A Miniature Hobbyist’s Packing List

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If you want to paint outside of your home, what do you need to bring with you, and how do you pack it? This article includes tips for packing for conventions, classes and workshops, game store hobby sessions, compact home hobbying, lunch break painting at work, and similar activities. You can also watch a video version of this.

IMG 3261Do you need all this stuff? Let’s find out!

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What Should You Bring to Convention Painting and Sculpting Classes?

What you need to bring to hobby class that you’re taking at a convention is a very common question, so I’m going to start with this and then move on to other hobby packing suggestions.

Reread the description of the class, and any confirmation or other email you have received. Instructors should indicate any required supplies there. Double-check these sources when you’re packing for your trip to be sure you haven’t forgotten something. I particularly recommend paying attention to brush requirements/suggestions. (Or tool suggestions for sculpting and conversion classes.) If you don’t have the kind or size of brush specified by the instructor, you might not be able to practice the technique during the class, and you’ll miss the best opportunity to ask questions and get feedback. I have some brush transport suggestions below.

Most conventions and/or instructors provide paint and miniatures for painting classes and epoxy putty for sculpting classes. My experience has been that sculpting classes usually provide all the tools and other supplies you need. I have attended some where the fee was higher but you received a small set of tools to keep, and others where loaner tools were provided. Hands-on airbrushing classes often provide airbrushes and/or compressors for student use. However, always double-check your class descriptions and any additional information you were sent after signing up for the class and check if there are supplies that it is your responsibility to bring!

For Painting Classes You Need to Bring
– At least one brush, more if you can or if the instructor has requested specific/specialized brushes.
– Any other supplies the class description asks that you bring.

Other Useful Items to Bring to All Classes
– A notebook or paper and pen/pencil to take notes.
– A handle to hold the practice miniature and some poster tack or mounting tape to attach it.
– A magnifier or reading glasses.
– A chargeable or battery operated lamp.
– A way to protect the figure(s) you produce in class. (Bubblewrap, paper towel wrap, tacked inside a box or container, etc.)

IMG 3230An example of the items I recommend you bring to miniature painting classes at conventions. (Miniatures are usually supplied.)

I strongly recommend that you bring either a magnifier or a portable (battery operated or chargeable) lamp, or both to any painting or sculpting class. The lighting in convention rooms varies from indifferent to terrible. Even if you don’t need to use a magnifier/reading glasses at home, having one at the convention will help compensate for the poor lighting. Portable lights also help, and are increasingly inexpensive and lightweight. In literally every class I teach there is at least one person and often more who express frustration that they cannot see well enough to practice the technique. These tools are also hand in lecture and demonstration classes. The instructor often passes around their demonstration figure or other examples of their work, and you’ll see more of the nuances with light/magnification.

I highly recommend the Donegan brand if you need a magnifier, particularly if you wear glasses. This is the brand you’ll see almost all professional sculptors and painters wearing. Their newer OptiSight visor is lightweight and much more comfortable to wear than the original OptiVisor style, but has the same high quality of lenses. You can swap between different magnification strengths of lens plates with either model. I like the OptiSight so much I bought a second one so I can switch magnification without having to spend time with the plates. I have tried other brands of both styles of visor but found them uncomfortable to my eyes. If you need something more compact, you may prefer magnifying lenses that clip on to your glasses. If you don’t wear glasses you can use an inexpensive pair of reading glasses. Bring a miniature to the drugstore and try out some different magnifications to see which you prefer.

There are a lot of options for rechargeable battery lamps. Be sure to read the description carefully – some lamps might come up in a search for rechargeable lamps because the lamp can provide power to charge other items, but the lamp itself require power connection to operate. I am considering replacing my current lamp because the on/off switch is so sensitive that it often turns on in my bag and runs the battery down. I’m considering this one instead. A friend who does detail work enthusiastically recommends this lamp.

The next hurdle is that you need to remember to carry the supplies with you to the convention each day so you’ll have them in your class. Even if your hotel room is adjacent to the convention venue, or your car is in a nearby parking lot, you will lose at least 10 minutes of instruction or practice time if you have to run get your supplies. Pack them into whatever bag toting around the convention everyday, and/or set some kind of alarm to remind you to grab them on the morning of your class.

In my experience, the vast majority of convention classes provide the rest of basic supplies you’ll need. Typically this includes: water cup, water, something to mix paint on, and paper towel. Note that these may or may not be what you’d expect or prefer. Convention organizers also have budgets and packing/storage size constraints. The water cups might be quite small, or you might only be given a half sheet of paper towel. The painting surface may be just a plastic plate or even a small piece of parchment paper, though increasingly I find that most convention classrooms now provide the materials needed to make simple wet palettes in class. If you’re very particular about any of these supplies, you may want to bring your own. 

Most conventions and/or instructors provide paint and miniatures for painting classes and epoxy putty for sculpting/conversion classes, but double-check your class descriptions to make sure!

Plan for how you will store and transport what you worked on in class. I often forget to think about this! Freshly applied paint is not very durable yet. Classes are typically one or two hours, but epoxy putties take upwards of four hours to cure. Is the venue in your hotel and you can hand carry your class work back to your room? If that’s not an option, plan to bring materials to store and transport the work you produce in class. A strip of bubble wrap can be enough for a painted figure, or some toilet paper padding in a small box. You need to avoid touching the uncured putty on sculpts and conversions for several more hours, so those need another option. You can use poster tack or mounting tape to secure the base of the figure(s) to the lid of a dice cube, prescription bottle, or something like a washed out plastic peanut butter container for larger or multiple items. 

IMG 3232Examples of compact storage solutions to bring so you can safely transport your class work after the class finishes.

 

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Make a List, Check it Twice

If you need to pack up your supplies at all regularly, even if it’s only for a convention once a year, my recommendation is that you make a list. I mean an actual written out, itemized list. I keep a convention packing list document on my computer. I print out a copy of it before every event, and I check items off as I pack them. I made my list very broad so it applies to multiple events. If there are items that I don’t need for a specific event, I cross them off the printed copy before I start packing. Another option would be a tailored list for each event. I am sharing a starting hobby supplies packing list with the members of my Patreon.

If you host or attend occasional events like paint sessions at a local convention or paint club at a game store, you may have a set of supplies that you use only at those events. If you have the space, storing these in a designated storage container is a convenience. I have couple of bins filled with the materials I use to run paint and take tables at a local convention and paint days. I have a list of the items that are needed for events but I don’t keep stored in the bin taped to the inside lid. I also add a note if I see that consumable supplies like paper towel are running low. I check through the supplies in the bin a few days before an event so I have time to run out and pick up additional supplies if I need to. I also check through the bin after the event to tidy things up and check if I need to make note of anything for next time. I wouldn’t want to leave a wet palette closed up and mouldering, for example!

IMG 3260Part of my list from the last event I attended. I strike through items as I pack them or decide I do not need them for that event. I put an arrow next to items I haven’t packed yet to remind myself to find/buy them. The night before travel I circle any items that I either have to pack in the morning (like toiletries), or which are in a separate container than my suitcase, like my miniatures case.

This may seem like overdoing things, but making a list is a less annoying than arriving at a convention only to discover you forgot to bring a vital supply. My packing list includes all the non-hobby items I need, as well. Years ago my husband and I attended a convention and we forgot all of our charging cords for all of our devices. We ended up wasting time and money with an emergency run to the store to get replacements. Another time I arrived at a paint & take event and realized I’d forgotten the brushes. The start time of the event was delayed because I had to drive back to my house to get them, and I was lucky it was a local event so retrieving them was even an option!

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Bonus Tip – the Pre-Pack Bag

If you attend an event regularly, you will find that you sometimes want to bring items not on your list to a particular session of that event. Maybe you promised to show a friend at your paint club a base you did with a water effect. Maybe you’ve been thinning out your supplies and want to pass some tools or figures on to friends who need them more at the convention you’re attending. Maybe you just want to share some tasty treats only found in your region. I have found that these are things I think of or someone asks me about weeks or even months before the event, and then by the time I’m packing for the event, I’ve forgotten all about them.

If you want to make sure you remember to pack something that isn’t already on your list, one option is to add the item onto your list as soon as you think of it. Another option is to have a pre-pack bag or box. I have a cloth bag that I have designated for convention packing. If I think of a supply I want to find a new home for, or a treat I want to bring, or something I want to show a friend, I pop it in the bag. I know I’m going to bring that bag, so anything in it will be coming with me. In fact while writing this, I just remembered an item I’ve planned and failed to bring to a convention friend for at least three years. It’s now in the bag, it should make this this time!

IMG 3233Some of the random things already in my pre-pack bag for this year’s ReaperCon. The silicone discs are Paint Pucks. You can put them at the bottom of your rinse cup to safely scrub the bristles against to remove more paint. I have a few extras so I’m bringing them to give to friends.

When I’m unpacking in my hotel room, I know that the bag isn’t part of my hobby supplies, but that it does need to come with me to the event. It becomes a handy way to carry a sweater, some snacks, a card game or anything else I don’t want to mix in with my hobby supplies.

