Figure painting is the hobby of painting miniature figures and/or model figures, either in its own right or as an adjunct to role-playing games, wargames, military modeling, etc.
Miniature figurines come in a variety of sizes. Most figurines used in gaming range in size from 2 mm all the way up to 54 mm. Figurines also come in a variety of materials, with plastic, metal and resin being the three most prevalent. Popular scales for plastic figurines are generally 1/72 and 1/35 scale. Popular sizes for metal figures are 6 mm, 15 mm and 25/28 mm. Plastic figurine makers generally stick to scale, while metal manufacturers generally categorize by size.
Resin is generally used for smaller manufacturers of kits and figurines in the model kit hobby due to its relative lower production cost compared to other materials, and in the hobby gaming industry is used in lieu of metal on larger pieces that would be cost prohibitive if made of metal (i.e.: vehicles, large monsters and especially terrain items such as buildings).
Because of the small scale of these figures, the often finely sculpted detail can be lost by simply applying solid color. Many special techniques allow the painter to emphasize the detail in the figure and make it "come alive".
The miniature figurine hobby has really taken two tracks to arrive at its present state. Initially war gamers used plastic figurines to re-create conflicts on the tabletop. In the 1970s, with the rise of the fantasy role playing market, metal figures became more widely available, and eventually overtook plastics in many areas of the hobby, though plastic figures remain popular with many painters and gamers.
Initially enamel based paints were the popular choice out of necessity until the arrival of acrylic based paints. Enamels are still popular in the plastic modeling hobby, while acrylic is the most popular for miniature figurines. However, preferences differ among individual artists. Materials most commonly used by the figurine painter are some type of primer to undercoat the figurine (making the paint adhere better), paint, brush and often a sealant of some sort to protect the figurine after it is painted.
Some hobbyists use acrylic paint or artists' paint (such as Daler Rowney's "Cryla"), but more often they use paint sold especially for painting minis and other scale models (such as Acrylicos Vallejo's "Model Color" and "Game Color" or Games Workshop's "Citadel Colour"). Some mini painters use enamel paint (e.g., Humbrol or Testors) or even artists' oil paint. Some hobbyists use synthetic lacquer paints, such as Gunze-Sangyo's "Mr. Color" paint line. Lacquer paints are less commonly available in the United States due to safety issues.
Sculptors often use a high amount of detail in the figures, and painting may require the finest brushes, as fine as 00000 (5/0). Most painters will use a range of different brush sizes; 1, 00, and 0000 is a likely minimum set. Good quality brushes like kolinsky sable brushes that take a fine point are preferred, although hog or synthetic brushes are better for "rough" work: undercoating and dry brushing. An airbrush is also a commonly used tool. Airbrushing facilitates leveled painting surfaces and allows for effects like gradients and soft blended edges. Because of the detail work involved, airbrushes with a small tip diameter are considered more useful.
A palette is used for mixing and thinning paints before application. Non-porous materials, such as a plain ceramic tile, avoid sucking the solvent out of the paint. A wet palette is especially useful with acrylics that dry quickly on a dry palette. A wet palette is a sealable container with a layer of absorbent material (such as tissue paper) that can be soaked with water and a semi-permeable membrane (such as greaseproof paper or baking paper (silicone paper)) over that. The paint sits on the membrane and is kept wet by osmosis. Wet palettes can be bought, but are easily made.
Some figure producers promote figure painting through competition. As an example, Games Workshop runs their Golden Demon competitions at Games Day events, which is restricted to Games Workshop's own figures or scratch-built figures for Games Workshop game settings.