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I want to try painting miniatures (plastic ones ala Castle Ravenloft and the World of Warcraft board game), but I don't want to spend a lot of money on supplies only to find out that I stink, but I also don't want to get low quality paint only to find out that I enjoy painting them.

I've seen many posts online where people recommend using Vallejo paints or Citadel or Reaper's paint lines, but they all seem expensive at more than $3 a pot. Is there a cheaper brand that I can experiment with?

Locally, the two craft stores (no real hobby stores in the area) both carry Testor's brand paints. I've read online that Testor's is not good for miniature painting.

I don't know how old this site is, but he recommends not spending more than $1.50 for a pot of paint.

Is there a way to ease my way into miniature painting so I can see if it's a good fit, or do I need to just bite the bullet and spend $100 on supplies?

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Testor's is a hard enamel and not water soluble. You'd need paint thinner to clean up brushes and spills. Enamels are toxic and tend to be used for plastic model kits. Miniature-intended paints are acrylics, often non-toxic, blend and drybrush nicely, and clean up, freshen, or thin with just water. – SevenSidedDie Nov 24 '10 at 1:27
how'd this go? Did you get in on the Reaper Bones KS? – antony.trupe Oct 30 '12 at 20:59
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You can buy decent acrylic paints at your local wal*mart or equivalent, in the crafts section, or at a crafts store. Delta Ceramcoat and similar brands work quite well, and are a few dollars for 4oz or more..

The Games Workshop/Citadel paint is problematic because, for the same cost, you get half an ounce, AND they've added latex (making it a common allergen), and it doesn't survive unused nearly as well, either, for the latex will set in the bottle much easier.

Decent brushes can be bought inexpensively at the same sources, often in packs of 3-5 of varying sizes.

Plastic pallets with 6 cups are under a dollar at my local W*M.

At $4/bottle, you'll want at least a flesh tone, a metal tone, and a brown and green. So probably $30 sunk on the initial investment in materials, but those are sufficient to last some time. (For citadel color, you're looking at the same prices, maybe more, and 1/8th the paint.)

Spray primer is useful. Any fine primer works; Krylon has a decent one in a roughly $5 can. If you don't do spray primer, prime with white, gray, or black paint.

The pallet is essential, IMO: you put a drop or two in the pallet's cups, closing the bottle. Less waste, and you can dilute or mix safely.

Minis to paint is the next hurdle; sells excellent plastic minis in boxes; zvezda 1/72d scale (roughly 20mm) are $12-15 a box, with 15+ minis in the box. Since the techniques are the same whether the minis are plastic or metal, it's an inexpensive start point.

Also, find a good instructional site, and work through it once you have materials.

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"Latex" paint is actually polyvinyl in an acrylic resin and does not trigger latex/rubber allergies. Otherwise, excellent answer: +1 – Ron Nov 23 '10 at 16:17
I didn't see any Ceramcoat at my Walmart, but I went ahead and bought some of their acrylic paint that they had. They had a set of about 30 small pots of paint for $10 and I got a brush pack for $5, so we'll see how this goes. – Buns of Aluminum Nov 24 '10 at 14:02
My local W*M has the Delta Ceramcoat; I've used about 5 different brands (not counting Citadel Colour) and found them all wonderful. For more esoteric shades, check your local ceramics shop, too, for acrylics. —¶— word of warning on small pot collections: they tend to be (in the long run) much more expensive, as they're usually 1/4oz or less per pot, and often, lower quality paint. Further, they're harder to seal up. (Delta in the 4oz bottle lasts YEARS before drying beyond use.) – aramis Nov 24 '10 at 16:43
Actualy, Ron, in older Citadel paints, it was in fact natural latex, and said so on the box. They may have changed it since. But it did trigger latex allergies (and we couldn't figure why, the paint lead to discovering my wife was allergic to latex). This was, however, over 10 years ago. I swore off using Citadel colour back then because you had to keep your brushes meticulously clean, or it would foul the brushes whilst working with them; standard acrylics have less of that issue. – aramis Nov 24 '10 at 17:46

You can find a lot of good advice on painting miniatures (included "how much should I spend" and "what exactly do I buy first") from this series of articles by Mike Mc Vey.

ADDENDUM Penny Arcade's Tycho talks about getting into painting miniatures, and posts some interesting links on today's post. Of course, watching 8 hours of video to learn how to paint isn't everyone's cup of joe, but...

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Nice link. Thanks. +1 – Ron Nov 23 '10 at 16:22
8 hours of video? I should be able to finish watching that before I go home from work. :) – Buns of Aluminum Nov 24 '10 at 13:52
Based on your nickname, no you wouldn't. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 24 '10 at 14:13

Do you know anyone else interested in painting? When I first got started there were a bunch of us who wanted to try but were put off by the cost. We all bought a pot of paint each and shared them. It worked well and some of us continued painting after that.

There are a number of starter kits out there. They have 6 or 7 paints, some brushes, and a mini or two. If I recall correctly they were usually in the $20 range.

Some game shops also host intro to painting sessions. Even if they don't, you might be able to convince some of the people painting in the stores to let you try it out with their paints. Throw them 5 bucks and it'll more than cover whatever paint you use. Obviously this only applies if you know a place where people do their mini painting in the store.

Finally, you don't actually need a ton of paints for each mini. When I was first painting all I'd use was flesh tone, a metallic paint for armor, one or two colors for cloth, black, and white. That's not going to cost a ton. Once I graduated from communal paints I basically bought a new color each time I got a mini. It really wasn't as expensive as I'd have expected.

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This is good advice. Unfortunately, I live about an hour from the nearest gaming store (which is big into Warhammer), so I can't really pursue this method. I was able to buy some acrylics on the cheap at Walmart, though. I'll try painting the easily replaceable minis first, just in case. :) – Buns of Aluminum Nov 24 '10 at 14:06
@INFA No need to replace a mini because of a bad paint job. You can strip plastic minis of acrylic paint by leaving them in brake fluid (yeah, the kind for cars) until the paint falls off. Use a toothbrush to get the last flecks off, and wash them well in soapy water to remove fluid residue, then re-paint as if they're brand-new. Good for redoing your "firsts" after you've got some skill. – SevenSidedDie Nov 24 '10 at 18:18

The venerable Miniature Painting Guide and FAQ that dates back to USENET times is what taught me how to improve my technique after a friend got me started. It starts out with sections on how to get started—choosing paints, choosing and cleaning brushes, and other useful equipment—but also covers advanced topics like why and when to use white, grey, or black primers, the what and how of ink washes, how to paint eyes and insignia, and more.

I used to be a slow but good painter (I did a lot of wet blending), but after learning a few tricks from this FAQ I could do a player-character or main-monster quality paint job in about an hour, including blended or dry-brushed skin, eyes with pupils, and highlighted hair.

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I used acrylics with a non gloss matte finish. My miniatures still holding their colors after 25+ years. You need some primer, some colors and black. All of this can be gotten at walmart. The only speciality items you should need to start out with are fine brushes.

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If there's a Games Workshop store in your area, they frequently have "Learn to Paint" days/nights, where you show up, are given a simple miniature and access to their massive store collection of paints, brushes, etc.

My local game store (not GW) has these pretty much monthly, too. Or ask a friend to let you use his/her paints, etc. It shouldn't cost you more than one miniature and a brush to get started.

Be warned though, unless you're already a pretty decent artist (and even then) you'll probably fall way short of your expectations--that's part of the fun though! It's like leveling up a character. Except it's your hand. Or brain. Or something.

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