Can You Use Acrylic Paint On Miniatures or Models?

Last Updated on March 14, 2024 by Masha Eretnova

Will cheap craft acrylic paint or regular acrylic colors work to paint plastic models, Dnd terrains and minis?

Short answer – absolutely, yes. Acrylic paint is versatile and will work on any kind of miniatures. The results will be good but not the best.

But don’t I need a special paint for painting minis?

Different painting techniques require different paint thicknesses. Some paints may be too thin or too thick for a project.

At amateur level you don’t need special paint for minis! Acrylic paint, craft paint from Michaels, Hobby Lobby, Walmart, or Amazon will work as good as better acrylics or special model paint brands.

However, with experience you will notice differences in sheens, mixing and coverage and will likely switch to Vallejo, ArmyPainter or Citadel.

Using acrylic paints for miniatures: Advantages

I would recommend using acrylics for non-detailed jobs like terrains, base layer, large areas of one color but not for effects or details where it is better to use pro miniature paint.

Acrylic paint is opaque, water-based paint and is good for many surfaces and crafts, including minis, D&D and Warhammer models. And surprise…but many professional model paints are acrylic-based (just different ratios).

Acrylic paints can be used with airbrushes or sprayers and there are also acrylic paint markers that make painting miniatures easier.

They can be layered, dry really fast and have crazy range of colors including metallics.

Not to mention acrylics can be much cheaper professional miniature paint brands, which is important for complete beginners. Craft paints are under $0.5-1 per oz, acrylics are around $2-3 per oz.

Choose acrylic paint that is not runny and too transparent, test colors before painting models as some colors are more transparent than others and you will need to make them more opaque.

Golden High Flow acrylics are probably the best choice as they are formulated to be fluid and suitable for airbrush and thinner paint consistency is better for models. Heavy body acrylic paints will not be a good choice.

Craft acrylic paints from Walmart and Hobby Lobby (Apple Barrel, CraftSmart, Folk Art, Deco Art etc) will be good enough if you’re painting kids project but they will not be perfect.

Potential downsides are that the paint will be too thick and won’t cover well, but if you thin them, it break down the paint so it doesn’t apply evenly anymore.

Pro tip: buy leftover or sample paints from house paints stores. They are good enough for kids projects (and larger simpler models).

Why professional paints are better?

Key points:

  • miniature paints are thinner yet more opaque and easier to control on a small surface
  • they dry true to color and do not cover details
  • they are mixable better than acrylics
  • they stick to plastic better than acrylics and do not peel
  • craft paints when thinned start to look grainy and barely cover
  • acrylic paint may require a white base layer to increase their opacity on models

Professional modelling paints have a different composition from acrylic paint.

They were made specifically to be thin yet opaque, to make sure all pigments are mixable, not too dark and once dry they don’t obscure small details and color nuances in a mini.

Most acrylics though have soft or heavy body – heavy consistency. They can stay opaque as long as they are applied in thicker layers. But for miniature painting you need to thin them – so you will get less opacity and higher chances of peeling and cracks.

Which is also why craft paints are often used for minis – because they are fluid, much thinner than artists acrylics. But their colors are not that vibrant and scratch-resistant.

And probably the biggest disadvantage of regular acrylic paints is that it technically doesn’t really stick well to non-porous surfaces like plastic. And many models are made of plastic.

It doesn’t mean thought it will not cover the model, it will. But it has higher chances of peeling or scratching and it is less durable because it wasn’t formulated for plastic or similar materials.

Advanced miniature painters choose brands like Vallejo, Reaper, Army Painter and Citadel.

Final thoughts

I am convinced there is nothing wrong to start painting models with cheap craft or better acrylic paint. You will still get amazing results.

And I mean, why not? They are easy to use and clean, dry fast, cover the surface amazingly, and offer great viscosity, along with a nice price.

You will be learning and probably struggling more with mixing, thinning and coverage if you start with soft or heavy body acrylics, so pick either fluid acrylics or cheaper paints.

Once you did a dozen of models and you think that you’rre ready to invest more – get better paints and brushes.

Did you start with pro paints or worked your way up from regular apple barrel?