Types of Paint – a very brief overview

I am not an expert here so this information is based more on common sense and practical experience than any specialised knowledge. If I have used my terms loosely or made some mistakes in my description, I hope the gist of it still correct and helpful – which is my primary aim.

The primary distinction is between paint that is soluble in water and paint that requires a solvent  of some kind – or “water based” and “oil based” paints as they are often loosely described (and which I’ll call them here for the sake of simplicity). The following are most popular types of paints used by modellers:

Acrylic paint consists of particles of pigment floating in a medium. While the medium is wet it can be thinned with water or with proprietary solvents; once it has dried, the pigmented material forms a smooth skin over the painted surface that becomes water resistant but is not resistant to handling and usually requires a protective varnish coat.

The chief advantages of acrylic paints are as follows:
• they dry extremely quickly
• they are soluble in water and can be easily thinned to the right consistency
• clean up of brushes and spills is also relatively easy and they are less toxic than oil based paints; making them a very suitable medium for airbrushes
• they are widely available and comparatively cheap.( There are many specialised ranges of acrylic paints aimed at modellers in addition to those intended for professional artists. So there is a lot of choice).

The disadvantages of acrylic paints are:
• they dry extremely quickly; this makes it very difficult to blend and shade colours successfully
• they have an inherent opaqueness compared to the transparent qualities of oil based paints. (Both these handicaps can be overcome by a variety of techniques but they are nevertheless reasons why many prefer to use oil based paints.)

The two favourite types of paint in this category are artist’s oil paints and enamels although the painting techniques used are slightly different for each. The main characteristic of these paints is their slowing drying time and many painters use a drying box or ‘oven’ to speed this up (a simple wooden box with a light bulb inside it).

Enamel paints have been around a long time and are traditionally favoured by old school model painters. The best known ranges are by Humbrol and Testors and are available in small cans, sprays, sachets and bottles.

Enamel paints consist of pigment floating in a solvent; thorough and careful mixing is needed before use. They dry to a tough permanent finish which allows handling.

The advantages of enamel paints are:
• their opaqueness gives them great covering power; few coats are needed to achieve a dense colour.
• they dry more slowly than acrylics but faster than oils; so blending is possible.
• metallic colours are realistic and can sometimes be buffed
• a variety of dead flat, satin and gloss finishes can be easily achieved.

The disadvantages of enamel paints are:
• they need careful mixing to make sure the paint is properly combined with the solvent.
• if not stored carefully, they dry out or become lumpy.
• some skill and experience is needed when thinning them down; it’s easy to make them too thin.
• there are fewer ranges to choose from.

Oil paints

I confess my knowledge of oil paints in this context is limited although I have used them to paint on canvas.

The advantages of oil paints are:
• they are very malleable so many subtle shading effects are possible.
• they dry very slowly and it is possible to keep working with them for a long time.
• they can be applied very thinly for extra subtlety and can be mixed with a variety of mediums
• there are many ranges of oil paints available and they are easy to obtain.

The disadvantages of oil paints are:
• they dry very slowly, you need to be patient (although there are ways to speed this up)
• they don’t have great covering power; hence many painters underpaint with enamels of acrylics.
• they can’t easily be thinned for use in an airbrush.

Have reputedly the same properties as oil paints but a much slower drying time. They are also more transparent. I have some of these paints but haven’t so far got around to experimenting with them

David Clough©2003

A more comprehensive guide to types of paint and painting issues can be found at http://www.scalemodelguide.com

Using paint mediums

This is a selection of tutorials I found online that I have found particulatly interesting or helpful.

With all these tutorials, you can click on the link embedded in each title to go to the original source material –  or, if you wish, download a PDF backup of the page they are on.

I created these backups as an insurance because I have been disappointed to find in the past that some of my favourite tutorials suddenly disappeared from the web. Also a few of the backups have been translated (with varying degrees of success) into English from their original language – saving you the trouble of doing it.

Using A Matte Medium

(From the Oz Painters Forum)

The way I use matte medium is quite simple. The brand I use is Pébéo, it’s a French brand of artists supplies, rather than a miniature-related brand. I just found it at an art shop a while ago, and it looked good.  And it seems to work well – but I haven’t actually tried any other brands so I’m not sure how it compares! It’s not very expensive though, which is a bonus – my 125ml bottle cost about $8, and 125ml is a lot when you consider that GW paints are only 12ml!

The medium itself is like a clear gel, it’s quite thick and viscous, gloopy – it looks sort of milky white in the bottle but don’t worry about that, it’s quite clear when used in the small amounts any of us would require.

