Metal and plastic miniatures do take some time and effort to paint realistically, and it is only fair to assume that most hobbyists would want their beautifully painted troops to stay painted for a lifetime. Unfortunately, we are often faced with the task of having to repair and refurbish the troops we meticulously painted a while ago, simply because the paint has since chipped off in several places and for no apparent reason. Inexplicable cracking, flaking and chipping of paint is sure to happen, no matter how carefully we store and transport our miniature armies. Many of us are led to believe that soft plastic figures are exclusively to blame for this, but the sad fact is that metal miniatures shed paint just as easily, even if we carefully store them in a display cabinet. If you have ever witnessed the spontaneous self-destruction of a treasured collectible you may already be aware of tin pest or plastic corrosion, but they are rare dangers compared to the worst enemy of your collection: bad choice of paint.
Enamel – hard and brittle
Enamel paint dries to a hard surfaced finish; it breaks and chips off if the painted surface is bent, or if it contracts and expands due to temperature changes. There‘s little you can do to avoid exposing your miniatures to temperature changes of up to 25 degrees Celsius, unless you are prepared to store them in climate-controlled display cases.
The great attraction of hobby enamel paints, especially the Humbrol range of authentic colours is that these paints are specifically formulated with the miniature painter and scale modeller in mind. Their secret formula is quite simple: they are desaturated “convenience” colours which provide instant aerial perspective. You don‘t need not know what aerial perspective is to get perfect “scale colour” results with these types of paints. Your miniatures will appear better painted and much more realistic in desaturated colours, which is why so many modellers swear by enamel hobby paints, but at a significant price. If you want your miniatures to stay painted, if you would rather not worry about paint cracking, flaking and chipping, you will want to avoid enamel paints like the plague.
If paint cracks, flakes and chips off miniatures, you‘re using the wrong paint for the job.
Humbrol and Revell have been offering some of their most popular colours in acrylic medium, which is the better choice for plastic modellers. Sadly, the acrylic ranges are far from complete, and they are still not as readily available as the toxic, solvent-based hobby enamel colours. Artists‘ acrylic paints, available at art supply stores, are an excellent alternative, and they are much cheaper than hobby paints sold in tiny bottles or tinlets.
Acrylic – adhesive and elastic
Acrylic paint adheres well and dries to a highly elastic finish; it stays on, even if the painted surface is bent. In the example pictured above, the artists‘ acrylic paint on both pikes is under heavy tension along the outer rims of the semi-circles, while the paint on inner surfaces is being compressed. The acrylic paint on these miniatures is still highly flexible more than 15 years after the pikemen were painted.
Don‘t let anyone tell you that soft plastic miniatures shed paint. The simple truth is, they do not, if you paint them with 100 % acrylic medium.