Because they are fragile, I do not pre-pack painted miniatures that are commissions or that I want to show friends. I have a designated corner of my display shelves where I place commission figures and gifts for friends. I know that I need to check that shelf as well as grab the pre-pack bag when I’m getting ready for a convention. If I were not in the habit of doing this, I would add a note on my packing list to check those two spots.

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Customize Your List to Your Needs

I am making the broadest list of supplies that I can think of in this article. I discussed this topic with convention goers and instructors to help round out my supply suggestions related to sculpting, conversion, and basing. Though as my primary personal focus is painting, I still may have left something out. It is always helpful to check with others who attend the same event and participate in the same activities for supply suggestions. Most conventions have an associated discussion group on one or more of Facebook, Discord, or their own website.

Overpackers take note – very few people would need to bring all of these items to an event! As you read through the suggestions, make a note of the supplies you need to attend your scheduled activities like classes, or to hang out and paint with friends if you plan to do that. If you don’t expect to assemble miniatures on site, don’t bring a pin vise, pins, glue, etc. If you’d be happy focusing on painting figures at the event and could sculpt bases for them later at home, don’t feel as if you need to bring sculpting supplies.

If this isn’t your first event, think about what you actually do at events. Not what you could do, or might do, or even should do. Just what you actually tend to do. Over the years I’ve realized that, outside of classes, I’m not that interested in painting at conventions. Convention time is so limited! I want to check out all the cool stuff in the vendor hall, spend hours staring at the gorgeous contest entries, and more than anything, spend time talking with people I see only a few times a year. I often bring only what I need to teach and take classes. On the other hand, when I go on a vacation trip, I do like to bring a small kit of painting supplies with me. Painting in my hotel room is a great way have some quiet time if my mind is frazzled or my feet are sore. Other painter friends I know love to have the opportunity to sit down and paint with friends at a convention, so they would need to make different packing decisions than I do. Thinking about what you are likely to do rather than what you should or could do can help you avoid overpacking.

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Paint and take rc2018The paint & take table at ReaperCon 2018 at the start of the day.

But What if I Forget Something??

Even with a list, you might forget something you need. If you try to pack light, it may happen that you need something you decided not to bring. What do you do?

Most conventions and shows have a vendor hall, so it might be possible to find what you need and buy it there. That’s not a bad choice if it’s something inexpensive, or something you can use another one of once you get home. If your budget doesn’t allow or you don’t need yet another whatever longterm, this is not the only option.

If you’re in the middle of a class or workshop, speak up. The instructor may have a few additional copies of that supply on hand. I don’t have enough brushes to bring one for every student in my classes, but I always bring a few extras in case someone forgot theirs or the brush they have isn’t suitable for the technique I’m teaching.

I have found that overall people in our hobby are a pretty helpful bunch. I’ve had a couple of memorable occasions where I needed something unexpectedly and there were people who very kindly helped me out, even in my early days when I wasn’t at all known in the community. I’ve also been part of groups working to help someone in need. The call will go out for superglue or a hobby knife or whatever thing, and people will ask around until they find it. (I have more than once been the person to supply a Sharpie, scissors, or tape.) I know it can be painfully hard for we introverts to ask for help, but I really do recommend that you give it a try.

If you’re new to an event or it’s a large event with diverse activities and you don’t know anyone to ask for help, look for volunteers at the painting related activities. Volunteers run paint and takes, speed paint events, and help clean up hobby classrooms. They usually know a whole lot of other hobby people, so even if they can’t help you themselves, they can point you towards someone else who might be able to help.

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Packing for Workshops

Workshops are one to three full days of intense painting instruction, usually with one instructor. The venue may be a game store, private home, or breakout room of a convention centre. Usually the only things the venue supplies are tables and chairs. Often the instructor has travelled from another region, or another country, so they have had to pack light and can’t bring all the supplies for everyone. The coordinator for each workshop is a member of the local painting community who probably also is not in a position to provide many supplies. I wouldn’t even assume that basics like water cups and paper towels will be provided.

As with classes, read through the description of the event and any supplemental material you’ve been sent for a list of required supplies. If you have not been provided with a list, contact the coordinator. I have attended workshops with very specific equipment lists. 

What do you do if you have financial or packing space constraints that limit your ability to bring everything that is suggested or required? If you have friends or acquaintances who are attending the same event, ask if they would be able to share some supplies with you. Many of the attendees will be locals or driving to the workshop, and will likely have space to pack a few extra things.

If you and everyone you know is flying, split the list of supplies between you. If you can, check with the event organizer to see if it would hamper you to skip or substitute some of the items. I attended one workshop that included a very large wet palette on the supply list. It would have been possible to come up with a homemade solution, or to accept working around the limitations of a smaller palette.

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Packing for Open Painting and Sculpting Areas

Some conventions like ReaperCon and AdeptiCon provide space for open painting and sculpting, but they usually do not provide any open painting supplies other than the tables and chairs. Paint clubs are a similar experience. You should plan to bring, borrow, or buy onsite anything that you will need to use. You will not likely have access to a plug at a convention, so if you want to use a lamp, bring a chargeable/battery one. I shared links to several suggested lamps in what should I bring to classes section above. If you want to use your lamp for extended periods, also bring backup batteries or a portable charging station. (This may seem stingy, but some venues charge conventions for access to plugs, and cords can create tripping hazards or block fire safety aisles.)

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Air Travel Packing Considerations

If you are traveling by air, you will need to be mindful of flight restrictions as you pack, particularly if you do not plan to check a bag. Note that it does not matter whether you think something should be considered an acceptable item. It doesn’t even matter whether the TSA website told you something was a permitted item. The agent inspecting your carryon makes the decision about whether something is permitted or not. If something you want to bring isn’t clearly permitted, consider whether you’d prefer to do without an item and leave it at home or if you’re okay with the possibility of being told to throw it away it during inspection.

If you will need to have access to products that are not permitted on a plane, or if you want to save weight and not have to pack a checked bag, one option is to ship yourself a package to your hotel or another location near your event that would be willing to hold the package for you. Note that since some packages are shipped via air, shipping and postal carriers may also have limits on certain types of chemical products.

Carryon Guidelines

The 3-1-1 rule is your guideline for fluids and gels, like paints. The maximum product container size allowed is three ounces, and the volume of the container should be clearly marked on the label. All of your fluid and gel containers must fit in a one pint ziplock bag, and only one bag per person is allowed. A pint baggie is only slightly larger than a sandwich baggie. That has to include all your liquid and gel toiletries as well as any hobby products like paint, so it’s not a lot of space for paint.

Sharp objects, blades, and anything that could conceivably be used as a weapon are not permitted in carryon luggage. That includes hobby knives, box cutters, and potentially several kinds of other sculpting and hobby tools. The sculptors I spoke with pack their tools into their checked luggage, and another friend was not permitted to bring drill bits for a pin vise in carryon.

Brushes are expensive and easily damaged. I prefer to pack mine into my carryon so I don’t have to worry about the brushes getting banged up. (I have some brush transport tips below.)

IMG 3234Please prioritize packing deodorant and toothpaste over paint.

Checked Luggage Guidelines

Most tools and blades are permitted into checked luggage. Larger amounts of liquid and gels are allowed as well, with the caveats noted in the following section. If you aren’t sure whether something is permitted, try searching for it on the TSA What Can I Bring? page. We fly with some weird looking stuff, assume that your bag will be inspected. Pack potentially messy items in clear bags, even if you’re storing them inside another bag or box. Store one type of material in each bag. So all the paints in one bag, but put epoxy putty in a small second bag, etc. If the TSA agent can determine what is in the bags without having to open them, it’s easier for everyone.

Paints, Glues, Chemicals

Flammable materials are not permitted in carryon or checked luggage.

Standard acrylic miniature paints are water-based. If security asks you questions about your paints, water-based is the term to mention. Before your trip, you can also try to contact the manufacturer for the MSDS (manufacturer safety data sheet) information on your paint product to print out and bring with you (or pack with the paints in your checked bag.)

Use of oil paints is increasingly popular among miniature painters. Tubes of brand name artist oil paints should be acceptable, but I would try to print out the MSDS to have available if there are questions. The solvents used with oil paints are not permitted in carryon or checked luggage. That includes genuine turpentine, and also odourless mineral spirits, odourless thinner, or whatever term your brand might use. These are highly flammable products. Commercial or homemade oil washes whose mix includes solvents are likewise flammable and not permitted on planes.

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There are other common flammable hobby products, such as superglue. If you need superglue at your event, try to arrange to share with someone who is traveling by car, or pick some up after you arrive at your destination.

Painted Figures

Painted figures are fairly fragile and irreplaceable. Some unpainted miniatures can be too, like resin or 3D print resin figures and scratch sculpts. I prefer to pack these into (or as) my carryon. If I am traveling with a lot of miniatures, I give carryon space priority to commission figures and contest entries, and I pack tabletop figures and painting class examples into my checked luggage. A previous article with information on miniature transport solutions and containers is available, and includes a link to a video version.

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General Packing Tips

Pack and secure all hobby items that might damage other items in your luggage. I store paints in double ziplock bags. I put any other gel/liquid/sticky item in an individual ziplock bag. I would probably also bag something like weathering powders, just in case a lid got loosened. I pack sharp objects or tools that could get bent in a hard plastic organizer case. I tape down the loose caps on my hobby knives.

