Best Miniature Paint Sets for Painting Miniatures – Beginner Level

Okay! So, this article is going to give you the best beginner sets to get started or expand your current paint collection.

I’ll walk you through either starting from absolutely nothing, or expanding your beginner sets. Here we go…

Starting From Zero

At some point, we’ve all been at zero. Super excited to get started but needing some direction as to where and how. 

There is so much that I know now that I WISH I had known at the very beginning of my miniature painting journey. 

The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide contains everything I wish I knew when I was first getting started.  I wrote it to be comprehensive, digestible, and actionable!  This is written for the beginners out there who want to get better quick.  If you can’t have a pro stand by your side, helping you every step of the way, this guidebook is the way to go! 

Okay, now back to paint sets…

If you are starting from absolutely no paints, brushes, miniatures, or anything else, I HIGHLY recommend picking up one of these two sets:

The wonderful Reaper: Learn To Paint Kits

The Awesome Warhammer Assault Intercessor Paint Set

They are fantastic first entry points into the hobby of painting miniatures.  Those are how I started and I loved every minute.  Took all the guesswork out.

If you have miniatures and are looking for just paints, you can’t go wrong with the best pure beginner paint set:  The Vallejo Basic Paint Set.

The Vallejo has just paints.  No minis, no brushes, no instructions.  So it’s not a comprehensive set like the first two.  Let’s dig into more:

Reaper: Learn to Paint Highlights:

  • 11 High-Quality Paints – No guessing on what colors you’ll need.
  • 3 Excellent fantasy miniatures that are perfect for beginners.
  • Starter Brushes.
  • Thorough, easy-to-follow instructions that teach you basic techniques.

If you’re more into the Sci Fi type of miniature, then give the wonderful Intercessor Paint Set a try, complete with Space Marines!

Again this comes with all the paints you’ll need, a starter brush, and 3 models! So good. 

One of the standouts of the Citadel set is that it not only gives you paints and a starter brush, but also a “Technical Paint” for ground texture, and a Shade (aka a wash). 

The texture and the wash give you a huge boost in exposing you to new techniques.

They are extremely simple to do but have a big impact on the look of your models. The set walks you through it all in a very basic image tutorial.

Warhammer Intercessor Set Highlights:

  • Everything is in the box, other than clippers! I highly recommend this set of tools that includes clippers for under $9.
  • Very cool models, GW models are my favorites. Be warned it’s addictive once you get started.. ugh. 😉
  • Technical paints: I was blown away by the coolness of technical paints when I first used them. Huge impact, simple to use.
  • Washes: Another simple product that is very easy to use and has a huge impact on your miniatures’ look.
  • Choice of Sci Fi models or Fantasy style models.  Another Stormcast Fantasy Option is this set which does include clippers!

In addition to the starter sets, you’ll likely want another paint set to expand the palette of color choices. 

There are tons of choices, but I’m only including the best of the best here. Again, the big reason I recommend the sets are that they give you EVERYTHING you need to get a miniature painted.

Once you get them done, if you’re like me, you’re going to be looking for more immediately lol.

Be sure to check out my Gear Page to see all of the products I personally use and recommend – brushes, lighting, palettes, airbrush spray booths – you name it, you’ll find it there.  

The Perfect Start to Miniature Paint Sets for Me Is:

  1. Pick the Learn to Paint set you like best from the above. Reaper or Citadel.
  2. The Vallejo Basic Paint Set I’ll show you below.
  3. At least one Citadel Shade. (What is a Citadel Shade?) Even if you got a Citadel set with one shade, I’d also pick up Nuln Oil.

What Is a Shade or Wash?

I wanted to really quickly cover this for beginners. A wash or shade is the same thing, the terms are used interchangeably.

It’s a very thin paint that is designed to run into the details of a miniature. It ads an instant set of definition and depth to a miniature.

Many people refer to these as “Talent in a bottle” because of how easy it is to use and how big a difference this simple step makes. Short version… try it!

You’ll find complete details as to which ones are best and how to apply them correctly in this article.

