Warhammer 40,000 is an expansive tabletop miniature game with multiple ways to approach it, and publisher Games Workshop does a remarkable job of providing you with the tools to help express yourself best. Whether it's crafting a gnarly competitive list to sweep the tables, getting inspiration by digging deep into the extensive Black Library literature, or converting models with a flavorful theme, there are countless ways to represent yourself in Warhammer 40K.
In many cases, painting models is often the easiest way to show personality. However, it's also one aspect that is the most time-consuming. Not everyone wants to invest hours intricately painting an army, but rather shortcut the process to play games instead. With that in mind, I've lined up the easiest Warhammer 40,000 armies to paint right here.
And don't worry, Games Workshop respects this mindset; there's a reasonable compromise for tabletop players called 'Battle Ready'. This is the bare minimum process needed for an army to qualify as legal for tournament play, where each model has all their main areas colored and a basic finish applied to their bases. There's a handful of armies that are incredibly easy to paint and assemble to this point, so these are included in the list below.
Despite their gruesome demeanor, Tyranids are a low-maintenance army to paint and assemble if you're new to Warhammer 40,000. In most cases, painting Tyranids consist of two to three colors across an army - a primary color (the armor plating), a skin color, and a different color for the claws. As Tyranids are organic space-born species, many of the miniatures come with plenty of texture and this is where using Games Workshop or general washes will help make the models shine. The simple process of base coating a Tyranid and covering the model in a wash will give you a great-looking army. To go further, you can drybrush with a highlight color around the edges to make the armor panels stand out if you want to add a little detail for good measure. Fortunately, you're not bound by a particular color scheme with Tyranids, where you can create your own and a flavorful backstory if needed.
Tyranids are a classic 'swarm' army, which means they overwhelm their opponents through sheer weight of numbers. And even though they're excellent melee fighters (as you'd expect with all those claws), they boast surprisingly good ranged attacks too. Just be mindful of the 'Synapse' mechanic. This buffs your units while in range of bigger Tyranid models, so your rank and file won't be nearly as useful without it.
However, a simple painting process isn't without issues. Because Tyranids are a swarm army, they utilize dozens of similar-looking models for a decently-pointed army. On average, you are looking at roughly 60 models for about 1,000 points and around 130 for a 2000-point army. This means building a Tyranid army will feel somewhat repetitive as you'll be painting the same miniatures. Fortunately, techniques such as batch painting exist, where you can paint a cluster or group of models at the same time tol help offset some of the tediousness.
If you take comfort in repetition and your models look identical without much effort, though, Tyranids are a fantastic starting army that can easily overwhelm those who oppose you.
Unsurprisingly, Games Workshop's most front-facing faction is also easy to paint and assemble. Often called the Adeptus Astartes, Space Marines are genetically modified super soldiers, and their long tenure in Warhammer 40,000 makes them one of the most accessible armies around.
For a beginner Space Marine chapter, my suggestion would be the Iron Hands. Not only is the faction full of easy-to-paint metallic colors, but the army offers a low-but-powerful unit count compared to other Space Marine options. Alternatively, Raven Guard is another solid yet simple chapter to paint, as you only need a base coat of Chaos Black (or any black from your paint manufacturer of choice) with some metal details for the weaponry. Lastly, Ultramarines are a fantastic option since they are the face of the Warhammer 40,000 brand, where Games Workshop provides plenty of resources with painting guides, starter kits, and a robust Codex allowing for an approachable way to experience tabletop games.
Because they're the face of Warhammer 40K, you probably won't be surprised to hear that Space Marines are solid all-rounders. Supported by countless unit types and able to fit in with almost any strategy you can dream up, they're reliable to a fault. These defenders of humanity are a common sight on tables across the land, though, and many players have a strategy to neutralize them as a result.
However, not all Space Marine chapters are easy to paint. As a beginner, keeping away from White Scars and Imperial Fists chapters is recommended, as painting anything with a light color scheme takes longer to finish. Using layer and contrast paints with these factions often takes a few layers to get the desired effect, something you can ignore by painting your Space Marines in Ultramarines, Iron Hands, or Raven Guard colors instead. If you want to shortcut things further, assembling your Space Marines with helmets will make the process much easier. First, skin can be a challenging element to paint on your models as a beginner, and secondly, this curbs any additional costs as you aren't buying flesh-colored paints but using the same colors for the rest of your models instead. (Plus, we all know deep-down that beaky helmets are the way to go.)
A once-dormant race, the Necrons are a mechanical force who are not only a stubbornly resilient option on the tabletop but also one that is remarkably easy to paint. To paint a Necron, all you need is a basic undercoat of Leadbelcher / a dark silver of your choice, a black wash like Nuln Oil for a grungy metal look, followed by a dry brush of Necro Compound or a lighter silver - and you're done! If you want to add extra detail, you can edge highlight with Stormhost Silver (or any light silver paint) to contrast your Necron miniatures subtly. However, that isn't essential if you want a quickfire way to paint your Warhammer 40,000 army.
Necrons are a superb starting army as they are one of the few alien (or Xenos) armies with infantry that match the level of the Space Marines, who themselves remain a widely-popular faction. Combined with their ability to use reanimation protocols to reverse even critical damage and return to the fight, Necrons are a frighteningly stubborn army while maintaining the beginner-friendly approach when painting and assembling.
Just be warned: even with the simple painting scheme, there can be some fiddliness in building infantry models that use Gauss rods (which are the long transparent green rod you often see attached to Necron weapons). In addition, those wanting to expand your Necron army with vehicles such as Ghost Ark and the Necron Catacomb Command Barge should be wary before assembling them as these will be tricky to build and paint.
Fortunately, you don't need to paint or add any effects to those Gauss rods as they already come in the chosen color, further shortcutting the painting process. What's more, Necrons are one of the few Warhammer 40,000 factions that Games Workshop recommends painting before assembly. Keep that process in mind and you'll be fine.
If the Space Marines are the front-facing faction of Warhammer 40,000, then the Adeptus Custodes are their bigger, shinier brothers. Despite the intricate detailing these elite bodyguards of the Emperor have, they're easy to paint as these miniatures are usually adorned in metallic colors such as gold or silver.
Often, the Adeptus Custodes are a misunderstood faction given their small presence on the battlefield, but they make up for it in staying power, always looking to be a threat whether in shooting or in close combat. New to Warhammer 40,000 and looking for an easy army to collect, paint, and travel with? The Adeptus Custodes are a great choice.
To paint Adeptus Custodes models at a Battle Ready standard, beginning with a Grey Seer / mid-gray primer is ideal as this will allow the Retribution Armour / gold base paint to shine through, and after applying the metallic base, use Mephiston Red / a mid-red to paint the plumes and skirt, then use Reikland Fleshshade or a ruddy wash to offer contrast to the shining Custodes power armor. Finally, a dash of Sycorax Bronze / a light bronze to drybrush the metals will finish it all off nicely.
Since the Adeptus Custodes are an elite and small army, there are limited model options because they are so compact and effective in how they play out in tabletop games. For many beginner Warhammer 40,000 players, this may seem ideal as you can play more games without needing to expand your army. However, you may need to look for a second option if you want to take the next step in your tabletop journey.
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