Assembly line painting is the most powerful technique known to man to get your army painted in record time. Here’s all you need to know!
In this article, we break don everything you need to know about assembly line painting! Whether you want to get your army on the table quickly or just whittle down that pile of shame, this is the way.
There’s also an example of this technique, using a large unit of Kroots
What is Assembly Line Painting
Sometimes called batching or batch painting, assembly line painting is about working on multiple miniatures at one time. And once a color is done, you are moving your miniature down the line, ready for the next color.
This technique sometimes gets a bad rep online for all the wrong reason. Saving time does not have to mean sacrificing quality. Because it is generally used on gaming pieces does not mean you can’t produce high end results using assembly line painting. Just browse through the armies of GMM studio (or the ones showcased trough this very blog) and know that they are all products of this technique.
By doing a single color on 10 models before moving to the next, you are able to save quite some time.
When you work on a lot of models at once, you end up knowing where certain areas are. You stop searching for what’s brown, because after the 5 first Imperial guard you know its the boots, the belt, that one pouch and the helmet strap.
Besides that, you also never have to pause and wait for stuff to dry before moving on, as by the time you paint Agrax Earthshade on model 30, that coat on model 1 is dry and ready for the next.
This technique is not all sunshine and rainbows. Assembly line painting gets boring pretty quickly. It takes a while before you see actual results, so it’s easy to lose interest in your project.
That’s where most people lose faith in the technique and go back to the tedious one model at a time.
The Five Most Important Tricks
Find your sweet spot
There’s a number of miniature out there that’s the max you can handle before it’s too many models. For some it’s 10, some 25, figure out yours and you are removing much of the aches in this process.
Sometimes it’s a single color that breaks you, as there’s always a step that is much longer. I know mine is silver, there’s always so much of it. My limit is however many models I can do the silver on before getting bored out of my mind.
Always try to do as much as you can, that’s where the real gains are.
Play Dress Up
The order in which we do things matter here. The goal is not to avoid mistakes entirely, we are humans after all. But we want to minimise them, and around the fact that they will happen.
As such, you usually want to play dress up with your miniatures. The theory is that the deepest parts are less likely to be hit by the stray brushstroke. So you start with the details that are inside, usually the skin, and work your way through the colors towards the outside.
The other way to do this is to start with the color that there’s the most of to paint. Doing it first will mean you can use a bigger brush and save some time, as you have much less areas to be careful around – getting paint on a surface we have yet to paint does not really matter.
Of course, these two rules will sometimes contradict. When that happens, use your best guess as to what will make your life easier. I tend to favor the larger surface over the dress-up method.
One Touch up for All
This one is pretty self explanatory: we fix all mistakes at the same time.
When you spot a mistake or make one, set the model aside after you’re done with whatever step you were doing. Once your whole assembly line is done for this color, pickup every model with the same mistake, and touch it up.
When you’re working on a large number of model, there’s usually two touch-up piles in the assembly system:
Pile one if for the mistake you are making in this step. The brush slipped, you colored an area that was already done a different color.
Pile 2 is when you notice that you forgot to paint something with the previous color. This one is quicker to fix, as it’s all the same color and you don’t have much dabbling to make it right.
Write that down
This is sort of a general rule you should have when painting, but because assembly line painting is better suited for armies, it should definitely be used here.
Write down your colors somewhere. Whatever system you prefer, pen and paper, digital notepad or an e-mail to yourself, write down what you’re doing.
Whether you want to add more to that army, recreate the effect, or just pick things up after a month hiatus, write down what you are doing. It may seem obvious now, but looking at a completed model and guessing what was under that shade and those 2 highlights is trickier than it seems.
Be kind to your future self.
Sub-Assembly Line Painting
It’s here because this part is not featured in the example below, but every thing coverd in this article works for building models, so you can speed up the process of putting models together as well.
Sub-Assembly also offers another great opportunity to save time, which is spraying diferent pieces in different colors.
This Dispossessed army for example was sprayed in different colors prior to assembly.
You can then proceed to the assembly-line painting pieces by pieces, for example, adding the green to every piece that was sprayed silver, before doing the same with gold, and so on. Once the silver pieces are done, move on to the green pieces, and so on.
