There were a lot of drawbacks to painting with enamel. Since they weren't water soluble you had to clean your brushes in turpentine, and certain techniques, like washing were a lot harder to do (and completely unknown to me at the time).
Fortunately times have changed for the better and we are now blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to acrylic paint purpose-made for miniatures. There are lots of different paints available and it can be tough to decide what brand to buy. Many painters use paints from a variety of companies, but most have their favourites. Here is a quick comparison of four of the most popular miniature paint brands: Citadel Paint (Games Workshop), Reaper Master Series Paints, Vallejo, and P3 (Privateer Press).
Now all of these paints are good quality and each has a loyal following. Any of them will produce good results, but how do they compare? There are lots of factors to consider, but let's start off with price, volume, colour range, and type of bottle.
By virtue of the marketing giant that is Games Workshop, Citadel paints are some of the most readily available paints on the market, and most game stores sell them.
Volume: 0.4 oz (11.83 ml)
Price: $4.45 USD.
Price per ounce: $11.83 USD
Colour range: 73 paints in the series, including the Citadel Paints, the Foundation Paints, and Washes.
Pros: The Citadel metallic paints are the best I've seen. They have excellent opacity and pigment density and you can cover a black undercoat with a single layer. The Foundation Paints line (18 colours) have a very high pigment density and cover black undercoats very well. Citadel Washes come in 8 colours and are outstanding for shading miniatures and leave no 'watermark' when they dry.
Cons: The nature of the flip-top pot means that Citadel paints dry out very quickly because of the large air-to-surface ratio. There is also considerable wastage as large paint rings form around the mouth of the bottle.
|The ubiquitous scum ring|
Because the lids of these pots don't seal well, you have to peel a large scum ring off the rim every time you open the pot. GW has recently switched to a new style of pot with a tighter-closing lid, but you still get paint drying in the neck and, even worse, falling into the paint to create a thick goop, which greatly decreases the paint's lifespan.
|Paint bottle with clogged arteries|
Reaper Master Series Paints
Reaper paints are also very commonly stocked and widely available in most stores.
Volume: 0.5 oz (14.8 ml)
Price: $2.99 USD
Price per ounce: $5.98 USD
Colour Range: 216 paints in the series
Pros: Reaper Master Series paints come in dropper bottles which creates a very small air-to-surface ratio and therefore have extremely long life spans. The bottles have little pewter skulls within that act as agitators that thoroughly mix the paint by shaking for just a few seconds. Master Series paints also have flow improver added to them, which make them excellent for fine detail work, blending, and layering. Master Paints come in 'triads' composed of a mid-tone, dark-tone and light-tone of each colour. This makes base-coating, shading and highlighting a breeze and eliminates the need to mix to create darker and lighter shades of your mid-tone colour.
Cons: The tip of the bottle sometimes becomes clogged with dried paint. I keep a pin handy for clearing the clogs. The thinner consistency of the paint (due to added flow improver) makes it somewhat less suitable for drybrushing than 'goopier' paints.
Vallejo Game Colour Paints
This is another popular brand that many painters swear by.
Volume: 0.57 oz (17 ml)
Price: $2.75 USD
Price per ounce: $4.78 USD
Colour Range: 72 paints in the series
Pros: Vallejo paints also come in dropper bottles, like Reaper Master Series paints, and enjoy the same benefits.
Cons: There is no agitator in Vallejo paint bottles and since they cannot be mixed with a stick, this means shaking the bottle for a long time (approximately 3 minutes according to users).
P3 Formula Paints
Produced by Privateer Press, this is another common brand often carried by retailers.
Volume: 0.6 oz (18 ml)
Price: $3.50 USD
Price per ounce: $5.75
Colour range: 72 paints in the line
P3 Formula paints come in bottles with flip-top lids, like Citadel paints but, apparently, the lids seal more tightly than Citadel paints. Nonetheless there will be considerable air-to-surface ratio and they will likely dry out quickly.
You may have noticed that my information on Vallejo and P3 paints is scanty. This is because they are not widely available in my area, so I've had little opportunity to use them. So my discussion will mostly compare Reaper Master Series paints to Citadel paints, both of which I have a great deal of experience with. In general, however, I would tend to favour Vallejo paints as my second paint of choice simply because they come in a dropper bottle.
I'm a big fan of dropper bottles, and if you've ever caught the edge of an open paint bottle with your sleeve and spilled half a bottle of paint all over your work surface, you'll know why. You can squeeze out exactly as much paint as you need onto your palette and don't ever have to worry about spillage. The lifespan of paint in a dropper bottle is far greater than in a flip-top bottle. Most of my Citadel paints dry out in about a year to eighteen months, whereas the first Reaper paints I bought five years ago are still as good as the day I bought them.
Detractors of dropper bottles cite not being able to paint 'out of the bottle' and the tendency of the tips to clog. You shouldn't ever paint out of the bottle; this decreases the lifespan of the paint and increases the risk of knocking the open bottle over. Always transfer paint to a palette. As for clogs; they do happen but are easily cleared by poking a pin in them (I keep one on hand with my tools for just this purpose).
In terms of price per ounce, Vallejo paints are the cheapest, while Reaper and P3 are close to the same price and just about a dollar per ounce more than Vallejo. Unsurprisingly, Citadel paints are a very distant last place, costing about twice as much per ounce as the others. When you factor in the limited life span and huge amount of wastage from dried paint rings, the price per usable unit volume of Citadel paints is exorbitant.
That said, I do use them. I like the high pigment-density Foundation paints and often use them for base coating, although Reaper will soon be releasing high pigment-density paints for their Master Series line. As I mentioned previously, Citadel metallic paints are excellent and I prefer them over all others I've tried, and I also very much like their new line of washes. I do try to avoid the Citadel paints as much as I can and go with Reaper whenever possible.
It is probably apparent my now that Reaper Master Series are my favourite paints. Their paint best suits my style of painting, since I do a lot of layering, blending, and fine detail work. Their huge colour range of 216 paints and the 'triad' groups is hard to beat. I also like the pewter skull in each bottle. Besides being a very useful agitator, when your bottle is empty you can retrieve the skull and use it for basing decoration. This is a cool little bonus
Some might notice that I left the Reaper Pro Paint line out of the discussion. I did so because I've never seen a retailer carry them. I've ordered a few of these paints directly from Reaper to try them out, but they aren't a favourite of mine because they come in screw top jars, which can only cause trouble. It probably is worth discussing them briefly as an addendum, however.
The Reaper Pro Paints come in 0.75 ounce screw top bottles for $2.99 USD, which means they cost a mere $3.99 per ounce (nearly one-third the price of Citadel). Whereas almost all paints (including Citadel Foundation paints) are intended to be thinned before use, Pro Paints can be used 'as is' without thinning and are intended for quick base-coating. There are 106 paints in the Pro Paint line, and the colours differ from the Master Series, which means that Reaper has a whopping 322 paints in it's lineup.
So, there we have it. In my opinion, although Vallejo paints are the most economical Reaper Master Paints are my poison of choice with Citadel coming in dead last. Nonetheless any of the paint brands will do the trick, and there are none that I would outright refuse to use.