Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Apple Painting System

I could go on forever about the little details of how Apple would design and market their miniatures range and game but it'd get rather boring so this is the last part of the Apple Miniatures series (well, sort of and I'll get back to that at the end).

Steve Jobs is on the stage...

'So we've told you about our plans for our game and we've told you all about our miniatures. But there's one more thing... These miniatures are meant to be painted and, for most of us, this is difficult and we get poor results. Now, we thought long and hard about this issue. We didn't want to pre-paint as it's a poor substitute for the feeling of painting your own figures and we didn't want to just leave you to struggle. So, we've come up with something that we'd like to share with you now. We call it the Apple Painting System and it's designed to make it much easier than ever before to produce beautiful painted miniatures.'

So, the Apple Painting System. It's a three stage system that has been inspired by Army Painter but rather tweaked. The three stages are ground, colour and finish.

Ground - Apple don't produce a black or white spray for priming. They feel sprays are annoying and unreliable especially when dealing with mostly small figures and in small numbers. Their plastic figures don't need priming so much as metals would. Instead they offer two paint on products called Grounds. Ground is a one coat paint designed as a undercoat and base colour for the whole figure. It's acrylic based and designed that it can be largely slopped on and will shrink nicely into details leaving you with a beautiful, perfectly matt finish to work over. The two colours are not black and white though. They call them Ground: Warm and Ground: Neutral. Warm is a slightly dull chocolate brown and Neutral is a dark Grey. The thought is to allow the style of painting associated with black undercoat, leaving dark in the recesses but not so harsh. Plus it's easier to get coverage over a dark colour than a very dark one such as black. So, that's the ground stage.

Paint - Apple's paints are traditional water based acrylics. The range is surprisingly small. Maybe twenty colours. Also, surprising is the palette. Rather than the staples we are used to we get very specific colours in a fairly tight tonal range. Typically the colours are slightly grey or pastel and colours are not dark. In this respect they are quite similar to Citadel's Foundation Paints. The theory is that Apple can build beauty into the final painted figures by making it very difficult to clash your colours. Their painting system is based around a neat basecoat leaving keylines of the ground showing. The slightly grey pastel colours mean that opacity is kept very high and everything is one coat coverage for quick painting. No real thought is put towards highlighting or shading as in traditional painting. As they put it, acrylics can be mixed and so you can do whatever you like but the system is designed to get good results without having to work so hard.

Finish - Finally we have two 'varnishes' which make up the finish stage. These are Finish: Warm and Finish: Neutral and are designed to be used with their corresponding Grounds. The Finishes are a water-based varnish type product with a brown or grey tint. It falls into the middle ground between Army Painter's Quickshade Dips and Citadel Colour Washes. The colouration in them is more more subtle than either of these. It's designed to be painted on and has been engineered to dry slowly to give it time to settle. It's a little gloopy but self levels well to avoid brushstrokes. The low pigmentation means that surface colours are barely stained and remain without blotches but it does gently shade just enough to bring out the three dimensional quality of the figures. It also matches the ground colour so as it seeps into these areas it naturally neatens things up a bit. The Finish layer also protects a little but, with all the minis being plastic, no great protection is required and the emphasis is on the look rather than the protection. The finish is dead matte too.

And so we have a finished, and if Apple have done their job right, a nicely painted figure ready to wage war.

Apple produce a series of painting guides in print. Quite short but lavishly illustrated with photographs to show how to work with their system. The books are also available in app form which allows for inline videos showing you the intangibles such as 'how much finish to put on the figure' and so on. These videos are also available via the web.

So, that's my vastly incomplete look into Apple's minis venture. It's been a fun ride to try and think along Apple lines over the last few days. As said, I could go on. There's marketing strategies, packaging, sculpting and tooling technology (safe to say Apple would be sculpting digitally rather than traditionally) and a million other considerations. It'd also be fun to play with what the minis would look like but, alas, I don't have a spare few months to do such things. So, I'll leave it at this stage.

But there's one more thing... As I'm an Apple fanboy of sorts it'd be easy for you to assume that the last three blogposts haven't so much been 'how would Apple do a minis and gaming range?' as much as 'how would Steve Buddle do a minis and gaming range if he had the budget?'. Well, that's what I'm going to talk about tomorrow. In writing this I was trying to think 'Apple' and I think that it's not a bad set of ideas but I don't necessarily agree with them all. I decided not to inject too much of my own opinions here and instead, tomorrow, I'll be adding my own thoughts on what I like and what, more importantly, I don't...


  1. the zeds have just arrived - thx steve - the photos do not do them justice - the new style is wonderful - detail is so fine yet that buddle painterbility remains - i shall try to use your apple approach to painting a mini later today as far as i can with the kit i have here - im particularly interested in neutral undercoats - dwartists uses greys - however highlighting is something that i have to do and the finished result will always look like mine - however christian mi son nearly 15, paints base colours neatly and then just uses a dip or wash and thats - to very effective results ......

  2. If you'd like to try something like this I'd say the warm ground would be best approximated with Charadon Granite and the Neutral with a mix of Adeptus Battle Grey and Black. A tone around halfway between the two.

    As for the finish it's a bit more difficult. As said, the product doesn't exist to my knowledge but it'd be easy to make similar if GW produced a pigment free version of it's washes. I'd love some of that to cut Devlan Mud or Badab Black. Probably two parts clear to one part regular wash. Maybe one to one. Really take the strength out and I find adding water isn't so great and have yet to find a varnish to add that has the right properties...

  3. I'd add that I often undercoat black and then paint the whole figure scorched brown. Much nicer to work over. Would probably work very well for your style. Just adds a little warmth into the shading.

  4. just a light wash of gryphon sepia seems to suit chriatians figures - i get loads of warmth from the artists inks i use - they are very glossy but i always use brush on dullcoat these days leaving the metals free of such things - now theres a thing steve a really dislike NMM .....

  5. I find to dilute and take the strength out of the GW washes adding in a bit of the Vallejo gaze medium along with a drop of water gives good results.

    I think NMM has its place but I am not overly fond of it on miniatures. It's great in artwork but on a model, even when executed well, I find it lacks the richness that true metallics brings to a miniature.

  6. well said dave - there does seem to be a cult of NMM worshipers out there and i was beginning to feel outnumbered - im not to keen on what you might call exhibition standard mini - good honest weather beaten wargames armies is the stuff i love the best ....,.,.

  7. Not a fan of NMM either - dont feel outnumbered! Its a very clever technique, but I'm paining on a 3d model...i like the figure to look good from all angles, not just one!

    Of course, I'm rubbish at it anyway, so this might have something to do with my dislike ;) .

    I'd imagine that NMM would surely be an Apple core staple though...