+ inload: Instar paints review +

+ Instar paints review +

+ New paint ranges are few and far between, so when one pops up, I prick up my audioscourers. Instar Paints [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] are a start-up company who have the laudable aim of combining the best bits of existing paint ranges while removing the downsides. Their marketing blurb lists their selling points as a series of bullets:
  • Shades comparable (up to 99%) accurate to major brands
  • Squeezable bottles
  • Various sizes so you can order smaller sizes for colours you use less of and larger sizes for those that you use more of
  • Super small nozzle for accurate dispensing
  • Lower costs than competitors without comprimising [sic] quality
  • Pre-thinned - Upto 20% thinner than major brands
  • No harsh chemicals required to clean brushes and surfaces, just plain, warm water
+ I placed a small order to try 'em out, tempted by the mention of equivalents to some of my favourite colours from Games Workshop's defunct Foundation range. +


+ Theoretical +

+ First impressions of the site aren't great. The visuals, particularly the huge banner images, obscure quite a lot of the practical aspects of the site – finding the shop itself took a bit of digging – and there are quite a few typos (as you can see in the blurb above). On the other hand, this is a garage start-up rather than a huge multinational, and I'm sure a bit of refinement and polish will sort things out in short order. +

+ Making the shop front and centre, with thumbnails of the different paint colours, should be a priority, I think. Either way, don't let it put you off, as Instar have got some good, innovative and well-priced products. +

+ The order +

+ I placed a small order of four paints – IV02, Instar's equivalent to GW's Charadon Granite, a white, and two other colours. IV02 was the main reason behind the purchase; the remainder I intended to effectively use as testers – if they were good, I'd carry on using them; if disappointing, they'd find a use in terrain or as mixers. +

+ I also picked up white, as I'd intended to do a review. I find white a good exemplar of a range, as it's so widely used, and quickly shows drawbacks of a paint manufacturer, such as chalkiness, poor mixing etc.. I find that if a range has a good white, the others are often similarly high quality. +


+ Practical +

+ The parcel arrived very quickly indeed – the day after the order was placed, in fact, which I was impressed with, particularly for a small company. +

+ As you can see, the box size was perhaps a little excessive, given the lack of padding, but a proper box (rather than a padded envelope) and a sealed plastic bag to help prevent spillage from damage gets a thumbs-up from me. +

+ The important thing is that everything arrived undamaged. In any case, the box will also probably end up being useful for storing models, so I'm certainly not going to complain too bitterly about the excess space! +

+ The box also contained two attractively-designed and double-sided cards, which contain a 40k-style stat summary on one side, and a space for paint reference on the back. A fun little freebie, and one that I could see being useful, both for gaming and modelling. The stat side is obviously 40k-centric, but the paint mix side is universally useful. +

+ While not a dealmaker or breaker, getting a nice little surprise like this definitely added a little gilding to the purchase. I don't know if it's something Instar are planning to keep doing, but the cards might turn out to be something people might want more of – in which case, perhaps they could look into developing some cards for the more common gaming systems? +

+ Stop banging on about boxes and tell me about the paint +

+ Onto the meat of the review: the paint itself. The order was all correct; Instar's Dark Purple, Deep Brown, Arctic White and IV-02, all in matt finish. One of Instar's innovations is allowing you to select either a matt or gloss finish for the carrier. I don't personally have much use for this, but I can imagine that the gloss effect would be great for models like tyranids and other icky aliens. I won't comment further on this aspect, as I didn't get any paints with of the gloss carrier; opting for matt for all four. If anyone does give the gloss version a try, I'd be interested to hear your findings. +

+ The paints come in dropper bottles, like the Vallejo range. As a direct comparison there, Instar's bottles feel a bit less premium – not bad in quality, but softer, less sturdy, and with rattly safety tops that I found a bit annoying at first. The plastic is also quite milky and unclear which, in concert with the large labels, makes quick identification of a colour tricky. However, the finer nozzle and thinner consistency (see below) made it much easier to control getting the paint onto the palette, and that completely outweighs any reservations about wobbly blue tops. +

+ I'm very conscientious about replacing lids on my paint immediately, and nevertheless a couple of my Vallejo bottles have clogged from time to time – which has meant occasional 'spurts' and wasted paint. So far at least, Instar's haven't done the same (in fairness to Vallejo, their bottles only clogged towards the end of their lives), and that's another point in their favour. +

All the paints are available in various sizes, with the relative price dropping for larger amounts. I bought 10ml (small) and 20ml (medium). The translucent plastic used for the pots and the large labels make identifying colours quickly a bit of a chore on the 10ml-sized pots; though the 20ml one is fine.

