Sunday, September 8, 2013

Plastic Figures

For my recent Chainmail game played at Dragonflight, I needed about 200 1/72 figures. I had a few boxes of the old Airfix Robin Hood and Sheriff of Nottingham figures and knew about some of the figures produced by Zvezda and MiniArts among others. I also knew from reading forum posts that some care needed to be taken so that the paint did not flake off. With some experimentation I found a way to prepare the figures that seemed to produce good results, although I will not know how durable the results are for some time. I found the Plastic Soldier Review website to be very helpful with many reviews and photographs of the figures from many manufacturers.

The greatest appeal of the plastic figurs is that they are cheap. They are also easy to obtain being available in ordinary hobby stores that carry a lot of plastic models as well as online from major retailers. Unmounted figures are roughly $.25 US with mounted figures being 3 or 4 times that. There is some variation in price and the quality of the figures varies from brand to brand and within brands, but the cost per figure for these is a small fraction of the cost for metal figures. Some of the plastic is easy to work with but the old Airfix figures were very soft, flexible and difficult to cut or shape.

The first figures I prepared were the Airfix Robin Hood and Sheriff of Nottingham sets. I like the Robin Hood set, which has a number of good poses. The Robin Hood figure is fairly dashing and there are several good archer poses. The Friar Tuck figure is nice as well. The Sheriff of Nottingham figures however were rather poor. I used a few of the poses, but most of these figures are destined to be chopped up in conversions. Maybe.

These were the least pleasant figures to prepare as they are very flexible and do not cut easily. I coated these with diluted white glue before priming them as I had read somewhere that otherwise the paint would flake off. To prime these figures I used the same metal primer I use for tin figures. I am worried that it might crack because it seems stiff and not at all flexible. I will keep an eye on these figures over the months and years to see if the paint job holds up or if the paint flakes off. I got decent painting results overall , however there was a lot of flash which was hard to clean up. In addition to these problems, the mounted figures of the Sheriff set are not attached to their bases - they have tiny pins which fit poorly into the holes on the provided base. If I use these I will probably epoxy a wire from the belly of the horse down one or two legs and epoxy the other end to the base. Or, more likely, I will discard the mounted figures as they are just not worth the effort. While I might get more of the Robin Hood set, I think the Sheriff of Nottingham set is of little value and I will avoid it in the future.

Next I tackled several boxes of Mini Arts German knights. These included mounted and dismounted poses. There is little variety in armor, and the weapons are either lances or swords. These were a tougher, stiffer plastic but they were still a little flexible. There was some flash on these, but it carved off easily. I started coating these with white glue as I had the Airfix figures, but stopped partway through because they seemed so much less flexible I did not think it would really be necessary. None of the remaining figures seemed flexible enough to bother with the glue. These figures I primed with Golden acrylic gesso. I slightly thinned it with water and gave it two coats followed by a touch up coat for any remaining thin patches. This seemed to work better than the metal primer.

The poses for these were not bad. They were not the nicest figures I worked on for the game but they were acceptable. The sculpts are better than most of the Airfix sculpts but not as nice as some of the Zvezda figures.

The next figures I worked on were the French Infantry from the 100 Years War by Zvezda. They are mostly well-posed, interesting figures although not uniformly excellent. The plastic on these was easy to work with and there was little flash. What flash there was came off very easily, and I used the same acrylic gesso I used for the German knights, and painting went very smoothly. A few of the poses seem odd, but on the table they worked fine as no one examines the individual figures closely enough to notice an occasional awkward sculpt.

The next figures I worked on were the Livonian knights by Zvezda. These were the nicest figures I worked with for this project. They are made of a harder, even less flexible plastic which was very easy to carve. A few of the figures had broken in shipment, so perhaps the greater flexibility of the other figures helps their durability. There was very little flash and painting was a breeze. One minor point is that the shields have raised figures, which may help in painting but which is a pain if you do not like the designs. It was additional work to carve off the designs. There is a mix of mounted and dismounted troops, and a wide variety of armor and weaponry. The sculpts are very interesting and uniformly excellent. In fact the variety of poses is so great that it would be necessary to order many boxes to field units with identical or even similar weaponry and armor. I will probably get more of these figures.

The last figures I worked on for the project were the Medieval Peasants by Zvezda. These poses and sculpts were adequate, but there are some real oddball poses. There was little flash though and the figures were easy to prepare. I did not get beyond a black undercoat, so I cannot say if they were easy to paint or not.

I have not finished all of the figures, although I have varnished a number of the Robin Hood archer figures. I used Golden or Liquitex acrylic varnish (I have both on hand and am not sure which one I used) after letting the paint dry thoroughly.

One point which is very important with these figures that I did not realize is that they are so light they will fall over with the slightest tap on the table. It was very frustrating during the game to be constantly standing the figures up. I bought washers from a hardware store and epoxied them to the bases of the figures and they feel far more solid and are now very stable.


  1. Hey, it would be really fun to see some pictures of them.

  2. Could you explain to a beginner how "coated them w / white glue before priming" works.

  3. I'll write another post with more detail and some photos showing how I prepped, painted and finished the figures.