Tool Tips 09 – Paints

Tool Tips 09 – Paints

Last time (Tool Tips 08) we went over various brushes. Yep, that’s all I covered! This time it’s all about the paints. Isn’t that what the kids say these days? “The paints, yo!”.


Paints – in the beginning, back in the 1880s (you knew I was going to say that, right?!), my wonderful Mom bought me my first set of Dungeons & Dragons minis.

Picture stolen from a site called (check it out!)

Not knowing anything about painting back then (like I’ve learned anything since?!), I grabbed my Testors paint brush and my Testors enamel paints and proceeded to win my first Golden Demon award. Oh, except back in the 1880s they didn’t have Golden Demon awards, so instead I won my Faust’s Most Excellent Job of Slopping Paint on Deadly Lead award. I no longer have that mini, but I would likely shudder at the paint job I did. I could proudly exclaim how much I’ve improved today, except my two year old daughter could easily outdo that paint job.

I partially painted some of the minis from the set with the cheap Testors brush and the Testors enamel paints. They didn’t look right. I had no idea what sort of techniques to use, and my “Eureka!” moment of painting black lines for “shading”, sure didn’t help. After looking at some comics for ideas, I figured that black contour lines are what you use for shading, so naturally miniatures could benefit as well?! It was all so glossy and looked like the worst nightmare miniature one could imagine.

Flash forward several years and my brother comes back from the mall (it’s what we had before online shopping), where he attended a gaming convention. Well more likely, Mom needed some craft stuff or groceries and forced him to go to the mall with her. Wherein he likely saw the huge geeky setup and checked it out. He learned about some cool new games, and sat in on a painting workshop (something I’d probably die to attend nowadays!). He brought the end result back, which was a D&D Troll mini, painted with acrylics.

If memory serves, it was a Ral Partha Troll

At first I scoffed at the acrylic paint he used (remember, this is back in the 1890s). It wasn’t shiny, and made the mini look dull and ugly. My brother explained that they told him it was more realistic, that the old enamel paints we used were too glossy and shiny. Good for model cars and oil spills, not so good for duplicating skin, cloth, etc. I probably wasn’t totally convinced right away, but something stuck in the back of my brain and I eventually moved to acrylic paints.

Cool, so in about 4 paragraphs we managed to finally move from ‘horrible’ enamel paints to acrylics. All done, right?! Nope. I don’t see too many arguments over enamel vs acrylic paints for painting miniatures these days. I’ll see the occasional diehard enamel painter who still thinks glossy is better. It doesn’t look right to me anymore, but to each their own. You do see a good amount of discussion over brands of acrylic paints though. Of course, the other day I happened to stumble upon a nicely painted mini, all done in oils! Just goes to show, artists who know their stuff can do wonders:

[EDIT: TIM further debunked many of the myths (including my own) about Oil paints and miniatures. Great article to read about using Oils on minis!]

Craft paints – Craft paints are okay, and are definitely cheap. But (in my opinion) they are not the best as far as painting minis is concerned. The pigment is too large, which means you tend not to get as much color on the mini as you would otherwise. Name brand miniature paints are specially designed for the size and material of miniatures, so I find it best to work with those. I’ve seen some bloggers (such as H.A.W.K.S) do some nice work with Craft paints though. I use Craft paints, when I have a lot of area to paint. Works well for pieces like terrain, as it will save you a lot of money in the long run. You can find Craft paints online or at local Craft stores. Some of the brands are: Americana, Folk Art, Apple Barrel, etc.


Paint Exploration – when I first got into acrylic paints, I likely picked up some Citadel paints. Though it could have been Armory or Chessex or some other paint company that didn’t survive the Great Paint Crash of 1910. For the blog’s sake, we will just say Citadel. I was going from the base of ‘slap enamel paint on mini’ to something I didn’t really understand. I think I did venture into spray priming at this point. I probably didn’t clean my minis beforehand though. It’s all hard to recall. I do know that I have some old dried up Citadel paints left over in my box. So dried out, that I’ll have to toss them (despite trying to restore them with some thinner). Note, the thinner did restore a bottle of gunky Vallejo paint recently, so I do appreciate that.

I didn’t seem to get very much into painting around this time, for whatever reason. I can’t even recall painting much of anything and don’t have anything to show for it. I had a D&D Mind Flayer mini, that I probably finished, but I guess he got lost in the Great RPG Purge of 1912.