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Paint Brushes

Bring at least a few of your favourite brushes, along with any brushes required for any specific event. Brushes are likely to be the hardest supply to borrow or replace. They’re expensive. Miniature supply companies rarely donate a lot of brushes to events. Unlike paints or figures that they produce in-house, companies generally buy brushes from a third party manufacturers, and have to pay more than just the cost of supplies and labour. If brushes are available at an event, they are likely to be lower quality or well-worn. Event attendees are often very generous in sharing their supplies with each other, but few people have extra brushes to loan out, or may be reluctant to share such an expensive and fragile supply.

Keep in mind what you’ll be painting as you choose which brushes to bring. If you normally paint gaming scale figures but one of your classes is on painting tanks or busts, pack a few larger brushes. If you’re taking a class on freehand or painting eyes, pack a few smaller brushes with great brush tips.

Next to our painted miniatures, brushes are probably the most fragile supply to transport. You need to protect the brush heads and avoid splaying or bending the bristles. I pack my brush case in my carryon/personal item.

Many brush storage products that you can buy will be longer in length than you need. They are designed to accommodate long-handled brushes for canvas painting as well as our short handled brushes. If space is an issue, you may want to shop in person or be careful to check the dimensions of online listings. My carryon is a large expandable backpack, and I have had to try a few different options to find brush storage containers that fit. Measure before you buy if you need to ensure that the brush storage case fits in a particular place. 

Whether shopping in person or online, look at makeup brush options as well as art brush options. Brushes are brushes in terms of storage needs, and makeup brush handles are closer in length to the short handled brushes we use. (Though many are much wider, so check if the storage option you’re considering works on narrow handled brushes.)

Pencil boxes and folders are also worth looking at. Be sure to check the length here. Some brands or larger sizes of our brushes are longer than a pencil. Some pencil storage options accommodate that, some don’t. Many pencil and brush storage options also work for sculpting tools.

Brush Protector Tubes
Most brushes are sold with a tube of clear plastic protector slid over the bristles. You can keep these to reuse, but there are some downsides to be aware of. They are not all the same size, so you need to have ones available that fit the specific brushes you want to travel with. Even if you have the correct size, the brush protectors are often not a tight fit. They can loosen up over time, or the plastic can split. You might need to tape the brush protectors on to the ferrule of your brushes to be sure they stay in place. You need to be very careful when placing brush protectors over your brushes and ensure that you don’t catch any bristles on the outside of the protector as this will also damage them.

IMG 3237

Plastic Pencil Caps
These are similar to brush protector tubes, but are made of sturdier plastic, and you can buy more if you lose them. They are designed to slide onto the end of a pencil to preserve the sharpened tip when it is stored in a pencil box or case. If the fit is a little loose on your brush handle, you can tape them to the ferrule, but it is possible these won’t work well with all of your brushes.. This pack of 16 is inexpensive. There are other options, including metal caps. (There are also leather pencil caps, but avoid these as they would touch and possibly deform bristle heads.)

Poster Tack
You can use poster tack to hold brush handles in place in any hard sided container of suitable size. If you’re already packing a wet palette and you’re tight on space, you can pack the sponge in a storage baggie and tack the brushes down inside the container. Loctite Fun-Tak is a very effective poster tack. I started using it after other friends recommended it, and I love it. Poster tack strength varies considerably. If you do not have access to that brand, I recommend testing the tack you buy before use. Tack some of your beat up brushes into your chosen brush storage, shake it vigourously, and check how well it worked. If brushes came loose, try another brand.

IMG 3238Brushes secured with poster tack to the inside of my Sta-Wet palette case.

Bamboo or Canvas Brush Roll
A brush roll is a long strip of material with pockets to hold the brushes. They roll out flat to allow access to the brush pockets, and roll up into a tube for storage and travel. They are inexpensive to purchase. The breathable materials allow brushes to dry out well after use. One is that you need to take some care arranging the brushes and rolling up the brush roll so as not to squash the bristles of any of the brushes. The other is that they need to be transported with the bristles facing up. If they are carried upside down, it is possible for brushes to all out, or for bristles be crushed against other items. Most brush rolls are designed to store both our short-handled kind of brushes and the long-handled brushes people use for canvas painting, so they can be pretty long.

Depending on how it’s constructed, you may be able to cut a bamboo brush roll down to the size required for our short handle brushes. (You can keep the cut off ends of the bamboo sticks to use in terrain construction or other hobby purposes!) Many bamboo rolls are constructed with some fabric elements that might make that more challenging. The roll looks similar to the one I bought and cut down to size years ago. The kinds of brushes it comes with aren’t good for miniature painting, but might work for some terrain uses. There are lots of other options. Just make sure you get one with pocket for the brushes! A few items sold as brush rolls are just sushi mats with no brush pockets.

IMG 3244I cut my canvas roll just above that elastic strip at the top to make it shorter and easier to fit into my carryon backpack.

I found this canvas roll designed for short handled brushes. This brush set comes with a canvas roll and is even less expensive. The brushes sound like they’re poor quality and most are too big for painting miniatures, but could come in handy if you paint terrain, or for children’s crafts. There are a lot of other canvas roll options, but most are long to accommodate long handled brushes.

Folding Brush Case
Folding brush cases are kind of like mini binders that you can store brushes in. You open them like a book to access the brushes, and then fold them in half and zip up for storage. Some of them fold down like a kickstand to become an upright brush holder for easy access during painting. Brush cases may have one large pocket on each side, a pocket with some dividers, or small pockets to hold brushes individually. I recommend a case with at least a few pocket divisions to help keep brushes oriented correctly. Similar products marketed as cosmetic brush cases or pencil cases might also work, but always check the measurements. Some cosmetic brush and pencil storage cases are too short for all our brushes.

IMG 3246This zip-up pencil case is terrific for sculpting tools. I don’t think it would work as well for brushes. Some are just a little too long, and the elastic straps are designed for wider diameter objects. There may be cases similar to this that would work for brushes, but always check measurements!

Brush sets with cases are often similar prices as empty ones, though I wouldn’t expect high quality brushes. This set of miniature sized brushes comes in a brush folder with the kickstand easel feature, as does this brush set with folder. This set has miniature sized brushes with a canvas roll that fits into a hard plastic storage case. I’m a little tempted to get that one myself even though I already have several brush carriers! I did find a couple of short handle brush case options sold without brushes. I am not familiar with the brand, but I think this one looks very well designed for our kind of brushes. It has individual handle pockets and an elastic strap for each brush, and folds out to the kickstand easel. Creative Mark is a reputable arts and crafts company; their short handled brush case has the kickstand easel feature, but I’m not confident that it is the best design to immobilize our narrow diameter brushes.

Plastic Brush Box
A plastic brush box is designed to store brushes. The box is hard plastic, but not airtight, so it allows brushes to dry out after use. Brush boxes are fitted with notched foam strips. You push the handle of the brush down into a notch and foam holds the brush in place. There’s a row of foam at the top and the bottom, so you can hold two rows of brushes in one box. The foam can loosen up over time, particularly if you have a few brushes with thicker diameter handles.

Artbin is a reputable brand and the foam in their box is high quality and well attached, but they only seem to make the large size box. It’s bigger than most hobbyists would ever need, and awkward to fit into carryon and convention floor bags. (I have two, one for paint and take brushes, and one for my watercolour brushes, so I have thoroughly tested this product.) I have a smaller size brush box that is very similar. It’s still very long, but much narrower. There’s room for plenty of brushes, even for instructors bringing extra brushes to classes. I have stacked two of our types of brushes into a single notch with both sizes of case. The foam in my off-brand box isn’t quite as sturdy, but I’ve used it for years so far. One strip came loose a few years ago, but I was able to reattach it with double sided mounting tape. This Amazon listing looks like a very similar product to my smaller brush box, though you do get three of them. I couldn’t find a listing with just one!

IMG 3243Small brush box on top, larger brush box below. Few people would need the large size for travel to events!

There are plenty of other listings for plastic brush boxes, but they’re all just plain boxes. They have no way to hold your brushes in place unless you glue in your own foam supports, or use poster tack.

Brush/Pencil Tubes and Cases
In any general search for brush cases, you will likely get a lot of hits for plain plastic tubes and cases. Most of these do not have a method to hold the brushes in place! You will need to use brush caps over the bristles, or be confident that you can pack and travel with the tube/case stored bristle side up at all times.

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Palettes

Convention classes and paint and take tables usually provide a surface for mixing paint. Workshops and open painting areas usually do not.

If you have space, you can pack your preferred wet palette or plastic welled palettes. I wring out the sponge of my wet palette before travel, but I still like to put the palette in a ziplock bag in case of any stray moisture. You might be able to store a few other supplies in your palette box if you’re trying to save space. Be sure to bring extras of the palette paper you like to use if you’re going to be painting over several class sessions or a period of days.

To keep things simpler and lighter, pack a plastic plate and some parchment paper. Then all you need is some paper towel or napkins to make a simple wet palette. Plain parchment paper can be used as a dry palette in a pinch, so if nothing else just pack a few pieces of that.

IMG 3250On the left, a cheap and light wet palette option. On the right, some options for mixing watery washes and glazes to avoid making a mess.

