It depends on what type of miniature it is really. An intricate one that has many bits and pieces of different colour could be painted and then stuck on to the final model. However a models that can be built with fairly open poses would benefit with a paint job after assembly. To be honest though, if you are going to glue stuff together after assembly you must make sure all surfaces have no paint or primer on them and that you try to use as minimal amount of glue as possible.
Hope that helps. I am typing this at 1 in the morning:z so i apologise if it doesn't make sense.
I'm typing this a full hour later
I'd say you asemble the main parts like the torso and legs,maybe the head then paint it. Paint the arms either seperatly, on pins, or attach them once you're finished painting the body.
I would recomend what Addy said there, I would do a hybrid of the two. Assemble the main torso and such (this means that you can GS those ugly gaps and stuff) then I would do any filing work that had to be done ie mold lines, flashing for metal figures. What I like doing sometimes is after assembly and checking the postioning of the figures( making shure everything lines up and so forth) is priming the figures, then removing moldlines, it acts as a guidecoat then just touching up the primer. After that I usually stick the arms on pins ( I pin most of my models) then you can use the pins as holding devices. I like to use a old pin drill I have to hold the pinned pieces. Then its paint to your hearts content. I know its alot of work, but in painting the outcome is 90% dependent on your prepwork. The more love and care you put into prepping the figures up, then better the outcome.
another suggetstion is if your too lazy, like me. Assemble everything but back packs or guns if possible prime/paint on sprue and add as desire. I also like priming/painting the little add decorations on the sprue...
Interesting. It seems to me that a lot of people has this "problem" - paint before or after assembly.
To me, as to a lot of other experienced painters on this site, nothing is just black or white.
So, my tip, like many others is - Assemble as much as You can and still be able to reach all nooks and crannies. Pre-paint parts like weapons and backpack, where You can't reach the backside when assembled, but that still is visible...
Simplest answer I can think of would be to assemble as much as you can to paint it the best way you can/want.
I would recommend not priming and painting on the sprue for one reason: When you clip the model off the sprue you will most likely get an unsightly lump of plastic that will require further cleaning. Not to mention it is much more difficult to clean mold lines. Also you won't get as clean of a bond when gluing the pieces together with plastic cement.
When painting in pieces I recommend getting a liquid mask to cover the joints while painting. This scrapes off really easy afterwards keeping your paintjob intact and allowing for a good bond when gluing. Usually only minor touch ups are needed afterwards.
Typically I'll assemble first, maybe leaving a few bits off. One recent exception would be my giant, 7 pieces and two accessories all seperate for painting, he's looking lovely too. I've left my chariot crew off as well.
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