How to Paint Miniature Skin Tones: A Guide

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How to Paint Stunning Miniature Skin Tones: The Ultimate Guide

Painting realistic skin tones on miniatures can seem daunting to many hobbyists. Human skin has incredible complexity and variance in hue, texture and luminosity. Mastering skin not only enables you to paint vibrant faces that draw the viewer in, but also opens creative doors to represent diverse humans and fantastical beings across the Mortal Realms.

In this definitive guide, I will synthesize insights from decades of combined painting experience to walk you through practical techniques, theory and recipes to paint a spectrum of skin tones. From my years studying color realism and portrait techniques, I’ve found that adhering to core artistic principles allows even beginners to mix convincing skin. Meanwhile, veterans can leverage advanced blending, textures and filters to bring models to life.

We’ll cover:

  • Realistic Skin Theory: Pigmentation, Melanin and More
  • Essential Tools and Paints
  • Quick Army Skin Recipes
  • Display Level Layering and Glazing
  • Painting Pale to Dark Skin Step-by-Step
  • Special Effects: Undead, Demon, Alien Skin

So whether you’re batch painting Imperial Guard, perfecting Space Marine faces or crafting Eldritch flesh, by the end you’ll have tricks to make skin pop on the tabletop. Let’s get started!

Warhammer 40k paints

The Science of Skin Color

Why does skin have color at all? Human skin is a multilayered organ that derives its hue from the unique combination of components at different depths:

  • Melanin – The pigment that also colors hair and eyes. Varies from yellow-orange pheomelanin to brown-black eumelanin.
  • Blood – The red hemoglobin visible through superficial blood vessels.
  • Fat – Subcutaneous yellow fat tissue.

Skin is somewhat translucent. The melanin ratio and opacity determines how much underlying red and yellow contributes to the surface color we perceive. Make sure your highlights mix increasing red and yellow into the base hue:

Light Skin: Red + Yellow Tan Skin: Red + Yellow + Melanin
Dark Skin: Melanin highlights with Red

This is why you’ll notice alcoholics with failing livers turn yellow – their blood can’t contribute redness against the fat! Now let’s see how this translates to the painting palette.Paintset2

Your Skin Painting Palette

Standard military paint ranges actually lack specific pigments to recreate skin mixing theory accurately with primaries. But they’ve formulated single pigment “skin” paints to get us most of the way there.

A typical flesh palette uses these layers:

  • Red – Bugman’s Glow, Khorne Red
  • Yellow – Ungor Flesh, Kislev Flesh, Flayed One Flesh
  • Brown – Doombull Brown, Rhinox Hide
  • White – Ushabti Bone, Pallid Wych Flesh

Death Guard Green oddly works better for Olive skin tones than Greenskin or Goblin Green! Now let’s put some paint theory into practice.

Tyranids warhammer 40k

Quick Tabletop Skin Recipes

If you just want to paint 100 army Guardsmen to a solid standard, focus less on blending layers and more on basecoats, washes and quick highlights:


  1. Basecoat with Bugman’s Glow
  2. Wash all over with Reikland Fleshshade
  3. Highlight raised areas with Cadian Fleshtone
  4. Dot extreme highlights with Kislev Flesh

Pale Aeldari:

  1. Basecoat with Wraithbone or Pallid Wych Flesh
  2. Wash all over with contrast Gulliman Flesh
  3. Highlight raised areas with White Scar


  1. Basecoat with Warboss Green
  2. Wash all over with Biel-Tan Green shade
  3. Highlight muscles with Skarsnik Green
  4. Dot extreme highlights with Nurgling Green

That was easy! But let’s take things to the next level with layering and glazing…

Dark Eldar Warhammer 40k

Step-By-Step Display Miniature Skin

To really sell realistic depth, you need to apply multiple thin layers of paint, transitioning and controlling the gradients manually. This sculpts the face into zones:

