How to Paint Metallic Colors on Miniatures – Unleash the Mesmerizing Shine of Metal on Your Models

Warhammer 40k Metallic Paints

How to Paint Metallic Colors on Miniatures – Unleash the Mesmerizing Shine of Metal on Your Models

Painting metallic colors on miniatures can transform models, adding realism, visual interest, and an eye-catching shine. However, working with metallic paints poses unique challenges compared to regular acrylics. In this extensive guide from our team of experts at Warhammer Universe, we will cover everything you need to know about painting stunning metallic finishes on your miniatures.

With over 20 years of combined experience painting miniatures, our team has tested a wide array of metallic paint brands, techniques, color mixing approaches, and weathering methods. We will share this first-hand knowledge so you can take your metallic painting skills to the next level.

Looking to get started with a paint set? Check here for the Best Paint set for Warhammer Painting


Understanding How Light Reflects on Real Metal Surfaces

Before applying paint to mini, it helps immensely to study how light reflects on real-world metal surfaces. Take time to notice where metals reflect the most light (the brightest highlights) versus the areas that remain dark and shadowed.

The intensity of light reflection varies considerably between different metals. Highly polished silver and chrome have intense highlights and stark shadows. Copper and bronze tend to have a softer reflective quality. Rusty iron and weathered steel take on earthy tones from their environment.

Observe how the shape of a metal surface impacts reflections too. The rounded edges of a helmet catch light differently than the flat planes of a breastplate or sword. Curvature distorts reflections.

Spend time examining metal objects, especially weapons and armor to understand the interplay of light. Notice how metal can reflect surrounding colors – a greenish tint near trees or a bluish tone when sky is visible.

As you apply metallic paints and place highlights/shadows, keep mental notes on how you observed real metals reflecting light. This understanding is vital for realistic metallic finishes.

Read a full overview on Object Source Lightning for Warhammer Miniatures

Space marine using PC

How to Paint Metallic Colors on Miniatures: Best Metallic Paints for Miniatures

High-quality metallic paint specifically designed for miniatures will make achieving smooth, reflective finishes much easier. Avoid cheap acrylic metals from the craft store. These have coarser pigments that don’t flow or apply well on miniatures.

For painting smooth metallic layers, fine particle size is essential. We recommend:

  • Citadel Metallics – A vast color range with extremely smooth metallic pigments. Our top choice for hand brushing.
  • Vallejo Metal Color – Similar to Citadel, outstanding coverage. The Vallejo metals are a touch thicker but handle wonderfully.
  • Vallejo Model Air Metallics – Made for airbrushes, but applies beautifully with a brush too. Very thin and silky smooth flow.

Whichever brand you choose, aim for fine pigments optimized for models rather than chunky metals meant for canvas or wood. Smoother pigments translate into easier blending and highlighting.

Acquire metallic paints in a wide spectrum of colors – silvers, coppers, bronze, steel, gold, etc. By mixing these base tones you can create any custom metallic hue needed for miniatures. We’ll explain mixing and color shifting later on.

Many brands offer metallic paints, read a post here for the Best Brands for Miniature Painting


Simple Techniques for Quick Table-Ready Metallic Finishes

When speed painting armies to a tabletop standard, rely on simple techniques to enhance metallic areas:

  1. Apply a smooth basecoat layer over black primer. Allow to fully dry.
  2. Wash the metallic area. Thin your wash slightly and let it pool in crevices.
  3. Use the base metallic paint to neaten any messy areas once the wash dries.
  4. Drybrush or edge highlight with a brighter silver (Mithril or Runefang Steel for example)

The wash adds definition and shadow while drybrushing/highlighting incorporates reflective points. This easy 4 step approach works beautifully for batches of miniatures

Made a mistake? Don’t worry, It’s all gravy! Read here for How To Fix Painting Mistakes on Warhammer Miniatures


Spending More Time for Display Level Metallic Work

For individual display models or characters get ready to spend hours refining metals with advanced blending, reflection placement, battle damage, weathering effects like rust and grime. The following techniques take metals from great to jaw-dropping.

