I’ve been a miniature painter for six years and a commission painter for the last two. While I don’t have as much experience as others, I thought I would share my opinions on various paint brands that I’ve worked with.
Some caveats to start: I’m an American who lives in the Upper South. This limits my brand availability somewhat (even with the internet) and there are certain brands I’ve not had the pleasure of working with. This includes some more notable ones like Warcolours from the UK, Andrea from Spain, and even some American brands like Reaper. I started collecting paints from what was available at my local Hobby Lobby (stocking mainly Vallejo Model Color) and my FLGS (stocking Citadel from GW and some Army Painter – mainly peripherals for the latter).
My initial painting foray was with my first tabletop wargame, By Fire and Sword, a 15mm Pike-and-Shot era wargame set in Eastern Europe. I soon expanded to Flames of War (to appease my wife, who enjoys replaying the eastern front fighting between Soviets and Germans), and then made the jump to God’s Own Scale (28mm) to pursue my passion for American Revolutionary War gaming. As a commission painter, I’ve painted miniatures for Bolt Action, Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy, Age of Sigmar, Conflikt 47, D.U.S.T., Flames of War, and Black Powder.
I primarily use acrylic paints. While I appreciate the beauty of well painted miniatures painted with oil paints, I have not mustered the gumption to attempt using oils in miniature painting yet.
So with that out of the way –
Craft Acrylic Paints:
These are typically going to be found at your local hobby store or big box store. Some of the more notable brands include Apple Barrel or Americana. You can paint miniatures with these paints, however, the pigments in the paint are generally going to be larger than paints that are specifically for miniature painting or modelling. Conversely they also may not be as richly pigmented as artist acrylics and certain miniature brands. They are however usually cheaper and a budget way to get started painting. These paints tend to have a satin finish and can range to glossy.
+ Usually a wide variety of colors available
– Need to be heavily thinned for miniature use
– Don’t really thin that well and break down too much for uses such as glazes or washes.
– Usually comes in pots, which are not optimal in my opinion.
– Quality control issues
If you can afford better paint, then I can’t really recommend these.
Artists Acrylics: Also available from local hobby and arts stores, these are typically going to be brands like Liquitex and Winsor & Newton. These are going to be of a higher quality than Craft Store paints with finer pigments and thicker mediums. Typically cheaper than miniature paints, these are going to require thinning for applications on miniatures. Once you are familiar with how much you need to thin them, they typically work fine. These typically come in tubes that will provide an adequate supply for hobby use. Tend to be more satin in finish than purpose made miniature paints. Your mileage may vary based on brand, however.
Games Workshop’s brand. These are fairly well known and available easily online, and locally in GW and FLG stores. GW is a controversial company, but the paint is usually of a good quality in and of itself. They have a diverse range of paints that support the games that they field (mainly Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar). Most Citadel paints have a slight satin finish. They also have divided their range into several types based on application and method intended for the paint – layer, drybrush, shades, glazes, textures, and the fairly recent Contrast line. Their shades are in particular a superb tool and one I find indispensable. This is especially true if you don’t make your own washes. I believe Nuln Oil and Agrax Earthshade to be useful for every miniature painter’s toolset. Contrasts paints (basically staining paints) are also useful as a time saving step. They work well as a base and shade combined to be built up with further highlights, rather than just “glop it on once then you are done” as advertised. Non-Contrast Citadel paints are fairly thin out of the pot, but require additional thinning with a little water or a wet palette for optimal use with miniatures. With mediums or even water, they can easily be turned into glazes and washes for more advanced painting techniques.
However, there are drawbacks to Citadel. The first is the use of a paint pot that has issues sealing when opened, leading to dried out paints, gummed up pot lids, and catastrophic spills. You can transfer these paints to dropper bottles, however, that is an additional hassle and expense. That brings me to my second issue. Citadel paints are fairly expensive. Excepting Contrasts, most Citadel paints come in 12ml pots (Contrast paints are in 18ml pots). At the time of writing this a 12ml pot will set you back $4.55 MSRP (ca. 38 cents per ml) and a 18ml pot of Contrast will cost you $7.80 (ca. 43 cents per ml). Additionally, Citadel has a habit of revamping color lines or changing color names once a generation or so. This can make keeping a consistent favorite color stocked a problem.
