Paint Like You Mean It: The Best Paint for Plastic Models Explored

A definitive guide to painting plastic models

best paint for plastic models explored
best paint for plastic models explored

Finding the best paint for plastic models is similar to separating heaps of sand from soil. You might encounter contrasting opinions regarding best paint brands, painting techniques, thinners, and even primers. As a beginner hobbyist, it’s actually normal to feel overwhelmed by the number of choices in the market.

Don’t worry – this article will help you pick the best options without compromising your wallet and personal preferences.

The Best Paint for Plastic Models

1. The Army Painter Mega Paint Set for Miniatures

the army painter mega paint set for miniatures

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Paint Quality: 4/5
Skill Level: 2.5/5
Value: 4/5

  • Many paints from the kit
  • Precise bottles to help save paint
  • The kit has a free brush
  • Weak holding trays
  • Paints need shaking

The Army Painter mega paint kit is the answer if you’re looking for multiple paint colors without breaking the bank. It has 39 high-quality acrylic paints along with some metallic paints and the popular quickshade washes. Plus, you also get a free priming brush made of sable hairs.

The Army Painter bottles are more economical than average paint pots. Since the bottle has a tight tube, it will only release measured drops of paint. This will allow the paint to last longer, helping you save money in the long run. The kit’s paint quality is also superb, revealing strong and clear colors – especially if the bottles are shaken well.

If you want to travel while bringing the Army Painter kit, you must use a separate carry case for stability. The kit’s holding trays are not stable enough, and the paints might topple if they’re not set on a flat surface.

While the colors of Army Painter paints are vibrant, they require a bit of shaking for at least one minute. If you don’t shake the paint bottle, the pigment won’t separate from the acrylic base. This will result into a color with watery consistency, so you have to mix it further using your brush. But consider the trade-off: you’ll have a mega paint kit for just a few minutes of hassle!

2. Vallejo Basic USA Colors Kit

vallejo basic usa colors kit

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Paint Quality: 4/5
Skill Level: 4/5
Value: 4/5

  • Wide range of colors
  • Little thinning required
  • Quick drying time
  • Paint inconsistencies – especially with green and blue
  • Thinner formula sensitivity

Vallejo is a popular brand among hobbyists and miniature painters. Despite being less popular than Citadel Paints, Vallejo still has a large following because of its quality and realistic color streaks. If you want to dip into Vallejo, you should check out the Vallejo Basic Paint colors kit.

Capable of making numerous color combinations, the Vallejo paint set will help you breeze through your unfinished plastic models. The available colors for the Vallejo kit are flat red, lemon yellow, flat flesh, gold, silver, azure, flat blue, ochre, orange, black, and flat brown. All of these colors require little thinning, so you can use the paints right out of the box.

Despite the great quality of the Vallejo paints, you might encounter some inconsistencies here and there. You’d notice this inconsistency with flat colors like blue and green. To resolve this mild problem, you can use a strong acrylic base. The solution will increase the paint’s consistency, making the color more profound.

Also, you should be careful mixing Vallejo flat colors with any thinner formula. Sometimes, the resulting color might appear runny. Try to experiment with popular thinning formulas until you get the consistency that you need.

3. Reaper Miniatures Master Series Starter Set

reaper miniatures master series starter set

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Paint Quality: 4/5
Skill Level: 3.5/5
Value: 3/5

  • Great for painting miniatures
  • Durable paint box
  • High-quality paint
  • No brush space
  • No brush included
  • Pricey

Sometimes, picking a painting set is overwhelming. If you’re a humble beginner, it’s always wise to start with a starter set. In this case, one reliable paint kit that you must get is the Reaper Master Series kit. This Reaper kit has the official Master Series core colors, as well as some metallic paint variants.

The Reaper paints are strong and clear, making them effective for miniature painting. Every color makes a miniature part stand out, and the result is even better if you know how to shade or highlight. Another advantage of the Reaper kit is its compactness. The case can accommodate all paint bottles without appearing bulky or unstable. Additionally, It’s easy to put the case on a larger bag or toolbox.

Compared with other big kits, the Reaper starter set is pricey because of the small number of paints included. There’s also no brush included in the kit, and the case doesn’t have an extra room for brushes. But if you can get past these minor disadvantages, you’ll have an awesome starter kit with a travel-friendly carry case.

