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.
- 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!
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 Paint||Oil Paint||Enamel Paint|
|Best use||All-purpose||Weathering, special effects||Weathering, special effects|
|Cost||Cheap||Cheap to expensive||Cheap|
|Recommended user||Everyone||Scale modeler, hobby enthusiasts||Scale modeler, traditionalist|
Here’s a useful overview of the differences between these three types of paint:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- High pigment load for vibrant colors, even tones and hues
- Good coverage on a variety of surfaces
- Flexible when dry, won’t chip or crack
- Water-soluble makes thinning and mixing easier
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Citadel (Games Workshop)
- The Army Painter
- Vallejo paint
- Scalecolor paint
- Reaper paint
- P3 paints (Privateer Press)
- Kimera paints
- Pro Acryl paints
Quick Notes for Top Hobby Paint Brands
|Brand||Features and Notes|
|Vallejo Model Color||Great (my favorite paint for many advanced blending techniques)|
|Pro Acryl Paints||A high quality, premium miniature paint brand with screw cap dropper bottles|
|Reaper Master Series||Dries matte, solid coverage, thins well with water, and easy to glaze, too!|
|Scale 75 (Fantasy & Games)||Mix or shake bottles thoroughly and you should have no trouble; wet blending ease is color dependent|
|Citadel Layer Paints||Some colors are easier than others to blend; don’t thin too much for best results|
|Army Painter||Similar to Citadel Layer paints; color dependent ability to blend smoothly; Some colors dry too glossy|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 brush from the paint inside the cover’s ledge.
Of course, there are limitations to the paint pot design, including the risk of drying out your paint from the original container and spillage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Clear coats provide a protective layer that helps to prevent damage from dust, dirt, and handling.
- Varnishes can be used to achieve either a glossy or matte finish.
- Varnishes help to increase contrast and make colors pop, which is especially important for photography.
- 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.
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.
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.
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 😀.