  • Midtone basecoat
  • Shaded recesses
  • First highlight layer
  • Second highlight layer
  • Extreme edge highlight

On a Space Marine head:

  1. Basecoat with Bugman’s Glow using 2 smooth coats
  2. Wash only recesses with diluted Reikland Fleshshade
  3. Layer raised areas with Cadian Fleshtone
  4. Add White Scar to Cadian, highlight smaller raised areas
  5. Glaze temple, cheeks and nose with watered down Carroburg Crimson to add “flush”

The best brushes for control are RedgrassGames Kolinsky Sables. Use a wet palette and thinner to prevent paint from drying too quickly while blending.

Let’s explore step-by-steps of different skin tones.

Pale Skin (Tau, Eldar)

  1. Basecoat with Flayed One Flesh
  2. Shade recesses with only watered down Reikland Fleshshade
  3. Layer majority of face with Flayed One Flesh leaving recesses
  4. Mix in Pallid Wych Flesh and highlight raised areas
  5. Add white to mix, highlight only most raised features like nose, brows, lips etc.

Fair Skin (Guardsmen, Space Marines)

  1. Basecoat with Cadian Fleshtone
  2. Wash only recesses with Reikland Fleshshade
  3. Layer face with Cadian Fleshtone leaving recesses
  4. Mix in Kislev Flesh and highlight raised volumes
  5. Add white to mix to highlight extruded features

Gold Skin (Hispanic, Asian, Eldar)

  1. Basecoat with Ratskin Flesh mixed with Cadian Fleshtone
  2. Wash recesses with Seraphim Sepia
  3. Re-layer base mix leaving recesses
  4. Highlight raised areas by adding Pallid Wych Flesh to base
  5. Extreme highlights on nose, lips etc with added White Scar

Dark Skin (Salamanders, Vulkan)

  1. Basecoat with Darkoath Flesh Contrast paint
  2. Shade recesses with watered down Druchii Violet
  3. Layer face leaving recesses with Darkoath Flesh Contrast
  4. Mix in Cadian Fleshtone and highlight raised areas
  5. Add Kislev Flesh for extreme highlights

That covers a great spectrum for humans, space elves, dwarves and other mortal races! What about something more monstrous or deathly?

Undead Skin & Special Effects

Painting dimensional skin relies on artistically exaggerated forms – but the same principles apply. Start from your midtone basecoat and push highlights and shadows to extremes:

Vampire Flesh

  1. Basecoat with Gryphonne Sepia Contrast
  2. Shade recesses heavily with Basilicanum Grey
  3. Layer face leaving dark shadows with Gryphonne Sepia Contrast
  4. Mix Kislev Flesh into base and paint highlights
  5. Add heavy glaze of thinned Gloss Nurgles Rot over skin for sickly gloss sheen

Wight Bone

  1. Basecoat Screaming Skull heavily drybrushed over Wraithbone primer
  2. Crimson Ink wash pooled heavily only in deep sockets
  3. Layer face leaving dark shadows with base Screaming Skull
  4. Edge highlight Pallid Wych Flesh on extrusions

Necron Transdimensional Carbonised Skin

  1. Airbrush Minitaire Ghost Tints over Black Primer
  2. Basecoat thinned P3 Cryx Bane Highlight
  3. Wash recesses with thinned Cryptek Armourshade Gloss
  4. Highlight all raised areas with heavier white mix
  5. Extreme highlights of Stormhost Silver on points

So in summary, understanding how melanin, blood and fat interact in skin is key. Practice sectoring faces into volumes with basecoats, washes, layers and highlights to sculpt believable skin with depth and vibrancy! Maintain warmth by mixing colors with red and yellow bases, cool tones come from blue and green pigments. And weather, damage and special effects take things to the next level!

Now get your preferred Flesh paint out and take faces in your army from flat to fantastical. Don’t forget to check out our Youtube channel for more minipainting tips! Feel free to reach out in comments with any other questions.

The Emperor Protects!


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