If you paint then assemble, when the time comes to build it, marks will appear on where the joint was made to the sprue. Youll have small dot marks, with no paint on the mini. Also it will be difficult to remove mould lines whilst the model is still on sprue.
It is normally better to assemble your models then paint.
On the other hand, there are some instances though when it might be better to paint parts before you assemble them. This is normally due to not being able to easily get to certain parts of the model after it is assembled. Some examples are the inside of a transports or the chest eagle on a space marine (bottom can be blocked by bolter). These instances I would advise painting before assembly. Just use your best judgment.
I was painting then assembling at first, and that worked for what I was painting luckily but I've switched when I ran into some problems lately. I was looking at the freshly pinned and primered pieces of a Wolfen Predator of Blood and I realized I was going to need to use some filler on some of the joints. Woops...so I had to scrap the paint off of the areas, apply the filler, and then RE prime the assembled unit. An extra thick primer coat is the result of me trying to paint before assembling.
It depends both on the model, and what you are painting "for."
Take a Space Marine - with the bolter leveled across his chest, the Eagle becomes almost impossible to paint. If the backpack is on, it's a pain in the neck to get transfers - or freehand details - on the shoulder pads. So I'll generally leave the guns and backpack off, paint those seperate, and then glue them on at the end.
Now look at a Black Templar - with their crazed arms-out-to-the-sides poses, you can get to just about everything after it's assembled. BUT - I find it's easier to leave the shoulder pads off so I can prime the body black, and the pads white.
Now - what are you painting for? If you're painting a gaming army, and want to get the models from blister to table as quickly as possible, then stick the whole thing together. If you can't get to it with a brush after that, you won't be able to see it from the tabletop anyway!
If you're painting for competition or display, however... I tend to leave much of it seperate, assembling at the end, ensuring that I can get my brush into every niggly detail.
So look at each model on a case-by-case basis, and come up with a plan of attack that best suits the model.
personnaly I go half way, to take marines as an example, I will remove from the sprue, trim, glue the body together, attach teh legs and base, but then will paint. Thos only adverse effect I would say is painted undercoat is then on the armto body joins, so glue tends to be less effective
Ack - Let me clarify - I never paint on the sprue (well... tank treads, sometimes).
I always remove everything, and clean each and every stinking mold line with an X-Acto. If I want to paint a piece seperate, I'll attach some sort of painting handle (usually involving brass rod and a soda bottle top...). The sprue joins on many GW sprues are just way too... "Solid"... for trying to delicately remove after a piece is painted - take the risks BEFORE applying paint, rather than ruin all your work!
i paint some things on the sprue and some things off the sprue.(note i play necrons by far the eaisiest to paint.) first thing i do is clean all mold lines with a x-acto knife then prime all on the sprue. then i assenble the guns(all but the green rod) and torsos. the rest i paint before i assemble. my army looks good.
I remove everything I'm going to use from the sprue and file/cut off flash and mould lines. Then I use Blu-Tac to cover future sites of glue and secure it to something I can hold easier. I proceed to basecoat and paint each part seperately. Finally, assemble. Do any decal work before you affix backbacks or anything that can get in the way.
Granted, this does not work in the least for metal pieces.
Its more work, and takes almost 3 hours to do 1 marine, but I like the end result.
Also, do some assemblies before basecoating for sanity, such as torsos and assult jetpacks.
I think the best way to determine whether to paint before or after is to pin everything together without glue first and see if theres anything thats going to require putty. I've been doing a lot of metal figure assembly and they tend to need at least a little bit of gap filling which you wont be able to do after you paint.
If you pin everything but dont glue them...as long as you dont need putty you can prime and assemble and then paint. Then if anything comes up that you need to get to that you normally wouldn't be able to on an assembled piece, you can just pull that part off and do what you need to. Just be very careful about your fingers on the parts you've already painted. Afterwords you can put some glue on your pins, assemble and clearcoat. I've never done this but I've thought about it a few times.
When i assemble my Marines i usually leave out the Shoulderpads and Backpack so the dont block anything when i start to paint. I used to paint the Shoulderpads and Backpack separately and attach them afterwards when the mini itself is already painted.
I think as others have stated, that it really depends on the fig.
I hate painting white on a black basecoat, so when I wanted to do my defenders helmets white and their body a dark purple I did them seperately and glued them together.
I also did my wave serpent seperately and was very pleased with the results. You just have to be very careful about gluing, as the glue can show up over the paint.
There are plenty of stuff I have painted that was assembled, its just what you want to do/how difficult it will be to get to the hard areas, and do you really care if you don't hit the covered areas with details.
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