Friday, February 3, 2012

Creating the Tau Battleforce - Step by step Part 1

When I posted pictures of the Tau Battleforce I had painted on various forums, I was asked a couple of times what paint colours, processes etc I used to achieve the result. So, I've put together the first of a series of posts which go throughout the paints, tools and materials I used to complete this project.

Now these mini's were never intended to win any competitions.  The idea was to get a good looking, unified force, painted to a relatively high table-top standard without spending the rest of time doing it! Below, I've composed a list of everything I used to assemble and paint the entire Tau Battleforce.  Below that is a guide to how I completed my Fire Warrior squad.


1 x Tau Battle force - This is pretty good value even at £60, the standard retail price for this kit.  However I got a Battleforce from my friendly local games shop in London, Dark Sphere, for £45.  They do 25% off GW stuff* if you order online or if you spend over £100 and pick -up in store. See Suppliers below...

  • Primer - Citadel Chaos Black spray
  • Base coat - Army Skeleton Bone spray - Primary Colour for armour and Kroot skin - substitute with Citadel Kommando Khaki if necessaryCitadel Scorched Brown - Secondary Colour for cloth/leather & selected armour
  • Citadel Hawk Turquoise - Tertiary/accent colour for eyes, lights, buttons and selected Kroot hair spines
  • Citadel Devlan Mud wash
  • Citadel Badab Black wash
  • Citadel Bleached Bone - Armour and Kroot skin highlight
  • Citadel Bestial Brown
  • Citadel Chaos Black
  • CItadel Skull White
  • Citadel Space Wolves Grey
  • Citadel Codex Grey
  • Citadel Boltgun Metal

  • Citadel plastic cutters
  • Citadel modelling files
  • Craft knife and cutting mat
  • Citadel Scraper and clean-up brush or old toothbrush
  • P3 Pin Vice - for drilling gun barrels
  • Size 0 Raphael 8404 brush - amazing brush for general and detail work
  • Citadel wash brush
  • An old brush for the PVA glue
  • Tweezers
  • Cocktail sticks

  • Gale Force 9 Rubble Kit and/or GW Sand or something similar 
  • GW Static Grass or similar
  • Super Glue - don't buy citadel, I get mine from the 99p shop - substitute with polystyrene cement if you don't like superglue
  • PVA Glue - again don't buy citadel, 99p shop wood glue is the exact same!
  • Pencil lead

Work Space
  • Desk
  • Adequate lighting - I use two Ikea desk lamps (about £8 each) with 18w CFL daylight bulbs (about £2.50 each).  I use two lights simply because one wasn't enough for painting or assembly, there was just too much of a shadow on one side.  Two lights gives me the illumination I need when I work. I use them even in daytime.

The Fire Warrior squad

Step 1 - Assembly

I remove the parts from the sprue using the citadel plastic cutters, which are absurdly over-priced but actually very good. Fire Warriors are made up of 9 separate parts and I spend a lot of time removing mould lines with a craft knife (or the scraper from GW) before assembling the constituent parts.

Cleaning Up - Fire Warriors have some difficult mould lines that run across creases in fabric, various parts of the armour and small parts of the pulse rifle, so a little care is needed to remove these without digging in to the detail.  This is one of those really tedious tasks that have to be done before you get to the fun stuff (sigh). One useful tip is after  scraping the mould line off I use the citadel brush or an old toothbrush to scrub away any loose bits.  In terms of work flow I work from the bottom up.  So I remove and clean up the legs first and then stick them to the base.  While the glue is going off I clean up the torso's and then stick them on, then back-packs etc... I tend to assemble about 4 models at a time.

Dynamic poses - One of the advantages of a multi-part plastic model is that, in theory, no 2 members of a unit need look identical.  To ensure this is the case, I try and create a slightly different and dynamic pose for each model.  One of the ways I introduce dynamism is to turn the models head in the opposite direction to the torso (see close-up pic).  The Torso does not have to be twisted too much on the legs for the desired effect, in-fact it might look un-natural.  Just a little off-centre is fine, the general idea is to avoid a static pose.

