The Ultimate Citadel Contrast Paint Guide – Should You Try Them?

In this article, I’m hoping to give you the information you need to determine if you should give Citadel Contrast Paints a try. 

The quick answers to most questions about Contrast Paints are:

  • Can help you paint faster with good results? Yes.
  • Are expensive for what you get? Yes.
  • Can you make your own Contrast Paints if you have the time and materials? Yes.
  • Do they instantly make you a better painter? No, but they can instantly improve your miniatures under the right circumstances.
  • Can you take Contrast Paints to a very high level? Absolutely!
  • Is there a learning curve? Yes, but it’s not very steep.

To summarize my thoughts, I would absolutely give them a shot.  Understand they are not a miracle paint, set your expectations accordingly, and read the basics on how to use them. 

They are marketed as being for beginners and I think they do serve that purpose, but they can also be taken to a very advanced level.  

I personally use them quite often.  They are a tool in my kit that I go to frequently. 

I’m still using a majority of my normal acrylic paints, but I would say I use contrast on each miniature I paint. 

I’d like this article to give you the confidence to try out at least one.  If you follow some simple guidelines, I think you’ll get a good idea of what they can do.  From there you can make your own decisions. 

Are Contrast Paints Worth It?

Citadel Contrast Paints give excellent, consistent results but they are expensive.  The biggest factor to consider when buying Contrast Paints is if you would prefer to mix your own paint. 

Like any other acrylic, this paint is a mixture of pigment, medium, and other additives to achieve the Contrast Paint properties.  Making a home version of Contrast Paints would require a time commitment to experimenting to find the shades and properties you want, and have the upfront cost of buying acrylic paints, medium, and flow improver.

Value

Citadel Contrast Paint is expensive per milliliter as compared to standard high-quality acrylic paints.  They also possess different properties that set them apart from standard acrylic.

Results

Contrast Paints are high-quality and give consistently reliable results.  They are useful in various techniques, can be easily used through an airbrush, can be thinned, or applied straight from the pot.  

Make Your Own

Yes, you can make your own version of Contrast Paints.  You can also make your own acrylic paint, or wash, or even paintbrush!  The question is if it’s efficient and worth your time. 

The cost of DIY is low, but you’ll have to experiment to find the exact shades you want, and then keep track of the exact formula you used to maintain consistency. It is certainly doable though.

I’ve compiled a list of popular and high-quality acrylics used in miniature painting.  You can see that Citadel Paints are more expensive per Milliliter in general, and contrast tops the list.  So if you’re on a tight budget, you might consider other options like making your own.  

Paint Cost Volume in Milliliters Cost Per Ml Consistency
Contrast Paint (18ml) $6.99 18 $0.39 Moderate Thin
Citadel Base Paint (12ml) $3.89 12 $0.32 Moderate Thick
Citadel Shade (24ml) $6.99 24 $0.29 Thin
Vallejo Model Color (17ml) $2.90 17 $0.17 Moderate Thick
Scale 75 Scalecolor (17ml) $4.09 17 $0.24 Moderate Thick
Formula P3 Paint (18ml) $3.40 18 $0.19 Moderate Thin
Citadel Technical Paint (24ml) $6.99 24 $0.29 Very Thick

How to Paint with Contrast Paints

Priming

Priming and the color you choose is especially important with Contrast Paints.  Don’t skip over this step and be very mindful of what you choose. 

I highly suggest you start with a white, off white, or light grey base coat.  You can paint them over any color, but I would suggest starting with white / off white.

Citadel has two specific shades they offer for Contrast Paints.  The brush on versions are here: Grey Seer and Wraithbone.  They are both also available in a spray can version: Grey Seer and Wraithbone.

Grey Seer:  This is more for a cold, slightly darker shade.  So if you’re painting a generally cold color like blue or purple, consider Grey Seer.  

Wraithbone:  Designed for a more warm, natural, organic finish with Contrast paints applied over it.   

You can apply them however you want, but be aware that if you only have a spray can, touch-ups are really tough to do.  Spray cans will provide a fast, smooth coat typically.  The brush-on paint allows you to do touch ups, or you can just brush on the primer.  