+Diverse range catering to a variety of techniques and painting styles
+Quality paint, usually well mixed
+Some of the best pre-made shades and washes of any miniature paint manufacturer currently.
+Well supported and widely available
-Terrible pots that are prone to spilling, gumming, and paint drying
– Fairly expensive compared to some other brands
Although I no longer use Citadel paints (washes and some contrast paints excepted) and would generally recommend other brands first, I would say they are okay if you don’t mind the GW premium and the poor pots.
Vallejo has numerous sub-ranges of paints (Model Color, Air Color, Game Color, Panzer Aces) with different target audiences in mind.
For the purposes of my review I will divide these ranges into parts – Model/Metal/Air/Panzer Aces and Game Color
As the main brand carried by my local hobby store, this was the primary brand of paint I used for the first several years of miniature painting. For the most part this was Model Color, but I supplemented my collection with a few Air and Panzer Aces paint sets as well. These paints were intended for model painters. They tend to be based on realistically researched colors with mostly matte finishes. That said, being one of the most widely available hobby ranges as well as being of a good quality, these quickly became a favorite of many miniature painters.
The paints are of a good quality, tend to be more muted (especially Panzer Aces paints), and can be fairly thinned to support a variety of blending and glazing techniques. Vallejo Model Colors’s realistic tones are not as vibrant as Citadel’s or P3’s range, but are perfect for depicting miniatures in historical conflicts such as World War 2.
However, these paints were originally formulated for modelers and diorama makers with displays and not for miniatures that were meant to be handled and pushed around tabletop battlefields. This becomes especially evident when using these paints on metal miniatures. Without varnishing, Vallejo Model Color paints tend to chip very easily when touched or handled compared to other brands. When using Vallejo Model Color (or Air/Panzer Aces, etc.), varnishing is an absolute must if you intend to use your miniatures for gameplay.*
Most of the Model Color and Game Color paints are designed for layering. They are fairly thin out of the bottle, but need to be thinned a little bit with water, a thinner, or a wet palette for optimal use. They can be thinned to glaze and wash consistency without issue. Vallejo also makes texture paints for terrain that are much better in terms of price than their Citadel counterparts.
However, Model Color generally does not have an acrylic wash set. And while Game Color does have a wash set, the washes tend to be much more color altering than Citadel’s and tend to dry glossy with more coffee stains and discolorations than Citadel. Vallejo also has a fairly comprehensive ink set.
Vallejo Game Color:
In response to the popularity of Vallejo Model Color in the miniature paint market, Vallejo came up with the more fantasy inspired color range to present a paint that was better formulated for miniatures (including resin in the formula). The colors are more vibrant than Model Color but are better resistant to chipping. Additionally, Game Color paints tend to be more satin in finish than their Model Color counterparts.
Both Model Color/Air Color/Panzer Aces and Game Color come in 17ml dropper bottles. My current supplier charges $3.30 for a Model or Game Color bottle (ca. 19 cents per ml) or $3.69 for Panzer Aces (ca. 22 cents per ml).
+Exhaustive range of colors with a realistic emphasis (Model Color in particular)
+Paints thin easily and support a variety of techniques, including layering and glazing.
-More prone to chipping (Model Color)
-Washes are inferior to Citadel (Game Color)
Though I’ve shifted away to other brands in my own painting, Vallejo paints still make up the majority of my paint toolbox. They work well with a variety of painting methods and styles. You can’t really go wrong with using Vallejo.
