12 Colors to rule them all – The Dirty Dozen

How many colors do you actually need to buy?  Hobbyist on a budget, budding new miniature painter or those looking for a new outlook on miniature painting, this is for you.

The Dirty Dozen – 12 Colors to rule them all

A recent tread on Spikey Bits Facebook Group sparked my curiosity.  Jay Ryan asks:  «  If you could only take 12 paint pots with you, which would they be? » Selecting the right colors seems to be something puzzling to so many people, I had to share my thoughts on this!
In the comments were a lot of crazy theories and complex answers ranging from “it’s impossible” to “you use only these 3”.  I got a good laugh at a lot of the answers, mostly because for me, it wasn’t that much of a challenge; it’s how I’ve always painted models.  When I started painting, I couldn’t afford to buy all the pots in the world, so I had to figure out exactly what to do with less.
It took me exactly 5 seconds to pick 12.  That easy.  It took me 5 seconds to come up with a list I liked, and since writing this post, I’ve only swapped one, for a different tone of the same color.

What colors you ask?

  • Nuln Oil
  • Agrax Earthshade
  • Black
  • White
  • Kantor Blue
  • Mephiston Red
  • Zamesi Desert
  • Leadbelcher
  • Bugman’s Glow
  • Rhinox Hide
  • Ushabti Bone
  • Catachan Green
All day, ‘er day!
Obviously, I’d like to add a lot to my list. Everybody would; but this will do just fine.

About the list

I use mostly GW paints, so those are the ones listed.  There’s an Army Painter equivalent to that list at the end of the article if you’re into dropper bottles.


Nuln Oil and Agrax Earthshade are the fundamentals. They’re the first 2 on the list for a reason: with those 2 colors you can do pretty much anything decent. Base color, one of the 2 wash, highlight with base color again, and you get a nice result.
These washes also affect my other choices : I won’t have much glowy-funky colors. At least, not using those washes.
Black and white.
Obviously, these mix into everything or almost and bring a lot of dark or light with them.
Zamesi Desert, Mephiston Red, Kantor Blue
Some base colors. I chose a dark blue because it woks well with Nuln Oil and is fine highlighted with white or beige ( later)
I also chose an off yellow instead of some random bright garbage, again because it doesn’t work with Agrax Earthshade, but can make a nice bright yellow mixed with beige or white.
Leadbelcher : Cause guns and swords and all the killy stuff.
I chose to not include a gold or bronze, becasue you can get away without these colors and produce fine models.
Bugman’s glow is a nice skin tone that is pretty mild. It’s easy to shade with either agrax or rhinox (below) and highlight with straight white. You can also mix it with blue and red to get some nice purples and pink.
Ushabti Bone is a go to color for highlighting stuff. It works on black to highlight, on white to shade and every color except silver.

Extra colors?

My list could be done, but hey, I have 2 colors foooo free on my 12-color list.
Rhinox Hide : I chose this brown because it works well with nuln oil and Ushabti Bone to make the perfect 3-color brown.
Catachan green : or whatever the new name of dark forest green is. That green is dope and works with my other colors ( agrax, beige, name it ).  Now arguably, you could mix blue and yellow and some beige to get a green similar, and red, blue and yellow to get some sort of brown to pick other colors, but meh, that’s hard.

Why those?

If you’ve been following along, the goal of these 12 colors id that they all fit well together.
This is simple mathematics. In how many different ways can you use a specific color with your lineup of 12 colors?
Leadbelcher is the color that has the less use in the whole list, there’s roughly 3 ways it can be used:  Drybrushed over black, shaded with the black or shaded with the brown ( or shaded with both )
But then, you pick a color like Ushabti Bone, that color can highlight our Red, Blue, Green, Brown, Yellow, and black, as well as make a nice cream color to highlight with white.  It can also work on it’s own with the Agrax Shade.

That’s why the 2 “extra” colors are not super flashy.  I could’ve gone that way and picked 2 bright colors like a flashy purple and Moot Green. They do give some nice contrast, but that’s all they do.  Then again, you don’t really need these “specialty” colors that will be used sparingly, you are going for maximum use on all the pots you pick.

You don’t need to use every color of the rainbow to make stuff look pretty. Pick colors that work well together and stick with it.

 Colors, much like buttholes, are meant to be tight.
Army Painter Equivalent List.
  • Dark Tone
  • Strong Tone
  • Matt Black
  • Matt White
  • Dragon Red
  • Deep Blue
  • Desert Yellow
  • Gun Metal
  • Tanned Flesh
  • Skeleton Bone
  • Oak Brown
  • Army Green

I’m not the biggest fan of dropper bottles, and despite recent supplies, most Warpaints are not readily available in Canada. This goes against my rule number 1 of which paint to buy:  the easiest to buy on short notice.

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