This guide is aimed at wargamers, figure painters and diorama builders and shows a simple yet effective way of basing wargames figures. I will illustrate the technique I use with 3cm square plastic building card bases and 1/72 scale plastic figures. However the method applies easily to other types of base and figure so it is pretty universal.
Why base your figures at all? You don't have to of course but it helps your figures stand up, it helps you move them around the table more easily and for many folk texturing the base is a pleasurable aspect of the hobby - particularly so when spending extra time on a command or hero stand base (ie by adding rocks, tree stumps, weapons etc...). Basing is also one of those processes that add a great deal to the overall look of a project without requiring a huge amont of skill or time.
This guide was first uploaded 19/09/08 and last updated on 08/04/10.
Stage 1 - The Base
I use sheets of Javis plastic building card as my basing material. It comes in varied colours and thicknesses and is available from most traditional model shops. My preference is for black card approximately 2mm thick. The sheets are usually just over A4 in dimension and require cutting to size. I use a steel rule, a carpenters awl or scribe and a metal Stanley knife to make my bases. Simply measure out 3cm intervals round the edges using the rule and awl to mark dots on your plastic, then join the dots using the rule and awl to score the plastic. Several scores may be required until the plastic will snap cleanly for you along the lines you have made or you can always finish the job with the knife. Needless to say take care when using sharp craft tools. I tend to wash my bases in soapy water, rinse and dry before use. This removes any grease or oils present from the manufacturing process or deposited whilst cutting to size. (Same reason as to why washing plastic figures is a wise idea - makes sure your paint sticks properly)
Stage 2 - Add Figures.
Once your bases are cut, washed and dried you will need to decide how you wish to configure your troops. Make sure you will be happy as to how they will look when formed into a unit made up of several based figure stands. Simply placing the figures on the bases without any glue and rearranging them until you are satisfied is a good idea. Take into consideration the asthestic of how they will look as well as the practicalities - you'll want to minimise bayonets or spears from one base making it difficult for the stand in front to be placed neatly for example. If applying say four similar marching figures it is pretty easy to decide to place one of them in each quartile of the base, likewise if using two kneeling firing figures and two reloading behind. However if using three advancing figures (as per the picture) you may want to stagger your figures so that every other base has two figures towards the rear and one towards the front and correspondingly the alternate stands have two figures at the front and one to the rear. Command stands will also most likely need a little more thought than the rest of the unit particularly if they will contain one or two flagbearers and/or a mounted officer. Make sure the underside of your figures is very smooth and all flash or residual sprue has been removed otherwise your figures won't sit flush with your base. If you are reusing bases instead of using new ones you will need to ensure they are smooth surfaced and level enough to accept the figures easily too.
Superglue is a good adhesive in my experience to glue figures to bases. It has not warped my bases and it holds the figures very securely. This last point can also be a drawback as it makes them hard to remove if you later change your mind. Take care also to use the smallest amount of Superglue you think you will need as it gives off fumes and these can sometimes leave a white residue on your figures as it dries which is a nightmare if you have just painted them!
If you are using one figure per stand bases say on 2cm square plastic card you can always paint your figures at this stage as the base will provide more grip whilst you are working. It's more difficult of course to paint 3 or 4 based figures this way unless you are super dexterous - I have tried it and on balance it's very tricky! You can always temporarily base figures individually (on old or spare bases or coins for example) and then remove for final basing in 3/4/5/ figure groupings. PVA makes a good temporary basing glue for figures.
Stage 3 - Paint the Base
Ok so you should now have painted figures attached to plain bases. Once the glue is dry paint the square base and the integral base of the figures a colour of your choosing. I tend to use Vallejo Game Color #43 Beastly Brown as my favourite. If you rush it and paint the bases when the glue is still wet you will ruin your brush. I know - I've done it! A short cut here is to just paint the sides or even skip this stage if you are happy with the original colour of the base showing through.
Stage 4 - Apply PVA Glue.
The next stage is to take your newly painted and dried bases and apply watered down PVA glue (ie white hobby glue) to the entirity of the top surface including the integral figure bases but not their boots. Also avoid getting glue on the side or underside of your base if you can. I use Javis PVA but you will find most hobby and DIY stores sell similar and that it is not particularly expensive.
Stage 5 - Apply Sand.
On this stage do not allow to dry! Immediately you have applied your glue apply your sand. You can either sprinkle the sand on the base or immerse the base in your sand. Try both and see which your prefer. I use Javis Extra Fine Brown Ballast (ie. sand!) which I put through an old sieve to remove the bigger bits which generally I don't want. You can use other materials rather than sand of course and model railway shops tend to carry all sorts of colour, grain size and texture variations. Adding sand to your base does a couple of things - it makes them look better and it's adds some weight to the unit which is nice to feel when moving them about the table top. Inverting the stand and gently flicking or tapping the underside of the base will remove any excess sand and also flock/static when you come to that stage later.