Gluing - I use super glue for this process and I'm fairly adept with it now - although I went through a phase of sticking my own fingers together - but use polystyrene cement if you're more comfortable with it.  You only need relatively small 'blobs' of glue administered directly from the tube for each of the major parts but for the tiny aerial you run the risk of drowning the entire right side of the helmet so another approach is required.  For this part, I first apply the glue to a cocktail stick, then gently apply a tiny blob to the aerial connection on the helmet.  Much neater!

Armless enough - One decision you might make at this stage is whether or not to glue the arms and shoulder pad of your models.  Gluing the arms before priming and painting will make the model very 'closed', that is, the position of the arms will make it tricky to access the body of the model with a paintbrush.  For this squad I did glue the arms on and I had enough difficulty to make me want to try 'arms-off' for my next project.  It does mean I'll need to prime and paint those parts separately which creates it's own challenges.  I'll let you know in a future post how much additional 'faffing about'  is involved but in the meantime I'll let you grapple with that choice.

Conversions - The only very minor conversion I did was to change the angle of the hand on one fire warrior so the palm was facing down rather than up.  This gave him a more natural final pose.  To do this find the extended left arm on the sprue (all of the other 3 are bent at the elbow) and remove it.  Carefully cut the hand at the wrist using a sharp craft knife and glue it back in place with the top of the hand facing more towards the front. Simple!

Step 2 - Basing

I apply very slightly thinned PVA wood glue to the base with an old brush and then submerge the base into sand, shaking off the excess.  Then I leave to dry overnight. That's it for the base until all the figure painting is complete.

I thin the PVA very slightly with a couple of drops of water otherwise I've noticed it can start to peel as it dries and shrinks. If yours does that then just apply a bit more glue to the underside of the affected area and re-stick to the base.

Don't get too hung up about your choice of sand (you can buy a huge bag from your local hardware store for about £2 and it'll keep you going for years!) but try and mix a little bit of fine gravel in so you've got some different sizes in there.  The rubble kit I used actually had too much large gravel so I'm going to go finer next time. On the subject of wood glue, I get mine from the 99p store and it's the exact same as the citadel stuff which is over £5!

Step 3 - Priming

I primed with Citadel Chaos Black spray which is expensive at about £9 per can but very good.  All of the advice that you've ever read about primer's applies here.  Less is better than more, so apply 2 to 3 thin coats rather than one thick coat which can obscure the detail on the mini.  I try and keep the spray around 30cm(12 inches) away from the models.

I place the mini's face down for the first coat, let them dry for 15 minutes or so, carefully turn them over and spray the other side, until I'm happy with the coverage.  Don't necessarily aim for 100% coverage, but try and make sure the bits of the model that will be handled are covered. The underside of the model and things like creases, cracks in the armour etc aren't as subject to as much wear and tear so you don't have to drown all the detail on the mini trying to get to them!

Only use aerosols outside!  I use an old table from a garden furniture set covered with newspaper.  Oh and don't use spray primer in the rain or even in damp conditions which can cause it to 'fuzz'. You've been warned!

Step 4 - The Primary colour basecoat

After leaving the primer to dry for at least a couple of hours I base-coated the entire squad with Army Painter Skeleton Bone spray which I picked up for about £9.  I actually found it a bit on the heavy side, that's to say the paint went on a bit thick for my liking.  It's meant to be a primer in it's own right so you could probably use it without the Chaos Black.  If you do, let me know what you think.  In any case I applied 2 coats as thinly as I could. Same rules apply as the primer in terms of distance and spraying conditions.

If you don't fancy using the Army Painter spray then Kommando Khaki from Citadel is a good substitute although it is a couple of shades darker and doesn't come as a spray.  You may also want to change the primer to Skull White to brighten up the Kommando Khaki a bit.

Step 5 - The Wash

I love this stage, partly because it's so quick and immediate, but mainly because all of the hard work you're putting into these models finally starts to pay off.  I use a slightly thinned Devlan Mud wash over the entire model using the Citadel wash brush, but in honesty any brush of a similar size will be fine for this job. The wash reveals all of the details on the model and gives an great sense of what the miniatures will look like when they're all finished.  The revealed detail also gives you a great guide of where you're painting which is helpful for the next step...

