The best paints for miniatures: how to pick the perfect pigments

Choosing the best paints for miniatures is tricky, and it's easy to splurge - so follow our guide to the best miniature paints

Photo by the author of an Ogor Mawtribes model using Citadel Valhallan Blizzard texture paint

Choosing the best paints for miniatures is a difficult game. The choice is simply overwhelming – not only do you have to pick what brand to go for, you’re also daunted with several different types of paints, for different needs – often with five, ten, 15 different shades for each overall colour. Talk about analysis paralysis.

As a beginner, it can be easy to feel trapped into choosing one brand and sticking with it, fearful of spending money on something you might not need in the long run. And, when you’re just starting out in the hobby, it is wise to stick to the basics; purely from a financial point of view, it’s all too easy to run away with yourself.

So you should indeed start small and build up your collection – but don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of paints, if you think they might benefit you. YouTube is your friend here, as you can quickly see reviews of how the paints perform, and what sort of finish they will give your miniatures.

To try and simplify things a little, we’ve picked out some of our favourite paints for each stage of the model painting process. From priming your models at the unpainted plastic stage, all the way through to finishing off your bases with cool-looking texture paints, this should give you a great basis to go from.

If you haven’t already,  make sure you read our comprehensive guide to painting miniatures before dipping your brush in here – that way you’ll have a feel for the different painting stages, and paint types, we’ll be going through below.

So, before we dive in, let’s name our top picks:

THE BEST PAINTS FOR MINIATURE PAINTING

  • Best primer – Vallejo surface primers
  • Best base paints – Citadel
  • Best layer paints – Citadel
  • Best metallic paints – Scale75
  • Best shade paints – Citadel
  • Best technical paints – Citadel
  • Best texture paints – Citadel

Photo of a bottle of Vallejo surface primer black

BEST PRIMER FOR MINIATURES

Primer – Citadel

Many Warhammer fans will tell you that the Citadel spray cans are the way to go when undercoating your models before painting them. But we think these cans are unpredictable at best, requiring too fine a range of operating temperatures and conditions to really be considered reliable. They are, however, good if you have a mild room with low humidity.

Primer – Vallejo

If you want the best results, you’re best off using Vallejo surface primers – in black, white or grey. When used through an airbrush, these paints give an absolutely wonderful finish to undercoat your miniatures. They are smooth and silky, and rarely clog detail.

Better still, if you’re not a member of the airbrush-owning elite, they can also be used with a brush – just be careful to thin it down properly, and make sure you aren’t ruining any of those small nooks and crannies with too much thick paint.

Product Image 1
$19.19
$14.59
View

Photo of a pot of Citadel Kantor Blue base paint

BEST BASE PAINTS FOR MINIATURES

Base – Citadel

Painting your miniatures’ base colours all comes down to which colour you’re working with. For the most part, Citadel are our go-to paints for bases, as they come in a huge variety of different colours, and give a great thick pigment to work with, while also being able to keep your paint thin over the undercoated primer.

Get the basics down: Our complete guide to painting miniatures

Colours like Kantor Blue, Mephiston Red, Rakarth Flesh, Caliban Green, Rhinox Hide, Averland Sunset and Corax White are all fantastic base paints in the Citadel range, and this gives you a great variety of colours to work with.

Blues, reds, greens and yellows will give you good options for all sorts of Space Marine chapters, while the likes of Rakarth Flesh and Rhinox Hide give you good options for wood, leather and flesh.

Product Image 1
$7.40
View
Product Image 1
$9.70
$6.99
View
Product Image 1
$13.99
$7.75
View

Photo by the author of Black Templars Eradicator models painted using Vallejo Model Colour black

Base – Vallejo

Meanwhile, the Vallejo Model Colour Black is our absolute favourite for painting dark models. The finish on this is fantastic, and much smoother than something like Citadel’s Abaddon Black – we’ve been tackling a lot of Black Templars lately, and trust us, this shade of black is perfect.

Photo of a pot of Citadel's Ushabti Bone layer paint

BEST LAYER PAINTS FOR MINIATURES

Layer – Citadel

Layer paints are thinner and more translucent than base paints. They’re perfect for, well, layering. Citadel offers, we think, the best range here.

That’s primarily because – unsurprisingly – they pair very well with the firm’s base paints, and that complementary relationship means you can learn, with some speed, which layers best go over which bases.

Our particular favourites for the primary colours you’ll most likely be tackling (your blues, reds, greens, browns etc) are Teclis Blue, Evil Sunz Scarlet, Ushabti Bone, Yriel Yellow, Warpstone Glow and Baneblade Brown.

