Let's dip in
Ever stepped into a pastry shop, feeling giddy with the many options of scrumptious goodness surrounding you, only to be left wondering… How on earth do I make a choice? What are the good ones? Can I just eat them all? Well, picking paints for your miniatures can feel much like that. Except for the eating bit. So to help you navigate the many options of miniature paint, we’ve put together this guide to finding the best paint for miniatures.
As for the pastries, yes, we believe it’s best to eat them all.
What type of paint is best for miniatures?
When it comes to painting miniatures, the most popular type of paint is acrylic paint. In fact, it is so dominant in the world of miniature painting that one might wonder: Is miniature paint just acrylic? The answer is no — in fact, the go-to paints for models used to be enamel paints, before acrylics had their smashing debut. But if acrylic paint is so popular these days, does that mean it is the best paint for miniatures? The answer to that is a bit more complex, as it depends on your specific use case and personal preferences. Further below, we’ll have a look at the best brands on the market for four different types of miniature paint: acrylic paint, acrylic lacquer paint, enamel paint and oil paint. But first, let’s quickly cover their pros and cons.
- Acrylic paint is water-based and made with synthetic materials. It is easy to use, clean and mix, and dries quickly. Acrylic paint is suitable for various surfaces, such as wood, plastic, metal, and masonry, but it typically needs a primer. A big advantage is the variety in effects you can achieve and the different painting techniques you can use with acrylics. Not surprisingly therefore, acrylics are the go-to option for most miniature painters and there are a lot of great brands to choose from, which we’ll cover below. If you want to learn more about all the possibilities that acrylic paint has to offer, be sure to also have a look at our in-depth article about acrylics.
- Acrylic lacquer paint may sound like a subtype of acrylic paint but, confusingly, is fundamentally different from it. Instead of being water-based, acrylic lacquer paint is solvent-based. This makes it a lot more challenging and risky to work with, as you need a mask and proper ventilation while exposed to the toxic fumes. You also need specific solvents to thin and clean acrylic lacquer paint. The hassle can be quite worth it though, as the performance of these paints is hard to beat. They are versatile, dry very fast, are very durable, and give a beautiful finish and sheen.
- Enamel paint is oil-based and made with natural minerals. It is more resistant to moisture and can be used on various surfaces without a primer. It has a glossy and smooth finish that can produce a brilliant shine, and is a great option if you’re looking for durability and protection. When used for miniatures, enamel paint lends itself perfectly for elements that need a metallic finish, while preserving texture. Moreover, they create beautiful weathering effects when applied as a wash, and work nicely for drybrushing and dust effects as well. Compared to acrylics however, enamel paint is a little harder to work with: it takes longer to dry, has a strong toxic odor and requires special solvents to thin or clean it. And, due to it being oil-based, it can turn yellow over time.
- Oil paint is – as the name suggests – also oil-based and made with natural minerals. It is similar to enamel paint in terms of durability and glossiness, but has a richer color depth. The drying time for oil paints is long, allowing more time to blend and create effects such as glazing. By blending different layers of oil paint, you can create stunning effects with more color nuances. What makes oil paint more challenging, is its strong odor and the requirement of special solvents to thin or clean it, which can be toxic. It also tends to crack or fade over time due to UV exposure. Altogether, oil paint could be the paint of choice for creating realistic and detailed miniatures, but it might not be the best choice for beginners.
Now that we’ve got an idea of the concoctions we’re dealing with, let’s take a deeper dip.
Best acrylic paint for miniatures
Vallejo acrylic paints are one of the most popular and respected brands of miniature paint. Making paints for hobby and fine arts since 1965, Vallejo’s team of experts work with professional modelers to develop and improve their products. One such improvement has been with respect to sustainability, by using recyclable paint bottles. Vallejo miniature paint is high quality, versatile, and comes in a wide range of colors and effects:
- The Vallejo Game Color range is designed for fantasy and war-game figures. It features a BSL (Base, Shadow, Light) figure paint system. These groupings of three colors offers less experienced painters an easy choice of colors (shades) to paint miniatures with the appropriate highlights and shadows for each base color. The Game Colors also come in an airbrush specific variant.