4. The Army Painter Wargamers Complete Paint Set

the army painter wargamers complete paint set

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Paint Quality: 4/5
Skill Level: 3/5
Value: 4.5/5

  • A mega set of paints
  • Remarkable paint consistency
  • Strong twist caps
  • Duplicate paint bottle issues
  • Constant bottle shaking needed

Another noteworthy set from The Army Painter is the Wargamers Complete Paint Set. This set contains 124 high-quality paints categorized into acrylics, metallic, quickshades, and effects. With such a number of paints, you can make dozens of eye-catching combinations for your scale models.

Every paint bottle of the Wargamers set has an exceptional paint consistency. You don’t have to spend more than a minute mixing the paints, unless you’re really meticulous when it comes to details. Still, you must shake the paint bottles vigorously to get the right amount of consistency.

With the Wargamers paint bottles, you can worry less about spillage. Each bottle has a durable twist cap meant to secure the paint. The caps are even stronger than the ones offered by other brands.

Since the Wargamers paint set is big, you might encounter a few manufacturing or processing issues. One common complaint with the Wargamers set is the number of duplicate paint bottles. If your ordered set has duplicates, simply contact the shop and return the product. Otherwise, you can just set aside the duplicate paint bottles for later use.

5. Vallejo Game Color Washes

vallejo game color washes

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Paint Quality: 4/5
Skill Level: 4/5
Value: 3/5

  • High-quality washes
  • Eyedropper included
  • Big range of colors
  • Sticky paints
  • Horrible chemical smell

Every plastic model or miniature will benefit from a high-quality wash. But it’s important to use the best wash or not at all. If you decide to use low-quality washes, you’ll just risk the end quality of your project. One set of washes that you can always count on is Vallejo Game Color Washes.

The best thing about the Vallejo wash set is dynamic color range. A single wash can improve the shades of your WIP models. You just need a fine brush to distribute the wash evenly, eliminating unsightly portions. Thorough mixing is also important because Vallejo game washes have a thick consistency.

Vallejo washes work best with Vallejo paints and special Citadel colors. The wash consistency makes the colors more spontaneous and realistic.

Warning: the Vallejo Game Color Wash set doesn’t smell nice. Each wash bottle has an unpleasant chemical smell with a mix of mold. Keep this in mind before using Vallejo washes, and always work in a room with proper ventilation. Vallejo washes are also sticky to your fingers, so make sure that you have an adequate supply of tissue rolls or disposable cloth.

Basics to Painting Plastic

Plastic Model Paint Buying Guide – Important Things to Know

To get the best paint for plastic models, you must understand some important buying factors. These factors are not difficult to remember but they can help you make the right purchasing decisions over the years.

Resist the Urge to Buy Everything

Nearly all hobby shops have dozens of tools, accessories, and models that enthusiasts can choose from. These choices are nice but they can make any beginner confused. You might also end up buying more stuff than you’ll ever need.

Before delving deep in the hobby, make sure that you’re disciplined to focus on the necessary things. You don’t need to buy fifty paint bottles or one dozen paint brushes (unless they’re in an affordable set). At best, you must have basic paint colors and a paint brush. A thinner solvent is also optional but it can speed up your work and boost the quality of your paints.

Since most starter sets contain all primary colors, they’re excellent choices for beginners. With a starter set, you don’t have to purchase paint bottles one by one.

Focus on Core Colors

Core colors, also known as primary colors, are the building blocks of the paint spectrum. The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These colors are important because they allow the creation of multiple pigments and combinations. Once you have the core colors in your toolbox, you can start painting basic miniatures or scale models.

Brands usually claim that their primary colors are better than others. It’s all about paint quality and composition, after all. Don’t stress yourself too much on primary color choices. Just pick red, blue, and yellow bottles and you’re good to go.

Basic Brushes Are Fine

If there’s a paint theory, then there’s paintbrush theory as well. Many hobbyists believe that paintbrushes can affect your success on painting plastic models. Well, they’re right! Using the wrong type of paintbrush will make the paint quality look amateurish. Take a flat brush as an example. A flat brush is great for long surfaces (i.e. aircraft carrier runway) but inefficient on models with action poses (i.e. Warhammer 40K minis). For models with precise sections, you need a finer brush.

It’s great to learn paintbrush theory, but you’re fine with beginner brushes. Nowadays, you can order a complete set of paintbrushes. The brush types that you’d likely encounter are round, flat, bright, fan, and detailed round. Specialty brushes, such as those you can purchase outside of a set, are great if you have extra budget or if your skill is already progressing.

Consider Your Skillset

Now, let’s focus on the importance of painting skill. At the beginner’s phase, your skill in painting is very likely basic. You can make broad strokes with a few variations now and then. You might even get annoyed with hard-to-reach areas and model faces. By considering your painting skill, you can settle for affordable, basic paints instead of overly confusing brands.

