Paints: A review

Well, seen as how I'm once again awake with insomnia, I thought i would take the time to do a review of the different brands of paint that I use. Kind of a compare and contrast between the differing brands. Mainly this is aimed at the people who use only GW's paints, which for the most part are not bad, but lack in a few key areas!

I've first of all reviewed each paint by brand, then a bit of a "summing up" at the end, to give you my feelings on them overall. Please note, that i haven't covered every brand that I use in total - some of the more esoteric ranges (Howard Hues, TensoCrom etc.) are very specific to certain jobs and hence would not really be of interest to most modellers. The ones i have covered are the main brands that should be available in most FLGS's.

Games Workshop

Well, these are the paints that I'm sure a lot of people started with! They come in flip top bottles, with each one containing 12ml of paint. They average £2.25 a pot (they can be found cheaper in bulk packages or from your FLGS). The range has been expanded in the last couple of years to include the "Foundation" ranges, which are highly pigmented colours designed for base coats, as well as the "Washes", which are highly thinned paints that replaced the old ink ranges; these are designed for washes over the miniature giving quick shading.

Mostly the standard range of colours are bright and highly pigmented; obviously designed for fantasy subjects!

I should probably get this out of the way the beginning, I hate flip top bottles - they are far too easy to knock over, they tend to dry out and worst of all, i get sloppy when using them and dip the brush straight in to the pot! (This is my number 1 tip for painting - always put your paint on a palette before using it).

With GW's colours (and other brands that use flip top bottles) I tend to decant the paint in to an empty Vallejo style bottle that I get from Sean over at SnM-Stuff. These is some wastage during the transfer process, but i find the dropper bottles much easier to control when painting, and they tend not to dry out anywhere near as quickly as flip top bottles.

In terms of quality, the GW paints are reasonable for the price. The coverage is generally good and they thin well with water. They are obviously readily available from GW stores, although they tend to be more expensive per ml than other brands. The foundation paints are nice to work with and I really recommend the washes to everyone, they made a big difference to the way that i paint.


Vallejo make 2 ranges of paints that I tend to think of (and use) interchangeably - they are the Game Colour (VGC) and the Model Colour (VMC) ranges. They also make the Model Air range designed for airbrushing. I will not be looking at this latter range, although i do have several in the range and they are very useful for airbrushing.

The VGC range is a more brightly coloured set of paints, mainly designed for painting fantasy models. It closely matches the GW series of paints (indeed many of the names are very similar). The VMC range is generally more designed for painting of scale military models (1/35 tanks etc) and hence has more muted colours; However, both ranges are sold in identical bottle sizes and they mix together with no problems at all. The bottles themselves are dropper types meaning you can control exactly the quantities that you want.

Both ranges are sold in 17ml bottles, with an average price of around £1.75 - as you can see, you not only get more, but it is cheaper than GW (5ml more for 50p less!!). They brush paint extremely well and mostly thin very well with water; The one exception is the black which splits horribly with water. For this I tend to dilute with the Vallejo thinner.


Tamiya paints are probably one of the most ubiquitous model paints outside of the fantasy miniature realm. Go to any model tank / plane / train shop and you will see racks of Tamiya paints next to the Humbrol enamels.

The Tamiya series of paints are of a different type of acrylic to both the Vallejo and GW. Whilst the VGC / VMC and GW series of paints can be happily mixed together with no side effects (in fact, the Vallejo and GW paints are almost identical in composition) the Tamiya paints will tend to curdle GW / Vallejo paints if mixed with them - however, they can be mixed with other Tamiya paints.

They need to be thinned with alcohol for painting and whilst they are indeed acrylics, they tend to be very poor for brush painting - they go "sticky" after only a moment or two! (As a side note, this can be used to create great blood effects; mix 1 part X-19 (Smoke) and 2 parts X-27 (Clear Red), leave for two minutes then brush paint for the best blood you will ever see!).

Tamiya paints come in 10ml screw top glass jars, for around £1.50. The jars are an absolute nightmare. Not only are they terrible to pour from due to the thick glass rim they also tend to get jammed immediately after the first use. Decanting immediately to vallejo style bottles is a must in this case!!