- The Vallejo XPress Color range creates contrast effects fast and easy, with a single layer of paint.
- The Vallejo Model Color range is suitable for all kinds of models and miniatures, featuring a wide variety of effects and finishes.
Vallejo’s series of mediums, varnishes and thinners help to modify the characteristics of their acrylics, such as gloss, opacity or drying time. And if you’re more of a spray paint kinda painter, Vallejo’s got you covered too. Their Hobby Spray Paints are a combination of base coat and highly pigmented color, developed for use on all metal, plastic and resin models and miniatures.
If you’re familiar with Warhammer 40K, or any other Games Workshop product, you may have heard of Citadel paints – their official acrylics. Citadel paints can be applied to plastic, metal, and resin models alike. They come in different types, with specific roles in the painting process, including:
- Base paints, designed to give a solid and smooth base coat.
- Layer paints, used to add highlights and details.
- Shade paints, for creating depth and shading.
- Dry paints, for dry brushing and creating texture.
- Contrast paints, to create contrast and shading with one coat.
- Technical paints, for special effects like blood, rust, slime, and more.
Besides these paint pots, Citadel also offers a series of sprays that can be used to prime or base coat your models in one go.
Citadel painting app
With so many options at your disposal, choosing the best paint for miniatures can feel a bit daunting. So to help you along, Citadel has developed a nifty Painting App. It features many tutorials, color recipes and a paint inventory. You can use it to find inspiration, learn new techniques, plan your painting projects and track your progress. You can even scan your miniatures and get suggestions on how to paint them. For the beginning hobbyist, this supporting app alone makes Citadel a great choice for miniature paint!
Another brand that offers some of the best paint for miniatures, is AK Interactive. Their miniature paint can be used on various types of models and miniatures, from military vehicles to figures and scenery. AK paints work both with brush and airbrush and come in a wide range of colors, from general purpose to specialized:
- 3rd Generation Acylics are easy to use and versatile, with a matte or satin finish that you can modify with varnishes.
- Wargame Series are optimized for fantasy and sci-fi miniatures, with vibrant and saturated colors.
- Deep Shades are ideal for creating shadow and depth on any base tone.
For a stunning finishing touch of realism, be sure to also check out their selection of grime, weathering, rust, dust, dirt and chipping effects.
Reaper offers high quality miniature paint that is a delight to work with and achieves beautiful results. Their acrylics are meant for metal and plastic miniatures, and work both with brush and airbrush. Reaper Paints offer ranges that fit with various types of models and miniatures, such as fantasy, sci-fi, historical, as well as modern:
- The Reaper Master Series Paints are their flagship, with a matte finish and a triad system that helps you create realistic shadows, midtones, and highlights.
- The Reaper Bones Ultra Colors are optimized for plastic miniatures, with a smooth and durable finish that does not require priming. They come in different sets.
- The Reaper Pathfinder Colors have vivid and saturated colors that match the official palettes of the Pathfinder role-playing game.
Another leading brand in miniature paint is Scale 75. Their acrylics come in various ranges, each with a unique formula and a wide variety of colors, textures and finishes. Especially when going for a natural and lifelike look and feel, Scale 75 offers some of the best paint for miniatures. Their variants with a unique matte finish help you achieve realistic skin tones, leather, cloth, metal, and more. But if you’re going for something utterly otherworldly looking, they got you covered too:
- Scalecolor: their flagship range of 63 colors with a matte finish and a high contrast formula.
- Fantasy & Games: their fantasy range of 48 colors with a satin finish and a bright and vivid formula.
- Warfront: their historical range of 64 colors with a matte finish and a realistic and accurate formula.
- Metal ‘n Alchemy: their metallic range of 24 colors with a metallic finish and a shiny and reflective formula.
- Instant Colors: their contrast range of 48 colors with a semi-matte finish and a fast and easy formula.
- Inktensity: their ink range of 16 colors with a transparent finish and an intense and saturated formula.
- FX Fluor Experience: their fluorescent range of 8 colors with a fluorescent finish and a glowing and striking formula.
