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Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Tips and tricks for painting miniatures and anything else.

Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby Kurgan » Monday March 18th, 2019 6:57am

So I started out using custom Hero Quest figures nearly a half a year ago (using those polymer Reaper Bones miniatures), colored with Formula P3 paints purchased from hobby stores. I never bothered with Army Painter... but the citadel paints I had from ages ago dried up super fast (the containers weren't quite air tight in the late 90's I guess... the "snap caps" are much better than the old screw type bottles).

When painting minis, I mainly was about quantity... painting lots of small minis (intended for play) or covering large areas evenly with the paint, as opposed to doing fine detail on single figures for display.

So I blew a lot of money on these things over the years prior, and I know people suggest diluting or thinning it out with water, etc. but I was mostly doing things in flat or solid colors, so I realized, far too late, that it's much better to just use those bigger containers of acrylic paint found at places like Walmart or Hobby Lobby (primarily AppleBarrel and FolkArt). You get a wide variety, lots of paint, pretty cheap and while they're slightly less satisfying than the pro stuff, they get the job done... AND I discovered DecoArt produces this "Duraclear Satin" varnish coat, which is fantastic. It blew away the professional vallejo satin varnish that cost way more (again from the game store). DecoArt also makes this "Americana" series of gloss enamels that I've had pretty good luck with so far.

I purchased some of those little "snap top" clear plastic containers (the ones with many little cylinders all linked together in a chain) for paint mixing, because I previously had the problem of mixed paints drying out (I tried putting them in empty plastic gum tumblers or on an artist's palette with plastic wrap over it but that only lasts a little while).

I don't prime the Bones minis, just dip them in boiling water (straightens out any bent parts and cleans off any excess oil from the factory). Air dry, and then slap the paint on and put them on the drying surface (aluminum foil, usually).

So I'm now sold on using these paints. I will paint a figure in matte acrylics, and then put a thin coat of Duraclear to give it a nice varnish that isn't tacky to the touch (the vallejo satin was still tacky after a week) and stiffens up the polymer a little bit on the Bones minis. Other times I have mixed a "gloss" paint with a "matte" and come up with a pretty nice looking in between finish (might not hold up to oily gamer hands though). I use a set of basic Plaid brushes to apply the paint and leave to air dry 20 mins to an hour. Clean the brushes right away with tap water and dish soap. Done!

Now on the day I decide to start painting "detailed" minis and actually using washes and things, I may go looking for other solutions, but for now, this gets the job done. The varnish too was a game changer... I had used paints to fix up some damaged toys, and the paints would chip, or were tacky, had rough spots, or didn't blend well with the old paint job, and the varnish fixed that right up (especially when the joints need to be movable). The only downside is that if you glop it on (and don't "dry brush" it out of the various crevices) you can lose some detail and end up with a "wet" looking figure.

I've gotten a few free Master Paint (MSP) samples from Reaper with my orders and they worked out pretty well... just a thin layer and then apply the varnish when dry.

The minis I've painted have sat out for days while I'm working on them, but generally I store them in plastic tackle boxes, so they're not collecting dust. But with the varnish coat they should be easy to clean with a little tap water and a gentle towel.
Last edited by Kurgan on Monday March 18th, 2019 6:45pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby cornixt » Monday March 18th, 2019 2:58pm

I've only had bad luck with the Americana brand, except for the Lamp Black which is an excellent undercoat. Everything else has such a low pigment count that the multiple layers required makes painting tedious for me. I do buy the white paint though, but only to mix with the black to make a still very solid grey undercoat.

I've never felt the need to varnish plastic models, the paint very rarely comes off with normal handling.


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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby Kurgan » Monday March 18th, 2019 3:09pm

Maybe it's the humidity or something, but for me painted plastic figures get dinged up or even gummy over time. If you're handling everything with kid gloves, it's probably okay.

Then again it may be the type of plastic. I had some action figures where the harder plastic used on the torso was perfect (although a vinyl sheet that was touching it eventually adhered to it, peeling the paint off), while the limbs were a more rubber plastic that remained tacky (and attracted dust like pig pen from Peanuts). The joints had a little bit of paint under them so shifting the articulation points caused it to rupture and peel. The varnish fixed that. You could probably dilute it out to make it less "shiny" too, but I like it.

The Reaper Bones minis use this kind of white (or sometimes light gray) polymer plastic that's slightly pliable, but still durable. No priming is necessary in those cases. They introduced a "Black" line which uses harder plastic, which I haven't messed with yet.
Last edited by Kurgan on Monday March 18th, 2019 6:44pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby Anderas » Monday March 18th, 2019 3:32pm

What I like is your dipping in hot water. I think that step is what really replaces the under coat in terms of sticky surface. Then the reaper plastic is light enough so that even red or yellow shines.

