Warhammer 40K For Beginners – A Quick Guide

warhammer 40k for beginners
warhammer 40k for beginners

Are you looking for a deep hobby that involves hundreds of hours, perils of assembly, and a great stretch of creativity? If you answered YES, then one hobby that you can try is Warhammer 40K.

The Warhammer 40K franchise has been around for more than a decade. During this time, Games Workshop brought the 40K brand to various mediums like literature, video games, mobile games, board games, and – the most popular – miniature wargaming.

If you want to explore the vicious grimdark universe of Warhammer 40K, our article will help you go through the basics. Most of the parts covered by this article are wargaming and miniature painting for beginners, but we’ll also cover some Warhammer 40K multi-platform games.

Getting Started in Warhammer 40K

Choose A Starting Army

Choosing a starting army

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There’s a lot of variety in the 40K universe. From the starting armies to the variety of battlefield options, you’ll never run out of choices. However, having lots of choices will actually stop you from starting the hobby as soon as possible!

You should start by choosing an army. Determine which army resonates with your core beliefs or style preferences.

These are the 40K armies that you can choose from:

Imperial Guard

The Imperial Guard is the sledgehammer of the Emperor of Mankind. This galaxy-spanning army consists of billions of expendable human soldiers divided among countless regiments, divisions, and fireteams. The Guard closely resembles the appearance of Earth’s real-life armies and combat disciplines.

If you want to collect Guard miniatures, you should buy lots of green paints and dark weathering streaks. Also, prepare for long hours of batch painting! Each Imperial Guard kit contains more than a dozen soldiers and a few terrain pieces. Despite the laborious painting job required by Guard kits, you’ll enjoy finishing the army’s vehicles. The vehicles, especially tanks, look awesome with dark paints and excellent weathering.

Space Marines

The poster boys of Warhammer 40K, Space Marines are bestselling miniatures divided into specific chapters. Each chapter has a unique flavor or style depending on its story. The Ultramarines, for example, look glorious with their blue color scheme and detailed insignia. Next to Ultramarines are the Imperial Fists – stalwart defenders of Terra or the home planet of humanity. Imperial Fists have a dominant yellow color that benefits from streaking effects.

A Space Marine kit contains roughly a dozen miniatures with a fixed number of vehicles like jetbikes or skimmers. The two challenges of painting a Space Marine kit are costs and technique. Even a starter Space Marine kit requires total care in terms of basecoating and shading.

Chaos Space Marines

Chaos is the main thing that made Warhammer 40K darker than almost any other fiction universe. Basically, the Chaos Gods lord over the Immaterium – the alternate extradimension that mirrors reality. Now, Chaos permeates everything and corrupts even those with the strongest wills, just like Space Marines.

Chaos Space Marines or CSM are difficult to paint because of extra details and their overall grotesque style. Their weapons also look exotic, including their vehicles and special terrain pieces.


Despite being a comic relief, the Ork army is a big problem for humanity. The Orks are tough warriors, and they reproduce at breakneck speeds – especially once they’ve invaded an outlying world. Plus, Orks can turn scrap metal into terrifying weapons of war. The Orks’ mighty crusade, the Waaaaaaaagh, is often a deadly sign that a planetary system will fall under their green rule.

Ork miniatures are best for intermediate or expert painters. The minis have numerous extra details like bulging muscles, sharp fangs, crude weaponry, and outlandish banners. Ork vehicles and walkers also have astounding details, particularly the Killa Kan and Deff Dread.


The Eldar is an ancient civilization with marvellous technical and magical capabilities. However, hubris and empire-wide decadence led to the destruction of the empire. In a big way, you can consider the Eldar as ‘space elves.’

Eldar miniatures are challenging to paint because of their armor intricacy. But one advantage of an Eldar kit is the small number of miniatures included. You don’t need to batch-paint Eldar miniatures unless you’re really building a huge army.

