Note: This guide is intended for those that don't own any modelling or painting supplies who are looking to get started with the absolute basics - for those that are more established in the hobby, you may get more use from my Ultimate guide to cheap Warhammer. There is some cross-over between that guide and this one, however this guide is intended to deal with the bare essentials.
Before we start though - if you can obtain any of the below items for free, do it!
Whether it's an old pair of clippers that your dad has worn out (snip more carefully if this is the case!) or some half-empty, slightly dried up paints your friend used to paint with (thin them a little more if this is the case!) something borrowed or given for free is always better than something that costs money when you're first starting out. While it sounds a little negative there is always a chance that you will decide this isn't the hobby for you, and the less money you've spent on it the better if that happens! Once you know you're in, however, you can start replacing or expanding on what you already have, and that's where the fun really begins!
Basing Conclusion & Biscuits What to look at next
When you're first beginning in the hobby clippers (also called 'nippers' and 'sprue cutters') are something you probably don't want to give too much thought to. You can either buy a cheap set of hobby-branded clippers like the Army Painter ones here (£7.65), or you can take a trip to the local hardware store and have a look for some wire cutters of a similar size (up to £5). Anything with relatively small, thin blades will do so long as it's cheap.
Regardless of which route you take these aren't going to last you forever - my pair of Army Painter clippers had started to wear out within about a year, and when I replace them it will be for a much more expensive pair (see the What to look at next section), as you really do get what you pay for here!
There are plenty of knife brands that market themselves to hobbyists, and in my experience most of them are overpriced for what is, essentially, a sharp piece of metal. My advice (as mentioned here) is to look at a surgical scalpel - my personal preference is a Swann-Morton #3 handle (£4.46) with #11 blades (£0.95 for 5)
The handle will last you your entire hobby career, and the blades are both cheap and easy to find. There are also blades in different shapes and sizes for specific jobs that you may later come across.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that scalpels don't come with a cap, cover or protector for the blade. When you're not using it you either have to remove the blade, or simply place it somewhere that a) it won't damage anything, and b) you're not going to accidentally cut yourself on it. The handles are flat, so they don't roll, but a live blade is still a dangerous thing if you forget about it! I simply place my handle and blade in one of the boxes I use for my tools (I replace the blade often enough that any minor wear and tear from storage isn't an issue) and make sure that I'm careful when taking anything out.
Swann Morton do also offer a retractable handle so that you can store the blade safely when it's not in use, but as you can see here it's a little more expensive (£12.38)
There are hundreds of brands of cutting mat available, both in and out of the hobby world. They all tend to be priced fairly consistently, so just pick a size (I like an A3 personally) and find one that's cheap. You shouldn't pay more than a few pounds for one - mine was a shade under £6
This section has been included in the guide primarily to warn you away from buying sets of hobby files. These will usually cost you around £10-15 for a set of files that are often too coarse for using on detailed plastic miniatures. If you really want to use files you should either buy high-grit sandpaper (available cheap in any DIY store) or foam sanding pads/strips (like those from Flex-i-file, for example), which are simply sandpaper attached to flexible foam strips. They'll give you the smoothness that you actually need without costing the earth. Failing all of that search the house for a nail file/emery board - it might not be perfect but it probably won't do too bad a job!
This stuff is magic in a bottle! It's by far the best substance out there for sticking models together, and can also be used when cleaning your parts as explained here. One pot will also last you pretty much forever!
Take a trip to your nearest pound shop/dollar store/cheap place to buy things. Look for a can of black spray paint and one of either white or ivory/light cream - you want these to be either matte or (preferably) satin, but not gloss. Your total cost should be somewhere around £4-8 at absolute most. This will give you the option of priming your models black, white, or even better with what's called a zenithal prime. This is where you prime with black, and then pointing down from above with white, giving you highlights and shadows to work with from the very start.
Don't worry too much about the brand or marketed use of the spray can - it's all pretty much the same stuff!
Unfortunately this is also where things can get a little more expensive than we would like. Individually a pot or bottle of paint isn't that expensive, but there are a lot of colours out there made by a lot of manufacturers, and while you might not need them all you definitely need a least a few of them!
Every manufacturer has a starter set of some kind, but for me the best starter paint sets to look at are the Vallejo Game Color Introduction Set 72.299 (around £25) or the Vallejo Model Color Basic Colors USA set 70.140 (around £35). I personally prefer the Model Color line to the Game Color line, but an extra ten pounds saved is always nice, and both of these sets give a good range of colours to be starting with.
For either of these sets I would suggest shopping around online - the difference in price between retailers is quite drastic, so two minutes work here will pay off!
Before you go and start looking at brush ranges there's a video I would suggest you watch first:
The key takeaway point from this is that you don't need to spend a fortune, particularly as a novice painter. While at the pound shop/dollar store/cheap place to buy things searching for spray paints, take the time to have a look at paint brushes too.
Citadel paints come with a little lip inside the lid that you can take paint from, but very few other brands do this and it's not actually that beneficial. The majority come in what are known as dropper bottles - you squeeze individual drops of paint out onto your palette, from which you can mix, thin and otherwise work with your paint.
