Thursday, April 2, 2009

On Paint – Part 1: the GW standard

The actual paint you use can be as important as what you do with it and how you use it. I see way too many people who appear to think that the Games Workshop paints are the only thing out there or won’t even consider other paints because it’s a hassle of some kind. There are just too many pictures of people’s workspaces with nothing but Citadel paints lined up in the background. I also see a ton of interested parties on forums asking about GW alternatives.

I got news for you – there’s a ton of stuff out there that is way, way better than the GW ‘standard’.

Disclaimer: Everyone has their own preferences for the paint they use. I’m pretty sure some of my own biases will become apparent over the course of this series. In any case, use the paint that works for you. I’m simply trying to educate.

The GW Standard and Why It's Bullshit
So, why do I call the Citadel paints a ‘standard’? Well, it’s because they are so ubiquitous – NOT because they are so good. Odds are if a place sells Warhammer stuff, then it sells the GW paints. These paints are what most people start with due to the nature of the cross-marketing that GW does. If someone pushes around little sci-fi army men, they’ve come into contact with the line.

Now, here’s my rub with GW paints: they are largely crap.

1) They dry too fast. This means they have very short working times. This makes it hard to do any kind of blending or custom color mixing on a regular pallet without adding some kind of drying retarder. Getting a smooth coat is also hard as brush strokes and excess paint tend to dry out very quickly leaving all kinds of ‘artifacts’ and other strange bumps on the surface. The composition and drying properties of the paint also means that the paints dry out in the pots even when you’re not using them. So the paints thicken over time and there’s the added bonus of no long term storage.

2) Consistency between colors is very spotty. Some of the colors have really good coverage (like Scorched Brown). Others are shit (Kommando Khaki). There’s way too much variation in the line and as you have to keep painting on multiple coats, you have more chance to run into all the problems from point 1.

3) The containers suck. Normally I like flip tops. However, the GW pots pose a number of problems. First, they accelerate the paint drying out and. Second, the flip top 'mechanism' is poorly designed. I keep running into problems with paint dripping of the little cap scoop and then collecting around the wide rim. This interferes with the function of the lid and often causes paint to leak everywhere. At least they aren’t using the screw caps anymore.

4) They keep changing the line. GW likes to play with the colors they produce. This means that there are a ton of discontinued colors. Like the old inks that were pretty much the best ever and are now gone... forever. I’ve been in a few situations where my favorite old GW color is long gone and almost irreplaceable.

5) GW also has the newer foundation line of super high pigmented paints that dry even faster than the regular ones. This has the fringe benefit of putting your brushes at risk as paint can dry on the bristles very easily if you aren’t careful. I’ve also heard reports that they don’t thin well (though in my experience they can). They are also extremely goopy.

It's Not All Bad
Now, while GW paints are kinda lame, they do have a few bright spots. Due to the formulation of the paint, Boltgun Metal, Chainmail, Mithril Silver and Tin Bitz are awesome. They have great coverage with none of that obvious metal flake shit due to GW’s use of fine grain pigments. They still dry fast, but the colors alone are worth it. I also dig their new washes. I’d still rather have the old inks back (sigh) but judged on their own merits, the new washes are pretty great. While no means a replacement or alternative to inks they still have their uses, many of which are very cool. Another rather interesting advantage of the GW paints is availability. It’s really hard to be in a spot where you can’t get them.

I’ve been tearing apart the GW paints for a reason: I think it is extremely important to be aware of the limitations of any supply or tool that you use. While my personal choice is to avoid GW paint unless it’s silver, an ink or a wash, they can still be useful and it’s very possible to get great results with them. Just be prepared to spend a lot more time fiddling around with the paint to get them to behave properly.

Stay tuned for some discussion of other brands as well as some relevant information from across the internet.

[edited on april 3, 2009 to fix some language and typos]


  1. Yeah I mostly have been using GW and Vallejos simply because they are convenient to pick up. I normally buy my paints one at a time and it's much simpler for me to grab a bottle while I'm at the game store. That said, I should really get off my ass and track down an art supply store and get some decent paints.

  2. Don't give up the vallejos just yet. I'm gonna analyze them soon and they come out as a great line.

  3. I have about 4 bottles of Vallejo, and one of them is the metallic. I was unimpressed by it, but I liked the other colors. One of the whites I have was WAY too thick but I thinned it just fine. Then one day I was trying to squeeze a drop out of the bottle, and BOOM the whole plug on the end of the bottle popped off and sprayed white paint across the entire room. >< Heh that being said the paint is good, I just had a couple bad run ins.

  4. Oh god, that happened to me once. A whole pallet full of yellow ink. Its so terrible when it happens.

  5. Yeah well after a lot of work I convinced my wife to let me set up shop in our computer room at my desk so I could watch netflix on my PC. Needless to say, I was frantically scrubbing paint out of the carpet after this little... incident. Going to be more careful in the future so I don't have my hobby banished to the cold ass garage.