Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brushes, paints, and other related items

Everyone in the hobby has their own preferences when it comes to brushes, paints, and other items used to create their works of gaming art. The questions I hear most often at the LGS is 'what is the best brush for use on miniatures?', and 'do I have to use the expensive (insert brand name) primer?', and even moreso 'what brand of paint is best? GW, P3, Vallejo?'. So I decided why not put up a short discussion on the subject for those who may like some tips, and for others in the hobby to put their two cents in to add to the knowledge available.

We'll start with brushes. Good brushes can make painting a lot easier, while bad brushes can really ruin hours of work. There are dozens of types of brushes, and as many or more types of bristle used in their creation. For those just getting into the hobby some may suggest just getting a cheap set of brushes, like the $4 multi-brush kits at Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, or other places. I on the other hand do NOT suggest that. Until you have a bit of experience with brushes and painting you aren't going to really get the best out of those cheap brushes. Sure they are great for working on things, once you have the experience to understand brush maintenance. But a new person to the hobby isn't likely to understand that concept.

My choice in brushes, even for a new mini painter is to get hold of some good brushes, and by good I'm talking $5 per brush sables. The ones I use are a mix of The Army Painter brushes ($4.99 each) and Masters Touch sables (Kolinsky sables from Hobby Lobby, $4.99 each). In addition to this I've collected a number of natural bristle brushes in various types over the years, including my 'beat to hell drybrushing brush' in a size 3 flat). I recommend Army Painter regiment, Character, and Detail brushes, as well as Masters Touch size 1, 0, 5/0, and 10/0 rounds, and size 1 and 0 flats for large area work.

This is the full line of The Army Painter brushes. They have easy to hold triangular handles, which reduce strain on the hand/wrist while painting for long periods. Very nice brushes overall.
A closer look at one of the brushes.
Triangular handles reduce strain on the hand, as they fit more naturally to the way the hand is shaped to hold objects. This is very helpful in a brush, as you never know how long you'll be holding it until you get to work. One thing to keep in mind, any good brush comes with a plastic slip tube cover over the bristles. KEEP IT. USE IT. Every time to use the brush take it off, when done, clean the bristles with water, taper it back in shape with your mouth (yes, do this) and place the cover back on. This will increase the life of your brush 20 fold.

When it comes to the bristle type, over time I've realized that natural fiber brushes have better control. They hold the paint/ink/pigment better, and allow for more controlled application of the medium to the subject. While nylon/synthetics are useful, I tend to only use them when doing a non-spray priming of a miniature/model. Since control isn't as much of an issue when priming as it is with other stages.

When painting, find a comfortable position, and take breaks as needed. When painting for long periods of time a tendency to hunch over seems to be the norm. Taking breaks at regular intervals, stretching, and just getting away will help reduce the strain and cramping, and give you more energy for working on the painting.

Next on the list, primers. There are dozens of brands of primer on the market. From miniature line producers overpriced primers, to your hardware store cheapo primers. From the standpoint of quality only a few specialty primers are worth the high cost, while several low cost primers are actually better than the game company lines. The key here is coverage, durability, thickness of the primer (in terms of if it gives a smooth cover, or glops into detail), and cost.

Games Workshop has their lines, with Black, Grey, and White. They cost like their minis, way more than they should. Their coverage is average, durability is average, and thickness of the primer is average. And at $10+ a can, the cost is rediculous. This brand has serious issues with humidity, anything over 40% humidity and it gets really clumpy and/or runny. I can't in good conscience ever recommend GW spray primers.

The Army Painter line has 18 colors and growing. The coverage is good, durability is average, thickness of the primer is good. Unfortunately it is expensive at $12+ a can. But it does very easily speed up miniature painting buy giving a way to prime and basecoat at the same time, which is a big plus. I've used a few of their products, and find they are quite good, if pricey. I'd recommend this product line to those who want to speed up their work, and aren't to worried about paying more to do it.

Now, the one I use 90% of the time... and yes it's not something most would even think of.

Rust-o-leum wet/dry Automotive Primer. Yes, car primer. This stuff is pure win, and made of 100% awesome. It's cheap, at less than $7 a can. It's seriously durable, can be sanded wet or dry. It has incredible coverage, while having great thickness without distorting or ruining detail. And it works in high humidity (60-80%) with a little thought (namely making sure you let it sit for 5 or so minutes outside, then bringing it into a heated room to cure for the next 20-30 minutes). I can't recommend this enough, as it works when other primers would turn into an unuseable mess, and the price is hard to beat.

What is the best paint for miniatures? This really comes down to a personally choice. Each of the major miniature paint brands has its proponents. Each of the major brands has its positive and negative points. So I'll just give a bit of info on each, and recommend that new painters try out a bit of each brand their LGS carries to find what works best for them.

Games Workshop brand has vibrant colors, they use very fine pigments in their paints. Some people have found that the foundation paints are total garbage (I've had very mixed results), but their primary line paints are pretty good overall. My major complaint is that they dry out faster than I like, their newer formulations aren't nearly as good as the ones from 20 years ago (I should know, I'm still using some of those OLD ones). Their paint pots are iffy, the design makes for somewhat weak hinge points on the lids, and you really have to clean the inner lid a lot to keep a good seal. Always store them top down.

P3 brand has a lot of good mid-tones, and some incredible neon-like colors. And they have actual inks in their line, which GW took out of theirs (idiots). Their paint is a bit thinner than GW paints, but this is helpful when you use more advanced painting techniques which require thinning the paints as you don't have to use quite as much water/flow enhancer/etc. This line of paints covers very well, and blends beautifully.

Vallejo has several lines of paints, Gaming series and Model series. They are very pigment heavy, which makes them ideal to mix and blend with. They can be a bit touchy to thin down at times, but are very high quality. If your LGS carries this line in store your in luck, if they don't (like mine) then it might be worth having them order a few of the colors to try out. I know I love their Model Color 70951 White.

Reaper Master Series is a very toned down line, great for use in miniatures that have a somber or natural look. They come in trinaries which include a shade and highlight color (so get the 3 shades, it helps). They are a little tricky to use at times, if you are used to the 'eye catching' GW line. Since they aren't vibrant, poke you in the eye 'bright' colors. Well worth looking into to expand your paint collection.

Hopefully this will help people out on finding what they need for the hobby. Comments, criticism, additions always welcome!

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