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There's a lot of hobby equipment out there and it can be tempting to want to buy a lot of it. I don't necessarily believe in the tools making the painter, but I can't deny that certain products perform better than others. If you're frustrated by your tools, or would like to start out with tools that I prefer, look no further. Here is my comprehensive list of miniature painting tools that I use very frequently. All the links in this article are affiliate links and I'll earn a commission when you purchase using these links at no extra cost to you.
One of the most used tools you'll probably fret about is brushes. I've tested quite a few and my favorite brush is the Raphael 8404. I made a video comparing it to a lot of other typical sable hair brushes and it came out on top. Alternatively, if you can't find the Raphael 8404 in stock anywhere, you can also use the Davinci Maestro series. It's a touch smaller than the 8404, but still very good. The workhorse size for the 8404 and the maestro is the size 1. For more control or for faster paint application, the size 0 and 2 are great, respectively. You shouldn't need anything else other than that (even for eyes!).
Amazon Raphael 8404 Links:
Jackson Art Raphael 8404 Links:
Amazon Davinci Maestro Links:
Jackson Art Davinci Maestro Links:
DISCLAIMER: It must be said that due to the scarcity of sable in US markets, it's very likely that these brushes will be sold out or expensive. Also, sometimes you'll get a brush that frays faster than it should. The sable hair industry can at times feel like a bit of a lottery. I've had a lot of luck with the Raphael 8404s, but I know other people who haven't.
If you want the maximum use out of your brushes, here are some tips for best practices when it comes to using your brushes and maintaining them.
Debatably as important as paintbrushes is the paint you use. Now, the comparison video I made on paint was specifically in regards to paint sets for beginners meaning if you have nothing and are looking to start out, this is the set you should buy, and a pretty clear winner was the Vallejo Model Color set. It came with such a wide variety of paints and allows you to really grow with the set without holding you back.
Link: Vallejo Model Color Set
DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that this is not a paint range comparison. There are SO many paint ranges on the market and to compare them all would be an incredibly arduous task. At some point in the future I'd like to do this with the popular brands, but at the time of writing this article, it has not been done.
Airbrushes are another popular way to apply paint. Unfortunately, there are a kajillion of them and they range in price wildly. I made a video comparing a few of the most ubiquitous, mid-range priced, dual action, gravity fed airbrushes from the most popular brands and my favorite amongst them was the Iwata HP-CS. It was the perfect amount of precision, and ease of use. However, for 50% of the price and 85% of the performance, you can buy a Badger Patriot 105 which is a great airbrush if you're a beginner. To get all my feedback about the airbrushes I tested, make sure to watch the video.
DISCLAIMER: Depending on where you live, these brushes can vary wildly in price. For instance, my EU viewers are going to struggle to get Badger airbrushes at a reasonable price. Iwata is often more wildly available, but Harder & Steenbeck is another great brand that's more available in the EU, albeit at sort of a premium. I tested the Evolution, wasn't the most fond of it, but other H&S airbrushes exist if you're willing to shell out the dosh.
Primer is another quite devisive topic in the miniature painting world. I've done some testing with various products (and made a video, surprise, surprise) and my favorite airbrush primer is Vallejo's airbrush primer, but there's a caveat: it doesn't sand very nicely and also you need to give it 24 hours to cure before doing anything with it. For sand-ability and impatience (me), Badger's Stynlrez primer is the way to go. In terms of aerosol primers, at the time of writing this article, my research is inconclusive, so I do not feel comfortable recommending something.
There are a lot of other, miscellaneous products that I use on most if not all of my miniature projects. I didn't make a video comparing these products to their competitors, I've just slowly discovered over time what works well.
I'm a big fan of the Tamiya Side Cutters for clipping miniatures out of plastic sprues. I like how much of a point it comes too, it allows for good precision. There are definitely cheaper options from companies like Xuron that work, but they seem slightly sloppier to work with. You definitely want to exclusively use these clippers with plastic miniatures. If you do any kind of clipping of pewter miniatures, brass rod, aluminum, etc. use a cheaper pair. I learned that lesson the hard way. The Xuron 410s are a good, competitively priced clipper for stuff like that.
