Acrylic Paint: Tips and Brands

With a few Lacquers thrown in

For Airbrushing

Tamiya (acrylic line)

  • Sprays best with Mr. Levelling Thinner (MLT)
  • Sprays really well with X-20a or UMP or VMS Thinners
  • Start with 50/50 mix
  • Easy to get and mix
  • Grainy if undermixed

Tamiya (lacquer line)

  • Sprays about as well as the Acrylics
  • Must thin with a lacquer thinner
  • Different colors than Acrylic line
  • Not as easy to get as Acrylic line

MRP

  • Airbrush ready 99% of the time
  • Airbrushes beautifully
  • Dries satin (I prefer matte personally)
  • A little too thin sometimes
  • ODOR!!
  • Costly to get

AK Real Colors

  • Similar to spraying Tamiya
  • Some decal solutions mess with it
  • Can be mixed with Tamiya
  • Harder to find

Mission Models

  • Supposedly great at airbrushing
  • But I NEVER have had any luck
  • Poly additive hardens in bottle after a few months

You can airbrush or hand paint with any brand with enough thinner, reducer, or voodoo. But here are some that can do both decently. No paint is perfect in both worlds.

Badger Flex

  • Really nice adhesion for an acrylic
  • Not as thick as Vallejo
  • Requires higher pressure to spray
  • Like Badger Stynylrez Primer
  • Interesting old school colors

Archive-X (acrylic line)

  • Paints matched to ILM standards
  • Hard to get sometimes
  • Sometimes temperamental to deal with
  • Pigment settles out quickly, so must stir frequently

Life Color

  • Interesting paint with insane color range
  • Very costly to import
  • AMAZING Rust Set
  • Weak adhesion overall

For Hand-Painting

Vallejo (Model Color mainly)

  • Thick paint with high pigment density
  • Works best when thinned on a wet palette
  • Designed or multiple coats
  • AMAZING range of colors
  • Model Air is crappier IMO to Model/Game Color
  • Often dries rubbery

AK 3rd Gen

  • Better matte finish than Vallejo
  • Still best with a wet palette
  • Color range lacking, especially for fantasy subjects
  • Poor durability, but good at chipping

Pro Acryl

  • Thinner than Vallejo
  • Super high pigment density
  • Often preferable for new painters
  • Works well even when thinned WAY down
  • Very limited color range
  • Haven't attempted airbrushing yet

Citadel

  • Similar to Vallejo, not quite as thick
  • Too tempting to paint out of the pot, which is not a good habit
  • Good range of colors
  • Some dry chalky

Mixing Paint

Any paint MUST be mixed well, especially for airbrushing. But paint designed for paint brushes is often thicker and requires even more thinning to get the right consistency. See my page on Thinning Paint for more info.

For Airbrushing:

  • Mix OUTSIDE the airbrush. I cannot stress that enough. Use medicine cups to mix before putting in the airbrush.
  • If you have to mix in the airbrush, add thinner first, then paint.
  • Mix with an old paint brush (nothing metal)
  • Test spray always

For Hand Painting:

  • I highly recommend using a wet palette
  • Dry plastic palettes work okay for quick jobs
  • Test the flow by brushing your thumb or something to see how thick it is

The Power of Hematite Compels You

I LOVE using 6mm hematite beads for agitators. They are heavy, they cannot rust, they don't affect any paint types, and the density makes them excellent at mixing paint. They are also quite cheap. I have added them to nearly all of my paints at this point.

Metallic Paints

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 some acrylic metallic paints that I like, but I often alternate depending on what I need. Keep in mind that a glossy black base tends to give the best results. Lastly, metallic pigments or graphite pencils give great metallic sheens to surfaces as well.

Vallejo Metal Color

  • Hands-down my favorite overall
  • They brush and airbrush well
  • Can be buffed for additional sheen

Tamiya Metallics

  • Great when airbrushed with MLT

Alclad Metallics

  • Lacquer-based & thinned for airbrushing
  • Requires buffing to get best sheen

Mr. Color Metallic/Super Metallic

  • Lacquer-based & thick
  • Great to pick out little bits with a paint brush

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 prime. Priming gives the surface an even finish, shows you where you may have some mistakes, and gives the acrylics a good base to bite down on.

Tamiya Primer (rattle can)

  • My go-to primer
  • Lacquer-based & available in grey and white
  • Lays down great, doesn't obscure details, dries fast, and is easy to use
  • Works best when you sit the bottle in warm water for about 10 minutes before use

Badger Stynylrez

  • Easily the best acrylic primer on the market
  • Most others aren't sandable or go on too thick
  • Designed for airbrush use at 20 PSI or higher
  • Do not thin, use straight out of the bottle
  • Great for protecting foam from harsher paints

Mr. Surfacer (bottle or can)

  • Lacquer-based available in bottles and spray cans (comes in black unlike Tamiya)
  • Like Tamiya, it is near-perfect with excellent adhesion and levelling
  • Airbrushing it REQUIRES a lot of ventilation

22 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.

  3. Great info! Thank You very much. What di you think about AK thinner used with MIG acrylics, instead of the Mr. Leveling Thinner, maybe with general acrylic leveling additive…?

  4. Wayne roan
    Been modeling for about 60 yrs. I now build, from scratch, wooden turn of the century steam powered ships. Am just learning
    to use airbrushes and acrylic paint. Your article and advice is by far the the most informative that I have read. THANKS

  5. I bought a bottle of Vallejo primer without knowing that it is meant for airbrushes and I was wondering if its is possible to use it without an airbrush because I do not have one.

    • Yes you can. It works decently and levels pretty well with a brush. I prefer Badger Stynylrez personally though.

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