Mixing washes and glazes can get messy on a flat palette surface. One option is a plastic well palette. You should be able to find a round 10 well palette in a local art or craft store, though the price for this pack of 15 round palettes is tough to beat. If you’d like something even smaller, this set of 30 compact rectangular well palettes is about the same price. (I have seen something similar in my local art store, as well.) I keep the plastic from blister packs when I open figures. I pack these with my convention supplies and use them to mix thin washes and glazes. Then I can just discard them after use and not worry about wiping out a plastic palette. Another disposable well palette option is to keep the plastic bubble tray from a package of pills.

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Paints, Mediums, Additives

I will make some suggestions for which paint colours to bring in a followup article. If you regularly use products like glaze medium, flow improver, or drying retarder to paint, bring those along. It may also be useful to bring brush-on primer and sealer, since use of spray products may not be permitted by the venue. Regardless of the colours you choose, take care in packing them. I check that lids are securely sealed as I pack. I bag paints and other hobby liquids in double ziplock bags. I also store any other hobby supplies that might leak or which are sticky into separate smaller bags. I bring additional bags in case I buy paints or other liquid/gel/sticky supplies at the event.

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Miniatures

There are a variety of options to transport painted miniatures. I survey these in detail in another article, which includes a link to a video version.

Some unpainted miniatures can be fragile as well, particularly resin miniatures. Even if you aren’t transporting painting figures to your event, consider what options you need to store miniatures you plan to work on at your event, as well as figures you might purchase or receive in classes.

If I am planning to hang out and paint in an open painting environment, I like to bring along a few figures that are fully prepped for painting. Ones that are already assembled, mouldlines removed, washed, and primed if appropriate to the material. I’ll try to pick some that offer a variety of surfaces and textures so I have options if I want to practice a particular painting technique after a class, or demonstrate something specific to a friend. If I were taking conversion or sculpting classes or hoping to spend some time learning more about sculpting from a friend, I would bring a few figures and armatures to practice that on as well.

IMG 1486Just a few of the miniature transport options.

Conversion and Sculpting Supplies

Even if you aren’t taking a class and you don’t sculpt a lot, you might still want to bring along a few basic sculpting supplies to have the option of customizing bases or filling gaps. However, if your main interest is painting and you’re trying to pack light, you probably don’t need these supplies. You can focus on painting at your event and work on bases for the figures when you get home.

If you want to pack epoxy putty, you don’t need to pack the entire large container you may have. You can cut or scoop out some of each part and put it in smaller containers, or just wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in baggies.

IMG 3251You won’t need the amount on the left. You probably won’t even need the amount in the centre.

Sculpting tool preferences are even more personal than brush preferences. Pick a tool or two that you find you can use a number of ways, or a small selection of the tools you find you use most frequently. Something for dividing putty and larger areas, something for detail, and something to smooth out the surface of the putty are a few starting ideas. Clay shapers are handy sculpting tools for shaping and smoothing. If you often roll putty out on a non-stick kind of plastic, bring a small piece of that with you. (The smooth side of milk cartons works well and can be cut to size.) Dulled hobby knife blades can be used for a variety of sculpting purposes. If you’re leery of bringing too many expensive tools with you that you might lose, file and sand a few toothpicks into useful tool shapes, and then strengthen them with a coating of superglue and bring those instead. Check this thread if you’re interested in pictures and comments about tools that other sculptors find handy for general and travel use.

I have a small Plano box that holds my miscellaneous sculpting supplies that I can pack if I need it. Tweezers for holding things and making certain kinds of marks. (Reverse tweezers are better if you just want to be able to clip onto the end of an armature and hold it.) Darning needles and etching tools. Oilers for making rivet impressions. I have a few small objects with interesting textures I can use to simulate the appearance of rocks and dirt. These include sandpaper, rough edged pieces of cork, a few lightweight rocks, and an old toothbrush. I have oilers/glue applicators to create rivets. (The end of a mechanical pencil also works for this purpose.) to create rivets and similar.

IMG 3253My miscellaneous sculpting tools box. The white piece of plastic was cut from a milk jug and is a great surface to work with greenstuff.

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Other Tools and Supplies

The following are some other tools and supplies that I might consider bringing to an event. When deciding whether you need to include something on your packing list, consider the activities you prefer to do, what you’ve been asked to bring to class, and your packing and travel limitations. Do not feel as if you have to bring everything I’ve listed! If you aren’t likely to assemble any figures at the event, you don’t need to bring a pin vise, pins, and clippers.

Lamp
I recommended bringing a rechargeable portable lamp to convention classes and similar events where you will not likely have access to an outlet. These are very useful, but if you can plug in, you would probably prefer a desk lamp. This lamp looks the same as the lamps that Reaper purchased for their events and many artists liked well enough to purchase for home use. I can’t guarantee that is is the same, or whether it comes in the same sturdy box that is so handy for travel, though it looks like it in some of the review photos. I suspect that model is less popular now because lamp styles have been updated to include contact charging for devices. There are a lot of LED desk lamp options if the previously linked one doesn’t look like it meets your needs.

Handles/Holders
If you’re used to attaching your miniatures to a handle while you paint/sculpt, you’ll want to bring something for that purpose. (And if you aren’t used to it, try it, it helps make your paint jobs sturdier!) Even something as simple as a soda bottle lid or a prescription bottle is better than nothing. You’ll also need something to attach the miniatures – strong poster tack or mounting tape. I usually bring a bit of both. You can attach one side of mounting tape to your handle while packing and leave the peel on until you’re ready to attach a miniature once you’re at the event.

HandlesThere are lots of handle options, from repurposed to purpose made. I love wooden spools (which you can also find at craft stores), but you might prefer lighter options for traveling.

Pokey Tool or T-Pin or Paperclip
It is not unusual for dropper bottles to clog, so it’s very handy to have a tool like a t-pin or paperclip to clear the tips. I thread pins and pokey tools into pieces of cardboard or fun foam to prevent them piercing other objects. (Fun foam is also available in craft stores.)

IMG 3254The skull pokey tools are available online. The only way to get a crow pokey tool is to watch and win on the Crow’s Nest stream.

Hobby Knife
Hobby knives have a variety of uses. Most have slip on caps that loosen over time, so I usually tape the caps on for travel. I bought a retractable handle hobby knife to travel with. It is also lighter weight than the metal handle ones. If you have a small package of them that you can safely pack, bring some extra blades. This blade package even has a slot to safely dispose of used blades.

IMG 3255From the top down: sanding needles, diamond files, the kind of hobby knife I would tape the cap onto for travel, the retractable hobby knife.

Files and Sanding Needles
I prefer to remove mouldlines from figures with files and sanding sticks if the material allows. I have a small set of files and toss in a sanding stick or two. This file set looks similar to my favourite diamond files. I’d only bring three or four of the files to a convention though. I can’t find a listing for my preferred medium grit blue sanding needles, but I have also used the white fine sanding needles, and grey coarse sanding needles are available from the same maker.

Assembly Tools
If you plan to assemble miniatures, you’ll need tools like a pin vise, drill bits, whatever rod material you use for pinning, clippers to cut the rods to size, and glue.

IMG 3256Assembly tools. If you don’t know that you need bring stuff like this, you probably don’t need to bring stuff like this.

Brush Cleaner
You can buy small containers of the Masters Brush Cleaner and Restorer that are perfect for travel. These are sold at a high price on Amazon. You may also be able to find them at your local art store. You’ll stay pay more per ounce than for the typical sizes. I often don’t clean my brushes at events and just give them a thorough cleaning when I return home.

Basing and Terrain Supplies
Flock, static grass, gravel – the list of stuff to use to make bases and terrain is pretty long and could take up a lot of your packing space. Whether to bring anything like this depends on the activities you’re doing and your personal tastes. Do you want to be able to touch up the bases of your contest entries or army? Do you want to share extra supplies with friends or show them some basing tricks? Or do you just want to travel light and not worry about it?

Miscellaneous Hobby Supplies
Tweezers can be handy to remove fibres from paint. Reverse tweezers are useful as handles for thin parts like armature wires, and figures on tabs rather than bases. Isopropyl alcohol is a quick and easy way to clean a miniature for painting. I carry some for sanitization purposes, but it does double duty as a hobby tool. I keep a few napkins on me at all times in case of spills, but they also help if I need some more paper towel for painting. Disposable plastic gloves are handy for mixing epoxy putty, airbrushing, spray priming, and similar.

Miscellaneous Non-Hobby Supplies
Over the years I’ve found a few other things that can come in handy. I usually have a Sharpie pen, sticky notes or scrap paper, rubber bands, scissors, and tape. Retractable Sharpies are handy to travel with – no cap to lose or come loose. Metallic Sharpies are more fun for autographs though. If you have a site, a stream, a commission painting service, or you just want to be able to quickly share contact information with new friends, business cards are handy. (The print at home kind is fine for most purposes.)

IMG 3258

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Shopping List (and Spending Budget)

Most conventions and miniature shows include a vendor area where you can purchase figures, paints, tools, painting and game books, dice, and much more. It is an opportunity to buy cool stuff you might never have seen before, or avoid the shipping fees of online purchases.

