Instar Paint Range Review for Miniatures & Models

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I’ve had this range in my to-do list for quite some time. Come and see what we think of the Instar Paint Range in our Instar Paint Review.

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Instar Paint Range – Summary

Instar is a solid range and one I hope we can all support since it is a small family-run business rather than a massive corporation trying to squeeze you for every penny (you know who I’m talking about).

Their “Paint” line (Paint is the name of one of their ranges) is comparable to all the other miniature paint brands on the market with hues directly comparable to Citadel Colours.

The variety of options, from Bottle Size to Finish Type are not seen from many other companies and the range is worth a look for this choice alone.

Water+ is a must-try medium for all miniature painters.

Alpha is really new and has some great coverage – but this is a double-edged-sword, as with anything new – we the public do not know how to get the most out of them yet – some more work is needed here to promote this part of the range.

Instar Paint Range – Range

It took me a while to figure out how to approach this review – For a small family-run company, the breadth of their paint range is incredibly vast!

To summarise what we’ve had to cover, see the list below;

  • Paint – Alternatives to the existing Citadel Colour line
  • Vintage – As above but based on classic 3rd-5th edition colours
  • Spectrum – Metallic Colour Shifting Additives
  • Metallic – A range of Metallics – Including various colours
  • Provectus – Other Additives
  • Alpha – A unique formulation which is thin and pigment dense

A great draw for this line is that all the colours and additives are offered in various sizes – From a small 2ml sample bottle, incrementally all the way up to a huge 100ml bottle of paint.

Water+ which is Instar’s version of a pure medium is incredibly solid and is certainly one of the strongest mediums I’ve used. We’ll get into that in a bit, but it is worth separate mention as the absolute stand-out of this line. Put it this way – I’ll never buy Lahmian Medium again!

The packaging for the bottles is simple and could do with having just a tad more character to wow anyone. But they are not obstructive and don’t cover the most important thing – the paint. The most useful thing with any bottle is to see clearly how much you have left.

All the paints and additives come in dropper bottles (tick!) and they all have proper stainless-steel agitators too (Double-Tick!).

The bottles also have safety caps meaning they need to be pressed and twisted before you can open them. For those of you like me who have people with tittle fingers running around – this is a nice addition that no other brand has even considered.

As the paint is quite thin, the nozzles are quite thin too, which means they are prone to clogging. In fact, the first paint, I tried literally exploded all over my palette, desk, walls and carpet (do not tell my wife, she still doesn’t know and doesn’t read Fauxhammer.com) from a slight squeeze. Ooops.

But anyway, tip here, keep a paperclip handy.

With so much paint to look at, and only so much article I can write before people turn off from it – I decided to limit my testing to be directly in relation to the claims about each line on Instar’s website.

Instar Paint Range – Paint

The Paint line consists of 57 colours and is Instar’s first line of paint – Initially developed as a direct alternative choice against Citadel Colours with several improvements made.

Instar Paint Range – Paint – Base Coating

So the first thing we are going to look at is, as stated on the website;

The original paint, designed to act as both primer and paint

Instar – Paint

So let’s see how it works as a primer, shall we? On the model below – I applied Instar Matte Arctic White (I’ll cover Matte Vs Sheen in a mo) on the right and side (The model’s left) and Citadel’s Ceramite White to the boot on the left (the mode’s right boot).

Instar Paint Range Review - Paint as Primer

Coverage wise the Instar Paint was relatively unthinned (just a normal amount of water on the brush) is about on par with Ceramite White, which was thinned about 50/50 with water. Again the Matte texture here is helpul as it created a little bit of drag which I was able to feel as I brushed the layers. A nice bit of tactile feedback to help understand when it is smooth.

It also had a better surface grip, whereas the Ceramite White was washier. Whilst the 1 coat in each did not fully cover the model you can clearly see how the instar paint-covered more surface area and the citadel paint ran to the recesses.

Instar Paint Range – Paint – Airbrushing

The next test as a primer is to use it through an airbrush.

