Friday 22 April 2016

Roma Victor!! A New Army.

My big painting project for 2016 has been, since last Christmas, my Early Imperial Roman army. Before starting this project I had nothing, not a single miniature, so I faced a uphill challenge to get an army ready to play in just a four months. The answer...

... the batch painting production line, or -  how to get an army actually painted in a few months rather than a few years, or (for many) never.

For me, there is only one way to finish an army and get it on the tabletop and gaming, and that is ruthless batch painting. Creating a mass production line of miniatures, with each new batch a stage behind the other, so that they are all rolling along, until miniatures begin to drop of the end of the conveyor belt and just don’t stop... keep that conveyor belt rolling, even when you don't feel much like painting, just do some. Stop, and getting restarted is difficult. 

Here's how I've been getting my Romans done... 


1. Assemble all plastic miniatures, with liquid poly glue. Clean up metal miniatures of flash, mould lines etc. Do not add shields. Do these all separately and add them towards the end.

2. Place 6-7 miniatures on painting sticks. Each flat stick is 7-8” long. The closer the minatures are to the same pose on the same stick the better, as this allows extra speed as you’ll be making the same brush strokes in the same place as you work along the stick.  

3. A small blob of Superglue on each miniatures base to hold him in place on the stick, not too much, these have to broken off again at the end.

4. Spray all black, thoroughly. This gives a good base key for the following paint to adhere to. 
Prepped and sprayed back on their painting sticks

5. Once the black is dry, use a larger brush and paint the entire model in a dark brown (burnt umber). Just go fast and coat the lot. The dark brown becomes the base colour for flesh, belts, pouches, shoes, spear shafts, and is dark enough to be fine for any mail/metal too. 
Burnt umber coating

Up close


1. Once the models are all dark brown, start with the metal. Use a dark ‘gunmetal’ silver and quickly paint mail shirts, helmets, swords, spear heads etc. Don’t worry about being neat yet, you’ll over paint the messy bits anyway. You now have a dark brown and dark silver man.  Work on a entire stick at a time, and do multiple sticks, so say 20+ men in one batch. I work on about 30 men on 5-6 sticks. 

First gun-metal roughly on armour, weapons an helmets etc. 

Up close, very rough, but fast.

2. Skin base colour. Use a flesh colour on all faces, hands, feet, arms, bare bits, etc. Be neater here, but not slow. Just get paint on the models. 

3. Cloth base colours. Choose 5 or 6 cloth colours, greys, dirty yellow, dark red, lighter browns, greens, etc. Paint 5 or 6 different bits of cloth with the same colour, spread them randomly across the sticks, so maybe 2 trousers here, 2 tunics there, 1 hood, etc. Do this for each new colour, mix it around so all the models have different colours on them and very few are exactly the same. It doesn’t matter too much, as highlighting will change the colours and patterns will be added later too. Throw in the occasional one-off colour, like a single light green tunic or a lilac cloak, just to break it up a bit. In the end, when basing, no 2 men will look alike, and if they do, just don’t base them right next to each other.

For my Romans, uniformity is the name, so all cloth (skirts) were off-white as undyed linen. 

Base face and cloth done

Working on about 30 models at a time. 

Up close, note many details still not touched. 

4. Add a few extra details, like gold on some helmets or sword pommels and buckles, wood on spear shafts. Repaint any belts that got metal on them from the armour, brown. 


1. Mix up a dark brown/black wash using matt varnish, dark brown ink/wash and thinners/water (depending on water or solvent based varnish/ink). Using a larger brush just paint it all over every miniature. Go quick, just wack it on and leave to dry for 24 hours at least. You can use Army Painter for this, but its gloss varnish, so you’ll have to matt varnish the miniatures later to kill off the shine, so I made my own matt equivalent.

The dark brown wash will dry to create the shadows in the recesses of the miniature. 

The ingredients of my brown wash

Slash it all over

It looks messy now, but highlighting will clear a lot of that up. 

Whilst the washed miniatures are drying, move on to the shields.

1. Mount shields reverse (inside) up on sticks, using bluetack to hold them in place. 

Good old bluetack...

2. Spray black.

3. Flip over and spray fronts black.

4. Once dry quickly paint the reverse of all shields a mid-brown. Just coat each shield in 1 or 2 swipes. 

5. Once dry, flip over the shields and paint all the bosses gun metal silver, again don’t worry about too much care, the surrounding shield will get painted anyway. 

The shield fronts after a quick scrub with gunmetal 

6. Paint a base colour of the shield’s front. A light grey/ off-white will work for some shield transfers, but these Warlord ones needed a a background red.

Then red, ready for the transfer

7. Apply all shield transfers. This saves a immerse amount of detailed painting, and looks better than anything most people can paint. Invest in them. The shield design will be highly visible at the end, the shield being the largest part of the model. 

50+ legionary shields in one batch

8. Wash entire shield, front and back, with the same dark-brown wash as the miniatures and leave to dry. 


1. Once dry, add a single basic highlight to each area of cloth. This can be same colour as the original base (the brown wash will have darkened the base colour anyway), or add a lighter version of the same colour to create a highlight. Don’t just add white (unless you want a final bright white over a light grey base). It’s better to add a yellow, light grey or pink to a colour to get a highlight than a white. This will make a more subtle colour, not such a bright pastel shade.

Work through each colour of cloth, do all the yellows, then the reds, then the blues etc, together. 

First highlights added over the wash. Now is the time for neatness. 

2. Add any patterns, cheques, stripes etc to some clothing. Do a few for the men who will be in the front ranks. Don’t do them all, as patterns are slow to paint.