Dark Eldar

If the Eldar represents grace and enigma, the Dark Eldar is all about sadism and savagery. This race employs a great deal of raiding, piracy, and extragalactic ambushes. Due to their tormenting nature, Dark Eldars have slender frames and blade-like ships that can cut through the stars.

Many collectors believe that the Dark Eldar is the hardest army to paint. One of the reasons is the sharp and intricate designs of Dark Eldar armor. All Dark Eldar vehicles also have sharp terns and extended covers. So, before getting a Dark Eldar kit, make sure that you’ve practiced painting other minis!


Necrons are cybernetic organisms that took a long slumber in numerous worlds far away from Terra. Over time, the Necrons woke up and waged an eternal war, supported by their massive monoliths. Many players consider Necrons as the Space Undead.

Necron minis look like sentient exoskeletons, so expect a lot of metallic sheen. If you’re a beginner, a Necron kit is a remarkable choice because of the simple color options, blocky armor, and easy-to-reach areas. Necron kits will only get complicated if you intend to add more details like extra colors or advanced weathering.

Sisters of Battle

Representing the divine zeal of the Emperor of Mankind, the Sisters of Battle are almost the all-female counterparts of Space Marines. The Sisters of Battle are not as heavily armed as Marines but their fanaticism can burn the souls of the weak-willed. Plus, the Sisters even have allied repentant factions such as Frateris Militia and Ordo Xenos.

Sisters of Battle minis are meant for advanced painters or collectors. Each miniature has intricate robes, armor pieces, breathing tubes, wings, and even holy weaponry. A Sisters kit is as difficult as a Dark Eldar kit, and it requires multiple color combinations.


Even though Tau’s quest for the Greater Good is futile, this civilization is still a proud dominator of ranged combat. The Tau is divided into castes with specific functions and goals. You can imagine the Tau as a young feudal society that intends to rule lesser races.

Tau minis have varying difficulty levels. Fire caste warriors are relatively easy to paint because of their few color schemes. Now, the difficulty scales up with Tau’s Air caste because of the number of vehicles involved. Tau vehicles are difficult to paint because of the highly detailed parts like rail guns, robotic limb sections, and advanced armor. But once you’re finished with a Tau kit, you’ll see the real visual appeal of the minis!

Wargaming or Collecting – Know The Difference

Wargaming or collecting – know the difference

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Warhammer 40K is a big hobby with two major categories – wargaming and collecting. While you can do both, you should only focus on one aspect at the beginning.

In wargaming, you must collect miniatures and form an army based on a specific point range. Quick battles are usually 2000-point matches, and long battles can go as high as 5000 and even more. There’s a slight pressure in wargaming because you need to keep up with your friends or tournament playgroup.

If you don’t like wargaming but you still want to immerse in the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40K, try collecting and painting miniatures instead. Pure collecting is more therapeutic since it will harness your creative side.

What if you plan to do both activities? In that case, you should prepare. It takes time to finish a boxed miniature set with complete paints and custom styles. Before a match, you also need to allot a few hours to organize everything – from the battlefield to the actual logistics of miniatures.

Also, don’t forget to read the Warhammer 40K Codex thoroughly. Make sure that you’ve understood all the datasheets included in your official army kit. You can even consult your friends or LGS for advice in gameplay and rulings.

Prepare Your Paints & Tools

Prepare your paints & tools

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You can’t start painting miniatures without any tool. Thankfully, it’s easy to order a miniature painting kit online along with dozens of paints. But even though buying the tools is easy, you must prepare your wallet for the paints’ steep costs.

These are some paints and tools that you must purchase:

  • Paint brushes with varying lengths and sizes
  • Paint brush cleaners
  • Easels
  • Paint primers
  • Sealers & miniature stands
  • Airbrush
  • Tool storage
  • Desk lamp
  • Cutting board
  • Cutters & blades
  • Miniature holders

Just remember that you don’t need expensive tools at the beginning. Simple tools will do, and you can purchase expensive ones as your miniature collection grows. Watch out for branded tools because they usually have discounts from time to time.