The Instar paint needed very little thinning with only a couple of drops of Vallejo Airbrush Thinner needed to get a perfect spray consistency. Before I sprayed this, however, I had added a few more coats to the model with a brush – so it was quite thick before I started.

Instar Paint Range Review - Airbrush Basecoat

It airbrushed on really well and the layer was solid. the above picture was after I gave it a gentle rub a few times with my thumb to see if the paint would flake off – nothing. Whilst it is on pretty thick, consider that this was straight onto the plastic without any primer beneath – this is really great. So for those of you painting to play tabletop games – win!

Next, I airbrushed some of the Instar Arctic White Sheen on the opposite side of the model to compare the finish.

Instar Paint Range Review - Matte Vs Gloss

You should clearly be able to see the texture difference of the shineier sheen on the left vs the dull matte finish on the right. I would have compared a different colour but white was the only colour I had in both finishes.

All Instar Paint colours are available in either Matte or Sheen. Having this option is is a huge benefit to this range, which is an absolute win for me.

I’m typically always looking for a more matte texture to my paint. I’ve found that the slight texture of this finish really helps pull paint from my brush and stops it from running into crevices as much. It’s only a slight difference but one I much prefer in my style of painting.

But Matte paint has the double-edged-sword drawback of holding onto the paint, maybe even when you don’t want it to, such as with washes. Meaning flat surfaces are more affected by the wash discolouration, when you may only want paint in the recesses.

On the other hand, the sheen paints will provide smoother texture – So if you are a painter who doesn’t apply varnishes after your paint job and you want each layer to have the texture of the finished article as you use it – here you have those choices out of the bottle.

Instar Paint Range – Paint – vs Citadel

Now, whilst it doesn’t say it on the website, a few other impressions of this range did – The Instar paint range is a direct replacement for Citadel Colours.

Like a few companies -Instar has a conversion chart on their website for the Paint Range and Vintage Range.

So I decided to put these to the test for colour and coverage using the cards I created for a previous review.

So just a reminder on them – I am painting here onto primer applied to a plastic surface. Not card or paper but the same primer most people will use on their models.

Instar Vs Citadel Base Colours

First up for the test I picked out some of Citadel’s base colours and the comparison colours from Instar. I would have used a Red, Yellow and Blue but I didn’t Have the Instar equivalent to Averland Sunset – so warm-green it is.

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar A Bottles

Poping the paint on to the palette, I immediately noticed the colours are clearly different from each other in their liquid form. In the case of the Red Crimson, the Red is more of a peach. One thing to note is that these Instar paints are all Matte (which is what I requested from them).

From my experience, adding a matte medium to any colour will slightly tint is hue, I presume that with a sheen version the matches could be more direct.

But, I haven’t painted with these matte paints yet, they could darken (Spoliers – they don’t).

The other thing is how thin these paints were. Other reviewers have said they are pre-thinned, which is great for those of you have always asked – “why don’t paints come at the right consistency out of the bottle?”

Well – these pretty much do – though you still need at least a damp brush.

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar A Paints

Below I’ve applied the paint to the primer test card in layers. Yes I know I have primer spackle all over – its a “test” card – I don’t care. Do not say “gangsta-gumbo” at me – I know!

I’ve kept the paints in the same order as the bottles above – so it’s Citadel -Instar – Citadel -Instar – Citadel -Instar.

Instar Vs Citadel Base Colours – 1 Layer

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar A - 1 Coat

After the first layer where the Citadel paint was thinned with water about 50:50 and the Instar thinned maybe 9:1 paint:water we can see the coverage isn’t quite as strong from Instar. But these are Citadel’s Base Paints – made for richer coverage in fewer coats – Instar, on the whole, is much more consistent across the entire range.

Instar Vs Citadel Base Colours – 3 Layers

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar A - 3 Coats

At 3 layers in, Citadel has all but covered whereas we need to keep going with Instar

Instar Vs Citadel Base Colours – Several Layer

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar A - Several Coats

By the time I finished I was several coats in so lets take a look at each.