Step 6 - Secondary Colour and rifle

Like the assembly stage I focus on 4 models at a time.  I use the Raphael 8404 size 0 brush to apply 2 thin coats of slightly thinned Scorched Brown to the material parts of the Fire warriors.    Again, any brush of a similar size will be fine but I love this particular brush because it has a such a fine point and and as a result is very precise.  That's important when you're painting something less than 3cm high!  I bought the Raphael brush (and 3 others of the same size) from Jackson's Art Supplies for £5.25 plus shipping. When you consider the Citadel standard brush is £3.30 I think this is a great investment.  You won't even need to go smaller than this brush for detail work as it has such a fine point! Anyway I digress...

The handle of the rifle and the barrel ends are painted in Chaos Black.  Painting the part of the handle facing towards the model gets a bit fiddly (assuming you have stuck the arms on at the assembly stage, like I did). but as long as you're careful you'll reach them.  Bear in mind that very deep details will probably never be seen by anyone else, so only go as far as your time and patience allow because we've still got work to do!

Step 7 - Black wash to detailed areas

I apply a thinned wash of Badab Black to the visor and hands as I want these areas to have more detail and contrast.  I also apply the wash to all of the folds in the Scorched Brown parts of the model for a deep shadow.

Step 8 - Highlights

The armour gets a thinned Bleached Bone highlight along all the edges and panel lines, while the material areas get a highlight along the top of the folds and creases with Bestial Brown.  This is where the model really starts to come to life and stands out on the desktop. The Black areas of the gun get a thin highlight of Codex Grey along the edges.

The 'eyes' of the helmet receive a small amount of Hawk Turquoise as do the 2 tiny buttons/lights on the backpack.  This accent colour is important to break up the predominantly 'brown' model up to this point.  I also highlight the eyes with a tiny spot of Space Wolves Grey.

The Shoulder pad icon gets painted Skull White.  You don't have to be that neat with it...yet... until the next stage of the process where you paint the rest of the symbol black and avoid getting any paint in the recessed area of the icon.  This is pretty tricky but well worth taking your time with for a neat finish. With that, the miniature is complete! Nearly...

Step 10 - Finishing off the base

Just a couple of things to do and your squad will be ready for the gaming table.  First of all I give the base a couple of washes of Devlan Mud followed by Badab Black.  Use an old brush for this. We're trying to achieve quite deep contrast here so don't be shy with the wash, but avoid splashing your newly painted miniature!  When that's dry, get another old brush and dry brush the rocks with Bleached Bone until you're happy with the look of it.  After dry brushing, get your flock/static grass and some PVA glue.  Apply 2 or 3 blobs of glue on the base where you want your tufts of grass to be and then either using fingers or a pair of tweezers pop some static grass on the glue, shaking off the excess.  I would leave overnight to dry before coming back again and brushing off with a clean and dry old brush to gently get rid of any that hasn't stuck.

And Finally! Give the sides of your bases a coat of Chaos Black and you're done! Congratulations and I hope you're pleased with the results.

Conclusion of Part one

This Fire warrior squad is just one part of an entire Battleforce and I'll be detailing the steps to complete the rest of the Battleforce in this colour scheme in subsequent posts.  Please leave any feedback or comments below, I'd really like to hear what you think.

Links to the rest of this series:

Creating the Tau Battleforce - Step by step Part 2
Creating the Tau Battleforce - Step by step Part 3
Creating the Tau Battleforce - Step by step Part 4


These are UK based suppliers but they also ship abroad (*Apparently Dark Sphere cannot ship GW stuff outside of the EU, due to GW terms).

  • Dark Sphere - Based in Waterloo in London, I get most of my hobby related stuff from here.  Great prices plus very knowledgeable and friendly staff.  They also run gaming nights nearby so well worth a look.
  • Jacksons Art Supplies - I get my Raphael 8404 brushes from here
  • 99p stores - Great for cheap super glue and wood glue plus random tools and materials.

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