Painting and Rigging 1:1200 Scale Naval Miniatures for Wargames and Dioramas

Tips & Tricks

18th and 19th Century naval simulations are becoming increasingly popular, and there is a wide selection of 1:1200 scale sailing ships on the market today. The models are cast in pewter, and some assembly is required. Assembly instructions are included, but they may not cover every aspect of modelling, detailing, painting, and weathering the ship. The following article is a compilation of basic instructions, tips and tricks from experienced 1:1200 scale ship builders Tom Rogers, Lee Fry, and Ix Nichols.


During the periods of the American and French Revolutions, ship colour schemes were not very well defined, and modellers will have to refer to period paintings to reproduce a particular ship. By the Napoleonic period, a set of national patterns had emerged. The two key elements were the colour of the ship’s hull, and the colour of the distinctive stripe across the gun ports.

Nation Hull Hull Stripe
Denmark red, blue or black red
France black white
Great Britain black yellow
A contemporary described the British light yellow as «baby puke yellow».
Holland black orange
Ottoman Empire ochre black
Russia green white
Spain black red
The notable exception being the Santissima Trinidad, which was painted red. Other sources suggest that the Spanish had white stripes, und S. Trinidad had red stripes. Yet another source has the S. Trinidad in white, with red stripes! The Santa Anna was all black.
USA black white or red

While you are safe using natural wood colours when painting the rest of the ship, the following information offers some alternatives for those who want to be bold. This information comes from an article in the January 1990 issue of Miniature Wargames.

Item Britain Other Nations
Inside Bulwarks red or ochre red, yellow, green, blue, black, or brown
Gun Carriages red, yellow, wood, or ochre red, yellow, wood, ochre, or green
Outer Bulwarks dark blue, dark grey dark blue, dark grey, red, or brown
Item France Spain
Fighting Top Arming blue, red, or white und blue green und white
Item Britain France und USA
Masts ochre white
Mast Bands black

Again, this information should not be taken as the gospel. Different shades of natural wood colours will do just fine.


Now comes the hard part. First of all, do not attempt to copy the running rigging. It is too difficult. Just do the standing rigging. Second, use only black thread. While the model instructions may suggest that you can use different colours, they won’t look right. Besides copying the historical rigging, you have to make sure that the model’s masts are supported. Adjust or add to the historical rigging to make sure that each mast is pulled both forward and backward.

When you run the rigging through the sails, don’t just glue the thread to a notch you made in the masts – it will pop out later. Wrap the thread at least once around each point where it needs to be glued. To keep the thread from slackening, alternate the direction you rig the ship. Run the first line from front to back, the second from back to front, and so on, alternating with each thread.

Important: Use synthetic thread, not cotton. It stays tighter, and, after you are done, you may heat the air around the model to remove any slack.

Don’t waste your time trying to drill many tiny holes and running your own shrouds, one line at a time. Instead, for each shroud section, use mesh-like black fabric, such as the material used to make panty hose. Also, Langton Miniatures sell ratlines. Finally, small ship models are sold without the “dolphin sticker” and spar on the bowsprit. You have to add this yourself for a completely accurate model.


Most of the metal ship models do not come with a flagstaff for the national ensign. Instead, you have to glue your flags to the rigging, or make your own flagstaff. Signal flags may stay on the rigging fairly well, but gluing a large national ensign to a piece of thread can be very difficult and the flag may come off later. Instead, attach the flag to a length of 0.3 mm pianowire and place it into the hole drilled into the rear of the quarterdeck. The hole should be angled slightly to the rear.

Drill the hole deep enough to support the wire flagstaff without actually glueing it in place. This will allow you to change the nationality of the ship in preparation for a particular scenario. French ships switch from the white ensign of the Bourbon royalists to the Revolutionary Tricolore, depending on the year of an engagement. Some people assert that it was the frequency with which the royalist French gave up their ships which caused the white flag to become associated with surrender.


It is important to mount the ships on stands large enough to protect them from damage. Stand sizes should be multiples of half an inch, which conform to the popular simulation rules.

There are various putty and gel compounds you may use to create waves, but a very nice solution involves the use of textured plexiglas panels. Buy a clear plastic lighting fixture panel with an irregular pattern called “Crushed Ice”. If you do not want to buy a 3’ by 4’ section at the hardware store, D&J Hobbies offer this same type of plastic in smaller pieces. Paint the smooth side of the plastic in your favourite sea colour. Then drybrush the very tops of the rough side with off-white. Mount the ship on the rough side. The result is a marvelous imitation of the ocean surface.


Many modellers use magnetic sheet to secure their models in a metal tray or tool box during transportation. Unfortunately, the magnetic force of the 1″ × 3″ stand required for a 1:1200 scale ship-of-the-line is such that the model will be very difficult to remove from the box. Consider using magnetic sheet only in the corners of the stand, that’s enough to hold the ship upright in its box, and you’ll save money at the same time.

I hope this article helps the eager midshipmen out there to step up and become captains and commanders. The nice thing about Napoleonic naval wargaming is that it takes only one ship to get started. Test one ship from each manufacturer, examine its quality and ease of assembly, then go ahead and invest in a whole squadron. See you on the high seas.

Chris Salander

Painting Miniatures