One of the biggest temptations when painting figures is exclusively using those low cost craft store paints. You know the ones. You’re in the store looking for that perfect flesh tone or shade of blue, and there they are. Cheap little bottles, all pre-mixed and waiting for you to begin with little to no color mixing required. Everyone’s tried them and they all have differing opinions, but let me show you a side by side comparison of what you’re missing out on by not using better quality paint.
For the purposes of this comparison, I’m using a bottle of Apple Barrel “Fire Red” craft paint and its direct more expensive artist’s paint equivalent: Liquitex Heavy Body Cadmium Red Medium Acrylic paint. There are a number of “better” quality paints for you to choose from: Citadel, Tamiya, Gaia, and Mr. Color come to mind, but I choose liquitex for my purposes unless I plan on airbrushing.
On first opening the bottles, you can already see a difference in the consistency of the paint. Liquitex in any form is going to be a lot more “rich” looking while craft paints are watery and designed for quick and dirty uses like for little kids painting balsa wood plaques. Now if you plan to mix up this craft paint with other additives for airbrushing, this can be a useful tool and work out beautifully, but let’s see how they perform when used straight out of the bottle.
Craft paint is again designed for absolute beginners and people who have no intention of ever learning more advanced paint practices. Because they’re so cheap, they contain less pigmentation and more “fillers” which cause them to have litle flaws that will show up when painting figures. Perhaps you’ve used one of these types of paint and noticed little grains or hairs in your figure afterward. Maybe you’re working in a dusty room and these things happen, but more likely what you’re noticing is in the paint itself, which requires more work on each coat as well as the possibility of sanding in between. You can mitigate these problems by filtering the paint, combining it with better paint and adding things like mediums and thinner to make a better quality paint, but you’re still going to end up doing a ton of coats to achieve a desired effect.
Artists paint or paint designed for models is a much higher quality alternative. The bottles are going to cost you a lot more, it’s true, but they are going to coat a lot more evenly and require less work as a whole to achieve the same finish. This is going to become horribly apparent the first time you use a straight primary color like the reds I’m showing you today, as they tend to be more transparent due to the purity of the pigment required. But don’t take my word for it, let me show you how they work!
On the left is Char Aznable’s rather large arm, coated with about 20 coats of craft store paint. Between each coat I had to sand small imperfections out or remove them with water before the paint dried, each time making two more coats at least that needed to be done before the piece could be ready for the next step.
On the right is Char’s other arm, this time primed with craft store paint (it does have its uses, especially for primary colors) but then coated with a single coat of the more expensive artist’s acrylic. In addition to requiring less coats, all I needed to use was a sufficiently wet high quality brush. Some figure paints will require more to use than others and everyone has their own methods of working with paint, but I think it’s pretty obvious here what a benefit spending a few more dollars on a better bottle of paint will give you.
Of course the decision is yours what method you get into when painting figures, everything has its benefits and drawbacks. In any case you have to be careful about the age of the paint, as you have no idea how long it’s been sitting on the shelf of the store you purchase it from. Acrylic paint changes slowly to latex as it dries and it is doing just that inside the tube or bottle you purchase it in, so anything you buy will have a set shelf life and take it from my experience: you do not want to use that paint when it is past its prime. Bite the bullet and replace that paint when it starts to show its age! Believe me, you’ll be able to tell.