How to Paint Ho Scale Figures
Painting your small scale figures brings them to life – well, metaphorically anyway. Here are some tips to help you get the job done.
Painting small scale figures, HO and OO (1/87th and 1/72ND scale, respectively) in particular, is tough. They are so small that adding any facial expression makes them look like recipients of the worst plastic surgery imaginable, but are large enough that you can’t leave their faces blank. Their tiny size makes them hard to handle, hard to see, and hard to paint.
Ah, but the small scale folks bring so much personality to your model railroad or diorama that the benefits of adding them far outweigh the struggles in getting them to look right.
So, let’s get started.
Many of the more expensive HO scale figures come pre-painted, and your day is done. Although I often “finish” their paint, which you’ll find later in this article, they are most often perfectly ready to go right out of the box. These figures are much more expensive as they are most often hand-painted, and those hands are looking for a paycheck.
You can save money, however, and add a lot of personality to your model, by buying unpainted figures in bulk. Here in the US this is just about the only option for OO-1/72nd scale modelers. These folks are cheaper because they are simply molded and dropped into a box.
When working on small scale soldiers and some civilian figures you may that there is an unrealistic block of plastic in, for example, the crook of the arm when the arm is close to the body. This is most prevalent in a soldier sighting a rifle – there is almost always a wedge of plastic between the rifle and the soldier’s chest. Before you start painting see if you can hack away some of that filler plastic – it’s only there to make the figure easier to mold. Be aware that once you cut it away you’ll have to sculpt the cavity it leaves behind. Depending upon that degree of sculpting you may opt to retain the unrealistic plastic. If you do, your task is to figure out how to paint it to minimize its impact.
Unpainted figures most often come affixed to an unrealistic stand so that they don’t fall over when you set ‘em up. The most effective way I’ve found to remove the stand is to grind it away from underneath with a grinding or sandpaper bit fit into my Dremel Tool. If you don’t have a Dremel Tool you can find cheap knock-offs at Harbor Freight. Cheaper still but more labor intensive is grinding the stand off of the figure by hand with sandpaper. I imagine this is what our forefathers did before the Dremel Tool was invented. Grind the stand down until you get to the bottom of the figure’s shoe – you have control over how tall your figure stands by how much shoe you grind away.