Featured Post

Project: Desert Astra Militarum #1

It's been a case of all-hobby, no-bloggy for the last few months. The new edition of 40k has reinvigorated my motivation to build a...

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Hobby: Scale Modelling Techniques

My last couple of weeks have included minimal hobby time, so I still have no new models to share. I have also been held back by a desperate need for resupply; I have several paints and other modelling supplies on order from various stores that I'm waiting to receive before I can progress my Astra Militarum vehicles. I could, of course, be working on my infantry, but I honestly just haven't found the motivation to grind my way through painting mass Guardsmen.

Scale Modelling Inspiration

What I have been doing these last two weeks is plenty of research into scale modelling techniques for painting historical / modern armour, and thinking about how I could apply these techniques to my Astra Militarum vehicles. In recent years we have started to see some well-established scale modelling practices—such as airbrushing and weathering—being imported into the 40k hobby. I remember well the days of the GW Golden Demon team defining a style based on pristine, factory-finish vehicles in eye-melting bright colours.

Fast forward to today and such 'perfect' models seem to be very much out-of-fashion. Heavy weathering—particularly paint chipping, rust effects and oil streaks—are frequently seen on 40k vehicles and colour palettes are generally more muted and natural.

Weathering certainly adds to the grimdark feel of models—especially for Imperial, Chaos and Ork vehicles—and I like the way the 40k hobby community seems to be going in this regard. However, I am not a fan of the 'extreme weathering' that seems to be growing in popularity; I am a firm believer that a little bit goes a long way! After all, a vehicle has to survive months of campaigning to naturally become heavily weathered; the hellish war zones of the 41st millennium are a far more lethal environment to armour (and infantry!) than twentieth century Terra ever was, so I expect that most 40k vehicles would die young and pretty.

Another trend I dislike is unrealistic weathering. I have seen plenty of models that have been painted and weathered with a lot of technical skill, with an overall poor finish due to the application of those techniques; for example, paint chipped or worn away in locations that would not be exposed to significant friction or wear, and rust in locations that would not corrode.

In short, I think weathering can be a great enhancement to 40k vehicles, if it is applied sensibly.

Kicking the Crutch

After successive disasters trying to apply Army Painter Quickshade to my Astra Militarum vehicles, I decided to look into some alternative techniques that would allow me to achieve similar or better effects with a far greater degree of control and error correction. A few Elite 40,000 readers suggested oil washes as a suitable alternative, and researching that one technique led me to a wealth of other 'new' tricks that I want to apply to my 40k modelling.

The Forge World book "Imperial Armour Model Masterclass Volume One" is a great resource if you're likewise interested in translating scale modelling techniques to 40k. It covers a wide range of techniques and is full of great step-by-step photos. Surprisingly for a GW publication, it even addresses the use of painting and modelling products from other manufacturers!

It's easy to be seduced into this brave new world of modelling techniques, but I think it's important to keep in mind that scale modelling and wargame modelling are not the same thing, for a fundamental and very important reason: wargaming models must be practically robust, since they need to survive the rigours of gaming, not just sitting in a display case!

To keep my application of scale modelling techniques focussed, I first considered what effects I was actually attempting to achieve without Quickshade:
  • Replicating the light brown tint that Quickshade leaves all over a model
  • Replicating the dark brown shading that Quickshade leaves in a model's recesses
  • Avoiding the unsightly dark brown tide marks / brush marks / streaking / pooling that Quickshade can leave on a model, particularly on its flat panels
I also wanted to apply decals and paint chipping as I did with my Void Shield Generator.


The first new technique I want to try is filters. You can read that linked article for a detailed explanation, but the short version is that you cover your entire model with a filter—a very thinned down oil paint—that subtly changes the base colour. You can use a filter to change a base colour (e.g. tinting a light colour) or to add tonal depth to an otherwise flat surface (e.g. using a dark green filter on a light green basecoat). Filters are also good for reducing contrast between colours, which is useful if you have a two- or three-colour camouflage pattern that you want to harmonise.

You can mix your own filters using oil paint and thinners, but I plan to try using a pre-mix brown filter to replicate the tint left by Quickshade Strong Tone. Since this is an oil-based paint, and Army Painter and GW paints are water-based, a protective barrier is required between the layers, such as a varnish.


I'm not talking about slopping Nuln Oil all over a model, or even using coloured washes to selectively shade parts of a model—I want to try oil-based washes on my Astra Militarum vehicles.

