Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting?

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - banner

Picking the best paint for your miniatures can be tricky. There are lots of different brands and types out there, and it can be hard to know which one is right for you. It’s not all unicorn magic and rainbows. There is a science to hobbies and art, too!

In this article, I share my experience and tips for choosing the best paint for your miniature painting project.

Key Points:

  • Acrylic paint is the best choice for painting miniatures because of its ease-of-use, safety, and durability.
  • The best miniature paints have great color coverage, pigment density and vibrancy, e.g., strong masstone and predictable undertone, and lightfastness (e.g., does not fade easily over time).
  • Avoid using cheap arts and craft paints
  • Consider oil or enamel paints are wonderful for special effects or even entire projects, but be aware there is an extra technical challenge
  • The best kind of paint for miniature painting is the one you enjoy using all time!

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Acrylic Paint, Oil Paint, Enamel Paint: What’s the Difference for Painting Miniatures?

When it comes to miniature painting, there are a few different types of paint that you can use. Acrylic, oil, and enamel paints all have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right type of paint for your project.

Acrylic PaintOil PaintEnamel Paint
Best useAll-purposeWeathering, special effectsWeathering, special effects
Technical difficultyEasyMedium-hardMedium-hard
CostCheapCheap to expensiveCheap
Recommended userEveryoneScale modeler, hobby enthusiastsScale modeler, traditionalist
This chart shows the different kinds of paint and a basic overview of their use for miniature painters, 3D printing enthusiasts, and hobby modelers, e.g., scale modeling, dioramas, display

Here’s a useful overview of the differences between these three types of paint:

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - magnifying glass paint dropper bottle
A dropper bottle of acrylic paint, e.g., Army Painter Speedpaint

Acrylic paint is the most popular type of paint for painting miniatures, 3D printed models, and scale model kits, e.g., military, historical wargame figurines. You can apply acrylic paint without hassles; they are easy to use, dry quickly, and can be thinned with water if necessary.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Dropper bottle caps top down
Dropper bottles make it easy to dispense small amounts of paint on to your working palette.

Acrylic paint is also very versatile. You can create many different effects with it, from a dry brush finish to a more intricately painted model. Airbrush paints and texture paints are usually acrylic polymer.

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You can airbrush almost any acrylic hobby paint, as long as it’s thin enough. With the right setup, you can even airbrush spray them indoors, safely.

You can use advanced techniques with acrylic paints to create subtle, smooth blends, or textured effects. But because acrylic paint tends to dry quickly (an advantage with limitations), some miniature painters suggest using a wet palette.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Scalecolor paint blending, scale 75
I blended acrylic paint on this muscular sculpt using an advanced color blending technique.

Oil paint is another popular choice for painting miniatures. It has a slower drying time than acrylic paint, which gives you more time to work with it and create a smooth finish.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Oil paint on glass palette
Loading my brush with buttery smooth oil paint
Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - abteilung 502 oil paint tube
Abteilung 502 oil paints are wonderful for painting miniatures. Some people prefer other brands.

Oil paint is also quite durable, so it’s a good choice for painting models that will be handled often. However, oil paint can be tricky to use. For example, it’s easy to accidentally smudge or smear the paint while working with it since oil paints don’t dry or cure for a long time.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Winsor & Newton Oil colour for miniatures
…Oil paints add a level of technical challenge to the process of miniature painting. Scale modelers admire the ability of oil filters to add realism to their models.

Some oil colors are opaque paint, which will cover surfaces easily; other oil paints are translucent or transparent. You’ll find that the opaque formulations are also more expensive. So choose your oil paint colors wisely.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Oil painted flesh tone on face figurines
Painting miniatures with oil paints takes extra patience and creativity.
Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Oil wash on scale model tank
Here I’m applying an oil wash to a scale model tank.

Enamel paint is a less popular option for painting miniatures, but it has some advantages over other types of paint. Testors enamel paints, for example, dry very hard and durable, so it’s ideal for painting models that will be handled frequently.

Enamel paint also dry more slowly (not as slow as oils), which gives you more options for creating special effects.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - AK streaking effects enamel paint
Many special effect mediums use enamel based paints, because of their unique slow-drying, filter-like translucent properties.
Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Basic painting and weathering book for model railroaders
Want more realism? Weathering and aging effects on scale models with oil or enamels adds to their character, making them appear closer to their full-sized prototypes.

You can use petroleum-based solvents to thin enamel paint, which gives control over the consistency of the color. That is, you can thin them down to make them transparent without losing color vibrancy or work with them as a thicker, opaque paints. Note that enamel paints often dry with a glossy finish, so I would suggest using a matte clear coat after you’re done for best results.

