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Podcast / Vallejo, the best acrylic manufacturer in the world

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Do you know what Warhammer 40K, Yogi Bear, Dungeons & Dragons, and the Flintstones have in common? Vallejo, the best acrylic paint manufacturer in the world.

Our protagonist today is called Amadeo Vallejo Díez, a fellow from Madrid (Spain) born in 1941, more specifically from the Ibiza street. Like so many kids of his generation, he lived a childhood marked by the devastation of the postwar period (Spanish Civil War).

Despite everything in 1962, at the age of 24, he met a Dutch girl whom stole his heart and they started a relationship. Like a good dutchwoman, Eugenie Safranek Arnouts spoke several languages, including Spanish and English. After a year of their relationship Eugenie saw clearly that this young man was the person with whom she wanted to share the rest of her life and decided to introduce him to her family. So, the couple went to Holland. They lived there for a year until 1964 when they embarked on an adventure to try their fortune in the United States of America.

Eugenie Safranek was a writer and she thought that New Jersey would give her possibilities to develop her profession, so they moved to that state. Once they got there, they had to start from scratch. So Amadeo was making a living as he could, from hustle to hustle, until he started working in an ink company, with water-based colors very similar to what today would be liquid watercolor. This whim of destiny ended up being a job that he would be passionate about and that marked the rest of his life.

Amadeo Vallejo en su taller, 1971.
Amadeo Vallejo in his workshop, 1971

Mr. Vallejo was very fond of painting, and he immediately took to the company like a duck to water and before long rose to be the production director. As time went on, he mastered the trade, but he also realized that the type of product they manufactured was not best suited to the factory line of business, so he suggested to the owner that they produce a new line of colors. This proposal was turned down, but Vallejo was so convinced of the potential of the range of colors he had in mind that in the fall of 1965 he left his job and established his own factory to manufacture his new color range.

Vallejo had set his sights on the animation industry. Since Walt Disney was founded in 1923, countless sheets of acetate were required to color a single frame, so it could be an industry with enormous potential.

The Vallejo-Safranek marriage started the business. He did it in the garage of his house, in true Californian startup style. To give an idea, the first commercial director was Eugenie. She spoke English, so she was in charge of managing the PR part of the business while Amadeo focused on defining and treating the product. Soon the first orders arrived, and time proved Vallejo right. One of the brands that knocked on their doors was the legendary Hanna-Barbera animation studio. They are the creative parents of The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Wacky Cars, Scooby-Doo, and an endless series of cartoons that have marked the childhood of millions of children.

Originales de color Vallejo sobre acetato para animación
Vallejo color originals on acetate for animation
Vallejo fabricó pinturas para el estudio de animación Hanna-Barbera
Vallejo made paintings for the Hanna-Barbera animation studio

Everything was going smoothly until in 1969 Vallejo experienced something unexpected: homesickness. Amadeo was tired of his New Jersey routine. The city bored him, and he longed more and more for the hustle and bustle of the streets of Madrid and its people. Therefore, he convinced his wife to return to Spain and move their business and family from America’s East Coast to the East Coast of Spain.

How did they do it? Well, they took a boat towards Valencia and filled their suitcases with literally hundreds of dyes, paints and pigments.

Before sailing back to Spain, Vallejo wanted to explore the possibilities that his company would have in the Spanish audiovisual industry. And he went to New York and stood at the Empire State Building to speak with the RTVE (Spanish Radio and Television Corporation) contact for the branch in the US, a young journalist called Jesús Hermida, who had just narrated the Apollo 11 moon landing for the Spanish television that same year.

Jesús Hermida aconsejó a Amadeo Vallejo que no probara fortuna en España
Jesús Hermida advised Amadeo Vallejo not to try his fortune in Spain

At their meeting Vallejo told Hermida that he wanted to return to Spain to create colors for animation. However, the journalist tried to dissuade him by reminding him that Spain still did not have color television. He told Vallejo: “Amadeo, it doesn’t make much sense to make colors for TV if no one can see them”. But again, Vallejo went with his instinct and ignored the journalist’s advice, continuing with his plans to return to Spain. “Color television will arrive in Spain”, he told himself.

Once they set foot again on Spanish soil, Amadeo, Eugenie and Alexander (the current CEO of Vallejo Acrylics who was only 3 years old at the time) looked for a place to rebuild their lives. They began looking for a home near the ports of Valencia or Barcelona. If Vallejo wanted to maintain the business that he had forged in the US, he knew that it had to be relatively close to a key seaport to allow him to import the materials from which his colors were made and, above all else, to continue selling the finished product abroad.

Una de las primeras cartas de colores de Vallejo, 1973
One of Vallejo’s first color cards, 1973

Finally, the couple rented a house in Vilanova i la Geltrú, a town in the province of Barcelona. The first Vallejo Acrylics factory on Spanish soil, as in New Jersey, began producing paint for cartoon filming in the garage of the family home.

