Wednesday, April 27, 2011

[Lo's Lowdown] Paint Comparison - GW vs Vallejo vs P3 vs Reaper Master Series

So, you're a new miniatures player and you need to paint your figs. Or, maybe, you've been around the block a few times, but have limited exposure to the possibilities out there. Or you know what's available, but have never compared. Either way, many folks out there don't know a lot about the differences between the various model companies and their paint lines.

I'm here to give you a brief rundown of the costs, differences, pros, cons and all the other dirty details I can gather for you.

I want to state up front that I'm not a professional painter, nor am I anything like an "expert". I'm just a hobby painter like the rest of you- so I haven't done anything fancy here. I've tried to keep things as much like a home situation as possible- in fact, I used paints I had on hand for the article just to give you an idea of how the paints react to time, storage and other normal "use" factors.

The major players- GW, Vallejo Game Color, P3, and Reaper Master Series
I'll start off with the Games Workshop's Citadel paint. It's the most prevalent and easily recognizable paint on the market at the moment. You can almost count on finding it at your FLGS, and if not, you can order direct from GW online.

The Games Workshop Chaos Black comes in a pot with a flip-top lid. It contains .41 fluid ounces, and in my area, retails for $3.79. The one shown below is one of the newer, redesigned pots. these new pots offer a clear "button" top which allows you to see the color inside the bottle.

The GW paint pot has been redesigned recently. The new opening is much wider.

The new bottle also has a wider opening , which I found allows me to dip my brush right into the pot itself more easily.

My personal tendencies and preferences are to want to paint off a palette- so I can water down easily, mix or brush off excess paint. This bottle design makes doing so very difficult, which was a downside for me. My general practice with this pot is to dip the brush onto the "tongue" of the bottle because I'm really nervous about oversaturating the ferrule (metal piece that holds the bristles together). The paint comes onto the brush smoothly and gives a nice, even coating over the bristles very easily.

The big plus for me is in the redesign. The new top has a tight fitting seal that snaps shut much better than previous designs- it's almost like a Tupperware lid. I've found that this keeps the paint wet and prevents drying much more effectively than past pots.

Next up we have Formula Privateer Press Paint (or more commonly known as P3). Thamar Black comes in a flip top lid pot that contains .5 fluid ounces. In my area, a pot retails for $3.50. It comes sealed with a "pull tab" strip seal that's similar to the ones found on milk bottles. This brand is becoming more popular with the rise of WarmaHordes players out there, and a high quality paint & design team on staff.
P3 has a much deeper "throat" and longer well in comparison.

The "tongue" is also longer, but not as wide as GW's. I found this pot to have some "oily" separation when I opened it, so I shut it back up and shook it to blend the pigmentation back to normal

I had the same sorts of concerns with the Formula P3 pot that I had with the GW pot. I went ahead and dipped my brush onto the tongue here as well. The P3 is a little "stickier" than the GW, in my experience, and needs a bit more thinning. For a new painter, this might be a little daunting. The paint absolutely saturated my brush as I picked it up off the tongue and I had to "dab" a bit off onto a palette before ever painting. Again, it can be daunting for a new painter.
GW on a figure

Now we're down to the nuts and bolts- pictures. This is one single stroke of the brush along the figure. Again, I didn't use anything fancy. In fact, I used my "test models", who are as you can see, a little janky due to a bad prime job. It's all in the name of "keeping it real", haha. The picture above is of the Games Workshop paint. Below, you can see the Formula P3 results.
P3 on a figure.

The next entry into our paint lineup is the Vallejo Game Color series. There IS a Model Color series, but it is generally aimed at FOW and/or historical painting, as it features washed out and desaturated tones. The Game Color series is gaining popularity in hobby shops- the small profile of the display and affordable price point are good for retailers.

The Vallejo Game Color Series Black comes in a .58 fluid ounce dropper bottle. In my area, these bottles retail for $3.25 each. The paint formulations are almost exact duplicates of the GW color series, so you will rarely have a problem finding a color you want or need.
Vallejo Game Color in the bottle.

One of the biggest downsides to the Vallejo bottle design is that the pigmentation tends to settle. It is not as visible here in the picture of the black, but below, in the Warlord Purple, it is very apparent. If you store your Vallejo paint for ANY length of time, you will need to shake it to get the pigment mixed well.
Here's a much better example of the pigmentation settling.

