Using Acrylic Paints for Models and Miniatures

Acrylic paints
nadiastep / Twenty20

Acrylic paints are often the first choice of modelers due to their easy cleanup. Are they the best paints for your project? When choosing paint for your next miniature project consider these points before you reach for your paints:

  • Will the object be handled? If so, it should be painted with enamel/oil paint. Acrylic paint will need special sealers to allow repeated handling.
  • Is the object porous or does air get through? Acrylic paint works best where air passes freely through the object. On plastics or metals, acrylic paint will only survive if it is painted on top of a sealing base coat.
  • Which paint suits your working style? Oil/enamel paints take longer to dry and allow more time to adjust colors. Acrylic paints are fast drying and easy to clean up after.

Acrylic Paints are Easy and Quick to Clean Up

Acrylic paints are easy to clean up using soap and water. Only mix small amounts of paint at a time, use a flower palette with a cover and cover unused paint when you leave your work. Paint stored under a cover will last for up to 24 hours before drying out. If you mixed extra paint, store it in artist's cups. The time depends on heat and humidity levels in your work area. Dried bits of paint are easily peeled off the painting palette when dry.

Best Forms of Acrylic Paint to Use for Miniatures

Acrylic paints come in a wide variety of forms. If you haven't used them before, learn to blend your own colors using artist’s quality tube acrylic paints, and create acrylic liquids, glazes, and special finishes by adding the appropriate acrylic mediums rather than using hobby or craft paints. Artists quality paints are much better colors with much less filler than student quality paints.

Student quality is usually above the standard of craft paints. Craft paints are usually more opaque with more fillers than artist’s paints. Unlike artist's acrylics, craft paints are not always rated for lightfastness or pigment content.

Many craft paint colors are specified in particular instructions. If you want your miniature to match, use these.

Use Acrylic Mediums To Enhance Your Painted Effects

Learn to use acrylic mediums, extenders, and thinners, to create the paint effect/paint type you want to work with. Your basic range of paint colors can then be applied in a number of different ways, without needing to find the right blue gloss for example. A wide variety of acrylic mediums are available which extend the handling qualities of the paint. Some thin it, some add texture, which is useful for making small-scale versions of particular finishes, like plaster and stucco, some change transparency, some even allow you to use the paint as a fabric paint.

Sample jars of mediums are available. Using special mediums like plaster and stucco, some change transparency, some even allow you to use the paint as a fabric paint. Sample jars of mediums are available. Using special mediums like pumice medium will allow you to instantly create a stucco texture for small-scale building projects with any color of paint and you can add gloss or matte mediums to create exactly the finish you want for your particular color.

Best Base for Acrylic Paints

Use acrylic paints on materials which breathe and do not trap moisture – paper, wood, terracotta, bisque.

If you will use acrylic paints on nonporous materials: metal, plastic or resin, use proper undercoats and overcoats. These materials do not breathe so anything painted on them needs to dry perfectly and not swell or contract. If possible, use enamel paints on these materials, or use undercoats with acrylic paint to help the acrylic stick properly then seal the acrylic coating with an overcoat to prevent it from absorbing moisture.

Acrylic Paints Have The Advantage of Fast Drying Thin Layers

Acrylic paints are fast drying and can be thinned with water and acrylic medium to apply very fine layers. Use thin coats to accent surface detail. Thick coats of paint will fill in the details and lower your opportunities to add highlighting washes.

Acrylic paints are ideal for situations where you want to apply washes to highlight miniature details. Very thin yet opaque coats can be used to create the base, then detail washes can be applied over the base coats without any danger of blending or bleeding.

Do not over thin acrylic paints with water, the paint will become weak. Use a mix of water and acrylic medium to thin your colors.

Acrylic paints never completely dry out. They are hygroscopic and will swell slightly with moisture. They are not for heavy wear items. If you need a hard lustrous coating for miniatures which will be handled often, use oil/enamel paints.

Ways to Apply Acrylic Paints to Your Miniatures

Acrylic paints are easy to use with brushes or airbrushes:

  • Airbrushes: Thin the acrylic mixture with acrylic medium and water to achieve the correct consistency for using with your airbrush. After use, run a mixture of soap and water through the airbrush to remove all paint traces.
  • Brushes: Choose the right brush for your painting task and the thickness of the paint. Ask the art store what type of brush you should use. A well-made brush will last until the bristles are worn away if it is properly cared for. Always wash your brush with soap and water or a soap based brush cleaner after painting and use your fingers to pull the brush back into shape and leave to dry standing upright.

Even if you have completely dried acrylic paint in a brush, you may be able to restore and save the brush using special brush cleaners. Winsor Newton Brush Cleaner is a nonhazardous cleaner which will clean even completely hardened acrylic and oil paints from brushes.