Set a realistic budget for yourself, and stick to it. It’s easy to overspend if you don’t pay attention. You could put cash equal to your vendor purchase budget in an envelope and only spend out of that envelope in the vendor hall. If a vendor only accepts cards, remove a corresponding amount of cash from your budget envelope to use for other convention expenses.

Regardless of your budget, it doesn’t hurt to have a little cash on hand. It’s rarer every year, but there are vendors who only deal in cash. This is more likely at an historical show or IPMS event (both of which are great options for miniature painters and sculptors to attend!). There are many weekend vendors and older vendors who prefer cash or don’t have access to card transaction technology. It’s also not unusual for convention floor wifi access to be slow or for vendors to have technical difficulties, so cash can come in handy.

Happy shoppersConvention shopping is fun, but stick to your budget! Rex Grange and Jen Greenwald show us how it’s done at AdeptiCon.

If you are planning to purchase specific items from vendors that you know will be at the event, make a list of these before you leave. Organize them by vendor, and note the correct name and SKU number of the product if possible. If you’re shopping at the Reaper store during ReaperCon, for example, they have likely organized items by SKU rather than product name. Vendors are usually happy to help you find things if you forget the name of something, but it will help save you time and frustration if you have a list.

Vendors with large catalogs and small vendors with small booth areas can’t bring everything to every show. If you’re interested in a particular item, consider contacting the vendor in advance to see if they are bringing that item to the show, or if they would allow you to purchase it in advance and pick it up at the show.

Shop early! This is particularly important if you are looking for specific items. If an instructor mentions a product during a class that you’d like to buy and you want to look for it in the vendor hall, go shopping as soon after the class as you can. All of the other students probably want to buy that now, too. Vendors have their own packing constraints, and they can’t always predict what will be most popular to make sure they bring enough of it.

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Packing to Host Events

Maybe you would like to work with your game store to teach some beginner classes. Maybe you’ve offered to teach classes or host a paint and take at a local convention. How do you pack for that? A detailed discussion of running events is beyond the scope of this article, but I do want to share a few tips for packing.

I still recommend making a list, and checking it off as you pack things. If it’s a recurring event, check the supplies several days before the event in case you need to buy some more water cups or something like that.

If you’re running an event, you are more likely to have access to electricity and can consider whether you want to bring a lamp or two for you to demo with, or even supply lamps for the attendees.

Pack plastic tablecloths, and a few more than you think you’ll need. Venues either have no tablecloths or use cloth ones. Events will be charged a damage fee if tables or tablecloths are stained, and that fee can be a lot higher than you might imagine. If the event is in a hotel, you may also be required to tape heavy plastic down in the paint area to protect carpet.

For some supplies, you will need to choose between more expensive but compact and reusable options, or less expensive options that are disposable and space consuming. Plastic cups work well for rinse cups, and stack compactly. You can reuse these for quite a long time if you have space to transport them. You also need to remember that they will be wet when you pack up, so you’ll need to pack them in a way that doesn’t damage other supplies. Foam coffee cups may be cheaper, but they take up a lot of storage space and degrade quickly.

High volume paint and take and class environments often use foam plates and discard them between every user. Foam plates take up a lot of storage space. Plastic plates are more expensive, but may stack more compactly and can be used repeatedly if used as a tray. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the plate. Discard the parchment paper after each user and replace with a new one. You can even make wet palettes by putting wet paper towel under the parchment paper. Pre-cut parchment paper rounds are available in a few different sizes for cake makers. (That link includes several different sizes. Measure the size of the plates you’re using and buy the size that matches.) Paper towel is another bulky supply, but painters need them to rinse out their brushes and for drybrushing. 

If supplies like paper towels and foam plates are too bulky to travel with, plan to purchase them once you arrive at your destination. You may need to have a bit more of these types of supplies than you think you need on hand, or have a plan for how to restock if you start running low during an event

Don’t forget water! Painters need water to rinse brushes, and you need to be able to pour out the dirty water out of rinse cups and refill them with fresh. Make sure you know what access to water you will have at the event. Even if there is a sink quite close by, you will need a way to transport clean water to your area and dirty water away from it. Juice jugs are an option for smaller sized events. You need at least one container with a wide mouth to dump dirty rinse water into. If you have a bit of a walk to the sink, a container that seals securely is handy.

Miniature Paint Care and Maintenance

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It’s paint maintenance time for me, and that is a good opportunity for me to share some pictures and tips to help you maintain your own stash of miniature paints.

The most important tip is: Never let your paint freeze! Miniature paint will ‘curdle’ if it freezes. There is no way to restore paint that has been frozen to a correct and useable consistency.

Helpful tip: If you have hard water or any other water issues, use distilled water rather than tap water to add to paint bottles.

Helpful tip: This is the messiest job in miniature painting! Wear old clothes and protect surfaces with table cloths and drop cloths. Trust me on this! You will need much more paper towel or cloth than usual to clean brushes and wipe up spills.

Paint maintenance day setup

Two common issues that paint experiences over time are thickening up as water evaporates from inside the bottle, and paint separating into thick gloppy pigment at the bottom of the bottle, with watery components of the mix floating on top. Both of these issues can be remedied if caught quickly enough. Note that metallic, satin, and other texture effect paints are more likely to experience these issues, and to experience them after shorter periods of disuse.

To best preserve the quality of your miniature paints, do a maintenance check every 1-2 years. Shake the paint as you would for normal use. Dispense a drop of the paint and check its consistency. I use index cards for my paint drop tests. After dispensing the drop, I run an old paint brush through the drop to check consistency. Remove dropper bottle nipples to observe the paint within the container if you have any doubts. Add distilled water to paint that is thickening and shake. You will have to STIR, and then shake paint that is separating or is very thick in consistency. I’ll go over the method and possible issues in more detail below.

Examples of separated paint

Paint stored in containers that are not moved or shaken for long periods of time can start to separate. The heavier pigments and binder elements sink to the bottom and lighter elements of the binder float to the top. You can see an extreme example of the issue very clearly above in a screw top paint bottle that doesn’t have a label on the side. It can be much harder to spot in containers made of more opaque plastic or which have large obscuring labels.

Example of binder separated from paint

One reason I suggest dispensing a sample drop of paint for dropper bottle maintenance is to detect paint separation issues. You will see something like the above – a very watery mix of paint. Usually the colour looks quite pale or faint as well. If I see this, I pop off the nipple of the dropper bottle. I try to pick up this watery mix with a brush and add it back to the bottle, but it’s not a big issue if you lose a drop or two. 

Clumpy paint

If paint has separated to this degree, you will need to STIR it to repair the issue. You cannot guarantee redistributing the watery binder elements and chunkier pigment bits with any amount of shaking alone. Not even with a vortex mixer, not even with agitators in the bottle. I took the picture above AFTER agitating the paint pot (which contains a pewter agitator) on a vortex mixer. The paint looked mixed, but when I checked it with a toothpick, there was sludge stuck to the bottom and sides of the container. Also note the number of bubbles, which is another sign that the fluid portion is still more binder than pigment.

Click to see the vortex mixer in action on a couple of paints. Note that paint in the second half of the video is the same one in the previous picture. I had to stir well and then mix to return it to useable condition.

You will need to use a tool long enough to reach the bottom and sides of the container to get the sludge moving. With squat jars a toothpick works. You’ll need a plastic swizzle stick or old paint brush for taller dropper bottles. Once you’ve got the sludge moving, shaking should work to finish mixing everything back together. Then check the consistency again and add some additional water if needed. Eventually you should reach a consistency like the picture below. Note that there are far fewer bubbles now.

Mixed paint

Paint can thicken up over time due to water evaporation, without experiencing separation issues. Few containers are completely air tight. It can take years, but water does evaporate through plastic bottles and jars. Sometimes this happens more quickly than you would expect. You can have a set of paints that you purchased at the same time where some bottles are fine and some have experienced more evaporation, so you need to check each paint individually. Below you can see an example of what paint that has thickened up but not separated looks like. Kind of like frosting. (Don’t eat the paint-frosting!)

Thickened paint example

This can happen with dropper bottles, as well. Dropper bottles also often exhibit a similar but slightly different problem. When you dispense a drop of paint and find that it is very thick, you need to pull out the dropper nipple to check on the paint. You will often find thickening paint clogged up in the nipple tip and/or neck of the bottle, as in the examples below.

Paint thickening in bottle necks

Usually there is a separate pool of paint at the bottom of the bottle that may or may not be experiencing thickening as well. Use a toothpick or paint brush to poke the paint down into the bottle, moving it from the nipple to the main area of the bottle. I recommend stirring this bottle neck paint into the paint in the body of the bottle. Shaking may not be enough to intermix the thicker paint into the rest of the paint. Add a few drops of water, and mix thoroughly. Then check the consistency again. If it is still a bit on the thick side, add more water and shake again.

I have been experimenting with something I think helps reduce the incidence of paint getting trapped in the neck of the bottles. Before I recap a paint, I check to make sure that the dropper hole is clear of paint. Paint bubbling or oozing up through the dropper hole when a bottle is opened or after you poke the dropper hole open is another sign that some paint may be stuck in the nipple or neck of the bottle. I use a pokey tool to open up the dropper hole until it stays clear. Other options to open clogged dropper holes are a T-pin, hat pin, or unfolded paper clip. 