The Army Painter
I will preface this by saying that while I like what The Army Painter is attempting to do, I think that their quality control is their own worst enemy. The first time I ever used Army Painter, I was a fairly new painter and I picked up a bottle of Skeleton Bone at a convention because I needed a buff color and couldn’t find a Vallejo equivalent at the time. I went to use this paint for the first time and the color came out runny and partially watery on the palette as pigment and medium came out of the bottle. While I had encountered separated paint from Vallejo and Citadel before, a brief vigorous shake usually remixed the paint. Not this bottle. I shook. And I shook. And I shook. After about ten minutes, I gave up. This pigment and medium would not remix. I was so disappointed in Army Painter that I swore them off for a while.
It wasn’t a few years later when I purchased agitators for ScaleColor’s Scale75 paint set did I try this color again, this time with agitators. Although it took me much longer to mix than with other brands and agitators, I was able to get the color to mix properly. The paint was mostly matte (slight satin) and of a fair quality. If the paint wasn’t so badly separated, I may have been more inclined to purchase more Army Painter paints instead of Vallejo. While you might say that this was a one off, I’ve encountered bad cases of separation in other Army Painter paints, including newly purchased sets directly from Army Painter. If you use Army Painter, you will need agitators and it probably wouldn’t hurt to purchase a miniature paint mixer while you are at it.
They have a fairly comprehensive painting range, including matching spray primers. These colors compare favorably at price-to-performance with Citadel. When well mixed, the Army Painter has painted that compare well to other hobby brand paints.
The Army Painter emphasizes the so-called “dip” system where miniatures are base coated and then dipped into a pigmented wood polish-like varnish that is followed with a matt varnish for depth and shadows in a speed painting method. I don’t recommend this method as it is messy and I don’t like the results. However, their products can be used for other methods, such as traditional layering.
These paints are relatively thin out of the bottle, and don’t require that much thinning for optimal use. That said, I’ve not had much luck with thinning to glaze consistency as the paint tends to break up. The paint is matte in finish (slightly satin).
That said, the Army Painter washes “Quickshades” are pretty well done. They are a close second to Citadel’s washes and outperform Vallejo. Army Painter paint comes in 18ml bottles. My current supplier charges $3.25 per bottle (ca. 18 cents per ml), so they are way more cost effective than Citadel and just edge out Vallejo in pricing.
+Wide range with matching color primer sprays
+Fairly cost effective, especially compared with Citadel
+Good Washes in their Quickshade lineup
– Plagued by separation, requiring agitators and nearly requiring a mixing or vortex machine for optimal experience
– Paint is suited mainly for layering but doesn’t thin evenly for techniques such as glazes or washes
If you are aware of Army Painter’s limitations and mitigate them, then they are an excellent alternative to more expensive paint brands like Citadel. I’ve avoided them largely because of the issues I had initially with them.
Scale75 is currently my primary brand that I use and one of my favorites. In particular, I use their ScaleColor range, finding them to be some of the best miniature paints that I have ever used. But before I give a full throated endorsement, I do have some important caveats to note here. Scale75 paints are targeted at bust and commission painters and have the assumption that you are an experienced painter when you start using them. I would not recommend them for beginners.
So starting with why I think they are some of the best miniature paints I’ve ever used: They dry perfectly matte. Most of the paints I’ve listed here have the slightest satin tone. These have a perfect matte finish. These paints are formulated with a gel medium so that they take longer to dry than other acrylic paints. This allows you to more easily develop techniques like wet blending and feathering. Additionally, they dry slightly transparently, blending into the layer of paint below them. This allows for beautiful transitions between colors and highlights. They also thin down beautifully into washes and glazes. Of all of the metallic colors from miniature brands that I’ve worked with, I say that Scale75’s are my favorite.
Conversely, the thin drying layers mean that they take several coats to properly form a base coat, and depending on how thin your paint is, may take up to five or more layers. This is time consuming and potentially disheartening for a beginner to do properly, and if not done properly (if the beginner just slapped one coat on) would look patchy with the undercoat showing through. This often means that to save time that it is best to use another brand for base coating and then build up highlights and shadows.
