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Contrast Paints and Comparison For Miniature Hobbyists: Nerdmire Recommends

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

This post is an overview of what Contrast Paints are, the various ways in which they're used, creating your own, and a comparison between their qualities as per their manufacturing brands. Check out this page for our picks of individual paints.


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Table of Contents:

 

What are these “Contrast Paints”?


First released by Games Workshop, and overtime being adopted by other manufacturers as well, they’re paints that also behave like washes, designed to shine through a bright-colored undercoat, and preferably used on a rough or textured surface for best results. Its ability to get into those little nooks and crannies like a wash, and the pigmentation of the paints make it very versatile to use and may speed up your painting process, depending on how you go about it.


A couple of other brands besides GW experimented with this type of paint and its composition, namely Scale 75 and Warcolours, releasing paint that is somewhat close to Games Workshop’s formula or at least used similarly.


These paints’ major selling points are that no dilution is required, applying one thick coat of paint gets the job done, and the speed at which you can complete your project.


Let’s break it down and get to the juicier details.


No dilution: Since these paints are transparent, the color of the underlying layer affects their appearance. It is advised that you use a light-colored primer but depending on the color of your contrast paint, you might achieve interesting results if you use mid-tones or metallic primers. Experimentation is key. Even though they require no thinning, and depending on your preference and painting technique, you may still need to thin them using water or contrast medium.


Another point to mention here is that since they’re transparent paints, they’re great for techniques like glazing and are ready to be airbrushed (no dilution required, remember?).


One-coat: The type and density of pigment used in their manufacturing, which largely depends on the kind of brand you choose to buy, determines if your contrast paint will behave more like a paint or more like a wash (more details on that below). The medium of which they are made is viscous and will not hold well if not applied generously, and will become blotchy and uneven if used on a flat surface, hence why you need to apply a thick coat over a textured surface. However, you might find that “one-coat” is simply not enough depending on brand or color.


Speed: Using contrast paints results in instant highlights, deep shadows, and an overall finished look to your model, giving you the promised painting speed. As a matter of fact, they are advertised as a solution to quickly paint a whole army to a presentable standard. An added bonus is that you can airbrush these paints for a smoother finish.


Bear in mind that these paints are quite thin and are easily scratchable. Sealing is a must.



 

Making your own Contrast Paints


Members of the community went further with the concept and developed different recipes to create their own. Lucky for us, they were generous enough to share! Check out this video by Goobertown Hobbies.



But can you make metallic contrast paints? MacroFrisoniNJM answered that with a “yes!” and even showed us how!



Materials used in those recipes are in the description of these videos. Check out their other videos for some more awesome stuff, and don’t forget to Like and Subscribe to their channels to show your support!


For the rest of us that do not have the time, materials, patience, or would rather let the experts handle it, keep reading to see where we can get our hands on them.

 

Citadel was the first to develop the concept of Contrast Paints as an easy solution to mass paint your miniatures in record time. Well-known for the excellent quality of their products that are beloved by many, Citadel contrast paints are naturally what most of the community would consider as the “standard” at which they compare similar paints by other brands.


Paint Properties

Size: 18 ml

Range: 34 colors

Finish: Satin

Pigmentation/Saturation: High

Color tones: Vibrant

Opacity: Medium Transparency

Viscosity: Fluid

Acrylic Medium: Fluid


Citadel’s Contrast Paints are vibrant and heavily saturated. As we have mentioned earlier, these paints are ink-based and behave like washes but are slightly less “watery” and require a smooth brightly colored undercoat for the paint to flow naturally over the texture of your model, decrease pooling, and allow your paint (that is transparent) to shine through.



Citadel's Contrast Paints complete set - Includes x2 primers and contrast medium









While any primer will get the job done, Citadel developed primers that are made to complement contrast paints with all points mentioned earlier in mind. Members of the community contributed a comparison chart in which they used the full range of the paints with different primers. Be sure to check out the link below, and give them a Like!




Contrast Paints Primers











Base: Wraithbone - 12 ml Base: Corax White - 12 ml Base: Grey Seer - 12 ml





For those of us that need something easier on the budget, or want to mix and match, or even trying to test the waters before delving in too deep, check out this page for a cross-brand contrast paints comparison chart and a buying guide of individual paints!


As always with Citadel paints, their products come packaged in a pot. Keep an eye out for our post on how to transfer your paints to dropper bottles.



 


Through rigorous experimenting, a dash of patience, and knowledge of the arcane arts, the High Wizard at Scale 75 worked his magic and developed a unique matte formula that comes in a collection of 48 paints, or shall we say "potions", promising a solution to instantly paint an army in record time.


Paint Properties

Size: 17 ml

Range: 48 colors

Finish: Matte

Pigmentation/Saturation: High

Color tones: Natural

Opacity: High Transparency

Viscosity: Fluid

Acrylic Medium: Fluid


Instant Colors have all the properties of their counterpart with a few notable differences. The paints are more inclined towards being toned-down and not as vibrant, with Scale 75's signature matte finish. You would notice that they're rich in pigment yet not as saturated as Citadel's contrast paint, making it easier to rework than Citadel's in case of errors.


Like Contrast Paints, these paints are ink-based which means that they darken the more coats you apply, and do well with techniques like glazing, and are diluted enough to be airbrushed right away. Both Contrast and Instant paints lose a fraction of their saturation when airbrushed, however.



Scale 75's Secrets of Alchemy Instant Colors set - Includes 16 paints, acrylic medium, and paintbrush
































Keeping in mind that Instant Colors are transparent paints that are prone to the coffee-stain effect or blotchiness, and to complement the expanded color range of Instant Colors, Scale 75 created primers that will ensure maximum compatibility and a sleek finish to your paint job.


Instant Color Primers











Primer: Ice Charm - 60 ml Primer: Holy Charm - 60 ml Primer: Bone Charm - 60 ml




 


While Citadel's Contrast Paints and Scale 75's Instant Colors are similar in properties, Warcolours' Antithesis Paints are a game-changer. Some may even argue that they may not fit within the contrast paints category based on their composition and how they behave.


Paint Properties

Size: 15 ml

Range: 36 Colors

Finish: Satin - Matte

Pigmentation/Saturation: Very High

Color tones: Vibrant

Opacity: Translucent

Viscosity: Creamy

Acrylic Medium: Gel


Antithesis paints are based on a gel medium and made out of acrylic paint rather than ink. What this means is that the paints will self-level leaving no brush strokes behind, and will not darken the more layers you add, but rather lose their opacity.


The color tones are very vibrant and have a satin finish. Unlike ink-based contrast paints, Antithesis paints are highly pigmented, making them ideal for use in techniques like base-coating, layering, shading, and excellent candidates for airbrushing as they're already diluted and don't lose saturation through the airbrush. Glazing isn't ideal due to heavy pigmentation.



Warcolours Antithesis complete paint set - Includes 36 bottles









The paint travels and holds on to the recesses better, and much like their counterparts, Antithesis paints are better used on textured surfaces to avoid blotching. It's worth noting that due to the paint's saturation, the 3D effect from using contrast paint may seem just a little flatter since the paint is thick where highlights should be and not much darker at the crevices. Antithesis paints could be described as acrylic paint that has been thinned down.


Well known for the incredible quality of their paints, Warcolours made primers to match so we're not on our own. There are 4 kinds of different base coats that can be purchased directly from their website and come in small or large bottles.


Warcolours Antithesis Primers



Warcolours Antithesis Primer - 30 ml or 250 ml









Once again, be sure to check out our page that functions as a color chart and individual color purchase guide! We would appreciate your input and feedback to continue perfecting our work.

 




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