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A new kind of paint could offer an alternative to Games Workshop’s pricey Contrast line

The Army Painter’s new Speedpaint is receiving mixed reviews

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.

Games Workshop surprised the world of miniature painting in 2019 with the introduction of Citadel Contrast Paints. The new and unusual formulation caused a bit of controversy at the time, but the line has grown to be incredibly popular among amateur and professional painters alike. Now The Army Painter is getting in on the action with its own version, called Speedpaint. The first retail samples are just now making it into the hands of YouTubers, and the results are very exciting.

Contrast Paint is a proprietary formulation, so only Games Workshop knows for sure what’s inside each pot. But the concept is interesting. While traditional acrylic paints have a very thick formulation with lots of viscosity, Contrast Paints are much thinner. That feature allows you to build up opacity on 3D models a bit like using watercolor on paper. But Contrast Paints also tend to stay where you put them, sort of like the opposite of a wash. That makes painting some highly detailed miniatures a lot easier. Applied heavily, it also forms its own highlights and shadows — especially when used with a highly shaded black-and-white undercoat (also known as a zenithal undercoat). The long and the short of it is that with clever brush application, it can save you time and improve your results.

A Space Marine Heavy Intercessor from the Kill Team boxed set, painted as a Dark Angel.
This Space Marine Heavy Intercessor was painted using Citadel Contrast Paints applied through an airbrush, using a technique shared on the Cult of Paint YouTube channel.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Through an airbrush, however, techniques really open up with Contrast Paint, which behaves more like an artist-grade ink than a paint. I’ve taken to using multiple shades of similar colors to blend together highlights and shadows on my basecoat, giving me a much more interesting surface to add detail to. Contrast Paints are a powerful tool in my toolbox now, and I wouldn’t want to go forward without them.

The Army Painter’s Speedpaints, on the other hand, are being marketed in a very different way. The company calls it a “one-coat painting solution” that allows you to create “tabletop-quality miniatures in no time.” If that sounds like a bit of a brute-force solution, that’s because it is. The Army Painter is also the same company that sells a line of Quickshade Miniature Dips, whereby you just dip the whole damn thing into a metal can of goop, let the excess drip off, and then call it a day. So maybe one thick coat of paint is the company’s idea of subtlety.

Regardless of what these paints say on the tin, YouTubers are putting them through their paces with techniques that they’ve honed over the last few years with Contrast Paints. The most thorough examination comes courtesy Brent Amberger of Goobertown Hobbies, a pro painter who also happens to be a chemist. The 16-minute video includes samples of every color in the line applied multiple ways, and even finishes with a high-resolution slideshow of every color once dried.

The verdict? Amberger is sold, it seems, especially with how thick coats dry into the recesses of his 3D-printed miniatures. The result is a much more intense line of shadow, and a more consistent result, he says, than when using Contrast Paints.

Over in Europe, Emil Nyström and the staff at Squidmar Miniatures are a lot less enthusiastic. They’re simply not impressed by The Army Painter’s range of colors, and downright disappointed by the paint’s performance overall.

You can’t beat the price, however, which is roughly half the cost of comparable Contrast Paint. Add in that these come in a dropper bottle with a metal mixing ball already inside, and you’ve got a decent value for your money.

Polygon has reached out to the company for some samples. Keep your eyes peeled for new techniques and use cases for The Army Painter’s new line of Speedpaints, and we’ll do the same.