Following his arrival in Spain the business evolved and eventually the North American animation studios were no longer Vallejo’s principal customer. He started selling to Spanish and Central European studios. There were many new cartoon studios in the Czech Republic, Hungary and in some other eastern European countries, editing films for the great film companies in London and Paris. Here were studios that needed high-quality colors, but at a reasonable price, which is where Vallejo came into play.

Among its national clients, the Cruz Delgado study stood out. You probably don’t know him, but they created the famous animated series about Don Quijote de La Mancha and Los Trotamúsicos. They also created colors for the Estudios Moro of the cartoonist José Luis Moro, who was the designer of the logo of the mythical TV program Un, dos, tres… and his mascot Ruperta. But if something made this study famous was the announcement of La Familia Telerín and the animated series Soccer in Action starring «Naranjito».

Fotograma de la serie de animación de TVE Don Quijote de la Mancha y Naranjito
Still from the TVE animation series «Don Quijote de La Mancha» and «Naranjito»

In 1972 Vallejo discovered that Film Color, which he had designed for acetate sheets used in animation, was also regularly purchased by advertising and design studios. The reason for this was its very high opacity and its matt finish. Following this revelation, he decided to create a line of artist-specific acrylic paints.

For this purpose, he had to develop the first acrylic tube in Spain and the second in Europe, and as you can imagine, the demand for this type of paints skyrocketed in specialized stores nationwide. The Vallejo brand had just started a paradise for the world of creativity and design that was established during the 80’s thanks to new ranges that perfectly fit the specific needs of designers.

This was an age before desktop computers and graphic design programs, and painting and color were the main media for visual artists. Remember the liquid watercolors that Vallejo made just for graphic designers? This was a dream time for the company, because it was able to expand the business with product lines for airbrushing, decorative arts and the launch of Acrylic Studio. The Acrylic Studio was established in 1981 when several professors from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Barcelona asked Vallejo to develop a specific range of colors for their Fine Arts students.

Primer acrílico en tubo de España. Creado por Vallejo
First acrylic tube in Spain. Created by Vallejo

This milestone was not only relevant for the company, but it was also significant for the Spanish art and painting sector. Before then the world of Fine Arts exclusively used oil paints, and it was Vallejo who introduced acrylics to the artistic mainstream. In Spain, the use of acrylics in Fine Arts at all levels soared after Vallejo’s innovation and they have remained the mainstay of Fine Arts ever since.

In 1992 Spain was in a state of euphoria because of the Barcelona Olympic Games and Seville’s Expo 92 World Fair. Vallejo too was going from strength to strength, having discovered the market niche that would allow them to continue being on the crest of the wave of innovation in their sector. In 1992 Vallejo began to focus on the world of scale modeling.

El principal motor de negocio de Vallejo es el modelismo
Vallejo’s main business driver is now scale modeling.

In the second season of this podcast, I discussed the origin of modeling when we talked about the Scalextric brand, and surely you remember that it was, and is, a world that drags a large number of fans around the world. During the 1980s there were already some miniature manufacturers (Almirall and Palou among others) who asked Vallejo for the same acrylic color that they used for cartoons but applied to figure painting.

Vallejo had manufactured this type of paints for third parties, but then the scale model stores discovered their origin and began to order directly from Vallejo. Amadeo realized that neither the range of colors offered nor the product presentation were ideal, just as he had with the old company in New Jersey. So, in 1992, his bloodhound instinct led him to create his own specific range of acrylics specially formulated for modeling and dioramas in a completely new format.

Pruebas de laboratorio de Vallejo
Vallejo laboratory tests

At this point Vallejo’s world-class product design team came into play, developing a 17ml bottle with drop dispenser. This accomplished two things: no paint was wasted, dispensing precisely what was needed onto the palette each time, and the paint did not dry out in the bottle. The idea worked so well that in 1995 they expanded the range and three years later they created what is now Model Color, the widest range of colors for modeling in the world.

All of this happened while in 1995 the US animation industry was madly embracing pixels and 3D in movies like Toy Story. We know that this movie was the first computer-animated feature film and it also established an expiration date on traditional animation. Therefore, Model Color was undoubtedly the turning point that raised the pillars of what is today the Vallejo Acrylics brand.

Model Color es el buque insignia de la marca Vallejo
Model Color is the flagship of the Vallejo brand

The demand for Model Color was increasing and the company did not limit itself to fill the orders. In addition to that, Mr. Vallejo invested a good part of its resources in know the end users, in understanding their needs, and providing quality solutions. He established very close communication with the retailers that were selling their paints, and also with the hobbyists themselves. This is similar to what I told you about the bike brand Orbea. They began to go to international fairs such as the one in Nuremberg (the Mecca of modeling) and appeared in specialized magazines such as the North American Historical Miniature, which was a firm commitment to increase their presence internationally.

