Wargaming Tradecraft: Colour Theory Introduction [Part 1]


Colour Theory Introduction [Part 1]

Paying close attention to the colours we use while painting miniatures will go a long way to producing visually pleasing works of art. Even if you don't care about creating masterpieces, colour theory will help finalize details. From minor decisions like what to paint final bits to choosing a cohesive look for a new army. Your models can stand apart from other peoples by using methods you'll read about here.

Over the next few months, I'll look at some ways that colours relate to each other and why you might choose certain methods over others. I'll also look at ways to make colours stand out from one another and how to draw eyes to details.

Disclaimer 1 - This is all Subjective

Not everyone agrees on what looks good, or what colours go together - but you should be painting for yourself, right?

Disclaimer 2 - I'm Self Taught

I haven't gone to school for art, I'm just someone who's done a bunch of research and tried to pay attention to these things. I've made a point of keeping these articles easy to read, so I've also left out some of specifics and nuances. If you're looking for more information on any of the topics, I recommend googling yourself as there's a lot out there.

What is Colour Theory?

Based on how paints are mixed, there are 3 categories of colours:

Primary colours are used to create others: Red, Yellow and Blue.

Secondary colours are mixes of Primary colours: Orange, Green and Violet.

Tertiary colours are mixes of Secondary and Primary colours: Yellow-Green, Yellow-Orange, etc.

Most of the colour concepts I'll be discussing compare the relation of one colours location on the wheel to one or more other colours.

It provides reasons to pick certain colours for a scheme over others and explains what ranges of colours will help achieve certain looks. If you already have a colour scheme, you'll learn what will make an accent like a gem, trim or other small detail stand out.

Colour Terms

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary colours and mixes in between are called Hues.

These are the brightest versions of your colours. (Without going neon) They're bold and stand out more than Tints, Shades and Tones.

When you mix White and Black with Hues, you create Tints (Pastels) and Shades.

You can Tint or Shade anything - it's basically a term comparing two colours. ("Colour X is a darker shade of colour Y.") Even a dark colour can be Tinted.

By mixing Grey in to your paints, you're changing the Tone. Many of the colours we use in real life are Tones because they don't stand out as strongly.

By using Tones, you create colours that are more pleasing to the eye. It eases Hues without getting washed out like Tints and it darkens without becoming too black like Shades.

Depending on if you want the mix to be lighter or darker, use a lighter or darker grey.

For more great reading and resources about colours, you can take a look at Colour Wheel Artist.

Here's another way of looking at Hues, Tints, Shades and Tones:

Other things that affect colour


Most paints aren't thick enough to completely cover whatever they're painted over. This means the primer you base your miniature with will impact how the paint you apply looks.

Painting on a White Primer is best for newer artists because paint applies exactly like you're expecting. It's how I started and how I've suggested everyone I know start. It's also easier to see where shadows should be against light colours.

Painting on Black Primer is more difficult because some of the Black primer can show through your paints. I prefer painting over miniatures primed with Black.

You can also Paint on Coloured Primer if your colour scheme is strongly 1 colour. (For example, Blue Primer for Ultramarines, Red for Blood Angels.) This speeds up painting large armies but you can run in to some of the Black primer problems.

One option is to paint White over things so you can apply a bright or light colour after. (Like painting Yellow on Black.) For better coverage, you can use Gesso, a Paint on Primer instead of just White.


Improper lighting can also make your paints look different.

I've gone in to detail on the importance of Lighting Your Hobby Area before, so I won't go in depth here. It's worth being aware that the light you use while painting will change how your paints look and the best light is direct sunlight.

I use a fluorescent desk lamp, which emits a nice clean strong white light. These lights are usually larger and brighter, allowing you to keep it further away from your minis, creating softer shadows.

Standard bulbs have more yellow in their light, changing how your paints look, though "bright white" or "true white" bulbs aren't as bad. These lights also tend to create stronger shadows which get in the way of your own shading.

Note, it's hard to tell just how much yellow is in your light until you see the comparison side by side.
Often, this'll just look white.
Examples of what we'll be looking at

As I look at each scheme, I'll be going in to detail of how it benefits us and painting a miniature to show a real example of how it can be used.


Warm and CoolSplit-Complementary (Triad)Triadic (Even)

Rectangular TetradicSquare TetradicColour Context

Achromatic (Greyscale)Near-Neutral AchromaticContrasting Achromatic

NEXT: Introduction Part 2
This series on Colour Theory is intended to broaden our ability to paint interesting, unique or uniform miniatures. You'll learn how to choose pleasing combinations of colours and how to make certain accents or details stand out. Visit the Colour Theory Index for links to the rest of this series.

For more in-depth tutorials for Beginner and Experienced miniature hobbyists, visit Wargaming Tradecraft.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Please keep all comments civil and language appropriate for a child-safe environment.