Crimson Red Matte – Taking 8 coats we still have some shading on this paint and would need to keep going for a complete layer. the thicker it gets the darker it gets and at the thickest points have some similarities with Mephiston Red. But it’s definitely not the same colour.

Now to be fair Citadel Mephiston Red is a magical colour. If you have tried Red paints from any other brands you’ll know that they are pretty poor when it comes to coverage – GW has unlocked something special here and I’m yet to find another red from anyone that covers this well. Instar is fairly comparable to any other brand.

Military Green Matte is pretty much indistinguishable from Caliban Green (as noted in a review from one of my own favourite blogs) but this also took 8 coats for solid coverage.

If you’re painting an army of Dark Angels, especially if you have an airbrush, and more if you prefer a matte finish like me – Then I think we just found your next purchase…

Sapphire Blue like any blue had better coverage than most. At only 5 layers this was a solid coat and whilst is not the colour same as Caledor Sky – it’s close enough.

Lets have a look at what these paints are like compared to Citadel’s Layer paints

Instar Vs Citadel Layer Colours

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar A B

So we can see below that immediately these colours are much closer to their citadel counterparts – There is some slight difference in hue but only in that they are a bit lighter – as expected from something like a matting agent.

Again, I don’t know if the sheen colours are a closer match, I’ve just inferred that the lightness is due to the matte agent based on my own experience with such products (as we’ll see in the Provectus tests below).

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar B Paints

Instar Vs Citadel Layer Colours – 1 Layer

Instar Paint Range Review - Citadel Base vs Instar B - 1 Coat

Once applied we can see again that the citadel paints do have slightly better coverage, but this is based on thinning the Citadel paints down to what I consider to be a layer consistency. Which may or may not be thicker than most people use.

The colours, however, are almost exact again to their Citadel counterparts – so there’s certainly an argument for switching to these as alternatives especially if you want the finish choices and bottle-size options.

This test also shows comparable layer consistency between these Instar colours and those above – Once again highlighting that Instar is a more consistent range than Citadel.

Instar Paint Range – Provectus

The Provectus line is pretty simple as it is the 4 additive agents you can use to change the properties of your paint. Nice and simply named;

  • Water+
  • Gloss+
  • Matte+
  • Metal+ (but I don’t have any)

Yep, Nice and simple.

So Water+ is essentially pure medium, Gloss+ will make your paint finish glossy and Matte+ will make your paints more matte. You can also use the Gloss+ as a makeshift varnish if you wish.

Whilst the paint range above comes in Matte or Sheen, you may want to change the properties of a paint you already have. Gloss+ will make your sheen paint glossier, or even change a matte to a sheen or gloss. These also work with any other brands of acrylic paints too.

Below I’ve mixed in some Ocean Blue Matte with normal water then each of the Provctus line in the order listed.

Instar Paint Range Review - Water, WaterPlus, GlossPlus, MattePlus
Left to right; Water – Water+ – Gloss+ – Matte+

Water – many people think water is water, but you can get a difference in your paint depending on a lot of factors – To be certain of the results you need to use distilled water or water purified for window cleaners (the guys who us ethe big rod and a brush rather than the guys who climb ladders with a sponge). You can even get better results out of a Britta water filter

I didn’t realise how much your water affected your paint until I moved house and got a much newer, cleaner supply – anyway, I digress. With all the water options available, here I opted for tap.

As you can see, when thinned with water, paint can end up quite blotchy as the pigment separates. This is essentially the control for this test

Water+ is a medium and whilst it thins the paint it encourages the pigment to bind getting much smoother transitions from opaque to translucent.

Note: instar have advised me that this is not technically a medium but they are appropriately staying silent about what the chemical make up it. IMHO, it reduces opacit and viscosity of paint to a certain degree, whilst keeping pigment evenly dispersed – it may not technially be a medium, but it works the same way as a medium so for the sake of simplicty – I’m calling it a medium.

