Saturday, September 18, 2010

Paint Review

So I've now used something like a dozen brands and lines of miniature and related paints, and I have opinions.

First off, a couple terms. Saturation refers to the "strength" of a color. Low saturation means closer to grey, while high saturation is very colorful. Coverage refers to how dense the pigmentation within the paint is. Paints with strong coverage are generally easier to work with for most purposes.

I've found a few paints that are all equally solid in my opinion: Vallejo's various model lines, Privateer Press's P3 (P3), and Reaper Master Series (RMS). Even among these, however, there are better and worse colors, and I've found experimentation is key to determining which is best for a given color.

Of Vallejo's lines, I've primarily used the Game Color (VGC) line, though I have some of the Model Color (VMC) and a few Model Air (VMA), specifically metallics. The VGC line is solid, but there's some weakness in the yellow/bone range, and there seems to have been a malfunction in their dark green, in that every one I've tried has been somewhere between a wash and an ink, good pigmentation but really, really thin. VMC is generally okay, though I've found the metallics from this line to pop nicely. The VMA metallics, however, are really impressive... except when they're not. The Chrome and Rust colors look incredible, but the Copper and Brass are painfully bad for their names, looking more like a tinted silver than either copper or brass. They might have a use, but it's something other than what they call themselves.

Privateer's lines seem to specialize in very vibrant, saturated colors. They have excellent colors across the gamut, though there's a little too much specialization in browns and olives, in my opinion--a few of the browns I have difficulty telling apart, and probably ten of their colors are olive or olive-tinted. I've yet to find one of their paints I was dissatisfied with, coverage-wise. None of this applies to their metallics, however. I've heard that the paint manufacturer managed to screw up all of P3's metallics in their first batch. I've further heard that the issues have been corrected, but that there's so much of the first batch floating around that all new orders for the metallics still get that bad batch. They are universally awful in my experience, which is really too bad in that they have some distinctly unique colors, such as Blighted Gold.

Reaper's Master Series line seems solid. It's not quite as consistently vibrant as P3, but it has a broader range, and the "Violet Red" is the best looking red I've seen in miniature painting lines. The metallics are good, but I have a hard time saying they're better than Vallejo's. They have a few different colors, however; the Old Bronze is a particularly nice somewhat green gold.

To be honest, I haven't used too much of Citadel's modern lines. I generally preferred the VGC line years ago, which has a color-for-color match to the Citadel paints, and even the problem dark green I thought better substituted by P3 Gnarls Green. I also have yet to try Reaper's Pro Series line. Per their marketing, they suggest using the Pro Series for base coating and the Master Series for further layers, much like the Citadel Foundation and VGC Extra Opaque lines in comparison to their respective standard lines.

Containers strongly affect the usable life of a paint. The worst offender is the modern Citadel line; its hard plastic containers with their hard plastic tops appear to allow more air in and let more moisture out than any other line I have. After two years in my kit, they're dried to solid lumps in their pots. By way of comparison, I have older Citadel paints (made by Coat d'Arms, now an independent) that are over a decade old that are still usable. Silicone tops appear to be the best at keeping in moisture; nearly all of my P3 paints are good, even after around five years. Dropper bottles appear to be very good as well, though I probably lost 1 in 5, and many 1 in 10 remaining are a little thick.

One trick I've found is moving paints from pots to dropper bottles, which can be purchased relatively cheaply. The transition is slightly tricky, but in moving 25 P3 paints to droppers I had no significant mishaps. You'll be left with a small amount in the pot, but it's not too hard to use that up. Bonus for that is you now have empty pots, which do have a use in my experience: wash containers. I have about a dozen washes of various colors in my empties, and the generally leak-proof nature of the P3 caps is hugely useful.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Warhammer 40k: The Half-Assed Wargame

I've had a squad of Games Workshop Space Marines kicking around in my stash of miniatures for a couple years that I finally dug out and started to paint. In looking through the various chapter options I could paint, I decided to go for Dark Angels--I liked the bizarre hybrid of armor and monastic style. I paint them a lovely shade of primarily dark green, and start thinking, do I want to actually build up an army? What else would I get and/or want?

