How to choose the right miniature paint

You cracked open your Dungeon Crate.

You found the miniatures.

But they’re missing paint. 

It’s time to fix that.

You can definitely play unpainted miniatures on the table. Or you could give them a quick base coat with a single color to make them stand out.

Or you could get serious: Get some tiny brushes and a bright lamp and get some paint on there. But what kind of paint should you use?

Seems like an easy question to answer, but the reality is that there are so many paints out there to choose from, and not all of them are what you want. (That’s doubly true if you’re a beginner.) 

Let’s have a look at your options. Then your attempts at painting all those minis from Dungeon Crate will turn into masterpieces.

Craft paints

This is the sort of thing you can get at any art store and even at Walmart. Craft paints are generally available in all kinds of bright colors. If this is all you have access to or all you can afford, that’s fine. You can do some good things with craft paints. That said, they aren’t the best option. They don’t come in too many shades, and they’re thick, obscuring the fine details of your miniatures.

Acrylic paints

Acrylic paints from an art supply store are your next best bet. Don’t get oil paints or watercolor. They won’t stick to your miniatures. You’ll have wasted your time and money.

Like craft paints, they’ll be kind of thick. You can thin them with a little water or some matte medium. (Also sold at the art store.)

Miniature Paints

You’ve seen those big, bright racks at your friendly local game store. Row upon row of tiny little dropper bottles and tiny pots, each containing a little bit of one specific color. They can be pricey, and there are loads of different brands and styles of paint.

But they are also the most effective to paint miniatures. They were designed to paint miniatures, and they’re already thin enough to work. Many of them work right out of the bottle with no primer.

But which brand do you want? And then what kind of paint do you want?

P3 - From Privateer Press (the company that produces Warmachine and Hordes), P3 has a pretty cool system built around specific colored paint schemes with highlight and lowlight colors.

Citadel - From Games Workshop (the company that produces Warhammer and 40K), Citadel is probably the most diverse line of miniature paints. Each pot comes from separate lines: bases, shades, layers and others that create pretty awesome effects.

Vallejo - Vallejo probably has more paint colors than any other line. The breadth of what’s available is amazing. If there’s a very specific shade you want, they have it. They even sell boxed sets designed around painting armies or flesh tones.

Army Painter - Like Vallejo, Army Painter has a variety of colors and boxed sets. They even have a D&D-branded set with commonly used fantasy colors.

Reaper - The company that produces those amazing miniatures? They have their own paints, too. One benefit: They’re designed to be used with the company’s white plastic Bones line, and they go on perfectly.

Types of Miniature Paint

Now that you’re getting miniature paints, you better get the right kind. There’s nothing like finding that perfect shade of red and then getting home and finding out you got a wash and not a base and it won’t work.


Meant to be applied to the miniature first, a primer bonds to the metal or resin and gives you a better painting surface. (FYI: Metal and resin minis benefit from a primer. Reaper Bones don’t need one.)


Your mini often needs a solid-color base coat. These usually have a high amount of pigment and are meant to have good, solid coverage with a single coat.


A thin paint meant to be layered on top of a base coat. It’s got a lighter opacity, so you can see through it. Layer paints are often applied in several coats until you have just the right effect.


Very thin paints meant to flow into corners and crevices on your mini and give it a nice shadow.


Mostly featured by P3, the highlight paints are meant to complement a specific base color. Say you want your wizard to have a blue cloak. You can use Cygnar Blue Base and then do highlights with Cygnar Blue Highlight. No mixing needed.


Dry brushing is when you get a small amount of paint on your brush (usually dabbing excess off on a paper towel or something first) and dragging your brush across the raised surfaces to give it a highlight. “Dry”-style paints are designed exactly for that.


Really bright highlights to give a cool “edged” effect to your minis.


These have very specific uses such as creating rust or blood effects.


Really thick, these have gritty stuff inside the paints, and they’re mainly used to give texture to your miniature’s base.


Super-thin paints with tiny pigments, these are designed to be run through an airbrush. If you get them for your regular paintbrush, they won’t work quite right.


Some companies put their colors in spray cans, which make for a quick and easy way to prime or basecoat your minis.

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