Best Warhammer 40K Minis For Beginners (Per Faction)

Finding your starting miniature is overwhelming because of the diverse options available. To help you decide, we’ve compiled some of the best 40K minis in every faction.

Games Workshop Cadian Infantry Squad

Painting Difficulty: 2.5/5
Affordability: 4/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 3/5
Unit Strength: 2.5/5

The planet broke before the Guard did. This statement is enough to make an avid 40K collector teary-eyed. In a distant planet called Cadia, Imperial Guard regiments fought tooth and nail to break the siege of Abaddon’s 13th Black Crusade. Rather than fight head-on, Abaddon crashed a Blackstone Fortress against the Guard, effectively splitting the planet in two.

Now, you can witness the bravery of Cadian regiments by painting and setting up the official Games Workshop Cadian infantry squad. If you’re still a beginner, the infantry squad is an excellent choice because of the limited number of paints needed. A Cadian soldier’s protective gear also has small details such as shoulder guard insignia and cloth wrinkles. You probably have to adjust your technique while painting the Cadian minis’ facial expressions.

In the game, Cadian infantry squads are exceptional meat shields. They can’t withstand heavy firepower, but they can still claim important objectives or flank the enemy.

Aesthetically, the Cadian infantry squad is not as beautiful as other minis. To make the minis stand out, you need to combine some weathering effects through proper shading.

  • Easy to paint
  • Only a few paints needed
  • Many components included
  • Most minis of this kit look alike
  • No other inspiring details

Games Workshop Space Marines Tactical Squad (Ultramarines)

Painting Difficulty: 3.5/5
Affordability: 3/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 4.5/5
Unit Strength: 4/5

It’s very likely that your first miniature kit is a squad from a Space Marine chapter. Since there are many chapters to cover, we only picked the most popular: Ultramarines. These minis look awesome once finished, worthy of any display case.

The official Ultramarines tactical squad from Games Workshop is great for beginners and professionals alike. The kit contains 10 miniatures with different poses and styles. Most of the weapons included in this Ultramarines kit are bolters. Other weapons included are flamers, rocket launchers, and plasma guns.

On the table, the Ultramarines are as competitive as ever. If properly positioned, an Ultramarines tactical squad can mow down other squads even in the shooting phase. Combine the tactical squad with Terminators and you’ll have a better chance of winning a match.

Once you’ve purchased a Space Marine kit, you’d encounter the difficulty of painting the helms. A Space Marine’s helm requires a fine brush and a steady hand. If you miss a stroke, you’d mess up the mini and have to start over. After finishing a Marine, you have to repeat the process for the second mini until you’re done.

Don’t forget an important advice in painting – thin your paints! Make sure that your base coat has a milky consistency for a better outcome. Also, be ready to spend a decent amount of money if you want to build an Ultramarine army. Prestige and firepower don’t come cheap!

  • Well-defined miniatures
  • Remarkable battle poses
  • Cool, extra-imposing weapons
  • More challenging to paint than Guard minis
  • Space Marine minis require accurate basecoating

Games Workshop Chaos Space Marines Starter Set

Painting Difficulty: 3.8/5
Affordability: 4/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 4.5/5
Unit Strength: 3/5 (variable)

Every beginner should have at least one Chaos Space Marine miniature squad. The army is filled with grotesque weapons and armor, making the minis a bit challenging to paint. Still, if you can finish a CSM kit, you can effectively move on to other difficult kits in due time.

With 16 minis in one box, the Chaos Space Marine set is a valuable investment. Aside from the terrifying grimdark minis, the box also has a fearsome Venomwalker. Displaying this walker along the CSM minis will definitely make your friends envious!

