A lot has been written about the “Quality” level of miniatures. Warhammer even has semi-official rules about what quality of painted miniatures are allowed at official Games Workshop events, though their definition of what constitutes an acceptable level of painting is annoyingly vague.
Basically, miniatures can be graded as to whether their paint jobs meet certain standards. Exactly what those quality standards are, and how they are met, is up for endless debate. In reality, a painted mini is good enough as long as you (the painter or owner) is happy with it. That said, people love to grade things, so we have these loose categories of quality levels.
Basically, these minis are “good enough.” That doesn’t mean bad per se; they look presentable and pleasing to the eye on a game table.
- Each major element on a model is defined by appropriate colour (example flesh/skin versus armor/cloth)
- A wash or ink adds shadow, a dry brush or simple highlight technique adds a highlight (say it with me: contrast!)
- Bases are finished with paint or flocking material, such as sand or grass
- No primer or bare metal/plastic shows anywhere on the model
- The model is clearly identifiable and looks “good” alone or in a group of similar models from “playing distance” (about 3 feet away)
All of my miniatures would fall into this category at best. The funny thing is that most pre-painted minis sold by major lines (like Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons) do NOT meet these criteria.
The criteria for this one is a bit fuzzier. There are pretty set guidelines as to what makes something “tabletop-ready,” but now we’re getting into stuff that’s “gee-whiz-cool.” Which basically falls into anything that’s slightly better than tabletop standard.
- We still need appropriate colour for each major element on the model
- It may contain added free-hand details, wet-slide decals, or other texture elements
- Contrast is well-done, not necessarily smooth, but closer to realistic lighting appears on elements of the miniature (colour blending)
- Bases are definitely finished with paint and/or flocking material
- The model looks good in isolation and stands up to closer scrutiny when held between 1-3 feet away
That last one is the big difference for me. Tabletop standard looks good in a group of minis on a table. A “display” mini can be scrutinized more closely and still stands up.
This is top-of-the-line, super impressive quality. This is where your NMM and OSL comes in, where you’re doing fancy glazes and layers, and you’re producing a model that someone would pay top dollar for, and then put it on their shelf in a protective case.
- Colour, light, and texture are well defined in each element of the model
- Fine details, like belt buckles, facial features, and hair texture, are visible with close inspection.
- Light and environmental context provide more information for the viewer. In other words, the artist has added intrinsic or extrinsic environmental elements and successfully added these details to the painting - a perfect example of this of course being Object-Source-Lighting
- Narrative elements stand out, such as a custom base or other elements that add to the context of the miniature - does the model tell a story?
- The painted miniature is photogenic, and stands up to the scrutiny of high-resolution photography. Photography tends to reveal even the smallest painting errors and flaws.
These are the kinds of models that get entered into painting competitions, and that I’m a long-way off from executing.
Personally, I have another, slightly different Quality Level range that I like to use. It comes from a comic strip called Knights of the Dinner Table, about a group of friends playing a Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game around their dining room table. One of the characters, Bryan, a hardcore nerd and gamer, paints miniatures as a side business. He has three levels of quality he produces, each with a progressively steeper price tag.
- Slop & Go
- Museum Quality
Those should be all pretty obvious based on what you now know about mini painting. Personally, I think most of my stuff falls between the Slop & Go and Tabletop categories. “Museum Quality” is a goal I can strive for in the future.