Sunday, May 16, 2010

Helpful Handy Hint #3: Mix Yo Paints

Man, I just looked back through my archives. Apparently I haven't written anything about actual painting/hobbying since my Trygon vanity post back at the beginning of April.

I need to put some kind of hastily created stop-gap into place but quick!

Thank Dog for old standbys.

Standbys: no changing the Y to I and adding ES on this one. ITS CRAZY!

Anyway, the end of the eight month Helpful Handy Hint Hiatus. See how I snuck another H in there? Clever.

Premixing Your Colors to Speed Up Army Painting
The Helpful Handy Hint series is all about those incredibly simple things you can do to help your painting in ways disproportionate to the amount of effort involved (in a good way). In fact, many of them are so simple that you'll face palm once the realization sets in about how stupid it was of you to not be making use of the. Things like painting rigs and hairdryers are perfect examples.

To the old pros and people who already use these kinds of tricks, it may seem incredibly obvious. But that's the benefit of experience. As I've mentioned in the past, most of us hobbyists aren't formally trained artists. Our expertise is often a collection of trial and error, the odd flash of insight and help from random strangers on the internet. It is also, typically, very focused on only a few aspects of art. Its also fairly hard to get started. As such, its really easy for our knowledge and skill base to be a bit patchy and fractured - even for the old pros.

Which brings me to today's Handy Hint. This is definitely one of those things that feels like a "durr". For those of you who hadn't considered doing this or even were aware it was thing, it will be a revelation. So what is this 'it'?

It's the incredibly amazing and not at all hard to master concept that you can save time and increase homogeneity across your army by premixing your custom colors.

For those of us who fiddle around with custom colors that unnecessarily complicate our army schemes, the process of remixing a custom color on demand can be very frustrating. There's the time spent doing mixing as well as the problems of matching colors across the army or even on different areas of one miniature.

Lets break things down a bit:

Time Spent Mixing: If you're using a lot of custom colors then, logically, you are spending a great deal of time mixing said colors. Its hard to keep a mixed color usable for any length of time and in the quantities you'll likely need. Even if you use a wet pallet to avoid the 'paint drying out like its supposed' to problem, you still have the issue of quantity. All of this means that you're in a state of constantly needing more of your secret recipe. This takes time. More than you likely realize.

Paint Dries Out: No surprise here, paint is designed to do this. But what this means for your special color is that its quality tends to decline over time. While sitting on the pallet, paint gets thicker over time as it dries. Which can mean visible brushstrokes and other such artifacting on your surfaces. If it gets too bad, you have to make more. See above.

Color Matching Can Be a Bitch: Over the course of the army, it can be very difficult to ensure that your special color matches itself over several models. As paint tends to darken when it dries, it can be difficult to eyeball an exact match between your fresh mix and an old dry patch. The tendency is for the color to shift. In a worst case scenario, the models done at the beginning of the army are noticeably different than the ones done at the end.

Fortunately for you, there's a solution: the aforementioned premixing of your paints.

Its a decidedly simple to implement solution and will go a long way towards alleviating the above problems. All you need to do is mix up some large batches of the colors you frequently need in some empty pots. Bam! In one fell swoop, you've solved most of your problems. Quantity is barely an issue, mixing is all but eliminated and all your models will be painted with the exact same color.

Here's what you need:

Raw Materials - This means paint. You'll need to have a good quantity of the paints involved in your recipe on hand. Its best to work with fresh pots since they haven't had time to start drying out and thickening up. In a pinch, what you have on hand is good too.

Empty Dropper Bottle(s) - It goes to figure that you'll need something to store your new paint in. Little do most people know that those handy dropper bottles that Reaper and Vallejo paints come in are available without paint in them. I recommend the dropper bottles as they do much better job at keeping the paint from thickening up over time compared to regular old pots and jars. The idea is too keep this new color of yours around as long as possible so you don't have to make more and worry about color matching. I recommend the Reaper empties since they come with a paint agitator.

Pipettes and/or Syringes - Unless you're lucky enough to be using paint that already comes in a dropper bottle, you'll need a way to transfer paint out of the pots into the empty bottle with a modicum of control. Whatever you're comfortable with and can get your hands on. I personally use pipettes, but the more I look into syringes, the more I think that's the way to go.* Though unless you have the mis/fortune of a genuine medical need, you'll have to get these from a medical supply type store.

As I said, mixing the paint is easy. But there are a few things to keep in mind. Once you have a good idea of what you want your color to look like, its time to recreate it on a large scale. Now, I know there are a lot of painters out there who don't get all scientific about their ratios when mixing, but for our purposes its a good idea to be a bit more precise. This serves two purposes. One, it allows you to get a much more homogeneous mix in the bottle (more on this later) and, two, it allows you to recreate the final product more easily if there's a next time.

So, starting small, create a smallish batch of the color your after in the empty bottle while making careful note of the ration you used to achieve your results. Its a good idea to start small - or at least as small as you're comfortable with - so it takes less paint to fix mixing mistakes as they occur. Once you have the ratio settled, WRITE IT DOWN AND PUT IT SOMEWHERE SAFE! It might will come in handy later if you need to make more or someone asks you for a recipe.

Once you have the ratios down, its a simple matter of multiplying your numbers enough times fill the empty bottle. One last word of caution - mix in small stages. Don't just throw the total amount of each color you think you'll need into the pot one at a time. It will take forever to mix properly (which can harm the homogeneity of the color) and can lead to needing to put more paint in the bottle than it can hold to make the rations right. Work with small 'runs' of the total ratio at a time, and then make sure it mixes properly with what was already in the bottle. Make sure you do periodic testing with your samples.

A couple last pieces of advice - its generally a bad idea to add thinner to your bottle of newly mixed paint. In many circumstances, the thinner has a tendency to break down the paint over time and cause the components to separate and settle. Thusly ruining the paint. Unless you have some serious paint thickness problems, play it safe and wait to thin the paint once its out of the bottle and on to your pallet.

Lastly, be prepared to spend some money. You'll need to buy paint, containers and some means of transferring paint. It can add up a bit, but the time and frustration saved over time will be well worth it.

In my own experience, premixing custom colors has been an enormous time saver and a staggering help with the tedium and frustration that can crop up when painting an entire army. I first did this with my Eldar when I noticed how much time I spent mixing a mid-tone between bleached bone and ivory for some highlight. I mixed up a batch of a color I use on almost every model and blew my own mind.

I've also recently purchased the materials to make two separate colors for my nascent Tyranid army. Its going to be great.

------[Foot Notes]---------------------------------------------------
*I'm working on getting some more info on this from Tinweasel as he uses syringes regularly. For paint mixing. As I get more info, I'll pass it along.


  1. This is fantastic advice. I've got an army in the works now, with just the base purple on. I'm sort of stalled out on what direction to go, but I'll premix some colors first.

    As an aside, what works well with purple for a dark army? Think foundation paint highlighted up a stage.

    I'm thinking of Warlock Purple and some form of blue for the accents, but I'm not sure if that's enough contrast.

    Sorry to bug you with this - Brent

  2. No need to apologize, brotato. I'm more than happy to lend my experience/opinions to the internet.

    You're even gonna get your own post. I just need to know one thing - what army/game/miniatures are you painting?

  3. It's an Eldar conversion army I'm working on for BoLSCon. Think Dark Eldar... they're not, but it's a similar style.

    I have the the primary color down on all the models, which as I mentioned is foundation purple with 2 over-brush highlights, then a very slight dusting of Warlock Purple on the high points. Finally, the whole thing was washed purple.

    So, basically they're purple right now!