This leads me to poking around on the internet and finding out that, first, there was a major revamp to the Space Marines in general about three years ago, but the Dark Angels chapter wasn't really made up to date as well. The miniatures line for the Dark Angels lacks a number of unit types which would take a lot of work to model. They've never really bothered making the chapter rules fit with the current edition. It's kind of an eternal cycle of making things work for one faction, then the next, and never really building a coherent, unified, here-is-how-all-the-sides-work set of rules. They'll probably get around to fixing up the Dark Angels eventually, but not until they have the miniatures to support it, so until then, they'll pimp other factions and units.

Oh well, I'll put the space marines on the shelf.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Painting With Thinned Paints

For whatever reason, it took me close to a decade to get serious about my painting techniques with miniatures, but now I have, and it took me far too long to figure out how to work with thinned paints.

First off, pretty much every line, regardless of the hype, has paints that are a little too thick for use straight from the container. Personally I'd prefer this was the case, in fact, since I can by thinning materials far more cheaply than I can buy the paints. Right now I am trying what is alleged to be Jennifer Haley's thinning mix: 1:1:2 retarder-to-flow improver-to-water. Usually I'm finding, for base coats, 1:1 works reasonably well with P3, Vallejo, and Reaper Master paints, and for tinting coats, around 3:1 works well, but at this point it's much more dependent on the line or even the individual paint. I've tried washes at very low paint ratios (10:1) and have found it almost too thin, but I'm still working on my patience.

Next, once you have your paint, what to do with it. At first, I had the biggest pain working with these thinned paints: I couldn't control the flow, they'd sweep into crevasses or over other surfaces abruptly. Eventually I became conscious of exactly what I was doing wrong, however, when I watched my subconscious behaviors working with the normal paints. I frequently use the edge of my painting station to wipe excess paint off the brush after dipping it; the reduced paint volume allows for increased control. Once I'd made this connection, I watched the spread of the thinned paints as I stroked the brush against that surface and could easily see that it would start off bleeding every which way, but within a few strokes became controlled. So for now, every time I load the brush, I watch the area I brush until the paint gets to the control level I want.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Miniature Painting: Priming

I'm not sure if anyone will ever see this, but I'm throwing out what I've figured out about miniature priming out there in case it's useful to anyone else.

For years, I would use the standard aerosol primers from Citadel, Foundry, and a few other companies, and overall it was okay, but annoying in places. If you look carefully at some primed figures, you'll see a roughness of texture that isn't the detail of the figure but how the primer dried. This in turn may be caused by poor technique while applying it, atmospheric conditions, or other issues, but I found something I prefer far more.

Plain old acrylic gesso makes for a superb miniature primer. It's something like a mix of acrylic binder, glue, and a strong pigment, very thick in comparison to most miniature paints, though I've never noticed any of the pigment grains distorting the priming surface. It has a few peculiar properties which make it surprisingly good.

Foremost is that it shrinks as it dries--out of the bottle it's quite thick, but it can be immediately brushed onto a miniature with no watering whatsoever and result in a good priming coat. I've found that it's a little too thick to get into the details straight from the bottle, so I tend to add just a little water to thin it, though this tends to accentuate the minor downside of its shrinkage: it tends to pull away from ridges or out of areas where it wasn't thick enough. As a result, gesso priming usually requires two passes. I've read that it should be allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before painting; I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I wait it out, though I might do a second pass early if the unprimed spots become obvious.

Secondly, the actual dried layer of gesso is neatly uniform and pulls nicely into details. It seems less prone to obliterating them than aerosol primers.

Third, it doesn't outgas horrible fumes. No need to find a well ventilated area to apply it in.

Finally, it's not quite as "thirsty" as aerosol primers are, though I've yet to see an issue with the paint not adhering. If you've worked with washes, you may have tried and been dismayed at the failure of washing a freshly primed figure--the primer layer tends to negate any levelling of the wash and simply uniformly color the figure. Gesso priming allows for this technique, if you like. I've found even thinned paints will tend to spread out much more than I'd like, making it difficult to control layers until there's enough paint down to suppress that flow.