A wash is superficially similar to a filter: you varnish your model then paint on a very thinned oil paint. However, while a filter is intended to evenly colour a whole model, a wash is intended to run off the raised detail and settle only in the recesses of a model, resulting in realistic shading. The key difference between these techniques is the type of varnish used prior to applying the oil paint.

Filters should be applied over a matte varnish; matte varnish appears dull because it is microscopically rough, so light does not reflect very well from its surface. A surface is rough if it is covered in peaks and depressions—just think about sandpaper! When a very thin oil paint is applied to a matte varnished surface, the pigment settles into all those tiny depressions all over the model's surface and leaves an even distribution of colour when it dries.

In contrast, washes should be applied over a gloss varnish; gloss varnish appears shiny because it is smooth and light reflects well from its surface. Without lots of tiny depressions to settle in, the pigment instead settles only in the model's natural recesses, and leaves shading when it dries. It is also possible to wipe away excess pigment from raised surfaces, making this technique very forgiving—unlike Quickshade!

I plan to try a couple of different pre-mix washes to replicate the shading left by Quickshade Strong Tone: a "neutral" (light brown) and "dark" (dark brown) wash. Since wash application can be more targeted than filter application, I will aim to use the darker wash on green armour and the lighter wash on sand-coloured stowage and other detail.

Paint Chipping

I'm happy with how my experiments went weathering my Void Shield Generator so I plan to use the sponging technique on my Astra Militarum vehicles. I am going to try GW Skavenblight Dinge instead of my own black/grey mix. I am also going to try using a graphite pencil to highlight any large chips to make them look like the paint has been worn through to bare metal. I will not be adding rust effects because they would be unrealistic for the desert environment my Guardsmen are painted for; it's not because deserts are dry (water is not actually essential for rust) but because continuous sand-blasting would scour away rust as it formed and leave bare metal.

I am going to be restrained in my paint chipping; the focus will be on leading edges, open corners on the undercarriage, and rub points. I want my vehicles to look like their paintwork is naturally distressed in areas of regular / high friction, but not decrepit or poorly maintained.

I will probably have to apply paint chipping before the filter stage, so I can correct any excessive chipping with the Army Green base colour—the base colour will be impossible to seamlessly correct after it has been tinted by the filter.


The decal application techniques I practised on my Void Shield Generator will be reapplied to my armour—Microsol and Microset make this process quite easy. I won't have the gloss finish left by Quickshade on which to apply decals, so I'll have to gloss varnish first.

I will apply decals after the filter, because I want them to stay a clean white-on-green and not get 'dirtied' by the brown tint.


I want to use a sand-coloured pigment to make my armour look dusty, particularly the wheels of my Chimeras and Taurox. I tried this on my Void Shield Generator, but when I applied the final coat of matte varnish the pigment just vanished. This time I will use a pigment fixer instead of a varnish as my final step, and hopefully this will preserve the effect with a sufficiently robust finish for gaming.


This is the planned painting and weathering process for my Astra Militarum vehicles:

  • Basecoat armour Army Green, and separately basecoat stowage Skeleton Bone
  • Paint details (weapons, exhausts, Imperial symbols, etc.)
  • Sponge and pencil on paint chips
  • Make any base colour final corrections
  • Attach stowage
  • Apply matte varnish
  • Apply brown filter
  • Apply gloss varnish
  • Apply decals
  • Selectively apply light and dark brown washes
  • Seal with matte varnish for an overall shine-free finish
  • Paint glass details (viewports, windscreens, etc.) and finish these with brushed-on gloss varnish
  • Apply pigments and seal with pigment fixer
Wow, that's a lot of steps! But I actually think it will be a fairly quick and straightforward process, and better than painting edge highlights for a cartoonish-finish. We'll see how it goes...

Please let me know if you've had success or struggles with applying any of these techniques to 40k models.


  1. Looking forward to your experiments with weathering. I'm a crazy fan of weathering :). Even a factory fresh tank doesn't stay clean for more then a few minutes of use. (just shipping them in a plane usually chips them up).

    Your steps seem pretty good. Don't be afraid to experiment by changing up steps.

  2. Yes I have no doubt that my plan will be refined as I test it! I don't expect my AM tanks would get that weathered since they are more likely to be destroyed in their first few battles than survive long enough to get dirty ;-)