All the above makes it sound like i don't really like the Tamiya paints - but nothing could be further from the truth. Where they come in to their own is through an airbrush, where they become wonder paints. The finish is absolutely perfect flat finish, and the tones of the colours are very closely matched to the AFV I tend to use them for.

Privateer Press P3

Privateers P3 range is a fairly new range of paints. They are sold in packaged "faction" sets to match Privateers game ranges. Each pack contains six paints, sold in a pot very similar to the old style GW flip top paints.

The P3 range tend to have paired colours. Usually this will be a "base" colour and a "highlight" colour, so for example, you get Menoth White Base and Menoth White Highlight. In most cases the colours will tend to be very well matched together, although obviously using colour blends between the two will give you the best results. This is a very nice touch in the P3 range.

The colours are also amazingly well designed in terms of their balance. Every time i open a new bottle for the first time I tend to be surprised how well it works on the model - the pigmentation is thick but thins very well with water without separation. This is less surprising when you learn that the range was designed by Mike McVey (who is one of my painting heroes!).

Individual pots cost around £2.20 (for about 15ml) putting them up with GW in terms of cost per ml.


So, how do these paints compare to each other? Lets deal with Tamiya first - to be honest, unless you are airbrushing the only paints from Tamiya you need are the two for doing blood. In general they are not great for brush painting and they can be frustrating to work with.

With that out of the way, we are left with GW vs Vallejo vs P3 - all of whom sell a creamy workhorse acrylic paint that will mix well with any of the 3 brands.

Vallejo are my work-a-day paints. I have a near complete set and would not be without them. I find that they work out a lot cheaper than GW pot by pot and given how slowly i use most of them, doing internet ordering is not that much of a problem. The bottles are much better, being droppers from the start and the colours are rich and give reasonable coverage, even when thinned. In many ways other than the cost there is little to differentiate the GW and VGC ranges and hence GW loses out. Having said that, the GW washes are not to be missed - they are a very useful addition to any painters tool kit, and can general some very nice effects, especially Devlan Mud and the Black.

And so we come to the P3 paints. These are my current "Go-to" paints. I absolutely love them! In fact, i can see the day where i use them nearly exclusively. They feel like the gold-top of paint; the colour choices are excellent (and blend well together), the nice touch of base/highlight combos and the highly pigmented paint itself all contribute to making these (IMHO) the best miniature paints on the market today. If you haven't tried these yet, I highly recommend you grab a pack (my suggestion would be "Protectorate Colors" for the wonderful Menoth and Sanguine combos).

Hopefully this review will encourage people to step outside of the GW realm and try some other brands of paints - there are some wonderful products out there than can add a real splash of colour to your models!


candiedwhiskey said...

I haven't tried the P3 paints, although this might be because my store doesn't carry them; are they in most FLGS's or do you have to order online?

Karnstein said...

That looks like a nicely written article. Thumps up!

One short question: you talked about vallejo airbrush paints. I only own a couple of VGC&VMC bottles, but I want to get myself a decent airbrush gun. Do those normal colors work for airbrushing, or are those vallejo airbrush colors a must have? I don't want to do fancy stuff, my only goal is to apply a clean coat of the primary and secondary color on my 12 eldar skimmer tanks.

Paul Chana said...

@consadine - Unfortunately in London we dont have any FLGS (if anyone knows one in West London, please let me know!). I usually order mine online from Wargames Workshop, who have always been quick and efficient. I think more places are starting to stock them, especially in the states, but in the UK they are a little harder to come by.

@Karnstein - I use the VMC / VGC with great success through my airbrush (H+S Infinity). There is some small amount of tip drying with them; although less so if you use the vallejo additives (I tend to thin with 75% water and 25% vallejo acrylic thinners). There are not as easy to airbrush as the Tamiyas but they do work well through the airbrush. The Vallejo air brush paints are obviously very good through the airbrush, and as far as i can tell they are just the normal paints pre thinned... (as an aside, you can airbrush pretty much anything so long as it is thinned appropriately)


Col. Corbane said...

