A Beginner’s Guide to Painting Metals
Life around here has been busy. Really busy. I hate it when real life gets in the way of painting my little army men – or gets in the way of photographing them, and writing about how I paint them …
Which brings me to the topic of this article – Painting metals.
Painting metals can be incredibly slow, painful and time consuming – doubly so if you go in for Non-metallic metal techniques. On the other hand, if you just slap down some metallic paint, then the natural shininess reflects the light, and it doesn’t look half bed. … But something is still missing – the shadows aren’t filled, and the metals look flat.
Simply adding a wash makes some improvement, but still the shadows are in the wrong places, and the sheen has been lost form the metallic paint.
This Article is about quick and dirty. I knocked it together in an hour or so, ’cause – as I mentioned above – life has been unspeakably busy lately. I am not going to teach complex non-metallic metal techniques, or even NMM based metallic techniques. For those, read something by Ghool
What I am going to cover is a few of the more popular metals, and how to achieve a better than table top effect in a very short space of time with some small refinements of simple techniques you have already mastered.
Do Not Use your Kolinsky sable brushes for painting metals. The mica flakes that give the paint its shine will eat natural fibres. Use a synthetic brush. The P3 range is pretty good for this.
For this tutorial, I’ve made a bunch of test models – with a sphere, a sword and a faceted gem as the test pieces. I primed them black, as that seems to be what all the cool kids do these days. (Me – I like white), but it photographed really badly, so I gave it a burst of white to help show off the details. After the first few steps I re-paint the background in black so you can see what I’m doing without the distracting white spray.
Metallic paints – as a rule – have pretty poor coverage. With the exception of GWs old blotgun paint, you will have difficulty establishing a basecoat of metallic paint. I recommend using a basecoat of the colour behind the metallic. Our test columns are:
- first column – silvery metals (steel, silver, etc) – and the three sets will eventually be steel, tarnished steel, rusted steel. I’ve used a basecoat of high coverage grey
- Second column – gold. I’ve used a basecoat of a leathery brown
- Third column – pig iron. I’ve done a basecoat of black
- Fourth column – Bronze – the two sets will be bright and tarnished. I’ve basecoated with a dark saturated brown
- And then I’ve painted a spare in P3 Arcane blue. We’ll get to it later
Next I apply my base coat of metallic. What you use will vary depending on which range you use. I had my old GW box open at the time, so…
- Silvers I’ve used Boltgun
- Gold I’ve used shining gold
- Pigiron is still black
- Bronze I’ve used TinBitz
Next we shade.
- For the silvers and bronze I’ve used a black wash.
- For the Gold I’ve used a Sepia wash.
For washes, some people will tell you to use watered washes or many thin coats. I am a strong believer in the principal that for washes, you either go hard or go home. You really want thick overly heavy washes. Remember you want to create contrast here, and the whole point of washes is to pool in the recesses of your mini, and leave the raised areas alone. You won’t do either of these with a thinned down or lightweight wash.
Next we drybrush with more or more other metallics to create our highlights. First the colours…
- For the silvers I simply used progressively lighter silvers – in this case GW chainmail, then GW mithril.
- For the Pigiron, I’ve just drybrushed with boltgun, then a very light strategic drybrush to just catch the edges with some mithril
- For the gold, I’ve used GW burnished gold, then a 2:1 mix of burnished gold and Mithril to just catch the edges
- For the bronze, I’ve used P3 Brass balls, then 2:1 Brass balls and mithril
There is a special trick I use with drybrushing.It is in your drybrush you’ll decide how light you want your colour to be, and it depends as much on how much you drybrush with ANY lighter colour, as it does how light that colour is. If you take an almost black metallic (say boltgun with lots and lots of black wash) and do a tiny skeric of mithril silver to just catch the edges, you’ll still have a very dark silvery metallic. On the other hand, if you apply a ton of chainmail drybrushing to the same dark metal, you’ll end up with a much lighter metal, even though you never took it all the way to mithril silver.
I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere, but I can’t imagine I am the first to discover it.
I call it Directional Drybrushing.
When I was first read about how to drybrush it said to brush off almost all your paint onto paper or papertowel, then flick the almost completely dry brush back and forth over the mini. The last dregs of the paint will end up on the raised edges providing you with your highlighting.