Then I got into Blood Bowl, and as you can guess, painting minis is a thing. A large thing, as you’re painting from 11-16 minis per team (I went the 16+ route). I was bitten by the collection bug and had nearly all the teams. I later got into some of the Mantic games too. Sticking with acrylics, I think a trip to a local hobby store ended up with me buying some Vallejo paints. I don’t really recall why I picked Vallejo. Either I had read about them online, or the hobby store clerk might have pointed them out to me. The end result was a fair number of Vallejo paints. Which I used very happily for a long time, and much like painting with white primer, continued to do so forever.

Until now. While I continue to use Vallejo paints, I see a lot of painters are using the Citadel line of paints. Maybe it’s because that’s how most people get into the hobby, by buying some Games Workshop models and thus grabbing the Citadel (Games Workshop) paints? D&D has prepainted minis nowadays, so most of the people who would’ve painted them in the past, can instead buy their minis painted and focus on the game. That pretty much leaves GW as the big name in the miniature painting hobby. At least in fantasy/scif realms.

Seeing a number of people using Citadel paints, did make me wonder why people use Citadel versus Vallejo (or P3, etc.). First off, a lot of painters don’t just use one brand. Most will tend to find that a certain color in a certain brand, matches what they are looking for. Sometimes it’s color, sometimes it’s consistency, but for whatever reason, there is a fair amount of mixing and matching. That’s pretty much the way I’ve been heading these days.

Here is the requisite topic when covering miniature paints though:


Cost – The cost of Citadel paints is more expensive than Vallejo paints. That was one reason why I gladly used Vallejo. I could buy more paints, and add more colors to my stockpile. A quick lookup at reveals most Vallejo paints go for $2.80 (USD) and Citadel line paints go for $3.69 (USD).

Bottle design – The bottles are different. So, everyone on this planet knows that paint dries when exposed to air. Except Games Workshop apparently. They are either playing stupid and quietly laughing to the bank as they rake in money from people buying new paint more often, or they are quite daft. As you can see from the image below, Citadel paint lids pop open and then you’re stuck with painting out of the bottle, while your precious money paint dries up. Given the construction of the lid, trying to pour the paint out of the bottle would likely be a mess and a bigger waste of paint. Also you don’t want to dip anything into the paint bottle to get paint out, as it can add things into the paint, like lint, dirt, etc. Dipping your brush directly into the pot is also bad, as you start to push the paint up into the bristles before you have even started. You could use an eye dropper to get the paint out, but that’s money/time buying/cleaning an eye dropper each time.

OR you could buy Vallejo paints, with a built-in dropper top that just makes getting paint on your palette, so much freakin easier! So it’s pretty obvious that I much prefer the Vallejo dropper bottles. Having spilled out half a bottle of Typhus Corrosion on my desk recently, I am all too aware of the differences in bottle design.

But…there is a solution, if you want to spend some time, and some money. I ran across this little video which shows what you need to transfer Citadel paints to dropper bottles that are pretty equivalent to Vallejo bottles: Citadel Dropper Bottles How-To video I ended up doing exactly the same thing as Epic Duck Studios did. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of pouring Citadel paints into the smaller mouthed dropper bottle, so I tried buying some little funnels online that people use for nail paints. The paint is a bit too thick, so it ended up pouring out and over the funnel. It’s much easier to just do what they did and pour directly into the bottle.

Citadel paint in dropper bottles!!?!

You’ll notice there are two different sized bottles in the picture above. Since shades come in bigger bottles, I went with larger ones naturally. Since you need to add Flowaid to dilute the paint enough to get it out, you’re going to want a slightly larger size bottle as well. Below are the items I ended up ordering for this little project. You could skip the Dropper Pipettes (or try glass eye droppers and clean them out), but I found them useful for measuring/adding Flowaid. Also very useful in getting the last bits of paint out of the pot. For the Washes, I used the Pipettes to suck up the liquid and transfer it into the new dropper bottles.

Teensery Dropper Bottles (20ml) – for Paints

Teensery Dropper Bottles (30ml) – for Washes

Teenitor Dropper Pipettes

It doesn’t take long to transfer and is worth it in the end. I don’t transfer paint or wash until I’m ready to start using them, as the less exposure to the air, the better for the paint.

[UPDATE]: it probably isn’t too worthwhile to transfer the washes to dropper bottles. Paints will dry out more than the washes will and it’s easier to dip the brush in the receptacle to get washes out. I mainly transferred the washes over just for consistency in my bottles. There is an advantage in that you’re less likely to tip over the bottle and dump the wash out all over.

Bottle size – Now is probably a good time to mention that the bottle sizes are also different. Vallejo paints come in 17ml bottles. Citadel paints come in 12ml pots. Again, Vallejo paints are also less expensive.