Dropper tip

The paints in the following picture were all discontinued in 2010, so I can verify that they’re old paints. Because I’ve taken the trouble to maintain them every few years, they’re all still in useable condition so I can continue enjoying these no-longer-made colours.

Old paints

Metallic and Silk/Satin Paints

Paints with metallic flake and similar agents seem more prone to experiencing issues with separation and thickening more quickly than standard paints. They also seem to reach the point of no return more quickly. I recommend doing maintenance on those kinds of paints at least yearly. If you do not maintain these well, accept that they will become unusable more quickly than standard paints.

Container Maintenance

Dropper bottles rarely experience issues other than paint drying in the dropper hole. Occasionally you will get some paint gumming up the lid that you might need to wipe or chip out. With pot style containers, you need to check the threads of both the cap and pot. Over time these often fill up with paint. As this paint dries it can break into chunks that fall into the wet paint. It can also make it more difficult to close the container or affect the seal and allow air into the pot. You can see an example of paint dried up on the inside of a cap below. As I did maintenance on these paints, I chipped paint out of the caps with the metal tool.

IMG 1366

Mixing Machines and Agitators

Some paints are harder to mix than others. The more viscous a paint, the more it will need an agitator and heavy shaking or even stirring to mix well. Different binder mixes may also affect how much mixing a brand or colour of paint needs. Some paint brands ship with an agitator in the bottle. All paints produced by Reaper Miniatures do. If you wish to add agitators to your paints, keep in mind that you need to use a non-reactive material. Many materials can rust or oxidize when stored in a liquid paint for long periods of time, even if they would not in other circumstances. Safe materials include pewter and glass beads. Although you will often see them recommended in online chats/forums, I do not recommend adding lead or stainless steel agitators to paint pots.

There are a few paint mixer gadgets on the market, and you may also come across ideas for homemade versions on various social media platforms and forums. I’ve seen electric stirrers, and single bottle shakers. Some people have adapted nail polish shakers to this purpose. Many people purchase second-hand laboratory vortex mixers on eBay and other sites to use for mixing paint. (Do a search for ‘vortex mixer’.) Artis Opus has developed a similar product specifically for miniature painters. (It’s more aesthetically pleasing and new, but I think the concept is pretty much the same.)

If you have a small collection of paint that hand-mixes fairly easily, like Reaper paints, you may not need any such tools. I purchased a used Vortex Genie 2 lab mixer on eBay a few years ago. Although it was a fairly expensive purchase, I have never regretted it, and it gets more use than many of my other bespoke hobby tools do. I have hand and wrist issues, and a pretty sizeable collection of paint. Paint maintenance was very tough on my hands, even spread over several days. Paint maintenance and day-to-day mixing are much less annoying for me with the mixer. 

So Many Paints…

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If you follow conversations on miniature painting forums and groups, likely you’ve seen a lot more talk about different paint options of late. Everything from the debates of which commonly available miniature paint brand is ‘best’, to announcements of this or that completely new option for miniature painters, to counter-arguments about how you should just be mixing all your own colours from a handful of art store paints. Some art store brands are further complicating the discussion by coopting the names of other kinds of paints/products in an effort to convey the characteristics of their formulations to consumers.

Paints and tools

How paint is formulated and the characteristics of various paints is a complex topic. Probably too long and involved to do justice to in a single blog post. Instead I’m going to aim for an overview of information helpful to making good choices in a sea of options. I may write some posts diving deeper into certain topics in the future. 

Important note: I am not a paint chemist nor any other sort of official expert. I have a certain enthusiasm for paint, and I’ve spent a little time studying up on it to guide my own purchases both for miniature painting use, and traditional canvas and paper painting. Any errors in this article are my own.

What is Paint?

Paint is a pigment suspended in a binder. Paint may also contain additives designed to alter the properties of either the pigment or the binder. Explanations of each of those elements will help you understand what makes a given paint different from or similar to another.

What is Binder?

The binder determines the overall ‘family’ to which the paint belongs, and determines several basic properties of how the paint behaves. Different brands of paints within a family can generally be mixed and used together without difficulty. So any paint with oil as a binder is an oil paint, and whether it is made with linseed oil or walnut oil, it has more in common with any other oil paint than another type of paint. 

The acrylic in acrylic paints is a type of plastic derived from petrochemicals, which makes it one of the newest families of paint. Most of the properties of acrylic paints make them very well suited to miniature painting:

– Acrylic paints dry to the touch in minutes, and are fully cured within a couple of days.
– The cured paint film is sturdy and flexible.
– You need only water as a solvent – as long as the paint is wet, you can clean brushes or spills with only water.
– You can also use water as a dilutant, though there is some controversy about how much to thin with water alone.
– Once cured, the paint is no longer soluble to water, so what you put there, stays there.

The plastic binders developed to make acrylic paints can be very… plastic in their properties. There is a wide consistency of paints, from those which are thicker than toothpaste to those fluid enough to use as inks. Despite this superficial difference, virtually all of them should be able to intermix and be used with one another.

What is Pigment?

The pigment provides the colour of the paint. The same pigments are used with the different binders to produce the different families of paint. Some are natural materials such as minerals or biological materials from plants and animals. Others are synthetic products that are chemically produced. There are hundreds of pigments, and the history and development of pigments is full of fascinating tales.  

To help people judge apples against oranges in a sea of confusing consumer options, each pigment has been assigned a pigment number. For example, PR102 stands for Pigment Red #102, PB29 is Pigment Blue #29. The majority of fine art brand paints list the pigment number(s) used in the paint on the paint container. This allows the user to research the general properties of the ingredients in their paint, and to find their favourite pigments easily among different brands. Note that the colour expressed by the same pigment number can vary depending on how it is prepared and mixed. Some pigments tend to look pretty similar between brands, while others can vary so widely in appearance that one brand might have multiple paints made from that pigment that appear fairly different in colour. 

Paints mixed with PBr7 from Daniel SmithThese paints are all mixed from PBr7. These are watercolours from Daniel Smith (which I love), and this picture is taken from the Daniel Smith website. 

I think one thing that is not commonly understood is the degree to which the pigment affects the behaviour of a given paint. The properties of pigments vary widely and have a significant impact on the properties of paints which are made from them. A lot of elements that you might like or dislike about a given paint colour or paint line are created by the nature of the pigments used to mix it. Some of the properties heavily affected by pigment:

– Finish: pigments vary in finish from very shiny to very matte.
– Transparency: some pigments are by nature transparent. Surprisingly, these are often very intense colours, like reds, yellows, and bright blues. Others are very opaque, such as black, white, and earth colours.
– Lightfastness: some pigment colours fade very quickly with exposure to light, others are much more durable.
– Tinting strength: the weakness or strength of a colour when mixed with other colours. You generally need a lot of yellow and just a little bit of blue to mix a green, because most yellows have low tinting strength and many blues have high tinting strength.
– Staining: some pigments also act as stains or dyes. If you’ve ever noticed that a white nylon brush looks blue or green after you’ve painted with it, it’s not that the brush is poor quality or you didn’t rinse out all the paint, it’s because you used a paint colour mixed from high staining pigments.
– Toxicity: some pigments are toxic to produce, and some even have risk of toxicity to painters. 
– Cost: pigments vary wildly in cost. If you look at art store paint brands, you’ll notice that not every bottle/tube of a given paint line is the same price. Rather, the paints are divided up into series. A series 1 paint might cost $10 per tube, and a series 5 could cost $22 per tube. The expense relates to the availability of the pigment and the cost to produce it. Note that it’s not necessarily the case that the most expensive pigments are going to be the ‘best’ colours. Some of the most popular and useful colours are lower cost pigments, and some of the most expensive pigments are non-optimal one one way or another.

So if you think about those properties, you can see a few things that are likely true of the formulations of miniature hobby paints. The paints have a uniform price per bottle, so they are likely mixed from the less expensive pigment options. Dealing with toxicity in production would increase costs, and toxicity that could affect the end user is undesirable in a hobby product, so that limits use of other pigments. Pigment properties also explain why you might need seven coats of that yellow to get coverage, but only two coats of this brown.

What is a Dye (or a Liquid Pigment)?

Like a pigment, a dye is also a colorant. The difference is that dyes are chemicals that completely dissolve in water/binder, whereas pigments remain discrete particles suspended in water/binder. So there is no such thing as a ‘liquid pigment’. The idea that dyes dissolve may make them seem like the superior colorant, but there is a lot more to it than that. Dyes work by chemically binding to porous substrates like paper or cloth. Paint sits on top of the substrate. Miniatures are made of non-porous materials like metal and resin, so they cannot easily be dyed. Another issue with dyes is that the majority of them fade with exposure to light, and fade fairly quickly (weeks to months for some). Pigments range in their lightfastness, but there are many pigments that are much more resistant to light and should keep their true colour appearance for decades, if not centuries. Lastly, dyes are almost universally transparent, and so are ill-suited to applications where opaque coverage is desired. 

If you’re interested in more information in dyes versus pigments, check this article: https://thebluebottletree.com/pigments-vs-dyes-difference/
This article from Winsor & Newton is also very informative on the differences: http://www.winsornewton.com/na/discover/articles-and-inspiration/spotlight-on-colourants-dyes-pigments

What are Additives?