The big plus side is that you can have MUCH more control of how much paint you get on your brush. One drop allows a large section of painting without a lot of waste or drying. Additionally, the "by the drop" option allows creation of custom paint recipes with ease- 2 drops this and 3 drops that can be easily replicated over and over.

The paint is very fluid and wicks onto the brush very easily. It goes onto the figure easily and nicely, with a good fluid feel. My experience is that I reload the brush more often with this paint, but I tend to have a lighter touch with the Vallejo paint for some reason.
P3 on the palette

This is a couple drops- I kept trying to get a picture of the drop coming out of the bottle and failed repeatedly. I finally gave up and just started the comparison for you.

P3 on the fig

Here you can really see how fluid the paint is. I didn't do much brushwork at all, just a very light stroke and the paint went right onto the figure, while leaving details visible, even despite my terrible photography.

I tested Reaper Master's Series Paint next. This is another eyedropper bottle, containing .5 fluid ounces. I have not seen these paints actually in any hobby or FLGS. All the bottles I own were special ordered, direct from Reaper by the super helpful staff at my LGS. It's been a while and I don't remember what I paid, but they retail online for $2.99 each.
Reaper on the palette

All of the same pluses of an eyedropper bottle like the ones Vallejo uses are still in effect here. Reaper has a MAJOR innovation in their eyedropper bottle- it includes an actuator. It's a small metal skull about the size of a BB, but it is a huge bonus for mixing your paint when the inevitable pigment settling occurs. This gets the paint out of the bottle and onto a palette faster and with less headache.

This paint LOVES figures. The finely thinned paint offers a great flow from the brush to the model and has a really good feel when applying. Here you can see just a little touch on the leg and the details are very obvious- not obscured or overshadowed.

I was all prepared to tell you that Reaper's black has some sort of hue control problem because my model has a distinctly purple cast to it, but I checked the bottle and I grabbed Regal Purple instead of black. Unfortunately the labels on the batch I own are worn, but the printing on the bottle was not great to start out. If you buy Reaper paints, do yourself a favor and relabel them with a gun or some paper and tape.

Reaper on a fig

Every paint has an upside, and every paint has a down. What your preferences and tolerances are will determine what you find fits your painting style the most appropriately. It's entirely possible that you'll be like me and use them all, dependent on project, mood and other factors not discussed here.

I hope you've found my Lowdown helpful, and feel free to ask questions if you think I missed something, or just want some more information.

Be Well,


  1. So - overall, which would you say is the "best"?

    I can only ever get GW in my area, but it's worked for me!

  2. I tried to evaluate the paints evenly- to give both positives and negatives for each. Some people vote with their wallets, and for them, if shipping doesn't eat the savings, Reaper is by far the best deal. Other people strongly prefer a thick, even paint on their models. For them, GW and P3 are pretty neck and neck. Other people like something else. I didn't want my personal preferences to get in the way of someone making a choice based on their parameters.

    If I had to pick, I'd go with Vallejo or Reaper every time. I like the bottle design infinitely better than GW or P3.

  3. Awesome review! I was a staunch "GW paint, load from the cap" painter for years, but have recently switched up to a wet palate so I've been converting to the Game Color line specifically for the dropper-style bottle. You're bang on target with the fact that they separate rather quickly in the bottle, and you have to shake the bejeebus out of them. I wasn't aware of the Reaper line, but I really like the idea that they include an agitator. I'll have to give them a try! Thanks for this article, it's extremely informative to new painters, and old crusty painters like me as well!

  4. A couple of points to add that others might find useful:

    P3 paints contain liquid pigment (as opposed to the dry pigments the other 3 lines use). This enhances the smoothness of coats and also limits separation.

    The tops of the dropper bottles can be removed (the nozzle is a plug that inserts into the neck of the bottle. Simply pry it out and replace with a snap.) Because of this an agitator can easily be added to VGC/VMC paints. I typically use trimmed bits of pewter sprue (and who doesn't have tons of that stuff just lying around, right?).

    I use all 4 brands but I'm currently phasing out my GW paints and replacing them with VGC. The added control of the dropper bottles, lower price and higher quality make the change a no-brainer. The color matching to the GW line is also a huge factor.

    Great article! Happy painting!

  5. I freely switch from brand to brand based on color/coverage needs, but I am not buying any more VGC. Even with agitators I find the separation intolerable. Most of the time I am forced to open the bottle and stir it to get a decent consistency. As I run out of VGC, I buy Citadel and pour them into the eyedropper bottle.