The Chaos Space Marines starter set is meant for beginner collectors. The included pieces come from different squad types such as obliterator and a tactical chaos marine. If you’re planning to build a CSM army, you can save more time by picking specialized squads one by one. It’s also tricky to measure the overall strength of the kit because the minis have specific squad designations. Still, CSM minis can deliver reasonable damage!

  • A complete set of 16 minis with a Venoncrawler
  • Highly detailed grimdark pieces
  • Cool poses
  • Difficult to paint due to weapon variety
  • A highly uncoordinated kit

Games Workshop Ork Boyz Squad

Painting Difficulty: 4/5
Affordability: 4.5/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 3.8/5
Unit Strength: 3.8/5 (variable)

A squad of Ork Boyz represents the undying Waaaaaagh of the Orks. If you’ve read about the Orks’ ferocity, now is the time to emulate it with an affordable Ork Boyz squad from Games Workshop.

Containing 11 raging Ork minis, the Ork Boyz kit can make any table or display case interesting. Each Ork mini has excellent physical features such as detailed muscles, glaring fangs, and salvaged weaponry. The Orks’ armor pieces are unremarkable, perhaps representing their crude, barbaric nature. You’ll also find multiple weapon pieces like choppas, sluggas, shootas, and stikk bombs.

The Ork Boyz squad is always best for charging and chopping limbs off. A leader equipped with a power claw can destroy two or more minis – not counting the melee attacks done by other Boyz. Still, Orks need to close the gap before they can do considerable damage. It’s always exciting to know if the Orks can survive a full barrage of lasgun or bolter shots!

  • Coordinated kit with multiple weapon choices
  • Detailed physical features and scrap armor
  • Menacing style for display
  • Poor armor variety
  • Unappealing stands

Citadel Eldar Dire Avengers Squad

Painting Difficulty: 3.8/5
Affordability: 3/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 3/5
Unit Strength: 3/5

If you’re building an Eldar army, you should always include a Dire Avengers squad. The Dire Avengers minis are somehow easy to paint because of the defined armor and smooth sections. Plus, the ceremonial helms also increase the minis’ visual appeal.

Despite the simple beauty of the Dire Avengers squad, the squad doesn’t offer any impressive weaponry or other distinguishable components. Compared to the vicious Dark Eldar raiding squads or Orks’ Mekboys, the Dire Avengers squad generates minimal shock factor unless their numbers are high.

The strength of the Dire Avengers squad is situational. While the Avengers are significantly stronger than most infantries, you should watch out for flanking and melee ambushes. The Dire Avengers will also benefit from the support of other Eldar units, especially transports and Brightlance platforms. Don’t forget to use the warlocks – these psykers can wreck the battlefield and increase the survivability of Dire Avengers.

  • Sleek figure allows easy brush strokes
  • Detailed armor is great for paint combinations
  • Ornamental helms and banners
  • Dull weapon aesthetics
  • Lacks other components for ‘shock factor’

Games Workshop Dark Eldar Wyches

Painting Difficulty: 4/5
Affordability: 4/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 3.8/5
Unit Strength: 4/5

Most Dark Eldar squads are difficult to paint, but you can always start easy with the Dark Eldar Wyches. The Wyches squad looks beautiful in a personal display case, highlighting the sadism of the Drukhari.

The Wyches’ armor looks viciously appealing with lots of details like spikes, cloths, scabbards, and shoulder guards. At one glance, anyone will get the idea that Wyches are raiders who love to inflict pain and take slaves.

The cost of the Wyches’ unique style is varying paint difficulty. Some areas, especially the waist sections, contain miniscule details that can drag the painting project too long. If your backlog is huge, finish it first before painting a Dark Eldar Wyches squad.

Excellent ambush – this is the main strength of the Dark Eldar Wyches. Since the Wyches are fast, they can deliver strong damage while having the potential to avoid threats. If you can embark Wyches in Raiders, you’ll achieve a high degree of manoeuvrability. Just watch out for long-ranged shooters!

