Acrylic Paint: Tips and Brands

Vallejo, Lifecolor, Tamiya, Mig Ammo, etc.

Acrylic Paint Brands

I primarily use acrylic paints. Mostly, this is because I can't deal with the harsh smells of enamels and don't enjoy the smell of lacquers (but lacquers don't affect me as much). Now, understand the "acrylic" refers to the binder in the paint. The thinner may be water, alcohol, or even something else. But, the binding agent is an acrylic of some sort. Different brands have a different type of acrylic binder. Thus, each has a certain use.

  1. Vallejo
    • Comes in several varieties. Model Color, Game Color, & Panzer Aces are all thick paint designed for hand-painting. Model Air is a little bit thinner but still works great for hand-painting.
    • Comes in dropper bottles. You must use a palate, and you must thin it (Thinner Medium, Airbrush thinner, or water).
    • This stuff is great for painting figures, details, and paint chips.
    • CON - Not so great for doing hairspray chipping as the acrylic polymer tends to make the paint peel off instead of chip away.
  2. Lifecolor
    • Great for airbrushing and color selection.
    • Lifecolor paints layer very well. Add a little water while painting to create gradients of color.
    • Their Rust & Dust set is spectacular.
    • Works great with the hairspray chipping effect
    • CON - Difficult/Expensive to buy in the States
  3. Tamiya
    • Alcohol-based: they dry faster and are more dense than other acrylics
    • These are fantastic at airbrushing.
    • Works the best with the hairspray chipping effect
    • You can use lacquer thinners like Mr. Leveling Thinner to get fantastic results.
    • CON - Difficult to hand-paint with
  4. AK Interactive
    • They seem to perform great at both airbrushing and hand-painting.
    • Their acrylic primers perform well and have no smell.
    • Add hematite beads (see below) to help agitate the paint.
    • CON - Difficult to mix up (shake it like crazy)
  5. Mig Ammo
    • Dries hard and airbrushes well.
    • Paint in light, translucent layers for best results.
    • Newer yellow-cap Ammo paints work better and have steel ball agitators.
    • They also produce "crystal" paints that dry to look like glass (great for dials).
    • CON - Difficult to mix up (shake it like crazy)
  6. Citadel/Games Workshop
    • Similar to Vallejo in consistency, but I don't like them as much.
    • They do have the better flesh colors than Vallejo.
    • I haven't had any luck airbrushing them.
    • CON - Poor durability, I don't like the bottle design
  7. Mr. Color (Mr. Hobby/GSI)
    • Acrylic-lacquers that airbrush beautifully (better than any other)
    • Very durable and produce fine chips with hairspray effect
    • Haven't spent a lot of time with them yet
    • CON - lacquer smell (must use respirator), expensive

 

 

Mixing Acrylics

Acrylic paint MUST be mixed well, especially for airbrushing. Some of the paint stirrers I use;

  • Old paintbrush
    • Great for general mixing and airbrush cups
  • Styrene/brass rods
    • Good for mixing inside bottles
    • DON'T use in an airbrush cup

However, the best things I have found to mix paint are Hematite beads. I buy strands of 8mm beads and drop one in every jar of paint I have. Then, when you shake the paint, they act as an agitator, mixing the paint up. You'd be surprised how much better your paint works when you have an agitator inside. Hematite is heavier than steel but won't affect the paint or rust in the jars. They can be reused over and over again, just wash them off.

For the most consistent results, pre-mix your airbrushing paints in a separate container. Then transfer them to the airbrush. It's harder to determine the ratio of paint to thinner if mixed in the airbrush cup. This is especially true for denser paints, like Tamiya, and when mixing in lacquer thinners (which many acrylics can handle). However, I still tend to mix a lot in the airbrush cup, especially since I use gravity-feed airbrushes. It's just faster and uses less paint.

Specialty Acrylics

Metallics

  • Metallic paints require fine pigments to create an even sheen simulating metal. It's hard for acrylics to accomplish this compared to lacquer paints. However, there are many good metallic paints.
  • Mig Ammo has a great line of metallics for brushing and airbrushing.
  • The Metal Color line from Vallejo looks great and airbrushes/brushes very well.
  • Tamiya has several metallic colors that look very convincing when airbrushed properly.
  • Applying light coats of a metallic paint over a black-primed surface gives the best results.
  • Use pigments if you want the best looking metallic sheen without doing lacquers

Vallejo Liquid Gold

  • Vallejo's Liquid Gold line is an alcohol-based line of bright metallics that look very good.
  • They require alcohol for cleanup, but can be airbrushed and hand-brushed well.
  • They do dry quickly, so work on only small areas at a time.
  • I used Old Gold on the Darth Vader statue

Inks

  • Inks are a term used for super-thin acrylics designed to alter the hue of a surface.
  • The Vallejo Game Color inks have several colors and dry semi-transparent.
  • Life Color has their Tensochrome sets that provide several weathering colors.
  • Essentially, you can make any acrylic like an ink, but you must thin it and maybe add a slow-drying medium.

Preparation & Priming

If you want your acrylics to bind to the surface of your model and NOT lift up from tape or handling, you need to do things. First, clean the model (I usually spray it with Windex and rinse in warm water. Second, you need to use a primer.

  1. Mr. Surfacer
    • My go-to primer. I airbrush it for near-perfect results
    • Lacquer-based pain that comes in bottles and spray cans (available in black unlike Tamiya)
    • Like Tamiya, it is near-perfect, with excellent adhesion and levelling
    • Airbrushing it REQUIRES ventilation and a respirator
  2. Tamiya Primer
    • Lacquer-based spray can, available in grey and white
    • Lays down great, doesn't obscure details, dries fast, and is easy to use
    • DON'T use on foamboard
  3. Acrylic primers
    • Vallejo, AK, and Mig Ammo make these primers in many colors
    • Designed for airbrush use at ~20 PSI
    • Great for groundwork and plaster molds.
    • Great for protecting foam from harsher paints

Issues and My Preferred Solution

Biggest issues I have with acrylics relate to airbrushing, and are all related to the consistency of their performance.

  • They might spray perfectly one day and horribly the next
  • Tip-dry in the airbrush
  • Dusty/grainy finish if thinned improperly
  • One too many or too little drops of thinner can mess up performance
  • Too many "additives" often needed to get good performance

Now, the easiest way around this is to use a lacquer thinner, which will make the paint more consistent with less tip-dry and tighter lines. Personally, I prefer Mr. Leveling Thinner because it already has a leveling agent in the mix. This will help eliminate that dusty/grainy finish.

  • Mr. Hobby, Tamiya ,Mig Ammo, AK, and even old ModelMaster Acryl works with MLT.
  • Vallejo does NOT work.

The ONLY downside: you NEED a respirator and a spray booth or really good ventilation.

12 Comments

  1. This is a great article!! I just was curious about a couple of things..
    Can I use Ammo-MIG Acrylics on top Vallejo Primer?
    also, would Tamiya Acrylics work with the other acrylics?..
    or does Tamiya have to be used independently as it’s solvent based?

    • You can put acrylics over just about anything that is dry. So yes, you can put Mig over Vallejo, Tamiya over Mig, Vallejo over Tamiya, etc.

  2. That’s awesome! Thank you so much.
    I’m just getting into AB and scale modeling. And it’s all new. Last time I built a model I was pre-pubescent.. lol! Now older.. more patient. Can’t wait to paint my Armor! Thanks again!

    • You are correct. The one issue I have is that with alcohol, I often find the paint drying in the air before it hits the model. But it is a cheap alternative to X-20A thinner, and it’s a great airbrush cleaner.

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