How to Paint 3mm Napoleonic Infantry

How to Paint 3mm Napoleonic Infantry – Tiny soldiers can make Big Battles

If you’re anything like me then you were probably taken aback by the great many different scales that are on offer for Napoleonic (and all) war-games. When I first started I was aiming towards the 28mm and 20mm or 1/72 plastic ranges as quite frankly I thought these were small enough!

I have however made the switch – first to 6mm and now to the minuscule 3mm ranges. Nothing really compares to these tiny ranges if you are trying to show the size of some of the battles. Not only is 3mm range excellent for being able to represent all the battalions involved in the battles, but also the space between each formation. Some of the huge war-games you see just look much too crowded which makes it hard to picture as a battle in which each side could be moving around to out position each other.

These are the reasons I have decided to start building up some armies in 3mm, but the point of this guide is to show how to paint these tiny things! Lets start with what we need:


A workman is nothing without his tools! I have accumulated a few that I find useful in helping me paint in general but some especially for the really small miniatures:

A Daylight Lamp

I got one of these for Christmas a couple of years back and I have to say it has been a fantastic gift! I didn’t realize how much I would use one of these until I had it. No its not something you need to have in order to actually paint the miniatures but I have found it to be so helpful that I can’t not recommend it to anyone when it comes to painting.

This is perfect for if you want to paint in the evening when the sun has gone down of if you paint somewhere where the lighting is not great. I have found myself using this in the daytime too just because of the extra light right on top of the models means you can see exactly what you’re doing, and when it comes to these tiny models you need all the help you can get to see the detail on them!

The good thing about this daylight lamp is that it has a magnifier attached to the light so you can really see all the detail. If you fancy getting one for yourself they are available from Amazon.

Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Water Colour Brush (size 1)

For my larger models I was originally using the Games Workshop citadel fine detail brush, however I found that these struggled to keep a point and frayed far too often. After doing a bit of searching the recommendation for detail on models was this brush and after trying for a while now I have to say they are completely right to recommend it.

The trick to this brush is to keep it wet so as to keep the point otherwise it can start fraying as you paint, but thankfully just a bit of water will sort it out. The size 1 point is also perfect for getting the detail on 6mm and 3mm miniatures.
If you fancy giving this brush a try I found mine on Amazon here.

Sprue Cutter

This is needed due to the flash that remains on the models due to the moulding process. The miniatures will arrive with bits of metal sticking out all over the place. Its not the soft pewter metal that you may find on the 6mm and larger miniatures but a harder, more brittle kind.

It is this part of the process that you will have to be a bit careful as the force required to cut off the metal flash usually sends little parts flying around the place. I use a sprue cutter such as the one here which works just fine. As a warning however, some of the 3mm figures are fairly delicate and the force of clipping can send them flying off as well as the flash. Be prepared to stick some back into place which can be a bit fiddly, although it should be pointed out this has only happened twice the whole time I have been painting these miniatures.

Black Primer / Undercoat Spray

This is what I use for spraying an undercoat onto the miniatures. It is of course up to you how you want to do this – some people prefer to undercoat white and that is their choice. I use the Chaos Black spray from Games Workshop to undercoat the miniatures.


I use a few paints here, some from Games Workshop’s citadel range, but most from Vallejo paints which I think are just better quality paints to be honest. The main colours I will be using are Prussian Blue, White, Silver, Flat Brown, Iraqi Sand and Sky Grey. You can see further down how I’ll use them.


The Process

Okay then now that we have seen the tools that we’ll need to get started lets go over the process of doing it:

Step 1. Cut from the Sprues

This is pretty straight forward. For these 3mm miniatures its simply a case of removing the flash and excess metal. Like I said earlier be careful of the rogue bits of metal shooting off and you may want to cup your hand around the strip of miniatures as you do this.

Step 2. Stick to something for spraying

I use an old DVD cover that I don’t need anymore so I don’t mind it being covered in black spray. I stick all the miniature strips that I intend to spray down with blue tack in a fairly nicely spread out fashion so that I can cover them all with the spray and get the sides as well. You may have to do this a couple of times as sometimes I miss the odd patch and there is nothing more annoying then a small bit of silver on a vital part of the model.

Once this is done just leave to dry for at least 30-60 mins before you start painting.

Step 3. Transfer to something better to hold with

These miniatures are not easy to keep hold of without sticking them to something. I blue tack them onto 10p or 2p pieces as its much easier to hold on to a coin then the small strip that they are on.