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Mineral spirits are a popular solvent for oil and enamel paints because is less insulting to your olfactory system.

Because they dissolve well in aerosol formulas, you’ll also find many hobby spray paint brands use enamel colors. In fact, for painting the base color of plastic models, resin, or metal, an enamel-based spray primer could be the quickest and easiest way to start a project.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Spray enamel primer Testors
This is an excellent spray enamel that you can use to prime your model before painting with acrylic paints.

The limitation of enamel paint, however, is that they are more difficult to work with than other paints. They are often relegated to the traditional scale modeler who grew up with Testors hobby enamels. I did.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - open oil paint tube yellow
I love the smell of oil paints…

Enamel’s durability, resilience to handling, and versatility is why enamel paints are often used in many hobby projects, such as the paint jobs for pinewood derby cars and the like. You may even be able to use them without primer. Paint enamels straight onto your working surface!

Of course, enamel paints are challenging to use as compared with acrylics. For instance, they can be harder to clean and fix mistakes.

They also take longer to dry and can be difficult to work with if you’re not experienced in using them. As always, if you’re unsure how a paint will behave, make sure you test paint on a separate surface before using any new product on your actual miniature project.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Oil painting model anime gunpla work in progress
Oil painting minis takes a bit more patience to use than conventional acrylic hobby paint.

Artist Grade Paint or Hobby Model Paints?

The best miniature paints for any paint job depends on your skill level and the type of paint job you’re hoping to achieve.

Wondering if you should use acrylics vs enamel paints? Or oil colors?

For most of you looking to paint miniatures, I strongly suggest starting with a hobby-grade acrylic paint designed for miniature work.

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Cheap arts and craft paint that you may find in a local department store do not provide the long-lasting paint job you’re looking for. They also have formulas made for covering paper products, and do not cover or adhere well to other material surfaces.

Instead stick with popular brands for gaming miniatures or scale models. Vallejo and Citadel Paints, for example, create a uniform paint film when applied to the small working surfaces of miniatures. They won’t obscure details, and color coverage is more reliable and vibrant.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures -Vallejo Model Color Dark Sea Blue bottle
Vallejo Model Color
Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Scalecolor paint bottle
Scalecolor Paint

I have tried high quality artist grade paint for working with miniatures, but they are expensive compared to a good miniature paint set. If you haven’t figured out by now, the best miniature paint doesn’t have to be expensive.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Hobby acrylic paints in a clear organizer rack display
Rows of paints in a clear organizer rack

A quick note for you gunpla hobby modelers, you’ll find almost all paint markers use acrylic based paint or ink. Acrylic paint markers have the advantage of being permanent, waterproof, and have high opacity.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Painted scale anime Gunpla model
Gundam model painted with characterful weathering and battle damage.

In general, miniature and model painting with a few basic colors should cost you only a few dollars ($20-50).


Five Features to Look for in a High Quality Acrylic Paint

  1. High pigment load for vibrant colors, even tones and hues
  2. Good coverage on a variety of surfaces
  3. Flexible when dry, won’t chip or crack
  4. Non-toxic
  5. Water-soluble makes thinning and mixing easier
  6. Easy to clean up

The best miniature paint brands will have all or most of the following features: high pigment load for bright colors, good coverage on a variety of surfaces, flexible when dry, non-toxic, and easy to clean up.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Reaper paint bottles on hobby desk, mess
Paints on my hobby desk.

The Reason to Choose Hobby Acrylic Paints

There are so many reasons to choose hobby acrylic paints for your next project. First, they’re easy to use and clean up. Just mix them with water and you’re ready to go. Plus, they dry quickly so you can move on to the next step in your project without waiting around.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Water droplet to thin acrylic paint in ceramic dry palette

Acrylics are also very versatile. You can use them on almost any surface as long as you use a suitable primer. Acrylic works amazing on plastic, metal, resin, and, of course for the traditional artist is a popular color medium for canvas to wood and glass.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - OSL power sword painting with acrylic paints
This artist used acrylic paints to create this piece, a Warhammer Forgeworld model (Adeptus Custodes) with blue lightning force weapon.

And if you make a mistake, no problem! Let the paint dry completely, then paint new layers over the mistake. Just be careful you don’t do this too often in the same place on your models, otherwise you risk obscuring the fine details in the sculpted surface, or creating unsightly coats of color.

Finally, acrylics are a great option for beginner painters because they’re affordable and readily available. Read on to find out a bit more of what paints I recommend for painting miniatures, or take a look at the miniature paint sets I’ve reviewed.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Yellow hobby paint on wet palette with brush loading

What is the Best Hobby Paint Brand for Painting Miniatures?

