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Painting Camouflage For Dummies

Look Sarge, we'd appreciate if you didn't refer to our readers as "Dummies." -- ed.

Idiot's Guide to Painting Camo

"Idiot" isn't going to work either. -- ed.

Camo on a CAV

by Barry Bordner
aka Sergeant Crunch

Alright Maggots listen up!

(Sarge...) -- ed.


So, you've gone and gotten yourself some CAVs, but now you're trying to figure how to paint them. Well, there's really about three options, unless you're going to try something out of the ordinary (like freehand flowers or chrome NMM).
  1. Spray paint them one or two colors then apply a wash. (Gets the job done, but not very pretty most of the time)
  2. Pick a few colors and do a parade scheme. (Can look really good, but not the topic of this article)
  3. Give it a camouflage pattern (now we're talking!)
Before we get started on actual process let's talk about the concept of camouflage. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of attending military training on the subject it is a fairly simple concept. The purpose of applying camouflage is break up the general outline of the person or object so they don't immediately appear to be what they are and to lessen the contrast between shadowed areas an highlighted areas in order to present a flat image which blends into the background terrain more easily.

Being the observant reader that you are I'm sure that you see the inherent problem involved with the last part of that statement and everything you've ever learned about painting miniatures. When painting miniatures, typically you want to exaggerate the shadows and highlights as details on your average 28mm miniature aren't raised enough to create their own. So we use really dark colors for shadows and highlight up to just shy of, if not, pure white in order to make the model "pop", make the model visually interesting, and draw attention to the model. So we have a dilemma, how to create an effective camouflage design while still creating a visually attractive model which is the envy of your gaming group?

The answer is 42. Oh, wait, wrong question. Though the real answer is just about as ambiguous. It depends on what you like and what you want it to look like. I know, not really helpful. On one end of the stylistic spectrum you can go for hyper realistic camo patterns and shading and on the other end painting whole panels in a single subdued color using two or three colors with full shading and highlighting. Me, I like to strike the middle ground. This tutorial will be using a fairly loose three color camo pattern, some dark lining, and a glaze used more like a wash. The only highlighting will be on the cockpit glass. Why do it this way? The camo pattern will break up the outline of the miniature without overpowering the details which will be picked out with the dark lining. This fulfills part of purpose for camouflage (breaking up the outline) while still being visually interesting. This technique is all about balancing these requirements.

Alright, enough babbling about the whys and wherefores, let's get to business. I'm going to assume that you're proficient in the areas of preparing and priming your miniatures. One word of experience here, don't fully assemble the miniatures yet. Go ahead and attach torsos to legs, tank tracks to hulls, and flight stands to bases. DO NOT attach arms, turrets, and flying/hovering vehicles yet. If you do, it becomes quite difficult to reach and paint certain areas, which makes it more difficult to continue the pattern in those areas. It can be done if you've already assembled the mini, but it will take longer. I usually go ahead and fill the bases before priming so everything has a consistent primer coat. Usually for me it's a mixture of medium ballast, fine ballast, decorative sand, and some watered down Elmer's (PVA) glue.

OK, every thing's primed and ready to go. Now to start painting. It'll be a lot easier to decide your colors in advance. You'll want two or three colors for your camo pattern. I like using three colors, but that's personal preference. The environment your camo is trying to blend in with will dictate the colors you choose. The colors I'll be using would be good for a typical light deciduous forest. Let your imagination run wild, there's lots of planets in the galaxy with alien terrain and vegetation. (No really guys, the foliage on Beta Eridani VI is orange and purple!) So really any colors will work, so long as there is a sufficient difference in hue, or how light or dark the color is. For a two color pattern you'll want a light hued color and a medium to dark hued color. For a three color pattern you'll want a light, a medium, and a dark hued colors. Reaper's Master Series Paint (MSP) line can take a lot of the guess work out of selecting your colors as they are arranged in triads of varying hues. However some care must be taken as some colors are very close in hue. A chart with all the colors of your chosen paints is real helpful. Let your eye be your guide and pick what looks good. For this article I'll be using the following MSP paints for the camo pattern: light tone- Terran Khaki, mid tone- Highland Moss, dark tone - Muddy Earth. The khaki and moss colors are very close match to the colors the U.S. Air Force used to paint the F-4 Phantom and the brown is a nice rich color.

The first step is to paint the entire model with the lightest color. An airbrush or spray paints can make this part real easy if you have one, though a brush will do perfectly fine as well. Which ever method you use just make sure you get a good even coverage. If you happen to stray outside your original outline, no worries, just expand to contain the offending mark and make it like you intended it to be that way. :) Here I've used my airbrush to apply the Terran Khaki. (I'm not going to show a picture here since I think you can imagine a model being covered completely in one color, that and I didn't get a picture of this step.)

