Talking Paint

Over the years, I played with a lot of paint and I developed some possibly helpful observations. In this post I am talking a lot about using paint in airbrushes, but most of the information is equally true for using a brush as well.

  • GW – The nice thing about these paints is that the colors are called out in all the tutorials, so it is easy for a beginner to choose the correct paint. Generally they are pretty consistent and this makes them easy to reduce for your airbrush because a single rule of thumb works pretty well for all of their standard colors (not the Foundation line). Typically you will use 1:1 paint to whatever you are using to thin (I will talk about reducers below). Also, a lot of people use them, so it is easy to get help regarding their use from other people in the hobby. The disadvantage of the GW paints is that they come in a container that is particularly hard to work with (especially for airbrushing) and they are usually more expensive than the competitors.
  • Vallejo – They actually make three lines of paint: Game Color, Model Color and Model Air. All are good paints and come in a dropper bottle. This makes measuring for reducing and loading your brush much easier than the containers from GW. The container also means you waste a lot less paint. Vallejo also tends to be a little less costly than GW. Game Color is their direct competitor to the GW line. You will find many of the names are the similar to the corresponding GW paint. This makes it easy to select the color. The Model Color comes in a much broader selection of color than the other Vallejo lines. It also has the highest pigment load and will generally cover well. Model Color is also available in Extra Opaque. This paint covers similar to the foundation paints from GW. Finally, Vallejo has the Model Air. This line is formulated to be used directly in an AB. It is thinner and has a finner pigment. This is a good paint for beginners since reducing is generally not required. Many modelers also use the Model Air paints with a brush as well. The Model Air metallics are particularly good. The biggest disadvantage of the Vallejo paints is that they tend to separate pretty quickly. This will happen in your color cup or on you pallet, so it is important to keep this in mind when you load up. Also, they are not as consistent as the GW paints. This means you may need to tweak the reduction ratio slightly more from color to color.
  • Others – There are other paints specifically for the hobby as well. Privateer Press has a P3 line and Reaper has a couple lines. I do not have a lot of experience with the Reaper paint. The P3 paint is excellent paint, but I see it as a better for brush application than it is AB application. It comes in a similar container as the GW paint and the P3 tends to be a lot more finicky to reduce.
  • Reducers – You will find a lot of different opinions about reducers. Some will tell you to only use the specific reducer made by the paint vendor, others will say use water and others will tell you everything in between. Most of these things will work pretty well. Personally, I mostly use distilled water and Liquetex FlowAid. I typically tell beginners to use Windex. The reason being is that it works well, is very forgiving and they already have it in their house. Les from AwesomePaintJob ( uses Windex and overall it has a large following in the scale modeling community.

I started using the GW paints pretty exclusively then added Vallejo to the mix (no pun intended). Over time, a third disadvantage to the GW / Vallejo paint came to mind for me. That is if you simply use the recommended colors from the various tutorials then your Blood Angel. Ork or Eldar armies looks very much like your those of your friends. This led me to realize that I wanted my own color of red and paint scheme for my army. To really accomplish this I needed to mix my own colors and at that point I realized I could simply get decent acrylic paint from an art store and save a lot of money on paint. At that point I switched to Liqutex Basic Matt paints for most of my paint. This allows me to make a custom color that you don’t see on every Blood Angel every weekend and I save money at the same time.


Thinning Paint

I get asked about thinning paints a lot. Things like:

  • Should I thin paint?
  • If so, then how much?
  • What should I use to thin my paint?
  • How do I get my paint to work in an airbrush?

I can easily give a straight answer to the first question. Yes, you should always thin your paint before you use it. If you are using a brush and you do not thin the paint then you risk loosing a lot of detail on your model from built up paint and you will be unable to get a nice smooth coat. If you are using an airbrush and don’t thin you paint, it will probably not even spray.

Unfortunately, the remaining questions are not as straight forward to answer, so I have to say, “It depends,” and dive into an explanation. I will try to deal with some of these issues here. For this post, I am going to focus on brush painting. I will do a similar post discussing airbrushing later.

How much should I thin my paint?

When your mini is dry you want it to look like the surface of the miniature is the color of the paint, not like there is a layer of color on top of the miniature. This will preserve all of the details of the miniature and give the most realistic appearance. Additionally, you do not want any brush strokes in you finished work. To get these effects, you will need your paint to be quite thin and you will need to apply several coats to get an even color.

So the question becomes, how much thinner do you add? The answer depends on the specific paint you are using and the effect you are trying to accomplish. Typically, when base coating and layering you want the paint this enough to cover the surface and to flow flat with the surface of the miniature. If you get puddling of the paint or you can see brush strokes, then it is too thick. If your paint does not stick to the surface and tends to run, then it is too thin. A good starting point for Games Workshop, Vallejo Model Color and Vallejo Game Color is to start with a 2 : 1 ratio of paint to thinner and add thinner until the paint goes on smooth and flat. If you are glazing or highlighting you will want an even thinner mix.

At first, it may seem difficult to paint with the thinned paint, just stick with it and remember it will take a few more coats to get good coverage, but your miniature will look a lot better when you are done. Once you get used to working with thinned paint you will find it impossible to work with paint out of the bottle.

What should I use to thin my paint?

This answer depends on the type paint you are using.

  • Acrylics – I generally tell beginners to use distilled water if you happen to have some or tap water if you don’t. For more advanced painters, I suggest you try what I use, distilled water and Liqutex Flow Aid at a 10:1 ratio of distilled water to Flow Aid. The Flow Aid reduces the surface tension of the paint a little and allows it to better flow onto the surface of the miniature. I keep my thinner in a dropper bottle to make it easy to add to my paint and get a consistent result. Some people will tell you to only use the manufacturers acrylic thinner. They will explain that it will keep the pigment more evenly distributed longer and will have better adhesion. This may be true, but for painting miniatures, I have never had a problem with distilled water and Flow Aid. So, I stick with what I know and save money in the mean time. Another option favored by a lot of modelers is to use Windex. This is particularly popular when thinning for use in an airbrush. I have tried this and it works well. The Windex gives about the same effect as the Flow Aid / water mixture, but I prefer the smell of water to Windex
  • Oils – Currently, the only oils I use are the Winsor – Newton Artisan water mixable oils. They have the benefit of the long drying time of traditional oils and the benefit of being thinned and cleaned with water. If you are going to use traditional oils, then I recommend a odorless thinner like Maimeri Odorless Thinner. It does the job and does not stink the place up as bad as other thinners.
  • Enamels – I typically recommend using of the same brand of thinner when using enamels, i.e. if you are using Testors enamel paint then stick with the Testors thinner. I know a lot of modelers that use lighter fluid to thin their enamels with no problem, so you are probably OK. Be careful of lacquer thinner. It can damage plastic, so you should avoid it.

I hope this answers a few questions about thinning paints for modeling. If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments.