Today we’re going to talk a little about craft paints. Craft paints are those bottles of inexpensive liquid acrylic paints that you find on racks at craft stores, hardware stores, and even Wal Mart. Most miniature wargamers will pass these by with a turned up nose, because lets face it, the typical consumer of these paints would seem to be grade schoolers who need to paint their macaroni art, or grandmothers making signs for their front door like: “Granny’s Quilting Headquarters!”
Typical craft paint consumers hard at work on their projects.
So in a hobby where we routinely pay $3.00 – $5.00 for the equivalent of a thimble full of color, is there any room for a 2 oz bottle of 89 cent paint? Surprisingly, yes. Especially when you don’t want to order a whole case of Snakebite Leather to basecoat your desert themed gaming table.
First, a very quick explanation of what goes into an average bottle of liquid acrylic paint: Pigment powder/liquid and an emulsion fluid. Those are your primary ingredients, and many paint brands even share the same basic pigments. The major differences come from the ratio of pigment to emulsion, and how fine the pigment is ground. At the upper end of the spectrum, you have artist’s acrylics, which come in tiny tubes that cost more than a steak dinner at a really nice restaurant. Just below that, you have student and liquid acrylics, which includes those little poorly-sealed, thimble-sized bottles of paint that we all know and love. (really just artist acrylics well thinned and blended.) And then further down you have “craft paints.”
Craft paints do not generally have the same pigment strength as hobby and artist paints, this means that you will encounter streaking and difficulty drybrushing with some colors, but they are still usable for many applications, and can be made to work very well once you get used to their strengths and weaknesses.
Here are my reviews of each popular brand of craft paint, starting with the best.
- Delta Ceramcoat. This is the most expensive of the craft paints, ranging from $1.00 to $2.00 per bottle, and are also the closest you’ll find to our regular hobby paints as far as pigment strength and smoothness. Delta paints are used by many professional miniature painters in conjunction with the “big three” brands because of the increased range of colors they provide, such as a large variety of off-whites, beige and flesh tones. Delta paint bottles are marked Opaque, Semi- Opaque, and “Transparent.” This is not so much a feature as just blunt honesty about the nature of paint in general; since some colors just cover better than others, as anyone who’s ever tried to paint large areas of yellow will attest to. When thinned with water and/or alcohol and sprayed from an airbrush, Delta colors have an extremely matt finish, perfect for basecoats on terrain and models. Delta also sells a good selection of brush-on varnishes and a pure emulsion-like product called “Floating Medium” which I’ll probably review independently in a later article. UPDATE: The popular craft store chain Micheal’s no longer sells Delta Acrylics, they seem to have replaced the Delta racks with Martha Stewart paints, which appear to be glossy, sparkly and expensive enamels. Joann’s Fabric stores still carry Delta, but their selection seems much more limited.
- Americana. I’m putting Americana next on the list because I feel their pigments, while a little weaker than Delta, are pretty decent and they have a great selection of rich, smooth earth tones. Americana paints are usually a little cheaper than Delta, running around a dollar a bottle. Both of these factors make Americana great for starting a large terrain project or painting a backdrop. But beware, thinning these paints for airbrushing has had unpredictable results for me, including pigment separation.
- FolkArt. Made by Plaid, Folk Art I would rank close to or just below Americana, primarily because of their metallic color range and a few very handy neutral colors. Although their paints suffer a little in the pigment strength department, and often have a goopy “toothpaste” consistency, most of the metallic paints are fairly strong, with the exception of Silver perhaps, but since they have different metallic tones in between gold and bronze and silver, they remain in close reach of my bench. FolkArt is usually about the same price as Americana.
- Apple Barrel, also by Plaid, suffers the same pigment strength problems of FolkArt, but doesn’t have a very unique color range that would set it apart, so it ranks low on my list. One positive note, is that you can find Apple Barrel in many different kinds of stores, so if you need a bottle of paint in a hurry, you probably don’t have to go far, but expect the price to be marked way up at non-craft store locations.
- Craft Smart. Even with an average price tag of less than a dollar a bottle, about the only redeeming quality of this paint is that, to the best of my knowledge, it is not highly radioactive. I have a few bottles of this stuff which I bought in desperation at 2:00 AM from Wal Mart to try to finish some Ork huts. This stuff is like trying to paint with greasy pudding. It’s not just the pigment strength that’s bad, it’s the color tones and temperatures. If you do manage to get an even coat applied, it makes your model look dull and muddy. Avoid at all costs and mock mercilessly when spotted.
Those are the major craft paint brands that I have personal experience with. While I like to use craft paints for base colors on many of my pieces, I still fall back to other brands when I need reliable, powerful pigments, such as Vallejo when doing fine detail work, or Tamiya acrylics when painting industrial machinery.
Delta and Americana are the clear winners of this contest, with a combined score of 6 antelopes out of a possible 7.5
If any readers have their own stories or opinions, please share them here!