An additive is anything other than pigment and binder that is added to a paint. Additives are often used to alter the properties of a paint or binder. You can purchase some types of additives separately to add to your own paint mixes. Some examples of additives:

– Slow dry agent (also called retarder): increases the amount of time the paint takes to dry to the touch. (There are additives to speed drying, too, particularly for oil paints.)
– Flow aid/improver/surfactant: decreases the surface tension of the paint to increase the way it flows off the brush and reduce the appearance of rings in drying.
– Matting agent: reduces the shine of a glossy pigment and/or binder.
– Opacifier: Makes a pigment less transparent. Largely these are actually other pigments or substances like chalk or marble dust, so the intensity of the original colour is usually affected by the use of opacifiers..
– Filler: These may just be opacifiers, or other elements which are used with the aim of using less of the expensive pigment to make up a given volume of paint. Very common in inexpensive paints like craft or student brands (Ceramcoat, Apple Barrel, etc.).

Miniature painters have historically had a strong preference for paints that are as uniformly opaque as possible, and matte to very matte in finish. So paint producers for miniature paints try to mix opaque colours with transparent ones to improve opacity, and/or add opacifiers, as well as adding matting agents to shiny colours.

If you think of pigments and binders as the basic ingredients of a dish, additives are the spice and flavouring options that really make one line stand out as behaving differently than another. A given paint line might add a little slow drying agent to increase workability for wet on wet techniques, where another paint brand might add flow aid to improve how well the paint behaves when thinned down for glazes and washes. Both brands are likely pretty equivalent in overall quality, but just as some people prefer Coke to Pepsi or one fast food burger to another, some people are going to prefer the properties of one line to those of another. This is why you’ll see such varied reviews of the same brands of paints. A lot of a given person’s preference comes down to personal taste and familiarity as much or more as the objective ‘quality’ of the product.

Paint additivesA selection of paint additives/mediums that I have used at various times over the years. Mostly I use the Reaper products. I do like to add some airbrush medium when airbrushing. This brand has slow drying agent in it, which helps keep the airbrush flowing well.

What are Mediums?

Mediums are products that the user can choose to add to paint to change its properties or consistency. Many are essentially either binders or additives, or a mix of the two. So you can buy a heavy gel to add to a soft body paint to make it thicker, or a more fluid glaze medium to add to a heavy body paint to make it more liquid. Or you can add your own flow aid, matting agent, or gloss, etc. The majority of these products are clear. Adding them will increase the transparency of a paint (since you’ve changed the binder/additive to pigment ratio), but should not affect the colour.

Another type of medium is a texture medium. These might be made with pumice, lava, fibres, or other materials suspended in an acrylic medium. Often these are white based rather than clear, so they will lighten a paint if it is added to them. These products offer fun possibilities for basing construction materials, but few if any are suitable as additives for actual painting on miniatures. (When used for basing, you’ll likely use less paint if you paint over them once dried rather than trying to colour them by mixing paint into the medium before applying it.)

Choosing a Paint Consistency

The advice I’ve consistently heard from paint experts is to choose a paint with a starting consistency that is as close as possible to what you want to use. Figure painters, particularly those working at smaller scales, tend to prefer paint of a fairly fluid consistency. Thicker paint is much more likely to fill in fine details of a miniature sculpt. It is possible to thin thick tube paints with water to a consistency you can use on miniature figures. In doing so you may weaken the paint film, and you will lose opacity and may reduce other characteristics of the paint. To my mind it makes more sense (and saves a lot of time) to buy a paint that is formulated with a more fluid binder, whether this be a miniature brand paint like Reaper Master Series or Vallejo Model Color, or an art store line like Golden SoFlat Matte or Liquitex Acrylic Gouache, or maybe Liquitex Soft Body if you want slightly thicker paint on occasion and are okay with doing some thinning on other occasions. I suspect the new Scale75 tube paints are close to Liquitex Soft Body in consistency. (Elizabeth Beckley has a great review here, which includes a visual comparison between several different lines of paint consistency.)

Golden High Flow paintsGolden’s High Flow paint line is very fluid, more similar to an ink. It works well to mix in to increase colour intensity, but is probably too thin and transparent to work as a stand alone paint. (The swatches on the black diagonal lines on each bottle are actual samples of the paint painted over a part of the label to indicate opacity.)

For some time I have heard that it is actually dangerous to mix a ratio of more than 25-30% of water to acrylic paint. The thinking is that when you mix too much water into the paint, the acrylic polymers that make up the binder become too far and few between to create a solid paint film. I’ve heard stories of thin glazes being wiped off canvases during dusting and cleaning. That argument makes sense, but so does the counterargument that many miniature painters have used water thinned glazes for years without detecting any issue. Golden recently released the results of some tests they performed with heavily thinned paints. While this is one brand of paint on a particular surface, paint heavily thinned with water fared much better than might have been expected.

However, I do think it is helpful to use a mix of medium and water for heavily thinned applications like glazes or washes. Glazes apply a little more smoothly, and washes are less likely to dry with rings. I like to use Reaper’s Wash Medium. Vallejo Glaze Medium and any art store product that’s fluid in consistency and has medium in the name is likely to be a similar thing. (I also like Golden Air Brush Medium, but it must have a lot of slow dry additive in it, because it takes a really long time to dry.) Use of this kind of medium is especially helpful to dilute metallic paints because it keeps the metallic flakes in suspension much more than water does.

Miniature paintsCall me crazy, but I like to paint miniatures with paint designed for painting miniatures.

Painters of busts and large scale figures like Banshee (Alfonso Giraldes) and others are embracing texture and brush strokes in their painting. Texture and opacity are additional elements of contrast we can play with. Because thicker texture and more opaque paint can work particularly well in highlights, a painter wanting to experiment with this style can begin with a single tube of heavy body acrylic white paint and mix other colours in to create highlights. You need not have a full spectrum of colours in tube paint consistency to try out this style of painting!

Single Pigment versus Convenience Mixes

I am increasingly seeing arguments in favour of people mixing their own colours from a limited palette of paints. This is most easily and predictably done with single pigment paints, but you can get a lot of mileage out of mixing with any paints. 

A single pigment paint is one formulated with only one pigment. For example, a paint mixed with only the pigment PB29 is a classic ultramarine blue paint. Though it is important to note that while the use of pigment numbers is regulated, the use of names is not. A company is free to call a given colour ultramarine blue or alizarin crimson or whatever else it wants whether or not the paint so named contains the traditional ingredient(s) associated with that colour. This is why people who seek to buy single pigment paints look for the pigment numbers on the paint containers, particularly if they’re looking to try the same colour from a different brand than they usually use. (Although as mentioned above, the end colour appearance of some pigments can vary widely depending on preparation and formulation.)

Convenience mixes are colours you can buy that the paint company has premixed from multiple pigments. There are relatively few green single pigment colours, but a lot of things in the world that people want to paint are coloured green, so you’ll find a lot of different green paints available for purchase that are mixes of multiple pigments. Miniature paints don’t list the pigments they use on the bottles, but it is likely that the vast majority of the colours are convenience mixes. 

Note that not every ‘art store’ paint is a single pigment! A good brand of art store paints should have a solid selection of single pigment paint colours, but it will likely have plenty of convenience mixes, too. Canvas artists like ease and convenience and pretty colours as much as miniature painters do. You can also buy cheap student brand paints that are single pigment, but are full of fillers and not as rich and highly pigmented to use. Single pigment is not a code word for higher quality.

The advantage of a single pigment colour is that it is as intense as that colour can get, and that it will mix in a more predictable way. For example, let’s say you want to mix a yellow and a blue to create a green. A single pigment yellow and a single pigment blue will mix a brighter green. They will also always behave in the same way mixed together. You might find a convenience mix blue and convenience mix yellow that look like pretty much the same colours as the single pigment to your eye. But when you mix them together, you find you get more of a khaki green. This happens because you didn’t realize the blue was formulated with a little bit of black, and the yellow was formulated with a little bit of white, so when you mix them together you’re really getting blue + yellow + grey, not just blue + yellow.

Currently there are two miniature paint lines that list pigment information on the bottle provided to consumers – Kimera, and the Scale75 tube paints. All of the Kimera paints appear to be single pigment, though I think it is possible to use opacifiers and still consider a paint single pigment. A handful of the Scale75 tube paints are single pigment, the majority are mixes of two or more pigments. (Updated: 4/20/2020. Originally written based on the Scale75 packaging shown in their Kickstarter.)

Other Acrylic Products

If you’ve ever poked around a good art store, you may have noticed products like ‘acrylic gouache’, or ‘acrylic ink’. Or you may have seen some of the artists you admire recommending that you add Liquitex or FW inks to your repertoire. Some brands are Liquitex Acrylic Gouache, Liquitex Acrylic Ink, and Daler-Rowney FW Acrylic Ink, but there are several others. In general, if it includes the word acrylic on it, it is essentially an acrylic paint. It should mix with your other acrylic paints. Based on the consistency, it may or may not work as a paint in itself – the inks are very fluid and tend to be transparent, for instance. They’ll work well to tint paints or as washes and glazes, but you likely can’t paint opaque base coats with them.

