Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tutorial: making mini paints from artist tubed acrylics

Admit it, you have looked at those tubes and priced them up, right?  And I am guessing you may have tried to use them with what one could call 'mixed' results.  Today I am sharing a formula for turning top quality artist acrylics into useful mini paints.

First up, picking your paints.  Don't go for cheap student paints or craft paints (Jo Sonja)- you want the maximum star permanency rated paint... which means its tested to not fade over time. Squeeze the tube a littel between your fingers and it will feel firm, not runny.  Next you need to check the opacity rating.  Like citadel foundation paints, heavy density paint does not let much light through- its pigment rich- not as rich as foundation, sadly, but that stuff is really heavy on the pigment.  Lower graded paints are unavoidably translucent- colours such as lemon yellow are commonly so.  It does not matter which you get, but be aware that translucent paints do not need as much medium added later on.

Your going to need some more ingredients.  Liquitex flow aid (aka flow improver), de-mineralised water (from your laundry section of the supermarket), Liquitex Matte Medium and industrial talc (not perfumed bathroom talc!)  That last item can be found at casting and moulding suppliers.

I use reaper dropper bottles, but do my mixing in larger squeezy bottles, as you need room to modify and tune the mix.

First, you need to get your mix right.  On a palette, take a small squeeze of  paint and call this ten units.  You need to make this runny, so we need to add flow aid / de-mineralised water mix (1:20 ratio) until it just starts to break down into a gooey fluid.  Count your drops whilst you stir.
Next you want to extend and add body to the paint, so matte medium is required.  Start with about 1 or 2 units, and stir this in.  Next add a small amount of industrial talc.  Adding talc gives a solidity and glow to the paint you may find familiar.  Back in the 1990s, a white dwarf article mentioned that talc is used in citadel paints, so having talc on your models was not going to effect the paint job much- this clued me into trying it out, and it makes a big difference to some mixes.
Finally test your paint on a crappy mini.  Put some mini paint side by side and compare feel, flow and coverage.  Add more de-mineralized water and medium until it feels right.  If its too gluggy, use flow aid.  Be careful not to add too much, or you will get a fuzzy surface.  If your into wet blending, you will like having more flow aid in your mix- drying times are extended and its easier to work... just like Reaper master series.  However personally I find its better to add this post mix whilst painting, so the paint can be used as a base.
Once your paint is behaving nicely on your miniature, its time to carry your mix data over to your big bottle.

Mark a half way point on your bottle, then half this again and again.  This gives you a good measuring indicator.  Start by squeezing paint into the bottle.  Leave it for a while with the lid on and it will settle, giving you a good measurement to apply your ratios.  Always leave a good amount of room in your bottle so you can adjust medium and water later on.  Shake well between tests, and remember to discharge what is in the nozzle before testing, as this is unlikely to have changed between adjustments.

Finally, once your happy with the mix, port it over to your reaper dropper bottles.  Pop in the bead, snap on the cap and screw on the lid.  Lastly, apply a label that notes the colour, manufacturer and ratios for later mixes.

Now every paint mix will be different.  Some work well, some not so.  I found liquitex reds are really vibrant.  Windsor and Newton make good stuff, and some one Derwents paints can be handy... I used the Matisse antique blue to give a more realistic, toned down Crimson Fist space marine base colour.

If you want custom mixed colours to hold you over for a whole army, I suggest first mixing the medium/water/flow aid/talc mix for each colour seperately, then once they behave well, working out a mix ratio of these.  Syringes can then be used to get exact ratios.  Make up a big bottle of this and refill your small dropper bottles or cleaned out citadel pots when you need them.  That way you guarantee the right color for your whole army for years.

Anyway, hope that helps.  if anyone has discovered other great formulas for this mix, or any vital ingredients I am missing (I have been looking at rubbing alcohol as an ingredient in washes for example) then post a comment below!

Happy mixing.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As far as I'm concerned, I really appreciate the well known trick of adding PVA glue to the mix to get the same feeling as with citadel washes.
    It works great with inks by getting rid of that shiny aspect, especially on metal to give them a oxydated look and I really like it with brown or greys or any dense and covering colors to make shades on skins.

    (please forgive me for the message above) ^^

  3. Ooh, that is a good one.

    Sniffing liquitex its clear there is either ammonia or liquid latex in the mix. I guess the hints in the name :)

  4. Nice article! Have you worked out the numbers to see if it actually ends up being cheaper than the gw paints?

  5. adding a lot more matte medium has worked with regards to custom-making washes. I used a 1:1 paint/ medium ratio and a lot of water. The paint I used wasn't very pigment-heavy, though, so be aware of that when mixing.