Object Source Lighting – Object source lighting (OSL) refers to metallic surfaces realistically reflecting a nearby light source like flames. Glaze on reds/oranges to replicate convincing glowing effects.

Use colors like red, purple, green to reflect nearby environmental colors. Deep shadows can reflect black or blue (from deep shade for instance).


Work Metallic Layers in Sections

Rather than attempting perfectly smooth blends across an entire metallic surface, break the area into smaller regions. Treat each region independently – build up highlights heading one direction then switch and paint shadows the other way. This helps create convincing light distortion and mimic how curved surfaces distort reflections.

Warhammer mixed metal

Mix Colored Metal Tones

Limiting yourself to pure metals straight from the bottle lacks visual interest. Mix metallic paints on a palette with non-metallic colors to introduce unique hues. Add a touch of blue for exotic teal steel or purple for a regal gold alloy.

Acrylic inks work wonders too – a few drops into Gold shifts it towards copper and bronze depending on the ink tone. Explore mixing metallics to find your custom metal palette. Remember to add a touch of metallic medium to maintain reflectivity.

Airbrush Metallic Layers

While perfectly achievable by brush, airbrushing allows incredibly smooth blends. Utilize an airbrush to lay down gradients and cleanly divided sections to mimic curved reflections. Airbrushes excel at subtly shifting between ultra smooth metallic highlights, midtones and shadows.


Consider Starting Dark for Shadow Control

We frequently begin metallic areas by airbrushing or stipping darker underlying shades rather than a straight black basecoat. Build up the lighter metallic tones over this. It provides more control over deep shadows leading to defined gradients.

For example airbrush a model with Rhinox Hide. Then layer on Leadbelcher leaving the recesses darker. Edge highlight with Stormhost Silver.

How to Paint Metallic Colors on Miniatures


Special Effects – Rust, Oxidization, Verdigris

Metallic finishes allow unique realistic special effects like tarnish, rust, oxidization and verdigris (blue-green aging).

For convincing rust, paint on splodges of brown and orange. Add tiny bright orange dots in the centers of large areas to sell the effect. Use a sponge or stipple brush for texture. Apply selectively – around metal joints or bullet impacts.

Oxidization creates blue-green verdigris effects. Apply multiple thin glazes (high medium concentration) building up color slowly. Position on lower edges of armour plates, weapons etc as though water dripped and pooled there.

Use a hairspray weathering technique (hairspray underneath upper metallic layers to intentionally rub away top coat exposing undercoat in scratches). Welcome happy accidents!


Moderate Weathering Over Extremes

Miniatures convey scale far better with moderate weathering over extreme damage. Restrain battle damage, rust, etc. to small accents rather than coating models entirely. Unless intentionally modelling long-abandoned derelicts, plausible aging enhances without obscuring finely sculpted details.

Study real-life weapons – even antique swords unlikely to have full coverage corrosion or missing chunks of steel. Reasonably weathered still appears battle-ready. Apply selectively around high-impact points like blade edges or notches.


Clear Coat for Protection

Metallic paint scratches easily compromising paintwork and requiring extensive repainting when bumped or transported. Apply a protective satin or matte varnish at the very end. This seals metals and prevents friction removing fragile metallic layers.

We recommend brush-on satin coats. These offer protection without obscuring metallic reflectivity like thicker sprays. Check bottles before purchase – some matte/satin clears still employ tiny metallic flecks to retain slight sheen.


Maintaining Realistic Contrast

Balancing properly placed highlights and shadows while retaining plausibility remains an artistic skill mastered through years of practice. Reference real metals early on and continually compare.

If unsure, share photos with other experienced painters for feedback. We also offer professional miniature painting mentorship where our experts critique photos of models and provide detailed art direction.

Achieving realistic metallic contrast takes patience and an openness towards constructive criticism. But perseverance pays off allowing breathtaking metals that leap off models with dimensional realism.

We wish you the best of luck with all of your metallic painting projects. Let us know if you have any other questions – we are always happy to help fellow hobbyists in the Warhammer community!

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