What the Pros Use: Paint Choices

Chris “Wolfy” West

As a professional painter I get asked all the time, “What paints do you use?” and “What paints do you recommend that I use?” Well that is actually a very easy question to answer cause I use a few paints from 4 or the most popular lines and have used paints from a couple others. So I am going to go over the offerings from Games Workshop, Privateer Press, Reaper, and Vallejo as those are the lines that I use the most. I have also used paints from Coat d’Arms. As you read this I want you all to keep in mind that these are just my opinions (and we all know what those are like) gained from the years I have spent painting. So I am not going to tell you which paint you should or should not use, I am just going to tell you a little about each one from my experiences in the past. Also… Primers… god only knows that we all have our own little quirks about which one is better so again I will just share my knowledge gained over the years.


I feel like this is a good place to start since we all know that you are supposed to prime your models before you start to paint on them otherwise the paint wont stick because it has nothing to bond to. So… Primers… this is a HUGE topic for one to cover so I will sum this up as quick as I can cause otherwise it can get kinda boring. Personally I only use black primer and I have recently switched over to using Armory Primer. Now I know that some people do not like this one because they have had a bad can in the past. I have been using them for almost 2 years now and not one bad can, but that means nothing. Other good primers are: Krylon if you use this one try to do a mass of priming all at once and blow through a full can at a time cause it has a bad habit of not coming out right on the subsequent uses. Duplicolor, I have heard of several painters using this with fairly good results and its super cheap. Store Brand (ACE, Walmart, Home Depot, and other generic brands that have the store you are shopping at name on the can), I strongly suggest you stay away from these. They are not very good quality and can take FOREVER to dry unless you happen to live in the middle of Arizona or Nevada. As I mentioned above Armory, I like this one the best cause it dries fairly quickly especially if it is really warm out and fairly low humidity, but unlike some of the others it will dry fairly quickly if it is humid out. Also it has awesome shelf life. Rustolium is another one of those name brand sprays that works really well but for the most part I think it is almost the exact same as Krylon. Then you have the Game company brands such at Privateer Press and Games Workshop. Privateer Press is not really all that bad but I have discovered it is fairly difficult to get ones hands on cause most places don’t carry it. Then that leaves Games Workshop or Citadel. I have one major complaint with this one. The can says Chaos Black Spray, it does not say primer in any way. It in fact is NOT primer but it is just a flat black spray paint. And flat black spray paint is not a Primer… it does not work the same way as a Primer does and does not bond all that well with the model you are trying to spray. One more option is actually an old artists paint. Black Gesso, depending on the brand it can be a little on the thick side so make sure you thin it out so you don’t lose any of your detail on your models. Also gesso is brushed on the model instead of spraying. But those of you that have an airbrush or 2… you might just be in luck as I have heard of people thinning it out a massive amount and spraying their models.

Games Workshop (Citadel)

With Games Workshop you have three different lines. You have the Citadel Colour, Citadel Foundation, and the Citadel Washes. Each has their own use and property. The colour line all your basic colors that the company makes. They are a good middle of the road paint. They have okay coverage so you may have to use a few coats, and may need to be thinned out a little more than they come. One thing I have noticed is that every time the bottles change design (this is when they change who makes the paints for them) that the colors are not all that consistent, and even more so with the recent change over… the consistency from batch to batch. Like if you buy one bottle of Kommando Khaki and then like a month later you have to buy another one… if they are not from the same lot there is no promise that the color will be the same each time.

Pros: every single one of GW’s books and magazines describes painting their models using these paints no matter which line they come from. Since Games Workshop is probably the most popular gaming company out there, you can get their paints just about anywhere. As most stores tend to stock them because they sell the GW models.

Cons: Stupid flip top lids. Over time these things can wear out and break off especially on a color that you use all the time but for just a spot here and a spot there. The price, at the writing of this segment of the article they are $3.70 US per bottle and they are only 12ml bottles.

Citadel Foundation: I love this line and use it rather often. Especially on colors that tend to not want to cover all that well because the pigment level is kinda Meh. There are only a few colors in the line but they are the best “base coat” colors you can find, especially for reds, yellows, and other light colors because they will cover over black in a single coat. They have great coverage and are very versatile. They have the same Cons as the Colour and Wash lines.

Citadel Washes: Not all that long ago Games Workshop dropped the “Ink” line and brought the washes back out. Really they work on the same principle but the washes are a little thinner. This is another one of those that I use rather often because of its quality. I will go more into washes at a later time.

Privateer Press (Formula P3)

I switched over to this line of paints this past fall and have been really impressed with the quality of the paints that they put out. They make some colors the exact same as the GW colors and some are completely different. REALLY good quality reds, yellows, and even greens, the whites are also exceptional quality. The coverage is better than the GW paints, especially with the yellows.

