Thursday 18 April 2013

Painting "Clean" Vehicles - A Primer & Short Tutorial

Just a quick post, really a primer for a longer tutorial that will follow. Soon. Next week. By Christmas. Etc.

The idea here is to show a basic step-by-step of how I have painted vehicles in the "clean" style in the past. I say "in the past" because I am moving away from this style of painting, but I've had enough requests over the years to make doing a tutorial worthwhile. The pics are not very good, but this really is a stop-gap, just meant to explain the basic process: I intend to follow this article up with another where I'll paint a British Challenger tank from start to finish to match this painting style. It is much easier to see the effect on the "real thing" than on this small example. Still, painting panels in such a manner is good practice.

I've used a spare piece of plastic BF Panzer IV shurzen here: undercoated black, I then painted it with an overall thinned coat of VMC 888 Olive Grey.
A single coat of Olive Grey. Note patchy coverage.

I then "pin washed" the panel lines with Army Painter "Dark Tone" Wash, (i.e. Badab Black or whatever they're calling it these days: see link HERE for comparisons). Thinned black paint or similar will also work, but a matte finish is a must. This is not a real "pin wash", basically I just paint it where the details are to darken and define them.

Black wash applied on panel lines.

I then follow this up by painting another, thinned, coat of VMC Olive Grey. Below I have left the panels to the left and right of the centre panel alone with only one coat of paint. You can readily see the difference, the second coat adds a level of intensity to the colour that a single coat lacks.

The idea here is to "block paint" i.e. to carefully paint up to the lines without messing into them. This is a achieved by (1) brush control (2) thinned paint, but not too thin (about 1:1 paint water for me), and (3) by not loading the brush with too much paint which, if done, will result in control being lost and the excess paint running into the details. Less is more, as the saying goes.  

Light playing tricks here, still Olive Grey overall.

After an overall coat of Olive Grey, I apply the SCC15 mix: a 1:1 mix of VMC 888 Olive Grey and VMC 924 Russian Uniform. This is a sort of "overall highlight", in other words I apply it over most of the previous colour, leaving some of the Olive Grey showing at the edges. This is how the "soft, smooth" look is achieved in part: thinned layers of paint helps too.

Being applied in this way, the colour will, again, show a level of intensity which other methods (e.g. airbrushing) will lack, but this is neither here nor there, just different. Again, I have a left a panel in Olive Grey to show the contrast. Note the edges of the painted panels where the SCC15 colour is painted close up to them but not all the way.

Once the entire thing is done, it is time for edge highlights. The theory here is, obviously, to highlight selected edges with a much lighter colour which will define details and edges and cause them to "pop" or stand out, especially from 3 feet away on the gaming table. These I applied on the shurzen on the "top" parts, a bit difficult to make out below. I highlighted the tops of the centre panels and the top and sides of those panels on the edges. I did not paint lines down the centre of the panels as this would essentially be wasting the previous effort: "framing a green box". I used the Vallejo Panzer Aces colour 327 Italian Tank Crew: this is just like adding a light grey to the SCC15 mix, but is more convenient being straight from the bottle. 

That is pretty much it for the theory: I struggled to demonstrate this on something simple, it should be clearer on an actual vehicle I think. However, the basic process remain the same.

Theory next to practice.

(the rest)

I'll keep this short, as I'm bored of it and the process did not photograph very well with my lack-of-photography-skills.

I've used two different models here to speed things up, but left them free of stowage, etc. for simplicity and to see what is happening. I worked from an overall black undercoat, then base-coated the entire model with VMC 888 Olive Grey with and airbrush, though in the past I've used a flat brush to quickly get some colour on the model. 

Black undercoat

Overall VMC 888 Olive Grey

I did the tracks fist for simplicity. I painted the tracks black, then dry-brushed them quite heavily with VMC 995 German Grey, followed by a lighter dry-brush of a gunmetal (any will do). With the gunmetal I attempt to highlight the areas of the track in contact with the ground that would see the most wear and show as bare metal. 