Your needs for a palette are very simple - it simply has to be a flat, non-porous surface. You might use an old plate (I was given an old side plate by my Nana when I first started out ), the glass/plastic from an old photo frame, a spare kitchen tile, even just a piece of baking paper! At a push you could even use your cutting mat if you had to!
You'll be transfering your paints onto this surface (whether you use Citadel paints or not) so that you can thin them slightly with water before applying them to your model. When you've finished your painting session simply wash away any wet paint as best you can and dry it off (or in the case of baking paper just throw it away!)
Buying high-quality wargaming models is rarely a cheap experience, but if you read this post from my previously-linked 'ultimate guide' then you will see how you can save yourself some pennies.
As a new hobbyist you really have three options for finding your first models to paint.
1. Head to a game store/game store website and buy yourself a box of models. When I first started in the hobby 20 years or so ago, I bought a Space Marine Tactical Squad. Your eye might get caught by the Aeldari Guardians or some Ork Boyz, but you want to buy a box of simple troops. You'll get some experience cleaning and assembling models, and you'll end up with the first squad for your first army. Try not to get too tempted by the flashier looking models (my eye was first caught by the old plastic & metal Devastators), as these are often tricker to assemble and paint.
2. Head to eBay and see if you can pick up some pre-owned models a little cheaper. This might save you a little money, but it does usually mean that you have to put up with somebody else having cleaned and assembled the models (possibly badly) and maybe even painted them (also possibly badly). If this is the case then I do have a guide to stripping miniatures, but ideally you don't want to be stripping paint before you get the chance to apply any!
3. Pester a friend for some spare models. If you know somebody who is already involved in the hobby then there is a good chance that they have some models hidden away that (if they're being honest) they know they're never going to assemble and paint. They might not be the exact models you want, but if it means you get them cheap (or even free!) then it's an opportunity that you can't pass up!
PVA glue can be found just about everywhere. Like the pound shop/dollar store/cheap place to buy things, where you're already looking for brushes and spray paint. It costs next to nothing and lasts for quite a while, too. Brand or intended use doesn't really matter too much, so cheap kid's craft glue is perfectly fine. Put a thick layer on your base, add your basing material and let it dry. Then add a second, watered-down coat over the top and let it dry again. Simple and solid!
Super glue for basing is a little trickier. If you're going to be using it to stick down something like sand then a thick or gel-consistency superglue isn't going to work very well for you. You're looking for an extra-thin super glue, with a consistency like water or thinner. You can then drip it on top of something like sand and it will work its way down into the cracks, leaving you with a rock-solid base. This means you can take your time arranging your base before you glue, which is why I like it!
For your very first models though I would say that you want to start simple and just get hold of some fine sand. If you're buying online this could be in the form of a simple hobby sand (£3.59) or perhaps a ready-made sand and stone mixture (£4.49). If you're looking in-person then you might be able to grab a free scoop from a local DIY store (you may need to look for 'ballast'), or you can definitely get a free scoop if you live near the beach (just be sure to thoroughly dry it out before using it!)
In time you will undoubtedly add more to your basing materials box than just 'fine sand', but for now this is a perfectly acceptable way to finish off your first models. Especially if you can get it for free!
Knife & Blades: £5.50 (we're going with the regular, non-retractable handle)
Cutting mat: £6
Running total: £20
Spray paint: £5 (taking a stab in the dark at £2.50 each, which isn't unreasonable)
Model paint: £25 (personal preferences aside, the Game Color paints are perfectly good for what we want)
Brushes: £3 (anywhere from 1 to 3 packs from a cheap shop)
Palette: 0 (baking paper is already in the house!)
Running total: £53
First models: £28 (we don't know anybody with spare models and had no luck on eBay, so we bought some Intercessors with an FLGS discount!)
Running total: £81
Glue: £1 (while writing this guide I saw a bottle in Primark for 80p that would last for ages!)
Basing materials: 0 (to even-out having to buy our models we're going to get some sand from the beach or garden and dry it out)
Running total: £82
All told, £82 probably sounds like quite a lot. And it is, for something that you're just wanting to try out! If however you can get a couple of models for free (possibly even by asking really nicely in a Games Workshop or other hobby store!) then our running total comes right down to £54
Included in that £54 is £25 of paint that will last you a very long time, plus some other tools and materials that will last plenty long enough to be worth their cost.
Another alternative is to replace our clippers and paints with the Citadel starter sets for Warhammer 40,000 (£21.45) or Age of Sigmar (£20.63)
Doing this could save us around £10, but there is a trade-off. While both come with a pot of Agrax Earthshade (a very nice wash) and a pot of basing texture paint (enough for your first squad, but the small Citadel pots of basing texture paints run out quickly) they also both have a much more limited range of paint colours - neither box has a mid or dark green!
Despite the savings these are an option that I would avoid, personally, as if you want to simply paint yourself an Ork then you're already looking at buying more paint for all the skin!
I think that's pretty much everything covered though! If you're looking at getting into the hobby (or know somebody that is) then I hope that this has been at least a little bit helpful. If it has, or if you have any suggestions or think I've missed something then please do let me know - I'm always happy to expand or correct things when I can!
For those that want to read on a little further, however, the next post has a couple of suggestions for things you might want to look at when you've finished your first models and intend to explore a little further!
If I've managed to save you a little money in your hobby endevours, perhaps consider helping me stock up my biscuit cupboard =]
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