Varieties – Vallejo also has multiple lines of paint. Game Color which is targeted towards fantasy and wargame minis. Model Color which tends towards models and historical era miniatures (lots of browns, greens, and greys in this line). Air Color for Airbrushing. Citadel has one major line of paint and a line of Air paints for airbrushing. I don’t see a major advantage to having more than one line. With Vallejo though, it has meant I have more options with some colors. If I’m not crazy about the Flesh color they have in their Game Color line, I can try out the Flesh tones in their Model Color paints. I’ve found a number of really nice paints in their Model color line, so feel free to mix and match.

Paint – Okay, that’s all about bottles and price and sizes. What about the actual paint?! There is definitely a difference between the Vallejo and Citadel lines. There are a bit of differences in colors too, and that’s why it’s sometimes really nice to mix and match. More importantly, there are differences in the consistency. The Citadel line of paints tend to be thicker and I would lean towards ‘more opaque’ in general.

While I’ve mainly favored the Vallejo paints in the past, they aren’t perfect. If I apply a layer, maybe two of a Citadel base paint. The color underneath the model will be completely covered. If I do the same with a Vallejo paint, I’m still going to see some, if not a lot, of the original color underneath. There are times you might want to do this intentionally. For a base coat however, you generally want the base color to be the only color coming through. Else you will spend untold hours adding layer after layer of paint. Which reminds me of Calculus class, where we would try to get closer and closer to some point, but never quite reach it.

I tried to be a little more scientific this time around and do a little experiment with Vallejo vs Citadel paints. My first thought was to gather two similar paints from each line and dab them on a notecard and see which runs down the card the fastest. I tipped the card up and the dots of paint just stayed in place. Duh.

So the next idea was to take two paint brushes. I happen to have two of the same brand/size of brush. I dampened each and got a small amount of each paint on them.

Paint test – Vallejo Scarlett Red on left, Citadel Khorne Red on right.

I think this test kind of helped to explain the differences between the two paints. The Vallejo (on left), is not quite as opaque as the Citadel base paint (on right). On first contact, the Citadel paint is very dense and seems to remain on the brush a bit longer than the Vallejo paint.

There is a solution for the general thinness of most of the Vallejo paints though, and it’s called “Extra Opaque”. A few of the Vallejo Game Color paints have been released in this Extra Opaque form. I’ve tried some, and they are much closer to the Citadel line. I’ll probably either be using those or Citadel for base color paint in the future.

There appear to be more guides for Citadel paints in general. No doubt due to the popularity of their miniature line. But for just about any Citadel mini you can quickly find a guide ‘Starting with two thin coats of Bugman’s Glow, we now move on to a wash of Reikland Fleshshade,…’. There are web sites and forums and youtube videos and an app. Tons of places to find easy to follow steps for painting a miniature. The Citadel paint line is also built to work off of each other. “Bugman’s Glow” is a “Base” paint. “Reikland Fleshshade” is a “Shade”. Cadian Fleshtone is a “Layer” paint. It makes it really easy to know which paint to follow with which and simplifies the whole process.

I really appreciate all the available color guides out there for Citadel paints and the way their paints were essentially created in triads (or maybe that’s quartets) to each build off of each other. Trying to match up colors along the Vallejo line has been very hit or miss for me. Not always having a lot of time for this hobby, there are definitely times I don’t want to experiment with a bunch of different colors to figure out which ones are going to work well together. Usually I’ll look up a recipe on the Citadel Paint App (Apple Store or Play Store), and then go to a Vallejo/Citadel conversion chart if I don’t have the Citadel colors that are listed. Which is more than likely, as most of my money is in Vallejo paints still.

The decision between Vallejo vs Citadel is not clear cut. Other than bottles (haha!). As mentioned before, I will likely be mixing and matching more in the future. I really like the shades and some of the technical paints that Citadel has to offer. I also just placed an order for some Secret Weapon washes, so I can try them out. The other paint I have heard mention is “P3”. I don’t know too much about their line yet, but might be something for me to check out later. I’ve also been testing out more Citadel base paints as time goes on, and will have some follow up with another Tool Tips article at some point.


Thanks for checking out my article on paints. Next time around I will wrap up this series of articles and talk about the future of Tool Tips!

Next up: Tool Tips 10 – Observations

30 thoughts on “Tool Tips 09 – Paints

    1. Thanks! I’m leaning less towards Vallejo and more towards Citadel these days. I haven’t tried Army Painter, other than their Spray Primer. The Vallejo Game Color Extra Opaque does work very nicely for base paints though.


