PAINTING PLASTIC FIGURES
There are two main types of plastic used for wargaming figures. These are sometimes called "hard" or "brittle", and "soft". The hard brittle type is polystyrene, and this can be glued with the proper glues very easily, and takes paint very well. It needs little discussion here. The problematic type is the soft type, polythene. Polythene is used for most boxes of toy soldiers. The figures are fairly safe for young children to play with. One problem, though, is that they are a bit bendy, and so the paint tends to flake off them. Many people are put off buying these figures for this one reason. This is a shame, since the figures are cheap and often good. I shall now describe how I paint them for gaming. I can honestly say that in the last three years of gaming with these figures, I have had no paint flake off at all.
Step one: get rid of flash
The figures have often got a very thin film of "flash" where the mould halves joined. It can be very difficult to trim this flash with a scalpel, because of the texture of the soft plastic. Get a wine cork and a pin. Stick the pin through the cork, entering through the side near one end, and exiting through the end. Hold the pin in the flame of a candle for a few seconds, and then use the hot pin to melt away the flash. You have to be fairly quick about it. If you linger too long, then the hot pin will melt into the main body of the figure. It is easier to do this task with the figures left on the sprue.
Step two: wash the figures
Remove all the figures from the sprue, complete any more trimming of them you are going to do, and stick them in a bowl of water with plenty of washing-up liquid. Stir well, rinse very well, drain, and leave to dry.
Step three: undercoat
Undercoat with PVA. This is the white glue which is sometimes called "school glue" or "wood glue", and which has many trade names, including Unibond, Polycel, and Liquid Nails. Get the cheapest. You may find it available in big squeezy bottles in craft shops or school supply shops. It is polyvinyl acetate, which is white and water-soluble when wet, and clear and water-proof when dry. You will be tempted to dilute it a bit. Resist. Paint on undiluted PVA glue to the figures. You may be appalled at the state of the figures. The glue will sit on them in horrible blobs of white yuck, and you may think that you have ruined your figures. Keep calm. When the glue dries, it will shrink onto the figures, and obscure very little detail. It dries fairly quickly. If you see that you have missed a bit, then, before the glue is completely dry, you can smear the thicker, half-set glue around onto the bits you have missed. When thinner, the glue tends to run off some parts of a figure.
Step four: paint
Paint the figures with acrylic paints. These paints are flexible, and you will find that they go on the primed surface very easily. Start with the big block colours like the main tunic colour, and later add the finer details.
Step five: varnish
I use ordinary polyurethane varnish, of a sort sold in house decoration shops for varnishing wood. You can use gloss varnish, satin, or matt. Gloss is far and away the strongest, but I find that matt is strong enough for light plastic figures, and I only use the gloss (I use extra thick "yacht" varnish) on lead figures. This is the first of two coats of varnish, and it has several purposes: (a) it protects the paintwork from the thousand natural shocks of wargaming, (b) it makes the figures a bit stiffer, so that rifles, spears etc. bend less, (c) it shades the figures. This third effect is achieved by the simple means of mixing in some dark enamel paint with the varnish. The pigment from this paint will settle in the crevices of the figure and provide excellent shading. I use black, dark brown, or a mixture of black and dark brown, for most of my figures. Remember that whatever colour you choose to add to the varnish will form the shadows on the face, the clothes, the whole surface of the figure.
Even if you use "matt" varnish for the first, protective, coat, then you will find that the figures are still not perfectly matt. I then put a second coat of Humbrol "Matt Cote" which renders the figures very matt indeed. If you used gloss varnish for the first coat, then you may find that two coats of "Matt Cote" are needed to get the figures as matt as you want.
A note on gluing
I use "all purpose" adhesive for soft plastic figures. Two major brand names are "Uhu" and "Bostik". You MUST follow the instructions properly, to get it to work. Put the glue on both parts to be joined, wait a minute, then press together. It takes a long time for the glue to set to full strength, but it works. Obviously, you do all your gluing necessary between stages two and three (above). A new type of glue on the market is Loctite All Plastics Super Glue and you might want to read about this at the bottom of my page on modelling tools.
If you paint your figures this way, you should end up with figures easily tough enough for wargaming, and which are very easy to store and transport - much easier than lead figures. I know that some people use varnish as a primer instead of PVA glue, and I am told that this works well too.
BACK TO MODELLING MENU
Click here to go back to the home page