Many tabletop gamers enjoy using miniatures to represent their characters. These tiny figures are often placed on a gaming board and can be used in many different ways. One of the most popular themes for games is fantasy settings that include magic, swords, dragons, wizards, elves, and other fantastic creatures. To create an immersive environment for players, it’s crucial to have terrain pieces that look like they’re from the world you’re trying to make. This includes Lava!
What you Will Need:
- Brown paint
- Orange paint (fire dragon)
- Purple wash (optional)
- Dry brush
- Dead White
- Red (Mephisto red)
- Orange Fire (bright orange or fire dragon bright)
- Yellow (flash gitz yellow)
- Balthasar Gold
- Skull White or Black primer
- PVA glue
Easy Lava Effects on Models
Use brown paint as your base coat. I used Citadel Martian Ironearth of paints, but you could also use Khemri Brown or any other dark brown color to achieve this effect.
Painting the Base
Paint the Base Black
I used black primer, but you could also use Abaddon Black or any other dark brown color to achieve this effect.
Paint the base Lava Orange (I used Evil Sunz Scarlet). You can do multiple coats until it is nice and opaque. Make sure that there are no brush strokes visible on your mini at all. If they show up after the lava orange dries, go back over them with another coat of paint till it’s gone!
Apply a Layer of Dark Brown or Gray Paint and Let it Dry
Apply a brown wash once the dark color is dry. I used Agrax Earthshade, but you could also use Seraphim Sepia or Baal Red Wash for this step, depending on your preference.
I recommend doing multiple coats of this to get it nice and dark.
Apply a layer of Skull White (or whatever white color you use for your minis) in the center, let that dry completely.
To make lava bubbles is actually pretty simple! I used Tamiya Clear Red over an airbrush because it was skinny, but any medium viscosity paint will work fine if applied with a brush or even pipette droppers like our Science Droids do here at TheCustomScoop 🙂 You can always apply layers on top of each other until you achieve your desired look! Use care when applying transparent paints so they don’t pool around miniature bases- if too much comes out, lightly tap the base to remove excess before attaching minis.
Add Lava Flows in Lighter Colors, Such as Reds (fire dragon bright) or Blues (Water Dragon Deep)
Technical paint colors are more likely to appear bright than darker colors.
To paint Lava flows in deep reds, oranges or yellows, use the same techniques for painting flames on miniatures (P40-43). Add thin layers of lighter colors first, and then add dark color once the light base is dry.
If desired, paint smaller rocks with your basic brown mixed with black. Let this dry before moving forward to avoid any accidents from wet paint mixing! Once that’s done, paint over those areas with white to highlight them further without adding too much attention away from larger rock formations. Remember: less is always more when it comes to basing!
Use a Sponge to Add Texture to the Lava Flow, so it Looks More Realistic.
For this technique, you will need a small sponge and some paint. You can use any color of red or orange for the Lava, but I find it easiest to do if you make a custom mix with several colors mixed. Try starting with equal parts of yellow and pink (or magenta) paint – these are close to the same hue as natural molten rock.
Next, add in a few drops of black, brown, white or grey – whatever is needed to get your desired shade that’s dark enough so that when dry, it doesn’t look too bright against the base coat of grey. For my example here on how to paint lave bases, I used about 50/50 proportions from those primary colors plus another drop of black to make it even darker. When you’re done mixing your custom colors, use the sponge to dab some of them onto a paper plate or piece of cardboard so they can be easily picked up and applied with minimal dripping.
Optional – Use White Paint for Magma (or Snow)
You can use a minimal amount of white paint to add in some snow on top of the small mountain range, which you should ensure is behind your mini. If doing this step, be sure not to get any paint onto the Lava flow itself since it will look awkward and out-of-place.
I like using craft sponges (the kind that come attached or in sheets) for larger areas such as grassy plains where I want more Texture; they’re also good if you don’t feel confident getting too close with your brush strokes because they tend to blend everything into each other nicely without leaving prominent spots like flat plastic bases would do (though those work well when painting skulls bones). However, smaller lava flows are best painted with a standard round brush that has the bristles cut short, or even better, use an old toothbrush if you don’t mind ruining it.
Keep in Mind How to Paint Lava Bases for Miniatures is Just One Option Among Many Different Techniques
For example, instead of paint, you could also try using some coarse salt to give your lava flow texture – make sure not to get any on your mini’s surface since it will stick out like thorns and may be hard to remove without damaging the figure. If trying this technique, I recommend applying first by rubbing all over with fingers dipped into fine-grain table salt, then follow up later after everything dries completely by giving each area another coat brushed on with a stiff brush (a giant toothbrush would work well for this).
Once the paint has completely dried, you can add in any other details such as lava flow channels and blotches by either painting them on with a small brush or can, of course, by dipping a toothpick into some paint and dabbing on where needed.
A Word On Technical Paint
I use a lot of technical paints, but they are primarily for detail. I use GW specialized paints, but I don’t love them. They are not as opaque as they should be for my tastes and the pigment tends to settle on the bottom of the bottle (I shake it with every use).
Also, if you look at any article or tutorial about painting lava bases like this one, you will find that most people use technical paints for some of the layers.
I use GW paints because I don’t have time to mix all the colors I need. It is lovely to use what you already got at home starting, so don’t buy more paint unless you want to! Either way, if you happen to get technicals for this project (which I recommend), you only need red, orange, and yellow.
Do’s and Don’ts of Painting Lava Bases for Miniatures
How to Paint a Lava Based Miniature in 4 Steps
Step One – Prime the Base in Black
Before you paint a lava-based miniature, it is crucial to prime the base in black so that the final result looks more dynamic.
Step Two – Paint Cracks on Top of Base with Dark Brown or Black
After priming the lava-based model in black, use dark brown or black to add cracks onto the top of your primed surface. Adding these cracks will make it look like there are large fissures throughout this underground rock formation which has been affected by heat and pressure for millions of years until finally breaking open into magma at some point.
Step Three – Highlight Lava Rocks with White & Yellow Mixes
After painting all those tough-looking crags around your miniatures,’ the next step is to give them an overall colour with a mix of white and yellow.
Step Four – Paint Highlights on Lava Rocks With White & Red Mixes Finally
You can highlight your lava rocks by picking two different colors for each color shade to create pops of contrasting colors throughout the surface. Shading is critical when painting miniatures because it creates depth, making them pop out from their bases instead of looking flat or cartoon-like.
Using multiple shades will give an overall gradient look that adds even more life into these lava-based models!
Whether you’re looking to build a volcano, an erupting geyser, or the depths of hell itself using your lava base paint is up to you. With so many options available for purchase on Amazon and local hobby stores, it’s hard to know where to start. This blog post compiled everything from how-to videos about painting bases with blacklight reactive paints through tutorials showing what some freelance painters have done in their own homes. Perhaps one of them will inspire you!
Hi! I'm Richard Baker, a miniature painter who has been painting for about ten years. My website is packed with great advice that I've learned from both books and personal experience on building and painting miniatures.