A single layer of contrast paint will be very translucent and the undercoat will make a huge difference on the final appearance, especially for lighter colors.  Load your brush with just enough paint to cover the area you’re currently working on. 

Try to apply with a smooth stroke.  Have a damp brush available to soak up any excess paint that pools in areas you don’t want it.  

I’m going to go into a bit more depth on some general guidelines and tips for beginners just getting started.  I’ll try to assume a basic knowledge of painting but no experience with contrast paints. 

As with most things, experience is the best teacher, but these tips will help you advance more quickly.

Here are some great images by the fine folks at Warhammer Chelmsford

Notice the differences with the same exact contrast paint, over different base coats:

So again, be very aware of what you are applying Contrast Paints on top of. It will impact the final results.  

Other Primers

White or a light grey like Stynylrez offers is definitely effective.    So don’t feel you absolutely need the Citadel versions. 

Watch For Pooling

You can apply a thicker coat, but you need to be really aware of how the paint is pooling to get a good result.  You can just apply it with one thick coat but you’re trading speed for quality.  With just a bit more effort and time you’ll have a much better look.  

Smooth Coats

Go for smooth even coats with contrast paints in general.  You want the darker pigment to flow into recesses, and the higher levels ideally will look more or less uniform.  That’s a generalization, if you want a patchy look, then thicker is fine and you don’t need to be as concerned about smooth coats.

Large Flat Surfaces

Large Flat Surfaces like a big flowing cloak or a flat shield, are more challenging to get a good result with Contrast.  You may get a patchy result if you’re not aware of how the paint is settling.  Be aware of pooling paint where you do not want a shadow. 

You can use a slightly damp brush to wick away any excess paint for more control.  

High Level Painting

Contrasts can be taken to a very high (advanced) level.  Check out Juan Hidalgo Miniatures for examples of the higher level models.  Note that he also uses more than just contrast paints; he uses Contrast for the majority, and various other paints for highlights.

Here is his video on Eavy Contrast Stormcast.  It’s a more recent video of his and I think it captures what is possible with contrast.

Contrast paints are a tool and not perfect for every job

That said, if you want a very in depth look at all their uses and properties, Vince Venturella has an excellent video that covers the topic in full:


List of the best uses of Contrast Paints:

  1. Faces: Use Guillimans Flesh Contrast over a light undercoat for an excellent, quick, skin tone. Use a darker undertone or multiple layers for darker skin, highlight it for lighter tones.  If you’re looking to do fantasy figures you can give Ork Flesh Contrast Paint a try.  
  2. Leather: Snakebite Leather is excellent for various leather items such as boots, belts, bags, straps or armor.  
  3. Fur: The texture of fur lends itself really well to Contrast Paints.  I personally love Nazdreg Yellow Contrast Paint for this because it looks like a lion pelt.  You can use whatever color you prefer (pre-fur? Contrast Paint Dad Jokes!)
  4. Armor Plates: Armor colored in Blue, Yellow, Green, Purple and Red are perfect for contrast paints.  Again here I’ll point you to JHM series on Eavy Metal Contrast.  Note here that when applying to armor you’re really looking to make sure you control where the paint is pooling.
  5. Airbrushing: Contrast paints work especially well through an airbrush.  High pigment, very thin, can be thinned even further.  They flow very well through the airbrush.  For this application, they are similar to an ink, in that you’ll get strong color from not much paint.  For each successive application the color will darken, so be aware of that and test it first.  Very thin coats will also provide a nice filter for your models.
  6. Bases and scenery: Things like stone, grass, leaves, trees, branches, dirt, or even martian terrain are a perfect use for Contrast Paint.  The only concern here is if you’re painting a huge amount of terrain.  For large scale use you have to take into account the cost of Contrast Paints.  For small bases you get quick effective results.
  7. Scales: Snakes, fish, armor, or any other type of scale lends itself well to Contrast Paints.  The nature of scales gives the paint a lot of recesses to flow into. Surfaces like that work really well with these paints.
  8. Washes and Shades: If you are familiar with the extremely popular Nuln Oil, you should give Black Templar (thinned down) a try.  This acts like a more effective black wash and looks great on top of silver metallics.  
  9. Shading Metallics: Guillimans Flesh thinned down is a great shade to put over Gold or Copper.  Try Black Templar thinned over Silver or Steel.  

Which are the Best Contrast Paints?

Citadel Contrast Paint Set 2

Of course, this is subjective and highly dependent on what you want to paint.  That said there are some contrast paints that come up over and over.  I’m going to cover those paints and some of the uses for them.

Gulliman Flesh

I like to think of this as a thicker version of Reikland Flesh shade.  So if you’ve used Reikland in the past, try the same with Guillimans.  Just be aware it is thicker, so either thin it or apply thin coats. 

Some of the best uses of Guilliman Flesh include:  

  • Flesh tones, of course, and especially faces.  The paint itself is a sort of midtone caucasian flesh but can be made lighter or darker with shadow or highlights after the initial application.  You can also paint it over a lighter or darker base coat.
  • A shade for Gold, either true metallics or non metallic metal.  Try base coating your favorite gold, say Retributor Armor, and then thin some Guilliman Flesh about 1:1 ratio with Contrast Medium.  Apply the thinned Guilliman Flesh as a wash.   You can take that shadow even further with a really thinned Fireslayer’s Flesh Contrast paint as a glaze in the darker shadows.

Black Templar

Black Templar is the new Nuln Oil.  At least for me.  It’s a thicker version of Nuln Oil, and it works really well.  If you’re looking to get some good quick contrast in something black, give this paint a try.  If you’re looking to get some shadows with a black wash, try Black Templar thinned about 1:2 with some contrast medium.  

  • Black metal:  Say a Space Marine Bolter gun.  Or Black Armor. Try this Contrast Paint over a base coat of neutral grey, for example Mechanicus Standard Grey.  
  • Recess Wash:  Thin Black Templar with Contrast Medium 1:1 or 1:2 and apply as a wash on something like silver metallics.  

Snakebite Leather

 If you’ve painted miniatures for a while, maybe you’ve noticed how often you use some shade of brown.  Boots, belts, bags, packs, saddles, dirt, bark, dry leaves.  There are a ton of applications.  

  • Leather:  Hence the name.  It might be obvious but it’s worth mentioning you can get a really solid leather look with just Snakebite Leather.  If you’re looking to mix it up, try Gore-Grunta Fur for a very similar effect.  Apply a second thin coat where you want it to be darker.  (Random tip for leather, I like Gobi Brown by Scale 75 for highlights.  It’s really Matte and a great finish)
  • Scales or Insect Carapace:  A snake, a Tyrannid, a giant beetle, this is a great color to try.
  • Horns and Antlers:  Anything along those lines work really well with this.  

Talassar Blue

I’ve personally used this one a lot, but that’s because I painted up a ton of Blue Armored Ultramarines.  My personal mix was 1:1 mix of Talassar Blue Contrast and Ultramarine Blue Contrast.  I highlighted that with P3 Cygnar Blue Highlight.  

  • Blue Armor:  I picked Tallasar because it’s a really good mid or light tone for blue.  You can paint it as a layer or mix it with a lighter or darker color to get some really good contrast.  

Flesh Tearers Red

Flesh Tearers is my go-to for a Red in terms of contrast paint.  I also use Blood Angels Red and Volupus Pink fairly often, but if it’s going to be just one, it’s FT.

  • Eye lenses for Space Marines:  This is one I do a lot of so it had to be here.  It gives instant contrast to a really small space.  

Gryph Hound Orange

This is another favorite of mine.  Orange is a tough color to paint sometimes.  It’s typically a bit chalky and patchy, not so with this paint.  I’ve used it on a few different things including:

  • Fur.  It looks like a Tiger orange color and I think it looks awesome.  
  • Martian terrain.  Simple texture paint like Armageddon Dust, and paint it with Gryph-Hound Orange.  Done.
  • A highlight for Space marine eye lenses.  So do Flesh Tearers red, then a little bit of this and you’re in great shape.

Iyanden Yellow

Yellow is notoriously tough to paint, and that’s largely because the pigments required are tough to get to a smooth consistency.  It’s a light color and shows what is underneath very easily.  Iyanden is similar in that it will definitely LARGELY depend on what you are painting over, but it’s super smooth.  Try this in a thin, smooth coat over white or off white.  Fantastic.  I use it for:

  • Yellow Armor.  I’m looking at you Imperial Fists.  It’s really a wonderful color yellow and the shadow is an awesome orange/brown.
  • Fur:  Yup more fur, this is more like a lion pelt color and I love the look.
  • Hair:  I think it’s a great color to use for a blonde hair tone.

Dark Angels Green

This is my green of choice when it comes to Contrast.  Green is another color you might find a lot of uses for, and it is good to have a variety, but this is my first stop.  Leaves, clothing, grassland bases, eye lenses.  If you’re painting a lot of Orcs though, I’d go with Ork Flesh.  

Skeleton Horde

3 Guesses what this is good for.  If you have a bunch of bones to paint up, this is a big help.  I also find it good to shade parchment or cloth.  It’s a lighter yellow/brown shade and adds instant “age” to anything. Especially skeletons!

  • Bones.  Obviously
  • Parchment and Cloth:  A great shade to age and add that dirty, used, grim dark look.
  • Leather:  You can use this on leather as well for a lighter tanned look.

List of Contrast Paints and Properties

  • Iyanden Yellow:  A really bright vibrant yellow with an orange/brown recess.  This one is especially important to factor in the base coat or primer you paint over. 
  • Gryph-hound Orange:  An almost tiger fur shade of orange.  This will look more like a martian terrain red on top of Armageddon Dust if you’re looking for that shade.
  • Blood Angels Red:  Bright Red, analogous to the Citadel Mephiston Red in Contrast form.
  • Flesh Tearers Red:  This is the deeper crimson red, along the lines of Khorne Red
  • Volupus Pink:  A bright deep pinkish purple.  Very good for leather handles on weapons.
  • Shyish Purple:  The darker of the purple shades.  Very deep color, almost black.  Great for shadows on a purple or black. 
  • Magos Purple:  A lighter purple that’s bordering on pink.  Great highlight shade.
  • Leviadon Blue:  Fantastic very dark blue that is excellent as a blue shadow, and also for panel lining.  This gives more vibrancy than a black when you’re looking to do deep shadow.
  • Ultramarines Blue:  Roughly Analogous to McCragge Blue paint, it’s an excellent color and mixes well with either Talassar Blue or Leviadon blue if you’re looking to go darker or lighter. 
  • Akhelian Green:  It’s more of a blue with some green tint to it.  Turquoise-ish.
  • Dark Angels Green:  Dark deep green.  Great for fallen leaves or trees, or green eyes.
  • Nazdreg Yellow:  Gives a brownish, golden yellow.  I like to think of it as a Lion’s pelt.
  • Ork Flesh:  I mean yeah, it’s great for Orks or any other green-skinned creatures.
  • Creed Camo: A warmer shade of green.
  • Militarum Green:  This to me is more of a camo color green.  It’s a desaturated green that i’ve used on Death Guard if that helps you.
  • Aggaros Dunes:  As the name suggests a nice desert/sand color.
  • Skeleton Horde: Perfect for old, decayed bones, parchment, cloth or light tan leather.
  • Snakebite Leather:  Excellent shade for leather, and highly useful in things like gold NNM.
  • Gore-grunta Fur:  Darker than Snakebite, lighter than Cygor or Wildwood.  Brown is so often used, Citadel offers a wide variety of shades.  You can use this for leather, fur, or anything brown.
  • Cygor Brown:  A deep earthy brown, darker than Gore-Grunta
  • Wyldwood:  A dark, tree bark type of brown. 
  • Fyreslayer Flesh:  A bit lighter than Guilliman Flesh, a touch orange.
  • Guilliman Flesh:  Fantastic starting point for mid-tone caucasian flesh, or light brown skin. You can shade it up or down.  Wonderful if thinned down as a wash on Gold metallics.
  • Darkoath Flesh:  Lighter, with some more pink/salmon tones.
  • Apothecary White:  It’s more grey than white but if used on a white primer it’s a fantastic look for white armor or fur.
  • Gryph-charger Grey:  A blue grey, lighter than Space Wolves Grey
  • Space Wolves Grey:  A darker, desaturated blue grey.
  • Basilicanum Grey:  A dark grey, bordering on black.
  • Black Templar:  Fantastic color to have in your set.  Use it to paint black armor, bolter guns, or anything else black that you want contrast on.  Thin it down with contrast medium and it’s an improved Nuln Oil.  Great black wash when thinned.
  • Talassar Blue:  Bright highly saturated blue.  I mix this with other blues or highlight with it.
  • Warp Lightning:  Bright highly saturated green.  Great for glowy weapons and eyes.
  • Aethermatic Blue:  Bright sky blue color.
  • Plaguebearer Flesh:  A lighter shade of green, meant for a green/zombie sort of looking color.
  • Terradon Turquoise:  Another bright blue shade with a hint of green.

