Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Paint Your Wagon (or Tank or Boat)

For hobby gamers paint is a tool of the trade. The kind of paint you choose is usually based on personal preference, often founded in the first paint range you are exposed to. Over time you may discover that you like different ranges for different reasons. I thought I’d share my quick thoughts on the major paint brands often used by miniature war gamers.

I use all three major brands regularly: Games workshop (GW), Privateer Press Paints (P3), and Vallejo. For example my Dystopian Wars Blazing Suns frigates feature Vallejo paint for the green hull, GW paints for the brass bits, and P3 for the wooden decking, windows, and logo.

Here's what I’ve found:

Vallejo: You'll either love or hate the dropper bottles, but they are great for mixing. Colors go on very smooth but of the 3 brands they have the worst coverage (i.e. need more coats with lighter shades). Fantastic range of subtle shades, and I use these colors whenever I'm going for military realism or need subtle shades of the same color. Bottles are THE BEST for long term storage, I've never had a Vallejo paint bottle dry out on me, so these are probably the best paint for the dollar.

P3: Fantastic primary colors with great two tone color combinations for simple shading. Of the three brands P3 has the best coverage with no clumping on the brush. Availability is tricky as paints are usually only stocked in sets, not singles. Also, the pots are the old style pop tops which can fill up with paint in the rim and require cleaning from time to time. As long as you clean the tops regularly you should not have an issue with pots drying out. I've never had a P3 pot dry out, but I am careful with the lids.

GW: Best inks/washes on the planet! Also the best metallic range of paints, particularly the bronze/copper color range. GW paints have good coverage, but sometimes get a little 'clumpy' and some painters recommend using a thinning agent. I don't bother, but I just paint 'table quality' for my stuff. I think the newer GW paint pots may be better, but the older "Bolter Shell" style pots had a cute pop open system that never seemed to seal right. I've had MANY MANY GW paint pots dry out, despite my best efforts. I even had an entire mega paint set dry out on me. In my mind this makes the GW range a risky investment, as you may come back to painting after a few months off only to find some colors half full yet unusable. Again the newer flip top pots from GW probably resolve this issue, but not all local stores have the new pots in all the colors (like metallics) yet, so use caution.

In the end, the paint you choose will very much depend on your painting style. I use all three for different reasons: GW for metallics and inks, P3 for primary color base coating coverage, Vallejo droppers for mixing and unique military colors.

Happy Painting!


  1. You can get the singles for P3 online and from Privateers own store.

    I like GW Washes, Metallics and P3 normal colours.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. I've found that there is quite a difference between the Vallejo Game Color and Model Color ranges. The Game color range has better coverage and better metallics, while the Model Color range indeed suffers from the issues you describe above.

  3. What Arjen said +1 - I use the Game Colour range (eg English uniform, gun metal grey) originally mainly for my FoW army and they were great, so it wasnt long until I used them for other game system models. Enthusiastically I bought other Vallejo colours (reds, greens etc) and was disappointed.

  4. Vallejo Model Air has amazing metallics in their range as well, coverage is better, but they're still as fluid as normal VMC colours.

    I also love P3 Radiant Platinum. It's hard to work with (I use Isopropyl Alcohol to thin it, water doesn't cut it with this stuff), but the results can be amazing.

  5. I notice the distinct absence of any Reaper paints. Why (or should I ask)?

  6. I still like to use some Testor's flat and metallic enamels as well...I saw those eye rolls out there!

  7. I know that folks are against lacquer based paints due to the need for solvents to clean up and thin. However they are THE BEST metallic paints available. You can actually buff them up to a mirrored shine. The range of Testors Model Master metallic paints is far superior to any other manufacturer as well. I've used all three manufacturers you mention along with Reaper Paints and Timaya paints. Testors Model Master metallic paint trumps them all by a FAR margin.