Warhammer 40k Paint Purchasing Guide

Paint Purchasing Guide

Enjoying a Warhammer 40k project usually must include two things: mini-figs and paints. For a beginner, it can be tough to know exactly what paints to buy or even what brand to go with.  A lot of beginner painters simply buy a Games Workshop starter set with their first boxed mini-fig purchase.  This is a great way to start out, but before the first figure is done most painters are finding that they need more paints.  Nothing is more bothersome than being right in the middle of a project and needing to run down to the local hobby shop to purchase more items.

In this guide, I will not only describe the colors and brands of various paints, I will also show you my collection and give you a run down of the brands I use for various painting situations.  Essentially, I will show you what every painter should have in their bag when they leave the hobby shop for the first time.  This guide will not describe painting techniques, but only discuss what paints to buy to get a painter started.


The first thing to consider is what the budget is for paints.  This will largely determine what brand is chosen.  If money is no object, simply purchase Games Workshop (GW) paints if you have a dealer in the area.  Their color range is wonderful and they are purpose mixed exactly for our applications.  The downside is, of course, the price.  At close to four dollars per pot, they are by far the most expensive route to go.  My paint collection consists of over fifty colors, this would be over two hundred dollars just in paints!

At the other end of the spectrum is the budget buyer’s friend: Ceramcoat.  These are considered to be a high-end general hobby paint.  This does not mean they are actually high-end paints, they are simply very good compared to other basic paint brands (not model paint.)  The good thing about these paints is the price.  At less than 2 dollars a bottle, they offer immense savings over GW paints.  Just look at the amount of paint in a Ceramcoat bottle compared to GW in FIG 1.  The downside to Ceramcoat is the downfall of any non-model focused paint: they do not thin as well, the pigment size is larger, and the coverage is not as great.

Other brands I’ve used are:

Paint Brand Table
Brands Pros Cons Price* (USD)
Reaper High quality, tri-colors, lots of colors Hard to find ~$2.80
Coat d’Arms Previous supplier to GW, great paints, many colors, purpose mixed, cheap Internet only (US) $1.50-2.00
Privateer P3 Vivid colors, value packs, great coverage Limited selection, hard to find ~$2.80
Testors/Model Master Acrylics Easy to find, lots of colors, cheap, great metallics Colors not mixed specifically for models, too many glosses $1.50-2.99
Games Workshop Purpose mixed, many colors, many lines Most expensive option ~$3.70+
Ceramcoat Easy to find, many colors, cheap Poor thinning, large pigments, not purpose mixed $1.50
*Price per bottle or pot, volume should be considered

The locations to purchase the paints:

There are other options such as Vallejo, but I have not used them so I can not personally comment on their quality.  From what I have heard, they are very nice paints.


The colors needed are the next consideration.  The first thing a beginner painter should do is decide on an army type to paint be it Space Marines, Orks, Necrons, etc.  Each group needs different paint colors and even different painting techniques.  After the army has been picked, then decide on a clan/legion/etc that the army will belong to such as the Ultramarines.

After choosing the army and team, a clear understanding of the basic color scheme should be apparent.  The first colors in the basket should definitely be a white and a black.  These form the basis for mixing different shades of colors.  Then, based on the team/army chosen, pick out three shades of the main color of the army.  Ultramarines would pick out the Ultra Blue or Ultramarine color followed two other blues, one darker and one lighter.  An Ork player should pick three greens: one base, one darker, and one lighter.

Do this for every color that makes a large statement on the model.  An Ork may need three greens and three browns.  Look over the less used colors of the model and choose two colors for those selections. Any color not on the model, go ahead and get one of each as close to the pure color as possible such as a purple, yellow, orange, green, blue, red, brown, etc.

To wrap up the shopping trip, pick two metal colors, one a base color and one a highlight.  Such as Boltgun Metal and Mithril Silver (GW paints.)  My recommendation is to use GW paints for the metallics.  They are by far the best mixed metallics I have ever seen.

My Collection and Personal Brand Recommendation

Each brand has its own place in my workshop.  I use many different brands and play to their strengths instead of sticking only to one.  This is a great way to minimize the amount of money spent but maximize the results.

Fig 1: My paint collection, note the variety of brands

Staring from the left: Ceramcoat paints are in the large bottles.  I use these mainly for larger projects and sometimes to blend.  They are great to use for scenary, painting the base plate of the model, and painting larger vehicles.  Anything that takes a lot of straight color should be painted with the cheaper hobby paints.  At around 1.50-2.00 dollars for 2 oz bottles, the price simply can’t be beat.  Use them as long as you are getting good results!

