Contrast, Instant Colors, Speedpaint, Dipping Inks, and more Contrast – I reviewed them all. And now we have Vallejo entering the game with their brand-new Xpress Colors. Do these bring something new to the table or are they yet another half-baked Contrast rehash? I’ll find an answer in this complete review of all 23 Xpress Colors.
Say what you will, but Games Workshop popularised a new and beginner-friendly way of painting with the release of their Contrast paint range in 2019. Since then, many companies launched similar ink-based painting products, some more or less successful. Surprisingly, Vallejo as one of the most popular tabletop paint manufacturers took the longest to develop their “one coat” Xpress Colors. 23 paints plus an Xpress Color Medium should be out now in Europe and the UK, with the rest of the world following in December 2022.
Watch my video here:
Perhaps they took so long because they wanted to get them right. They brought in no other Contrast mastermind Juan Hidalgo as a consultant, who is famous for his ‘Eavy Metal Contrast painting series on his YouTube channel.
Stahly: Juan, can you summarise what makes Xpress Colors special in your opinion?
Juan Hidalgo: In my opinion, what makes Xpress Colors special is first and foremost their matt finish. To painters like me, a matt finish is very important, especially as a foundation for a paint job. But let’s not underestimate the importance of the other properties like the uniform consistency within colours, the ability to be thinned down into glazes with water, and the longer working time that allows for an easier application. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to achieve when Vallejo approached me, and I think the Vallejo chemists have delivered.
So: consistent and smooth results, a matt finish, and most importantly: no reactivation. And they also have a competitive price, with an RRP of
3.50 3.95 Euro for 18 ml of paint they’re much cheaper than Citadel’s Contrast paints, and on par with The Army Painter’s Speedpaints.
Before I take a closer look at all 23 colours and compare them to their Citadel counterparts in one of my popular hand-painted colour swatches, I first want to find out whether Xpress Colors can live up to their promises. So let’s give them a try.
Xpress Color review – the features
The first thing I noticed is that the consistency of Xpress Colors is quite similar to Contrast paints, so they are not as runny as Speedpaint yet they settle very evenly on the model. I found they need a good shaking for the best results, otherwise, they might dry slightly glossy. The drying time is longer than with Contrast paints, so you have more time to move the paint around before it starts to settle. Most Contrast paints dry rather quickly, so it is easy to leave visible brush strokes and marks with them, but not so much with Xpress Colors, which is good. The downside is that it can take 15 minutes or more for a thick layer to dry completely, which can slow down the painting process somewhat.
The finish of dried Xpress Colors is quite flat, similar to Green Stuff World Dipping Inks. More matte than most Contrast paints for sure. Now, this can be a good or bad thing. Many painters prefer a matt finish, but keep in mind that applying these over a metallic paint will dull the metallic sparkle.
Personally, the mattness doesn’t bother me too much because I always varnish my models at the end, which brings all colours back to the same finish.
Reactivation vs no reactivation
One of my favourite aspects is that, like Contrast, dried Xpress Colors won’t reactivate when you paint over them with another layer of Xpress Color or Contrast, and they won’t reactivate when painting over with acrylic paints or a wet brush either. This means you can add additional highlights or layers of paint without worrying of Xpress Colors bleeding through, and easily cover up any mistakes with your base colour. This makes them also excellent for glazing, as you can easily create gradients by glazing multiple layers of thinned Xpress Colors on top of each other.
In my personal opinion, I feel that this aspect alone makes Xpress Colors superior to The Army Painter’s Speedpaints, at least for my clean and tidy painting style (see my review of The Army Painter’s Speedpaint here). I heard that a lot of people actually grew to like Speedpaints’ reactivation and use it in creative ways, for example for blending techniques. For those that are missing this feature in Xpress Colors, you can soak a brush or cotton swab with white spirit and rub off the paint to lighten specific spots, just like with Contrast. We know that The Army Painter works on an updated and expanded Speedpaints range with the help of a group of content creators, which will feature an improved resin that won’t reactivate after they’ve cured for a certain amount of time. As soon as these come out, I will review them, so stay tuned.
All 23 Xpress Colors in comparison
Well, so far I’m rather fond of working with Xpress Colors, now let’s have a look at each colour individually. As usual, I painted these on a white primed sheet of plasticard and photographed them under a neutral 5500K light.
VXC Imperial Yellow is a bright yellow, similar to Imperial Fist Contrast paint. VXC Nuclear Yellow is a golden yellow with orange hues, pretty much identical to Iyanden Yellow. VXC Martian Orange is a bright orange, it’s not quite as densely pigmented as Magmadroth Flame but richer than Fuegan Orange Shade paint. VXC Plasma Red is a very nice red, not as pigmented as Blood Angels Red but still very nice. VXC Velvet Red is very reminiscent of Flesh Tearers Red.