  6. Reaper sells their dropper bottles with a little skull agitator included. I like to have few on hand to mix up custom colors or pre-dilute colors to be airbrush-ready.

    I've found colors in each range that I really enjoy. My favorite lines though, are Reaper Master and Vallejo Model Color. The dropper bottle design coupled with the huge array of colors is a painters delight.

  7. I liked the new GW bottles with the clear lid. Saves painting the lid which was the old way around that. Only thing is, they also removed the little tabs on the back that helped keep the lid open. I have some where the lid closes almost completely making it really annoying to use.

    And, great article, thanks.

  8. "Only thing is, they also removed the little tabs on the back that helped keep the lid open. I have some where the lid closes almost completely making it really annoying to use."

    This absolutely drives me nuts about the GW paints. They also changed the way the lid attaches to the pot so I can't just unscrew the entire lid. I find the flip top lids get messy and don't seal well after a while. I will still buy GW paints for their awesome metalics and washes, but that's about it.

    I really like the Reaper and Vallejo lines. The only thing I've noticed with Reaper is that a few times I've had the paint dry in the dropper tip, making it very difficult to get any paint out.

    Very nice comparison. I don't suppose you could provide a further comparison of some of the more difficult colors, like red and yellow?

  9. Very good article. I am a huge fan of Reaper paints and their headquarters (Reaper Asylum) is about 30 minutes drive from me (near Dallas, Texas). Their Master Series paint is very well made and is fine tuned to be usable right out of the bottle which I appreciate. Great article.

  10. Great article. I would like to add that the color selection is not the only difference between Vallejo Model Color and Vallejo Game Color. The VGC paints were designed to directly compete with GW paints and so they have a hardener in them that makes them hold a bit better on a miniature. The downside to this is that they do not thin as well as the VMC paints do. They also dry with a touch of a satin finish to them (this is a side effect of the hardener). They also tend to be a bit thicker.

    I use mostly VGC/VMC with a smattering of other paints mixed in. Vallejo also makes a line called Model Air that are formulated for using in an airbrush. I recently started using the metallic paints from this line as they are great. The pigment is extremely fine and the only down side is the non-silver colored metals are all a bit light so need work to really look the part.

  11. one thing to know about the reaper paints is that they tend to dry with an extremely flat finish. It can be a problem if your layering clors from different brands.

    As a suggestion for a future article, it would be worth your time to compare metallic paints across ranges since there's a pretty big difference in behavior. The p3 metallics in particular are kinda sucky.

  12. @Lauby - Definitely a good idea. Metalics have a wide range of quality. I don't think I've found a brand that can beat GW for metalics. Their silver is soooo smooth. I've tried Vallejo and it's just too sparkly.

  13. It was anything but brief :)

    To briefly sum up:

    GW: 0.41 fluid ounce, $3.79, pot
    P3: 0.50 fluid ounce, $3.50, pot
    VGC: 0.58 fluid ounce, $3.25, drop, reguires shaking
    RM: 0.50 fluid ounce, $2.99 online, drop, has actuator to help with shaking

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. I used to love GW paints, but after a few disasters with their pots, well, Vallejo for me, all the way, albeit from their Model Color and Panzer Aces ranges, and sans the metallic colors (extremists use Alclad. for everyone else, there's Gunze and Tamiya). I've been wondering lately how good Andrea paints are, especially due to their "single color sets. Plus, there's a lot of good to be said about Gunze lacquers (I absolutely worship their Mr. Surfacer primers), despite the fact that, due to their chemical composition, they are terrible to use in badly ventilated areas (after a protracted spraying session, the smell can knock an elephant out).

    (Post edited due to a sudden deficiency of literacy.)

  16. I use a full reaper set, GW mega game set, and some VGC. After Thining GW they work together well. I have tho OLD reaper set, so they don't dry flat. Though you can see the difference on larger models like land raiders. also every GW pot has a bad tendancy to dry out FAST. I think it's the medium that GW uses. If your like me, and only want to buy paints every 5 years or so they may not be for you. My reaper never seem to dry out, but my VGC seemed to get harder to shake after about 8 months.

  17. There is one brand that I find beats the GW metallics, and that's Tamiya. Their flake size is finer than GW's which means you can water it down to an insane amount and still get great, smooth coverage. When painting with bristles it's not a big deal but for airbrushing, it's amazing. Having the ability to paint the same colour equally well with both types of brushes is a major plus in my books.

    Although Tamyia's pigments do settle after a while, it's nothing a quick shake and a few drops of Tamiya thinner won't fix.