The use of the other terms is meant to convey the properties of those media. Traditional gouache paint is matte and opaque. When Liquitex created a new line of paints that are matte and opaque, they called it ‘acrylic gouache’ to convey those properties. (It is also a more fluid consistency than tube gouache, so very similar to miniature paints.) The term ‘ink’ suggests a media that is fluid and intense in colour/pigment, so several companies use the term ‘acrylic ink’ for their acrylic products that are watery and intensely pigmented. 

Liquitex Acrylic GouacheI have some of the new Liquitex Acrylic Gouache which I think should work pretty well to paint miniatures, but I haven’t as yet had a chance to try it! The same life issues that are keeping me from writing blog posts as regularly as I’d like are interfering with my painting fun.

Traditional inks have also been used in miniature painting, typically for washes and glazes. Occasionally I have heard of some people having issues with these reactivating under additional layers of paint, though plenty of people have used them with no issues. They do tend to be quite shiny. Acrylic inks will work more reliably with other acrylic products, but may not have all of the same properties as traditional inks. Traditional inks may be formulated with dyes or pigments. I believe acrylic inks are formulated only with pigments.

Traditional gouache is essentially opaque watercolour, and is permanently water-soluble. (You can lift up a previous layer with a damp brush no matter how long it’s been dry.) It also tends to crack when applied thickly or if the surface it is on flexes significantly. I feel it is unsuited for miniature painting for these reasons. There are ways to use gouache and watercolour as components of painting, particularly in the large-scale figure and kit side of the hobby, but I think these are best avoided unless you have had some guidance on how to use them or you’re willing to do some experimenting. Manufacturers of products called ‘acryla gouache’ tend to describe their paints as more like gouache in nature, so I would recommend doing some research on a line of paint before assuming that it is a standard acrylic like the Liquitex version.

Colour Mixing Conundrums

In the land of colour theory, you need a single perfect red, yellow, and blue in addition to white and black to be able to mix any colour you can imagine. One reason we all it colour theory is that in the real world, there aren’t really perfect pigments. (There’s even some debate about whether primary red is red or magenta.) So what most artists actually use is a split primary system. In a split primary you have a highly saturated warm and cool version of each colour.  So a magenta and a warm, slightly orange red; a cool blue and one that is slightly purple; and a yellow that’s a little more green and one that’s a little more orange. Those combined with white and black should allow you to mix almost everything. You can find lots of books and online resources that will help you learn mixes in addition to what you can discover by just playing around by yourself. In the ideal you would want to do this with single pigment colours, but you can also just grab versions of paints that you have and start playing around to see how this works.

Many traditional artists tend to add a few other paints to their palettes on top of those eight. An earth colour or three, or a single pigment purple and green – just a few other colours that they like a lot or  which make achieving certain mixes easier. It’s also the case that not every paint on their palette shows up in every painting. You might use only one each of the reds, yellows, and blues and a couple of other colours for a given painting, which is an excellent way to create a lot of colour harmony in your work.

Kimera paintsThe new Kimera paint line is a palette similar to the split primary plus a few extras system that I described above. It has a total of 11 paints, plus a bottle of medium.

This is a great way to paint! As I’ve been learning watercolour and oil painting, this is how I’ve been doing it. I’m not sure I’m excited about seeing this pushed as The One True Way for miniature painting. It’s certainly A way, and if someone is budget conscious or wants to improve their use of colour, I think this is a great tool to look at. But I also think it’s fine if people want to go on using convenience mixes in miniature painting. Some people want to approach miniature painting from more of a fine art angle or enjoy the puzzle of creating their own colours. But some people want to save time, or find mixing tedious, or just want to get some gaming pieces on the table. If convenience mixes make that more fun for them, have at it is what I say! Honestly, I’m in more of that camp myself when it comes to miniature painting. I’m always looking to improve speed, and make it easier to quickly start and stop painting, and convenience mixtures help me with both of those things. Not all fine artists mix everything, either. Those who use coloured pencils, pastels, or alcohol ink markers work the same way most miniature painters do, with 50-100+ colours at hand, if not more. And there are plenty of skilled professional traditional media painters who don’t care a fig if they’re using single pigment colours or convenience mixes.

Some additional considerations for choices when buying paints: 

Tools Matter

I am a firm believer that quality tools matter. You don’t necessarily need the absolute best of everything, but good quality makes a difference. I’ve seen people do decent work with craft brand paints (Apple Barrel, Folk Art, Ceramcoat, and similar.) And I am just left to wonder how much more they could do with paint actually designed to use on miniatures! In the past 15 years I’ve seen dozens of threads from people who previously painted with craft paint, tried purpose made paint, and found it was significantly easier and more efficient to use – it takes fewer coats, it’s easier to replicate the techniques and effects they’ve seen others do, etc. If you’re using these paints due to severe budgetary constraints, I’d recommend that you reduce your miniature buying budget for a little while and divert some funds to paint. Start with colours that frustrate you in the craft paints – reds and yellows are likely candidates, but perhaps purples and greens. In my own experience with traditional painting, I have certainly noticed a difference between cheap or ‘student’ level art materials and ‘artist’ level materials, and I have a strong preference for having a few good quality materials over having a plethora of poor quality ones 

But Tools Aren’t EVERYTHING ( there is no magic paint/brush/etc.)

It’s pretty easy to equate the results someone gets with the tools they use. If you have chunky basecoats or streaky blends, it’s easy to look at the more polished work of a painter you admire and assume that if you just get the same paints and brushes they do, your work will look much closer to theirs. Sure fancy freehand designs or perfect eyes might be a matter purely of skill, but basic painting techniques have a lot to do with tools, right? I don’t think I’m alone in having tried multiple brands of paint, types of palettes, kinds of brushes, and several other things in the quest for that thing that just clicks in and you get it and then you stop sucking. ;->

I’ve even fallen into this trap with multiple hobbies! Even after having done it with miniature painting, I did it again with other art materials when I started to study traditional art a few years ago. I’d see a YouTube video or read an article and think maybe THAT pen/pencil/paint/brush is the one that would ‘work’. There are better and worse tools for different functions, but I have a lot of art materials that sit dormant. And if I’m honest with myself, I’ve done the most learning by spending a lot of time practicing with a few simple tools. If you’d like to see a whole lot of proof of that, type ‘cheap art supplies challenge’ into YouTube and get ready to watch some videos of people who are able to get a whole lot of value out of limited quality materials because of the years of skill and knowledge they’ve developed as artists. 

I do think there are tools that will work better for certain people or techniques, and that there can be a certain amount of searching and experimenting you might have to do to find that. But you might also have just as much success sitting your butt in your chair and spending some focused time getting to know the tools you have better and working in a targeted way to improve your use of techniques that work with those tools you already have. 

Companies selling a product are always going to try to convince you it’s a great product! Limited purchase window Kickstarrters add an additional element of pressure. Pre-order hype of testimonials from professionals you admire will get you fired up about something. If you have a generous hobby budget and you enjoy trying new things, go nuts and experiment away! If your budget is limited and you’re still struggling with the tools you have, it’s okay to walk away and not feel bad about it. If the products are good, they’ll be there later when you and your budget are ready for them. 

Compressed Air – Quick Tip Tuesday

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I’m sure in the future that I’ll be talking a lot more about brushes, and paints, and all the usual suspects of paint desk supplies, but today I thought it might be fun to talk about the unusual suspects. What are some tools and materials you use that you suspect not many other miniature painters use?

One that comes to mind for me is compressed air. Oh, I’m pretty sure that lots of painters use it to dust off figures in their display cases. And certainly I use it for that, too. Or if I’ve let a partially painted miniature languish on my work-in-progress shelf for a while, I definitely like to give it a thorough spritzing before I start painting it again. It’s also helpful for dusting figures off when taking photographs, since putting a miniature in my light cube attracts dust to it like moth to a flame. I find the compressed air isn’t even enough in that situation, I usually need to have a paint brush with somewhat stiff bristles available to dust off the really clingy lint and fibers that don’t show up until I check the photo preview.

Cans of compressed airI do use these for the obvious uses. But also for another purpose…

The other way I use compressed air is for a purpose I haven’t heard other painters mention, and I figured it was high time I share this useful tip! Do you ever get bubbles in paint that you are applying to a miniature? I find this is particularly likely to happen on areas that are highly textured with a lot of nooks and crannies, like groundwork for bases. It also happens to me when I’m trying to quickly brush prime or paint basecoats on large areas using a large brush. If you get bubbles like this and don’t pop them, they will dry into little ridged circles like the suckers on an octopus tentacle. 

Popping the bubbles by blowing on them or tapping them with the tip of your brush works, but can be tedious and inefficient. If you hit wet paint with a jet of compressed air in the regular fashion, it will absolutely blow paint all over the place! But if you depress the trigger on a can of compressed air gently and only part way, you’ll get a soft puff of air that is perfect for popping all those little bubbles. You do need to do this while the paint is still as fresh and wet as possible, and I recommend practicing a few times on a figure that is less important to you.

Have you got any helpful hints or weird tools that you use to help you paint? Let’s talk about them in the comments!