12 Colors to rule them all – The Dirty Dozen

Paint models with a minimal color palette.  Perfect for the hobbyist on a budget, or those getting started with miniature painting!

A recent tread on Spikey Bits 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.  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.

A Minimal Color Palette

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 five seconds to pick ten.  That easy.

It took me five 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 12 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

Obviously, I’d like to add a lot to my list. Everybody would; but this will do just fine.

Picking Matching Colors

I use mostly Games Workshop 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. Whichever brand you fancy.

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

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, beause 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 Earthshade or Rhinox Hide 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 with these ten, but we are allowed two extras.

Rhinox Hide : I chose this brown because it works well with nuln oil and Ushabti Bone to make the perfect 3-color brown.

Castellan Green. That green is dope and works with my other colors ( agrax, beige, name it ).

Arguably, you could make brown and green from the available colors already.  I don’t like that one bit, and I think you get a lot more mileage out of a good brown and green than you would mixing them every time.

Benefits of a Minimal Color Palette

If you’ve been following along, the goal of these colors is 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 twelve?

Leadbelcher is the color that has the less use in the whole list.

Then, you look at 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 both “extra” colors are not super flashy.

I could’ve gone that way and picked a bight combo like Flash Gitz Yellow 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.  Remember the mantra:  Colors are like buttholes, they’re meant to be tight.

And in case you are not a fan of Citadel, you can build this minimal color palette with The Army Painter’s range.

  • Dark Tone
  • Strong Tone
  • Matt Black
  • Matt White
  • Dragon Red
  • Deep Blue
  • Desert Yellow
  • Gun Metal
  • Tanned Flesh
  • Skeleton Bone
  • Oak Brown
  • Army Green

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