  • High-detail and unique squad
  • Appealing weapons and armor
  • Affordable
  • Unimpressive stands
  • Some hard-to-paint areas due to armor variety

Games Workshop Necron Warriors

Painting Difficulty: 3/5
Affordability: 4/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 4/5
Unit Strength: 2.8/5

Even though the Necrons look morbid and terrifying, they’re the best pieces for beginners. Necron squads, especially Warriors, are easy to paint because they all look alike. You only need a few metallic colors to finish a Necron Warriors squad.

Another bonus point of the Necron Warriors squad is the badass appearance of its weapons. These gauss weapons are designed to strip any creature of life – one molecular layer after another. The Necron minis reflect the danger of gauss weapons through a strong dark metallic sheen improved by green paint.

The Necron Warriors are situational minis – they’re durable enough to withstand a couple of blows, and they can counterattack effectively. However, these metallic warriors must synergize with Necron vehicles for maximum benefits. If you’re frontlining with Necron Warriors, try to flank your enemy and exploit weak spots.

  • Easy-to-paint minis
  • More options for combining paints
  • Terrifying Space Undead appearance
  • Less durable minis

Sisters of Battle Squad from Games Workshop

Painting Difficulty: 4/5
Affordability: 3/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 4/5
Unit Strength: 4.8/5

The Sisters of Battle squad is a challenging kit for beginners but definitely rewarding. Each Battle Sister has an exquisite armor accentuated by cloths and holy markings. The Sisters kit even has some cherubs ready to give support. This kit costs more than the average squad kits, but the price reflects the Sister’s long-term value.

One challenge that you’d encounter in painting the Sisters of Battle is the prevalence of hard-to-reach areas. You need to find better angles for your brush to reach under the armor drapes. If you can’t reach these areas, the squad might look unfinished.

The Adeptas Sororitas is no joke – this army can mop the battlefield due to a combination of buffs, miracles, and adequate positioning. Even if the Sisters of Battle are not great at long range, they can deliver strong melee damage supported by other units like Flagellants or even Penitent Engines.

  • Neatly armored minis with smooth flowing robes
  • Unique weapons and components
  • Great action poses
  • Some hard-to-reach clothing angles
  • Expensive

Tau Pathfinder Team

Painting Difficulty: 4/5
Affordability: 4/5
Aesthetic Appeal: 4.5/5
Unit Strength: 3/5

Most Tau units look good in the battlefield because of their robotic styles and intricate alien armor. One squad that highlights such a style is the Tau’s classic Pathfinder Team.

With 13 miniatures in one kit, the Pathfinder Team will keep you busy for at least a week. Painting the Pathfinder minis’ armor requires absolute focus and patience – especially if you’re doing the troop visors last. The Pathfinder pulse carbines are even well-detailed, complete with blocky sections and squad markings.

The Pathfinder team is designed for infiltration and stealth. You shouldn’t use this squad in direct confrontation unless you’ve fielded a supporting group of Devilfish carriers, Broadside battlesuits, and even the fast Crisis battlesuits. And remember, Tau is horrible in close combat so you must maximize range as much as possible!

  • Visually appealing minis
  • Supports all popular Tau builds
  • The drones look cool
  • Long painting time required due to hard sections

Warhammer 40K Minis Comparison

All Warhammer 40K minis are unique but some of them have noticeable similarities, especially in terms of mechanics and combat style. By comparing two minis, you can manage your expectations and pick the right army.

Orks vs. Space Marines

Obviously, Orks and Space Marines are visually different. The Orks are green and mean while the Space Marines are awesome with their power armor, arsenal, and combat doctrines. Many players compare these two factions because of long-term rivalry and combat capabilities.

Orks are real war machines in close combat but Space Marines can withstand the charge. Most importantly, Space Marines can deliver a payload of ranged damage and explosives before the Orks can get near. The Orks, however, can counter this barrage with lucky rolls, sturdy physique, and deployment of Battlewagons.