Are Contrast Paints Any Good? 

Yes.  Citadel Contrast Paints are an excellent tool to add to your hobby paint collection.  They are very useful for quick and effective results.  You can save time by getting solid color contrast in a single coat of paint. 

Contrast paints are especially good for: Faces, Hair, Fur, and base materials like gravel, dirt, leaves, or stone.  They are used at all levels of skill, beginner to advanced.

Do Citadel Contrast Paints Save Time? 

Yes.  Citadel Contrast Paints can be an effective time saver when painting miniatures and models.  The quick contrast they provide will give you a more effective look when compared to a single coat of a flat acrylic paint. 

They do require a general knowledge of how to use them, but they are not difficult to learn.  

Can I thin down Contrast Paints? 

Yes, Contrast Paints can be thinned down effectively.  Primarily this is done with Contrast Medium but you can also use other acrylic based thinners.  Water, acrylic medium, glaze medium and others. 

Note that the Contrast Medium is most effective at retaining the original properties of the paint, but it is not necessary to limit yourself to this.

Can you use Contrast Paints in an airbrush? 

Absolutely.  Contrast Paints are very thin and lend themselves well to airbrush application.  You can thin them further with either Contrast Medium or any acrylic paint thinner, including water. 

They behave similarly to inks but note that each layer you apply will change the color to a darker shade. 

All of these were airbrushed with a 1:1 Mix of Ultramarine Blue and Tallasar Blue:  

Miniatures With Ultramarine Blue and Tallasar Blue Contrast

Can I make my own contrast paints?

Yes.  You can add any acrylic ink or acrylic paint to Citadel Contrast Medium to create your own Contrast Paint.  This type of paint is very much like a heavy wash, and can also be made by mixing Acrylic Medium, Flow Aid and a high pigment acrylic paint like inks. 

The Ingredients That Make Up Contrast Paints

  • Pigment powders – Pigment powders are used to provide the coloring in a contrast paint. These powders come in innumerable amounts of shades.
  • Acrylic polymer – this is the binding agent that makes the pigment suspend in the liquid. When contract paint dries, it is the acrylic polymer that gives off the durability and adhesion of the paint (as well as that nice texture and sheen.) 
  • Water – The last major ingredient in acrylic paints is water. Water is what the other ingredients sit upon. 
  • Other Liquid Additives – other co-solvents and surfactants can be added to modify the thickness and the surface tension of the paint mixture.

Here is an example to use as a starting point for ratios: 

The Medium adds some body to the very liquid but high pigment inks.  The flow aid slows the drying time and adds a smoother application to the paint. 

With those 3 elements, you have what you need to make your own version of a heavy wash or Contrast Paint.  Experiment and adapt to find the results you’re looking for.

Last update on 2020-11-25 at 05:28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API