So you bought yourself a figure

by Phil May

This tutorial is aimed at those folk who have just come into the hobby and have little or no previous experience of modelling in general and figures in particular, but who wish to get up to speed on the various requirements of producing a nice result from that handful of metal or resin castings that tumbled out of the box when they first opened it!

So let us look firstly at the market in a broad sense. The current figure market caters for those interested in historical subjects and the fantasy Sci-Fi arena. They come in a popular range of scales, the most common being 28-32mm (wargaming), 54mm (2½”) 70/75mm, 90mm and 120mm. They are produced in either white metal or polyurethane resin, the latter medium being more popular for the larger scales due to the reduced weight of the castings.

During the course of this article we will deal with the following topics, all of which are important in enabling the newbie figure modeller to get to grips with this fascinating hobby:

  • Where to source them
  • Which one?
  • What tools and equipment will I need?
  • How to prepare them
  • How to put them together
  • Paints and brushes
  • Presentation, bases etc

For the record, we do not aim to go into the painting process in this article, as this will be dealt with in a parallel tutorial aimed at the new figure painter (see Painting Tutorials by Stephen Mallia on this page). What we hope to achieve here is to provide some idea of what needs to be considered in order to get under way, and some pointers that might save some time and aggravation.


This website has a good range of figures in both white metal and resin, in various scales and to suit all pockets. Other places you might find figures would be at local model shows, model shops, games shops and of course the eBay sites (although beware this latter as it is awash with pirated stuff, most of it very poor quality). Most manufacturers today produce high quality castings which will be a pleasure to work on.


This is all a matter of personal preference. The new figure modeller will be largely influenced by the photo on the packaging, or maybe a painted example. That’s fine, because that’s what the manufacturer wants. However, it is always a good idea to get a look at the castings before you commit yourself. Look for crispness of detail and lack of big mould part lines, and for anatomical balance. For a first figure, I would recommend you pick a piece that is straightforward and uncomplicated, with simple colours and just a few parts. This will reduce the likelihood of you getting fed up before you finish it, and once you’ve done one, believe me you will want to do another.


Typical metal casting in 54mm      Typical resin casting for a 1:10 scale bust


Having been involved in this hobby for many years, I have amassed a whole range of different bits and bobs to “help” in assembly and painting of figures. However, in reality I find I use very few items in the normal course of modelling. The ideal basic tool kit might consist of the following items, all readily available from railway or general model shops, or hardware outlets:


  • A set of needle files
  • A good modelling knife or scalpel capable of taking different blades
  • A pair of snips or cable cutters
  • A set of fine drills and a pin vice
  • Fine emery (wet ‘n dry) sheet (1200 grade)
  • Steel wool
  • Two-part rapid epoxy (e.g. Araldite Rapid)
  • Medium viscosity cyano-acrylate (superglue)
  • A selection of brass rods (0.3mm, 0.5mm) or various size paper clips
  • A tube of modelling putty or similar filler (Magic Sculp, ProCreate, Milliput, etc.)


You may also want to acquire, depending on where in the house you will be working, a cutting mat to protect the work surface. This collection will set you back say £25 but will last you through quite a few figure projects.


Pin vice and drill bits                       Scalpel, blades, drill bits


Fine sandpaper, cutter and filing tools


By its nature, a cast item is going to have come from a mould of some sort. In the case of a white metal piece, it will have been made in a vulcanised rubber two-part sandwich mould. Many resin figures are made in multi-part moulds too. The mould will leave part lines on the casting which, with a new mould may be quite fine - older, hard-worked moulds will leave increasingly large part lines. Either way these need to be removed as they detract from the final finish and may mar some of the detail. This is where your tool kit comes in. Part lines may be removed by carefully filing them out with needle files, and finishing them off with emery paper. This is applicable to both resin and white metal although resin part lines can be removed using a sharp craft blade in a scraping action. The object of the exercise is to eliminate the lines without marring the contour or detail of the part. These lines are sometimes quite difficult to spot, but rotating the casting under a strong light source will help you to pick them out. Once you are satisfied you have eliminated the part lines, you need to go over the casting with steel wool (if its white metal) to burnish the surface. Resin figures benefit from a going-over with an old toothbrush. For a more detailed explanation, please refer to Stephen Mallia's tutorial (also in this section): Preparing a white metal for painting.


This is dependent on what your chosen figure is made of. If it is resin, it can be joined very well using cyano-acrylate. This is less successful on white metal figures although it can be used for attaching small items of equipment. For my own projects I invariably pin the major joints for strength. This is not absolutely necessary but does give them more durability in their regular transit to and from shows and competitions. The choice is yours, but if you do decide to pin joints, please refer once again to Stephen's tutorial: Preparing a white metal figure for painting. For figures with a number of separate parts, you need to decide if you are going to deal with them as sub-assemblies or join everything together first and then paint. As you do more figures, you will get to know how much you can assemble and what you can leave until later, but a good guide is to dry assemble the figure first and look at areas that might be difficult to get at with a brush. With assembly, you should aim to get everything dry-fitting snugly so that if you are painting separate parts before final assembly, they go together easily and don’t damage the surrounding paintwork. Also at this stage I drill the feet of the piece and insert a short length 0.5mm brass rod to attach it to the base.

Figures generally come with small stubs to position them on the base.
But it is best to insert a pin to secure them better to the base.



This is an area that divides the figure modelling community more than any other. Basically there are three main types of model paint in use on miniature figures – artists’ oils, acrylics, and enamels. There are plus and minus aspects to each, and in the end it is up to the individual to decide which medium suits him or her best in their chosen project. Let me list, as I see it, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and you can form your own opinion.

Enamels. Oil based product most commonly found in the form of the little Humbrol tinlets you see in model shops. They have been around for ages and have the advantage (in their matt range) of drying very flat, albeit over several hours. Their main disadvantages are – soluble with enamel thinners or white spirit so smelly (hence not ideal if you are working on the dining table!) – slow drying (second coat not advisable before 6 hours) and a limited colour range. They need careful mixing to ensure pigments are fully taken up by the carrier, or they often don’t dry at all.

Acrylics. Quite probably the most popular medium in use at the moment. There are several manufacturers who produce a vast range of colours suitable for any type of modelling. Main contenders are Vallejo, Andreacolor, Lifecolor and Polly-S, with other less well known ones like Maimeri becoming more readily available recently. The main advantages of acrylics are speed of drying, price, availability and range of colours, water soluble and permanent. The disadvantage is that the technique of using acrylics is something that needs to be worked at, in particular the process of blending colours. However, once mastered, acrylics produce some stunning results.

Artists’ Oils. They have been around for donkeys’ years and are readily available in any art shop. Like enamels they need a mineral spirit thinner.

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