Cheap Games Workshop Alternatives

Pinching Pennies

When Warhammer 40k first came out, GW barely had enough models to cover the primary factions.  With rules for units without models being released in White Dwarf, people had to figure out ways of scratch building much of their army.  In its infancy, a lot of great innovations were found and spread throughout the community because they were not offered by GW.   Then we had a time of explosive growth during the mid 90’s to early 2000’s where Warhammer 40k really took off.  Tons of models, paints, tools, materials, and miscellaneous items started to be made by GW and 3rd party companies.  It was great, no need to scour Michaels or Hobby Lobby looking for tools or paints, everything can be had from a Wargaming hobby store.  Everything was great until the prices started to be annually hiked.  Today we see 20 dollar blister packs, 4 dollar paint pots, and 15 dollar sprue snips.  For a new player it is mind blowing how much it costs to get started and for a veteran it hampers their enjoyment of a long loved hobby.

However, there is now a resurgence of the old methods and products, not because of there not being a model or paint offered by GW but because they cost so much money!  Let’s dive into a few quick and easy ways to save some money.

Paint and Primer

Most GW shops sell a primer, but they cost almost 15 dollars a can!  Ridiculous!  What I used for a long time was from Walmart: Color Place Grey Primer which cost a meager 96 cents per can.  These are horrible for normal spray paint use such as priming a large wooden table or such because they are very thin paints, but that makes them perfect for us.  If you happen to have an air brush, get Testor’s acrylic grey primer at Hobby Lobby.  It costs around 3 dollars for a small jar but gives the smoothest primer coat I’ve ever seen.

With the primer out of the way, we focus on the most expensive part of the hobby outside of models, the paints.  A few years ago Citidel paints used to be on the higher end of the market price wise at about $2.50 a pot, but they were good enough to justify the price.  Now they cost a whopping 4 dollars a pot MSRP and all of my local stores charge full price for them.  At 12mL a pot this puts the price at 1300 dollars a gallon.  Wowzers!  Does Shining Gold have real gold flakes in it?  At any rate, we are feeling the pressure and instead of just giving up the hobby we have to find a way to tame these costs.

Some people say just go with craft paints such as Delta Ceramcoat, but in my opinion these are only good for very specific things.  I only use these paints to base, paint scenery, or some times use them on vehicles.  The reason is because they do not thin well.  They do not hold their composition nearly as well as the miniature paints.   If you are going for quick low end table top quality paint jobs then they will do the trick and on the cheap, but if you want something a bit better without the head aches we need to look else where.

GW has changed its Citadel suppliers around three times since Rogue Trader was released.  The first supplier was located out of Britian.  They then moved to the screw top paint pots and went with a French supplier.  More recently they changed to a Chinese supplier and jacked their prices up…  Good thing for us is that the first supplier still makes the exact same Citadel paints that GW used to sell, and they are cheap!  All the paints you love for 2.50 a pot… but it gets even better, some websites such as (Taken out due to the site being out of stock) sell them at 1.50 a pot!!  That is around 70% savings on paints right there without sacrificing quality, the best part is the they ship from the US and we are supporting the UK economy instead of China’s.

Accessories and Supplies

15 dollar pin vise, 15 dollar sprue snips, 8 dollar modeling sand, and the list goes on for over priced GW accessories.  One of the hardest things to find outside of the GW shop are a good pair of sprue snips.  I found a great set at Hobby Lobby in the jewelry section for 6 dollars a pair which cut only on one side which is very important.  They are actually beefier than the GW ones as well.  While you are at Hobby Lobby go back to their model train section and pick up a 5 dollar pin vise set, 6 dollar Xacto Knife, 3 dollar modeling sand, static grass, and tons of other modeling materials.  Elmer’s White Glue works great for basing and Testor’s plastic glue is wonderful for gluing the models.  Don’t forget some Blu Tack, “teacher’s sticky stuff”, or plasticine for various needs.

If you are really going crazy with scenery and need a lot of sand, run up to your local hardware store and pick up a 40 pound bag of sand.  This tends to be more coarse than the purpose made sand, but at 3 dollars for a huge bag, you can’t beat the price.

Finally make your way to the painting department and stock up on good brushes.  If you are serious about painting, I would skip GW and Hobby Lobby altogether for your detail brushes and get some good Kolinsky brushes off the internet, but for dry brushing and basing pick up some here.  Sometimes they go 50% off on brushes, so keep checking the flier and stock up.


Since we’ve now saved so much on paint and supplies you could simply skip this section if the savings have been enough, but since the prices of models have gone through the roof it may be a good time to try making your own models from scratch.  War game enthusiasts have been making their own models for decades, so this is not uncharted territory.  Don’t be scared to get your hands a little dirty, the worse thing that could happen is you throwing away 5 dollars worth of plastic.  I’m not going to go into depth here but there are guides all over the internet with templates and complete instruction sets on how to make various models.  It usually goes by the name of “Paperhammer” or something similar, so look it up on google and download some templates.  A typical flat sided model like a tank can be made in an evening, saving you anywhere from 40-100+ dollars depending on the model.  A well built model is just as good if not better looking that the original GW model.  However, keep in mind some tournaments will not allow hand built models.