Like with any medium, you need to use this right because it can leave harsh edges and pool marks. This stuff is incredibly useful for making a glaze or an all-over wash from any of your existing paints. But if you are pin washing, either preload the whole area with some water+ first or thin it right down to an almost transparent consistency then build it up in layers.

Gloss+ does what it says on the tin, it gives a solid sheen to the paint whilst encouraging the pigment to bind. Again, like with any gloss medium, don’t apply the paint too thick or it will crack as it dries (shown above – but I just slapped the paint on)

Matte+ is super matte, this stuff is really great. You only need a drop to change the properties of quite a lot of paint. Again, as I’ve said a few times now, Matte Medium will tint the hue of your paint making it lighter.

Instar Paint Range – Alpha

I tried, I really tried…

Ok, I need to put a reminder here that I’m a reviewer, and this review is my own personal view and opinion. It’s neither right nor wrong and I’m not trying to be. You may disagree with me and that’s fine (actually it’s great when people disagree with me they share, comment and argue on my articles more – and I get more visits!). But anyway, you can probably guess what’s coming.

Put simply, I “presently” can’t get on with these paints. But I don’t think they are meant for me and they are not without their own strengths.

Let’s take a brief look at the description

INSTAR Alpha is a revolutionary new paint formulation that exists nowhere else in the world.

As thin as a wash with an ultra high opacity and with all the control of a normal thinned paint means that not only can your miniatures look amazing on the table, but also game ready fast!

Instar – Alpha

So, first up whilst this may be a formula that exists nowhere else in the world, there are some other brands with a range of paints that acts in the exact same way as these and I had the same issues with those too.

If anyone has used Daler & Rowney Inks (which are popular amongst miniature airbrushers) these act the same. So to me, they are some super opaque inks – which is Brill.

But I have been told by Instar they are not Inks but that they are made to bridge the gap between acrylics and inks. I have to wonder, what gap..?

Below I’m going to recreate some of my initial tests but I just want to say that I wasn’t even this successful with them at first. I’m here to show you my experience with them so you can know what to expect and decide if they are right for you.

Instar Alpha with Water

Like with any paints, I just immediately slapped them down on my wet palette to get a good layer consistency. From the initial bead of paint, I pulled away and watered down to make the consistency I wanted and went to paint.

After my first layer, I went back to the palette to find it had very quickly become overdiluted. to the point of unusable.

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha on wet-palette

The layer coverage & consistency was not too great either. With the water added, the paint would run or congeal in certain spots. Filling gaps and leaving areas of pooling over a flat surface.

It also dried really quick, even between strokes, I found that applying 1 layer directly next to the other would pull at the already applied paint

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Watered Down

I went back to Instar to get some guidance and found that water does not work too well with these. It needs a medium like Water+ and or a drying retarder to thin them down. But they should not need thinning – just slap the paint on and it should cover the surface without detail loss.

Instar Alpha – Unthinned

So I got to slapping it down with a brush which was nothing more than damp. I still had the issue with fast-drying but more so now. I tried painting faster but I was unable to keep up with the drying time.

So I applied it thicker so that the paint on the model would stay wet. This stopped the subsequent strokes pulling at first but made me worried I was overdiluting the model with paint which would cause detail loss. I also started creating air bubbles in the paint on the model.

Whilst the thickness had stopped me getting the pulling from brushstrokes, the drying time was still too fast for me to do any recovery with the bubbles.

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Pure

Once dried I ended up with a surface where detail had been quite clogged and the air bubbles left visible holes in the surface.

Whilst I’m showing the same model here, I actually tried this paint across several models without success – this is just my latest. I had however been given some examples of the type of finish that was achievable with these, so I was left wondering what I was doing wrong. – I’ll come back to that.

Instar Alpha with Water+

Taking on the next piece of advice – I added some Water+ to the mix, just a drop as advised, essentially I wet my brush with Water+ and then went to pick up the paint.

Finally some results.

