What are Citadel Contrast Paints? And How Do You Use Them?

Depending on when you’re reading this, Contrast Paints are a new line by Citadel released in Mid 2019.  They’re kind of a big deal!

There was quite a bit of hype associated with the launch of these paints.  Marketed as an opportunity to get really good results, quickly.  The idea was to have a paint that can provide a base coat, and shade, in one coat.  Nice.

The goal here is a quicker result. So if you’re facing an army of unpainted minis, the idea was to allow you a way to get them painted and looking good in a reasonable time frame. Did they achieve this?  Yup!

Citadel Contrast Paints are an excellent tool to help you paint your miniatures.  They help you get through the process quicker, while still providing great results.

They are not meant to be used in all situations, so think of them as a tool to have in your kit, very similar to Shades and Washes.

What are Citadel Contrast Paints? A contrast paint is a thin paint that is designed to have the darker pigment flow into recesses and provide a darker version of the color used while the lighter pigments stay on top.

Citadel Contrast Paints are a line of paints released by Games Workshop that are designed to provide highlights and shadows in one coat. 

We’ll be looking into the technology behind contrast paints, as well as the optimal way to use Citadel Contrast Paints, and what sets them apart from other types of paints, like shades and washes. But first… my favorites 🙂

My Personal Favorite Contrast Paints:

So this is going to be completely dependent on what you’re painting.  That said, here are some suggestions for common uses:

Snakebite Leather

Games Workshop Citadel Colour: Contrast -...

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Great for any leather details and accessories.  A leather sack, belt, boots, armor etc.  You’ll find brown on a lot of miniatures, and this is a nice one to have.

Dark Angels Green

Games Workshop Citadel Colour: Contrast - Dark...

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Green is another common one.  Grass, plants, trees, armor, orc skin.  I personally use Dark Angels but I’ve been meaning to try Warp. I use this all the time on any plants or grass I have on a base.

The new Chaos Warriors I’m painting have a ton of little spikey vines poking out of the ground and this is a perfect way to get them done.

Ultramarines Blue

Games Workshop Citadel Colour: Contrast -...

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This is pretty much designed for hordes of Space Marines 🙂 The iconic blue color in Contrast Paint form.  It’s also a beautiful shade of blue in general, so not only for Marines!

Blood Angels Red

Games Workshop Citadel Contrast Paint Blood Angels...

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Gotta have a red!  I use this one for red glowing eyes, tongues, and other smaller bits that need red, and are maybe hard to reach.

Black TemplarBasilicanum GreyApothecary White

My neutral tones.  One of the bigger uses is for say, the black joints or Bolter guns on Space Marines.  The white/grey are great for fur cloaks, boots, etc. I also used Apothecary on a white dragon I had been putting off painting, hah.

So I mean… I could go through the whole range, but those are the ones I use most.  You can see the whole range HERE and then order the ones you like on Amazon HERE or on MiniatureMarket.

What are Contrast Paints?

Contrast paints for miniatures is a revolutionary sort of paint that allows you to paint and create dimension quickly and easily in one go. Contrast paints are easily applied over a light undercoat paint (such as Grey Seer or Wraithbone).

The result is a vibrant base coat with shockingly realistic shading that is complete in only one single application. Think of it as magic.

A contrast paint’s consistency exists somewhere between a paint and a wash. When applied over a light base coat, the high points get highlighted, the nooks get shaded, and the overall effect is stellar.

Acrylic paints, inks, washes, and contrast paints are all made from similar essential ingredients, just combined in different proportions. 

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.

For a great video guide, check out Vince Venturella. All of his content is fantastic:

Why Choose Contrast Paints Over Others?

There are many painting techniques, which we’ll get into to help understand the differences, but the main reason contrast paints are so exciting right now is because they make painting huge batches of miniatures remarkably faster.

You could churn out a heaping army in no time at all, and that army would look just as good as if you had used other techniques (but in half the time.)

Contrast paints also eliminate the annoyance of painting flesh, which can feel nightmarish for beginning hobby painters. Contrast paints are not suited for every project, however.  It’s good to know when to use them and when not to.

Nonetheless, they are a pretty stellar tool to have in your painter’s toolbox. These paints will help make the entry into hobby painting feel more accessible to those who might otherwise have felt too intimidated by former techniques and processes.

Are Contrast Paints the Same as Shades or Washes?

No. They are not the same. Shades and washes are interchangeable terms.  Both are very watery thin paints that are even thinner than contrast paint. 

What are the Best Ways to Use Contrast Paints?

In general, contrast paints work best on surfaces that have folds and recesses, not for large flat surfaces. The goal is to allow for darker colors to go into areas where you’d see a shadow and lighter to stay up on top where they’d be brighter.

A great example of a model that is shaped perfectly for contrast paints are Dark Eldar figurines.  The Eldar figurines have endless nooks and crannies.

An example of something not to paint with contrast paints is a plate, a flag or piece of paper (flat, boring surfaces with little to no dimension).

If you’re looking for a visual overview, this video gives a great rundown of how these paints excel.

Where did Citadel Contrast Paints Come From?

Having watched tutorials using the paints and tried them out, we feel that contrast paints do make painting miniatures feel incredibly easy.  This is not always the case with miniatures.

They usually have so many recesses and small indents and lines that a novice miniature painter would normally throw their hands up in defeat.

For this reason, Games Workshop saw an obvious market for the novice miniature enthusiast, as well as experienced painters.  Both can now enjoy an easy painting experience.

Different Miniature Painting Techniques

To understand how contrast paints differ to other paints in the miniature painting world, it’s rather crucial to understand the other painting techniques currently present in the hobby world. 

The general process starts with applying a primer coat to allow for enough texture to intake the acrylic paint. Then you apply a basecoat of the appropriate color (e.g., silver for armor). Next, the details layer using different techniques (like the ones below.)

  • Edge Highlighting – this technique serves to add detail and requires precision and skill to paint petite lines all around the miniature to grab attention to certain aspects of the model.
  • Drybrushing – this technique uses a brush with a minuscule amount of paint to apply lighter colors to lifted edges on the model.
  • Washing this technique uses ‘washes,’ which are extremely thin (watery) paints that pool and collect in corners and recesses and are excellent at adding dimension and a textured look to a miniature.

All three of these painting techniques can be used together to paint one single miniature, or they can be used separately on different projects. What contrast paints does is mirror a wash, in that it does collect in the corners, but it is thicker than a wash, and the density of the paint can fully color a figurine like normal acrylic paint.

So it is essentially a wash and acrylic paint all in one, which is why the results are so fast (like a 2-1 shampoo/conditioner.)

However, the drawbacks are that it makes freehand work more difficult. The paint hues also lean more toward pastel than bright primary colors.

It can make painting armor or weapons look slightly softer than one might ideally desire, whereas the process of painting flesh is accurate and undeniably easy. 

The Key Take Away

Using Citadel Contrast Paints will get your models ready for battle fast so that you don’t keep the gaming table waiting.  While Games Workshop didn’t invent this style of painting, they certainly harnessed the contrast paints best qualities.

Their Citadel brand delivers. The flow is flawless, really clinging to the corners and recesses of a miniature.  These contrast paints will give you the easiest and most accurate painting experience you’ll ever have. 

Citadel Contrast Paints are ideal for the novice just dipping their toes into the hobby waters of painting miniatures.  But they are also a supreme tool for the experienced painter who needs to churn out an army stat.

If you’re looking for a step one and done kind of paint, you really can’t beat these well-crafted contrast paints. While some advanced hobbyists may be able to make washes at home, nothing beats the convenience of grabbing a contrast paint off the shelf in the exact colors you need.

Last update on 2020-10-21 at 19:48 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API