Stand de Vallejo en la feria del juguete de Nuremberg y portada de la revista Historical Miniature
Vallejo’s stand at the Nuremberg toy fair and cover of the Historical Miniature magazine

In 1997 they were already distributing their products in France, Belgium and Italy, but they also began to notice the awakening of a special interest in the modeling hobby in Spain. Although it was not an easy task. In the 90’s and well into the 2000’s, modelers understood acrylics as solvent-based colors with a small percentage of acrylic resin, but certain users were not familiar with the water-based acrylics that Vallejo was making.

Therefore, Vallejo exercised essential pedagogical work with their clients. This became even more apparent in 2002 with the arrival of Model Air, a specific color range for airbrushes.

Proceso de etiquetado de Model Air
Model Air labeling process

By 2003 Vallejo Acrylics had 25 employees and they were flying full speed. Then Amadeo and Eugenie decided to step aside in the direction of the business and leave it to the eldest of their three children, Alexander. Although Amadeo continued to supervise everything that was done in the company practically until he passed away on March 31, 2019 at the age of 78.

Eugenie Safranek (izquierda) y Alex Vallejo (derecha) en la Feria de Valencia de 1978
Eugenie Safranek (left) and Alex Vallejo (right) at the 1978 Valencia Fair

I’m not going to deny that when Alex told me that his father had recently passed away, I had the feeling that I had been late. I was looking forward to squeezing one of the world’s greatest paint-making experts. But within 5 minutes of talking to him, I realized that I was dealing with a person who had absorbed knowledge like a sponge for years. He also projected prudence, humility, and a love for his products as I have rarely seen in BrandStocker.

Amadeo would be very proud of the achievements of Vallejo Acrylics with his son at the head of the company, no doubt about it, as its financial position is enviable. Vallejo Acrylics has more than doubled its number of employees recently, reaching 65 in 2020. The Model Color product line is one of its best-known brands in the sector. Recently, thanks to the efforts of its team of technicians, Vallejo Acrylics has also added the Game Color line, designed for miniatures and scenery for tabletop games. Game Color has become one of the most popular paint ranges in this highly competitive market in no time. They have also expanded their product range to weathering products in order to offer modelers the possibility to start and finish their modeling projects using only water-based products.

Evolución de la marca Vallejo
The evolution of the Vallejo brand

Moreover, in the last decade Vallejo Acrylics has quadrupled its output, improving the formula of its colors, and manufacturing them at a rate of 7,000 pounds of paint per day. This is notable and unique as many of its competitors simply label and package third-party paints. And that is why Vallejo is the best acrylic manufacturer in the world.

This expertise has led them to have the majority of sales in the US. Although followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Holland, Denmark, China (in this order), which allow them to achieve double-digit annual growth.

Proceso de fabricación de Acrílicos Vallejo
Acrylicos Vallejo manufacturing process

Therefore it’s no surprise that they have been the subject of acquisition attempts several times, or that they receive constant joint ventures offers. Indeed even very important companies in the sector have approached r in order to outsource the production of all their paints. The Vallejo family have had to politely dismiss all these proposals, mainly because they like their work and want to continue making paints themselves. This is an ethos that Alex Vallejo and his brothers Mike and Amadeo hold very dear to them, as do the rest of the brand’s team. Despite its situation today, it continues to be, at heart, a family business. It is currently looking for locations to build a new factory and is open to studying the possibility of acquiring a company that complements the offer.

Vallejo y Corvus Belli unieron fuerzas para lanzar un set de pinturas para Infinity
Vallejo and Corvus Belli joined forces to launch a set of paintings for the tabletop game ‘Infinity’.

I have always wanted to say this phrase in BrandStocker and it is that: Vallejo has a future of «colors» (I had to say it). I wanted to say this phrase because Vallejo is working now with iridescent pigments – color shifters. In short, they are changing colors depending on the reflection of light. This is very similar to the pearlescent effect that became fashionable in tuning cars during the 90’s. Actually, the Eccentric Color range was presented in 2019. Under that brand they will market several lines of “eccentric” colors of which The Shifters are the tip of the spear.

Finally, I want to tell you about two of the priorities that Vallejo Acrylics is currently working on: Reducing the impact of the carbon footprint and of all its products, and on the other hand, they want to license and promote partnerships with board game manufacturers. They started these ventures with the Spanish company Corvus Belli, creators of the wargame Infinity – a Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K competition tabletop game-, with WizKids, Battlefront and other important tabletop game firms. And we are seeing now that Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and others are painting the adventures of their role-playing games with Vallejo Acrylics.

Kit de pinturas de Vallejo para el primer juego de tablero de Hellboy
Vallejo paint kit for Hellboy’s first board game

Branding rules!


Rubén Galgo’s interview with Alex Vallejo, as published in the BrandStocker podcast.
Translation by Gerardo Escobedo-Sainz (Paperjerry Hobbies en Texas).

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