Wargaming Tradecraft: Colour Theory: Triadic Colours


Colour Theory: Triadic Colours

Even Triadic: Orange-Red, Green and Blue
Colours in the Triad are evenly spaced around the wheel. Together, these colours appear very vibrant. A benefit is that while these colours create a contrast, there's still a harmony due to the even spacing of colours. The trade off is that the contrast won't be as strong as Complementary Colours. Triads can be made from other types of spacing, like the Complementary-Triad, which uses 2 closely related colours and the Complement of one of them.

Due to the even spacing, you'll have 2 Warm colours and 1 Cool colour or 1 Warm and 2 Cools. In the shown Triad, Orange-Red is Warm while Green and Blue are Cool.

Complementary Triad: Red and Yellow
with a Complement of one, Green.
Some tips for painting Triadic Colours would be:

  • Lower Overall Contrast:
    • Pick one colour for the bulk of your miniature.
  • Higher Overall Contrast
    • Try to balance the distribution of your colours.
  • When choosing which two colours will be the extras:
    • Due to even spacing, you won't be able to choose colours that blend.
      Left: Blue and Green create a contrast but pleasing.
      Right: Bold, strong overall contrasts.
      Created with painter from Bolder & Chainsword
      • Lower Contrast / Pleasing
        • Choose two colours with the same Temperature.
          Ex: Main: Orange-Red, Extra: Green and Blue.
      • Higher Contrast
        • Choose two colours with opposite Temperatures.
          Ex: Main: Green, Extra: Orange-Red and Blue OR Main: Blue, Extra: Orange-Red and Green.

      Since the three colours are spread out around the wheel, none of them really blend with the other and they're all going to stand out. Remember - If colours are clashing too much, they can be made to look darker, lighter or toned. In the above marine example, I did just that. Compare this example to the one with Split-Complementary, where the chosen Hues are left alone and the colours are harder on the eyes.

      Painting it and Composition Comparison

      I'm painting the marine this week the same way I painted the Split-Complementary Triad scheme. At the end here, I'll compare the two schemes to show the difference as colours are spread out.

      Speed up Painting: Learn How Paint Covers

      I'm not painting these minis to any high quality, I'm just demonstrating how colours compare, so anything that speeds up the process is great. Learn how your paints work. As I'm painting the basic layers, I don't mind being a little sloppy to paint quicker in the areas I know the next paint I'll be using will cover up. In the photos below, black is a safe bet to cover most colours and while orange usually won't cover dark blue, it's ok because I'm using GW Foundation paint which is designed to paint over anything.

      Usually, darker colours will cover lighter ones, (yellow, lime, red, etc) but different brands of paint work differently. For example, I find lighter P3 paints cover colour better than light GW paints BUT, P3 paints aren't as bright as GW ones. GW also has changed their paints a lot over the years.

      Wash Your Models

      Once again, I throw a wash over everything to bring out the details, then assemble the model.

      Remember, for tabletop quality, no need to highlight areas your brush can't reach.


      To finish up I highlight the orange and blues with their original
      Final Composition

      Here you can see the final highlighted photo, compared to last week's split-complementary miniature. A few observations right off the bat:

      • The Magenta and Red-Orange colours on the marine on the right create a much more striking image.
        • This is because these colours are near Red, opposite Green on the colour wheel and highly contrasting.
      • Blue, Orange and Green create a composition that, to me, seems more plain.
        • Being spread out evenly, each colour avoids it's complement.
        • It also means they're apart from each other enough that they don't blend. (Like how close the Magenta and Red-Orange is.)

      White vs Grey Primer

      Just once again showcasing how miniatures primed with different tones look different. All the colours are really vibrant with White primer, while the Grey primed miniatures look a little more grim-dark.


      1. I've really liked this series of articles. Could you give me some advice? I'm looking to paint up and Imperial Fists army, using army painter yellow primer and their shade. The chapter symbol and squad markings will add some white and yellow to the model. For veterans, I'm going with a white helmet (and everyone gets a helmet, no bare heads for these boys!). Past that, I'm struggling a bit with color choice.

        For the bases, should I go with something neutral (like a grey) to make the model 'pop' more? Or maybe even a darker color (like a rust/mars red)?

        What about remaining colors to offset? Assuming this is chest eagle, shoulder pad trim, eye lenses and weapons. An opposite color would be to do it all in purple (or even maybe between the purple-blue range). Will that be enough contrast? Should I go with a split color (maybe shoulder pad trim in one color, everything else in another)? Or even stick with the white and black, and just carry those through these trim colors?


        1. Oh man, typos. The chapter symbol and squad markings will add some white and black to the model, not white and yellow!

        2. Thanks for the kind words. As for your question, let me see...

          Because of how neutral grey is, it doesn't really cause things to pop. Brown will have similar problems and red is too close to yellow for pop. (But it will blend warmly.) If you want to make the yellow stand out, I'd suggest either blue or black. Yellow looks great against dark black and will cause eyes to focus right on your marines. If you go with watery bases, you'll get a strong contrast, but eyes might get confused whether they're supposed to be looking at the model or the base. (Unless maybe you use a dark blue water.) Blue-purple is more the correct contrast, but maybe that would be too alien? Unless lush Avatar-esque world.

          3 colours gives a nice range with maybe some subtle 4th. You're on track with the colours you're looking at - a royal blue (blue with some purple) would create some bold contrasts. For the other colour(s) it depends on what you're looking for. A more pleasing look would be to choose colours near your main ones - so some orange or green to compliment the yellow or purple / blue to compliment the royal.

          Take a look on Wargaming's Facebook, I've thrown some colours together to give you an idea.


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