How to Base Everything: Why Do We Base?

Basing is a critical part of the painting process. Armies on the battlefields of the 41st Millennium or the Mortal Realms will find themselves fighting across a wide variety of terrain, from lush jungles to barren rockscapes, industrial wastelands to agrarian fields. Your basing helps tell the story of your army – where are they fighting and why? In the spin-off How to Base Everything series, we look at different methods for basing your miniatures, so that you can locate them in time and space. In this week’s very special How to Base Everything, Tyler “Coda” Moore is talking about the philosophy behind basing your models, and why you should do it.

Imperial Fists Primaris Army
Imperial Fists Primaris Army on fantastic bases. Credit: Jack Hunter


Dear reader, I, Coda, have been tricked into writing this article.

It all started when I decided to go ‘dangerously’ off topic, something I have never, ever done before in an article.

To make a long story short, what you need to know is that I decided in my “How to Paint Desert Bases” contribution to this site to wax poetically about why you would base your models. Some would say that I did this to show “THE CORRODE” who is boss (note: It is me. I am the boss).  However the rest of the editing team anticipated my latest master plan to “stick it to the man” and said what I wrote was interesting and that it needed an entire article on its own.

So while this Machiavellian plot to make me write even more is obviously unacceptable and wrong, let’s talk about why putting effort into your bases is a good idea.


Why Are We All About That Base

Swords of Davion Space Marine Infiltrator Squad Vortimer
The world isn’t flat and your bases shouldn’t be as well. Swords of Davion Space Marine Infiltrator Squad Vortimer by Tyler “Coda” Moore.

Why do bases matter? There are a few broad reasons that we will touch on in this article:

A: Finishing touches matter
B: Tying The Army Together, Storytelling and Complementing Your Scheme
C: Framing the model

Finally I’ll go down a bit of a mental map of how to figure out your basing requirements for an army, as well as a few examples from myself and other Goonhammer(ers).


Finishing Touches Matter (And Yield Sneaky Results/Gains)

If you look at the common mistakes new hobbyists make on their first models, it’s very common (and somewhat correct, if they ask for it) to give them various bits of constructive feedback. Advice such as “use two thin coats” and “thin your paints instead of throwing half a pot of paint at the model,” go a long way toward helping newbies get better results.

However I have noticed that many new-to-the-hobby types don’t paint the bases of their models or simply slap some brown/green/sandy-ish colour down on the bare plastic and call it a day. This is a big miss, and I’d urge new hobbyists to not fall into that trap. Small finishing touches like a textured base just make the model pop so much more.

Literally 20 years of progress in this shot. Note the improvement in the base, namely how the colour works with the scheme and the rim forms a frame. Also the texturing is interesting enough but not too overly involved to distract from the model. Credit: Tyler “Coda” Moore

Couple this with the fact that (at least in my mind) a totally painted but non-based model looks about 75% done.

Let’s think about that some more: If the actual effort you’ll put into a model is usually around a solid 95% model 5% base, you’ll find that putting a extremely mild amount of effort into your bases will result in a dramatic improvement in results and do more to improve the appearance of your model overall than say, an 11-billion stage army-wide highlight the night before a tourney.

In other words, 5% of your time for 25% of the result? That’s efficiency gold. 

The kicker to all this is that great bases are relatively easy to pull off — with the right method, basing can be a low effort and easy-as-heck way to improve the look of your army rapidly. For example, check out the before and after on the Dark Eldar by Garrett “John Condit” Severson below:

Dark Eldar Warriors Credit: Garrett “John Condit” Severson
See how god damn perfectly the grey works with the purple armour? That is goddamn genius. You want that for your army. Credit: Garrett “John Condit” Severson

These bases are simple but produce a terrific increase in the overall look of the model, giving the purple something to play with.

Now we know the raw benefits of basing, lets dive deeper.

Imperial Fists Army
Imperial Fists Army again, this time with allies. Jack has tied together 3 distinct forces with common basing and smart colour schemes. Credit: Jack Hunter

Tying The Army Together, Storytelling and Complementing Your Scheme

Picture this. You’re a Dark Angel player (and let me extend my goondolences for that, my fellow 1st legion friend.). You have Ravenwing, Deathwing, and “normal” Dark Angels marines from other companies. This results in an army with three very distinct schemes of bone, black and green. How do you pull this all together into something that’s aesthetically cohesive?

With a common basing theme, that’s how. You do a common base theme thought the entire damned army, providing the viewer with a common grounding, specifically where of where your army is.

Another way you can hammer home that “this is a cohesive force, rather than 3 distinct things” is sneaking in some army wide motifs on your bases that complement your rad colour scheme(s).

Davion Graffiti
Davion Graffiti  coupled with the ruins hopefully sell the viewer on how desperate the Swords of Davion are to claim their lost capital world.

A motif could be showing some of your lore. I did this on my Swords of Davion with crumbling buildings and the “Davion Resists” chalk marks on some of my more fancy bases. You can take this a step forward on larger bases and do a bit of visual storytelling. For example, the base of my very unfinished Relic Contemptor:

This base isn’t done, note the rim. Once it’s painted it will make the model ‘feel’ complete. More on that in a bit.

The dread has two twin linked lascannons. So I have a bit of Davonic Badlands and a ruined portion of a building, I also have a very dead chaos marine killed by what appears of be a lascannon boring it’s way though cover and into it’s chest. The dread will be stepping through this scene, guns level and torso twisting. I’m hoping this gives the impression of a running battle, with the dread keeping up with the infantry advance while laying down coverfire.

You can almost hear the FREEEEMMMM of the lascannon shot. Also note the graffiti popping up again.

Also from a storytelling perspective, you can really show where your army is fighting via your bases. It could be a Zone Mortalis force, with metal decking under your armies’ feet. Maybe it’s the sandy dunes of Tallarn crushed under the tread of your armoured column, the humid jungles of Catachan or a million others. The possibilities are endless.

Just a note here though. Try to keep the focus on the model. If you want good examples, the new Sister Hospitaller and Space Marine Apothecary have some nice base details that sell you on what the model is meant to be doing without going over the top. On the other end of the spectrum, unless you have a primarch or a full on diorama, try to keep the dead models on the base to a minimum.

Finally we have the fact it can really set off your scheme. Reach into the colour wheel and inspire yourself. Actually this really needs more talky talk. Using my powers of “being really annoying” and “being really cool and good” I’ve convinced noted good painter Chur to talk about how to use the COLOUR WHEEL to empower your model’s bases:


Complementing Your Model’s Colour Scheme With the Base

Without getting too deep into color theory and the wheel, the key thing to note is that you can use the base to set off or complement your model’s color scheme, causing it to pop. You can do this by using duller colors when you have bright models, or lighting effects on your base (such as fire or lava) when you have darker or duller models. You can also use complementary colors to create striking visual effects, using greens against reds, oranges against blues, and purples against yellows. Doing this can really cause the bases and model to pop, and you don’t necessarily have to do it all with paint — green patches of static grass next to red armor work just fine as well. Here’s a great example from Chris “Whiteshark12” Cowie that uses orange/red lava to contrast with the green armor of his Salamanders Lieutenant, causing the whole thing to stand out visually.

Credit: Chris ‘whiteshark12’ Cowie

Here’s another great example, where MasterSlowPoke has chosen to give his predominantly blue Rainbow Warriors a series of reddish orange, Mars-inspired bases that contrast with the blue and cause the whole thing to stand out. This works particularly well because his army is very colorful, and so thematically it works.

Credit: MasterSlowPoke

Another great example from Kamichi, this time using teal and a yellow-gold sand color.

Seraptek Construct
Seraptek Construct. Credit: Kamichi

And then a green-and-red contrast from BuffaloChicken used on the base of his “Narrative Forge” Nemesis Dreadknight.

Credit: BuffaloChicken


Framing The Model

Imperial Fists Captain Tor Garadon
Imperial Fists Captain Tor Garadon. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Independent Characters made this a bit of a meme but they are dead on correct. A base frames your model. The base rim is a key part of this element so it makes sense that we need to pick out that colour wisely.

And by pick I mean you best be going with Vallejo Model Colour Black Grey as it is the one true correct base rim colour and I’ll fite anyone that disagrees with this. Seriously It’s the only way, I didn’t decide this, it’s like the rules of nature or something.

I kid. But seriously, sit down and think about it. Do a test model or 3. Crack open Photoshop and play around. Then obviously go with my main man, Vallejo Model Colour Black Grey (who is so, like, totally dreamy) because you have also seen the light. Good talk.

Editor’s Note: Coda is extremely wrong about this, and the only correct color is Abaddon Black, or another dark, matte black.


How The Heck Do I Base This Army

See how Chur plays the red armour off the grey of the bases on these World Eater Raptors? That’s clever. This is something you can aim for when thinking about how to base your dudes. Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

This is my rough rubric for figuring out basing. Use it to empower your models with cool and good bases. Also we will have two examples of it in action below.