Stage 6 - Apply Wash.
Allow the sand to dry before moving on - if you don't it will come off in your wash. I have a couple of wide tupperware containers on my painting desk one filled with brown wash and the other black wash. These are simply made with about 1 pint of water and a couple of bottles respectively each of Vallejo Game Color #92 Brown Ink and #94 Black Ink. I use these to dip my figures in as required to quickly and effectivley bring a flat base paint to life with ready made shading etc... The wash can also work wonders on sand bases and my preference is to wash sand bases in the black ink wash bath. This is really quick to do as all you need do is open the container, stir and dip your base in so that just the sand is covered. (You can of course dip the figures in as well if you want to wash them also.) Once dried the sand will in my experience look a great deal better than if just left it's natural colour - it will somehow look an instrinsic part of the base rather than something that has been superficially add on top.
If using card or other porous materials for basing figures you may need to experiment carefully with using a wash as it may warp your base as it drys out.
Stage 7 - Dry Brush.
When your wash has throughly dried - and this may take longer than you think - you may wish to dry brush a lighter shade or two over your washed sand. This helps to really pick out the texture in your sand. Old paint brushes are best for dry brushing as it wears them out particularly when used on an abrasive surface such as sand. Dry brushing simply means wiping off most of the paint before you use the brush. This allows the paint to adhere to just the raised surface thus highlighting it but not to the whole surface which would just change the colour of the whole thing which is not the effect your are seeking. If you make errors dry brushing and get paint on boots or apply too much - both of which I have done in parts of the stand pictured - not to worry was you can cover it up later with your grass.
Stage 8 - Apply PVA Glue Again.
Again once dry apply some more PVA. This time however you may not want to apply it all over your base and may find it easy to dab it on rather than paint it on with strokes. How much glue you apply at this stage and where you put it depends on how you want your finished base to look - ranging from fully covered in grass to partially covered to just the odd clump.
Stage 9 - Apply Static Grass.
Do not wait to dry - immediately apply your static grass or flock. I tend to cover most but not all my bases in grass and try and ensure I use it to cover any obvious figure bases rising too high, gaps in the sand, dry brushing errors etc...If using static/hairy grass it is probably best to sprinkle it on the PVA glue you have applied as it is not always easy to move figures through a tray of static. Flock (coloured sawdust basically) on the other hand tends to be an easier substance to work with and I tend to immerse the base in it rather than sprinkle it on. Flock itself can also be dry brushed if you wish. Static (small threads) is less easy to do anything with afterwards as it's nature is to stand upright which is spoiled if painted.
Stage 10 - Apply Varnish etc...
(As only 10 photos will fit per guide and the varnished figures look pretty much the same as those in Stage 9 I have included a pic of the base underside for reasons which will become apparent as you read on below.)
Once your grass is dried spray the whole piece with varnish. I find a gloss varnish spray provides a good hard finish and the shiny feature of this can then be removed when the gloss coat is dry by finishing with a matt spray giving a more realistic finish. Vallejo and Citadel sprays work well for me. You can also use bottled, paint on style varnish but this whilst fine for figures it is more tricky for use on textured bases. A note on sprays - make sure you don't gas yourself - outside is best and also be careful where your leave your finished pieces to dry. It's common sense to keep them out of harms way but temperature is also a factor - I have found that leaving things to dry overnight in the garage for example when it's cold can result in a white residue appearing on your paint work which is a nightmare! Maybe I did not shake the tin sufficiently? Indoor room temperature seems to work fine however. Also avoid using too much varnish or you may get yellowing or translucent pools of varnish gathering in niches in your work.
As a final touch I sometimes paint the underside of my bases. This allows me to ensure all the stands that make up a unit are easily recognisable as apart of the same parent formation and it makes it easy to put them back in their right places in the boxes I store them in as I also paint the base of their compartment the same colour. This is useful when putting removed stands away in the heat of battle or afterwards when you are likely to be more tired and less inclined to put stuff away as you know you should. Many painters will find that like many things in life 20% of your paints are used 80% of the time whilst the remaining 80% of your paints only get used 20% of the time. Painting the underside of the bases allows you to use up some of the more peripheral paints and give them an outing. Using bright primary colours also makes them stand out more so one unit may be red, another yellow, another green and so on. You can of course also label the undersides as required with or without also painting them. Painting / marking the undersides has two other functions - it allows yours figures to be "marked" as yours if taking them to a club or friends house etc... and it also means that the job is completed well - you have spent hours painting the figures and basing the top side nicely so you may as well spend a few moments to cover up any mess on the underside.
Well that's it on basing. I may return to this guide from time to time if I think of anything else to add.
* 5/4/09 - An alternative method, particularly when painting single figures, is to apply the sand before you undercoat your figure and then undercoat both figure and sand together. You will then need to dry brush your sand to add it's entire colour.
user id: flagbearer101
nb - As well as being a hobbyist I also run an eBay toy soldier shop - Drum & Flag