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5 best miniatures paints that aren’t Citadel - and what to use them for

Broaden your painting horizons by dipping your toe, or your brush, into some ranges other than Games Workshop’s hobby juggernaut.

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It’s fair to say that Games Workshop’s Citadel Colour range is the big name in miniatures paints. It’s a great range and sticking with it is perfectly acceptable, especially if you’re frequenting your local Warhammer store on a regular basis.

That being said, GW is far from the only game in town when it comes to great paints for your miniatures and it’s always worth checking out as many different brands and ranges as possible. Here we’ll be looking at the best miniatures paints that aren't Citadel to hopefully broaden your hobby horizons.

Best miniatures paints that aren't Citadel

Formulating paints is a balancing act with loads of factors to consider. Colour, finish, durability, opacity and lots of other elements have to be taken into account. You might fall in love with a particular paint because it flows beautifully from your brush, has great coverage, or is a very specific colour that no other range gets quite right.

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For this list, we’ll be sticking with acrylic paints. I regularly use oils, enamels and even lacquer paints on various projects, but those are more specialised products and beyond the scope of this article. Brushes away!

1. Tamiya Flat White XF-2

The best white miniatures paint for airbrushing

This pot of white paint is ideal for pre-shading using an airbrush - just make sure to thin it first. Image: Tamiya

With the success of the Citadel Contrast range, a lot of folks are discovering the joys of underpainting or pre-shading for the first time. These are terms for varying the tones of your undercoat, so that you get shading and highlighting when you apply colours over the top. If you’ve heard the term “slapchop” being used, it’s just a catchy term for a form of pre-shading that involves drybrushing progressively lighter colours over a dark base.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to an airbrush, you have a whole range of pre-shading techniques available, the easiest of which is what’s known as a zenithal highlight. In its simplest form, this involves priming a miniature in black, picking the direction that you want the light to appear to be hitting the miniature from and then using your airbrush to apply gradual layers of white to give a smooth transition from dark to light.

Painting white, even with an airbrush, can be tricky, but Tamiya Flat White XF-2 is the best miniatures paint for the job - short of using lacquers, which you may want to avoid due to being noxious, smelly stuff.

While XF-2 is an acrylic paint, it is alcohol-based, rather than water-based, so you will need to thin it with Tamiya X-20A thinner instead of water. Other than that wrinkle, it’s no harder to use than any other acrylic paint and gives great results.

Buy Tamiya Flat White XF-2 on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

2. Army Painter Matt Black and Matt White

The best all-purpose black and white paints for miniatures

A lot of white and black miniatures paints don't quite match the tones you expect, but these Army Painter pots do. Image: Army Painter

I’m cheating and including two paints in one entry, but that’s okay because I make the rules here. I’ve grouped these two together because I’m including them for the same reason: a lot of miniatures paints that are labelled black or white simply aren’t. White is a particularly hard colour to make with good coverage, which is why something like Citadel Corax White, formulated to be a good base coat, is clearly an off-white, especially when you compare it to a piece of white paper.

Army Painter Matt White and Matt Black are my go-to paints when I specifically want white or black. They’re not perfect (make sure you give the bottles a good shake, especially the Matt Black) and there’s always going to be some chalkiness with white acrylic paints, but if I want a sharp white highlight or a smooth black basecoat, these are the paints I grab.

Buy Army Painter Matt Black and Matt White on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

3. Vallejo Model Color Cavalry Brown

The best base coat for avoiding muddy reds

True to its name, Vallejo's Cavalry Brown is a reliable workhorse for miniatures painters. Image: Vallejo

This unremarkable red-brown paint is an appropriately-named workhorse. Red can be a tricky colour to paint, especially if you’ve primed a miniature in black. Don’t worry, Cavalry Brown will ride to the rescue and provide a brilliant basecoat for you to paint your reds on top of. It’s got a lovely, creamy consistency and great coverage that can save a lot of time layering red paint, trying to get a good result.

It’s also an almost perfect colour match for Citadel Martian Ironcrust and Martian Ironearth technical paints, so if you’re using either of those for basing your models, it’s great for adding built up mud and dust to your minis. On top of that, it’s also a generally useful colour to have around.

You can never have enough brown paints, simply because there are so many shades of brown in nature, and Cavalry Brown is one you’ll be reaching for time and time again.

Buy Vallejo Model Color Cavalry Brown on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

4. Scale 75 Metal N’ Alchemy Necro Gold

The best miniatures paint for golds both bright and dark

Necro Gold pairs well with a brown wash - use it as the basecoat for a brighter look, or highlight for a darker hue. Image: Scale 75

I love using metallic colours. While there are specific paints from other manufacturers that I adore, the Metal N’ Alchemy range from Scale 75 is my absolute favourite overall. They take a little getting used to because of their slightly odd, gel-like consistency, but once you get the hang of thinning them (I tend to need more water than I’d expect to use) they’re brilliant. They brush on easily, have great coverage and a lovely, smooth finish.

I could put any number of paints from this range on this list, but I’ve picked out Necro Gold because it’s probably the one I use the most. If I’m painting gold (or something gold-ish, like brass belt buckles and the like) chances are I’m using Necro Gold.

For brighter golds, I like to use Necro Gold as the base coat, with a brown wash (the ubiquitous Citadel Agrax Earthshade does the job nicely) and then Citadel Retributor Armour for the highlight. If I want a darker, grungier look, I go for Metal N’ Alchemy Decayed Metal as the base, a brown wash again, and then Necro Gold as the highlight. These simple recipes work great on their own for a tabletop ready paint job, or as a starting point for more subtle shades and highlights.

Buy Scale 75 Metal N’ Alchemy Necro Gold on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

5. Vallejo Metal Color Exhaust Manifold

The best miniatures paint for functional metal parts

Exhaust Manifold's brown tinge makes it the perfect miniatures paint for metal areas that need to look grimy. Image: Vallejo

While the Metal N’ Alchemy range has taken the top spot on my list of best metallic paint ranges, Metal Color from Vallejo comes a close second. When applied with an airbrush, Metal Color gives some of the best, most realistic metal finishes that you can get from an acrylic paint, but the coverage is so good that they work great with a brush too. If you’re planning on applying them with a brush, you need to take your time and avoid overloading your brush. Pouring some into a well palette and letting it sit for a few minutes so it starts to dry and thicken up can help too.

The shade I particularly like for brush painting is Exhaust Manifold. As the name suggests, this is a darker, slightly brown-tinted silver that is great for any working mechanical parts. It makes metal bits look used and a little worn without having to do any extra weathering or griming up. Of course, if you want to slap some extra dirt and grease all over it, that also works.

Buy Vallejo Metal Color Exhaust Manifold on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

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There are loads of ranges from different manufacturers that are well worth a look and I don’t have room to mention them all. I hope that some of these tips prove useful and at the very least they encourage you to try out some of the huge variety of great miniatures paints that are out there.

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