  1. An interesting article and as you say it’s not clear cut. I like oils as you know and will often use Humbro for metalics (what can I say I’m old!). I like acrylics (Vallejo) for their matt finish but will often use them too as an absorbent base coat for an oil wash. Never used Citadel but given your thoughts will probably purchase a couple in due course, but those bottles, what are they thinking!

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    1. Thanks! Yea, I actually wrote most of this article about a week back. After seeing your work, I had to revise my comment about oils! I was pretty impressed. Let me know what you think of the Citadel line. My favorites are their washes. They work really well, straight out of the bottle.

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      1. Will do. Since dropping down to 28mm scale in order to do more dioramas that take up less space I’ve enjoyed using acrylics and washes. You never stop learning and it’s been fun and different techniques in my opinion apply to different scales. I still do the occasional 54mm figure that appeals to me and when I do it’s back to oils. For larger figures I think shading and shadows need to be painted and blended rather than washed and for me oils work. Doubtless excellent results can be achieved with acrylics but I have yet to master that yet!

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        1. It’s been forever since I used oils, I hadn’t even thought about how different they must be from acrylics. Aside from the end result. Clean up is certainly more difficult as well as fixing mistakes. Which I seem to make a lot of.

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  2. I have to admit that I tend to use citadel but that is due to familiarity. The pots are utter garbage though and you have to clean out the lid periodically to ensure they shut properly. I also use coat d’arms paints. These are basically the old GW paints and are a god send if you are trying to keep a consistent colour scheme using older GW paint from your collection (as the ‘new’ range colours do not match the older ones.

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    1. I wish my my memory was better, as I can’t recall when I switched to Vallejo. I’ve been using them for years, so I understand about familiarity. I guess now that I follow so many blogs revolving around Games Workshop toys, that I’ve been exposed more and more to Citadel paints. With D&D and other miniatures, I think there was more variety in what paints people used.

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  3. I still have several Polly S that date from 1983-4. Still good, though I reserve them so I can make them last into yet another century. Vallejo is great, especially with an airbrush. Citadel has some good stuff, and some bad. I find that if I add a little Testors Universal Acrylic Thinner into my Citadel stuff before I close their terrible pots it does help with lasting. I also use some Tamiya metallics.

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  4. An enjoyable and informative read mate. I too started with enamels back when I decided to paint my plastic toy soldiers haha. Sorry, I thought I was already following you but I definitely am now and will spend some time reading through your other articles.

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  5. I actually can’t stand the dropper bottles for anything thicker than washes. I’ve had too many issues with clogging, and I haven’t actually lost that much Citadel paint to drying out. Just put a couple of drops of water or medium in each time you finish with a given colour and shake it up a bit.

    I haven’t explored too much outside the Citadel paint range, because I’m familiar with them and know exactly how they’re going to work for me. The big exception is washes, where I’ve become a total convert to the Army Painter Quickshade inks. Not the stuff in a can, that’s hideous to work with, but the inks in little dropper bottles. I have picked up a few technicals from other lines, like rust effects and chipping medium, and I’m planning on trying out some of the P3 washes soon, because some of them are supposed to have a super glossy effect much like Citadel washes from back around the turn of the century, and I’d love to have that option in more than the couple of colours I have from back then for various effects.

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    1. Maybe because I got so used to the dropper bottles in the Vallejo line, I like them a lot better. They were the first large collection of paints I got as I became more serious about painting. I’ve had 2 bottle gunk up in the past, and I squeezed too hard and blew out the tip.
      I also tried shoving a nail in one, not that great. After transferring to dropper bottles, I learned those tips pop off! So the next time I encountered a bottle gunking up, I popped the tip off, ran it under warm water for a few seconds and let it clean out. Then dropped some Flow Aid into the paint to help prevent it from here on out. Good to go. I’ve had maybe 4 bottles gunk up, in over a decade of using the paint. So I’m pretty happy with them. As opposed to the Citadel bottles, which always wig me out with the way the lids snap on/off and how precariously balanced they are with the lid open. But yea, it mainly depends on what your comfort level and preferences are. I’m just glad there is a decent way for me to get the Citadel paints I to dropper bottles. And even happier that I don’t have the amount of Citadel paints that most people have, else I’d be overwhelmed about decanting that much paint. I just buy a few Citadel pots with a mini order and decant those when I get them. Shade wise, I’m still very much Citadel right now, but I have picked up AP tones to try out more thoroughly.

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