When you’re searching for the best paints for miniatures, the choice is overwhelming. Not only do you have to pick what brand to go for, but you’re also daunted with many types of paints for different needs – often with five, ten, or 15 different shades for each overall color.
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. 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.
We’ve picked out our favorite 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. Read our comprehensive guide to painting miniatures once you’ve dipped your brush in here.
The best paints for painting miniatures
- 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
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 gray. When used with 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.
Best base paints for miniatures
Base – Citadel
Painting your miniatures’ base colors all comes down to which color you’re working with. For the most part, Citadel is our go-to paint for bases, as they come in a huge variety of different colors, and give a great thick pigment to work with, while also being able to keep your paint thin over the undercoated primer.
Colors 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 colors 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.
Base – Vallejo
Meanwhile, the Vallejo Model Colour Black is our absolute favorite 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.
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 favorites for the primary colors 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.
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 colors like brass.
However, some of the other Citadel metallics can be a little watery and ineffective. Colors like Auric Armour Gold and Runefang Steel sometimes leave a little to be desired.
Metallics – Scale75
If you want to look outside of Citadel, the Scale 75 range of metallics is fantastic. Not only are the metallic flecks much smaller – which is better for your brushes – but they also offer a wider range of colors. 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.
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 colors like yellows and greens – give a famously magical, depth-creating finish that’s earned them the nickname ‘liquid talent’.
There is an end to their uses, however. With Shades being so runny in consistency, they often pool when used on big, open surfaces.
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!
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.
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.
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 favorites are Stirland Mud for a deep rich brown color, Astrogranite for a classic Warhammer 40K urban look, and Valhallan Blizzard for some surprisingly lifelike, fluffy snow.