Link: Tamyia Side Cutters
Another important cutting tool is the Xacto knife and surprisingly I have an opinion about these as well. Excel makes excellent soft grip Xacto knives and I like them a lot because you can loosen the grip on the blade at the bottom. This is so nice because I'm not trying to unjam my xacto near the blade fearing for my fingers. It's also hex keyed so you can use a wrench to unstick it, if it's ever giving you grief. Also...it comes in red... While on the topic of Excel and also red, I also use their Hobby Saw. It's great because it has a very thin kerf and the blade has teeth so you can cut wider pieces. Unlike your flush cutters, it won't pinch the material, and unlike xacto knives, it won't be a struggle to cut.
In terms of cleaning up models, I'm a big fan of flexible sanding twigs. They allow you to conform to the surface of what you're sanding meaning if you're sanding a round surface you can remove a mold line without ruining your curve. Think of it like a sanding sponge but a lot smaller and more maneuverable. These are often hard to find online. I find my locally at hobby lobby, but a few brands sell similar offerings and may be available at a local hobby store for you.
Link: Alpha Abrasives Sanding Twigs
On the subject of sanding and filing, I love squadron's micro file set. It's just the right amount of precision for our hobby. If you need a normal sized file set, Tamiya's set is great, but at this size, many brands can fill that need.
Link: Squadron Needle Files
I use a rotary tool a lot for pinning, drilling holes, etc. The one I use is the dremel 3000. The one thing annoying about this is it's a little unwieldy while holding in a "pencil" configuration. Sometimes, it can be helpful depending on what you're doing. Dremel makes a pistol grip model that solves this, but I've personally never used it. Additionally, you'll need a good cheap set of drill bits (you'll break them a lot because they're tiny), and also a drill chuck will allow you to drill all kinds of holes!
Glues are important for adhering resin, plastic, and pewter miniatures alike. I'm pretty sure if we were to compare all super glues and plastic cements, they'd chemically be the same product (don't quote me). That being said I use Tamiya Extra Thin Cement and Bob Smith Industries Super Glue and the Insta-Set religiously, and by religiously I mean I use the glues a lot but I would probably use anything if it happened to be next to me.
Bob Smith Industries Super Glue
I use a wet palette all the time when painting and my favorite one on the market is the Masterson wet palette. It's the perfect mixture of dead simple to use and price (yes I've heard of the everlasting wet palette, no I don't like it).
Link: Masterson Wet Palette
When it comes to varnishing miniatures, it's only ever on gaming miniatures and I'm only ever looking for the simplest solution; that means aerosol. No fussing about cleaning up airbrushes, no controls to modulate, just point and spray. For me, Testors Dullcote is the widely used go-to, and it's also my go-to; it works, it's widely available, it doesn't mess with your paint job too much.
Link: Testors Dullcote
When it comes to sculpting, I lack skills. However, the two forms of sculpting material I use the most are Apoxie Sculpt and also Millput. Milliput is water soluble and dries to a very hard, sandable finish. It's great for sculpting very sharp details and also for filling gaps.
Apoxie sculpt is another air drying, 2 part sculpting material but isn't so fragile. It's great for larger, curved shapes and also can be smoothed very well with a little vaseline and color shapers, which I use a ton.
I own both firm and soft color shapers. They're great for different things. For instance, if your putty is starting to set up, a firmer tool is helpful for pushing things into place. For the majority of use cases, I'd say that soft color shapers are fine. These tools, when combined with some kind of lubricant whether it's water, vaseline, etc. create a very smooth, and nice finish on all of your putty work.
While we're on the topic of sculpting, I also use this one dental tool almost exclusively. Combined with the color shapers, all my novice "sculpting" needs are met.
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