Step 4. Paint the Jackets

This is my first part of the painting process. I begin by painting the colour of the jackets, which in this case is blue for the French. Strangely enough the blue I like to use for this is called Prussian Blue, which I add one stage at a time. First I do all the right arms down the line, which is followed by all the left arms and then the backs of soldiers.

Step 5. Paint the White









White is the biggest part of the French Uniform, covering the legs and chest region. The miniatures have a strap going across the chest which I paint first, doing the straps for all the soldiers on the strip. This is then followed by me doing the legs for all the soldiers, including the back of their legs from behind.

Note it is not always necessary to paint the back of the legs as, depending on how you are basing them, they are not always seen. If putting the strips into a column formation it may be that you will only see the back of the legs of the last strip in the column and so only need to paint them.

What will have to be watched out for in this case however is making sure you paint the sides of the legs of the soldiers at either end of the strip as these will be facing out.

Step 6. Paint the Brown

At this step I use the colour Flat Brown by Vallejo to paint in the brown on the guns first, then flip over the strip and paint all the brown on the backpacks before finishing off by painting the base brown. With all the bases brown it looks better at the end when basing as if you miss parts of the grass when basing brown does not look at unnatural as silver.

Step 7. Paint the Face


I have experimented with colours in this step and really it is up to you which colour you wish to use for flesh tones. I have settled on Iraqui Sand although have also used Kislev Flesh from Citadel – either way it does not really matter as long as it is light enough to see (which is the reason why I settled on Iraqi sand as it is lighter and shows up better on black).

There is no need for trying to pick out detail in this step as I find that a lot of the faces are merged in with the shako and there is no distinction between the two. Just blob a bit of paint that you believe to be the right size for the face in the right area and this looks fine.

Step 8. Paint the Metal


The only metal parts on the infantry strips are for the bayonets. These are not very obvious, in fact much like the face I don’t think any distinction is made from the musket and the bayonet. Instead I judge the appropriate size for it and add the silver for the bayonet.

I use the Vallejo silver paint for this although I am not super impressed by it. I’ve found that Vallejo is weaker at the metallic types of paint such as silver and gold (although Citadel golds are also unimpressive). So for this I tend to paint it on thicker than for the other colours just to make sure that the silver stays on.

Step 9. Paint the Grey

I use Sky Grey from Vallejo to paint the rolled up greatcoats on top of the backpacks. This is a very light grey and sometimes I wonder if I may as well just be using the white and saving some time, or painting it brown and pretending its just part of the backpack.

Step 10. Paint the Pom Poms

Now this depends on what country/regiment/company you are trying to depict so it is up to you. When I painted these 3mm I was trying to paint some 1815 French infantry to I used Russian Unif.WWII from Vallejo for the 1st Fusilier Company, Lothern Blue from Citadel for the 2nd Company, Bright Orange from Vallejo for the 3rd Company, Flash Gitz Yellow from Citadel for the Voltigeurs and Evil Sunz Scarlet for the Grenadiers. I didn’t use anything for the 4th Company of Fusiliers as this should be violet and any paint I tried to use would never show up on the black so I stopped bothering.

These should be painted on the same as the faces, with a roughly sized blob in the appropriate place.


This is a separate section as basing really comes down to what you are playing so they could be any size you want. I am currently basing for using the Grande Armee rule set and so have used bases of 3 inches by 3 inches.

Step 1.

I used PVA glue to stick down some coarse sand.

Step 2.

Once the sand has stuck firmly – I let mine set overnight – I then painted it in a watered down brown.

Step 3.

Once the sand was dry I then dry-brushed it with Iraqi Sand to highlight the rocks.

Step 4.

The final step was using PVA glue to stick down some static grass
and then I was finished.

Suprisingly the basing takes longer then you think, almost as long as actually painting the models!


Finished Product









The 3mm miniatures come out quite nicely when they are all grouped together. One of the things to note is that some parts of the miniatures do not get seen if basing in certain way such as the back of the legs for most of a column.

You should be painting these models for the distance look rather than up close as it will be the mass effect of all the miniatures together that has an impact rather than individual paint jobs.

The Miniatures can be fiddly due to their size – especially if you accidentally break one off like I have done. I was able to superglue them back into place with great difficulty but you wouldn’t be able to tell they had broken off. The strips are also excellent in helping you stick them down properly, although you must watch out for excess metal on the bottom as they can stop a good bond forming with the glue.

Overall a great product and I can’t wait to have my many brigades forming up against the opposition!


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