What's the Deal With Reaper Bones?
In this article I'm going to describe the main differences between Reaper Miniatures' various lines of plastic models: Bones, Bones Black, and Bones USA. I'll talk about what it's like working with the material, what I see as their various strengths and flaws, and even a bit of background between the ranges.
Don't Fear the Reaper
Reaper Miniatures is easily in the top three of my favorite miniatures companies. Their figures are high-quality, and the sheer size of their catalog simply can't be beat. Back in the early '00s they were a staple in almost every game shop, and while I'm sure that's still the case in the USA, up here in Canada they're harder to get. To my knowledge no Canadian distributor carries the full range of Reaper miniatures, and we're now relegated to ordering direct from their website, which, of course, comes with the specter of shipping fees. That being said, back when there were more Reaper packs on the shelf of my friendly local game shop, I would often base a new role-play character primarily on which model caught my eye. Even if the game I was playing didn't involve battle maps and miniatures, I would still paint one up to proudly sit near my character sheet.
Originally Reaper miniatures were cast in pewter, and some still are. However, in the late 2000s/early 2010s Reaper began to experiment with different materials to make their models out of. This was because the price of tin (of which pewter is an alloy) was going up, and it became more expensive to cast figures out of it. They went for a 60:40 lead to tin ratio for their P-65 range, they toyed around with pre-painted plastic models with their Legendary Encounters range, and in 2012 they introduced a new plastic they dubbed Bones.
I backed their first Kickstarter for Bones in 2012, and when I received my shipment of plastic models it contained over two-hundred miniatures in a bright-white, bendable, plastic. I'll admit at first I wasn't impressed. The models were too bendy and didn't set easily by bending them back, they didn't take spray primer well, and they felt a little cheap. This last gripe of mine is now one of their selling points as models have become more expensive in general in the last decade, while Bones has remained on the low end of model pricing. I eventually warmed to them as my preference of model material evolved with the industry from metal to plastic, and the quality of their Bones material only got better. I also became more accustomed to them once I figured out just how to work with them, as they're not the same as the high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) plastics I was used to from companies such as Games Workshop.
So What Are Bones?
"Bones" is the word Reaper uses for their plastic ranges of miniatures. There are currently three lines: Bones, Bones Black, and Bones USA. All are touted as being ready-to-paint right out of the pack, but do require a little bit of preparation like any model (see next week's article). They're 25mm in scale (roughly 1:72–1:60), feature integrated bases (sculpted on), and mostly come in one piece, however a few come in multiple pieces. They're made from a polymer plastic, but are not the same as HIPS. Though once they're painted the three lines are virtually indistinguishable, there are some differences that you'll notice when you see them on the shelf of your local game shop, and when you crack them out of their blister packs to start working on them.
Bones Classic (or just Bones) are the original plastic figures that Reaper made, and still makes to this day. For this article I worked on Freja Fangreaker, Dwarf Fighter; Fulumbar, Dwarf Warrior; Balto Burrowell, Gnome Wizard; Trista, the White Wolf; and Oman Ruul, Human Wizard. Freja, Balto, and Trista were the white-colored Bones, while Fulumbar and Oman were the gray-colored Bones.
Out in the wild you may see two different versions of this material, but they act mostly the same. The original Bones are pure white, and very bendy. Modern Bones are a light gray (which makes them look like they have more detail, but it's the same), and a little stiffer. I don't know if you can still buy the white Bones on the website, though you may see the photographs using the original material. You may see older packs of the white Bones in stores or through online shops, but you'll probably mostly see the new light gray stuff these days.
This is my least-favorite of the three materials because it's really bendy and soft. It requires the most work right out of the package, but is fairly inexpensive. It's a bit tricky to clean mold lines off from. I found I had to peel away with a hobby knife like I'm paring fruit, and using metal files created little burrs. I read online that you should file in one direction multiple times, creating the burrs of plastic, then file in the other direction to remove them. I tried that and it seemed to work.
I won't refuse to buy this material, but I will say, if I can find the same sculpt in Bones Black or Bones USA, I'll gladly pay the little extra to get the figure in those materials.
Bones Black is a much darker material than Bones, looking like a dark gray. They have the same amount of detail as Bones, but the material is harder. For this article I worked on Daschelle, Female Rogue.
I really like this line of figures, as it's closer to a HIPS material in terms of hardness. It's not the exact same, though. You'll find that polystyrene cement doesn't work on gluing these figures. They were easier to clean than Bones, but I found that it wasn't as easy to clean as models made with HIPS.
I don't have much more to say on this material other than to recommend the use of a good file and knife to get rid of any mold lines, and to be patient. If I can find a figure that I like in Bones USA or Bones Black, I'll get it before I start looking through the Bones Classic catalog.
Bones USA is the newest line of Bones, and my favorite of the three. For this article I worked on Lars Ragnarson.
It has the smallest catalog at the moment, but it's steadily growing. As you can tell from the name, these models are cast in their factory in Texas, as opposed to the other two lines which are made in China. This line uses the new, and much-talked-about Siocast method. Siocast has two types of material that are known to outsiders as "soft" and "hard," with "hard" being newer and rarer than "soft." Though I don't have any definitive information, based on working with Bones USA and based on the fact that "hard" Siocast is incredibly new at the time of writing, I imagine Bones USA is currently being made with Siocast "soft." I won't go into detail about Siocast in this article, but you can find out more about it through the link I've provided above.
Bones USA has great detail, has the fewest bent parts, and is a dream to work with. I used cyanoacrylate glue to attach the pieces, and didn't bother priming the figure before slapping paint on, and though it took a couple coats to get a good finish, it turned out really well. I haven't tried an aerosol primer on the one Bones USA figure I own, but I will on the next one I acquire.
Cleaning the figure was easy, and I went about it the same as I would for pewter or HIPS, with the exception that the Citadel Mouldline Remover (which I normally love) took a bit of a chunk out of his shoulder pad. I didn't mind this, as the model represents a hardened Viking warrior, but on a model I don't want battle damage on, this would've been a bad thing. I would stick with files and knives on this "soft" material.
As my taste in miniatures turns from pewter to plastic, I find that Reaper's Bones lines of figures exceeds my needs and wants. Not only do I gravitate towards their catalog when it comes time to plan out a character, but I love just digging into my big box of Kickstarter figures and grabbing something at random to paint. They let me practice different color schemes, or techniques, without having to worry about matching the other figures in an army. All the while they're a delight to paint, without sacrificing detail. My order of preference for finding figures definitely goes Bones USA > Bones Black > Bones, but at no stage do I feel like I'm settling, and there's a novelty in painting a model without primer.
I hope this article was helpful in understanding the different types of Bones material, and I hope you'll give Reaper figures a shot if you haven't already. Check back next week when I talk a little more about getting these figures to the paint table.