Another high quality option for miniature paint is Pro Acryl by Monument Hobbies. These acrylics are characterized by their high pigmentation, which gives them a rich and intense color. This allows you to achieve a solid and smooth coverage without having to apply many layers. Moreover, it makes it possible to create glazes or washes without losing their vibrancy or opacity. With a thin consistency that makes Pro Acryl paints suitable for brush and airbrush alike, they come in different ranges:
Best acrylic lacquer paint for miniatures
Tamiya acrylic lacquer paint has a reputation for being one of the best miniature paints, especially for military and aircraft subjects. It works for airbrushing and brush painting, and it has a consistent and realistic tone. Moreover, it dries quickly and has a durable finish that you can polish to a higher gloss. Tamiya acrylic lacquer paint comes in a wide range of colors. When it comes to model painting, many prefer Tamiya acrylic lacquer paint for its quality, ease of use, and excellent results.
The Real Colors range by AK Interactive is a line of acrylic lacquer paints that are specially designed for realistic and accurate colors of military vehicles and aircrafts. They are based on scientific research and analysis of original paint samples from World War II and modern conflicts. These model paints have a smooth and durable finish, and a reputation for being among the most reliable and authentic paints for historical and modern subjects. Their range of colors includes:
- Standard colors are the basic colors with a matte finish that are useable for any subject. You can create custom shades by mixing them.
- Clear colors are transparent colors that can be used to create effects such as lights, lenses, windows, etc. They have a glossy finish and can be applied over other colors to modify their hue or intensity.
- AFV colors are the colors that are specific for armored fighting vehicles, such as tanks, trucks, jeeps, etc. They include historical and modern colors from different armies and regions, such as NATO, Russian, German and British.
- Air colors are the colors that are specific for aircrafts, such as fighters, bombers, helicopters, etc. They include historical and modern colors from different air forces and regions, such as USAF, RAF and Luftwaffe.
- WWII colors are the colors that are specific for World War II subjects, such as vehicles, aircrafts, ships and uniforms. They include historical colors from different armies and regions, such as German RAL, British BSC and Japanese IJA.
Best enamel paints for miniatures
Testors enamel paints are one of the most trusted and respected brands in the hobby, and they have a lot of history and reputation behind them. The glossy finish of Testors enamel paints is great for creating shiny and metallic effects, such as chrome, gold, silver and more. It also helps to enhance the details and contrast of your miniatures, making them stand out.
Testors enamel paints have a high pigmentation and coverage due to their thick and creamy consistency. With their thinners, you can reduce the thickness, as well as clean your brushes. If you work with an airbrush, there is a specific Testors airbrush range for an optimal, smooth flow.
There’s a wide and varied range of colors to pick from:
Humbrol enamel paints are among the most classic and respected brands in the hobby. Starting all the way back in 1919, they have a lot of history and reputation behind them. Their solvent-based paints dry to a hard and durable finish. You can apply them to any surface, be it plastic, metal, or resin. With Humbrol thinners, you can adjust the formula of your paints for a smoother consistency suitable for airbrushing. And with their varnishes, you can reduce the glossiness for a more matte finish.
With almost 100 different colors available, Humbrol enamel paints offer a wide variety for many styles and themes of miniatures. But if you do work with multiple brands of miniature paint, Humbrol’s enamel paint and conversion chart helps you find the perfect color match.
Best oil paints for miniatures
An article about the best paint for miniatures wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Winsor & Newton oil paints, some of the most prestigious paints on the market. Their high-quality formula contains the finest pigments, binders and oils, which provide rich and vibrant colors, smooth and buttery consistency, and excellent lightfastness and permanence. You can use their mediums or solvents to adjust the formula, and their varnishes to modify the finish of your miniatures. Winsor & Newton oil paints come in a variety of ranges:
- Artists’ Oil Colour, featuring 133 colors with a glossy or matte finish and an exact match formula.
- Winton Oil Colour, featuring 55 colors with a glossy finish and a good tinting strength formula.
- Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour, featuring 40 colors. These paints behave like conventional oil paint, but you can thin and clean them with water.
- Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour, featuring 48 colors with a glossy finish and a fast drying formula.