  1. Where is the army fighting? This can figure out your answer for you. If you are doing a hive hades armageddon force then a city base is obviously a goer. Likewise for a zone mortalis force would go hard on space ship metal decking.
  2. Who are they fighting/with against? Are you trying to tie the army into another force for allying in or narrative reasons? My Night Lords/Pure army were made to fight my Swords of Davion, so therefore I copied the bases I used there. Likewise my Imperial Knight is made to ally into my Swords army and therefore would look better with the same style of basing.
  3. What colours should I use? Also, what colours do I want to use? If the Where/Who didn’t give you a concrete (heyo!) answer, dive deep and hard into your colour theory. What colours will make your scheme pop? Photoshop/GIMP can be used to do colour swatch tests and the Adobe Colour Wheel site is pure gold dust.
  4. Budget/Resources? Now you have a good mental picture of what you want to do, think about how much time do you have to get the force ready? How much money can you invest in your basing? Are there consumer off the shelf bases (example: Games Workshop Zone Mortalis bases) that are in spec? Answering these will determine your available scope.
  5. What themes do I want to show? Lastly look for little opportunity to bring out the narrative in your basing. If you need idea look around at GW dioramas or character bases for sneaky ideas.

Example: Booley’s Imperial Fist Leviathan Dreadnought

Imperial Fists Leviathan Dreadnought
Imperial Fists Leviathan Dreadnought. Credit: Jack Hunter

  1. Where is the army fighting: Step one for my Imperial Fists was to figure out where they’re fighting. This determines a lot more than just my basing – it influences what units I’m going to take, what kind of accents I’ll add to models, and what allies I might paint up. My Fists originally started as a 30k army, so I wanted to base the entire army around the Siege of Terra.
  2. Who are they fighting/with against? Knowing where my army is fighting influences who they’re fighting with and against – the Siege gives me easy opponents from a variety of chaos legions, as well as allies in the form of Blood Angels, various mortal humans (Solar Auxilia and Militias in 30k, Imperial Guard in 40k), Custodes, and Knight households. I can use all of those both as base decorations and to fill out my armies.
  3. What colours should I use? My army is fighting an urban hellwar, so the predominant color on their bases is going to be a dark grey. This works out well, as the neutral dark tones contrast nicely with the bright yellows of the armor. As I’m fighting in palaces as well as on streets, I’m able to bring some other elements into the bases, adding touches of marble, gold text, and the green walls of the buildings in my scenery kit to the bases.
  4. Budget/Resources? I’m more constrained by time than I am by money, so I immediately gravitated towards picking up resin bases. I bought them from a bunch of different producers for variety, and still need to make a handful myself for weird sizes, but the resin bases give me a great starting point and continuity across my entire army.
  5. What themes do I want to show? Beyond just showing fighting in a generic urban environment I want my army to speak a little bit about their enemies, so I’ve added a handful of detail bits on larger bases to match some of the opponents I could expect to find – one of the biggest pieces (and my favorite) is my leviathan standing on a destroyed Sons of Horus sicaran tank – the pale green weathers great and contrasts nicely with the yellow.


Example: Coda’s Tiberius Rex. Chapter Master Of The Swords of Davion.

Space Marine Swords of Davion Chapter Master Tiberius Rex
Tiberius Rex, Chapter Master of the Swords of Davion, Painted by Tyler “Coda” Moore

Where is the army fighting? The blasted badlands of Davion Primus. I wanted a neutral basing scheme that would work on most tables, so I went with a nice brown, with characters getting to stand on the old bit of ruin.

Who are they fighting/with against? I trying to tie this into another force for allying in or narrative reasons?: Swords are my primary army, so it’s more likely stuff will be tied into them. However I have sprinkled the old chaos head/body on their bases. I used The Pure, a chaos marine force that I’m literally going to paint up next weekend for this.

What colours should I use. What colours do I want to use? I gotta admit, I didn’t use colour theory on this one, it has been a happy accident that it worked. I did play around in my head about what basing scheme would look good however. I figured that a grey city base would look dull with my other colour choices, so instead I picked out a nice warm brown would look ace with the green/white armour.

Budget/Resources? I use two kinds of texture paint backed up with wall filler for body over a standard citadel base. Not the cheapest but also a far cry from buying resin or plastic themed bases online. They do take a little bit of time but I find drybrushing relaxing as heck. Character models like Tiberius and centerpieces like my dreadnaught and knight get a some damaged sector imperialis terrain leftovers to stand and look important on.

What themes do I want to show? This is a big one, that has developed with the army. For a bit of background, Davion Primus is the sector capital, which fell during the great rift and the Swords have a lot of Arthurian mythology in them. I show this by making sure of the structures on the base are  obviously ruins and where they have swords they are painted white to reference the weapon Tiberius bears, The White Sword Of Davion, which acts as a excuilaber stand in. I also tie in that there is an active anti-chaos resistance by pro Imperial Davionic Republic forces with the little bits of “Davion Resists” graffiti with the little white chalk mark swords.

Goonhammer Base Articles:

Metal Spaceship Decking
Aeronautica radar bases
Slime Pools


Good luck and godspeed. If you paint up some bases using ideas from this article ort the other HTBE articles I totally want to see them. Please contact me with pictures as we would love to see them!

If you have other questions/ideas, why not drop me a line! You can leave a message in the comments below, or shoot us an email at Or, you can find me around the internets and the rest of my goonhammer articles here: