Figurines are available in a wide variety of materials such as ceramic, clay, vinyl, metal, glass, wood and resin. The base medium of the figurine to be painted needs to be taken into consideration when deciding on what would be the best paint to use. Acrylic paints can be used on all the aforementioned materials and are the most popular as they are easy to control, affordable, widely available, and dry quickly. There is a wide array of types of acrylic paints to choose from so make sure to read the directions to be certain they will suit your intended use. Look for brands such as Liquitex, Golden, Pebeo and Delta. Proper treatment of the surface will also determine just how successfully the paint you choose will perform and this will be outlined here.
For ceramic figurines use fine sanding paper to remove any ridges or lumps. Wash ceramics with water and sponge. After allowing it to dry, you then spray on one coat of matte spray varnish for a sealed consistent surface. If the ceramic base color is not what you desire, then you should apply two base-coats in order to set a firm color foundation of your choice.
For molded resin, hard plastic and vinyl figurines use dish soap with warm water first. The soap is needed to make sure to wash away the mold-releasing agent. Vinyl molded figurines do not require sanding; they are simply wash and go, no extra steps are necessary.
Clay is also a simple process. After you bake it, apply your base coat. No washing, no sanding. If the surface is too smooth for your liking feel free to sand it. Clay reacts well to acrylics.
If the figurine you are painting is metal be sure to sand the surface beforehand. Follow that with using an even coat of primer spray paint, letting it dry before you apply the next coat of paint. An exception would be if your metal material was aluminum, then you would only need to wash the figurine and let it dry thoroughly before applying painting.
When painting glass it is best to use paints specifically made for it. Some have to be heat-treated. If you wish to allow light to shine through the painted figurine then make sure you select transparent paints.
On wooden figurines you can use a regular wood stain or acrylic paint. If you choose to use paint, prime your wood well before applying color as wood is naturally porous and will absorb the paint if not primed. Ensure the surface is clean, then lightly sand and apply several coats of gesso or primer prior to actual decorative painting.
All figurine painting projects should be finished with 2 to 3 coats of spray clear-coat varnish, being sure to allow drying between applications. Oil and enamel model paints were discussed in writing this article and additional discussions with artists have shown me that acrylic paint is by far the best to use for figurines.