Cracking post mate, I've never ventured outside of the GW range but I think I might have to give those vallejo a go.

Skarsnik said...

Cheers for the review. Just wanted to add that I still use the same GW colours I bought back in the days(well 10-15 years ago?) and they are still doing fine :) sure they are running low but it seams the newer bottles are far inferior to the oldstyle!

Ferran said...

I agree with skarsnik, for the most part my GW paints don't dry up (though there are exceptions). I'd like to like valejo but I've found them uniformly gritty and liable to break up when heavily thinned (by which I mean you put a thin layer down, it dries, then you over-paint it with more very thin paint and it starts to lift), needless to say this is horrible when it happens. P3 are too shiney for me, they're way more satin than I like for most purposes, they do have their place though. All in all GW / coat d'arms are my preferred range, I just wish they had the colour range of Valejo model :'(

Big D said...

I have had good luck with the P3 paints. There isn't a local store that carries them where I am at so I order all mine off of thewarstore.com

I just ordered some pinks for a little project I am working on and am looking forward to getting them in.

Tom said...

Good review Sir. I'm glad to see your mention of Vallajo's black separating, I though I just had a bad batch.

I would also mention that GW's metallics are better then vallejo's, I think the metal is ground much finer. Other then that, Vallejo is always a value.

gork said...

I wish you would have looked at Reaper's series of paints, which, in my opinion, are very similar in quality to Vallejo. Like P3 they are sold in triads with a shade and highlight, but in Vallejo style bottles.

While I enjoy P3 paints, I have had problems with their metallics, which tend to clump, and thin unevenly.

Any thoughts on Coat D'arms paint? I believe they are Gw's "old" range, which I very fondly remember.

Paul Chana said...

Thanks for all the comments guys!

@Ferran - Really? :O I've never had the thinning problem with vallejo - I paint at a ratio of about 75% water too - Do you undercoat before hand? The only time where ive had something similar is when working with a resin model that hadnt been cleaned properly - here the release agent caused the paint to fail to stick, but never on a properly cleaned model...

@ Tom - Yeah Vallejo black is terrible. Its one of the truly awful paints in that range. Even the VMC one is bad too. I tend to use either Citadel or P3 as a replacement (although TBH I tend to use very little black in my painting - if i want to darken a colour, i will either use an offset colour, or a very dark grey (Adeptus Battlegrey from GW is a favourite). Vallejo metallics do tend to be a bit "un thinnable" - I've taken to use the vallejo medium to thin them out instead of water

@ Big D Im sure you wont be disappointed. Like I mentioned, P3 is fast becoming my favourite paint range

@ Aaron - Sorry for not mentioning either C'd'Arms or the reaper range - TBH i've never actually used either. Having had a look at the relevant websites now, I shall endeavour to get some at this years Salute show and report my findings :)

All the best

R Singers said...

Hi Paul. A nice review. I suspect that the P3 paints are the same as Foundary and Coat de'arms, and the old Citadel, and will be made by a company called HMG.

I agree with you completely about Tamiya paints. If you want the ultimate airbrush paint tho' try and get yourself some GSI (Gunze Sangyo) acrylics (Mr Color). They're a bit hard to get hold of, but they're a dream to air brush with and the finish of the semi-gloss colours on WWII vehicles is amazing.

I've painted a large number of flames of war vehicles. I prime with my airbrush using Tamiya brush on primer thinned with meths, followed by a base coat of Tamiya Acrylic and then several Transparent layers of GSI paint.

R Singers said...

@Karnstein re airbrushing Vallejo. I can't put any of the Vallejo paints through my Tamiya airbrush as they plasticise in the tip and block up. However they work fine in my Badger 150.

If you only want to paint 40K vehicles using GW paints you can. You need to get a dripper bottle and put in 1 part GW paint and about 2 parts clean water. Distilled water might be best if your area has a high water mineral content.

Then you shake the hell out of the bottle until the paint is very well mixed. Add the paint to the airbrush cup in small quantities making sure you shake the bottle well again before adding to it.

It also helps to have a compressor with a moisture trap on it.