On the bottom left: These pots are GW paints.  I only use GW metallics because of how great they are.  I have almost all their metallic colors and use them with just about every model.  GW also has a great foundation line that I sometimes use to basecoat models because of their excellent coverage.  I also use a yellow GW ink that is no longer made.  Their inks were replaced with washes.  These washes are easily mixed in the workshop, so they are not needed (more on this later.)

This work in progress space marine commader was done mostly in GW paints. I sprayed him yellow using Vomit Brown and then inked him with Yellow ink (GW.) His cloth was done with craft paint (Ceramcoat.) Hobby paint can give good results!

In the middle on the bottom: These are Model Master Acrylic paints made by Testors.  They make a killer flat black with excellent coverage.  Their primers and metallic colors are great as well.  Any flat color from Testors works great with our models.  They are also very cheap.  These paints are great for an airbrush as well.

On the bottom right: These paints are Coat d’Arms.  This company was the original manufacturer of GW paints until GW switched to a French company and then to a Chinese operation.  They are still in business in the UK.  Their paints are very high quality and come in all the colors GW makes.  If you can get a hold of them then do it, they are much cheaper than GW paints but maybe not be worth the hassle for a US based painter.

Above the GW paints: Reaper paints come in very convenient dropper bottles.  I love these bottles as it makes mixing very easy.  Reaper makes a massive line of paints, hundreds of colors.  They are not readily available in my area, so I have to order these from the internet.  A great thing about Reaper is they make what are called “triads.”  Remember what I said earlier about picking a main color and then one lighter and one darker?  These guys pick the perfect highlight, base, and shadow for each color and combine them into a triad.  Some must haves from them are Bone line (for faces and skin) and the Liners.  I use these paints to paint my Imperial Guardsmen with great success.

The two bottles in the middle: These are Privateer P3 products.  One is a Red and the other is an ink.  P3 paints are very vivid with tons of color to them.  They lay and cover as well as GW paints and are much cheaper.  The problem with P3 paints is that they are specific to the P3 line of figures.  This means they do not offer the larger color range that GW and Reaper do.  If you can use them, great!  They are very good paints.

These guys were painted with P3 (the red), GW metallics, Reaper (brown), and the rest was Ceramcoat. They were then dipped in tinted varnish. Very easy!

The three eye droppers:  These are inks that can be had from any hobby shop.  I use these to make washes and liners.  These are an essential tool for getting realistic tones and shadows easily in your figures.  I will be writing a guide to mixing and using these at a later date.

The back:  Along the back we have storage bottles for my mixes of thinners.  Some have a bit of dish soap, some have flow enhancers, and others have alcohol.  The dish soap makes the paint flow better as does the flow enchancer.  The alcohol makes the paint dry faster.  I use an alcohol mix when blending or doing thin shades, this way I can lay many thin coat in quick succession.  I also have some paint medium in matte that is used with the inks to make washes.  Lastly, I have Future Floor polish (used for the same reason as soap, with better results) and a gallon of distilled water.

Fig 2: Another view of my collection.

Shopping List

To end the guide, let’s put together a quick shopping list you can print out and take with you to the store:

  • Main colors of army: pick a base, highlight, and shadow
  • Black and White
  • Secondary colors: pick a base and highlight
  • Metallic: pick a base and highlight
  • Fill out the rest of the color wheel with one shade for each color
  • Distilled water
  • Dish soap/Pledge with Future Floor Polish

To end

Don’t be afraid to simply buy Ceramcoat at the beginning.  A first time painter is not going to be blowing away any painting contests.  Buying every color you need in Ceramcoat shouldn’t cost any more than around twenty dollars. Simply start practicing your blending skills, get used to working with very small objects, and get familiar with painting models with tiny brushes.  It will take time, so use cheap paint at first.  Using the shopping list  should give you all the colors needed to finish a boxed set.  After the first set, you will be better prepared to make paint selections on your own and can be ready to jump up to better paints for even more rewarding work.  The most important thing to realize is the painter matters much more than the paint.  Getting the techniques down and understanding good color selection will take you much further than throwing down two hundred dollars for paints.  Most importantly, have fun!




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2 Responses to Warhammer 40k Paint Purchasing Guide

  1. Will says:

    I just started war gaming. I picked up a Testors box set for $12.99 at hobby lobby and a 6 piece brush set for $4.99. The paint set has 8 colors and some paint thinner. I reccomend picking up 2 bottles of flat black as well, for a primer. The set is perfect for painting “Assault on Black Reach.” The blue is a bit dark though, but like I said I am a beginner. There is no supplier of Games Workshop products near me, so I buy my figures online, and my paints from Hobby Lobby.

    • subyman says:

      One thing to remember when buying non-GW paints and especially paints marketed toward painting model cars is to make sure you get flat instead of gloss.

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