Acrylic Woes

Once upon a time, I really liked painting miniatures, with the hope that I’d use them for my RPGs. I bought one of those Learn to Paint kits from Reaper, and a bunch of cheap miniatures, and a huge selection of Reaper Pro Paints. And while I wouldn’t say I was great at it, I did consider my stuff pretty good for tabletop use. I’m good, as in good enough. Probably 6 out of 10 on average and topping out around 7.5. Plus, it was fun.

Flash forward through high school and college. I have… more free time than I know what to do with, so I figured to pick the hobby back up, re-teach myself the craft, and try to learn enough to get back to my A-game. And since I have three metric tons of Mage Knight figures, I should have enough of a base to screw up on before moving to all those Reaper figures, BattleMechs, and undersized fighting men I bought years ago, right?

My recent discovery is that acrylic paints sold by games companies—Reaper Pro Paints and Citadel’s stuff—have a habit of drying out and becoming hard lumps of unusable plastic after sitting around for the better half of a decade. (Heh.) Should have saw that coming, since I only painted about four minis in college. Also, the Reaper paints that dried out were ones that came with the Learn to Paint kit—it was the old-model one that came in a box, not a blister, with the Anhurian swordsman and dire rat, from like 2003—and to make me feel better, they were all mostly used up. (There was a small hunk of Firehawk, a bit of Truesilver, half a bottle of Walnut and Dragon Black, a little less Dragon White, etc.) For some reason, Emerald was spared this fate, though the Granite I’d picked up later had also turned into slag. And the Citadel paints I got around 2007 are getting pretty mucky: a central core of heavy pigment and vinyl surrounded by a skein of oil and usable paint.

Oh those glorious little Pro Paint pots. How I miss thee.

Sad to find, Reaper Pro Paints have been discontinued, early last year—d’oh. Since I’m no artist, and put tabletop usefulness over my lackluster hand at aesthetics, the Pro Paint line was my favorite: a what-you-see-is-what-you-get line of little plastic pots, perfect for painting right out of the jar and doing basecoats. Reaper’s Master Series is a lot thinner, requiring more layers, which is great for blending and layering and drybrushing, but a pain in the ass when I needed a half-dozen lizardfolk warriors by last Thursday.

Their big downside is that they came in pots, not dropper-bottles, so while I wasted less by painting out of the bottle, mixing my own colors was a nightmare—I needed some rust for a friend’s Deadlands harrowed minis, probably some of the best figs I did, and mixing Bright Gold and Fireball Orange ended up wasting a ton of metallic.

Anyways, what’s most irritating and odd is that I inherited a huge stack of cheapo acrylic bottles from craft stores—stuff like Folk Art, Liquitex, and craft store brands. If you look around on places like The Miniatures Page or any Warhammer community, or even the Reaper forums, quite a few people use and will recommend buying these since you get more paint than you’ll use in a few years (two ounces or more per), they’re cheap ($1-4 per bottle), and they work just as well as Reaper or Citadel or Vallejo if you can find the right colors. (Note that some need to be thinned, and it’s still a lot better to get unique colors and metallics from gaming companies, but blue paint is blue paint is blue paint.)

Now, the irritating part is that these hobbymart acrylics are all from the late ’80s-early ’90s, ancient stuff from when mom took some painting class. And unlike my eight-year-old Pro Paints, they’re still in perfect, usable condition. All of them. In other words: these shitty $1.19 per 2oz JoAnn Fabrics-brand paints have lasted about three times as long as those gaming-centric $2.50 per 3/4oz Pro Paints. Sigh. I’d love to trade Ivory and Grape to get back Firehawk and Dragon Blue, especially since those Reaper colors aren’t made any more, but them’s the breaks.

So my moral/learning lesson for today is “head to Micheal’s Crafts and Hobby Lobby to buy supplies, on the off chance I don’t paint anything for another decade, because their cheapo paint lasts for frakking ever.”

One further note.

Paint almost always comes with an agitator—this would be the ball bearing you hear rolling around in the can of paint/primer when you’re shaking it up, to smooth flow and get paint moving—and for years I’ve heard that Reaper uses tiny metal skulls as agitators in their paint pots. So here I am with a bunch of pots full of vinylized slag, and being curious, I decided it was time to experiment. Science!

Now, I know people on the internet have claimed to have found them, that they come in a variety of designs, and that they’ve been replaced with beads in recent years (gah). But I still want tangible proof: did Reaper really put in skull agitators, and were they also in the Pro Paint line, and did they—

Well that answers that question.


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