Are you planning to get weathering effects for flavor or realism? Sure, you can, but you only need one or two bottles depending on the project. Try to get your hands on Vallejo weathering paints since they can make a model’s appearance extra special.

An Important Question: Acrylic or Enamel?

There are many angles to consider in terms of acrylic and enamel paints. For starters, acrylic paint is easier to use because it dries fast and doesn’t require too much mixing. Acrylics are considered family-friendly as well.

Enamel paints, on the other hand, are great for beautifying models. Models with enamel finish look more beautiful and precious compared to those with plain acrylic finish. But there’s always a trade-off: enamel paints are slightly harder to mix and they take a long time to dry. Therefore, enamel painting requires advanced working skills and adaptability.

So, keep in mind: use acrylic as a beginner and change to enamel as your skills improve.

Plastic Model Paint FAQ

How can I start painting right away?

Answer: First, you need to purchase a kit. Every kit has relevant information about paints, tools, and even the necessary techniques. You don’t have to worry about a perfect technique especially if you’re just a beginner. Simply choose an easy kit to paint and apply the fundamentals. Also, just be patient and do not give up if you had some errors.

What are the common types of paints that I need?

Answer: The most common type of paint is acrylic. If you’re a beginner, you can never go wrong with acrylic paints because they have different color combinations. Also, you can use them right away. Enamel paints, on the other hand, require advanced mixing. As your painting skills improve, you should consider the depth and intensity of enamel paints.

This video shows a quick distinction among the types of miniature or plastic model paints.

What are the best paint brands for beginners?

Answer: There are only a few reliable names when it comes to pain brands. Some of these brands are Citadel (uniquely strong colors), Vallejo (strong colors and effects), Reaper (professional choice), and Army Painter (great base colors).

What tools should I have to start painting?

Answer: The necessary tools are paintbrushes, brush cleaner, easels, and a desk lamp (or any source of adequate lighting). You don’t have to buy extra tools unless you have the budget for them.

What models or miniatures are great for beginners?

Answer: It all depends on your chosen theme. If you love fantasy, you won’t be disappointed with D&D miniatures. Warhammer Fantasy is also a great choice. If your desired theme is realistic, you can settle for die-cast vehicles, planes, and ships. Overall, planes are reliable because of their non-complicated angles and workable scales.

Why is it important to prime?

Answer: Priming increases the paint’s adhesion. Without a primecoat, the paint will become runny and compromise the final detail. This will make the model look amateurish. Priming is one of the most important painting techniques that beginners must learn.

Do I need an airbrush for painting?

Answer: At the early phase of your painting journey, you don’t need an airbrush. However, as you become more proficient, your backlog of miniatures might increase. To finish painting these models fast, you can use a high-powered airbrush.

Are shading and highlighting important? Why so?

Answer: Shading and highlighting are important techniques because they can make a plastic model stand out. While shading improves the detail of hidden parts and folds, highlighting makes visible areas even brighter. If you want to make your plastic models look great, you should learn proper shading and highlighting techniques.

Do I need washes? Why or why not?

Answer: If you’re working on your very first kit, you don’t need a model wash. Basically, paint washes improve the shading of your models and require a moderate degree of proficiency. Practice highlighting a few models first, then move on to a methodical wash application process.

Is glazing still important nowadays?

Answer: Glazing is almost the same as washing. The only difference is that glazing is used to emphasize transitions for models with significant poses. In geometric angles, glazing doesn’t have a big impact because a great shading technique will make a difference. Glazing is purely optional today.

How can I start kitbashing?

Answer: Kitbashing is the process of turning a miniature into another form, like a fantasy dragon warrior to a modern-day eastern superhero. To start kitbashing, you need to choose a plastic model or miniature kit. Afterwards, lay out your design and start the project. You might need one or two extra kits for variation. And yes, you still need to paint the new kitbashed model!

Why is it difficult to paint faces?

Answer: A model’s face contains many small details and sections such as eyes, nose, ears, jawline, and lips. Your hand must be steady and your brush must have thin bristles. It’s also a wise move to start painting the model’s eyes.


Before painting your first model kit, you must have an idea which paints are the best. You don’t have to buy them all. The kit will inform you about the necessary paints, and you can also ask experienced scale modelers for advice. Try to bookmark our article so you can refer to it whenever you need to buy paints right away.

And once your paints are ready, start painting your new plastic model kit!

I am a freelance copywriter with deep interest in gaming, game design, and technology. During my free time, I love to explore nature and play with my daughter.


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