Wargaming Tradecraft: Using Colour Shift Paints


Using Colour Shift Paints

This post is designed to be both a tutorial and review on some of the colour shift paints available today. Many of you are familiar with Green Stuff World's line, but there's also paints available from Turbo Dork which have been creating some interest in the community lately.

What are colour shift paints? Essentially they're paints that are a different colour depending on the angle you're looking at them or the way the light is hitting them. Typically you have one colour in the light and another in the shadow. You may have seen these kinds of things on sports cars or in nature like on beetles and pearls.

You can see an example below, in how the colour shifts between green highlights and purple shadows with the Martian Green paint from Green Stuff World:

Then how it shifts between blue and purple with TurboDork's 3D-Glasses paint:

This post is two parts:

First, I'm going to cover how you're supposed to apply colour shift paints to your miniatures.

Then, I'm going to discuss some alternate Do's and Don'ts when painting with them and include unique techniques that you can use.

Finally, I'm going to summarize my feelings on the differences between the products offered by TurboDork and Green Stuff World.

Full Disclosure, TurboDork sent me a few free samples for review purposes.

Using Colour Shift Paints

Both companies recommend the following steps. I'll be using Green Stuff World's Martian Green on a miniature and TurboDork's 3D Glasses on both miniatures and some spoons.

* Note * After writing this tutorial/review, the TurboDork paints weren't quite performing as advertised, but it basically came down to application. The paint applied to the miniatures in the same was as the Green Stuff World paint did match the colour swatch on the bottle so I thought I'd done it right. I looped back and tried out the TurboDork paints again using spoons and thicker layers of paint, which created the results I was after and I'll go into detail below.

1. Prepare the Miniature

The two key elements here are to paint the miniature black, then apply a layer of gloss.
  1. I started by airbrushing black primer.
  2. Then airbrushed a few layers of Liquitex Gloss Varnish.
Using an airbrush keeps details while priming and would allow you to paint colour shift into small areas instead of the whole miniature. You could definitely pick up some gloss black primer from a hardware store or a black primer followed by gloss varnish too.

To be on the safe side, we also mixed some of the paint up real good.

In the interest of testing things out, (The IT Guy part of me has to break stuff to gain a comprehensive understanding of how stuff works. ;) I found that while you definitely want to prime the miniature black, you don't have to gloss it if you don't want to. The gloss does look better / smoother and gives you nicer gradients, but the difference isn't large enough that it's a must do.

2. Paint the Miniature

This is definitely a technique that lends best to an airbrush, but you do have the option of using a paintbrush as well. You'll notice that the wet paint will look different from the final result, so plan based on what the label looks like. It might even be a good idea to paint a test mini of your own if you plan on using these paints on show pieces.


For best results, both manufacturers recommend applying multiple thin layers with an airbrush until you get the desired look. I still used some thinner and retarder as I usually do when airbrushing to help flow and prevent paint from drying on the needle.

In the photo below, you can see the first layer on the left and the final layer on the right of the Green Stuff World Martian Green paint. You can see that at first, you mainly just get the highlight colour while the shadows remain mostly black. After subsequent layers, things become more obvious.

I discovered that with the TurboDork paints, light layers don't turn out quite as well. You still get a nice metallic finish, but not as clean and dynamic on the shift side of things.

Worth noting that the miniatures you'll see painted in this tutorial were painted with the recommendation of multiple light layers, like the spoons below, which did end up matching the colour swatch attached to the dropper bottle so I thought I'd achieved all I could.

Left to Right, applying multiple thin layers of paint.

Below you'll see the same 3D Glasses paint applied with a more normal to heavy coat of paint. The colour is more vibrant and the shift becomes much more obvious. This vibrancy is unfortunately missing from many of the example miniatures due to the reasons stated above.

Viewing the spoon from multiple angles after applying the 3D Glasses paint thicker.
I tried this same approach on the Green Stuff World paint, and didn't notice a dramatic difference between light coats and heavier coats.

If you paint colour shift on too thick, you'll see it pool. So, like any paint, don't paint it so thick it pools in areas and you'll be fine.

Blue Raspberry paint from TurboDork

Nebula Copper paint from Green Stuff World
Applied with thicker layers like TurboDork's.


If you use a paintbrush, the key things to work at is to try and apply uniform thin coats that don't pool in the recesses and try to keep your brush strokes in the same direction. In the photo below, you'll see on the right how the paint looks wrong when it pools.

