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What’s so Great about Dark Sword Miniatures ?

Ok, you’ve got a campaign to run. Need a dozen of so orcs to give your players a hard time as they enter the second level of the dungeon ? Well Reaper Bones plastics are going to be the most cost effective option. But for your player characters; miniatures that have got to last the whole campaign, well it’s worth a bit more of an investment. Even more if you like painting miniatures too.

A Little History of Dark Sword Miniatures.

Generally speaking, certainly back in the 80’s and 90’s, the American sculptors paid more attention to scale and proportion than their UK counterparts. Things have evened up since the internet became such a great tool for sharing and comparing. But from the very beginning, one man had the skill and mindset to champion true scale miniatures, Tom Meier.

I could write a whole post about him, but an abridged overview is as follows. One of the founders of Ral Partha Miniatures back in the 70’s. Also their chief sculptor. Started Thunderbolt Mountain miniatures in the 2000’s after Ral Partha had closed. TBM closed around 2015 I think, and now he works as a freelance sculptor, mainly for Dark Sword Miniatures. He is an incredable talent, and sculpts to precise scale and proportion. One of his miniatures could be scaled up to full size, and it would be near enough a statue, which is no mean feat.

Tom Meier’s Thunderbolt Mountain – King Arthur in true 25mm scale.

When I got the chance to have the re-mastered Ral Partha Legacy miniatures in the shop, I clearly jumped at it. He didn’t sculpt all of the Ral Partha miniatures, but from Dragons to Halflings, he sculpted the most. His Thunderbolt Mountain ranges are all Tom’s work. Just have a look at King Arthur in the picture above. True 25mm scale and such beautiful detail.

Jim Ludwig is the owner and driving force behind Dark Sword Miniatures. He’s been a miniature collector for many years, and has a vast knowledge and passion for the little lead men. It’s not surprising then that he contacted Tom and asked him to sculpt for Dark Sword. As is always the case with Tom, the sculpts were near perfect representations of the supplied artwork. A fellow sculptor called Jeff Grace also joined the team, and in my opinion is just about the match for Tom. Together they have set the standard for some of the most realistic metal fantasy miniatures that have ever been produced.

Just to put the cherry on the cake, Jim also has some of the very best painters work on the studio models. Rhonda Bender, Michael Proctor, Kat Martin, Jen Haley, and Aaron Lovejoy to name just a few. They really are a premium miniature brand, and I’m very proud to have them in my shop.

Scale ?

Scale is the size the miniature is sculpted in, and over the years it’s become a bit elastic. 25 to 28mm was the norm, now it’s crept to the more 28-32mm heroic scale. Some people also measure the miniatures to ‘the eyes’, whilst others, myself included, go for an overall measurement. It all gets a bit confusing, but generally both Reaper and Dark Sword are Heroic scale.

A comparison of some different manufacturers.

How tall the mini is may be one thing, but what is often forgotten is scale should also affect proportion, and here sculptors have a bit more in the way of artistic licence. Let me explain.

Reaper 2013 Skeleton Archer
Reaper 2013 Skeleton Archer

The Skeleton above is a Reaper Miniatures example. Sculpted by Ed Pugh himself ( The Boss ), and a nice miniature that does the job it’s supposed too. The skeleton stands approximately 31mm tall from base to top of skull. The thing that’s clearly a bit odd is it’s bow. It’s a good size for a long bow in terms of length, but it’s thickness makes it look odd. Scale it up to full size and it would be nearer a tree trunk. It’s nothing new, proportion in sculpting has always been the poor relation in terms of scale. Well usually.

Too good to paint ?

Sadly, the very thing that sets them apart from most other manufacturers is also the thing that puts off a lot of potential buyers. I too was put off painting some because I didn’t think I’d be able to do them justice. I’m used to old pre-slotta citadel which were sculpted in a much broader fashion. With Dark Sword there is a lot less room for error. But try some I did, and I’m glad I did so.

I’ve painted a Female Ranger and Female fighter so far. Jeff Grace sculpted the former and Patrick Keith the latter. Patrick also has his own company, Bombshell Miniatures, which is well worth checking out for more of his work. I’m very pleased how they turned out, but the real credit goes to the sculptors and their impressive talents. So, this is what I did.

Preparing Your Miniature for Painting

A little video I made showing how I prep minis before priming.

What’s in the Blister ?

Learning to and having the patience for preparing miniatures, be they plastic or metal, is an essential skill. Use a sharp scaple to remove any mould lines, and smooth out any areas with fine abrasive files. Alway work gently and don’t try to remove too much material in one go. Take your time.

I don’t think there are many painters who actually enjoy preping their miniatures before painting. It is though essential groundwork if you want a good result. The same goes for attaching the falcon to her outstretched arm. The sculptor has provided a small dimple and pip arrangement, which probably worked perfectly on the green master sculpt, but on the production cast is now a bit crude and lumpy.

Attaching the Falcon

It’s tempting to just sand the pip off and blob on some superglue, a method I’m guilty of for too many pieces in my collection. This being more exacting, I have to be as well. I still removed the pip on th end of her arm, but now I’ve put a centre mark and drilled in very carefully using a pin vise. I’m going to be pinning it with a short length of 0.5mm brass rod to give it a bit more strength. Drill the hole a little oversize so the rod is a bit loose. When you glue it in, it allows a bit of room for the superglue to work round the rod and also make contact with the metal of the miniature.

