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Cutting Costs Part 1: Bottom of the Barrel Paints

I’m new to posting as a blogger here so I thought long and hard about how to start off.  The first entry always sets a precedent for the sort of things you’ll see in future so it had to be a good personal topic which gives me plenty of subject matter.  Ultimately I decided focus on something very dear to all of us wargamers the cost of the hobby.

As a player of some years I’ve heard a lot of bemoaning the cost of things and I don’t blame people.  Just the current cost of miniature products is enough to make some people quit the hobby.  But I’m not going to gripe about the cost of products.  Instead I’m going to discuss some ways to mitigate them.

Now the biggest expenditure a gamer has apart from the miniatures themselves is their paint collection.  Lord knows many of us could field a 3000 point paint pot army if Games Workshop would just write the codex (Get on it Cavatore).  Jokes aside it takes a lot of pretty colors to field an army and at $3.70 for a bit less than half an ounce of paint it can cost a lot to do an army right.

Now for the record I think Citadel paints are pretty good as are Vallejo and similar miniature paints including Army Painter and P3. However their price point is such that it makes them hard to sustain when you are doing a large amount of work.  These paints are particularly good for miniature painting because they are designed to adhere to the miniature materials be they Lead, Pewter, White Metal, or PVC Plastic.  They also have an advantage in that they are a closed color range.  IE they are designed with three or four shade steps to be as complementary as possible while maintaining their diversity of available colors.  All of these are good and there is even something to be said about having your paints available where you buy your mini’s but when it comes down on it if you are on a budget why buy a Cadillac when a Honda will do.

For that reason I look to craft paints and good old fashioned spray paints to get the job done.  The cost of 2 ounces of craft a craft paint usually falls somewhere under $2.00 and they tend to have a longer shelf life than miniature paints.  For that matter even artist paints often clock in ounce for ounce cheaper than miniature paints do and have a lot better characteristics.  Now most people don’t understand what the difference between paints are.  Miniature paints are not a lot different than most paint brands on the market, craft paints like Plaid or Folkart however are a lot different to both miniature paints and traditional paints.  The two product types simply favor different manufacturing methods and so their price points and characteristics differ drastically.

All acrylic paints consist of an acrylic binder and pigments for color.  In the case of most artist paints, model, and miniature paints the binder is made of two separate acrylate polymers. This double binder does two things, first it allows its binder to adhere to different surface types in equal measure and second it thickens the paint so that when it is applied it flattens out rather than clumping due to surface tension.  Craft paints on the other hand are simply a single multipurpose acrylic binder that isn’t particularly amazing at doing anything. The binder is actually closer in chemical design to egg white than it is to other acrylate binders.   Apart from their binder the pigment is slightly different as well.  Expensive paints use a variety of substances to obtain their color often these color mixtures are proprietary but they are often derived from minerals and elements.  This often makes certain colors more expensive than others.  Miniature paints and some low cost artist paints use colored ceramic powders as their pigment. In contrast craft paints use colored acrylic powders for their pigment.  This will mean that paints using minerals and elements will hold their color longer than either Miniature or Craft paints. In fact extended exposure of bright light to either will result in a marked loss of color vibrancy, with ceramic based paints dulling towards lighter tones and plastic based paints turning darker.  This all sounds very damming for my case for craft paints but it really isn’t.  The truth is that the faults in the paints can be overcome with a little bit of effort and the resulting savings can be extensive.

To start with choose a good base coat to apply your craft paints too.  Your primer is key to getting a non-model paint to stick and stick well.  The key is to remember acrylic polymers bond to other acrylic polymers.  While there is a certain amount of variability to how well they stick for the most part if you have an acrylic base down it will bond.    When in doubt I rely on Rustolium Indoor/Outdoor spray primer, generally a flat grey works best for me.  On the other hand if models are entirely plastic I’ll pull out a base coat of Krylon Fusion for plastics rather than a true primer.  The Rustolium is good for just about everything it has a slight tooth to it which helps the craft paints bond.  Krylon Fusion on the other hand comes in a much wider variety of colors and while it goes on smooth and glossy it can easily be covered with craft paints.

