Contrasting Opinions

Okay they have been out since the middle of June this year and there are a gazillion videos on YouTube with everyone from novices to veteran painters giving their two cents worth.  So why not jump on the bandwagon.

I first used the new Contrast painting system in my local Warhammer store here in Edinburgh, also a place where I used to be the manager so it was strange going back after all this time and painting.  We were each allowed to pick a miniature or two and experiment with the full range of colours, though sadly at the time the store hadn’t got its allocation of the Contrast Technical Medium thinner so we had to use the paint as it came out of the pot.

Given only thirty minutes to paint a model sounds like a daunting task when you say it out loud, but the paints are being heralded as something that will cut down on the time you need to spend on laying down base coats and therefore increase your painting table to tabletop speed dramatically.

I opted to paint a Space Marine as a White Scar as I wanted to see how well the paints would work with white for Star Wars Legion and my Hoth themed troopers.  I used both the Grey Seer and Wraithbone undercoated miniatures and got to work.

I painted both of the primed models with a generous coat of Apothecary White Contrast Paint using a large layer brush that the guys in store had provided.  While the white was drying I moved onto the next colour which was Black Templar Contrast Paint and painted the bolter, piping and undersuit joints that were showing and left this to dry.

White is a very difficult colour to get right as anyone who has ever tried painting miniatures will attest to.  Sure you can just spray it white and leave it and it will look okay, but will also look very flat. Another technique is to paint it dark grey or even black first and then build up layer on layer of paint till you finally get to pure white, leaving a little of the previous layers showing in the recessed areas.

This technique works well but is very time consuming and if you have a lot of miniatures that you need to paint up fast, it is not the best option.

You can of course use washes and inks to darken down the white and then re-highlight it once again when the wash is dry.  By and far this is what I have been doing in one way or another and working my way through my Legion miniatures.

Contrast paints are designed to cut out this middle section for you and in theory will allow the darker shades to sink into the recesses and give a depth and shadows, while the uppermost edges will have less paint on them and allow the base coat to come through much lighter.

It isn’t a new theory and has been around for a long time, in fact Army Painter sell the very popular dip tins that allow you to add depth to a model by simply dipping it into the lacquer and letting it dry out.   It isn’t new but its the first time a company has released a range of paints so vast.

Once my test miniatures were dry enough to me to add more details I used the Snakebite Leather Contrast Paint to pick out pouches and straps and Wyrmwood Contrast Paint to paint the bases. The helmets were picked out in Iyanden Yellow Contrast paint along with the aquilla on the chest and finally I quickly shaded the shoulder pauldrons with Blood Angels Red Contrast paint (I am using the Contrast paint after each as there are a few paints with the same name or similar).

Doing a quick side by side of the two models, the model that had been undercoated in the Grey Seer was much cooler looking than the one undercoated in Wraithbone!  This gave the miniature a more of a blue tint than I was after for Stormtroopers and Snowtroopers, but had done exactly what it said that it would do, left the folds darker and the raised edges almost totally clear, with enough of the paint to stain the miniature and show through.

While the two models were drying I was given a plaguebearer to paint and experimented with the flesh tones.  Using Plaguebearer Green Contrast Paint as a basecoat, I quickly covered the flesh areas and then while the paint was still wet, I applied a small amount of Guilleman Flesh Contrast Paint and used the brush to blend the two paints together and I was really impressed at the results.

The nature of the paint means that it is semi-translucent and if you add two colours together they will change the outcome of the final look of the paint.  Painting blue over yellow will give a green effect, in much the same way that red over blue will give a purple effect.

The remaining details were picked out using Snakebite Leather Contrast paint, Black Templar Contrast paint, and Skeleton Horde Contrast paint.  In total, I managed to paint up two marines and a plaguebearer to a decent tabletop standard in exactly thirty minutes.

Left miniature is undercoated in Wraithbone, right is undercoated in Grey Seer
Over Wraithbone undercoat
Over Grey Seer undercoat

Wraithbone undercoat
Grey Seer undercoat



As I have mentioned before here on Gamers Web, I have vision problems and though I have been painting for many years now, my eyesight is not as good as it once was and sometimes it is difficult to get the results I am looking for when painting.   For just thirty minutes in a busy shop however I think that the paints did a fantastic job and was very eager to try them out in a more controlled environment at home where I could use my own brushes and not be rushed into trying to finish things.

So I ordered some Contrast paints from 6s2Hit (and got them far cheaper than anywhere else I have found so far) and picked them up on the launch date June 18th and spent more or less a week experimenting with them on different models from different manufacturers and thought that I would share my results so far and offer some advice if I can.