Here’s a quick tutorial that gives you the general idea.

Adding to Your Paint Sets

I wanted to get right into it by giving you the options I have personally bought and used, as well as a few other very common choices among miniature painters. 

Any of these choices will be a great addition, but I’ll go into detail and rank them later in the article for you.

The biggest names in the miniature painting space are: 

Vallejo, Citadel, Reaper, and Army Painter.  

Choices from any of the four brands are solid. Over time you can sample each, and see which you prefer. 

Some are thicker or thinner, some have better metallic paints, some have better skin tones. You get the idea.

They’re subtlety different. Please understand, there are other brands out there, these are just the best for beginners. Large color selections, proven products, high quality, won’t break the bank.

The Contenders

Vallejo Basic Paint Set

This set gets my 100% recommended seal of approval. Vallejo is a fantastic company that has been doing this for decades.

They are an excellent choice and my personal pick for beginner paint set.

If a friend asked me what to get, I’d tell him or her to buy a “Learn to Paint” set by Reaper or Citadel/Games Workshop, and this set.

Reaper Learn To Paint Set

As I said in the intro, if you’re at zero, this is great. It gives you everything.

Even if you already have some paints, brushes, and miniatures, this is a very good choice. Reaper gives you 11 carefully selected paints and a carrying case.

The paints are chosen to fit a wide range of uses.

You’re not struggling to find a good color for armor and swords, stones, leather, or cloaks.

The one thing is it’s a little light on its skin tones, but you can get by with the various brown and “sand” colors.

Warhammer Paint Sets

Either this: Intersessors and Paint Set, which gives you 3 models, paints, a wash, a brush, and a Technical Paint for a cool base.

(This doesn’t include clippers, which you need and can pick up in this kit and glue, which you can use whatever you have or buy some crazy glue or cement.)

I prefer this set because it gives you 3 models and it’s cheaper.

Another option is the Citadel Essentials set, which has the clippers included as well as glue, 13 paints, a starter brush, and one model.  *Note this set goes out of stock periodically, so we’d go with one of the model + paint sets:
Nighthaunt Set

Intercessor Set

Stormcast Set

Then grab glue and a small tool kit.  All good!

Army Painter Sets

Army Painter is the one set I have the least experience with, but this is a very good starter set:  Army Painter Miniature Paint Set. This is a very solid combination of colors.

You get a metallic, and the colors you’ll need, a wash and a starter brush. You get your base flesh tone which you can make darker or lighter by mixing paints.

They also have this ginormous set which has 50 Paints, including washes and “effects paints”, which are paints meant to give an effect like splattered blood, or slime. 

You also get a starter brush, great instructions and some examples of color selections that provide good contrast.
I really would not START with the giant set.  See if you like the paints, try Citadel, Vallejo, and Reaper.  Then if you’re digging the Army Painter stuff, go for it!  

Citadel Washes

This get’s its own section, even though it’s a wash. A wash is a really watery paint that is used to add shadow and depth to a miniature. Citadel, in my opinion, has the best washes.

(For a more in-depth look at Citadel washes and shades, click here.)

The two Warhammer Paint Sets I mentioned above come with a wash called Agrax Earthshade. 

If you get those sets, you’re good to go. If not, I would 100% get a pot of Nuln Oil at a bare minimum.

For a step up, I’d get the big 3: Nuln Oil, Agrax Earthshade and Reikland Flesh Shade.

Finally, if you’re like me and realize how awesome shade/washes are, you’ll just go ahead and get the full Citadel Shade Paint Set which also comes with a shade brush that I still use all the time.

To review:

The Perfect Start to Miniature Paint Sets for Me Is:

  1.  Pick the Learn to Paint set you like best. Reaper or Citadel.
  2. The Vallejo Basic Paint Set.
  3. At least one Citadel Shade. Even if you got a Citadel set with one shade I’d also pick up Nuln Oil.

So there you go. I’ll continue on with some basics on sets, how to thin them, and in-depth reviews on my choices below:

What Makes the Best Miniature Paint Sets?

