Painting Britains

In the course of repairs, and a total repaint in one case, I’ve been working on achieving the Britains painting style. A few things have helped along the way.

Firstly, London Bridge, the company casting replacement parts for Britains figures, has some great painting advice. They recommend Humbrol paints, many of which match Britains colors and come in gloss. Picking up a good selection of Humbrol glosses is the first step.

Colors are just the start, though. To really match the style of a Britains, it’s helpful to understand how they were painted and which colors were put down in what order.

Videos of the Britains factory during the 1950’s show women painting hundreds of figures in a batch after they were spray undercoated. It’s fascinating to look at the strokes of paint and think that someone nearly 100 years ago worked on this very figure. You can’t be too sad the job went away though – fumes, eye strain, repetitive motion, tedium after your 2,000th Life Guard – its amazing the figures are painted as well as they are!

So to really reproduce the style of a Britains you’ve got to paint it as if you were painting 10,000 of them. That means fairly thick coats of paint and that details are really just one swipe of paint. I can’t imagine these painters were going back over their work and touching things up. You get one pass and it’s on to the next one.

It helps to study examples of what you’re trying to reproduce as well. That can tell you a lot about which colors were put down in what order. Look at your classic Guard infantry. There’s usually flesh color on the face and underneath the lip of the bearskin. We can deduce that the flesh color was one big swipe, encompassing the face and a portion of the headgear. The black for the bearskin came after since there’s still flesh on the underside – they weren’t too concerned about tidying up the overpainted flesh.

This sort of reverse engineering can be done on most figures. Here’s an example where I didn’t get it quite right, although I’m not unhappy with the overall result.

I foolishly stripped the original paint off this Belgian cavalry officer (set 190) and had the bare metal figure sitting around for years. I recently repainted him, starting with a white spray for an undercoat.

The jacket and saddle are dark blue. Photos of original figures show that the light blue pants weren’t painted all the way around the figure as I did, they’re mostly just painted on the sides and much of the underlying dark blue remains.

Nice and tidy, but doesn’t really match what was originally done.

Other paint work has been more straightforward – for horse legs is either just painting gloss black over an undercoat or working to match the brown. White has been tricky – even using Humbrol’s ivory which better matches the Britains white it’s still a little too much. It helps to cut the ivory with some tan to better match an aged, worn white.

The best paint to me, though, remains the original factory paint. Other than replacing missing parts, I haven’t repainted any figures or done any touching up. The dings, scratches and wear marks are what make these figures unique and interesting!

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