This article is from the Miniatures Painting FAQ, by Brenda Klein email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
Depending on the size of the miniature, there are a couple of
good methods. On a 15mm or smaller miniature, don't try too
hard for absolute detail until you've gotten a lot of practice
in. On 25mm and larger, though, eyes can be done rather easily
(with practice, of course).
Below are several methods:
% Before painting the face, paint the eyes white. When
that's dry, dot them black. Then paint a slightly darker
shade than you're going to use for the rest of the face
around the eyes to define them (mix a touch of brown or tan
into the flesh tone for this). Then paint the rest of the
% [This method is courtesy of Andrew Cameron Willshire
(firstname.lastname@example.org.OZ.AU) ]: "Another easy way is to
paint the white of the eye with a brush. Let it dry.
Then, take a tech pen (architectural or engineering) and
draw the iris. With another tech pen, dot in the pupil.
Note that this requires a few different pens since you'll
want a few different colours - say black, blue, brown and
"This is a really easy technique, and since the ink is
water based if you muck up you can just rinse it off (this
is assuming you use enamels for the rest of the figure,
like I do)." [Author's note: even if you use acrylics, if
the white is already dry you can still blot the ink off
with a damp Q-tip or the tip of a damp, fine brush.] "It
also works great on monsters, say orcs. However, they tend
to look better with `reds' instead of `whites' in their
eyes, then having a white iris and black pupil - very nasty
looking! Tech pens may be a little pricey to pick up, but
you can easily find sets with a few in them that are
reasonably cheap. They also work magnificently for such
things as flag details, shield heraldry and so forth."
% Steve Harvey (email@example.com) has some advice
regarding affordable tech pens: "Most tech pens are
obscenely expensive, but there are two brands of non-
refillable tech pens that I am aware of. Sakura makes
an excellent series of tech pens called Pigma - these
come in a variety of colors, in sizes ranging from .005mm
to .8, and cost about $2 each. I like these so much that
even though I have a set of Pentel professional tech pens,
I use these instead. Schwan/Stabilo also makes a series
of pens called OHPen 96 (or at least that's what it says
on the barrel of mine...) which also come in numerous colors
and several sizes. They are not as fine as a true tech pen,
but they will write on ANYTHING - glass, plastic, etc.
without the ink beading. The one thing to watch out for is
that they come with either permanent or water-soluble ink;
the latter are popular as overhead transparency markers,
but for miniature work, the permanent is what you want."
% [This method is given by Allan Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and has been edited]: "I paint eyes on 25mm (and 15mm
officers, standard bearers, etc) with a technique taught to
me by a friend.
1. Fill the eye socket with white. I use an OOO brush, one
stroke horizontally across each socket. Be sloppy, it's OK.
2. Paint the middle of the eye, Black, Dark brown or Dark
blue. Paint a vertical stripe down the center of the eye -
taking up the middle third of the eye socket - don't worry
about going over the top/bottom edges. Again I use an OOO
brush. In both let the brush 'fan out'
3. Eyebrow - paint with hair color of your choice. Paint
the eyebrow on the ridge above the eye socket in a slight
crescent shape, cover the white and black from 1 & 2.
4. Under eye: use tan or slightly darkened skin color (under
the eye is usually darker or shadowed). Cover the white and
black from 1 & 2 with a slightly crescent stroke." [The
author has adapted this method slightly and finds it most
effective thus far. Suggest you try this at least once.]
% Bill Gilliland <email@example.com> says: "For humans,
I paint the entire eye socket black. Then, on either side
of the center where the pupil is, I put a small white dot
to show the whites of the eyes. On character models, I
paint the iris a solid circle (usually blue or green) with
a highlight in an upper corner, then put a smaller dot of
black in the center. This method gives you outlining of
the eye for very little effort.
"For evil creatures (such as orcs) I paint the socket black,
then put a white oval inside, leaving an outline all around.
The white is then overpainted with red. On characters the
corners of the eye are spotted with a translucent yellow to
accentuate the red pupil."
% Derek Kingsley Schubert (firstname.lastname@example.org) explains his
method: "Faces/eyes: Shade/highlight the face completely
first. Paint dark brown or black in an area just slightly
larger than the eye itself. Then paint white for the eye,
and finish with a dot of dark brown or black for the iris.
Colored irises don't look good unless surrounded by a dark
ring to set them off from the white; but this is darn
tricky, so new painters should paint only dark irises on
figures that should have humanlike "white-and-iris" eyes."