Speedpainting Miniatures by Drybrushing

Painting Miniatures in 1:72 Scale

Speedpainting Miniatures by Drybrushing.

U.S. Paratroopers just seconds into the painting process. Humbrol 31 Slate Grey has been drybrushed lightly onto the dark green plastic figures. It is very fortunate that ESCI decided to cast these miniatures in a much darker shade of the uniform colour. No undercoating is required. The highlight colour can be brushed on directly, allowing the dark plastic to remain visible in the folds of the uniform, and around equipment items. The actual coat of drybrushed paint is very thin, it does not chip or flake off. This simple and very effective painting technique falls into the realm of speedpainting.

Tools and Accessories

  • Size 10 paintbrush with broad tip
  • Size 1 paintbrush for detailing
  • Humbrol 31 Slate Grey
  • Artist Acrylics

Figure Selection

The ESCI paratroopers are cast in a dark green semi-gloss plastic, and they lend themselves well to speedpainting, a simple technique which uses the colour of the plastic as the base coat. Not all plastic figures can be painted this way, the troops need to be cast in a much darker shade of the overall uniform colour. Union infantry cast in dark blue is a prime candidate for speedpainting, but the medium blue variety is not. Similarly, any modern infantry cast in dark olive green or dark brown can be speedpainted if the actual uniform colour is medium olive or khaki, respectively.

In an effort to make the unpainted figures look more attractive, some manufacturers try to match the actual uniform colour in the plastic they use. These troops cannot be speedpainted by drybrushing, they lack the deep shadow required for contrast. The same is true of figures cast in a completely unrelated colour, like British Waterloo infantry in beige plastic. The latter need to be undercoated correctly prior to painting, the former may be patinated, another speed painting technique.


Drybrushing is explained elsewhere in this magazine, and it is very important to master the technique in order to speedpaint plastic figures successfully. The ESCI paratroopers require only a very light drybrushing of Humbrol № 31 to bring out the exceptional detail. If this process is overdone or if the brush is not dry enough, the dark plastic recesses will be covered with paint, and the shading is lost. That particular figure would have to be shaded again, using a traditional technique, and it would not match its speedpainted buddies later. We recommend an enamel paint at this stage, because Humbrol № 31 happens to be a good match, the pigment is stickier, the brush can be drier, and it will allow more applications than a dry brush loaded with acrylics. This coat of paint will dry quickly, and we continue with artists‘ acrylics afterwards.


The ESCI paratroopers have canvas coloured webbing belts, straps, and pouches. These items will now stand out in the slate grey drybrush, and they can be stained, painted, or drybrushed in light khaki. Drybrushing the straps may be difficult, but the pouches present no problem at all. Paint the straps, being carful not to overpaint the dark plastic outline on either side of them.

Rifle stocks and boots will to be painted next, using a medium khaki paint. This colour looks unrealistic now, but it will be stained dark brown later, when we do the hands and faces.

Hands and faces need to be painted in full flesh colour to cover the greenish tint. Let them dry, then stain with a very thin wash of burnt umber acrylic paint. The wash can be controlled by removing excess paint with a clean brush. Tiny air bubbles need to be brushed out, otherwise they will leave noticeable spots in the complexion. Hold the figures up-side down during the staining process, and let the wash collect in the eye sockets. It will dry there within minutes, shading the face nicely. Hands and rifle stock are stained simultaneously, making sure that most of the wash collects around the hand and between the fingers, not on the back of the hand itself. The rifle will display wonderfully realistic wood grain afterwards, reason enough to use this simple technique. A slightly thicker wash should be used on the boots, turning them dark brown.

Finally, all metal fittings are painted matt black, and carefully drybrushed in wrought iron or silver, depending on the amount of highlight required.

If you are so inclined, you may want to paint the tiny American flags, unit badges, and rank chevrons typically worn on the upper arm. Unfortunately, none of the 1:72 scale manufacturers have thought of producing appropriate decals for infantry figures yet, requiring the dedicated miniaturist to handpaint such important detail. If decals do become available some day, paint the area with gloss varnish, attach the decal, let it dry, seal with gloss varnish, and spray the entire figure with matt varish. This procedure will attach the decal securely, and it will hide the backing material which otherwise forms a silver lining around the decal.

Matt Varnish

The acrylic paint applied on top of a base of drybrushed Humbrol matt enamel should not rub off easily, and a final varnish is not strictly necessary. Pactra Clear Flat acrylic varnish does give the figure a dead matt finish which looks good in this scale, and we normally use it. However, if you don’t own an airbrush, applying the acrylic varnish by brush is more trouble than it’s worth. Use a can of Testor’s flat varnish instead, even if it takes longer to dry, and has a bad odor to it.

Painting Miniatures