Another miniature paint brand that deserves mentioning in our list of best paint for miniatures is Gamblin oil paints. Gamblin has taken a more modern, ethical approach to producing their oil paints. They focus on reducing the toxicity of their paint formula, using the safest pigments, binders and oils. As a result, Gamblin oil paints are not smelly, and produce less harmful vapors than traditional oil paints, making them safer for your health and better for the environment. For cleaning your paint brushes, Gamblin offers odorless mineral spirits that are safer than traditional solvents, as well as solvent-free mediums.
When it comes to their oil paints, there is a wide range of colors suiting many styles and themes:
- Artist’s Oil Colors, featuring 96 colors with a glossy or matte finish and an exact match formula.
- 1980 Oil Colors: their affordable range featuring 48 colors.
- FastMatte Alkyd Oil Colors: their fast drying range featuring 24 colors with a matte finish.
- Radiant Colors: their fluorescent range featuring 8 colors.
Affordability of paints for miniatures
Like most hobbies, miniature making can get a bit costly as you build your collection of supplies. And while our selection above covers the best paint for miniatures in terms of quality, some of them might not be as budget-friendly. So, taking into account their affordability, this is how our top picks stack up:
- Besides being the easiest and most versatile miniature paint to work with, acrylics come with the advantage of being the most affordable too. Vallejo and Reaper come in at the lowest price point and cost around $15-$20 per 100 mL (3.4 oz). Pro Acryl costs around $20 per 100 mL (3.4 mL). The other brands for acrylic miniature paint sit at a higher price point, with Scale 75 costing between $25 and $35 per 100 mL (3.4 oz) and AK Interactive having quite a large price range from $20 to $60 per 100 mL (3.4 oz). Do note that acrylic miniature paint comes in dropper bottles as small as 15 mL to 17 mL (0.51 oz to 0.57 oz), which means that a small investment can get you a nice variety of colors. And for miniatures, small amounts go a long way!
- The acrylic lacquer paints a quite a bit pricier. Tamiya’s acrylic lacquer paints cost between $25 and $65 per 100 mL (3.4 oz), while AK Real Colors range from $35 to $100 per 100 mL (3.4 oz). Again, the paint pot sizes are small – 10 mL and 17 mL (0.34 oz and 0.57 oz) respectively – so the individual pots cost quite a bit less.
- Also enamel paints are on the costly side, relatively speaking. Testors miniature paints are over $40 per 100 mL (3.4 oz), with some colors costing even more than $100 per 100 mL (3.4 oz). Meanwhile Humbrol enamel paint sits in the middle of that range, with around $70 per 100 mL (3.4 oz). The enamel paints do come in tiny paint pots though, of 7.4 mL (0.25 oz) and 14 mL (0.47 oz) respectively, so in practice getting a few enamel paints is quite affordable.
- Lastly, we have the oil paints. Both Winsor & Newton and Gamblin paints costs around $30 to $40 per 100 mL. This is relatively cheaper than enamel paint, but it is important to note that these oil paints do not come in smaller quantities than 37 mL (1.25 oz) tubes. Therefore, getting a variety of different colors will get expensive much more quickly as compared to the other types of miniature paint.
Best miniature paint set
Most of the miniature paint brands offer sets of their miniature paints, which either cover a basic range of colors, or are curated for specific genre of miniatures. When getting such a paint set, you’ll generally get more bang for the buck.
Among them, there are a couple miniature paint sets with a wide range of colors that will have you covered, no matter what styles and themes you’ll be working on. One of them is the Reaper Master Set, which contains 216 different colors. With their excellent quality, the acrylics by Reaper is sure to make painting minis a joy.
But we should also mention one of the most popular miniature paint sets: the Army Painter Speedpaint Mega Set. With a selection of 50 colors, this set of acrylics will have your painting needs met for many projects to come. Now, compared to the other acrylic paints that we’ve mentioned here, the finish of The Army Painter is on the glossy side. This makes it harder to achieve realistic looking results. But it is a great option while you’re still getting your feet wet with this hobby, or when you’re mostly looking to have fun with it. So let’s look at what The Army Painter has to offer.