The main purpose of the medium – what it is really designed for – is thinning paints, just as you might thin them with water. All of the paints we use are basically certain colours of pigment suspended evenly in a medium. So by adding more matte medium, the pigments are further dispersed, making the paint more translucent: the more medium you add, the more spread out are the pigments, and the more see-through the paint becomes.

The translucency of paint is very important for creating smooth colour transitions when painting – many layers of very dilute paint to shade and highlight surfaces allow smooth blending and a clean, soft painting style.

The advantage of using matte medium instead of water comes with the viscous nature of the medium: it allows you to thin your paints without losing their viscosity. What I mean is that it makes your paint more translucent, without becoming so watery.

This can be good for a couple of things:

First, it means that you can have greater control over the paint, which can be good in situations where you are painting a small area, or a surface is very textured – the high viscosity – thickness – of the paint means that it won’t run into all the cracks so easily, because it isn’t so watery.

Second – and this is the main advantage and use in my opinion – the viscosity of the medium means that when you thin your paint with it, the pigments of the paint are more evenly and uniformly dispersed than they would be if you just thinned with water.

This means that the paint is less likely to ‘break’, and separate into different colours – something that often happens when using Vallejo model colour paints, especially – and also, it means that the pigments will not all sink to the bottom of the well in your palette, as happens with very watery mixtures, meaning that it need not be constantly stirred to achieve even distribution of colour.

This is especially true of metallics: it is very difficult to achieve an even distribution of the metallic ‘flakes’ in your dilute metallic paint, if you thin with water only.

If you are not sure exactly what I am talking about, then try this quick experiment: put some water in one of the wells on your palette (you should always use a palette with ‘wells’, the little depressions which hold the paint and allow you to make very dilute mixtures).

Put in a decent amount of water – half fill the well. Get one of your metallic paints – boltgun metal or mithril, say – and mix a little bit of the paint with the water, to create a dilute mixture. Mix it well, so that the paint is spread evenly – as normal when thinning paints. Now, stop mixing and leave the paint alone for 30-60 seconds. After this time, you will see a change: the mixture just looks like grey water. There will be a few little flakes floating on the surface, but the rest of them have sunk to the bottom. Mix it again, and you will immediately see the difference – but the flakes will just sink to the bottom again very quickly!

So, this is what I am talking about – thinning paints with water can be problematic, because sometimes the pigment will not be evenly suspended in the mixture, as it should be. So this is where the matte medium comes in – because of its viscosity, it can allow you to create a more viscous mixture, with the pigments spread more evenly, while still being very dilute and translucent. This is especially useful when you want to use dilute metallics.

It is not necessary to use the medium all the time though – some paints are more prone to breaking or separating than others, and I really don’t use the medium all that much – certainly not every time I thin paints. Water is just fine usually, and is what I use most! But adding a little matte medium can be useful on occasion – if your paint and blending seems a little rough of mottled, even when it is very dilute, and you are struggling to get an even finish or smooth transition, then try mixing in some matte medium with the paint on the palette, as it can often create a smoother finish.

And remember, paint mixtures need not have water only or matte medium only – the medium is perfectly soluble with water, so you can add different amounts of medium and water to make more or less viscous mixtures. I don’t think I would ever use straight medium to thin paint – the medium really is too thick and viscous for that! It would be like trying to paint with honey.

There is another thing you can try, which is mixing the matte medium with inks: because the medium is matte, I find that it removes a lot of the glossy/shiny finish you get after using inks on a surface.

I also find that it helps by slightly breaking the surface tension, allowing the inks to stay in the recesses better. But I very, very rarely use inks these days, and I am not as sure of these properties, so you would be best to just try experimenting yourself first.

Original forum post: Sebastian, Oz Painters

Danny’s Magic Wash Formula – CoolMiniOrNot Forum

(I’ve used this and it works quite well) 

I use this to extend the open time of my paints and to thin them for layering and blending. This alone is not enough, you should try to use high pigment paints (Reaper, GW or Vallejo) and a Wet Palette. These are absolutely crucial for the wash to have its full effect.

In a clear plastic 16oz. water bottle mix (but don’t shake as it creates a zillion bubbles that you have to wait to settle) the following (use pyrex beaker to get the measure roughly correct):

350 Ml of filtered water – if your tap water is good use that.

100 Ml of Golden/Liqitex Flow Aid – this stuff is awesome, combats
ringing and makes paint “milk-like” in the right proportion.

50 Ml of Golden/Liqitex Retarder – Instructions say to only use a
couple of drops but I threw that out with no ill effects. Paint
stays open for days with a sealed wet palette.

