A few months ago, I tried Vallejo Xpress Color paints. Aside from the bottles they come in, I like them a lot. They're a great way to get started painting with auto-shading paints for a relatively small investment. It's got a limited colour range, but when you're just starting out, less can be more. If you're just starting to paint miniatures, or you're looking to buy some paint for a friend, but you don't know where to begin, this blog post is my attempt to provide some simple guidance on what to consider buying.
One problem with colour is that there's just too much of it. Take a look around you and you're likely to see hundreds of different shades. Fortunately, in the make-believe world of toy soldiers, realism is reduced. Things are simpler at 28mm scale. When a cape is blue, it can just be blue. You don't have to worry about all the different shades of blue that might appear in actual fabric. You can just paint the cape blue, and your imagination fills in the detail.
But the reason you buy Citadel brand Contrast paint or Vallejo brand Xpress Color paint is that with one colour, you get all the subtle shades included. These paints are specially designed to auto-shade themselves, so a cape isn't just solid monochromatic blue, but blue with depth. It's a marvel of modern chemistry, honestly, and it'll change the way you feel about your miniature painting.
The reality of miniature painting is that you usually know what materials you're trying to mimic.
In a fantasy setting:
In a scifi or horror setting:
There are likely to be a few surprises along the way. Some day you'll suddenly acquire of a bunch of undead miniatures. Now you need a colour for undead skin. Later, you'll acquire a miniature specifically called Knight of the Purple Robe and suddenly you'll realise that you need all the shades of purple you can find. But 90% of the time, you're painting the same stuff over and over again. And loving it.
What that means is that you can buy a dozen colours of paint and get a hundred miniatures painted without ever feeling like you're lacking. You just need black, brown, a skintone, and the colours of the rainbow. It's as easy as that, and Vallejo Xpress Color is ideal for this strategy because that's literally all they released in their initial line.
Now, even with Vallejo's limited range of colour options, there is room for variation and choice. It's hard to know which blue to get without seeing it for yourself. I tried to make choices for myself by looking at swatches and photos online, and invariably I felt like what I saw in real life was different than what I saw online. It was never bad, it was just always different. Still, follow your impulse and choose the shade you think you like best.
Here's my Xpress Color essentials list, consisting of a dozen paints:
Obviously the metallic paint isn't Xpress Color. I'm listing Citadel Leadbelcher because it's the one I know (and I link to it alone because Vallejo Xpress paints have no product pages at the time of writing). I'm sure other metallic paints are also suitable, but I've only used Leadbelcher.
At 7 NZD a bottle, that's about $84 for a dozen paints, and enough to last your for literally hundreds of models.
If you're timidly getting started and you don't feel like investing in a whole rainbow of colours is justified, then here's my basic list. You may need to adjust what colour you consider a basic requirement, depending on what you anticipate painting. If you're building an orc army, for example, then you might not need a human skin tone.
That's just 7 paints. You're using the same brown for skin tone, leathers, and wood, which is what I did with Citadel Guilliman Flesh up until I bought Copper Brown. At 7 NZD a bottle, that's $49 for half a dozen paints, which ought to keep you happy for a hundred models. If you're still painting miniatures by then, you'll likely feel justified in adding more colours to your collection, based on what you feel you need.
Finally, there's the luxury option. Buy all 23 colours in the Vallejo Xpress Color paint line, and buy Citadel Leadbelcher to make it an even 24. You'll get weird redunancies, like two shades of blue that probably seem pretty close, two yellows, two greens, two browns, two turquoise, and so on. If you're a real colour fiend, then these duplicates probably look completely different to you. If you're like me, they'll look close enough to being the same that you'll question whether you need both. Possibly, you don't! In that case, get something really different from Citadel. You'll pay a little more, but it'll round out your collection nicely.
It's easy to get dazzled and more than a little overwhelmed by all the choices you have in paints. Focus on what you're actually painting, get the colours your models demand, and fill in the gaps later. Vallejo Xpress Color is a great option for an affordable start.
T'au soldiers photo by Seth Kenlon.