Product Image 1
$6.99
View
Product Image 1
$6.80
View
Product Image 1
$9.70
$3.87
View

A photo of a pot of Scale75 metallic gold paint

BEST METALLIC PAINTS FOR MINIATURES

Metallics – Citadel

Metallics range in quality. Citadel offers some good ones – Retributor Armour is an absolutely brilliant, rich gold that does an excellent job of giving a strong basis for shades and highlighting. Leadbelcher is a great, dark silver, while Stormhost Silver is phenomenal for highlighting both golds and silvers, and even other metal colours like brass.

Campaign colours: These are the best D&D miniatures

However, some of the other Citadel metallics can be a little watery and ineffective. Colours like Auric Armour Gold and Runefang Steel sometimes leave a little to be desired.

Product Image 1
$8.73
$8.07
View

A photo of the Necron model for the C'Tan Shard of the Void Dragon, painted with Scale75 metallic paints

Metallics – Scale75

If you want to look outside of Citadel, the Scale 75 range of metallics are fantastic. Not only are the metallic flecks much smaller – which is better for your brushes – but they also offer a wider range of colours. This is especially good if you want to experiment with gem shades, as you can get beautiful reddish, blueish and greenish metallics that stand out more than anything Citadel offers.

Sales photo of a bottle of Citadel Agrax Earthshade paint

BEST SHADE PAINTS FOR MINIATURES

Shades – Citadel Shade

You can of course make your own shades from any paint – just dilute it enough that it becomes a wash, and voilà!

But Citadel’s range of pre-mixed shades is simply stellar. We’ve not used any other brand in our time painting miniatures, and everything they offer – from the black shade of Nuln Oil and brownish Agrax Earthshade, to more obscure colours like yellows and greens – give a famously magical, depth-creating finish that’s earned them the nickname ‘liquid talent’.

Booked in: Our guide to Warhammer 40K 9th edition codexes

There is an end to their uses, however. With Shades being so runny in consistency, they often pool when used on big, open surfaces.

Product Image 1
$10.17
View

Sales photo of a bottle of Citadel's Ork Flesh contrast paint

Shades – Citadel Contrast

It’s then that Citadel’s Contrast range of paints comes in quite useful, as these are thicker in consistency and less prone to pooling – and staining – in unrealistic ways.

In some situations, Contrast paints are actually the best shade possible – so experiment with combining layer paints with shades of Contrast, to find those stunning effects.

We’ll give you one to start off: Guilliman Flesh over Balthasar Gold creates a gorgeous aged bronze. Now you!

Product Image 1
$9.25
View

Sales photo of a pot of Citadel Soulstone Blue paint

BEST TECHNICAL PAINTS FOR MINIATURES

Technicals – Citadel

With the very name “Technical” being Citadel’s title for its own range, it’s obvious this is the brand we’re recommending here. We don’t do so lightly, though – these paints are excellent for a number of reasons, and perform superbly in a variety of applications. For the sake of ease, we are breaking out the “texture” technical paints into their own subheading, as they’re used mostly for bases.

The particular technical paints we find most useful range from varnishes, to gem paints, to fluorescent green stuff that makes the energy filaments in Necron guns glow with greenish flare.

It came from space: Our guide to Warhammer 40k’s Xenos factions

But the truly essential technical paints are Lahmian Medium and Contrast Medium – the former is a clear paint substance that’s perfect for diluting Citadel paints into washes, or less vivid versions of themselves. The same is true of Contrast Medium for Contrast paints.

For varnishes you’ll want to look at Stormshield and ‘Ardcoat – the former is a matte varnish that’s great for protecting models, and/or ensuring a totally matte finish. It’s also useful when sealing transfers on models. ‘Ardcoat, meanwhile, is a gloss varnish that’s perfect for making gems look shiny.

Other technicals like Tesseract Glow (the luminous Necron green mentioned above), Nihilakh Oxide and the gem paints (Soulstone Blue, Waystone Green and Spiritsone Red) all have more minor applications, but are useful in very specific scenarios.

Product Image 1
$13.74
$9.39
View
Product Image 1
$8.49
View
Product Image 1
$7.40
View

Photo by the author of an Ogor Mawtribes model using Citadel Valhallan Blizzard texture paint

BEST TEXTURE PAINTS FOR MINIATURES

Texture – Citadel

Lastly, we have the texture technicals, once again from Citadel. These are excellent for creating realistic looking base textures. Our favourites are Stirland Mud for a deep rich brown colour, Astrogranite for a classic Warhammer 40K urban look, and Valhallan Blizzard for some surprisingly lifelike, fluffy snow.

Agrellan Earth – which dries into crackly flakes that resemble sun-baked ground – is another star, which will blow your mind the first few times you use it on your model bases.

Product Image 1
$10.00
$8.69
View
{"schema":{"page":{"content":{"headline":"The best paints for miniatures: how to pick the perfect pigments","type":"guide","category":"warhammer-40k"},"user":{"loginstatus":false},"game":{"publisher":"Games Workshop","genre":"Wargame","title":"Warhammer 40,000","genres":["Wargame","Sci-fi","Tabletop"]}}}}