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The best hobby purchase I made this year is a paint mixer made for scientists

I can’t go back to life before I bought a vortex mixer

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Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

When it comes to painting miniatures, I’m not a gadget guy. Give me a good brush with a nice fine point and I can get the job done. But there’s one gadget that I wish I’d bought for myself a long time ago. It’s called a vortex mixer, and it’s helping me paint my minis faster and better than ever before.

When you’re painting miniatures, getting the consistency of your acrylic paints right is one of the hardest things to do. Usually that involves adding water to your paints while painting, something that you can do with your brush alone or with a wet palette. But, more often than not, the biggest challenge is just getting the damned things to mix correctly.

Paints used for miniatures come in tiny little bottles, each with just a fraction of an ounce of product inside. Imparting enough momentum to get those fractional ounces agitated properly can be a challenge. Red and white paints are often the hardest to get right because of their thick, coagulase pigments that sink to the bottom. Games Workshop’s new line of Contrast paints is another troublesome product, as its unique binders and flow improvers tend to get stuck to the bottom of the pot. Fail to mix your paints well enough and they’ll be too thin, won’t cover your model fully, or maybe they might not even stick at all. Mixing them properly, however, might sometimes require spending more time shaking pots than actually painting.

A vortex mixer is most commonly found in bioscience laboratories where they are used to mix up samples inside test tubes. On top is a big silicone indentation that holds on to the bottom of the test tube. Press down and it automatically agitates the contents using a powerful motor. As a result, whatever is inside the test tube is wound around at incredible speed, creating a tornado-like vortex. A void actually forms in the middle of the sample, as the liquid crawls up the sides.

What’s great for lab techs is also pretty awesome for miniature painters as well. Adding a vortex mixer to my hobby area has solved the paint mixing problem for me. I just press the pot to the top, give it 30 seconds to a minute to agitate, and I’m off to the races. For really thick paints, adding a metal mixing ball makes it even faster. Now I look up after a quick half-hour painting sprint and find that I’ve used a dozen or more colors, rather than just the three or four that I had the time to mix and paint with in the past. The result is more time spent on my actual hobby, and better looking miniatures than I’ve had in the past.

The only impediment is price. I spent about $100 on my LabGenius mini-vortex mixer on the recommendation of a good friend. That’s as much as I spent on my airbrush ... and my compressor. Others online go for as little as half as much, but $50 is still a lot for a gadget. Why are they so expensive? As I said, the motors they use are specialty items, and they run ridiculously fast. But the devices themselves also have to be extremely heavy to stay in place with all that motion. Mine actually includes hefty silicone feet on the bottom so that the weighty base moves opposite the paint pot as it spins. Overall, that keeps it much quieter.

Whichever way you go price-wise, you likely won’t go wrong. Grab yourself or someone you love a vortex mixer and you won’t regret it.

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