this point I have a completed figure. I added a couple of interesting features. First, I added a white stripe to the hem of the Officer’s tunic. It was a simple thing to do but adds some character. Next, I added a cross to his shield. Not just any cross but a form of the Chi-Rho, which is a Latin Christian cross, a popular shield device in the Roman military of the time. I used Blood Red, Chaos Black and Skull White. The black is painted on first giving the general shape of the device. I used the Skull White as a primer to paint red. This gives a nice bright shield device.
Now it is time to finish the base of the figure. I used medium strength dry wall compound (plaster) that I had left over from a home project…that’s still not done. I mixed some brown craft paint with the compound and spread it on the base. After the compound is dry, I painted the figure’s base the same brown color as I mixed in with the plaster. I then glued on some pea gravel and static grass using a little PVA glue.
Finally, I sealed the figure with Krylon Crystal Clear followed later by Krylon Matte Finish. Once this was dry, I dry brushed some Golden Yellow on the grass to make it a little less boring.
SOME LESSONS LEARNED
I am using 1/72 scale figures for two reasons. First, they are inexpensive. Each figure costs less than a 15mm figure by half or more. Second, the visual impact on the table is almost as nice as the more expensive 28mm counterparts. However, several things I do to paint 28mm figures just don’t translate well to 1/72 scale figures.
Highlighting and shading generally work with 1/72 scale figures but some of the smaller objects on the figure require a stronger/darker shade color. With the example figure in this article, the detail colors on the face just don’t pop out as well as they should. I might try experimenting with dark flesh as the shade instead.
There is a technique for quick shading with a product called magic wash. It is something that you can make yourself. The stock, depending on who you talk to, is made up of a small amount of Future floor polish and water. I mixed mine with 1 part Future to 4 parts water. Others will swear by a 1 to 1 ratio. Both seem to work well. Then you mix about 10-15 drops of stock to 1 drop of paint or ink. Then paint this over your figure and, hopefully, the ink will seep down into the details of the figure leaving the high points light. You can do this over a figure painted in only base colors with good results. I use this method on my 15mm armies when I want to get a lot of figures painted in a relatively short time. I paint a base color on all parts and finish it all off with a wash.
I have not tried this method on 1/72 scale figures as I don’t think there would be a lot of benefit. Plastic figures in this scale tend to have soft detail and the ink make not flow correctly into the cracks and crevices. I may experiment at some point but for right now, I will stick to highlighting and shading.
I have found that 1/72 scale figures are very easy to paint. With very little effort, I was able to paint a very inexpensive figure with a durable paint job. These figures will be a nice addition to any body’s gaming table. So if you are on a budget and want miniatures for your games, perhaps 1/72 scale figures are for you.
ABOUT OUR SUBJECT
According to Phil Barker, Romans of the Late Empire wore off-white tunics and trousers of undyed wool, usually brown, off-white or gray. This soldier is an officer. Barker believes officers should have red tunics, white trousers and mustard brown cloak. This officer is probably a line officer of some renown. He wears a spangle helm with gold fittings. This is a symbol of his wealth or a gift from the King whom he serves for heroic deeds. Barker also believes that the plume should be red. I thought that might make the figure look a bit boring so I left it white.
This figure is from HaT Industries Late Roman Medium Infantry set.