The Citadel Paint app boldly claims to enable users to 'paint Warhammer miniatures like a master'. I've been exploring it over the weekend, so let's dive in and find out how well that statement bears up. I'll cover each of it's five sections in order; Get Started, Paint By Colour, Paint By Miniature, Paint Bases and Inventory & Wishlist.
The first section is a fairly straightforward introduction to the Citadel paints range, and offers videos demonstrating the techniques that the app refers to elsewhere, such as layering and drybrushing. These will be familiar to anyone who's seen a Warhammer TV painting guide. The quality of these videos is excellent, and as always Duncan is a friendly and instructive tutor.
Experienced painters will already be more than familiar with these techniques, and I believe these particular videos have been knocking around on YouTube for a while, but having them gathered together here will no doubt be extremely useful for those new to the hobby.
Paint By Colour
This section is home to the app's flashiest feature - the colour picker. Using your phone's camera you can tap on any object or surface to bring up a guide to achieving that colour using the Citadel paints range, complete with which techniques to use and the order in which they should be applied. It's good fun, and the app usually gives you a few different palette options so that you can pick the one that's the best fit for the look you want.
There are some limitations here though. Firstly, the algorithm that the app uses to match colours is heavily influenced by the prevailing lighting conditions. Tapping on the same orange object in bright or low light could be the difference between the app recommending yellow or brown palettes - or even gold. Obviously none of those results is going to give you the look you want, and I feel a pang of anxiety for novice hobbyists who may put their faith in GW's recommended colours only to find that the results have ruined their best laid plans.
To be absolutely sure that the palettes the app suggests are a good match for your selected object you really need some degree of control over the lighting, which is going to be tricky if not impossible anywhere other than your own home. If you're hoping to find out how to paint the exact shade of burgundy you've spotted on the side of a bus whilst out on a Friday evening, forget about it. If you're at home during the afternoon and idly wondering how to go about painting Space Marines the same colour as your favourite throw pillow that's very much achievable, albeit with a little faffing.
Another limitation that the colour picker suffers from is the limited range of palettes. The feature isn't smart enough to put together an original colour palette and application order on the fly; the results aren't genuinely tailored to the colour you've picked. Instead, the app selects what it thinks are reasonably close matches from a database of predefined palettes and guides. This is pretty hit and miss, and even after playing around with the lighting conditions and tapping on the same object umpteen times you'll often find that the pallette to achieve your desired look simply doesn't exist in the database. The Citadel Paint range is huge, with a mind-boggling array of colour combinations, so this is a failing of the app rather than the range itself. The palettes database could benefit from some major expansion, but all 100-ish of those that GW have put together so far can be browsed in the Paint By Colour section if you prefer not to be at the mercy of the colour picker's whims.
Paint By Miniature
Have you ever looked at a beautifully painted miniature on the GW website or in White Dwarf and thought 'I wish I could paint my miniatures just like that'? Well now you can! Sort of. The Paint By Miniature section of the app lists 55 miniatures from the Citadel range along with recommended palettes and painting steps for each.
Like the palettes database, this section could really benefit from significant expansion, since 55 entries barely scratches the surface of the Citadel miniatures range, not to mention the different sub-faction schemes like Space Marine chapters or Fyreslayer lodges. Ideally GW will go through their back-catalogue of miniatures and factions in order to flesh this section out and make it more useful - but I'm not holding my breath. What seems more likely is that there will be new entries and palettes for the various sub-factions and variants that will be featured in future Battletomes and Codexes, and I hope these will be more expansive than just the default 'poster boy' colour schemes like Barak-Nar for Kharadron Overlords or the Goretide for Khorne Bloodbound.
Unlike the hit-and-miss accuracy of the colour picker, the Paint By Miniature section gives you the exact colour palettes and paints you need to replicate the 'Eavy Metal schemes you've seen in GW's various publications. Or does it? Unfortunately, I found at least one example of a miniature painting guide that wasn't just a little inaccurate - it's flat out wrong, bordering on being deliberately misleading.