Also, by the way, the finish for the whole alpha range is generally a hard-sheen almost gloss like. I always finish my models with varnishes anyway – but you do you.

Shown above – left after 1 coat and right after 3 coats. I was now able to get nice smooth coverage with these paints. Also, remember what I said above about Matte vs Glossy? Do you see on the first pic how consistent the layer is over the matte coat vs the more wishy-washy layers over the sheen… That’s why I prefer a matte finish.

But after thinning and using 3 layers, it did leave me wondering, why am I using these instead of just paint?

Instar Alpha Airbrushing

Next up I decided to put these through my airbrush neat as claimed on the site

It’s also airbrush ready as well so you can just add the paint and pull the trigger, nothing else required*

*Because of the fast drying time, you may wish to add a small amount of retarder

Instar – Alpha

I didn’t use retarder, I just popped them straight into my airbrush – and like the site says, they airbrush perfectly fine out of the bottle, but yes, they also dried too fast and my airbrush needed a thorough cleanout aftterwards.

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Airbrush

They do however airbrush on beautifully and make some incredibly intense transitions. Here’s the beginnings of a model walking at night over a warm glowing floor if I’ve ever painted one.

However, due to this intensity, you do get quite a bit of speckling with your overspray.

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Airbrush 2

So I decided to thin down the Alpha paints to see if I could make some translucent layers.

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Airbrush 3

Unfortunately, the answer was no, I ended up increasing the fluidity with no impact on transparency. This is a clear testament to just how strong that pigment is in these paints. But for airbrushing, I just ended up with the paint running into all the details first and clogging them up.

This isn’t bad, it just means I would reserve the use of these paints for areas where I want an immediate and intense colour change – like when I’d use inks.

Instar Alpha – Unthinned Continued

I went back to Instar and cited the following example as one where I was unable to even match these results. This is the only example I can find online showing the coverage level which was explained to me.

I was put in touch with another painter who has used them for a while but with no online guides showing them. It would be unfair for me to indirectly learn techniques which I could not pass on to you – that’s not my job here – it’s Instars’.

I need to show my own experience with them using the resources available to us all so I can appropriately set your expectations. Instead, I copied the test from the video below trying to get the same results.

So I set up the test using the same part (a Space Marine Backpack primed white), the same brush, the same technique and if you look closely, you’ll notice I even used the same palette…

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Yellow Test A

And I still get results with bubbles and detail loss where the paint has built up in the recesses So I must be doing something wrong… right?

That’s when I went back to the video and studied it very closely (as it’s only in 720p) and there it was – the same detail loss.

Just in case it’s hard to spot, I’ve marked it below, it’s difficult to see in this resolution.

So at this point, I was confident I was not using them wrong as I’m getting the same results. With a heavy application of paint, it does go on and dry smooth, but there is detail loss – I’m sure I could improve my results with time and get the balance of paint application just right. But I think for me it would be an improvement at best, not a game changer.

Instar Paint Range Review - Alpha Yellow Test B

It was about this time when I had a realisation of what I was working with. They’re just like Citadel Contrast paints (which are basically just inks) but much more opaque.

They won’t thin well with water, they need to be applied quite thick and you need specific mediums to thin them down. Just like Contrast paints. But the benefit here is that you get much more opaque coverage and due to that, less visible pooling on flat surfaces. (a drawback of the Contrast range). It’s not gone, it’s just less visible.

So that’s it, these are good paints with excellent coverage – I just don’t think they are for me

Or my Space Marines – so this one is having a bath in Isopropamnol (IMHO the best stuff for stripping paint off your miniatures)

Instar Paint Range Review - Paint Stripper

Instar Paint Range – Price & Availability

Instar is a small family run business based in the UK – all paints are available on their website. I don’t know of any Friendly Local Games Stores stocking these yet.

Price-wise – this depends on what you buy. I’ll need to talk in price per ml rather than bottle price as there are so many quantities to choose from.

The entire range (except the metallics which are a little higher) is priced at 11p-35p (British Pence) per ml (RRP) for the largest quantity to the smallest.

