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 paints by Army Painter, Vallejo, Model Color, or Citadel by Games Workshop. The great thing about these paints is that the consistency is identical across the board for each brand. It doesn’t matter which color you pick up – the all flow the same and work the same (unless you are buying washes). 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 some of these paints available in our store here. If you would prefer to buy them locally, try your local hobby/game shop.
I keep my paints fairly thin, so they go on smoother with no brush strokes. Most customs take 3-4 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 going to 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. Then I switched over to some sable haired brushes. They are double the price, but they help the paint go on much 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.
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.
Sometimes 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. The best part about toothpicks is that they will be the cheapest tool in your collection. I don’t use them as much anymore since I discovered smaller and smaller brushes.
I used to use sharpies for drawing fine details on my customs. But I stopped after about 2 years because the sharpie lines will fade over time. Plus they are too glossy, and you can’t paint flat clear coat over them, because the ink will run. In almost every case I recommend using decals/stickers or using a fine tip paint brush with black paint instead of a sharpie.
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. Acryl paints almost always work better for minimates.
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.
If you design decals/stickers, I have two great painting tips for you. First of all, take a sheet of plastic and put a drop of each color of paints that you have on the sheet. Let it dry, and then try to match those colors on your computer. Print them out on plain paper, and keep adjusting them until they match perfectly. Save those colors in whatever art program you are using, and now you can make decals that match the paint you already have without mixing!
My next tip for painting when working with decals/stickers is to match the color of the decal/sticker to the figure, and not the other way around. In a similar fashion to my previous tip, try to get the color as close as you can on the computer, then print it on plain paper. Adjust it until the decal color will match the figure perfectly. This will limit the amount of painting you will need to do later, and will result in a more professional looking custom.
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. Goof-Off will leave translucent parts permanently “cloudy”, so beware of that.
You have to be careful with minimates that are painted a different color than they were cast 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. 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!