This is one of my favorite method; and I build and touch up every model before the shading step usually.
Assembly Line Painting in Action
Here’s an army worth of Kroots, 40 plus 4 hounds, that were painted in the most basic tabletop quality possible. Those 44 guys were painted in 7 hours which is roughly 1 hour per night.
You can also do this is the span of one weekend, which is how I originally did it and how the article is broken down.
Have your Kroots assembled and ready for action by then, or build them early in the evening, it’s not that long.
It’s a good idea to use placeholder bases, or very lightly glue your models on there. This will make the basing process much simpler later.
On Friday night, we under coat all of our Kroots with Army Painter Desert Yellow. We do this in 2 batches to capture both sides and get very good coverage, as we want to save as much time as possible on the base coat.
You’re done for the night, it barely took 30 minutes, and most of it was waiting between coats.
Saturday – Go Time!
Today’s the day. This is roughly where 5 of the 7 hours for this project are spent. Morning is best, as we need to factor in the drying time of the Quickshade.
This is another important part of planning ahead, because some products, like oil paints and Quickshade, take hours to dry, so aim to make those drying times non-hobby hours (like overnight or during your work day). Otherwise you end up literally watching paint dry.
Our goal here is to get one smooth base coat on every detail in the miniature. Some of these colors may look odd, but the Quickshade alters them significantly.
We should start by touching up our Desert Yellow under coat with more Desert Yellow. If you have an airbrush, you can just spray away in those areas where the shaker can did not cover.
First up on our list is Castellan Green for the crest of hair. We do this first because it is out of the way of everything else, so really hard to slip and paint on top of it.
Follow this with Leadbelcher. We’ll paint the guns and the jewelry on the arms and hair. Because the gun is probably the longest piece to do, doing it first allows us to use a large brush and save a lot of time by not having to paint round details.
Next up, Zandri Dust. Paint the Kroot’s belly, claws, and laces on the armor plate and the gun. The claws are a great example as to why we do the gun first, it’s much easier to paint them now than to dodge them while painting the gun.
We’ll use Skrag Brown for everything that’s on the Kroots: the armor plates, gun handle, and the little t-shirt. Skrag brown looks really weird now, but turns into a much less muted color with proper shading.
You’ll notice I didn’t bother with the eyes, that’s because the next step pretty much covers it and we’re going for basic tabletop look. Plus, we can do those details later.
End of the day Saturday
This is a crucial step to cram on Saturday if you are doing this over the weekend, as we need to play around the aforementioned drying time. The last step for the day is the mighty quickshade!
This product is perfect for our quick gaming models.
However, rather than dip our models in it, we are painting the Quickshade on with a large beaten up brush.
This offers two massive advantages over the dunkin’ and shakin’ method. First, you have a lot more control over how much goes on your models. Second, it significantly reduces the drying time, from a full 24 hour to 8-12 depending on how thick you lay it on.
It might be slightly longer to apply, but really not that much as you can use a very large brush and cover an entire model in two strokes. Regardless, the advantages far outweigh this extra time.
We are using the Strong Tone, which is is the most all-rounder of the 3 options. This is great, because a can will do multiple armies.
Paint an even coat on your models, and set them aside to dry. Make sure your models are not touching each other during this drying process.
At this point, your models will look weird and glossy. Do not panic, this is normal and not their final form.
Two last steps on our weekend hobby extravaganza are making bases and applying varnish to take the shine off.
Because we need the Quickshade to be completely dry before applying the varnish, we can start on the bases.
For speed painted projects like this, I highly recommend you do bases separately from the models. This is another one of the great time savers, because you can knock out an army’s worth of bases in a couple of hours if you don’t have to work around your painted model’s feet.
However you chose to to them, make sure they match the rest of your army – in fact, you probably should do the bases for your whole army all at the same time.
Varnish your models before gluing them to your bases. Varnish and static grass interact in a weird way.
To take the glow off and protect your gaming pieces, spray the models with Army Painter Anti-Shine.
I’m pretty sure any matte varnish would do, but I use this stuff on all my models and honestly never tried other varnish since I used this stuff.