Other things worth noting: it's more time consuming to apply, but it's far cheaper than the aerosols.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Dilemma of Adblocking

Something I very much prefer to do without on the web is advertising. Sometimes it is acceptable, but many times it is annoying, sometimes horribly so. Opening a webpage and having my computer abruptly blare a toothpaste ad pisses me off no end. Ads are best when they are silent static images or text.

However, annoying as they may be, the impulse to install and adblocker may harm the sites I enjoy, in that they receive less revenue from the advertisers, without which they might go under, and I'd prefer that not happen. This is assuming, of course, that they're working on a CPM model--if it's CPA then I don't know how to answer that, in that I avoid clicking on ads when I do see them.

So, I started thinking: is there a way to accomplish both goals? Could an adblocker be built that still retrieves the ads but simply pipes them to /dev/null? On the minus side, such an adblocker would negate two of the advantages of the standard ones: privacy and bandwidth, though perhaps the privacy one could be negated by providing some form of specialized cookie cache.

Maybe even a slicker form could be made. For example, could the blocker:
1) intercept the request for the advertising;
2) perform the request;
3) grab the headers to determine its MIME type;
4) return a piece of stub data to the browser window while discarding the request payload
This might work around some of the more annoying forms of ad enforcement while providing the same advantages.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Apple's Comical iTunes Failure

One of the things that has bugged me a bit is trying to get my iPod and iTunes to work together as I would expect them to. At work, I've got a macbook that I use a bit, and one day I decided to plug my iPod in and listen to music via the headphones in the macbook. This turned out to be a surprisingly annoying proposition.

First off, you have to enable manual management of music and videos. This is probably the most baffling part of the whole thing, in that I have no intention of managing anything. As a bonus, whenever I resync my iPod at home, for whatever reason, the manual management flag turns itself back off. Next, you have to go into the music interface for the iPod. You can't use the iPod itself and simply stream the music into your computer, and instead you have a menu which is about one step beyond what we had in '95--a list of all your songs. You can't shuffle or repeat or see the album art or limit play to a single album. You must listen to all your songs in order as sorted. At least you can control the sort order.

The comedy of all this is how astonishingly clumsy it is, given every bit of it is Apple hardware and software. Usually the Apple experience is clean and just works exactly how you'd expect it to, yet here they've dropped the ball pretty badly.

As a bonus: I can plug my iPod into my ubuntu 10.04 machine, and it pops up in Rythymbox like magic. I believe the prior version couldn't read the iPod Touch, but the latest works great. All the things I want, it just does, with the minor exception of a lack of album art. How I suffer. Have I mentioned how ubuntu is turning linux into a great OS?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Future of Flash

I've been developing Flash tools, specifically Flex, for a few months now, and my current opinion is that it's a pain in the ass. I've worked with various javascript toolkits over the last few years, and so far all of them make building a functional, attractive UI far less painful than Flex; the only thing Flex has on the other tools is the ability to integrate Flash elements and animations. HTML5, however, is on the near horizon, officially supported in all of the major browsers' current versions, and with canvas, svg, audio and video tags you can pretty much do anything Flash can do without the pain of Flash. All of Apple's portable devices, iPhone, iPod and iPad, support it (and not Flash).

In fact, Apple's stance on Flash is surprisingly harsh. My experiences with Flash in Linux back Jobs' assertion that Flash is buggy, however; I regularly find the Flash process spinning out of control and taking down my computer until I can kill it. On top of that, the universal binary approach Flash takes means that viruses can be built to infect any platform on which Flash runs, and one researcher even built a special virus as an experiment that would infect Windows, Macs, or Linux machines.

So in the end, I'm inclined to side with Jobs: Flash is doomed. There's nothing notable that it does that HTML5 doesn't, so Flash now has a lot of competition, and Flash just doesn't do much very well. Hopefully I can convince my company of this sooner than later.