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How To Use A
Painting Service

I’m often asked about using painting services. Do they know what colors to use, are they any good, how does it work really. So I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

Step One: Finding The Right Painter

Sounds obvious enough right? Picking a reliable painter is one thing, picking the right one, yet another. Painters vary and you may find you prefer work from one as opposed to another. I used a painter once and haven’t gone back. Not because he was slow or sloppy but because I didn’t like his style.

First, though, develop a short list. The sad fact is that many, many people start a service and quickly burn out. Here is some advice I gave to potential painters, reading it would be useful for you, their customer. Get a list of painters and start “interviewing” them. Ask for photos of commissions similar to yours. After all they may be Michelangelo when it comes to 25 mm Space Marines, but with 15 mm Apaches they may be all finger-paints. So if you want 10 mm painted ask to see pics of other 10 mm work.

Check their references. Google them on or other forums. Word gets around pretty quickly. If a painter is always late, uncommunicative, or troublesome, stay away! Some good questions to ask are:

  • What is your availability?
  • Do I pay up front, on delivery, or part now part later?
  • How do I get to see work in progress for approval?
  • How often should I hear from you?
  • Is basing included?
  • Do I need to provide directions and reference material or not?

Conventions are often a great way to meet a painter and see a lot of their work in the flesh. I’ve started using several for just that reason. Nothing beats being able to see their work in the flesh. Plus, you can drop off and pick up - saves postage and ensures safe delivery.

Step Two: Consider A Test Run

Once you have a painter selected, consider doing a test run - one unit, for example. Before you send 2000 Romans off for paint, try a cohort to start. It’s a small investment in making sure you’ll like the finished product. I’ve found that as I’ve built confidence with certain painters I can ship commissions off with minimal fuss and know they’ll get done right.

Alternatively, ask if they have any work for sale. Some painters paint up figures to sell on E-bay when they don’t have a commission. I once “bought” 6 figures with the understanding that I’d get a refund once I sent the figures back. It cost me a little postage but it let me see their work “in person” so to speak, but it was worth it (I decided not to use that painter).

Step Three: Settle the Details and Write A Contract

Once you’ve settled on a painter, be sure to get real specific about what you want him to do. Do you want him to paint specific units - the Iron Brigade or The Big Red One? Are you asking him to do the basing? Will you have to provide bases or can he do that? What about flags? Can he supply them or do you have to? A good painter should raise all these issues and suggest sources, etc.

You should also be specific as to style - should they be in bright, new uniforms? Or are these dirty veterans home from a hard campaign? Should they all be exactly the same or should there be some variation in uniform? Perhaps a few lads had to replace their trousers with local replacements? Perhaps some hats should be black and some gray? Be specific! If you’ve seen a picture of what you want, send it. Perhaps a magazine article inspired you, or a film. Most painters find this very helpful.

Don’t forget to talk colors. Do you like your flesh more pink or more tanned? Do you like your coats bright or faded? Do you mean lime green, olive green, or forest green? I always tell my painters if in doubt, go brighter. I want these to look good from a distance and dark muddy colors “disappear” in the typical dimly lit gaming venue.

Setting your expectations is one of the most important aspects of the whole process. Send pictures, descriptions, links. The more you can show what you want, the better your chances of being thrilled with the result. After a while your painter will get to know you too. I have a few where I don’t need to say much - my last set of space ships went with the general notes of - make ‘em “pulpy” and make ‘em cool!

The contract - now there’s no need to call a lawyer. A detailed e-mail will do. But once you and the painter have agreed on the commission, write a nice summary. It should provide in detail:

  • What figures you are sending. Be specific. Don’t write “987 figures, 15mm.” My latest shipment stated unit type, scale, quantity, whether basing was required, whether bases were included, etc. So a typical entries might read:
    • 15mm M-113 (x3) Assembled, no basing required. Each vehicle includes crew and stowage. Please paint as 3rd Co. 2nd Battalion, heavily weathered.
    • 10 mm Napoleonic Prussian Infantry x24. Flag and bases included. Basing is two figures per 20 mm wide by 15 mm deep base. Parade ground uniforms please.
    • 12 Games Workshop Goblins. To be painted to match photo (included). Basing to be gray stone/gravel, not field or grass. Washers (not included) to be affixed to bottom of bases to provide magnetic. You will need to source washers.
  • Price - even if you only note a grand total, put it in there somewhere! Also put in if you’re including a deposit and when the next payment(s) are due. Also make a note of how you paid - credit card, Paypal, pelts and beads. Make a note if shipping is included. Get insurance! You might be sorry you didn’t, you’ll never be sorry you did.
  • Schedule. This will doubtless change, but put it down so you can both agree to where you started. I often ask things to be shipped to me as they are done, so I note that as well. Also, be sure to detail what you want worked on first if you’re getting it in phases. If there’s no agreed to schedule just put it as “open ended.”
  • Put your name, address and full contact info. right in the e-mail. Put your e-mail address and phone number.
  • Issue Resolution - you should have some understanding how any issues will be resolved. What if you get your figures back and they messed up and painted all the shields you wanted red in polka dots? What if you asked for 25% gray horses and they are 100% black? What then?

Send this by e-mail, and keep a copy. I have a folder where I keep copies of all my commissions. As they are completed I mark them with a big red X.

Step Four: Send the Figures

Before you pour eight pounds of lead and tin into a box, take a few minutes to prepare the shipment. First of all, invest in a little bubble wrap of crumpled newspaper. If your painter receives schrapnel, that’s what you’ll get back.

Break the shipment up into sensible packets. If you’re sending 1,000 Napoleonics break them up by nationality or unit type or division. Label each packet. Put your name and address on each packet (so if it gets mis-filed by the painter, they know who it belongs to). I have a huge stack of address labels I get from charity solicitations I use for the purpose. You can just write on the bag with a sharpie, or put a business card in. Obviously if you’re only sending a dozen figs, this is less vital, but it could help and would never hurt!

If you’re sending reference materials about uniforms and so on, put some notes in the box. What pack of figures goes with what picture or book? Remember, your painter can’t read you rmind, and a few minutes now can save a huge headache later!

Include a printed copy of the contract!

Insurance might be sensible if you’re sending mass quantities. With the USPS tracking is less than $1 extra and is well worth it. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish by sending your package “God Willin’ And the Creek Don’t Rise” Class.

Step Five: Be Patient

Now you wait until it is your turn in the queue. Be patient. Really.

Step Six: Make Adjustments

Once work has begun, you should have some way to adjust things. Usually you will be sent photos of the first few figures completed. Check everything:

  • Are the colors right? Your SS Panzergrenadiers aren’t in pink are they? Faces are flesh, straps are brown.
  • Have the models been prepped  and assembled correctly? Do you see mold lines or turrets in the wrong place? Do you want more or less variety in the poses?
  • Check the basing. Is the loader in the right place? Is the officer or flag bearer where he should be? Is the rider backward on the horse (this happened to me once!)? Are the figures spaced right? Does the basing look good? Is it to sparse or too grassy or too rocky?
  • How’s the style? If you like or hate washes make sure you look closely (I don’t like the dry-brushed look, nor do I like the super-high contrast three layer look).

Send your feedback. Be honest but be helpful. “Those suck!” is useless feedback. “The basing looks too much like desert - can you make it more farmlandish?” Now that’s something a painter can respond to.

Step Seven: Be Patient.

Now, we wait.

Step Eight: Ode to Joy!

When you receive your commission, open and sort it and give it a good inspection. If you see or suspect damage, get your camera. Take photos as you unpack the box. This will document issues and help your painter learn what to do better next time. Always close the loop with your painter. Let them know you got your package, and resolve any issues (if any). In general you assume the risk of a ding or two (minis are fragile after all) but if you’ve got wholesale damage, that’s on the painter.

Step Nine: Pay the Man

Paying promptly will ensure you are always a “preferred customer.”

That’s it! Enjoy your new toys! I still enjoy painting but I have found I’d rather have fewer completed projects by using these services, than 20 grandiose projects that will never see the light of day.

Here are some painting services I have used in the past, and have been happy with:

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