When it comes to painting miniatures, there are a lot of different paint brands out there to choose from. Citadel, Vallejo, The Army Painter, and Reaper Miniatures are all popular options.

Here are some of the best paints for miniatures:

  1. Citadel (Games Workshop)
  2. The Army Painter
  3. Vallejo paint
  4. Scalecolor paint
  5. Reaper paint
  6. P3 paints (Privateer Press)
  7. Kimera paints
  8. Pro Acryl paints

But which one is the best? It really depends on your personal preferences. Citadel and Vallejo both offer a wide range of colors. The Army Painter has some great colors too!

For best results, I suggest getting a motorized paint mixer/shaker to keep your colors from separating from solution.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Vortex hobby paint mixer with Vallejo Game Color
Vortex paint mixers do quick work on seperated paints.

Reaper Master Series Paint can be a bit tough to work with because they tend to have a thicker consistency and require some thinning (with water) to flow better.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Dispensing blue paint from dropper bottle on to wet palette
Dispensing small amounts of acrylic paint from a dropper bottle is easy.

But if you can learn how to work with them, you’ll find blending Reaper paints a simple pleasure. The flat, matte finish of Reaper paints have after they dry help to create a high quality, professional appearance to your painted model.


Wait, Does the Paint Bottle or Pot Matter?

Those who have been in the painting hobby for a while know that there is always an ongoing debate about whether or not the container your paint comes in matters.

Vallejo paint comes in squeeze-able dropper bottles with screw on caps. Citadel paints on the other hand, often regarded as the best paints to start with, are sold in pots with flip-up caps.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Rows of colorful hobby paint on paint rack

You’ll quickly notice that paint bottles with dropper tops, which dispense “drops” of paint, have the advantage of being able to measure and mix colors with great precision. This is perfect for those of you who want complete control over the paint mixtures you create.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Close up of blue hobby paint dropper tips
Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Loading orange paint on brush from white wet palette.

The problem with dropper bottles is that you’ll have to use some type of palette, e.g., a ceramic tray, wet palette, to thin and mix your paint colors.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - D'artisan Shoppe WetNDri artist tray palette product photo
The D’Artisan Shoppe WetNDri 2-in-1 Artist Palette

On the other hand, Citadel pots are great because you can access the paint color directly from the “lip” inside the the cap. You simply shake the paint pot, open the cap, and load your from the paint inside the cover’s ledge.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Loading a paint brush from Citadel flip cap paint pot
Loading paint from inside the Citadel paint pot cap.

Of course, there are limitations to the paint pot design, including the risk of drying out your paint from the original container and spillage.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Citadel pot spilled paint tipped and mess
Has this happened to you before?

The latter issue is notorious for Citadel paint pots, and several products have emerged to mitigate the problem of accidentally spilling your paints, shades, or even technical paints.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Citadel Games Workshop Paint pot holder upside down
Redgrass Games anti-spill paint pot holder

In my opinion, the kind of bottle or container a paint uses is much less important than the quality of that particular paint. After some experience, you’ll find yourself choosing a paint range based on the paint’s opacity, the paint body (thickness or viscosity), and ability to mix well with other colors.

Finally, new paints are coming out all the time. Scalecolor, for example, now sells high quality acrylic paints that come in tubes, like the kind oils paints come in, or your toothpaste.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Paint tube holder and organizer rack
Plydolex paint tube organizer

These artist grade paints have thick paint body, high color pigment content, and provide unmatched paint opacity for painted models.

The challenge with such high quality paint, however, is that they require much more technical skill to work with, including the need to thin and apply them smoothly to create base coats without the appearance of brush strokes.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Paint tubes top down on a hobby desk top surface

These kinds of artist paints may also be more expensive than Vallejo or Citadel paints. But at the end of the day, you often pay for what you get in the miniature painting hobby.


Great Tips for Painting Miniatures and Scale Models

If you’re like me, painting miniatures and scale models is one of your favorite hobbies. There’s something about the process of creating a work of art from a tiny blank canvas that is both challenging and immensely satisfying.

If you’re looking to take your skills to the next level, here are a few tips that may help:

1. Don’t buy everything at once.

Start with a small set of paints and brushes and gradually build up your collection as you become more proficient. There’s no need to spend a fortune on supplies until you’re sure that this is the hobby for you.

2. Take your time.

Don’t rush the painting process – it’s important to allow each layer of paint to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

Like with anything else in life, the more you paint, the better you’ll become at it. So don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes – it’s all part of the learning process!

