Imperial Terrain Desert Buildings – Step by Step

A few months ago I purchased some Imperial Terrain for my Star Wars: Legion table. Being my first time dealing with 3D printed scenery, I spent a good number of hours sifting through online tutorials and youtube videos trying to figure out how to make it look great.

Ultimately, I didn’t really find one be-all-end-all tutorial that worked for me and I ended up combing a few different techniques from different sources.

Below, is my step-by-step guide to getting your Imperial Terrain Desert themed buildings ready for the tabletop. It’s certainly not the only approach, and maybe not even the best approach, but its straightforward and yields some pretty great results.

3D Printing vs Casting

Probably the biggest concern for me was the striation lines that result from the 3D printing process. IT prints their models at a high resolution which minimizes the effect a great deal, but as you can see in the photo, it becomes really obvious when the light hits it just right. Fortunately we have a few advantages here. Because these models will sit on the table top, we will rarely have anyone, including ourselves, looking all that closely as we will likely be focused on the game. Also, we’re going to cover them in a textured paint, which will conceal a lot of it.

Close up of 3D printed terrain piece, showing printing striations.

GW cast plastic terrain piece.

Above you can see the 3D printed piece, and a Games Workshop cast piece. Notice the horizontal ridges on the 3D printed model, do not appear on the cast model.

Step One: Preparation

It’s probably a good idea to give your pieces a light wash with some soap and water. I’ll admit, I skipped this on the first couple, before realizing I should do it. In the end, I didn’t notice any difference between those I washed and the ones I didn’t, but maybe I just got lucky. The quality you get in these buildings doesn’t come without a bit of cost, so better safe than sorry. Take a few extra minutes and wash your models to remove any residue that may remain from the printing process.

You will also want to take a hobby knife and trim off any extra strings or plastic fuzz around the edges. For the most part I found my pieces to be pretty clear of this, but there where some tricky spots where there was some flashing. It’s easier to clean this off now than after you’ve textured and primed, but don’t worry if you miss something. I honestly didn’t see some things until after I primed, and you can cut it off pretty easily if you’re careful.

Step Two: Masking

I’m not going to lie, this part is a bit tedious and kind of sucks. It’s probably the most important step however and if you skip it, you’ll likely be pulling your hair out, washing off all the textured paint and starting over. I tell you this from my own experience, DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. On even the seemingly easiest of pieces, like the roof of the square building, masking off the detail areas will make the whole project a thousand times easier.

So, what do I mean by masking? Simply take some masking tape and cover all of the building details that you want to remain clear of texture. All of the pipes, control panels, cargo crates and window shutters.

What I found to be really effective was to cover these features with the tape and then then use a hobby knife to trim the tape closer to the edge of the feature. The closer you can get to the edge of the feature, the less touch up you’ll need to do later, but don’t worry if you can’t get that window frame exactly right. It’s better to cover too much, than to ruin a detail by covering it with the texture paint.

A lot of the areas you’ll want to cover on these models have a pretty straight edge, so tear off a strip of tape and just align the edge of the tape with one edge of the feature, then trim the rest.

Step Three: Texturing

This is where things get messy. There are a variety of textured paints available on the market, but the only one I have any experience using is Vallejo Earth Texture. I use this for all of my miniature bases and I think it makes for a good ground cover, so I opted to use that for my desert models since I knew what to expect.

Using this paint is like painting with mud, so when I’m slapping some down on a base, I just use a beat up old brush and apply with more of a dabbing motion than a paint stroke. This works fine when you’re covering something the size of a quarter, but for this project, I just decided it would be best to apply it with my fingers. You’re welcome to try brushing it on, but this stuff sticks to the paint brush in globs, and within a few minutes you’ll have it everywhere and the control you thought you’d have with the brush is pretty much out the window.

It’s good idea to do this step where you have access to water and can keep curious cats (Sorry Agatha!) away from what you’re doing. I set up shop in my bathroom, which turned out to be the right call. As I mentioned above, I thought I’d save time by not masking the square building roof and within minutes I had textured paint all over the large conduit and ultimately opted to just wash the whole thing off and mask it before starting over.

You want to cover the model entirely, but not put down a layer that is too heavy or thick. Although you are covering the whole surface, you don’t need to put it on so thick as to cover all the printing grooves. When finished, the textured paint is going to operate a bit like camouflage. It’s not going to hide all the lines, but it’s going to break up the patterns enough so they become less noticeable.

You also don’t want it to be too uniform. It’s pretty easy to just smear it around until you’ve covered everything right up to the edges of your masking tape. I found using a bit of a circular motion when applying helped to make it look like a more natural weathered surface.

Once you are satisfied with your texture coverage, set the models aside for about 45 minutes to an hour before moving on to the next step.