One drop of liquid dish detergent – may just be superstition but it
seems to keep paint from adhering to my brush ferrule.

Matte Medium – another viewpoint by Ghool, HandCannon

The main things I use matte medium for are;

Thinning Paint
Reducing Shine
Ink Washes
Removing ‘Tide Rings’ in Washes

1. Thinning Paint – The main use for matte medium is to thin your paint. Most painter’s use just water for thinning their paints, and this is certainly an accepted and oft-used method. However, if you thin your paint with a fair amount of water (2:1 water to paint or more), you will find the pigments begin to break down, and it becomes difficult to control where the paint goes. Adding a spot of matte medium will get the paint to act and feel like paint again, even when thinning it out with large ratios of water to paint. This allows you to get a very thinned out pigment, but the paint will retain its’ viscosity, and stay where you put it.

2. Reducing Shine – Matte medium will reduce the shine of inks and paint by adding a small amount (no more than 1/4:1 medium to ink/paint). This will also prevent non-waterproof inks from reactivating when you get them wet again.

3. Ink Washes – Adding matte medium to an ink wash will help it to behave more akin to paint, while still retaining the translucency and vibrancy of the ink. As stated above, it will also bind the ink so it won’t reactivate when painted over, or when it gets wet. Using a 2:1 ratio of ink to medium will help your inks stay put, get it to dry without ‘Tide Rings’, and help the ink to settle into the recesses of a model easier. As in number 1, you can also create a paint wash with matte medium, paint and water. I almost always make my own washes, and rarely use pre-made washes, although I hear Games Workshop’s washes are an excellent product. A ratio of 3:1 water to paint, and then 1:1 paint wash to matte medium will make a good wash for most applications.

4. Removing ‘Tide Rings’ in Washes – As stated above, adding some matte medium to a wash of paint, or ink will lessen the appearance of ‘Tide Rings’. Tide Rings happen when a paint or wash dries too quickly, and it shrinks, pulling the wash or paint into a recess, leaving a ring of wash where you don’t want it. Adding some matte medium to any wash will help retard the drying process enough that the chances of seeing Tide Rings is lessened.

5. Glazing – There are mediums specifically made for glazing, but I find that lots of water and matte medium with a little bit of paint works just as good as a glaze, and dries significantly faster than a traditional glazing medium. For glazing I use a 4:1 water to paint ratio, and then a 2:1 paint wash to matte medium ratio for most glazing applications.

Just remember that matte medium will retard the drying time of your paint, allowing you a bit more working time for smooth blending. Be sure to give your washes and paint layers a little more time than usual when you first start using matte medium.

Using Chalk Pastels

by Randy Starcher “Misellus” on The Clubhouse Forum

Chalk Pastels are one of the easiest methods to shade a kit. You can get pastels at most art supply and hobby store, even Walmart carries them. Do not get oil pastels. Oil pastels are the most common type at an art store but they are not what you’re looking for for shading a model. Get the soft, chalk like ones.

You don’t need a large set: black, grey and brown are the ones I use the most. If you have a choice between a set of dark colors and light colors, get the dark … you’ll use those more. Also get a stiff paintbrush (I use a #4 flat camel hair). Never use the paintbrush for anything except the pastels…also never get the brush wet, that would be bad if you tried to use a wet brush (it’s like mud).

To shade a model, paint the main color, do some drybrushing too, if you like, then rub the brush onto the pastel stick a couple times to load it with color dust and then scrub it into the paint. The color builds up slowly so keep at it until you get the intensity you need.

If you overdo it, clean the brush by rubbing it with a paper towel until the color doesn’t rub off anymore, then scrub at the area and it will become lighter. If you really need to clean an area off quickly, moisten a paper towel (as in barely wet, not very wet) and rub it gently across the area, the pastels will mostly come off.

When you’ve got the figure the way you want it, lightly mist the figure with sealant. Don‘t spray the sealant directly onto the model or you might a) blow away the dust; b) flood the dust and cause it to run; c) both a & b. I use Dullcoat, pretty much just because it’s what I’m using these days to seal a model.

Using Dry Pigments

By Kathryn Loch, Chest of Colors

Excellent tutorial on using dry pigments  – the ‘poor man’s airbrush’ – for shading.  She also does some fine YouTube videos.


(Download a PDF version)

Thinning acrylic paints by Darin Halvaz

Thinning your paint will require different ratios for different applications, and this is where the imprecision comes in. While many painters use eyedroppers to add their thinning solution to the paint on its palette, most do not use precise measurements, but instead work through intuition and experience.

