Hobby 101: Starter Sets to Begin Your Journey

Over the years the Goonhammer crew have put together a vast and expansive library of painting guides. Appropriately titled “How to Paint Everything” we’ve got schemes and recipes for 100s of models. They all, however, assume you know the difference between wet blending and glazing or what the hell “zenithal” means. Welcome to Hobby 101. This series will lay the groundwork to teach you the fundamentals and best practices to make your models shine. 

The Hobby 101 series is sponsored by The Army Painter.

If you’re like me, the inspiration to paint came by watching people on YouTube do it. Whether it was Mr. Two Thin Coats Duncan, or some other rad lad or lass (of which there are many), you were struck by that hankering for hobbying.

You want to follow their guide, use their expertise to improve your own, and you go online, or to your FLGS, and find… a lot of paints. Acrylics. Oils. Washes. SpeedPaints. Contrast Paints. Enamels. All from as many brands as you can think of, with more entering the game every day.

Raf's Hobby Desk
How do you end up with a hobby station like this? One marginally necessary purchase at a time. Credit: Raf Cordero

Vallejo. ArmyPainter. Citadel. DarkStar. Scale75. Ammo by MIG. Vallejo Model Colour. Vallejo Game Colour. Vallejo Panzer Aces. 

For people with experience in the world of hobby painting, it can be hard to remember what sort’ve effect this creates on people new into the hobby. Choice overload, paralysis and buyer’s remorse as you uhm-and-ah over which paint not just replicates the colour shown to you in the video, but also behaves in a way that’s similar enough to where the advice given in the video still applies.

A lot of brands offer Starter Sets, conveniently priced to get you a bunch of paint to get you started and some also include the tools you need to start assembling minis. If you’re reading this as you begin your dive into Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar, Star Wars: Shatterpoint, Marvel Crisis Protocol, or any of the other games that require assembly you’ll need more than paint! 

We’ve gotten the GH team together here to talk about the pros and cons of different starter sets, their strengths, and what they might be lacking.

The Army Painter – Warpaints: Starter Paint Set

Army Painter Starter
The Army Painter Warpaints Starter Set. Credit: The Army Painter

A major brand within the miniature painting space, The Army Painter is a dedicated option for newbies and budget-conscious hobbyists who want to start a collection without denting their bank account too badly. In addition to paint, they produce a full line of hobby tools and brushes, making The Army Painter a one-stop shop. I also can’t remember the last time I went into a gaming store that didn’t carry The Army Painter, making it easy to expand your collection or replace any “must have” colors.

The Warpaints Starter Set includes a lot of core colours that will get you started on most projects. You have your primary colours covered with Pure Red, Ultramarine Blue, and Daemonic Yellow. You have a useful brown with, Leather Brown, a decent flesh tone in Barbarian Flesh, a universally useful metallic silver in Plate Mail Metal, and a Matt White and Matt Black. 

Where this kit shines is the included free wash: Strong Tone. A wash will let you complete a model start to finish in no time following the popular methods. It’s a watery paint that’ll sink into the recesses and tint them darker, making the model more defined with lights and darks. 

The Army Painter’s strong tone is a dark brown, which will compliment most of your models painted with the colours in this set.

What’s even more handy is the inclusion of a free paint brush. You’re very likely to want to get some more paint brushes of different sizes eventually, but a brush is a brush, and will always find some use in your arsenal whether you’re starting out or down the line when you are more experienced. The Hobby Starter Brush Set is a great set to pick up at the beginning, giving you a couple painting brushes and a drybrush.

Vallejo Model Colour: Basic USA

Vallejo Basic USA
Credit: Vallejo

Taking your first step into the hobby, you’re bound to find one brand that shines bright alongside the others: Vallejo. Vallejo is a longstanding company that has its fingers in more than just paints for your wargaming figurines—military model kits, dioramas, canvas painting, Vallejo does it all. It’s easy at first glance to be overwhelmed by all the offerings and different product ranges they have. 

Vallejo Model Colour is, in my opinion, the most versatile product range bar none. It’s no fuss, get what it says on the bottle—there’s no branding to the names in VMC, it’s names of colours and that’s it. Like most companies, Vallejo offers their paints in individual sets to get you started, but there’s only one I really recommend: Basic USA

Vallejo’s Basic USA is, what I can assume, is meant to be a coverall for painting WW2 USA models—or a really funky American Flag. I’m not too sure. I am sure, however, that this set includes core colours that’ll cover most of your needs when it comes to getting your first mini painted up. If you’re looking to paint up your first Space Marine, you’ve got plenty of colours to do up just about each of the main chapters! 

Azure and Flat Blue both each make a fine basecoat for an Ultramarine, or a Crimson Fist. Yellow Ochre can make an Imperial Fist. Flat Red would make a good starting point for a Blood Angel. Flat Green for a Salamander, Refractive Green for a Dark Angel. Black & White for Black Templars and White Scars respectively.

And whichever you don’t pick for your main colour will make a fine secondary colour – Flat Brown & Buff are both good browns (which you’ll soon find out you can never have too many shades of.) You even have a metallic to cover your weapons, trinkets, and trim – a Silver, and a Gold. Both perfectly serviceable for getting your first miniature onto the table and looking snazzy.

There are a few weak points in this set that need a little more thought before application. Clear Orange & Lemon Yellow are not suitable for basecoats. Orange is a tricky colour entirely, and doesn’t cover your model very well unless you build up from a white. Lemon Yellow is extremely light, and doesn’t cover well either, and generally has a more niche application. It would do fine for eye lenses, but you need to paint it over White or you’ll struggle.