After that, I painted the inside of the road wheels with the SCC15* mix and gave them an overall (thinned) wash with Badab Black/Army Painter Dark Tone "Ink" (it's not an actual ink, it is an acrylic wash). I then picked out the rivets and prominent points with SCC15* again, as well as the rim. Rubber was painted black, I didn't bother with grey highlights here as the matt varnish toned it down considerably. Panzer Aces Dark Rubber or similar is a good colour to use. I finish by gloss varnishing. With tracks and running gear out of the way, we can get to some actual painting.

With the tank being an overall shade of VMC 888 Olive Grey, I start by "lining" the details with black wash, that is, I paint the wash into areas where there is detail. The picture-sequence of the hulls pretty much shows what I mean. I've included pictures of the turrets, the process is the same.
Olive Grey on left, right with wash "lining" applied.

After that I "clean up" by block-painting again with Olive Grey, leaving the black line where appropriate. You'll note that the new coat of Olive Grey is "greener" than the airbrushed coat, since it is applied by brush and the colour is consequently more opaque.
"Lined" tank left, block painted tank on right.

Next, I paint the SCC15* mix, leaving some of the Olive Grey showing around the edges in places, while pushing it to the edge of panels in other places. See the picture for example. 
Olive Grey on left, SCC15 applied on right.

Lastly, I use line highlights to emphasise the edges, with Vallejo Panzer Aces 327 Italian Tankcrew. I also highlight the top of various ridges, rivets, and so on.
SCC15 on left, edge highlights on right.

The turrets follow the same idea.

Side-shots of the hull progress.

Lastly, I finish by painting other details (tools and equipment), gloss varnishing, applying decals, and the matt varnishing.

Finished vehicles.

This is the old way. I did my Cromwell-based force this way, but I'll be doing a Sherman Squadron with different techniques in future.


* The SCC15 mix is a 1:1 mix of VMC 924 Russian Uniform and 888 Olive Grey.


  1. Really looking forward to the detailed tute! Nice so far

  2. Cool. That level of colour intensity you acheive is what sets this style apart from others. At this scale sometimes going for realism the minatures seem to lack the pop you acheive. Couple this with failing to lighten for scale can also make them look too dark. Something that I have done in the past for sure.

  3. I am very interested to understand how you proceed. This is a technique that gives you outstanding results.

    It will be probably clearer with an actual vehicle. With the flat pannels, I struggled to have the complete "ah" moment.

    Looking forwards to seeing the next tutorial (and thanks for the thought of making one! Appreciated)

    Your vehicles are among the most interesting pieces in the FOW community.

  4. Very interested in learning more. Is this a practical example of layering? If you have the time and inclination, repeating the tutorial on an actual vehicle to see how it works with complicated shapes would be useful. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

    1. As I said above, a longer piece on a Challenger tank is coming.


    2. is in the post above? The Challenger was used as an example.


    3. Oh... I must've mixed it up with a Cromwell, I feel quite stupid now haha

  5. I think even this short tutorial is enough to answer the questions I had regarding putting your method into practice. I think it's especially well suited to the German/British vehicles thanks to their boxy shapes.

    Out of curiosity, what are you shifting towards in your stuff going forward?

  6. Cheers Christopher.

    On German vehicles without zimerrit, yes. However, it can only really do hard-edged camouflage. I much prefer the airbrushed look for German camouflage in general.

    In future I will be trying out other things, mostly airbrush work I should think. I am still very inexperienced in that regard, so time to start learning again.


  7. Actually one more question: what color combo did you use for edge highlighting?

  8. Vallejo Panzer Aces 327 Italian Tank Crew...I forgot to add that above somehow. Basically it is a match for the SCC15 colour mixed with a light grey, but being straight from the bottle is more convenient.


  9. I am more interested to see the techniques you are moving to than the one you're moving away from. Your work to date has been excellent, and if you've found a way to make the figures even better I really want to know what it is.


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