My Rapid Basing Technique

I have often got fed-up when basing figures in the past.  I’ve tried paint, sand, basetex (ready made base material), various flock techniques, static grass, you name it.

Every time I have been frustrated at how long it takes to do, and how easy it is to make a mess of the figures that has to be cleaned up.

So I got to thinking….was there a really rapid way of basing that I could do without worrying too much about ruining the figures with?

After a bit of trial and error, this is the technique I now use for all my figures, and it literally, honestly, takes about three minutes total time per stand of figures to complete from start to finish (not including drying time obviously).

Rapid Basing: Step 1

 The principle of my technique is to minimise visual contrast, so everything blends into each other.  That way, 100% coverage of each stage is not even vital.

Some people use white plasticard for example, so you’re starting with white, a strong visual contrast that has to be totally covered.  That’s what I am avoiding.

So step one is basing the figures on pre-cut mdf stands, like the ones Pendraken/Minibits sell.

They are tan in colour, so easily blend into the general colour of the basing.

On top of that, the dark edges mean you don’t have to be clean with your brushing, it won’t matter, making the whole process easier, and the finished result neater.

Plus, the edges are the same colour as the secret sauce I use to cover the stands, so you don’t have to worry about hitting the sides of the stand.

So above you can see a unit of horse grenadiers glued (araldite) to mdf stands.

Rapid Basing: Step 2

The second principle in terms of minimising visual contrast is to use a basing material that is also the same sort of colour, so again, blends in well.

Some people use sand, which is….yellow.  It needs total coverage with a strong, thick colour to hide it.

My idea is the opposite. To use a basing material that doesn’t require that.

So I use Woodland Scenics buff ballast.  It comes in fine, medium and coarse grades.  It is a nice light tan, which blends well but still contrasts, which you’ll see in the next stage where the “magic” happens.

So I quickly cover the top of each stand with pva, then gently dip it in a pre-made mix of ballast.

The above photo shows my mix for smaller scale figures.  It is 70% fine ballast, 30% medium ballast.

The beauty of this is it creates a contrast in the texture of the stand, and can be scaled up.  I have a second mix which I use for larger scale figures, which is 25% fine, 50% medium and 25% coarse.  As you can see it works for larger 28mm figures, giving a nicely varied looking base:

TOP TIP: Water down the PVA by just 10% or so.  It will then spread more easily, meaning you can really whip around the base and around the figures feet easily.

You don’t even have to pre-paint the figures metal base, the pva and ballast will cover it and hide it fine without prep.

Once the stands are covered in ballast, leave them to dry. I always leave them 24 hours just to make sure.  That way you won’t get ballast being scraped off as much when you brush over it later.

Rapid Basing: Stage 3

This is where the magic happens.

First, gently turn the stand on its side and tap it it on a firm surface so loose ballast falls off.  You won’t clog up the brush then.

Then you apply the main basing colour.

The key to this technique is walnut-coloured woodstain.  I know, big drum roll to tell you that!

But the magic is in the consistency.

I buy the water-based woodstain, available from pretty much any DIY store.  A small tin will last you forever!

I then pour a small amount into an airtight container, then water it down by about 75%.

You are literally looking for an end result that looks like coffee and has the consistency of coffee.  Just thicker than water.  You’re creating a basing wash.

It may sound like it’s going to be too thin, but I assure you it’s still strong enough to create tone and bind/seal the ballast together, especially as it’s applied quite liberally.

And the beauty of it is at this consistency:

1. It goes on like applying water.  You just load the brush, and gently wash it on.  It will spread rapidly, and each stroke covers a large area, filling the gaps and creating a top layer of stained tan, with recesses of dark brown. Don’t swamp the stand.  You’ll see how a stroke spreads, then you can refine, and quickly you’ll be covering a whole stand in about 5-10 strokes, depending on complexity.

2. Because of its colour and consistency, if you hit a figure, most of it will drip down, and whats left just looks like a figure wash!

Once you get a technique going, it honest to god takes about thirty seconds a stand. It’s also perfect for multi-rank figures, as you can just load the brush, carefully insert it between the ranks and brush once, the wash will spread rapidly.

If it doesn’t spread like water, or looks too dark, water it down more, it will still colour and bond.

TOP TIP: Open the woodstain wash container before use and stir the bottom with a brush to get the pigment loose, as it sinks.  Then  put the lid on tight and really shake the woodstain.  When you open it it will be a froth.  Just (gently!) blow on it and the bubbles will vanish in seconds to reveal a coffee-like liquid.

Rapid Basing: Step 4

After 24 hours, your stands will be ready for stage 4.  This is a simple highlighting dry brush.  That’s also why I use different sized ballast, it makes drybrushing far easier.

I use Vallejo dark sand as my drybrush paint.  It works well with walnut woodstain to create a contrast with the brown that is not too light.

Get a decent sized brush, water down a blob of the paint slightly, then load the brush, wipe it on your pallet/paper to spread it within the brush (I’m sure you know what I mean), and gently drybrush.

The key is to brush in-to-out, so you’re brushing away from the figures, or sideways along side them, but never towards them for obvious reasons.

On multi-rank figures I don’t even bother highlighting between the ranks beyond where I can stick the brush in at the side.  I’ll explain why in a minute.

The result is below.  On the left is a stand that’s been drybrushed, on the right one with just woodstain wash.

As you can see from the photo we have created a depth and contrast in tone to the stand very easily.


Rapid Basing: Step 5

The final step is to apply flock.  I use cheap Javis flock.  I bought several shades and textures and created a blend that looks right for my figures:

I apply it using neat pva.  I don’t water it down for this as a bit of accuracy helps.  Just brush it on, covering about 30% of the surface, then gently dip it into the flock and agitate it, then lift it out, turn it on its side, tap the underneath of the stand a couple of times….done!

The key with the flock is that you can cover any “blemishes”.  So areas you missed with woodstain, or areas where the ballast came off, or you missed it with the pva. This includes between ranks, where you can apply pva by applying it with the brush tip pointing straight down, to accurately cover any areas that you missed with drybrush or wash.

Brushes I Use

One of the keys to this is the brushes I use.  I buy them from Ebay in various sizes:

You can buy them in packs of 10 very cheaply, usually with the brand name “Major”, which means you can always have a decent brush, with no “splaying”.

I use a size 4 brush for applying the pva ready for the ballast, drybrushing and applying pva for adding flock.

For the actual woodstain wash I use a size 6.

That’s It!

Not exacly exciting stuff, or game-changing, but I hope you can see why it is so FAST.

The key is the woodstain wash which allow very rapid coverage, and creates depth and tone.  

I use exactly the same technique for desert/meditteranean basing as well, I just brush on white above the dark sand to bleach it further, then apply just ready-made brown grass tufts (search grass tufts on Ebay).  

Again, very easy, and this is what you get….

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Paul Robinson

excellent tutorial. thank you.


Just read your blog through, very good, informative and interesting.
I will enjoy tracking your progress as its a period I have often thought about and you use some good techniques and time savers.
Keep up the good work.