Applying flat colours, on the other hand, is somehow disappointing. Once those flat colours are there, it takes a tenth of the time to slab some highlights on the most visible parts.

Whatever. Painted is better than not. |_P


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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby KrautScientist » Monday March 18th, 2019 5:29pm

Miniature painting is obviously such an individual "art form" that everyone has their own approach -- and that's one of the great things about it, in fact!

With that out of the way, a few observations/remarks:

1. I've used "cheap" acrylics before, but mostly for terrain. That being said, I can definitely see them performing just as well as the more expensive stuff. I also couldn't agree more on the (modern) GW paints drying up infuriatingly quickly (whereas some of my 25+ years old, octagonal pots are still good to go). I've also had pretty good experiences with cheap DIY superstore spraypaint as coloured undercoats, although YMMV. GW spraypaint tends to work the best for me, however, as it's just dependable and doesn't produce any unhappy accidents.

2. When it comes to varnishing, I have found the HeroQuest models, in particular, to really, really require varnish -- the colour actually frequently came off during the very painting process, even though I had cleaned the models beforehand. So I would really advise people to varnish them -- they seem more prone to chipping than virtually all other models I have worked with so far.

3. I have to agree with Anderas: Once the base colours are there, that's when the actual fun starts! I can see why you want to be economical with your painting and cover a lot of ground, but with just one or two steps more, the models can go from barely serviceable to outstanding -- I've learned that yet again when comparing my recently painted HQ Gargoyle (with shadows and highlights) to the version I painted 25+ years ago (just base colours).
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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby mitchiemasha » Monday March 18th, 2019 5:49pm

The pigments in cheap paints aren't as fine, for lazy painters like myself that's a huge disaster waiting to happen, lots of glooped up ruined miniatures.

Some colours are different even in brand, yellow is the worst, especially army painter, It's so bad to use. With the cheap brands it's not just an issue of pigment size but consistency between tubs, just when you get used to how it is, it isn't, that's pigment size, mix quantity and colour tone. There's a huge article about it over on Vallejo, they make paint to satisfy all kinds of needs, modellers aren't charged more for less just to rip us off, there's a reason. The summary being... artists want brush strokes, we don't.

You might prefer some colours from 1 brand but not others, it's a mix and match thing. The same colour might work well in 1 particular but not the other, making application a huge factor too. The colour you hate might best suit another technique.

If you're worried about paints drying out, use a wet pallet, this gives you more time with the paint and you can keep the tubs closed. If your wet pallet has a lid you can even use it again the next day. Stick your box of tubs on top of the washing machine now and then.


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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby mitchiemasha » Monday March 18th, 2019 5:55pm

Kurgan wrote:...

Kurgan. You may be pressing return when you don't need to. Forum view depends on different peoples screen size. The line doesn't necessarily follow how you see it on your screen. When I see your posts on my screen, I'm getting many lines starting a fresh randomly in mid sentence.


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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby Kurgan » Monday March 18th, 2019 6:39pm

mitchiemasha wrote:
Kurgan wrote:...

Kurgan. You may be pressing return when you don't need to. Forum view depends on different peoples screen size. The line doesn't necessarily follow how you see it on your screen. When I see your posts on my screen, I'm getting many lines starting a fresh randomly in mid sentence.


Thanks I wondered about that. So just let the text "naturally wrap" and it'll look best for most? Thanks for the tip!
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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby Kurgan » Monday March 18th, 2019 6:43pm

Anderas wrote:What I like is your dipping in hot water. I think that step is what really replaces the under coat in terms of sticky surface. Then the reaper plastic is light enough so that even red or yellow shines.

Applying flat colours, on the other hand, is somehow disappointing. Once those flat colours are there, it takes a tenth of the time to slab some highlights on the most visible parts.

Whatever. Painted is better than not. |_P


Interestingly enough, when I'm painting the first layer onto a (usually white) Reaper mini, some parts come off as lighter than others (especially on smooth surfaces of the figure). Sometimes I leave these in as they do preserve detail, even on a solid color figures. Again, I'm doing something different here than the "Fine detail" painter who is trying to create something lifelike, rather than something that looks like it was packed into a board game. I have yet to try to paint any of the original HQ minis, other than painting over parts of the red Heroes (as shared in another thread) covering stress damage or glue-points (where I repaired the broken swords). Before I heard about Simple Green, I painted over some parts that somebody had painted in their used minis to get a uniform red as if they were new.

I haven't yet tried to varnish any of the original HQ minis and I've never painted a metal mini (mainly a cost saving measure, but I think it blends well with the original sets).
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Re: Switching to "cheaper" paints for minis

Postby whitebeard » Wednesday March 20th, 2019 6:11pm

I use Craft Smart paint for LARGE terrain projects including my 3D printed HQ board. It really works well for the tabletop. But the difference in quality is significant, definitly too thick and gritty for a miniature.


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