About Acrylic Paint

Before going into the different paint sets featured in this article, I think it’s important to learn a bit about acrylic paint.

With that information at your disposal, you will get a much better grasp of the differences between the sets. Let’s go over the basics:

Pots Vs. Dropper Bottle

By and large, acrylic paint for painting minis comes in two presentations: droppers and pots.

Pots are a small jar with a pop-up lid to access the paint. Dropper bottles look like eyedroppers, and you squeeze out a drop or more of paint as needed.

Pots vs Droppers

Citadel pots on the left, Reaper and Vallejo droppers on the right.

Only one brand here comes in the pots, Citadel paints. All others are droppers. Citadel Paints are made by Games Workshop, the Warhammer people (more on Warhammer here). 

The paints are excellent, and the washes they make are PHENOMENAL. Washes, also known as shades, are not the same as paints. I’ll talk about washes in a bit, hang tight.  

Back to Pots vs Droppers: No offense to Citadel, but pots are not my personal favorite, although they look cooler. 

Droppers are what everyone else uses, and some people even resort to painstakingly putting pots into droppers manually.

Oof. I don’t go that far. Droppers are just easier to get the amount of paint you want and keep the paint inside fresher, longer.

Bottom line, just be aware of the two types. It’s not a huge deal either way. I own both kinds and love them. You’ll see these brands everywhere in the miniature painting world.

Knowing how to properly thin acrylic paints is important to maintain the subtle features of your miniature.

Quality

What constitutes “quality” when we talk about acrylic paints for miniatures?

It’s a lot to do with the pigments used and the paint consistency… meaning both the texture of it and how reliably good it is. 

Every set listed here is excellent quality, but we will go through the basics below. If you’re in a rush just skip down to the reviews!

Paint Opacity

Opacity just means it obscures light passing through. If the paint has “good opacity” it is a way of saying it covers what is beneath it very well. 

You don’t always want opacity; you sometimes want it translucent…. allowing light to pass through.

This gives a different result, and it’s all situational. Just understand the term opacity is not necessarily a “more is better” thing.

Lightfastness

Will it get dull over time? Also known as permanence, lightfastness refers to a pigment’s ability to resist gradual fading over time.

Typically, this fading occurs due to the action of the light. For that reason, the more a particular pigment is resistant to light, the more permanent (or lightfast) it is.

Paint Viscosity

To be honest, viscosity is just a fancy word for the consistency or thickness of the paint. The more viscous an acrylic paint is, the thicker it will be, facilitating manipulation and mixing.

On the other hand, the less viscous a paint is, the more fluid it is, favoring speed and spread over texture and detail.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that the amount of pigment in a specific paint should not vary according to its viscosity.

Drying

Faster drying is bad, usually. At least for this hobby. An acrylic paint that dries too quickly can make things gloppy and clumpy by drying out while still on the brush.

What’s more, it can make it difficult to mix colors or create blending effects, but that’s more advanced stuff.

So, how long does it take on average for acrylic paints to dry? What affects drying time? Find the answers here.

How to Thin Acrylic Paints

Water! Unlike oil paint, acrylic paint is water soluble. As a result, it can be easily thinned down using filtered water.

Check out my complete guide to thinning acrylic paint for airbrushes here.

One of the golden rules in miniature painting is… Thin Your Paints! 

The best rule of thumb I’ve heard is you want it roughly at melted ice cream thickness. Mmm… ice cream.  

It will take some practice, but you’ll get good at figuring the perfect amount to thin the paint. 

What I do is put a drop of paint on my palette, then dip my mixing brush (just an old brush I use for mixing) into the water, and use that to stir up the paint. 

Check out this 3-minute video if you’re looking for more:

If you are looking for even better results, you can always use a medium (such as this one) to thin acrylic paint.

Liquitex Professional Flow Aid Effects Medium,...

Buy on Amazon

Often referred to as “flow improvisers”, mediums are designed to be perfectly compatible with acrylic paint. Most people use water though, at least until they’re more advanced.