When you are highlighting, you really want your highlight to fall on the upper surface of the raised edge, not on the underneath of them. On the underneath, you want to have your deep shadows created by the wash you just applied.
So instead of flicking your brush back and forth, just flick it from above to down, then go back to the top without touching the mini, and brush above to down again. It’s a little awkward at first, but you get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Before long you’ll be almost as fast as you’ve always been.
At this point you can call it done, but I usually do a further bit of polish by re-doing the washes – applying them only to the areas that would be in shadow – the undersides, and the edges of raised areas, or the deepest grooves.
And then ensuring the edges are highlighted if any have been lost
We mentioned tarnish and rust.
- For tarnish on steel, it’s easy. You just add a brown wash – like devlan mud
- For rust, you need to find a nice orangey brown. Make a really watered down mix, and allow it to pool in areas that would be prone to corrosion. Near joints in metal or rivets are popular. You want to have it thin enough that as it dries it leaves uneven changes and tide rings. More uneven is better.
- For tarnished bronze, do the same, but use a watered down turquoise/cyan. In this case I’ve used P3 arcane blue – which seems to be built for the job. You could easily add a touch of P3 turquise ink or meredius blue and still have it come out looking good.
For the tarnish and rust, the colours have been washed out a bit by the camera, so I’ll show further examples on actual minis later .
Oh and as for that arcane blue sample… While I waited for my washes to dry, I thought I’d demonstrate that the same principals can be used to paint up NMM or blue-ish Ice. I’ve put a touch more effort into a blend rather than pure drybrush – but these were literally done while just filling the time for paint to dry, and I used the same crap GW standard brush as I was using for the metallics.
The principals for these NMM techniques as far as I understand them is …
- Try for smoother blends
- Reverse of normal highlighting – dark at the top and light at the bottom
- Where edges meet, you must have an abrupt change in the colour
- You need more colours than you thought. Steel will need blues and cyans – not just black, white and grey.
And here are our final products. The lighting and camera work are a bit harsh throughout this article, – a lot of glare from the black primer. So I’ve thrown them into the lightbox to see if they are more visible under diffuse light …
Anyway – I figure I should show off some metallic techniques that used these principals on real minis … so without further ado
These Skaven show the difference between tarnished steel and rust. The techniques I used are exactly what I describe in the pictures above
This impaler I tarnished his spear heads with Devlan mud, then carefully edge highlighted with a drybrush of chainmail to just catch the edges. I’ve tried to make the bases of the spear heads darker = more tarnished than the tips as it looks a little more realistic. The metal armguard has been tarnished with a combination of devlan mud and badab black
The axer has a wide variety of metals on him. His armour is the steel technique described above, with the devlan mud and badab black tarnish added on the undersides of the armguards.
The axe head has been heavilly tarnished on the underside of the frame with so many coats of devlan mud that it has become pure brown. I’ve then used the rusting techniques with a watered vomit brown/vermin brown that can be best seen at the top of the narrow edge of the axe blade
Finally the frame I’ve done in a bronzeish metal that largely follows the bronze technique I describe above, but with shining gold and burnished gold as my two highlight colours.
The brass on this telescope is a base of tinbits, then shining gold, and then all shining surfaces (around about the brightest 50%) painted in P3 Brass balls. I then washed in sepia, and re-covered with the brassballs
As for adding OSL to metals – this can become a challenge. For my bomber I began with just my standard tarnished steel, however I increased the contrast further by making sure all my edge highlights were taken all the way to mithril, and the shades and the tarnish to almost black. I aimed to have a lot of dull brownish tarnish and only just enough shiny metal to show it was steel and not brown plastic.
The reason I did this is because to do the OSL, I knew I was going to need non-metallic paints, and the contrast between non-metallic and metallics just looks wrong if it’s all meant to be metal. Better to have everything a bit more dull, so I can use white, yellow and orange reflections from metal edges and the dullness doesn’t look off
And as for this guy … I know I said I wouldn’t talk NMM, but he’s an example of how I go about doing NMM. Note the wide range of colours used – especially on the sword blade – everything from whites, cyans, blues, browns and blacks. You can see how I’ve used all the rules I describe above, and I think he looks OK.
That’s all for this week. any questions, feel free to ask me in comments below, or on the PP forums
Until next time, happy painting