12 Easy Ways to Great Results on Mini Bases
Updated: May 23
No miniature is complete without a good base, and if you're anything like me, the basing is some of the most fun of making a miniature. Basing is like making little dioramas--it's storytelling. Even if it's something as simple as adding sand to a base, it begs the question: why is this mini in the sand? Are they storming the beach? Are they fighting in the desert? Are they in a dry streambed?
And thing only get better when you branch out into more interesting bases. You can pick the season, the terrain, whether it's urban or rural--there's just so much that goes into the narrative of the miniature through the base that it's a shame that they get barely a second thought from so many makers.
So in this blog we're going to start out with some very basic ways to base your miniatures--if you really just want to get them on the table top--but then we'll get into some ways to really make your minis stand out from the crowd, and all without breaking the bank or going to a whole lot of trouble.
For these models I used Warlord Games Bolt Action US Infantry, partly because painting Warlord Games models is my happy place, but also partly because I wanted some generic models that would look good in a variety of settings. It was either this is generic Space Marines, and US Infantry cost half what Space Marines do.
#1 The Basic Flock Base
For this model I started out as plain vanilla as I could get. You've got a whole army to do, you don't want to get too specific to time and place (because your army could be fighting anywhere from Normandy to Germany to Italy to the Philippines.
This is super easy. Just a little glue--you can use PVA or CA (superglue) glue. (I used CA glue because I wanted it to dry faster, but if I was actually doing an army of these guys I would use PVA. CA glue tends to suck up the basing materials into big globs while PVA dries flatter.) Then, with CA glue on the base, I used a basic flock from Woodland Scenics. Just sprinkled the flock onto the base then tapped off the excess.
The result is nothing to win any awards over, but it looks good on the tabletop when your whole army is based the same way.
#2 Custom Blend of Flock and Grit
This second is still a very basic method of basing miniatures, but I like the look of it a little better. This blend of flock, sand, grit, and clump foliage has been hanging around in my basing drawer for years. Whenever I feel like it needs a little something, I'll add it, or if I'm almost out of clump foliage I'll add it to the bin.
This really doesn't look significantly different from the basic flock method, and it's applied the same way. It's just a blend that I think looks a little more natural. Less uniform and with more interesting elements. (I fully admit that seeing these two model side by side, they don't look all that different. But I still like it.)
This is a super easy and incredibly cheap way to add basing to your minis. It's also extremely versatile. I use sand frequently, sometimes in its original color and sometimes painted (I'll often apply it to the base before I prime it, so then I paint the sand.) I find that there are so many things you can do with painted sand: paint it a rich dark brown (I like to use the Contrast paint Cygor Brown) and it turns sand into soil instantly, with enough sharp ridges that it will take drybushing really well.
Sand is also crazy cheap--if you buy it from the right place. Buy sand from the hobby shop or craft store and you're getting majorly ripped off, but if you buy it from Home Depot or Lowes's (it's advertised as Play Sand, for sandboxes) you can get 35 pounds for $5. You'll never need to buy sand again.
This model is just using straight sand--say he's in North Africa. Some static grass tufts could look good alongside it and keep that desert look, or instead you could say he's assaulting Omaha Beach.
#4 Texture Paste and Grass Tufts
This, or some similar variation, is probably the go-to method of 90% of 28mm wargamers (I should have included a caveat at the beginning that these bases are intended for 28mm and 32mm scale figures. They wouldn't work very well with 15mm or 6mm (I've tried it and made some big dumb errors). But this method is extremely common.
You take a texture paste--I'm using Vallejo Mud, but you could use Citadel Astrogranite or Stirland Mud if you wanted to pay more for it--and slather it onto the base. This stuff hardens up pretty quickly (within an hour) and then you can paint it whatever color you want--I left mine au natural--and then stick grass tufts to it with a dab of glue.
Grass tufts are one of the basing world's easiest inventions, so much so that I don't mind paying more for them even though I could technically do the same thing with a static grass applicator (as we shall see). Grass tufts come in packages this size, with about sixty tufts in there or more, and they make everything look slick and professional. There are even companies who make flower tufts and bush tufts and all kinds of pretty tufts.
Anyway, that's what I did with this guy here, and he turned out pretty darn good.
#5 Texture Paste with Static Grass
Okay, so I should have broken out the static grass applicator to get the full effect of this, but I didn't because it keeps shocking me and is probably dangerous. So I used texture paste, like before, and then put down some light PVA glue (Elmer's Glue-All) and sprinkled some 4mm static grass down onto it. It didn't come out perfect, but considering I was giving it a half-hearted effort, I'm fine with it.