To compare this with the like of Citadel which is currently 22p per ml, you can either make a loss or a huge saving on comparable paints.

However, you need to consider that when compared with the Citadel Base range at least, you are could be using nearly twice as much Instar paint.

Looking at the directly comparable Instar paint sizes of 10ml and 20ml bottles (vs Citadels 12ml pots). You are paying 21p or 14p per ml respectively. So, whilst the 10 ml bottles are technically cheaper per ml, 20ml bottles really are the sweet spot here.

Will Instar Paint improve my Hobby?

We need to split this down really, on costs yeah, if you’re painting an army and can find a colour match in their range to your existing Citadel Colours.

Which is why their 2ml sample pots are a godsend!

They are especially useful if you also use an airbrush, as the layer coverage becomes a moot point. So when the colours match or if you haven’t started your new army yet and just need close approximations – hands down – Instar over Citadel any day.

As a beginner you also have the benefit of having a more consistent paint line across the range as opposed to one where you need to learn and remember how each paint acts before you commit it to model – This is one of the greatest burdens for many up-and-coming painters – But the truth is, as you progress, different paint consistency is just something you need to get used to.

Water+ is something you need to try out. If you have ever used Lahmian Medium or plan to use it again. Bin it and get a 100ml bottle of this. Heck, get 2 or 5.

Just to drive this point home, here’s a picture of an award-winning model it was used on.

Oh my word, just stare at this for a minute! But first, put a pillow down as your jaw is going to hit the floor!

I’m not sure if any Instar “paints” were used on this – but this is shown on the Instar Website as a testament to the Water+ product.

Go back and look again, literally how good is that bust!?

The Alpha range leaves much to be desired – yeah it’s fairly original and has some strengths for large army painters – but the marketing around it needs to be improved.

Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of Hyperbole going on and not enough live examples to back up the claims. This stuff is new, great… I’m all for new – but I made the same assessment with the Artis Opus Series D Brush set – where there were at least some how-to videos and impressive pro-painter examples.

Show us, don’t tell us. We Miniature Painters don’t want just the latest product – we want to paint the best models.

Apparently the following was painted entirely with Instar Alpha by Aphex Paint Studio – but having used them myself it does leave me (and will leave you) with one question, how?

When you look at painters with this level of skill – I imagine they can make good arwork with a sweeping brush and some tar – but for the millions of us in that intermediate category from between beginner and whatever god-tier this above image is – we need more publiclly available guidance than examples.

Instar, please can you get us some detailed videos on how to get the most out of these Alpha Paints? Because just like other Smaller Companies – You need to get the pro’s showcasing the benefits on their videos.

Instar Paint Range – Final Thoughts

ProsCons
Water+
Comparable to Citadel Colours
Consistent Coverage
Cheaper for Large Quantities
Optional Matte or Sheen
Family-run business
Paint Coverage is OK
No Instar Alpha Guides

Overall the Instar paint range is solid. As the colours aren’t quite the same but are still directly comparable to Citadel, the strength really lies there – you can get more paint much cheaper.

But I get the impression that this line is coming to an end – which, if true, is a huge shame because they are great paints.

If you haven’t heard it enough, here I go one more time – Buy some Water+

As for the Alpha – until I see some guides I can follow to get more out of these, they are basically opaque inks. If you just want an army painted quick and don’t care much for some detail loss these will do that jobs super-quick and with less visible surface pooling than Citadel Contrast.

Whilst Instar stand by the statement that these are not inks all I can say to that is;

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

These are on my shelf and will be used in the exact same scenario where I would use an ink.

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  • Self-appointed Editor in chief of FauxHammer.com - But I need to thank the team for existing and therefore enabling me to give myself role - without them, I'm just a nerd with a computer and a plastic addiction.

About FauxHammer 210 Articles
Self-appointed Editor in chief of FauxHammer.com - But I need to thank the team for existing and therefore enabling me to give myself role - without them, I'm just a nerd with a computer and a plastic addiction.

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