Step Four: Unmasking and Touch-ups

You will want to make sure your texture is dry to the touch, but it’s okay if it’s still a little flexible before you begin pulling off the tape. I find it sets up pretty well after an hour, but you can start checking after about 45 minutes. Room temperature and humidity will affect the drying time. You really want it to be fairly set so that when you pull the tape off you are not just smearing it onto the parts you spent all that time masking. If in doubt, wait longer.

Once you start removing the tape, you’ll find there are few things as satisfying as seeing that nice clean edge around that terrain feature.

Depending on how well you masked off the detail areas, you may see some gaps, where you will want to go back in and do some touch-ups. For this, I did use a fairly small brush and dabbed it on carefully into the gaps. Start dabbing in the already textured area and work your way toward the detail area a little at a time until you get close enough to close the gap. Keeping a small un-textured edge around the features is okay, you just want to avoid any large noticeable gaps.

Once you’re satisfied with the results, you need to let them dry fully before priming. I suggest giving them a full 24 hours.

Step Five: Priming and Base Coating

For my primer, I used a spray can of Games Workshop’s Mournfang Brown. I think this has a pretty rich, reddish brown tone that makes a great undertone for the more sandy colors I’m aiming for on the finished pieces. You’ll want to get a good full coverage on this first undercoat, making sure to get all of the insides and underneath areas as well.

Once that dries, you’re ready to give it a base coat.  I decided that I wanted to leave my building interiors brown, so I chose to put the buildings together before this step.

Base coating is a technique I see used a lot on terrain and I think it’s really effective. Using a spray can of GW’s Zandri Dust, you want to give each model a light pass over. The idea here is to really just give it a good dusting. Whereas with the Mournfang brown, we were trying for full coverage, here we are looking to achieve a 70-80% coverage, which allows a good bit of the brown to show through. To achieve this, hold the can a bit further away then you normally would and let the paint kind of fall onto the model rather than aiming it directly and giving it a full blast. Short bursts are all you need.

For the best effect, you’ll want to concentrate more on the top of the model and lessen it as you work your way down. This will help improve the weathering and gives it a bit of a zenithal highlight as well.

You will need to let this dry before moving on to the final painting stages.

After Priming with the Mournfang Brown

After priming and base coating.

Comparison showing only primer on the right and a base coated model on the left.

Step Six: Drybrushing

If you are not familiar with drybrushing, there are a lot of great videos out there showing the technique.

For this step, I applied two rounds or drybrushing. The first was an all over drybrush using GW’s Karak Stone. This is a lighter, sandy, color which looks great as a highlight over the Mournfang Brown and Zandri Dust colors we applied in the previous stage. Again, you really want to just get a good 70-80% coverage here. Keep it light and build it up with several passes until you’re satisfied. You should still be able to see the Zandri Dust and in some spots a bit of the Mournfang Brown, don’t overwork it.

For the last round of drybrushing, you want to go even lighter and use GW’s Screaming Skull. This is an off-white that will finish off your weathered stone effect. With this color, you really only want to hit the edges and the tops of the buildings. Start out at the apex of the domes and work your way down about a third of the way. Give each of the horizontal surfaces a pass or two as well, but use sparingly. You want the transition to appear natural and a little of this goes a long way.

With drybrushing done, it’s just a matter of finishing up the details.

Step Seven: Finishing Touches

In my opinion, terrain looks the best when you use a limited color palette. So while you could go in and paint every button, bolt and rivet, I feel that makes it look a bit too much like a toy. If you look at photos of ruined buildings you’ll notice that the dust and weather have really desaturated most of the colors so that everything kind of looks the same. With that in mind, I limited myself to just GW’s Leadbelcher and Hashut Copper.

Using those two colors, I painted all of the detail areas around the buildings. That leaves everything looking a bit too shiny and new however, so you need to muddy them up with a good wash of Agrax Earthshade. I used the wash pretty liberally and applied a few coats to really bring down the shine. I also applied a bit of this around the edges of a lot of the details to create some stains on the building walls. For the most part I used this undiluted, but for the stains, I added a bit of water to thin it out and keep it from going too dark.

I also applied some of the wash around the base of the buildings. Not everywhere, just a little bit here and there to add a bit of variation.

Lastly, I put some of the watered down wash into any of the wall spots where it was modeled to look like the surface layers had cracked or peeled away.

Doors Detail

Initially, I painted the doors with the copper and then applied the wash, but I didn’t like how they looked. To make them darker and more natural, I painted all the doors black, then gave them a drybrushing with the copper, and then reapplied the wash. I’m much happier with this result.

Step Eight: Protective Coating

Once your finished, it’s a good idea to spray your models with a matte clear coat. This will help preserve your hard work and keep your terrain looking great for all the battles ahead.


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