As I say I am not new to painting, in fact I have been painting and collecting miniatures for fifty years now and at one point I was very good at painting till my eyesight began to decline.  Now its more of a relaxation method that helps me cope with having high blood pressure and relaxes me a lot.

The videos and tutorials for the Contrast paint system are everywhere and a lot of painters have mixed reviews or thoughts on them.  Some are claiming that they are just a gimmick to sell more product for Games Workshop and that they don’t do the job they are described as doing (saving time but more on this in a moment) and others are praising them as the single best thing to happen to the hobby since the introduction of the slota-base!

Doctor Who

I have a vast collection of miniatures that numbers in the many tens of thousands and so many spare models that sometimes I am at a loss on what to paint up first.  My collection of Doctor Who miniatures from Warlord Games for their excellent Exterminate miniatures game has been growing steadily in the past year and I thought that a good candidate for the Contrast paints would be the Zygons as they are mainly one colour anyway.

Undercoated using a white car primer and left to dry, I simply painted Guliman Flesh Contrast all of the model directly from the pot and left it to dry.  You will notice immediately that the paint wants to pool on some areas and if that is not the effect your looking for its best to use a wet brush to relocate this pooling.  Sometimes you may find yourself doing this several times on a miniature given the nature of the viscosity of the paint itself and on my example below, the paint decided that it was going to pool on the thigh region of the miniature.  I tried to move the paint around to get most of it off the model but for some reason it was being stubborn and not acting the way I thought it would, so I wiped it off with my finger and low and behold it worked and I was left with a fairly decent looking miniature.  In total the miniature took less than two minutes to  paint up, but its basically just the one colour.


The following evening I decided to see how well the new paint system would work with large areas of flesh tone and what has more flesh on display than wrestlers from Rumbleslam.

I started to mess around the paints on my Deadly Divas team but other than the flesh tones, I was not happy with the results so placed them to one side.  Likewise, I painted up my Halfling leucador team and the referee using nothing but Contrast paints, but was not too happy with the results.  The flesh tones looked amazing on the most part, but the leotards and masks looked pretty crap to be honest so it was into the Dettol to strip them down and repaint them and the Divas again.

While I was waiting on the paint coming off the miniatures I found a box with another team that I had won from eBay last year, and thought that I would give these a try but would go about them in a different way than before.

Up until this time I had simply followed what Games Workshop had been advising with their new slogan of ‘One Thick Coat’ parodying the catchphrase of Duncan ‘Two Thin Coats!’

I primed the miniatures again in white car primer and once dry I just started to paint them as I would paint any other model in my collection.

Rather than painting directly from the pot, I used a palette for the paint which I would keep topping up to keep the pigment fluid (if you paint from the pot its a good idea to shake it every so often as the pigment settles). which gave me greater control.  I also switched out to a much smaller brush which allowed me better control of the paint onto the miniature.

I started with the Minotaur as it was a large miniature and I wanted to see how well the flesh tones would look on the miniature.  I used a smaller brush as noted (a size 2) and painted a slightly thinned down (with Lamia medium 1 to 2 ratio)Gulleman Flesh Contrast over all the of the exposed flesh areas, including the areas around the mouth and hands.  While this was drying I repeated the same process on the other miniatures in the team but varying the amount of thinning medium to give slightly different looks to the flesh.

The fur on the body was then painted with Wyldwood Contrast paint,  with  Agrraros  Dunes Contrast paint being used for the lighter areas of fur across all three miniatures that gives them a feel of being part of the same team.  Finally, all the dark areas such as the shorts and armbands and the tip of the Minotaurs nose and hooves were painted with Black Templar Contrast paint.

I left the horns on the Minotaur white but used a little amount of thinned down Black Templar Contrast paint at the base of each horn.

The result wasn’t too bad, a table ready team in under twenty minutes in total (and that is including drying time).  I sprayed a cheap hairspray onto the models to seal the Contrast paints (or it tends to rub off on your hands when you pick the models up) and allowed this to dry.  The result is glistening bodies that are ready to pound a rival team into the mat the next time I play with them.  Of course I could dull down this sheen by adding matt varnish over them but on the whole it tends to work so I am happy with it.

By now I was getting slowly used to the new paints and came to the conclusion quite early on that they will work really well for most things but you need to learn how to roll them into your regular painting regime and use them as another tool in your arsenal when it comes to painting.  Smaller brushes helped control the paint a lot and I stopped getting as much pooling of pigment (and therefore used less paint) quite early on.