5. Join a club or online community.

There’s nothing like learning from other experienced painters. You can pick up new techniques and get feedback on your work, which will help you to improve.

6. Have fun!

This is supposed to be enjoyable, so make sure to relax and enjoy the process.

If you want more serious tips for improving your skill and growth as a hobby miniature painter, or simply as an artist looking to expand their horizons, check out the process and insights of what I learned as as a commissioned miniature painter.


Why You Should Varnish Your Painted Miniatures or Scale Models

For miniature painters and modelers, clear coats and varnishes serve an important role in protecting your work and ensuring a high-quality finish.

Clear coats provide a glossy or matte, protective layer that helps to prevent damage from dust, dirt, and handling. Even the best acrylic paint are prone to degradation by oxidation, UV light, and simple wear and tear. A varnish clear coat can help to extend the lifespan of your painted miniatures and models.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Testors Spray Lacquer for clear coat protecting painting miniatures
Testors clear coat matte varnish

Another benefit for those looking to take photos of your models, a good matte varnish can improve contrast and make colors pop in digital photography.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Photographing Imperial Knight in photo lightbox
I enjoy photographing miniatures.

In short, clear coats and varnishes are essential for protecting your painted miniatures and scale models. If you’re not already using varnishes, here are a few reasons why you should start:

  1. Clear coats provide a protective layer that helps to prevent damage from dust, dirt, and handling.
  2. Varnishes can be used to achieve either a glossy or matte finish.
  3. Varnishes help to increase contrast and make colors pop, which is especially important for photography.
  4. Clear coats and varnishes are essential for protecting your painted miniatures and scale models.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are there any special techniques for using miniature paints?

No, but there are certain things to keep in mind. First and foremost, always use a primer before painting your minis. A good quality primer will help the paint adhere better to the mini and provide a more even coverage.

Second, take your time when painting. It can be tempting to try to get through the job as quickly as possible, but rushing will only lead to a sloppy paint job. Thin your paints for best results. For basic paint jobs, paint should have the consistency of whole milk, a bit runny, but enough to stick to the side of a ceramic bowl.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Acrylic paint thinning in ceramic palette blue paint

Finally, be sure to clean your brushes thoroughly after each painting session. This will help keep the bristles in good condition and prevent the build-up of paint residue on your minis.

How can I get started with miniature painting?

The best way to get started is by finding a tutorial or two online and following along. You can also check out our growing collection of painting guides, lessons, and tips. Once you have the basics down, you can start experimenting with different techniques and colors to create your own unique style.

How do I care for my painted miniatures?

Once your miniatures are painted, you’ll want to take steps to protect them from damage. First, invest in a good quality display case, model storage case or box, or a dedicated shelf with a closing door of some sort. This will keep your minis safe from dust, dirt, and other debris.

You can also apply varnishes that will help protect the paint job from scratches and fading (my first recommendation). Finally, be sure to handle your miniatures with care, especially during gameplay for those of you avid tabletop wargamers.

What is the best way to store and travel with my miniature paints?

Paints should be stored in a cool, dry place. temperatures below freezing can cause the paint to coagulate, while higher temperatures can cause the paint to separate or become runny.

Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Frontier Wargaming case 2.0 with Tangible Day logo
Best Kind of Paint for Miniature Painting? - acrylic paint, oil paints, scale modeling, painting miniatures - Open portable paint case for storage and travel.

If you must store or travel with your paints in hot and humid environments, e.g., in your car during warm, sunny days, consider placing them in a container or case away from direct sunlight.

Can I use other kinds of paint on my miniatures?

Yes, but it is not recommended. Art and craft paint, the cheap kind you find at the supermarket or general craft store, don’t have the proper formula for a good time (aka creating pleasing results) when you use them on small surfaces that require precision and good color coverage.

They also tend to be less durable than purpose-made miniature paints. So while you can technically use them, I would recommend against it. See my recommend miniature paint sets if you’re just getting into the hobby.


Conclusion

Each type of paint has different benefits that make it more or less suited for certain types of projects. In general, acrylic paint is the best choice for painting miniatures and scale models because it is inexpensive, user-friendly, and versatile.

However, oil paint and enamel paint can be used for certain effects, e.g., creating washes, weathering special effects, and other subtle colorful points of interest on your models.

If you’re looking to learn more, have a look at these amazing painting articles.

The most important thing is to experiment with the variety of types of paint to see what each of them can do. If you’re new to the hobby, of course, I highly recommend you stick to using acrylic paints.

Thanks for reading! I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear from! Please leave a comment 😀.

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