Let’s sum this all up into a nice list of alternatives that you can copy, paste, and take away with you to the Hobby Store next time:

  • Primer: Color Place (Walmart) 96c, Testor’s Grey Acrylic Primer (Hobby Lobby) $3
  • Paint: Craft Paint (HL, Michaels, Walmart) $1, Cote d’Arms (Brookhurst Hobbies) $1.50 a pot
  • Sprue Snips: Jewelry Snips (HL, Michaels) $6
  • Pin Vise: (HL, Michaels) $5
  • Modeling Knife: Xacto Knife (HL, Michaels) $6
  • Modeling Grass/Sand: Model Train Scenery (HL, Michaels) $3, Play Sand (Ace Hardware) $3-5
  • Glue: Elmer’s White Glue (Anywhere) $1-3, Testor’s Glue (Hobby Store) $5
  • Modeling Tack: Blu Tack or plasticine $varies
  • Brushes: (Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Dick Blick) 50% off of GW’s prices for same quality, more on sale.  Get Kolinsky if serious.
  • Paperhammer templates for various models.


Just for fun let’s say we are new to the hobby and need all those supplies plus 25 pots of paint to get us started.  How much would it cost using this guide and how much from GW?

For supplies on the cheap: Primer, 25 Cote d’Arms pots, snips, pin vise, modeling knife, 3 tubs of modeling sand/grass, white glue, Testor’s glue, and 3 good brushes it comes out to 83 dollars.  Not bad at all!

Straight from GW: All of the equivalent items would be 205 dollars!  We saved over half of the cost of GW for the exact same items.

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5 Responses to Cheap Games Workshop Alternatives

  1. Hey,

    Thanks for the tips.

    I like that, GW is way too pricey , I can, but my young boy cannot affort all the GW stuff.
    Now I will help him out with cheaper models & paints.

    I’m a armoursmith and can also poor metalcasted things….
    So my tip:
    Copy warhammer bodyparts and bitz using red casting sand (“Delftse aarde”) and old pewter/tin/whitemetal objects for casting material….
    So I can make loads of arms/legs/bitz for certain projects…

    As long as you’re not selling them you can copy bitz for your own use….
    When your’re a bit experienced, you can cast very good quality parts.

  2. John says:

    Are the Cote d”Arms pots the same exact paints but with just different names?

    • subyman says:

      Yes, Cote d’Arms used to supply GW with their paints. Cote d’Arms now sells the exact same contracted mixes under slightly different names. Any paint colors or lines such as the foundation, washes, etc added after around the year 2000 are not supported by Cote d’Arms though.

  3. Sean says:

    I fully support the idea of buying affordable, and sometimes better-quality, supplies and tools. GW is getting rich enough off me already – if I give them _both_ my arms and the proverbial leg, how would I put together their models?

    I really miss how White Dwarf used to be filled with great, novel “stupid hobby tricks”…now they want you to get those officially branded razor saws and paints, and the homemade buildings and woods have given way to their scenery kits (which I really love, don’t get me wrong…but a cunning cheapo can stretch one Sanctum Imperialis into three or four solid, modular edifices by gluing a few of the detailed panels onto practically any kind of squarish box).

    Let me add a few more of my own cheap alternatives.

    – Electronics stores like Radio Shack/The Source often have “nippy cutters” that are even better for trimming sprue parts than the slightly chunkier-tipped jewelry clippers. At about $5-6, they even best Testors’ snippers price-wise. I have two, and they work very well.

    – Dollar stores are your friend, if you have no qualms about buying Chinese imports. My Dollarama down the street carries blocks of air-drying clay for adding thickness and texture to bases, along with packets of metal mesh that can be clipped and bent to show damaged fencing or treadplating. They’ve had perfectly fine X-acto-type knives with all-rubber grips, sharp blades, and even a great little hexagonal tightening screw that also keeps the knife from rolling when you set it down. Basing sand and gravel? The tubes of colored filler for artificial plant vases and rose bowls, although coarse, fit the bill nicely. Grab some “For Sale” signs if you need very thin plasticard.

    – Michaels are adding more and more fine chains, beads and bobs, and “found items” for homemade jewelry that are superb for all kinds of uses. I recently found a string of small, wide gears to have a Techmarine rest his foot upon, or to embellish an Ork Tankbusta (I imagine two of them strapped to his back as “trophies”). Another pack had engraved metal beads that could be convincing holy (or plague) censers for Chaplains and Skaven to tote their incense. And I see no reason that their higher-quality acrylics and brushes can’t work when it’s time to give your armies their colors. Not to mention their specials and weekly 40% or 50%-off coupons online, in newspapers, or at the checkout!

    I could mention Wallyworld, second-hand and thrift shops, and just go on and on and on, but I should really think about hitting the sack now. Thanks for the tips and shopping list.

  4. Tim says:

    You lucky sods. In Australia paints are 6 dollars each. Monstruous creatures like hive tyrants go for about 100 dollars. Loving monopolies.

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