See my favorite flow improver here and learn when you should be using one.

Why Thin Acrylic Paints?

As all experienced miniature painters know quite well, using non-thinned acrylic paint right out of the pot or dropper will, more often than not, blur and obscure the fine details of the miniature.

For that reason, it’s better to use various coats of thinned paint instead of a single coat of unthinned paint.

By doing this, you will be able to add thin coats of color to the figure, saturating it little by little without filling in any details.

What Is Priming?

Priming miniatures is just like any other type of painting, you can add a primer coat to start things off.

A black primer will give your top-coat color a darker tint, white will make it a tad lighter, and gray somewhere in between.

Stop by my Gear Page to see the best primers that I’ve found in black, white, and gray.

You can also prime in the color you’re looking for ultimately, like blue, green, or whatever! There are paint-on versions, or you can be like me and spray on some Rust-oleum from the local hardware store…

Freshly Primed MIniatures

What Is a Base Coat?

When you start painting a miniature, after a primer if you do decide to do that, you’ll apply a base coat to it.

To do that, simply apply a properly-thinned coat of color to your miniature that will serve as the base. It’s really just a first coat of whatever color you’re using.

How to Wash Miniatures

After thinning your paints, the next golden rule in painting miniatures is: Try a wash! Often called “talent in a bottle,” putting a wash on a painted miniature is transformational.

Think of a wash as really thin paint. It’s watery and super easy to apply. You just dip your brush in the wash, and apply it over the miniature. 

The wash flows into the various lines of the miniature and it really brings out the detail. Bam, you’re a painting god. Or at least it will feel that way.

DIY Wash or Nah?

Nah. I mean you can, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t. In fact, the Reaper kits advise you to make your own wash by basically thinning down the paint with water a lot. 

For me, I’m a Citadel Wash guy all day long.

I got my washes in a set, but I’m not seeing it for sale anymore.  I would go HERE and pick which shades you want.  My Advice is:  Nuln Oil, Reikland Flesh Shade and Agrax Earth Shade.  If you specifically need a color… red, green, blue… then pick the associated shade for that as well.  The 3 I listed are by far the most commonly used.  I’d start there.

Games Workshop Citadel Shade Paint Set

Buy on Amazon

If you only want one, Nuln Oil is the best! In my opinion anyway.  

Best Miniature Paint Sets Reviewed

1. Our Top Pick – Vallejo Basic Colors Paint Set

Sale
Vallejo Basic USA Colors Paint Set, 17ml
  • Model color has been formulated with permanent pigments for fine arts; all colors are completely...
  • The consistency of Model color allows for an extremely smooth and uniform paint film, with no trace...

Before I knew anything about miniature painting, I knew that Vallejo was one of the best brands that catered to the hobby.

Now that I know a lot more, my opinion on that hasn’t changed at all.

Featuring an impressive variety of high-quality paints, this miniature painting set a great way for beginners to get their foot in the door!

The individual paints included in the Vallejo Basic Colors Paint Set are tremendous.

You get a lot of variety, and it opens up tons of options for you. They produce bright, vibrant colors that fully cover the surface of the miniature.

What is more, the formula is remarkably consistent, producing smooth results that don’t show traces of brush strokes.

Rich and dense, the paints produced by Vallejo do a fantastic job at covering difficult surfaces. These paints are very easy to mix and to work with.

As for viscosity/thickness, Vallejo paints are what I’d call moderate. Not too thick or thin, and I usually don’t add much water to them. They are smooth, consistent, and gorgeous.

More than that, in addition to an enormous range of basic paints, the Vallejo Basic Colors Paint Set includes many specialized paints. They have the best metallic paint range for example.  

Pros:

  • All colors are completely lightfast and opaque.
  • Smooth, leaves no traces of brush strokes.
  • Easily adheres to difficult surfaces.
  • Great variety of pigments.
  • Best Metallic Paints.

Cons:

  • Can be a bit glossy if you thin them too much.