Star Wars Legion

Okay so the real reason I wanted Contrast paints to work was detailed above, I want to be able to paint my Legion miniatures quickly and get them table ready and move onto the next unit or hero.  With that in mind, I recently got some more miniatures to review for Gamers Web as part of my series exploring each unit and decided that I would paint all of the miniatures using nothing but Contrast paints to see if I could do so without having to fall back on regular paints.

Imperial Specialists

This was by far the easiest set to paint up using nothing but Contrast paints and I began by using Guliman Flesh Contrast paint on the Tech Officer and using a mix of 1 to 3 ratio I painted the flesh on the Imperial Officer to give her a slightly lighter-looking complexion,  I thinned down Black Templar Contrast for the uniforms for both models and then used the same paint neat for the gloves and boots and as before I used my thumb to wipe off some of the excess paint on the helmet of the Tech Officer which allowed more of the white undercoat to come through.

The FX9 Medical Droid was simply the easiest of all the models to do and was just Black Templar Contrast paint and the droids medical bottles done in Iyanden Yellow Contrast and the red details picked out in Blood Angels Red Contrast.

Finally, the R5 droid was painted using Apothecary White Contrast with the main dome being Aethermatic Blue Contrast and Black Templar Contrast and a wee drop of Blood Angel’s Red Contrast.

Rebel Specialists 

Moving on to the Rebel Specialists and again starting on a white primed miniature, I painted the flesh areas showing with Guliman Flesh Contrast and used a mixture of Gryph-Charger Grey Contrast, Aggaros Dunes Contrast, Apocrathy White Contrast and Blood Angels Red Contrast to pick out the details on the uniforms of both the Rebel Officer and Tech Officer.  Finally, all the pouches and straps were painted with Snakebite Leather Contrast paint which is by far one of the most useful paints in the range.

The 21B Medical droid was painted using Aethermatic Blue Contrast and Black Templar Contrast that had been thinned but this time with water (yes you can thin them with water no problems at all!), with the details being added with Blood Angels Red Contrast.

Finally, I painted the R4 droid with a mixture watered down Black Templar Contrast and Blood Angel’s Red Contrast for the dome.

E Web and 1.4 FD Laser Cannon

I then moved onto the E Web and 1.4 FD Laser Cannon.  Again both guns and crew had been primed with a white car spray primer (at the same time as everything else really) and I started to paint the 1.4 FD Laser Cannon first.  This was simply a case of looking at the reference material and working out what colours to use.  In Empire Strikes Back most of the shots of this weapon have it as either white and grey or grey and black, so I opted for white and black to give it some contrast and somewhere in the middle ground.  I thinned down the Black Templar Contrast with water and painted the details on the dish and then used neat Black Templar Contrast on the rest of the weapon.  The crew was painted using Apochary White Contrast, Aggaros Dunes Contrast and Black Templar Contrast, with the flesh tones being Guliman Flesh Contrast with a tiny drop of Snakebite Leather Contrast.

I painted the E Web in Black Templar Contrast and added some details in Blood Angels Red Contrast.  The Snowtroopers were painted using Apochary White Contrast, and the cloaks were painted using Aggaros Dunes with a drop of Blood Angels Red Contrast and a lot of water.  This gave me a sepia style paint that matches more or less my other traditionally painted Snowtroopers.

The only paint used on any of these models was Tallaran Sand was used on all of the bases to keep them in theme with the rest of my armies. Other than that it’s all contrast paints and all the models were sealed using a low tack hairspray.

Thoughts and musings

Contrast paints are good, not mind blowing fantastic but good. You can get some amazing results with contrast that could take you years to learn to achieve using traditional painting methods.  Though that said they do take a lot of getting used too.


My biggest gripe with Contrast is that of coverage. It seems that no matter how careful I was in applying the colours, there would always be some small area that I managed to miss and it is often only turning the model around to paint another area that it becomes blindingly obvious that I had missed a spot or not quite covered an area completely. Sure this can happen with regular paints just as easily, but for some reason I found this happening on nearly every single miniature!

They thin with water

As mentioned above there is no need to go out and buy the specially formulated thinning medium to thin down the contrast paints.  While the new medium works really well, it’s just a flow aid and the same results can be achieved with water, though you may have to use somewhat more than you are used to with some contrast paints due to the viscosity of the paint itself. So you can save yourself money by just using water!

They are a stain rather than a glaze or wash

Contrast paints are specially designed to have a lot of pigment and a very high viscosity so that they can do the task of both shading and highlighting at the same time. They are something of a cross between a wash and a glaze and the paint tends to stain the model and this is worth mentioning.

The paints wash out with normal water like any other paint but they do tend to seep deep into the bristles of the brushes so make sure you wash them thoroughly between changing colours and if like so many other painters you lick the brush to shape it into a point, then be warned as you can very easily end up with stained lips.


On the whole, you can get away without varnishing most miniatures painted with acrylic paints, and even those used on a very frequent basis can take a lot of knocking around before they begin to chip or crack. Contrast paints, however, will rub off very easily, even when dry.  It is really important to varnish or seal any areas that have been painted using contrast paints. You can use Games Workshops own brand of sealants which come in both Matt and Gloss varieties or use whatever you normally use. As mentioned I use a low tack hairspray that costs less than a pound and one tin will cover at least a hundred miniatures if not more. If needed I can go over areas again with Matt or Gloss varnish and given that some of the contrast paints leave miniatures looking quite glossy you may want to experiment with your choices of sealants.

It isn’t necessarily a time saver

If you believe the hype surrounding contrast paints it will allow you to paint hundreds of miniatures very quickly. Sadly however this is not the case. If you make a mistake you will need to go back over the area again with whatever you used as a primer and then reapply the contrast paint. This can be really time-consuming and painting over the same straps for the third time can get a little old, very quickly.

If you are painting a horde unit of skeletons or goblins then contrast can be a good way of cutting down on the amount of time you spend on rank and file troops, allowing you to concentrate more on character models or showpieces for your army. Speed painting is not always a good way to get results and with pooling and poor coverage on a lot of the range of contrast paints, you may find yourself going over things again. The best advice is to take your time and let the paint do its job naturally.

Start from the top

Given that contrast paints are formulated to bring highlights out and shade at the same time, it’s worth pointing out that you should start painting from the top of the model and work your way down to the base. Gravity will naturally pull the paint downwards so this makes good sense.

Light to dark

It’s a personal thing but I would start with all the light colours first and then use the darker colours later. It’s far easier to cover up a mistake on a lighter colour than it is with a darker one. Straps, belts, and pouches can be a real pain if you rush them so take your time to avoid over spill.

Drying times

Contrast paints can dry really quickly or very slowly depending on how much you are covering, how many folds or recessed areas there are or the amount of pigment in the pot. Try to do all the coats of a colour in one action as if you leave the paint to dry and go back to it, the shade may vary. On the whole, it should be touch dry in about five minutes, during which time you can use wet blending methods to get other effects.

Remember colour sensitivity

As I mentioned earlier, the contrast paints will mix very easily and this can give you some pretty awesome effects, especially for lighting effects. But remember this as it can be frustrating to have spent time on your masterpiece only to ruin it by having a colour change due to another being put over the top of it.

Will it make me a better painter?

No! It will help you with your painting and teach you brush control and how best to apply the paint, but the only thing that can make you a better painter is you, time, practice and patience.

Don’t be fooled by videos

Like most things on the internet, it’s very easy to get drawn in and think that contrast will fix all your worries in one thick coat. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube that show you how to use these new paints, and some of the finished miniatures are simply breathtaking. However, it’s not the paint that has done that, its the artist painting the model. Some of these painters are easily as good as anyone working in the industry and they use contrast as an extra string to their painting bow and it allows them the chance to do something different.

Finally are they worth it?

The simple answer is yes! The majority of the contrast range is really good, though a few are not as useful or good at covering.  All of the flesh tones and browns are excellent with Snakebite Leather being something every painter should own right now! The primary colours, on the whole, are all good and so their job very well. Colours that tend to stand out from the rest are Iyanden Yellow,  Ork Flesh and Tallasar Blue, each is pretty vibrant and goes on well. Ultramarine Blue I found is not very good as a base and takes a lot of practice painting marines to get one looking right. Black Templar and Basilicum Grey work well with Iyanden Yellow as non-metallic metallics and you can get some astounding effects from them.  Skeleton Horde and Agarros Dunes are brilliant for cloth and things like backpacks and another great weapon in your arsenal.

Use contrast paints with other painting techniques such as dry brushing or edge highlighting and along with side your other regular paints and you will soon get used to them. Use a good brush but one you feel comfortable with as the paint tends to clump in the brush. A good point on a brush is worth a thousand details on its own.

Experiment and have fun with your contrast paints and remember to make sure you close those lids properly as there is nothing worse than losing almost a full pot of Black Templar all over your paint box, speaking from experience as a word to the wise!

Citadel Contrast Paints are available from Games Workshop now and from stockists world wide.

Gamers Web recommends for great value and up to 25% discount on retail prices!

Published by Marc Farrimond

I'm a 55 year guy from Wigan in Lancashire living in Edinburgh, Scotland with two of my four awesome kids and my long suffering wife Laura. I have worked freelance over the years for some of the biggest names in tabletop and roleplaying and I am a very keen cosplayer and photographer.

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