Pros: Coverage, coverage, coverage. Need I say more? They are a slightly better value than the GW paints because you get 18ml (1/2oz.) but they are like $3.50 retail.

Cons: Same stupid flip top lids. Really hard to get your hands on them cause most places don’t really carry them.

Vallejo Game Color and Vallejo Model Colors

I started using these paints YEARS ago with the VGC line after GW dropped several colors that I still used from their line. I did this cause the VGC line kept those colors in. Vallejo came out with the Game color line in response to GW threatening to drop the IP hammer on them because they were telling people to mix X amount of color A and Y amount of color B to get a match to Z color from GW. (A and B colors being from the VMC line.) The colors (especially at first… before GW changed manufactures and formulas) were an exact match to the GW colors and they still had colors that GW had discontinued. And if you were having troubles trying to figure out what color you needed Vallejo kept the names fairly similar so you could figure it out. When GW expanded their line up of colors VGC did the same thing. GW released the Foundations Vallejo released the Extra Opaques (not a spot on color match but pretty close) GW discontinued the Inks and released the washes… Vallejo kept the inks and added a line of washes. Also when the Formula P3 paints came out Vallejo expanded the VGC again to include the colors that they did not already have in one of their already existing lines. Quality of paint is really high in my opinion. They have really nice coverage (just as good as Formula P3), and they are a fairly thin paint. So while you will have to thin them some especially if you are going for more of a subtle gradient fade, you can still use them right out of the bottle. The model color line has close to if not over 200 colors to pick and chose from. Some of them are super close in color. So much so that it can be difficult to tell one color from the next in line sometimes. And if you want more of a realistic military color scheme the colors are named so that it is easy to pick and chose which ones you want.

Pros: Better Value at only $2.99 per bottle and you get a nice 17ml bottle. The bottles are the dropper style of bottles for better measuring of colors for mixing. Large selection of colors especially if you mix the Game color and Model color lines.

Cons: They can be hard to find as most places don’t carry them in stock.

Reaper Master Series

Reaper Master Series paints… to me… are the best paints on the market. They are offered in triads so you have a shade, mid tone, and a highlight for just about every color you could think of. There are also 216 paints in the line so there is almost a guarantee that you will be able to find the perfect color for every application. Granted you might have to mix and blend a little here and there but not all that much. They come in 18ml dropper style bottles and are the same price as the Vallejo paints. They can be kind of difficult to find in some gaming stores but pretty much all LGS can order them in either directly from Reaper or through one of the distributors. Recently with all of the NMM craze that has been going around Reaper added a few new paints to the line (to bring the total number up to 216) and set them up in triads designed for painting the NMM gold and silver that several of the top painters out there like to do. As for quality of the paints… You really cant get much better. They are fairly thin so you don’t have to thin them that much ,and while they are thin paints to work with (thinner than the P3 and Vallejo lines) they have much better coverage than most all paints out there that I have tried.

Pros: Top quality paints. Best Value. You can buy them in Triad sets. Great selection of colors.

Cons: Availability… because of the saturation of the market of Games Workshops products, it makes it hard to get your hands on other paints.

Coat d’Arms

This is a brand I have only had the experience of using a couple times in my life so I don’t have the greatest of knowledge on the overall quality or anything like that. But the colors I did have the pleasure of using I did really like. They were good quality and had good coverage. I know that they are made over in England so for those of us here in the states they are a little bit harder for us to get our hands on, and I am not even sure of the prices or size of the bottle. Now I have been told that going back to some of the very first Citadel paints (think late 80’s to mid 90’s) Coat d’Arms was the company them. Not sure how true this is but I do know that if you are looking for some truly hard to find colors from that era, look to Coat d’Arms because they will have a spot on match to that color.

So that’s it… my opinions on paint choices. Sure there are a few other brands out there and I figure I will get comments or emails about them. Either I have even less experience with them than my limited experience with Coat d’Arms, or my opinion of them is so low that I can’t say one nice word about the brand. Apple Barrel Craft paint is one of them… and I know some of you that use that one. Shame on you… just because it is $2 for like a 3oz bottle does not make it a good paint for our hobby. There are several great brands to chose from if you have them available to you, and personally my favorite is Reaper Master Series.
I am not saying that you should run out and buy the same brand I use because you might not care for them as much. You might be more impressed with the GW paints than anything else. All I am trying to get at with this write up is this… there are several really good brands of paint out there to chose from. So don’t chose a paint just because its cheap or that’s what the books and magazines or some idiot like me tells you that you should. Go out there and try several different brands before settling on just one or 2 brands. Pick up 2 or 3 of the same (or similar) colors from each brand and try them out. Really that’s what I have done. And now I have 4 different paint brands that I use depending on what I am trying to achieve. So go out there and get painting… and most importantly… have FUN!

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