2. Reaper Miniatures 08906 Learn To Paint Bones Kit

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Reaper Miniatures 08906 Learn to Paint Kit Core...
  • Easy to follow guide for basic Miniature Painting skills with paints, brushes, and minis included.

Now we’re back to the set I mentioned at the beginning of the article. If you have 0 paints, 0 brushes, 0 miniatures, and no idea how to start… just buy this set

It’s really wonderful, and you’ll find a lot of people who also painted them. Join a Facebook group and share yours!  

Reaper is another well-known and highly-regarded manufacturer of miniatures and miniature-painting supplies. The set has three miniatures, two brushes, and a variety of high-quality paints.

Exactly the paints you need to paint the three included minis. The Reaper Miniatures 08906 Learn To Paint Bones Kit is a perfect set showing of the company’s strengths. 

This is the set I started with, and I immediately bought the above Vallejo set to augment this one.

The dropper bottle Reaper MSP paints included are very high quality. Its paints are rich and bright, and they have a remarkable tolerance to light.

What is more, they have got the perfect consistency for miniature painting beginners as it makes them very easy to mix and use. The brushes are just beginner brushes, but they get the job done.

(If you’d like higher quality brushes, these are the brushes I recommend.)

The Learn To Paint Bones Kit provides something else that could be extremely handy: a step-by-step miniature painting guide by award-winning painter Rhonda Bender.

This guide is great! Simple and easy to follow.

To be perfectly honest, this miniature painting set had me hooked from the start.

Luckily, if you are looking for a follow-up set to continue your painting adventure, the manufacturer has got you covered with this set.

Including new miniatures and a different color palette, this new set is a great step forward from the Reaper Miniatures 08906 Learn To Paint Bones Kit.

If what you are looking for is to take your miniature painting game to a whole new level, however, you can also give this advanced set a look.

Pros:

  • A Complete Set: 11 Excellent paints – 3 Miniatures – 2 Brushes.
  • Features miniature painting tips by an award-winning painter.
  • Great viscosity for miniature painting.

Cons:

  • Limited amount of paints if you want to paint other miniatures.

3. Citadel by Games Workshop

Games Workshop Warhammer 40,000 Intercessors +...
  • The perfect way to start a collection of Primaris Ultramarines!

Space. Marines.

Do you prefer Space Marines to skeletons, knights, and orcs? If so, this is the set for you!

So for this set, I was really, really impressed by Citadel. I had the Reaper set above, and I loved it so much. I was thinking this Games Workshop set would be okay, but the bar was really high.

Now fair warning, I was jonesing to paint one of these guys for a while. I just love the iconic blue they come in, and they look cool. So if you love this aesthetic too, grab this set.  

This set comes with:

  • 3 Space Marines – They need to be assembled!  It’s easy, I’ll explain shortly.
  • 6 Pots made up of: (4) Paints, (1) Wash, (1) Texture “Technical” Paint.
  • 1 Citadel Starter Brush.

The figures come on a plastic sprue. You’ll need some clippers to get them off. It’s very easy so don’t sweat this.

Just clip close to the part, and they all press together. A bit of crazy glue, and you’re done.  

I found these guys very easy to paint. The instructions are very basic, but it’s all you really need.  

Three things blew me away with this set:  

  • Texture: The “Texture” paint goes on the base, and it’s all gritty, so it looks like sand or a martian landscape. So cool.  
  • Quick: The actual time it took me was really short; I think because it’s only three colors on them.  
  • Wash: And, it came with a wash, which is excellent quality.  

I loved that I had paints, a texture paint, and a wash all in one simple set. It just really made everything look fantastic! Here was my result!

Painted Space Marine

I found the Citadel paints to be REALLLLLY smooth too. I don’t know if it was the paints, the plastic of their models, or both.  

Apart from being a great way to get into the Warhammer series, this set is highly valuable as a miniature painting starter pack.

Having only six different colors may seem like a limitation (and it is, to be honest).

