Friday, 23 March 2012

Tutorial: Painting White Armour

I'm often asked (about once or twice a month at the moment) what techniques I use to paint white. White and black are often considered the two hardest "colours" to paint by many gamers. Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to that question. I use different techniques depending on whether I'm painting white cloth, white armour or white plastic. Since most people seem to ask this question about my white-armoured space marines, I thought I'd share my preferred method for painting white power armour and vehicles. Although the method is relatively quick and easy to explain, painting white this way is very slow process. Using this method, it takes me a full day to paint a ten man squad of space marines in full armour (as opposed to four and a bit hours as it normally would). The successive (thin) coats of off-white paint required to get the best from this method are extremely time consuming. You can shave a few hours off the process by using only a single, thick coat of the off-white in step three, but results (and the smoothness of the finish) can vary not just from mini to mini but even from armour plate to armour plate, if you chose to take this short-cut.

Stick to the two coat-method if you can. The results are far preferable.

My Recommended paints:
Army Painter White Primer
Games Workshop Badab Black Ink Wash
Vellajo Model Colour Silver Grey
Vellajo  Game Colour White/ Vellajo Model Air White

An overview of the four steps to white power armour.
 Step One: Undercoat

After thoroughly cleaning and basing your miniature, apply a white undercoat. Be careful to clean away any flash and mould lines as best you can before applying the undercoat. Once it's applied, check for mould-lines again. It's fairly easy to miss mould lines when looking at bare metal, but the undercoat can help reveal any you've missed. If you look at the example miniatures sword hand, you'll see that I missed some flash prior to undercoating which I caught and cleaned up afterwords. It's preferable to use a spray can or airbrush to undercoat, to obtain a nice smooth coat. The reason for all this meticulous cleaning becomes apparent in step two.
Stage 1: Clean, Base and Undercoat your miniature

 Step Two: Shading
Wash the entire miniature in Black Ink. I use Games Workshop's Badab Black for this step, mainly because I can't reliably source Secret Weapon Inks where I live. Don't be stingy with your ink. You want plenty of black ink in every recess of the armour. If you've still missed any mould lines -even very faint ones- by this point, the ink will make them very obvious, but there's still time to clean them up. If you don't catch them now, your mini will look pretty awful regardless of how good the finished paint job is. Take a look at this guy's helmet, you'll see what I mean.
Step 3: Base Layer (x2)
Now take your off-white paint ( I thoroughly recommend Vellajo Model Colour Silver Grey. It's so close to white that it actually appears white to the naked eye until compared side-by-side with a true white) and apply a base coat to all the white areas on the miniature. Be careful not to get any paint in the recesses. Use two thin coats rather than a single thick one to obtain a nice, even finish. Use a brush one or two sizes smaller than you would normally use when applying a base coat. It makes the process all the more fiddly and time-consuming, but you'll end up with a nice, neat finish.
Stage 3: Two thin coats of Vellajo Model Colour Silver-Grey
Step Four: Highlights
Take your "pure: white paint of choice (I normally use Vellajo Game Colour White or Vallejo Model Air White) and highlight the raised areas of the miniature and the edges of the armour plates. This photo was taken at 7am this morning, so the lighting isn't what it could be. The best place to see the contrasting highlights on this marine is to look at edgeing of the shin plates and the hand holding the grenade. You'll see that the Silver Grey isn't as pure white as your eyes and brain were telling you, and the white highlights are clearly visible. All you have to do now is finish painting the rest of your mini.
Stage 4: White highlights


  1. Nice tutorial, white is hard to paint

  2. Looking pretty good. I may try this one out.

    Thanks mate

  3. Nice tutorial there. I normally use Vallejo model colour Off white for my aleph, and then highlight up with just a pure white.

  4. Thanks for the tutorial Brian, most useful.

  5. I'm glad it'll be of some use. Many thanks.

  6. See? Told you Silvergrey was the mutt's nuts. :)

    Mecha Ace, Off White looks like it's got a very slight ivory tint to it. Silvergrey is pretty much an untinted grey. 70907 Pale Greyblue looks like it might also work if you want a blue-tinted white.

  7. Yup, you certainly did :) Andy put me on to using Silver Grey a couple of years ago. I haven't looked back since.