Secondly, the gel medium can be fussy if not mixed properly and tends to separate fairly quickly after opening. Just like with The Army Painter, this is a brand where you will need to include agitators to help ensure proper mixing (unless you want to spend a significant portion of your paint time shaking bottles).
Finally, though not as expensive as Citadel, Scale75 tends to be more expensive than say Vallejo or the Army Painter. The paint comes in 17ml bottles and currently costs $4.49 a bottle (or ca. 26 cents a ml).
I am looking forward to trying their newly released stain painting line, called Instant Colors.
+Beautiful paints with smooth matte finish
+Support diverse range of painting techniques, including blending, glazing, and layering
+Gel medium formulation to increase drying times, allowing for blending techniques without the use of a retarder medium
+/- The way the paint dries almost transparently supports smoother transitions and blending, but makes base coating take longer and require more layers.
-Not a beginner friendly range.
-Requires agitators for optimal experience
-On the more expensive side of miniature paint brands (not as expensive as Citadel)
I love Scale75’s Scalecolor paint range, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. If you are experienced and comfortable painting however, I say that they are worth checking out. Using this brand led me to improve my blending technique and I love the final finish.
Privateer Press’s house paint range for Warmachines and Hordes, this paint range is noted for its rich pigments and vibrant colors. I only have a few pots of these paints (yes they come in pots, but the pots are superior to Citadel’s). The paint itself is of a high quality, thins beautifully, and supports a wide variety of painting styles and techniques.
The main issue with Privateer Press is (cost aside) availability. Attempting to purchase individual pots on Privateer Press’s website leads to 404 errors (not found). No links exist on their site to purchase box sets. I’ve seen individual pots marketed by Privateer Press on Amazon, but unfortunately not every color is available this way. This also leads me to a second point of cost. A Privateer Press pot is MSRP of $3.50 for a 18ml pot (a remarkable ca. 19 cents a ml). However, some pots on Amazon are currently listed for $11.23 (a not so remarkable ca. 62 cents a ml, more expensive than Citadel).
+High quality paint
-Availability issues and pricing.
These are good paints, if you can find them.
A fairly recent range by Monument Hobbies (formerly marketed by Creature Caster), Pro Acryl paints started as an attempt to make a white color that provided better coverage than other brands. After releasing a well received Titanium White, they soon expanded to make the rest of their present range.
The paints are of a high quality, come in unique dropper bottles (with an Elmer’s glue-like twistable cap), and furthermore the bottles come with agitators already included. The paints cover fairly well and also thin beautifully. I would say they are the most versatile of any paints that I’ve worked with currently. They have a matte finish, but are not as matte as Scale75’s Scalecolor range.
That said, I’m hard pressed to find any negatives about this range. This includes cost. East Pro Acryl dropper bottles are 22ml and cost $4.00 a bottle (or ca. 18 cents per ml, on par with Army Painter).
+High Quality paint that supports a variety of painting techniques
+One of the most affordable miniature brand paints on the market
+Agitators for mixing are already included in the bottle.
If you are looking to try a paint range, replace an older set of paints, or if you are just starting out in the hobby, then I recommend taking a look at Pro Acryl.
AK Interactive: A line aimed at modelers and diorama creators, I’ve only used their Ultra Matte Varnish.
Foundry: Based on a triad painting system (they are paints that are focused on three color painting – shadow, main color, and highlight).
Reaper: Also uses a triad system.
Warcolours: On my “to try list,” including their new stain color line called “Antithesis.”
Coat D’Arms: Pot based paints, but I’ve had no experience with them.
*Chipping is not unique to Vallejo Model Color, just more prevalent. Other factors play a role in chipping, such as the quality and application of a primer. Generally I recommend varnishing. Some painters however do not prefer to varnish as the varnish can change the final appearance and vibrancy of the paint.