However, the four colors provided are enough to bring the three miniatures included in this set to be life. Moreover, they can be mixed in order to get a variety of secondary colors. 

(A color wheel is super helpful when blending colors. Read this to see how easy it is.)

In terms of paint quality, the Citadel by Games Workshop set is fantastic. They are more than capable of getting the job done.

However, if you want to expand your paint selection, this is the set for you. Alternatively, you can choose your own colors here.

Pros:

  • Includes three miniatures.
  • Smooth as silk paint once thinned.
  • You get texture paint and a wash in a very simple to use application.
  • They look badass.

Cons:

  • Paints may become thicker over time.
  • Paints dry out in pots if left for a long time.

4. Army Painter Miniature Paint Set

The Army Painter Miniatures Paint Set, 10 Model...
  • AFFORDABLE YET SUPERIOR QUALITY — Our price is more affordable than other known wargame paint...
  • GREAT GIFT FOR NOVICE ARTISTS AND VETERAN PAINTERS — This model paint set is a great birthday...

Army Painter: Yes Sir! This is another brand that is absolutely everywhere you look in the hobbying world. 

People use it for so many things. From tanks to dragons, fighter planes to zombies. It’s all good.

These guys also have a really wide range of tools, glues, and terrain products. Things like tufts of grass you put on the bases of your miniatures or little trees.  

The Army Painter Miniature Paint Set is among the most versatile of its kind.

Apart from basic, secondary, and special colors, it includes various flesh-like shades that can truly help bring a figure to life.

As if that was not enough, it also has a variety of washes and rust finishes, making it a great choice for painters who appreciate realism and complexity.

Without a doubt, this sheer variety is a great advantage as it allows you to dive head-on into complex and extensive projects.

Speaking of colors, I should say that the Army Painter Miniature Paint Set includes some incredibly beautiful tones that you’ll hardly see anywhere else.

Undoubtedly helped by the quality of their pigments, many of them are remarkably bright and vibrant.

As a matter of fact, colors such as Warlock Purple and Lava Orange are almost fluorescent. This surprised me in the best way.  

I have always complained that miniature painting sets tend to favor earthy tones and opaque finishes. Incredibly, these bright colors maintain their vibrancy very well after application.

I can’t review the paints included in the Army Painter Miniature Paint Set without talking about their quality.

Its drying time is just right for allowing experimentation and special techniques. (Learn more about drying time for acrylics here.)

At the same time, it’s remarkably lightfast, ensuring that your miniatures will look fantastic for a long period of time after application.

As if all that wasn’t enough, it has the perfect consistency for easy manipulation.

Pros:

  • Excellent quality that can be used by beginners and experts.
  • 9 Paints and one Shade/Wash are included.
  • You get flesh tones, vibrant colors and a metallic color in the set.
  • Includes a nice starter brush.

Cons:

  • Metallic paints are good but not the best.
  • No Miniatures included in the set.

Conclusion

Wrapping things up…. Here’s my advice:

Phase 1: Get either the Reaper or Citadel kit with miniatures, paints, and brushes included.  Add one bottle of Citadel Nuln Oil.  

Phase 2: Expand your palette with the Vallejo set and/or then check out the Army Painter set.  Also, pick up the Citadel Shade set if you loved Nuln Oil.

Phase 3: Buy or 3D print (it’s easier than you think) a zillion miniatures you’ll never get around to painting, and lay down on the floor drooling.

Phase 4: Be fearless. Just get in there and paint one miniature at a time. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Don’t be afraid of mistakes! Share your work!

This community is very welcoming and enthusiastic. You’ll find peace and satisfaction in your painting. I know I have.

If you enjoyed learning about all of the paint set options available to you, you’re sure to find more to love in the rest of my miniature painting articles. Click here to see them all.

Of course, the airbrushing articles are fantastic too

Don’t forget to snag a copy of The Miniature Painting Level Up Guide to advance from beginner to pro in no time! It will quickly become your go-to source for all things miniature painting related.

Last update on 2020-11-25 at 05:18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API