3. Flesh highlights. Use a flesh tone to add highlights to nose, cheek bones, eye brows and chin, also knuckles on hands, toes on feet, muscles, etc. Small highlights are better, don’t end up repaint ing the entire model’s flesh, leave most of the base colour and brown shaded recesses. 

4. Details. Add a few highlights to metals like the edge of swords, spear tips, parts of belts, etc.  Paint spear shafts a lighter brown. 

Up close, getting there with these 30 models

5. Paint the models own base a brown earth colour around his feet/shoes. 


1. Carefully break each model off its stick. Use a modelling knife to lever it up. Then use the knife to clean off the bottom of its base of any glue/wood residue. 

2. Select 4 models that work together for a 40mm square base. Spend some time on this bit, so the men aren’t in each others way or throwing javalins/spears into each other etc. Rank them up nicely with a few test layouts. Each base can be a little diorama.

3. Collect enough 40mm square bases for all the finished models, so for 20 models, that would be 5 bases. Paint the top of the squares the same earth colour as the model bases earlier. 

I'm going with 40mm MDF squares. 

4. Chose a finished shield for each man and superglue it in place.

5. Superglue each model into place onto the 40mm base. 

A legionary unit takes shape on their bases. Kneeling front rankers, pilum-chuckers in the second rank (with signum)

A commanders stand, Centurion, Aquila and trumpet-tooter. These models were all part of the first batch too. 

Artillery support goes on a 40x50mm base cut from mounting board (nice cardboard)

Auxilaries, 3 to a base to make them a bit 'loser' than the packed legionary bases.

Up close.

6. Paint the entire base, around the model’s feet etc, in white PVA glue. 

7. Dip base into your sand basing material mix, to get it thoroughly coated. I have a mix of fine and corse sand with a few bits of small budgie grit in it, for slightly different textures.

8. Allow PVA and sand to dry over night. 

9. Once well dry, make a mix of the brown basing colour, more PVA glue and water. With a thin mix of this wash it over the entire base, and around the model’s feet and allow it to soak in to the sand. This gives you abase coat for the sand and seals it with more PVA at the same time. 

10. Allow to thoroughly dry again.

11. Once dry, dry brush a lighter earth base colour over the sand. It doesn’ matter if some gets on shoes, feet, trousers, shield edges etc, it’s mud. This is dry-brushing, less paint is more here. 

12. Add a final even lighter base earth highlight over some areas of the base’s sand, just catching a few of the coarse bits of the base texture, to bring them out. 

13. Blob some slightly thinned PVA glue on the bases around feet etc, don’t make these blobs too regular. Randomness helps here. 

14. Dip into scenic scatter grass material to cover the PVA blobs. 

15. After the scenic grass has dried, add a few patches extra, different, scatter, pre-bought Mini-Nature grass tufts, broken twigs as fall logs, Noch flowers, small gravel as rocks, whatever else you like to 'prettify' the base. 

16. Paint the four edges of each base in a mid/dark green colour. 


A legionary unit ready for their first action. 

The battle line is forming. 6 Legionary units complete, along with 3 Auxiliary and 3 Scorpios. Cavalry, 3 commands stands and a unit of Praetorians are also almost done. That's an army for a first small encounter with the barbarians. 

Final Scorpios

I'm no painting guru, and I won't win any competitions, but I do have finished, painted armies to a respectable gaming standard, which to me is more important if you actually want to play games.  

As a final few tips. Do all the same tasks at the same time. This is a production line, and you won’t see any finished miniatures until they suddenly all come together at the end, when it looks great.

Once a batch is 'complete' you can look over each base and go in again with a smaller detail brush, just to clean up any visible mistakes, or add an extra highlight here or there, or pick out a golden buckle here and there. That’s optional, just a final tidy up. 

I’m not claiming these minaitures will win painting prizes. But large armies of very well-painted miniatures are very rare, and those that own them often haven’t painted them themselves, they paid some else to do it, which is fine by me if you have the £s. For most of us mere wargaming mortals, who want a nice complete army (larger than a single nicely painted unit that is), that looks good on the tabletop at 3 feet, then ruthless batch painting is the way ahead. 

This, or something very similar, was the technique I used to paint both my large Crusaders armies, in all over 600 men and 200 horses, as well as both my Warhammer armies, over 250 Elves and Daemons, my ACW Union army, another 200+ men, 30 odd horses and 9 cannon (with crew and limbers) and my Imperial Roman army is getting the same treatment.  

One old adage is worth remembering too, ‘faces, bases and shields’, these three focus points will vastly improve any basic paint scheme, so a bit of extra attention on these goes a long way. Shield transfers are a massive help and save a lot of time over trying to hand paint them. Invest in them. 

Another big help is sticking rigidly to the same basing style for the entire army, it’ll really unify its look in the end, as will a limited colour pallet when painting. Too many colours will look a bit of a mess and often clash… I stick to greyish/brownish earthy shades of most colours, but I like my toy soldiers dull and grubby-looking, even the brightest ones. 

My Romans go into action in two weeks time, let's hope the Celts are ready for the legions, or I get all their lands and sell the women and children as slaves!!


  1. A very interesting read, especially the beginning of it. I do have a problem with painting large armies. I just cannot focus on one project and since I ma also writing a blog I just do not want to get people bored with the same stuff over and over again or post nothing for 3 months.

  2. hey Warwick great painting - are these 28mm, which brand are they? I am keen to try an alternative to ww2 and think ancient 28mm would be very interesting

    1. Warlord plastics and few Warlord and (more) Foundry metals added in for variety. Word of warning, the plastic Auxiliaries from Warlord are massive, each an 8' giant of a man... scale creep I think.