Eldar vs. Dark Eldar

The Dark Eldar is a remnant of the Eldar’s hedonistic past. While the Dark Eldar is different from Eldar in terms of appearance, both factions’ minis are slender and fast. Eldar relies on powerful psykers and anti-grav weaponry while the Dark Eldar dominates the field with trickery and ambushes.

If you’re going to choose between Eldar and Dark Eldar, just consider their battle doctrines and racial philosophies. Do you believe in the power of tradition and culture? Or perhaps you want to channel internal savagery to the battlefield? These questions are important because the Eldar and Dark Eldar will both benefit from a competent player!

Imperial Guard vs. Tau

If you’re going to look closely, you’ll realize that the Imperial Guard and Tau minis have nearly similar heights and army groupings. Paint Guard and Tau minis with the same color scheme and they’d look like one big army!

In combat, the Guard can deliver massive damage through tanks and artilleries while the Tau attacks with pulse cannons and advanced rail guns. Depending on your playing style, the Guard and the Tau will help you build completely adaptable builds.

Warhammer 40K FAQ

Which faction is the easiest to paint?

The easies faction to paint is the Necrons. You only need an inexpensive base material and a combination of metallic colors and shades. Even the Necrons’ energy weapons look great in shades of green or other colors.

Now, which faction is the hardest to paint?

It’s actually difficult to determine the hardest faction to paint because of different factors. The Imperial Guard, for example, has kits with dozens of identical minis. This requires a lot of time through consistent batch-painting.

But in terms of individual detail difficulty, Dark Eldar minis are undefeatable. Every Dark Eldar mini has tons of intricate details because of their intricate armor and weaponry. Dark Eldar vehicles are even harder to paint because of hard-to-reach areas.
What paint brands are must-haves for a beginner?

If you’re a beginner, you can never go wrong with CITADEL paints. CITADEL, from Games Workshop, has many high-quality paints for beginners and professionals. Vallejo is also a nice brand, and it features some of the best weathering effects and basecoats.

Do I need to understand the lore before painting or collecting minis?

While you’re not required to understand the 40K lore, it will help you feel more aligned to a specific army or faction. If you just collect minis because they look cool, you won’t feel the deep satisfaction of the hobby.

Do I need terrain pieces in playing a casual Warhammer 40K game?

By all means, YES – you need terrain pieces like debris, boulders, wreckage, or other stuff that can provide cover. Fighting in open terrain is deadly because your minis are exposed to direct fire and constant charges.

Invest in terrain pieces and pick a spot where you have, at least, one good chunk of cover!

Which Warhammer 40K PC game is the best?

The best Warhammer 40K game in PC is Dawn of War. Since Dawn of War is RTS, you can command large units in real time to crush your enemies. You also have the option to play the best mod to Dawn of War – Ultimate Apocalypse. With this mod, you can access powerful units like Titans and terrifying chaos demons.

What is the best Warhammer 40K novel?

Based on the choices of many users, Titanicus holds a decent torch as the best 40K novel. Titanicus explores the gargantuan engines of destruction – the Titans of Collegia Titanica. These Titans are world-movers and capable of accommodating thousands of Imperial men and women. Through Titanicus, you’ll see how a Titan functions and you’ll even get a taste of internal politics and conflicts.

Other novels that you must consider are Ultramarines Omnibus, Gaunt’s Ghosts Series, and The Inquisitor Series. If you want to explore a massive collection of 40K lore, check out the entire Horus Heresy Series.


Delving in Warhammer 40K is a worthwhile endeavor but you need to prepare ahead of time. Don’t try to paint minis from multiple factions or your backlog and bank account will suffer. As a miniature painter or collector, you must develop the habit of finishing one kit before moving to the next.

Are you ready to paint Warhammer 40K miniatures now? Order a starter kit now and start your next project!

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Ivan is a freelance copywriter with deep interest in gaming, game design, and technology. During his free time, Ivan spends his time playing with his daughter and taking a casual stroll in the park.


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