This frustrates most beginners who prefer to know exactly how many drops are required for basecoating or layering or washing. The key point to remember here is that it’s the consistency of the paint that’s important, not the precise number or size of the drops added. As mentioned before, each brand of paint requires different ratios for different applications. Here’s how I work with Reaper Pros.

Basecoating 1:1 parts solution to paint
Layering 4:1 parts solution to paint
Washes 10:1 parts solution to paint


Basecoats should remain opaque throughout.

In terms of basecoating, the consistency of your paint should be roughly equivalent to the consistency of whole milk. That is to say, the paint should be fluid, yet opaque. You don’t want to see any light passing through the edges of the pool of paint on your palette. This consistency ensures that sufficient coverage is achieved and that the paint applies in a smooth, even layer. A number of painters, however, prefer instead to forego this ratio and thin their basecoats as they would were they layering. Again, the choice is up to you.


Thinned paint for layering should appear transparent at the edges.

For layering and highlighting purposes, you’ll want to make your paints considerably thinner. I find a ratio of approximately 4:1 solution to paint is best for most Reaper Pro paints, depending on the color. Darker colors generally require one or two more additional drops of solution, while lighter colors often require less. Regardless of color, your end product should result in a consistency that resembles skim milk. The paint should be fluid on the palette and relatively opaque in the center. The edges of the pool, however, should appear more transparent, allowing you to see the palette beneath. If the pool is transparent throughout or the edges opaque, you’ll need to adjust by either adding more paint or solution. Just remember it’s the consistency that’s key here, not the exact number of drops you add on the palette. Using the photos as a rule of thumb should help you to overcome any confusion.


Washes should be entirely transparent.

Finally, for the sake of washes, you’ll need to become very aggressive, thinning your Pro paint to a ratio of 10:1. The end consistency should result in a pool of paint that is transparent throughout, enabling you to see the palette beneath with relative ease both at the center and on the edges. Again, it may be necessary to adjust this ratio depending on the color you’re using.

With a little tinkering, the above ratios and techniques should prove useful no matter what brand of paint you use, though I’d advise you to proceed with caution. While most high-quality model paints thin very well, you may find that some lesser-quality craft paints quickly lose their color saturation and ability to cover. In these instances, you’ll need to apply a number of coats to achieve sufficient coverage and vibrancy on your model. Just beware — Some very low-end craft paints feature pigments that are not as finely ground as those found in higher-quality paints and, when thinned, become grainy and unattractive. You’ll need to use your best judgment on how to thin and apply such paints depending on the results you achieve.

Paint consistency

“If you’re using Dropper bottles, there’s a fair bet you’re already using a palette of some kind (Dry/wet). If your bead that you drop sits in a perfect ball as it was dropped out of the bottle, it is too thick. If it relaxes into a flat puddle, it’s a little too thin (unless you’re airbrushing).

Normally dropper bottles will be thicker because if you’re dedicated enough to pull the dropper part off the bottle and thin it in the bottle… yeah you’re working too hard. Mix it on the palette (unless it was completely dry and you’re trying to resuscitate it). Your dropper paint, properly mixed should spread out, but it shouldn’t ooze.”

Baron Von Chaos, HandCannonOnline

Using inks

Always liked using inks on my figures, for their vividness and transparency. One of my favourite techniques is a wash made up of diluted ink and matte-medium. The medium takes the shine off the ink and makes it even more translucent,

I’ve been using acrylic based inks for years, like the Daler-Rowney ones, and the really intense Dr Martins, but I’ve recently started experimenting with calligraphy inks which are necessarily very fine to go through pen nibs and come in some interesting shades: ‘Verdigris‘ is a very strong blue green and ‘Gallus” goes on green but dries to a rusty dark brown, ‘Sanguine“, as you’d expect is a dark, dark red.

Alcohol based inks also have interesting names. I bought two called ‘Ginger‘ and ‘Raisin‘. They are very fine and make translucent shading easy. Diluted with alcohol, they can be spread thinly and penetrate textures to create great outlining of detail.

Perhaps their best property is that they dry fast but not permanently, they can easily be rubbed off with a cotton swab – so you can experiment as much as you like before spraying it with varnish to fix it.

Look on YouTube and there are lots of tutorials on getting ‘spot marbling’ effects with alcohol based inks – something that seems to appeal to the nice ladies who stick sea shells on boxes – but there’s definitely more use to be got out of them.

I had a play with this bust, building from a mainly white prime coat, and using alcohol based inks. I even did some spot marbling and you can see the kind of thing I mean.

David Clough 2018