With all the paint brands available on the market for miniatures, it can be confusing for a beginner to choose which one to start. While there are a lot of information available on YouTube, this article will answer within just a few minutes a lot of questions you may have, and this without even once asking you to click on a green thumb!
The main aspects to consider when choosing paints are the following: the availability in physical stores, the quality, the price and the form of the paint bottles.
Availability in physical stores is important: even if it is possible to buy paints from every brand online, it is always better to support local hobby game stores, when possible. Moreover, when colors are needed for a new project or when a bottle runs empty, a physical store allows to buy new paint without delays and delivery costs.
Quality matters. Not all paints behave in the same way, and some paints make it harder to paint over the miniatures. It is frustrating, when you have to paint ten layers of a bad yellow paint in order to cover a surface. Such frustrations must be minimized, especially when starting this hobby. Quality influences the strength of the coverage, color intensity, paint texture, etc.
Price. Some paints are more expensive than others, but more expensive does not always mean better quality. While at first the price pro bottle (around 2 to 3€) may seem high for a beginner, it takes several months or even years – depending of how much one paints – to finish a bottle.
Paints for miniatures are packaged in two forms: dropper bottles and small pots. Dropper bottles do not dry out easily and do not make a big mess when spilled but they can clock and then require cleaning with a needle.
A short comparisons of the major paints brands
There are three major companies producing miniature paints on the market: Army Painter, Games Workshop and Vallejo. Each of these companies offer one or several ranges of paints. Here is a short summary of what to expect from them:
Warpaints from Army Painter
- availability: very good. Available in most hobby shops.
- quality: mediocre. Consistency is too liquid and contains too much medium (the
medium is what binds the pigments), even after a good manual shake.
- price: from 2,13€ to 2,75€ for 17ml. Price for 100ml: 12,53€ to 16,18€.
- form: dropper bottle.
Citadel from Games Workshop
- availability: excellent. Available in all hobby shops and in Warhammer stores.
- quality: very good. Consistent, good coverage, intense.
- price: from 3,24€ to 3,60€ to 12ml. Price for 100ml: 27€ to 30€.
- form: pot
Game Color from Vallejo
- availability: good. Available in many hobby shops.
- quality: very good. Consistent, good coverage, intense.
- price: from 2,29€ to 2,75€ for 17ml. Price for 100ml: 13,47€ to 16,18€.
- form: dropper bottle
Given the information above, the consensus in the Club is to start with Game Color from Vallejo.
All the above mentioned companies provide starter paint sets. While it may be temptating and exciting to start with a huge color set to save money and feel empowered, it is rarely a good idea. It is better to start small, try a brand and grow the paint collection from there. Since it is unlikely that you will use all the paints of a huge set, the money saved – equivalent to a few paint bottles – is not worth the risk of buying many paints from a brand that you may not like in the end. The Vallejo Game Colors Intro Set is a good start.
In addition to paints, it is also recommended to purchase one or two washes. Washes are highly diluted paints that can be put on top of already painted miniature to create interesting tones, depths and effects on faces, on weapons, clothes, etc. The Quickshades from Army Painter – such as Strong Tone or Dark Tone – or Agrax Earthshade and Nuln Oil from Games Workshop are very good.
Also, a good quality primer spray, such as a white or a grey primer from Games Workshop, is necessary. Avoid black for priming as a beginner as it’s harder to cover that primer with the paint (miniatures paints are made of acrylic and never fully opaque). White is the best to get vivid colors but if you forget to paint a spot on a miniature which was primed in white, your eyes will notice immediately. Grey can be a good compromise.
Brushes would merit an article on their own but in short, having a size 2 brush is a good start. There are synthetic and natural brushes. Natural hair brushes offer more control and are more precise when painting small details, such as the eyes of a character, but are much more expensive and require more maintenance to keep them in a good shape. They also get damaged with washes and metallic paints. Buy one once you feel more confident with painting and want to level up.
The beginner list
To summarize, here is a suggested list to start:
- a Corax White spray or Mechanicus Standard Grey spray from Games Workshop
- a synthetic size 2 brush (add a natural hair size 2 brush if you take care of your tools and want more precision)
- the Vallejo Game Colors Intro Set
- a bottle of Strong Tone Quickshade from Army Painters or Agrax Earthshade from Games workshop
Beyond the classics and some tips
Before concluding this article, we will quickly talk about Model Color from Vallejo, Citadel Contrast from Games Workshop, the Formula P3 paints from Privateer Press and other various cool things.
Game Color is a vivid range aimed at fantasy wargames or boardgames and is supposed to hold better on miniatures that often get touched by fingers. In addition to the Game Color range, Vallejo offers a range called Model Color aimed at traditional historical wargames, where paints are less colorful and more reminiscent of the everyday life colors. That being said, none of the painters in the Club had problem with the Model Color and both Game and Model Color are often used together.
While Army Painter may be frustrating to start with, due to their poor consistency, they are cheaper and the problem can be remediated with some agitator balls (small metallic balls that go in the dropper bottles) a paint shaker (a small machine that shakes the paint) and time (each bottle must be shaken a few minutes).
If you enjoy the games from Games Workshop, you may want to buy their paints, even if they are more expensive. They have a huge range and using their paints make it easier to follow the various video tutorials of the Warhammer Community. Moreover, each box of miniatures comes with a list of suggested paints, so using the Games Workshop paints makes it easier to reproduce the paint schemes displayed on the box, if you wish to do so. You can also search for equivalent paints from other manufacturers, for this purpose, have a look at the charts linked at the end of the article.
If you feel like you would prefer to spend as little time on painting as possible with the compromise of having an overall lower paint quality, you may want to try the Citadel Contrast Paints from Games Workshop. They allow to achieve an average to good painting job very fast for a large quantity of miniatures, such as a whole army or a box of zombies. However, their texture is not adapted to traditional paint techniques or when trying to achieve a paint job of better quality. Give them a try if you have a large army or feel like you would prefer to spend as little time on painting as possible with the compromise of having an overall lower paint quality. Painted miniatures are always thousand times better than grey plastic, whatever the quality of the paint job!
We didn’t present Formula P3 paints from Privateer Press because of their low availability but several painters in the Club enjoy their vivid colors and consistency. They have a more limited range of colors and do not offer a starter set, but if you decide to try them, we have prepared a suggested beginner’s list at the end of the article.
Finally, it is important to note that this article represents a subjective opinion. Moreover you do not need to buy paints from only one brand. Most of these paints can be mixed together. Each of the manufacturers produce slightly different colors, so pick the ones you enjoy. Experiment, thin your paints, make mistakes, improve and have fun painting!
Paints correspondence charts:
Dariusz suggests this list to start with Formula P3 paints:
Khador Red Base
Cygnar Blue Base
(do not forget to add a few metallic colors from Vallejo such as gold and silver)