How to Paint 3D Printed Sci-fi Terrain

How to paint 3D printed scifi terrain

Creating immersive and visually striking wargaming terrain doesn’t need to take forever and isn’t locked in to a single technique. The process of painting incredible looking 3D printed terrain can be done with both regular brushes or an airbrush. In this article, we’ll explore tips and techniques to master the art of painting 3D printed sci-fi terrain for wargaming.

The goal: Create great looking terrain in a short time and minimal cost

1 – Preparation is Key

Before you start painting, ensure that your 3D printed terrain is properly prepared – If printing in PLA on an FDM printer, aim to use support-free designs such as those from Saucermen Studios, this will mean even less cleanup.

Clean off any stray bits of filament, sand any rough surfaces, and fill in any gaps or imperfections with putty. A smooth and clean surface will result in a more professional-looking paint job.

It’s a very good idea to prep your work area for a big and potentially messy job. Also consider that if using rattle cans or airbrushes, you will need suitable ventilation.

2 – Color Scheme Planning

Consider the theme and atmosphere you want to achieve for your sci-fi terrain. Are you aiming for a sleek futuristic cityscape or a weathered and battle-worn outpost? Plan your color scheme accordingly. Research sci-fi artwork or movie scenes for inspiration and use a color palette that complements the overall aesthetic. As an example, we have some great inspiration posts for futuristic cities here.

3 – Priming

Once the model’s surface is ready, prime the terrain with a primer of your choice. A rrattle can of auto primer/filler is cost effective and helps reduce print lines, but regular miniature primer such as Vallejo’s surface primer is also good but more expensive.

Priming the terrain creates a suitable surface for paint adherence. Use a light-colored primer to enhance the vibrancy of your paint colors. This step also helps to prevent issues like paint peeling or chipping and ensures that subsequent layers of paint adhere evenly.

4 – Base Coating

For the base coat, we recommend using cheap craft acrylics rather than more expensive miniature paints – This is purely based reducing the cost of materials whilst still achieving excellent results. Acrylic paints are used for this step due to their versatility and quick drying time.

Begin by applying a base coat of paint to cover the entire surface of your terrain. Use a brush or an airbrush for larger pieces. This layer sets the foundation for the subsequent details and effects.

Base Coating Tips & Considerations

  • Masking – Use masking tape to isolate or hide certain areas. This will give yo cleaner lines
  • Dark to light – Build up from dark colours

At this point it’s also when you need to decide if you will be airbrushing or drybrushing your terrain. there are pros and cons to each which we’ve pointed out below:

Airbrushing vs Drybrushing Terrain

Airbrushing Terrain:


  • Gets paint onto the model fast
  • Smooth and even coverage
  • Easy to create gradient effects
  • Very efficient way of painting
  • Control of fine details


  • Airbrush costs
  • Mixing paints to the right consistency
  • Learning curve
  • More equipment (the compressor) to store
  • Requires ventilation

Drybrushing Terrain:


  • Very cost effective
  • Beginner friendly technique
  • Emphasizes texture and detail
  • No specialized equipment or material


  • Limited coverage
  • Time consuming
  • Less control over transitions
  • Big projects can trash brushes

5 – Layering Colours

Expanding the process from the base coating phase, you should now build up you highlights to bring out the details of your 3D printed terrain by layering on additional colors. This is where your chosen color scheme really comes into play. Use smaller brushes for fine details and gradually build up the layers. Consider dry brushing to highlight raised surfaces and edges, giving your terrain a more realistic and textured appearance.

6 – Fine Brush Details

Now you have all the base coat and layers down, it’s time to take a smaller brush, similar to those you’d use for painting miniatures, and brush on the small details. This often includes piping, wires/cables, terminals, lights, buttons, signs, etc. You can also switch over to your regular miniature paints for this step as the pigments are better suited for finer detail.

7 – Weathering and Aging Effects

For a battle-hardened or lived-in look, add weathering effects such as rust, dirt, or scorch marks. Dry-brushing with metallic paints can simulate a worn metal appearance, while washes and pigments can create a dirty or weathered effect. Experiment with different techniques to achieve the desired level of realism.

8 – Final Details

At this stage, your terrain is looking pretty good, but a few final touches could push it that extra mile. Consider adding the following to give it some extra realism and theme.

  • Posters – Grab some free printable posters and glue them onto the terrain. Get free posters here!
  • Stencils – Use stencils to add some quick and easy decals to surfaces. Get stencils here.
  • Moss & Mud – Similar to basing a miniature, you could glue strategically placed grass, moss, mud or other effects.
  • LEDs – No-wire LEDs can easily be placed inside buildings for extra immersion during games. See how to add LEDS here.
  • Wet Areas – Using gloss paints, water effects, resin, or even glues, you can create sludge or pooled water.
  • Snow – There are many snow effects available from mini paint suppliers.