The example I'm referring to is the Barak-Nar Frigate (listed in the app as 'Barak-Nar Arkanaut' for some reason). The shade of purple or plum featured on this miniature is very distinctive, and I happen to know that it was achieved using a method that's more complex and lengthy than that described in the Citadel paint app, and one which includes mixing colours (a technique that doesn't exist as far as the app is concerned). This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the app offered a palette and steps that approximate this colour relatively closely using the simple base-wash-highlight method that it promotes. But it doesn't do this. In fact, the app wants you to paint the hull of your Barak-Nar airship the exact same way that you'd paint 'Flesh Hound Hide', which I can confidently say will not result in the same gorgeous shade of plum that you see on the studio model - you'll get dark red with flesh-coloured highlights. It won't look awful, but it won't match the studio miniature's colours either, which is what the app tacitly implies. I can think of at least one way of achieving the plum colour of Barak-Nar much more accurately using the same kind of simple steps that the app encourages* but GW seem to have favoured economy over accuracy in this case by reusing a vaguely similar colour palette they'd already created for a different miniature. It seems slapdash, and once again highlights the limitations of having a relatively small database of pre-defined palettes. Such a distinctive colour deserves a palette and guide all to itself.
In the Barak-Nar example, the recommended paints are just close enough to the shade you see in the picture that you're unlikely to question GW's instructions until it's too late. Inexperienced painters are going to assume, not unreasonably, that the colours and techniques listed are going to give them a result that closely resembles the colours shown on the miniature, and that's just not true in some cases. Considering that the Citadel Paint app does seem to be primarily courting less experienced hobbyists, this is difficult to excuse, and makes me question how accurate these guides are in general.
Potential inaccuracies are at least mitigated by the inclusion of a photograph under each palette showing the results of the listed colours and steps on a Space Marine backpack, so as long as users pay attention to these rather than blindly following GW's instructions, it should be possible to avoid disappointment in most cases. Painting up a backpack for every palette is probably more time consuming than it appears, and may partly explain why the palettes database isn't more extensive. Still, I'm grateful to GW for including it because it enormously enhances the usefulness of the app as a painting reference. It's a small detail, but an important one.
This is a minor section but it's a good one. Like the Paint By Miniature section this lists the paints and steps needed to achieve a particular effect, bit this time focusing on bases.
The guides are limited to basing effects that can be achieved using the Citadel paints range (including the excellent texture paints), so you won't get any tips on adding debris, foliage and other adornments, but there's still plenty here to inspire. As someone who often struggles with overly-elaborate basing schemes, I found the great results you can achieve with just a texture paint and a little drybrushing to be very refreshing. As with other areas, this section does seem a little sparse with just 15 basing schemes, and again I hope to see this expanded in future.
Inventory & Wishlist
If you're an experienced painter who has an intimate familiarity with the Citadel paints range you may be struggling to see what this app has to offer you. In that case, this final section may be of interest.
Here you can not only see a complete list of every paint in the range, you can mark off which ones you own and also add paints to your 'wishlist'. In practice I'd guess that the wishlist will be used to keep track of which paints you're running low on as well as those you'll need for upcoming projects, giving you a handy ready-made shopping list. This is certainly how I'll be using it.
If, like me, you don't have the hobby space to display your large paint collection in a logical and easily accessible manner, the inventory feature will also be useful. I regularly forget which paints I have available because they're all stored in a box under a side table, so being able to check on my phone without having to get them out for a rummage is a small but useful blessing.
Even if GW never updates the app again, the inventory and wishlist features alone should ensure that it continues to be a useful aid for many hobbyists. But there's a world of difference between a useful aid and a resource that will allow you to 'paint Warhammer miniatures like a master'. Will this app turn competent painters into masters? I doubt it. There's very little here that a competent painter couldn't work out for themselves, and the app likes to keep its painting steps short and simple. As it stands, the architecture of the app makes it all but impossible to deliver the equivalent of an 'Eavy Metal Masterclass.
Will it turn absolute novices into competent painters? This seems like a more realistic prospect. They may have a few frustrating hiccups along the way caused by the occasional misleading palette recommendation, a limited database and a colour picker that never quite manages to be more than an attention-grabbing gimmick, but there's potential here nonetheless. It all hinges on whether GW continues to expand its database of palettes and miniature painting guides. It also depends on how quickly they go about doing it - if it's a case of adding a basic palette and two or three miniatures to accompany the launch of each new Battletome or Codex, the app may continue to feel like a limited resource for a very long time.
In its current state I would give the Citadel Paint App a provisional recommendation for beginner painters, but I'd struggle to recommend the majority of its features to anyone else with any real enthusiasm. It's off to an interesting start, but it needs to see more love from GW over a sustained period of time to become the indispensable resource that it already claims to be.
*Basecoat of Screamer pink followed by a wash of Carroburg Crimson and 2-3 washes of Nuln Oil, if you're interested.