The dimple in the gloved hand beneath the falcon acts as a centre point for the second hole. Again drill it a bit oversize. Next, cut a short length of the 0.5mm brass rod and carefully glue it into the hole for the falcon. The trick here is to let it set completely before doing anything else. Once it is set, offer it up into the hole on the arm, and cut away any excess till just enough is left protruding to fit in the hole comfortably. Again glue this in place and leave it to dry.

There will probably be a bit of a join gap left, so a tiny bit of expoy putty and a bit of patience smoothing the stuff out will make that good. I used Brownstuff from a well known retailer who also has a good range of Dark sword miniatures 😉

Another little video I made on priming.

Priming your Miniature

Primes and attached to a painting base for easy handling.

I tried an airbrush but have never really got on with the thing, so I continue to prime by brush. The bulk of my paints are Reaper MSP now so it makes sense to use their primers too. I think everyone has their own views on what colour is best. Some swear by black, others white and others various shades of grey. A lot is down to personal preference on how you want your mini to turn out. Dark colours always cover better than light ones, so trying to do a mostly white miniature over a black primer will take a lot more work. I tend to go for a light grey by mixing some of Reaper’s Brush on Primer, with their Grey Primer to make it less dark. Brush on a couple of coats, allowing for proper drying inbetween and that’s it, prep done.

Painting your Miniature

Normally I’m a bit hit and miss with blocking in colours en masse. I usually just pick a large are of the mini and concentrate on that. But as I’m sort of following the professionally painted mini’s colour scheme, I don’t have to think to much for myself. Therefore I’ve got on and blocked in some base colours. Reaper msp 9144 Creamy Ivory for her tunic and trouser arrangement. Have to admit I find this probably the most confusing part of the sculpt. It’s like she’s wearing a sort of one-piece affair, like long-johns, when I would have expected a more tunic and breeches combo. Still perhaps I’m reading it wrong, anyway, Creamy Ivory for a basecoat it is.


The armour portions are Reaper msp 9205 Blackened Steel. I’ve found it best to start with the darkest shade for armour and then work lighter.

Boots & Leather bits

Boots were Citadel Contrast paint Gore-Grunta fur. I like these as they provide an instant shading which can be worked on and enhanced later. The other leather bits have been basecoated Reaper msp 9031 Tanned Leather. Rocks have been given a base of Citadel Contrast Iyanden Yellow, ( who thinks up these names ? ), with a coat of Citadel Contrast Darkoath Flesh over the top. I’m trying for a weathered sandstone effect, but this will do as the base for the time being.


The cloak is the main event for this mini, lots of movement in it, and it’s large too.

Reaper msp 9012 Pale green for the base shade. I used Reaper msp 9658 Christmas Wreath as the dark shade and mixed it with varying amounts of pale green for the mid tones. Christmas wreath is a freebie shade reaper produce for their christmas promotions so it’s not generally available. To be fair any strong dark green would have done.


I’m not going to go into a long ramble about how to shade as there is a lot of info about it on Youtube. But I will mention a tip a pro painter gave to me. Mix equal thirds flow improver, drying retarter and distilled water together, and use this to thin your paints. Smooths things out and allows you the time for a bit of feathering while the paint is still being helpful. Highlight colour was the wonderful Reaper msp 9061 Linen White. It’s a really versitile soft white that seems to work with just about everything.

Some non Reaper paints

Citadel Contrast Dark Angels Green, thinned down with my special mix was used for the darkest areas. I also made a glaze out of some of the Christmas Wreath / Pale Green mix, as I wanted the inside of the cloak to be a bit darker than the sun faded outside. Vallejo Glaze Medium is your friend here. Really nice product and works with the Reaper and Citadel paints a treat. I applied a couple of glazes over the whole of the inside of the cloak, and I hope the pictures show the effect it produced.

I’m pretty happy with the cloak for the moment. I’m tempted by doing some freehand on it, but I’m not good at it and don’t want to ruin what I have done. I’ll ponder some more while I work on other bits.

id=”h-finished”>The Finished Miniature

So back the the Darksword Female Ranger with her little feathered friend. It’s now finished to the best level I can do at the moment. I did go with a limited amount of freehand on the cloak as you can see by the darker green border. Thinned paint and multiple coats seemed to work well, and I think it looks crisp enough. I did try and add a very thin black line just to separate it a bit more from the pale green. This worked better in some places than others. I also worked on lightening the outside of the cloak to give it a bit more of a sun faded look to the slightly stronger shade on the inside.

Leathers and Skintones

Leather areas and the Falcon came out better. I shaded her hair to a more muted colour too. Face came out well, if a little pale which is one of my persistant problems. The reaper fair skin triad 9716 doesn’t have enough tonal change between the three shades to reallt show up. I’ve got a 9787 bronzed skin triad now so am going to mix and match them about to try and get a bit more variation.


Her white tunic / trousers were a bit of a pain. I took advice from a higher power regarding this, ie Vince Venturella and his Hobby Cheating guide to making it look right. I would have never thought of using a blue based purple as the shading colour, but I do now. Worth checking out Vince’s videos if you haven’t come across them before.

id= “conclusion”>Conclusion

So for a conclusion. Despite my niggles about the armour, the actual sculpting of the whole miniature is superb. Jeff Grace is a masterful talent and the quality of his work certainly lifted my painting. Personally I’m really pleased with how it came out. It’s not as good as the Darksword display piece that Matt Verzani painted, ( which I’ve included for comparison in the gallery ), but it’s heading in the right direction. Non Mettallic Metals ( NMM ), might have worked better, but I’ve got to learn how to do those.  Apart from that, I’m happy.

DSM7504 Thief of Hearts
DSM7504 Thief of Hearts