If you decide to use craft paints its best to find a brand you like and stick with them.  Differing craft paint brands have differing viscosity and characteristics which need to be recognized for you to overcome them.  As a rule when dealing with craft paints they have a higher binder to pigment ratio than artist paints and miniature paints.  This means they will be runnier.  This will also mean that when cut with water or a secondary binder they will turn translucent faster.  Lighter colors and metallic colors tend to be runnier still.  Due to their squirt bottle design its easiest to put small amounts of the paint on your pallet and let the water evaporate out of the binder.  This thickens the paint so it covers better.  The exact length of time to let it sit varies from brand and with color but usually it takes about 2 to 3 minutes under may work lamp before it spreads like a GW paint.  If I find the paint doesn’t work anymore a tiny bit of water added extends its working life.

Miniature paint tends to dry fairly quickly, don’t expect that with Craft paint.  Depending on the brand and color there may be higher moisture retention particularly in darker colors.  I generally expect that it takes 15 minutes for a layer of paint to fully dry, again slightly longer than the 2 or 3 minutes for miniature paints.  To me this works out to be about the time it takes to do a color or two on an entire squad so it isn’t exactly inconvenient.

If you don’t want to work with craft paints try working with artist paints.  The pigment in artist paints like Liquitex is generally higher quality than that of either miniature paints or craft paints.  They cost more than craft paints and the price varies by color however by ounce it is still cheaper than miniature paints and they still last longer.  However artist paints are designed for use on a canvas which has a thicker tooth to it than a miniature.  You may find that it’s best to cut the paint with another binder.  They make transparent acrylic medium which is essentially the binder without a pigment.  Cutting judicious amounts of the transparent medium with the original binder will thin it and make it spread better.  If you thought work times with craft paints were a lot longer artist paints will tend to last for a half hour or more.  They are particularly good for doing blended effects where two paint shades fade together.

Once you’ve painted your masterpiece you will notice that there is a certain amount of paint removal every time you touch the paint.  This is generally due to binder issues if you’ve chosen your base well it will be minimal if you haven’t base coated it will be extreme.  Either way it’s a good idea to put a top coat on.  You were most likely going to seal your miniatures anyway so that’s not a problem.  However our rule from earlier, acrylic sticks to acrylic, before you dip it in varnish or lacquer pick up a clear spray acrylic.  They make them in various glosses but I tend towards a flat one.  I lay it on thick as it seals the paint from oxidation which can cause material to flake and blister.  As a bonus many clear spray acrylics are UV resistant which will limit fading on cheaper paints. After wards you can dip it in lacquer to protect from handling if you like.

All in all to me it comes down to buying 30 colors for the cost of 10.  Often times you can get an even wider variety of colors as well which could make your army all the rage.

Stop by next time when I’ll look at finding the cheapest miniature…

Posted by on May 21 2010. Filed under Painting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

13 Comments for “Cutting Costs Part 1: Bottom of the Barrel Paints”

  1. I have NEVER had any of my paint come off and I don't spray seal over the top undercoating helps a LOT more that you say.

  2. I'll post the same information to my blog, thanks for ideas and great article.

  3. Please give me more information. I love it, Thanks again.

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  5. I am guessing you have done a lot of painting. When I do painting, I always miss the perfect color combination.Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I look forward to seeing more of this.

  6. There is a lot of misinformation here. For instance, artist grade paints are typically single pigments not mixtures as you state (single pigments blend better). Cheaper paints are typically mixtures of lower cost pigments. The main difference however is that they typically have far less pigment in them than artist grade paints, often around 70% less.

    • Didn’t say artist paints were mixed pigments, I said they are generally multiple binders which is true. Cheaper paints aren’t always mixtures of pigments either, Dulco Ceramic for instance is a single pigment single binder low cost craft paint. You are correct the ratio to binder to pigment is a factor between lower cost and higher cost paints but when painting miniatures your base coat is your primary color and will show through any lower pigment paints to unify the color scheme anyway. its not that big of a deal on these applications.

  7. One way to be sure of long lasting paint job is to make sure all paint mixing is done with the same type of pigment and do it in a clean environment. Color reproduction might be different from one collector to the other, but if it is done with love and care, the result will be priceless.

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