The army painter
If you are looking for a fast and easy way to paint your miniatures, The Army Painter could be your brand of choice. They are one of the affordable and widely available brands for miniature paint. The Army Painter offers less hassle and more fun. Rather than spending hours blending, layering and highlighting, painting with the Army Painter acrylics comes down to four simple steps:
- Spray: You start by priming your miniatures with one of their Color Primers, which are spray paints that match their Warpaints range.
- Paint: You then apply some of their Warpaints. They have a huge range of colors and effects, including metallics and washes. Moreover, they have high pigmentation and coverage, so you don’t need many layers for a great result. These paints also come in an airbrush variant.
- Dip: You then dip your miniatures in one of their Quickshades— varnishes that create instant shading and protection.
- Done: You let your miniatures dry and enjoy the result, or apply some more details and highlights if you wish.
But if four steps still sound like three too many, The Army Painter has just the thing: Army Painter Speedpaint. With their specific formula, these acrylics create contrast effects with a single layer of paint. Their capillary allows them to flow easily over the miniature surface, settling on all the reliefs and more intensely in the crevices of the figure. This way, you get light areas on the reliefs, saturated mid-tones and intense shadows in the crevices. All with just one coat of paint. Easy peasy.
Best white paint for miniatures
Out of all the colors of miniature paint that you’ll collect, the most important one might actually be white. Even for the most colorful of miniatures, the touches of white often do much of the heavy lifting. That’s because white paint wears many hats when it comes to painting minis:
- Base coating. You can use white paint to base coat your miniatures, especially when you want to use bright or pastel colors on top of it. White paint provides a neutral background that allows the colors to pop and shine.
- Mixing. With white paint, you can create lighter shades of any color. It also allows you to create smooth transitions and gradients from dark to light.
- Highlighting. You can create highlights by mixing white paint with the base color, or applying it as a final layer. Highlights help to create contact and depth, making miniatures look more realistic and dynamic.
- Detailing. Add details and accents to your miniatures with white paint, making small elements stand out.
That being said, white paint can also prove to be a bit tricky. Applying it evenly and smoothly can be challenging, as it tends to show brush strokes and imperfections more than other colors. So picking a proper one might save you a headache or two. Generally speaking, you’ll want your white paint for miniatures high in pigment concentration for good coverage, smooth in consistency in order not to leave streaks or blobs, and with a matte or satin finish to not look artificial. That brings us to our selection of some of the best white paint for miniatures:
Frequently asked questions about miniature paint
And with that, we’ve covered the basics of miniature paint. Or rather, a proper primer, to stick with the theme. But, as with most things, the deeper you go the more questions tend to pop up. So below we’ve gathered some of the most common questions, and their answers.
In essence, yes, the standard acrylic craft paints that you can find in the hobby store can be used to paint miniatures. However, you might find that their flow and consistency is not quite optimal, and that they leave a glossy finish that make your creations look quite unrealistic. For these issues, there are of course mediums and varnishes that improve the results. But in general, we would advise to go for paints that are designed for the purpose of painting minis, as they help you achieve amazing results without much of the trial and error that you would face otherwise.
Texture paints are designed to help you create realistic terrain and special effects for your miniature scenes and dioramas. Think grass, sand, snow, mud, rust, and more, straight out of a paint pot. If you’re looking for texture paints, be sure to check out these:
For plastic figures, any type of miniature paint will do the job. Whether it’s acrylic paint, acrylic lacquer paint, enamel paint, or oil paint. It all comes down to your personal preferences. The most popular choice is acrylic paints, due to their affordability and ease of use. But if you’re looking for a durable result, you might want to consider acrylic lacquer paint, enamel paint or oil paint instead.
If you have been reading this article with the hope of finding a definitive answer to the question of which type of paint is best for your miniatures, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. There is no such answer. The world of miniature painting is a complex one. Full of different paints, techniques, and preferences that can vary from person to person and from project to project. What works for one painter might not work for another. The only way to find out what works for you is to start trying them out. See what you like. Or don’t like. Anyhoo, enough said. Get paintin’ already.