On the left, you'll see the quality isn't great compared to the photos above. That said, from a tabletop perspective, not bad. You're definitely not going to get a ton of colour shift with a paint brush.

In Summary

For best results:
  1. Prime black and gloss.
  2. Airbrush multiple layers.
    1. Thin layers with Green Stuff World paints.
    2. Normal to heavy layers with TurboDork paints.
      (Though they recommend thin layers - what's your experience?)
For acceptable results / tabletop quality:
  1. Prime black.
  2. Paintbrush multiple layers, being careful of pooling.

Putting it all Together

I also painted up a quick demo model to see the effect in practice. Tried a darker skin tone on the face, some anime hair and NMM on the gun. I didn't highlight the armour, but I did paint black into the crevices.

More Ways to Apply Colour Shift Paints


You may ask yourself how you might highlight when using these paints. It's an awkward question in general when you're working with metallics. That's a different topic though, which you can read about in my Metallic Tutorial Index.

Post Highlight

In typical fashion, I've highlighted here after basing with the colour shift paints. You can see two approaches here.
  • On the left, I've done a TMM (True-Metallic Metal) highlight using silver.
  • On the right, I've done an NMM (Non-Metallic Metal) highlight using grey. 
With both, I did a little edge highlighting and dry-brushing when applying the paint. It's neat how each creates a different feel.


The other option, is to preshade. I'mmmmm actually really proud of this one - it's something I've been wanting to try since I started thinking about this post. The theory was that if colour shift only shows up on a black base, then a preshade might be the most effective way to highlight. It didn't exactly work out that way since colour shift DOES show up on a white base, just wrongly, (Like in my white-base example above.) but it still made a pretty cool effect.

Edge Highlighting

The highlights here are more obvious on the base model, but turns out more subtle in the final photo.

To paint this, I've just used white to edge highlight the armour.

Gradient Highlighting

On this one, the highlight is subtle in the first image but ends up very obvious in the final one.

To achieve this, I airbrushed grey over the black base then washed it black, before glossing and painting. You could achieve a similar effect using dry brushing.

I'm a big fan of how this one turned out. In some ways, it created an anodized / heat treated metal appearance.


Can you wash colour shift paints? Absolutely, no different than washing other metallic paints. It adds another dimension.

In the below photo, I've done the following:
  • Base - Black Wash
  • Base stripe - Yellow Ink
  • Legs - Blue Wash
  • Upper Torso, Arms, Head - Red Wash
  • Gun - Brown Wash


Pretty optional. In general, it's a good idea, but varnishing metallics always affects how things look. Not much in the way of surprises here.. Gloss has whiter larger highlights, Matte is duller and things look in between without the varnish.

Other Base Colours

You can also paint colour shift paints over other bases than black, but results are definitely going to vary. In the case of this green-primed soldier below, the metallic definitely comes through, but the colour is similar to the miniature I primed in white.

I imagine you'll need to stick with very dark shades of paint and some experimentation to pull this off.

Transparent Miniatures

I'd compare this result to the white-based miniature as well. You don't get the colour shift you're after and visibility becomes poor, but you do get a little light shining through.

I'm not exactly sure where you'd use this.

Review of TurboDork and Green Stuff World

Both manufacturers offer good quality colour shift paints and different lines of colour so you can purchase from each depending on the style that you're after.

They come in dropper bottles, which is great for direct use in an airbrush, the better way to paint with them. The paint is thin enough that details won't be obscured, even after multiple layers of paint required for the colour shift to come through.

The differences I noticed between the two were:

  • TurboDork's had a smoother finish while Green Stuff World's was a little more rough.
  • This meant that TD has smoother gradients while GSW's had a little more texture.
  • You can paint easier over GSW's while I needed to paint gesso primer on before painting over TD's.
  • GSW's shade colour was easier to see and achieve while TD's was more subtle.

Neither paint turned out as vibrant as the images on their websites, though that's not to say you don't get a nice colour shift from them; you certainly do! TurboDork is planning on updating their images to present their product in a more natural environment and creating some tutorial videos as well. I've recommended they also update their instructions to suggest painting normal layers of paint and update the colour swatch on the bottles which doesn't actually display the colour shift, just metallic.

Ultimately, both products offer something to us painters. Colour shift paints add a new dynamic to the miniatures we're creating and I'm excited to apply them to full projects, of which I already have two in mind where I'm planning on using them. For best results, I definitely recommend testing the paints before diving in but once you get it layering right, they become a great new category of paint to add to your toolbox.

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