Myself I'd probably base coat with Tamiya paints and then build the final colours over that. The Tamiya paints give a very good tooth for the later painst to adhere to.

You also have to varnish afterwards as the airbrush layers are much thinner than brushed paint.

Paul Chana said...

@Glassboy - I've been trying desperately to find a good UK supplier of GSI that doesnt cost the earth... If you know of one, please let me know :)


Unknown said...

I know this question is slightly off topic. But I would like to know you're opinion of 'craft paints' such as Apple Barrel and Folk Art. Yes, I'm more of a historical guy and they typically use them. But how would they truly compare to GW or P3 paints? The best thing about craft paints is the price for quantity. About a $1 or so for 2 oz, that 56ml! Sure the you'll have to search for colors and blend. But if you have any experience with them I'd love to hear it. Especially how they fair with blending, thinning and the like. I have used them for my Protectorate Army and they came out nice. Thanks for your thoughts!

Paul Chana said...

@Ryan, I've never used them TBH. Are they acrylic? If so I would imagine they are pretty much the same thing, however if they are more like poster paint that i used as a child then im guessing that they would not be quite a hardy and stay fast as acrylics.. how do you find them to use?

Unknown said...

@Paul Chana- They are acrylic paints. I find that they are quite useful but don't 'flow' as well as I'd like. TBH I've never used any other paints (GW, P3, or Vallejo) since I've just started getting into the miniature hobby. I do like the price of the hobby paints. I have tried to thin them but I haven't been happy with the results. If you want to see the results of what I painted here's my link: http://bertbatcon.blogspot.com/2009/10/ryans-warmachine-pictures-pt-2.html


R Singers said...

@Ryan I've tried both Folk Art and Apple Barrel. The pigment in them is much larger than a proper miniature paint. Basically that means that you work much harder (and longer) to achieve the same effects you get with a miniature paint.

I only use them for bases and scenery, where the cost effectiveness is much better realised.

Unknown said...

@Glassboy-Thanks for the comment! I have noticed that it takes more brush strokes than what I see on some videos. It is rather thick. I'm tempted to us a Flow Aid to see if it helps. I guess it comes down to me being cheap! I might give some of the other paints a try and see where I fall. They might end up as scenery paints.

R Singers said...

@Ryan in ROI terms something like Vallejo is better. It comes in a dripper bottle and as long as you keep the nozzles clean you don't waste much.

The pigment is finer and denser so with thinning you cover more surface area with the same paint.

Plus you add the cost of your saved time.

Ferran said...

Hi Paul

My usual prep (after filing/scraping) is to go at the model for a while with a toothbrush, warm water, and soap. Then I clean a second time with a different toothbrush and some water to make ure there's no soap residue left. Priming is either 2 light coats of GW black or 1 coat of hardware store black followed by the 1 coat GW, then whatever base coat I want (usually medium-dark grey, this thread illustrates http://www.warseer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=236528&page=3) finished results on my blog here http://sixtymetalmen.blogspot.com/ It should be noted that I found this problem mainly with the lighter colours like Deck Tan / US Field Drab. Quite frustrating :(

R Singers said...

@Ferran I had a quick look at your stuff. You might be interested in this method http://www.helldorado.fr/figurines/helle-moller-step-by-step-painting-guide-by-thomas.php

As to the cleaning, get yourself an Ultrasonic cleaner (http://www.jaycar.co.nz/productView.asp?ID=YH5406). It's an easy sell to the SO because they are used to clean jewellery. Mine does a good job of cleaning minis and the Jewellery of the SO and her friends.

Paul Chana said...

@Ferran @Glassboy - In terms of online painting tutorials, I've yet to find one better than this:


Ferran said...

Yes I saw that OllieKickflip tutorial a while back on cmon forums and was immediately interested. I had a problem finding a nice smooth white spray, tried 3 different types but all were rough, then I forgot about my desire to try the technique. I see that Helldorado one uses a greyish brown undercoat, I'll probably give it a go (puts me in mind of this thread, which is also something that I put on the 'to do' list as I like working with light grey http://coolminiornot.com/forums/showthread.php?t=36684&highlight=kingdom)

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