VXC Cardinal Purple is an intense pink, similar to Doomfire Magenta, but a little brighter. VXC Deep Purple is similar to Volupus Pink but a nuance more blueish; VXC Gloomy Violet is very similar to Luxion Purple, but a little bit less pigmented. VXC Omega Blue is a rich Prussian Blue, a very close match to Celestium Blue. VXC Storm Blue is a more denim blue, quite similar to Ultramarines Blue Contrast paint but more weakly pigmented. VXC Mystic Blue is an intense cyan blue, very close to Talassar Blue from Games Workshop. VXC Caribbean Turquoise is very similar to Kroxigor Scales, but a bit weaker in pigmentation.
VXC Snake Green is reminiscent of Aeldari Emerald but a shade lighter, VXC Troll Green is quite similar to Karandras Green. VXC Lizard Green is a more natural green, similar to Creed Camo. VXC Orc Skin is a light lemon-green, brighter and more vibrant than Mantis Warrior Green, and this is perfect for the classic ‘Eavy Metal light green Ork skintone. VXC Plague Green is a drab green, similar to Militarum Green but not as densely pigmented.
VXC Dwarf Skin is a Caucasian skin tone that is in between Guilliman Flesh and Darkoath Flesh, VXC Copper Brown is similar to Gore-grunta Fur but a bit lighter, while VXC Wasteland Brown is a warm medium brown. Cream, bone, or darker shades of brown are missing.
VXC Templar White reminds me of Apothecary White, it has a similar cool grey tone but is a little brighter. VXC Space Grey is quite bluish and also somewhat opaque, it’s in between Briar Queen Chill and Nighthaunt Gloom. Finally, we have VXC Black Lotus, which is actually not a dark grey or black colour, but rather a dark petrol, like if Stegadon Scale Green was a Contrast paint. True greys or blacks are unfortunately missing for now.
You can find comparison sheets of most of all the other “one coat” paint ranges in this post so you can compare various brands to each other.
Vallejo Xpress Color value & recommendation
Now that I’ve tried all colours, what do I think about the range? Overall, I notice that Xpress Colors have a more consistent feel than Contrast paints. With Citadel Contrast, there are very dark and richly pigmented colours, some less pigmented colours that behave more like washes, colours that are more opaque, and some that are more transparent. More about that in my Citadel Contrast review here.
Xpress Colors feel more consistent in their behaviour, but with the limitation that most colours are not as richly pigmented as Contrast paints or Speedpaints from The Army Painter. Often you need two coats of Xpress Color to get that deep shading and tint that is equivalent to a single coat of Contrast paint. This might be a minor disadvantage for the classic Contrast style of painting over a coat of Wraithbone or Grey Seer primer, but on the other hand, I feel it makes Xpress Colors very well suited for Slapchop or painting over a zenithal primer. Due to the less dense pigmentation, they allow more of the pre-shading to show through, and their slightly thinner consistency and pleasant flow properties make a consistent application even easier.
The other limitation is the selection of colours. 23 colours are already less than the original 34 colours Contrast started with, and what Xpress Color completely lacks are cream tones, muted and dark browns, and true greys and blacks. This makes the range feel incomplete.
Stahly: But I heard that Vallejo is already working on some more colours, is that correct Juan?
Juan Hidalgo: That is correct, we are already planning on the next batch of colours. And this time, I will have an active part in choosing those colours so we can make sure that Xpress Color ends up as a complete and versatile range of paints to suit every painter’s needs. We are even working on a couple of things no other brand has done, but I cannot really talk about it in more detail, let’s just say I’m very excited about it.
Where to buy
Vallejo Xpress Colors are available at our partner stores Wayland Games, Element Games, Firestorm Games, and Taschengelddieb, at an additional discount of 10% to 20% over RRP, which makes them an even better deal over other one coat paints:
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- Very good capillary action and flow properties
- Matt finish & smooth results
- No reactivation
- Less pigmented and rich than Citadel Contrast
- Colour selection is limited
- No cream, dark brown and grey paints
I think I like Xpress Colors the best of all the Contrast alternatives we’ve seen so far. My personal preference would probably still be Contrast, but only by a slight margin. By now, I’m so used to working with Contrast and the range has much more colours to choose from. However, if the Xpress Color range becomes more complete, I can see the lower price and the more consistent results win me over completely. I’d say that Vallejo’s Xpress Colors don’t reinvent the genre of one coat paints, but they bring a very high quality and affordable alternative onto the market.
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