#6. Texture Paste and Autumn Leaves
This one I'm really happy with. The base is the same texture paste as the others, but I glued in some greenery--or the autumn equivalent. This comes from a packet of Fine Leaf Foliage Fall Mix from Woodland Scenics, which I really like. I had bought these for another scenery build a long time ago and then they got put on my Pile of Shame (my Pile of Shame is not models; it's terrain.)
They come in sprigs of yellow, orange and red, and while they come with a full armature to make a large tree, they're already affixed to little twigs that make them very good bushes. I picked a few of them and added them to the soldier, and honestly, I'm going to do an entire army in fall colors because I love this so much. I just have to figure out which battle in which war was fought in autumn leaves. Do I need to go back to American Revolution in New England?
#7 Cork with Flock
It wouldn't be a proper miniature basing tutorial if I didn't use cork. For this I bought thin sheets (maybe 3mm?) of cork with a sticky backing to them, and tore them up into rocky shapes. I then spray painted them black, and drybrushed them with a few different rocky colors (a gray and a blue). In between the cracks in the rocks I put little dabs of glue and then sprinkled on flock to get a look like grass was growing up between them. Pretty happy with this one, too, though if cork DIDN'T work as a great basing material you wouldn't see it used in every other miniatures video.
#8 Styrene Cobblestones
Moving toward a city scene, I took a sheet of 1mm styrene and cut small cobblestones out of the pieces. It would have been better if they were 3mm, I think, because these don't have enough heft to them, and it also would have been better to bevel the edges. As it turned out, it looks pretty good. I think I would tweak it if I did an entire army this way, but it's a good first attempt.
Also, obviously, I put on some flock as grass. That brings it together a little big more, I think.
#9 Terracotta Cobblestones
I had these little bricks leftover from a terrain build--they're actually made for dollhouses (the dollhouse accessory market is a great place to find terrain items.) I superglued them down to the base, spray painted them black, and then drybrushed them to make them into dirty terracotta cobblestones. (Yes, I realize they were already terracotta before I painted them, but I wanted them to be toned down in color.)
The raise the figure up about 5mm, so you need to compensate for that (although with so many models standing on Tactical Rocks, I don't know how big of a deal it is that he's elevated a bit.) Some flock would have been welcome here, too, now that I look at it. Still, pretty happy with them.
#10 Texture Paste with Lichen Bush
Hearkening back to my days making model trains, there's few things I love more than adding lichen to terrain projects. So, why not add a bit to a base? The stuff is cheap, a little smelly (the smell dissipates after a few hours out of the bag) and looks like a pretty good miniature tree.
Be careful, because some moss doesn't look like miniature bushes. This is one product that I buy from the craft store (they sell it in the fake flowers aisle) because when you buy bags of moss online you're never sure if it's going to be the right kind of moss that looks like shrubbery.
#11 Snow Flock over Flex Paste
The formula for making fake snow is pretty simple and most every hobbyist I know does it the same way. You get Flex Paste from Woodland Scenics, which is a smooth, white, sticky stuff. Lay it down onto the base (or the scenery, or whatever you're making) using the same little spatula tool that you use to spread texture paste--I prefer the Citadel one, but a coffee stir stick would do in a pinch. Then you take snow flock (I buy the Army Painter brand) and sprinkle it over the Flex Paste to give it a little crunchy texture.
The result is a treat and the base looks good and snowy. And, just like I said about using Vallejo Mud vs using Citadel Stirland Mud, buying a great big thing of Flex Paste and a little tub of snow flock will last SO much longer than buying individual pots of Citadel's Valhalla Blizzard.
#12 Bamboo Shoots, Flock, and Grass Tufts
So I realize that this guy isn't US Infantry. He's from my US Marines set, but since I got them and painted them all (and did his base with flock and a grass tuft) I bought these bamboo shoots and they're just too good not to use. (After all, I had bought them to do a Marines vs. Japanese terrain board--something I still might get around to.)
The bamboo shoots were purchased off Etsy (I think) and were a great deal. They still look a little bit like plastic, not 100% realistic, but I think they really add a nice flair to this Marine.
And that's it! Twelve easy and cheap ideas for basing miniatures. Any of these can be improved (clearly) but hopefully they'll give you some idea of what you can do for your own miniatures.
What basing materials do you always turn to?