+ Instar, rather sensibly, recognises that a lot of purchasers will have come from using GW's current Citadel Colour paints, and provide a conversion chart for their colours. (As a minor suggestion, I'd find it useful to have the equivalent GW listed on the individual paint page, rather than in a separate list, but that's splitting hairs a bit. Providing equivalents in other ranges would also be a valuable addition.) Instar's Dark Purple is equivalent to GW's Naggaroth Night; their Deep Brown is equivalent to GW's Dryad Bark. Arctic White is, unsurprisingly, equivalent to White Scar; and IV-02, as mentioned, is equivalent to Charadon Granite. +

+ Having more sensible names is definitely a point in Instar's favour. GW's whimsical/trademarkable names have got very self-referential and undescriptive even if you're familiar with their model range (XV-88, anyone? Incubi Darkness?), and it's frustrating to pick up the wrong colour because you've forgotten whether a Dryad or a Rhinox is darker brown. +

+ Using the paints +

+ Having tried the paints out a bit, I'm impressed. Coverage is decent, hues are strong, and they mix readily both with each other and with the other acrylic ranges I use; including Vallejo Game Colour, Coat d' Arms, Citadel Colour and Winsor & Newton's Artists' Acrylics. Instar's paints also work with acrylic mediums such as Daler Rowney's Flow Enhancer, and inks including Daler Rowney's dropper bottles and Winsor & Newton's calligraphy inks. +

+ All of the Instar paints have a lovely fluid consistency; slightly thinner than Citadel Colour or Vallejo Game Colour – it's closer to semi-skimmed milk than the whole milk consistency of GW – and this is the main difference I found in terms of working from other ranges. If, like me, you use a dry palette, you'll find the reduced prep time useful for working quickly and for preparing consistent glazes, but if you're used to using a wet palette, you may need to adjust a little to avoid overthinning. +

+ The fluid consistency makes them great for mixing – particularly useful for the white – and for fine details like eyes, where unthinned GW or Vallejo colours may dry too readily, and the small amounts you need make thinning to a particular consistency more difficult. The downside of the consistency is that it slows you down when you want textural effects, and you'll waste more when using techniques like drybrushing. It does also reduce the coverage slightly, though that does mean you can't lazily rely on one thick coat(!) +

The grey used on the torso armour is one coat of IV-02, applied from the bottle with no dilution over a grey undercoat (Halford's primer). The shoulder pad is painted with Charadon Granite.
+ My only real gripe about the colours being pre-thinned is the use of this approach for the Vintage range, as these are supposedly equivalents for GW's Foundation paints. Part of the reason I liked the Foundation paints so much was their fantastic one-coat coverage and heavy clay base, which gave them a beautiful muted quality, and a slight 'grip', for want of a better word – it stayed where it was put. Basing's a good example of where this was useful – the Foundation range's consistency meant it stayed proud of details and gave a flat, consistent effect where the Vintage range flows slightly into recesses. The pre-thinned consistency means I can't use IV-02 in quite the same way as I could Charadon Granite. +

+ With that said, I think the consistency is good on balance; and certainly a useful option that makes Instar's range stand out from other paint ranges. It may take a bit of getting used to, but that's the case for nearly all new materials. I suspect its particular qualities will prove to give new opportunities that I haven't yet found. +

Arctic White was used here for the freehand on the torso armour, and mixed with GW colours for the lenses/cloth.

+ Colour matching +

+ As advertised, they match the GW equivalents in hue closely. As the image below shows, they're not quite identical, but near-as-damnit. It's certainly the closest hue match that I've found off the shelf for one of my favourite colours, so thumbs-up to Instar for that. Consistency aside, the Vintage range has given me back some of my favourite colours, and I can only hope that they continue to expand the range so I can get hold of a new supply of Mordian Blue and Dheneb Stone. +

IV-02 on the left; Citadel Colour Charadon Granite on the right.


+ Conclusion +

+ Overall, I'm quietly impressed. This is a range of paints that exceeded my expectations, and made painting very enjoyable. The owners are either hobbyists themselves or very good at listening, as the qualities of their paints makes them a pleasure to use for a journeyman painter like myself. +

+ There are a few niggles: the website is doing them no favours, and I'd suggest Instar look at the packaging of the paints themselves (reducing the label size to make identification at a glance easier would be a quick and cheap way to improve), but these are minor issues common for start-ups. +

+ As a standalone paint range, Instar paints are excellent in quality, are priced competitively, and have some interesting unique features. As an addition to your existing paints, they'll slot right in; their slightly different qualities being complementary to GW or Vallejo rather than requiring much adaptation. +

+ The company clearly has some great ideas – varied sizes and finishes, replacements for obsolete colours – and I'd like to see them rewarded for innovating in a crowded market. I wish them the very best for the future. +

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