You’ll also notice this set includes no Washes. This is an absolute downside that needs to be considered. Vallejo Washes, generally, aren’t fantastic in my opinion. This reinforces an absolutely crucial bit of advice though: experiment with different brands. 

There is no one Good Brand. Each Brand has its own strengths and weaknesses. Vallejo’s Washes aren’t fantastic when compared to say Citadel’s Agrax Earthshade, or Army Painter’s Dark Tone.  It gets more specific than that, but that’s for a future article. All you need to know is that if you buy this set, you should invest in some washes to go along with it. A brown wash like Agrax Earthshade is universal and beloved for a reason – it can fit into so many projects, and when you’re just getting started, building a library of go-to paints is important as you learn and grow as a painter. 

While Vallejo does not quite have the same market penetration as The Army Painter (at least in the US) it is not difficult to find. Many gaming stores carry it, as do hobby stores dedicated to model trains, planes, and cars.

Reaper – Learn To Paint Kit: Core Skills

Reaper Set
Credit: Reaper

A handy kit that’s designed from the ground up to carry you into your first miniature projects. Once more, it’s a strong showing of a colours you’ll be using from now until forever – Black, White, Browns, Green, Yellow, Blue, a shiny and a dark metallic silver, though noticeably no real red and no washes. I think that’s personally a shame, as red is a great colour and washes are very handy to new painters, but it’s not a massive gap to plug with a later purchase. 

Where Reaper’s kit shines is the inclusion of 3 Bones Miniatures – a Skeletal Archer, an Orc Marauder, and an Evil Warrior, and an instruction guide on how to paint them up using the paints and the two paint brushes included in the kit. Even if you aren’t strictly interested in painting one-off miniatures, having something to simply practise the art of moving paint to model and applying it smoothly and evenly without worry is incredibly useful. 

Reaper Bones’ miniatures also don’t require to be primed as long as you use Reaper paints, allowing you to dive straight into the painting process. It’s incredibly handy for getting some practice in, and getting further models isn’t too expensive from them either.  

Furthermore, MSP offers a kit designed to follow up this one, the Layer Up! Which focuses on practising more advanced skills. It gives you a place to grow into.  

What’s lacking on this kit is definitely the price, but you’re getting more than just paint with this kit. [Ed: I cut my teeth on Reaper paints, and Tanned Leather is still one of my all time favorite colors!]

Citadel Starter Kits 

Credit: Games Workshop

One of the biggest names in the game, and easily the line most common in game stores, is Citadel. To a lot of people, the only name in the game. Games Workshop’s offerings aren’t designed like the other sets. They’re not designed to give you a strong group of core paints to utilise over-and-over again. Instead they’re designed on giving you colours that are designed to achieve particular objectives – typically to paint a Warhammer miniature in the colours of the box art.

You’ve got six sets – 3 based in Age of Sigmar, and 3 based in Warhammer 40k.  

For 40K, you have:

For Age of Sigmar, you have:

In both the Space Marines & Necron Paint sets, you receive three miniatures the sets are named after, and 6 paints with which to paint them up in the colours of the box art, along with a starter brush to do it.  Each set contains a few core colours to paint those specific schemes, and some technical paints for each. Both sides get Astrogranite, a texture paint which you decorate your models base with, Necrons get Tesseract Glow, a transparent paint to create a glowing green effect. 

In the Warhammer 40,000: Paints + Tool set, you get no miniatures, but you get more paint. You get the paints offered in the Space Marine & Necron starter sets, allowing you to paint up some Bronzey Necrons and Blue Ultramarines, as well as some extra.  What this set offers over the others is inclusion of a pair of Citadel Clippers, and a Mouldline Scraper.  You also get the same Starter Brush as the other sets.  

In the Age of Sigmar Kits, you have the same options but to paint up Kruelboy Orks, or Stormcast Eternal Vindicators. Both of these come with a pot of Texture Paint much like the 40k  offerings, as well as a Starter Brush.

Following that trend, the Age of Sigmar Paint + Tools set is much like the 40k offering. Paint you get to paint up either Kruelboyz or Stormcast as their default boxart, a Pair of Clippers, a Mouldline Scraper, and a Starter Brush. 

Each of these kits are to allow you to paint what Games Workshop labels as ‘Battle Standard’. Core colours correctly in place, with a wash over the top to create definition. 

Ultimately, whether this paint set is worth it to you depends on your objective. Do you want to paint the miniatures in the boxes to look like they’re presented on the boxes? Do you care about getting miniatures to practise on at all? 

Games Workshop is pricey, and the paints are no exception. You get less paint in each pot compared to competitors, but the paint is quality. (Except for Corax White. A very notable exception.)  It also allows you to follow along with a wealth of painting videos Games Workshop have put out for years on their YouTube channel, using the colours they use on screen one-for-one in the way they utilise it.

First Steps and Next Steps

Regardless of which set you get, there may be a few more items you need to pick up. If you’re planning to paint minis that require assembling you’ll want:

  • Hobby clippers
  • A hobby knife
  • Plastic Cement

In addition, unless you’re planning to paint exclusively Reaper Bones miniatures with Reaper paints as your first layer, you’ll also need:

  • Primer

Luckily, Goonhammer is here to help! The Hobby 101 series will include tutorials and recommendations for all these products as well, so check back every Monday for more hobby 101 content. And if you have any questions or feedback, or just want some advice, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

Age of Sigmar: 3rd Edition

Warhammer 40k: 10th Edition

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