Next, using your mid-tone, outline some random 'blobs' (that's a technical term there :) ) one the mini. Make sure your paint is thinned well or else you'll get some nasty texturing. Don't try to over think placement and size, let the brush wander where it may. In order to make sure you're breaking up the outline continue the outline over the edges of panels and lay it across details on the mini. After drawing the outline, fill it in so that the outlined area is covered with your mid-tone. We're aiming for roughly 33% coverage with the mid tone give-or-take a bit. Hold the piece out at arm's length every so often to check if the pattern is breaking up the outline from various angles. If you have two blobs close together join them, two connected small blobs seems to look better than two small ones close together (to me anyway, YMMV). Here I've applied the Highland Moss using a #2 kolinsky sable brush. Notice how the blobs don't conform to any of the panel lines and how they continue over the breaks in the cockpit frames. (A note on pictures here, I was working on a Terran force for my wife and didn't seem to take a picture of a single mini all the way through the process, so there will be pictures of different models, but the same technique was applied. I'll try to keep to the StarHawk V as much as possible.)

Using the same "wandering brush" its time for the dark tone. Draw the outline again, making sure to let the darker color overlap your mid-tone in a few spots. Your looking to have about one third of the miniature in each color, roughly, again let your eye be your guide here. If you like it, it's where it needs to be. Once you get all your dark tone blobs filled in with a good even coat your pattern is done. This is a good time to hit the model with a coat of your favorite matte sealer. Wouldn't want to mess up all that work by accident when doing the details, now would we?

Alright the big stuff is done, now for the little stuff. This is where we can start to ignore the concepts of camouflage and aim for grabbing attention. Pick the colors for things like your cockpit canopy, weapons, missiles, tank tracks, periscope lenses, floodlights, etc.... and paint your base colors for the detail. This is another good point for a coat of matte sealer. On these I've used Honed Steel for weapon barrels, Bright Red for missiles, Sky Blue for lights and periscopes, and black for cockpits, muzzles, and tank treads.

Ok, got the details blocked in, now it's time for some dark lining. There's a couple of ways to go about it. One is to use a black technical or pigma pen (generally found where you can get drafting supplies) or you can thin a dark color paint or ink to wash consistency and apply via brush. (You could also use a dip technique. I believe Ugluk69 did a tutorial in the forums.) Either method is perfectly valid, though do some research on ink types for the pens. I've seen some comments about certain types of inks bleeding or staining the paint underneath (though I wouldn't think this would be an issue if you applied your in-between sealer coats). I personally like to use a wash and apply it with a 3/0 round kolinsky sable brush. If you go with paint, pick a very dark color paint or ink that goes with your camo color scheme. If you're using primarily reds or browns go with a super dark brown like chestnut or brown ink. For blues use a blue ink or a midnight blue color (maybe with a touch of black to really darken it up). Anyway pick a very dark color that goes with the camo. I'll be using MSP Brown Liner (great stuff the liners) since there's more brown than green in my pattern. Mixing MSP Brown Liner is a little different than the paints, they are very intensely pigmented an quite fluid out of the bottle. I could probably use it straight out of the bottle for the dark lining but like to add some water and flow improver to help it slide off the brush into the crevices. (I'm using a 10% solution of Liquitex Flo-Aid in water at about a 1:1 ratio with the liner.) Load your brush as normal then just place the in the groove or panel line that you want dark lined and let the capillary action draw the paint from your brush into the recess. You may need to draw the brush along the line to ensure the paint goes where you need it too. Keep another brush handy to suck up any excess.

Now mix up a glaze using the same color as you did for the dark lining. You want it nice and thin as we're only aiming to slightly darken the miniature over all it's surfaces. Apply the glaze mix like you would a wash. Let it collect in the recesses, but don't let it pool on the larger surfaces or let too much collect. Use a second brush to shlorp up pooling paint.

Alrighty then, so close to being done you should be able to smell it. (I love the smell of acrylic in the morning! It smells like....Victory!) Highlight the cockpit using your favorite technique as well as anything else that looks like it might be made of something glass-like. If some metallic spot were overly darkened, hit them with a little of the same color to restore the luster. And you're done. Now paint the rest of the platoon!

This method lends itself to assembly line painting if you're painting a whole force. The pictures I used are were my wife's models as I was painting up her Terran task force.

So that's how you get a camouflaged model that still looks good and gets people's attention. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and found it helpful.

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