When I first started making customs I used the cheap Testor’s Enamel paint that you could buy just about anywhere. Unfortunately it doesn’t bond well to certain types of plastic, and I ended up with several customs that had a permanent sticky texture. Now I recommend using Vallejo Paints, which I have been using regularly for the past year. The great thing about Vallejo paints is that the consistency is identical across the board. It doesn’t matter which color you pick up – the all flow the same and work the same. They also go on smoothly – each coat is thin enough to look good, but thick enough to cover the coat beneath it, with the exception of the red and yellow shades, which are pure evil no matter which brand you use. The paints do have to be shaken well before each use. We have these paints available in our store here. If you would prefer to buy them locally, try your local hobby/game shop. If they don’t carry Vallejo, the next best thing is Citadel paints, which I used for several years with good results.
I keep my paints fairly thin, so they go on smoother with no brush strokes. Most customs take about 4 coats of paint per color, plus a clear flat or semi-gloss coat at the end. The factory finish for minimates seems to be somewhere between flat and semi-gloss, so I try to mix those two finishes whenever possible. The clear coat at the end helps even out the finish as well.
I keep a lot of extra minimate parts laying around that I call paint-mates. These get used over and over again for keeping parts of the custom separated when painting. For example, if you are painting a yellow hairpiece black, good luck not getting any black on your nice flesh-colored head underneath. But put that hairpiece on a paint-mate, and you don’t have to worry about getting paint on the head underneath. It makes the painting process a little faster.
I only prime my customs if I am goingt o be painting a lighter color on top of a darker one. I don’t prime the joints, because of the paint rub issue. But priming the rest of the figure helps keep the final colors consistent.
Priming can also help in the sculpting process. After I have sculpted and sanded something, I will often prime it to see what it will look like when it is painted. This helps to reveal flaws that you might otherwise miss until its too late to fix them.
I used to always use the cheap Testors brushes that come in a 3-pack for about a dollar. They last forever, and they don’t shed very much. Recently I switched over to some sable haired brushes. They are double the price, but they help the paint go on smoother. Plus they make some ridiculously small sizes that are great for small details. You can clean them with just water, but I learned to use both soap and water and to reshape the point of the brush, otherwise it would get permanently frizzy. One brush you might want to start with can be found online here.
I have several larger brushes for painting large areas, such as 3″ minimates. You should choose a brush size that is appropriate for the area you are painting in order to minimize the appearance of brush strokes. I have five or six tiny brushes for fine details. These brushes do not hold very much paint, so its important to “reload” often. You don’t want to run dry halfway through a nice crisp line. I have one 1/4″ square brush as well. These brushes work really well for doing straight lines across a minimate body.
I use toothpicks for all the details that are too small for a brush to handle. It is hard to do straight lines with them, because they don’t hold very much paint at all. They are better for doing eyes, teeth, and highlights. It is hard to judge how much paint is on the toothpick. Sometimes I need to use a sharpie to clean up the edges of details I have made using toothpicks. The best part is that toothpicks are the cheapest tool you will ever find.
If you paint everything by hand, a sharpie is a must. Someday I might make the jump into using decals, but for now the sharpie is my main source for the lines on my customs. Specifically its an Ultra-Fine Point Sharpie. Accept no substitutes. These are fairly cheap at less than $2 each, and they are reliable for about 5 or 6 customs each. Then they start to get gummed up, and they never work as well again. At this point I usually toss them and grab a fresh one, otherwise your lines aren’t as crisp any more.
Sometimes I will use a ruler, or any straight edge, along with the sharpie when drawing long straight lines. If you are drawing faces, the lines you will get are going to be a little thicker than the lines on factory painted minimates. However, if you make very quick, light strokes it is possible to get these thinner lines. The problem with sharpies is that the ink fades in sunlight over time. I keep my minimates out of the sun now, but I have had to re-do some of my older customs because of this.
If you have a steady hand, you might want to consider using a fine tip paint brush with black paint instead of a sharpie – then you can avoid the fading issue completely.
First of all, I would not recommend mixing paint between brands of paint. I have a few jars of Tamiya paints, and when I mixed them with Model Masters the resulting coat was permanently sticky. Also never mix acryl and enamel paints. Generally acryl paints work better for minimates, but metallic paints have a nicer finish with the enamel paints.
When you do mix colors, sometimes you get unexpected results. I have mixed blue and red and gotten brown before. I switched to slightly different shades of red and blue, and got a nice royal purple. Some colors have more pigment in the paint than others, and its impossible to know what will work until you try it.
One color that is very difficult to achieve is the minimate flesh color. Model Masters has three different shades of flesh colored paint, but none of them match the minimate flesh color. I have found the following mix works best: 1 drop of bright red, 1 drop of yellow, a miniscule amount of black, and add white until you get the right amount of brightness. You wouldn’t expect the black to be in there, but it works.
You can buy empty jars of paint, and keep your own mixes in them. I made a jar of flesh colored paint to use over and over again. This is also useful if you are painting a large figure that will need multiple coats, as it can be difficult to mix the exact same shade twice.
There are two main methods that I use to remove the factory minimate paint. The first is a product called Goof-Off, which is pictured above. You should be able to get this at any hardware store, or on Amazon. I put a little on an old rag, and it rubs the paint off in less than a minute. Sometimes it can leave a sticky film behind after rubbing the paint off, but if you keep on rubbing for another minute, this film can also be removed. For more precise applications, such as removing part of a face, I use a cotton swab.
You have to be careful with minimates that are painted a different color than they were casted in. For example, if you try to remove the evil grin from M.Bison, you will also remove the skin color, as that head was cast in white and painted skin color. One good way to tell the color of the plastic is to look inside the joints. If you use Goof-Off on a clear minimate, like the Invaders Human Torch, the surface will end up looking slightly cloudy. Also, if you leave your rag soaked in Goof-Off sitting on certain types of plastic overnight, it will melt it. This is strong stuff, so be careful.
The other method I use for removing small sections of minimate tampos is cutting it off with a sharp hobby knife. The tampos are slightly raised off the surface of the plastic, and if you are extremely careful, you can cut them off without marking the plastic.
I hope this guide was helpful to you. Good luck out there!