Monday, October 28, 2019

Wargaming on a Budget- Big Box Store Painting Supplies

Paints from a Big Box Retailer

For a long time, I was a poor gamer just trying to get by with whatever I could find to play a few games.  This period of time has definitely influenced my gaming preferences and still sticks with me.  Sure my finances are better, but some of the DIY and “Good-Enough” philosophy has stuck with me.  This time of financial tightness was a bit of a blessing as it forced me to decided exactly how “into” wargaming I really was.  I guess the answer was that I was pretty “into” it.  Far out!

This is not a new topic on the blog, but it is one I like to come back to from time-to-time.  It is best to remember your roots and understand some of the ethos that drives you.  I have talked about it in regards to using Paper Templates, Making Your Own Models, and Using Toys for gaming.  I also plan to someday visit everyone’s favorite topic of doing gaming mats and terrain….. but it is not this day!  I guess you could call that a tease. 

I have always lived in a bit more rural areas, and to source Hobby supplies and specialty items was mostly out of the question.  The closest gaming store was frequently an hour away.  I remember the old GW Mail Order Trolls fondly as that is how I sourced my early models.  Thankfully, the Internet has brought all these wonderful items so much closer and only a few keystrokes away.  However, that hasn’t shaken my desire or interest in re-purposing easily found items for Hobby related items. 

With the relatively recent explosion in “Crafting” hobbies, even big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target are starting to carry a larger selection of craft items.  This includes cheap brushes and acrylic paints.  I have been extensively experimenting with all of these in an attempt to get easier access to supplies at discount prices.  

I am particularly enamored with the paints.  A decent sized bottle of acrylic craft paint runs between .50 cents and a dollar US.  The size also allows you to paint a variety of models with one bottle.  I have painted over 100 this year!  Plus, there is a wide variety of colors to choose from.  Thanks to the low price, easy accessibility, and large bottles I have no qualms mixing and blending it together compared to normal miniature specific paints. 

These cheap paints do have limitations.  These paints are not suited for all models.  There are some they just work better on than others.  Here are some recommendations I consider before using them to paint a model vs. traditional miniature paints…..

1.       Does the model have strong, well-defined detail work?
2.       Is the model supposed to be a bit gribbly or well-used feeling?
3.       Doe sit have a light or dark finish?  
4.       Is it a historical or fantasy model?
5.       Is it a hero/leader or rank and file?

Typically, these paints work better on models with cleaner definition, have a dirtier final look, are fantasy models, want a darker look, and are rank-and-file.  If the model does not fit that definition than I tend to stick with the real mini-paint.

For example, here are some examples and you can see these questions in action:

Boats, terrain, and mat painted with Big Box Acrylics and House paint
Big Box Acrylics mixed with Reaper paints and Big Box Brushes
These guys were Big Box Acrylics.... but they turned out a bit rough. 
More Big Box Acrylics and Brushes
Big Box Acrylics and Brushes again

These were Army Painter Paints.... but Big Box Brushes
These cheap acrylics paints have other limitations too.  They are a bit thicker than Miniature paints and sometimes a 3-to-1 or 2-to-1 mix with clean water helps to thin them out.  Lighter colors tend to need less water to thin them.  This allows a smoother application and thinner layers of paint.  I have even gone up to a 10-to-1 ratio for an ink like effect.  Again, this stuff is dead cheap so it is much “safer” to experiment with. 

Of course, besides miniatures, it is much cheaper and easier to paint bulk terrain pieces and other items with these acrylic paints.  You can still achieve solid painting effects without spending a ton of cash on high quality paints. 

In addition to the cheap acrylic paints, the big box retailers also have a wide variety of brushes now.  Granted, none of them are that great in quality but as the old saying goes, “Quantity has a Quality all its own.” You can get packets of brushes of various sizes from 000 to tank-brush sized for about a US dollar a brush.  That is a pretty good deal.  I find that I can take 2-3 brushes and paint about 15-45 guys with them before they are “dead” or hardly usable.  They then rotate into the Dry Brush or terrain painting brush category.  Of course, then I just open a new pack of brushes that cost me a $5 US and I am ready to start again on the next project. 

Finally, I have had success using plastic spray primer straight from the store.  It is a tad grainier then official “miniature spray”.  However, it covers just as well, can paint as many minis, and is just fine for a solid finished product.  It can take a bit of time to find a “good” plastic primer as any old auto primer often won’t do the job.  Auto primer’s are often too grainy. 

For terrain, there is often a spray finish that will give you the effect a terrain piece needs such as stone, adobe, texture wall, etc.  These can make finishing tedious terrain pieces a snap!  You give it a spray or two and are on your way.  Easy to paint, quick, and cheaper than using even acrylic paints!    

Everything I listed here is easily found at your local Big Box retailer in most communities.  Not only do you save money, but you gain convenience, and ease.  Feel free to go out and give them a shot.  I don’t think you will regret it IF you use them for the appropriate style of project!  

I also like to keep in mind the Arm's Length rule when painting.  If it looks good at arm's length, it is probably ready for the tabletop!  In that case, the supplies form a Big Box store do the job nicely!   


  1. Hi! Like the article. Just found your blog. I'm relatively new to miniatures gaming/painting/modding. I've also mostly taken the same low-cost route and mindset.
    I noticed you didn't say anything about clear finish, though maybe you prefer not to go that far. But if you're interested, Pledge Floor Shine works pretty good (formerly known as Future Shine). $8 for enough to probably last the rest of my mini painting life. I've also tried mixing it into paints and it resulted in a semi-transparent, mottled effect.
    Will be looking back on some of your older posts for a while. Good day!

    1. Great point! Good thought about the Pledge. I have heard that from others.

      I typically do not put finish on my models, but I probably should.


  2. Big box store paints = budget wargaming win! Fairfield Company's acrylics and brushes paint up miniatures like a champ, saving you dough for more models (or terrain!). Just grab some primer and varnish, and you're good to go!

    Go to website: custom retail boxes!