I was thrilled, last year, to win the Best Sci-Fi painting award at Chillcon in Derby. This left me loaded down with prize support and mong the prizes was a “Learn to Paint: Core Skills” kit from Reaper Miniatures. The irony, I assure you, is not lost on me. However, my questionable need for the kit aside, I was keen to try out Reaper’s paint and tools range. With other matters pressing, though, I had to put it aside until earlier this year.
I’ve now put the kit to a thorough use and am here to report back.
What’s in the kit?
Well, let’s take a look:
As you can see, you get a hard-shell plastic box filled with soft foam cut to accommodate 36 paint pots. You get 11 paints, 2 brushes and three minis.
The newer version of this kit is identical but with a different design of plastic box.
All three minis are from the Bones range of plastics.
These are all fantasy creatures, suitable for the collection of the Dungeon Master of your standard D&D adventure. On the left, an Orc Warrior. In the centre, a Dark Knight/Paladin. And on the right, a skeleton archer.
The Orc and Dark Knight are good sculpts, well cast. They take paint fine straight out of the box. You could afford to trim away mould lines if you have a craft knife or mould line removal tool, but assuming this is a kit for a beginner, you can get straight on with these guys. The skeleton archer, however, has a distinct backwards lean and no amount of heating, re-shaping and rapid cooling would remove it. Three times I thought I had him fixed but, within an hour, he was looking poised to topple backwards. Other than that point, though, he’s a decent sculpt.
The Bones material tends to lose the crispness of detail one gets from metal casting but, for a cheap alternative that gets numbers on the tabletop quick, it’s still a good product.
Neither the Orc nor the Dark Night are the minis pictured on the front of the box. I’ve checked the website and the minis on the box are supposed to be in the box. So I don’t know what happened there.
The brushes look good out of the box. I think they are synthetic rather than sable. The square-ended size 2 is a good brush for brush undercoating, large area basecoating and small area drybrushing. After two months of regular use it has barely changed shape from the day it exited the box and has become one of my go-to brushes for early stage painting.
The size 0, meanwhile… Well, this was it after the first two hours of painting:
As you can see, we already have a tip curl coming in and split hairs. This situation has only become worse with regular use and the brush is fit for little more than basecoating, now. Ugh.
It should be said: I do not treat my brushes well. I dip them too deeply into paint; always get dried gunk in the ferule; don’t use brush soap and I store them tip up, instead of tip dangling. Sometimes, I even leave them in the water pot overnight!
However, I did not do that to this brush. I took its plastic cover off; spent two hours painting, and this is what it looked like after that. Also, this is a beginner’s kit. You should expect users to treat the tools badly, because that’s what beginners do.
OK, so the main event. Here are the paints that come in the kit:
The black lids are the “high density pigment” colours. These are equivalent to Citadel’s “base” paints or what they used to call “foundation” paints. They are high pigment colours and provide solid colour coverage in a single application or, if you prefer, two thin coats.
These are the “Core Colours” – equivalent to Citadel “layer” paints – that go on top of the high pigment base colours, they are thinner, brighter colours (supposedly).
I don’t really care about a paint’s pigment content. I’m interested in its colour. However, I was impressed with the quality of all the paints in the set. They mix, flow, blend and cover well, regardless of type. Excepted Polished Silver. It bites. Did you ever use old Citadel Mithril Silver? Yeah? Worse than that.
However, with that exception I wouldn’t hesitate to buy Reaper paints in the future. They paint and flow well and, of course, come in dropper bottles. The bottles are ever so slightly smaller than those from Vallejo and Army Painter, so I guess you get a little less paint. They are also a bit more expensive than Valljeo paints at around £3 a bottle compared with about £2.50 a bottle for Vallejo. However, different deals apply depending on where you’re shopping and your mileage may vary.
More troubling is the selection of colours in the box. They have steel and silver (ugh) but not gold. They have blue and yellow but no red. But they do include green. Guys! If I want green and I have blue and yellow, I have green! They include no fewer than three shades of brown, and grey despite including black and white. I find this bizarre.
I threw it away. I didn’t even take a picture. That probably sounds super-snarky, so I should emphasize: I didn’t intentionally throw it away. But by the time I opened the box after it had sat awaiting my attention for almost eight months, there was no sign of it.
I vaguely remember casting an eye over it when I first got the kit. I wasn’t that impressed. But you’ll find no shortage of good beginner’s painting tutorials on YouTube so, I guess, no great loss.
Painting the Minis
I set myself the challenge of painting the three minis in the box with only the paints and brushes in the box.
Confession: I use a spray primer on all of these, because life is too short to be trying to use brush-on primer on Bones minis.
You can see the lean clearly in the rear shot, and the distortion in the bow. I’m assured by people who work regularly with Bones plastic that I should have used hotter water to re-shape this mini, ice water to cool it and then put it into the freezer for 24 hours. But, again, life’s too short.
I painted this one mostly with Harvest Brown then drybrushed Desert Sand over the top, with a final drybrush of Dragon White to finish of the upper details of the skull, knees and rib cage. Harvest Brown went on the leather and wood parts and I highlighted with Leather Brown. Candlelight Yellow went on the fletching and had to go on the tips of the bow in the absence of gold *grumble grumble*.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight got a Pure Black base over which I drybrushed Blade Steel. In the absence of red I was forced to paint the blade in a lava effect that went from Dragon White to Candlelight Yellow to Pure black *grumble grumble*.
I gave Naga Green an outing on the shield because, well, I had to paint something green for this review. I actually liked Naga Green best of the bright colours.
My favourite mini of the three, by far. The selection of browns and greys got a good workout on this guy and, yes, I did use Polished Silver to do a “true metallic metal” finish on the blades and armour. It still sucks. It blends very poorly and shows a distinct lack of desire to mix with other paints but, when used alone, has very poor coverage unless applies in what I would consider excessive quantities.
What was odd about the minis was that they didn’t seem well chosen to show off the paints in the kit. I had to make an effort to use the Naga Green, and I didn’t use Dragon Blue at all on these minis (I used it on different minis – it was fine). While we’re on that subject, by the way, what’s up with having “Dragon Blue” and “Dragon White”? This seems needlessly repetitive.
- The box is great. As a portable hobby kit, it’s a good product and I will definitely use it when I travel with paints to replace my old Feldherr zip bag.
- The size 0 brush is not good. The size 2 brush is lovely.
- The minis are OK if you like Bones plastic, but they don’t seem well chosen to show off the colours provided.
- The paints are good (except Polished Silver). They seem a little expensive compared to Army Painter and Vallejo given that they are smaller bottles, but there are deals to be found.
- The selection of paints is incomprehensible. Drop one brown and that execrable silver. Add red and gold. Their absence is bizarre.
The Reaper Learn To Paint Kit is currently £36.47, but can be found for less at some independent retailers.