Tutorial: Basics – Heavy Metal: Using Metallics

This article is another in my series of Basic Painting Techniques. In this one I’ll cover using metallic paints, and how to highlight and shade them to have an effect similar to Non-Metallic Metals (NMM). Only by using metallic paint can you get a nice shiny surface that will reflect light, and appear like real metal instead of gray or gold paint. This is not to say that NMM techniques are bad, or worse than using metallics, they just don’t have the shine that one gets from using paint with shiny bits of mica in it. Using metallic paint is also easier for the beginner, and a little more forgiving than NMM techniques. I will cover NMM in the future, but since this is a Basics Painting Series article, we’ll cover the easy stuff first.
All Metallic paints used in this article are from Games Workshop, unless otherwise specified. All inks and washes used are Formula P3, unless otherwise specified.

I don’t suggest using a kolinsky sable, or natural hair brush for metallic paints. The paint contains pigments, just as any other miniature paint, except it also contains finely ground bits of mica. Mica is always much more coarsely ground than the pigments, and as a result of it being a gemstone that is fairly coarse in comparison to paint pigment, it will ruin a natural hair brush very quickly. The mica bits are also very sharp, can split, and break the hairs of a natural brush very easily and quickly.

The best brushes to use when painting with metallic paints are synthetic hair brushes, with the highest quality being Gold Sable. These will withstand a lot of abuse, and the tip will only curl slightly. All synthetics curl, it’s just a fact, and something a painter has to adjust to when painting with a synthetic brush. The Formula P3 brushes are excellent, but any brush made of Gold Sable synthetic hairs will work just as well.

Have a couple different sizes of brush for different sized areas. I use three sizes myself; the Formula P3, Base Hobby Brush, Work Hobby Brush, and Fine Hobby Brush. These are roughly equivalent to a size 2, 1, and 0 respectively. This should be more than enough to handle almost any size of metallic painting jobs you may need them for.


I have used three kinds of metallic paint, and the best that I have tried is made by Games Workshop. Some may lament this fact, but if you want the best, you must keep your options and mind open. I have used the P3 line extensively, and I find the mica is too coarse for my liking. They also require a great deal of thinning in order to be applied smoothly, and it must be done in at least three layers to get a solid, opaque base coat. Golds require even more layers.

Vallejo Model Colour are very thick, and like the P3’s, require a great deal of thinning in order to go on smooth, and opaque. I find, that like the P3’s, the mica, and the paint itself, is too coarse/thick for my liking.

Games Workshop’s metallics have a very finely ground mica, don’t require a great deal of thinning, and often times will cover in a single coat. This is why I use them; smooth painting and less layers to get a good base coat down. Say what you want about the company; they make good metallic paint.

Silvers are always easier to use than golds. Gold always requires several very thin layers to get a smooth finish. No matter what company’s paints you use, gold are always a pain to get to look nice. Keep that in mind; if you’re new at this, use gold sparingly, and only on small areas at first. Once you’re comfortable with painting gold on small areas, feel free to use it on larger surfaces.

For this tutorial, I have used Kommander Strakhov from Khador. He had a lot of little details that required an extensive use of metallics, as well as a nice, flat blade I could use to demonstrate the proper shading and highlighting of a large, flat surface to make it appear reflective.

I have base coated the silver areas with Boltgun Metal, and the gold areas with Shining Gold. For the first part of this, I will focus on the details, and then we’ll move into the painting of the blade.

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I usually paint my metals last, unless they are deep within the miniature. In this case, all of this models details were on the surface of his armour, and coat. So, I painted them all last.

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The silvers I did in two thin coats, and the golds were the same, except on the larger areas of the gun, sword hilt, and back armour. All of these areas required three thin coats in order to get full coverage, and opaque. Some painters will paint down a layer of brown or silver first, so feel free to do this if you feel it makes the base coating easier. I paint right over black myself.

Matte Medium will reduce the shine of the wash or ink, help it to settle into the crevices better, and it will reduce the ring of paint it leaves behind. Hopefully, if you’ve mixed the ratios correctly, the shade should have a nice gradient from deep recess to high point on the surface you’ve washed. It can be found inexpensively in any art supply store. I use Liquitex brand, as it’s inexpensive, and high enough quality for my needs. Remember that when it comes to artist’s supplies, more money = higher quality.

I always mix my washes and inks with the same ratios; 2:1 wash/ink to water, and 3:1 water/wash/ink mix to matte medium. It should be thin enough to settle in the crevices and grooves, but not so thin that it goes all over the model. If it does slop all over the place, thicken the wash mix up with a few more drops of matte medium. Always keep a dry paint brush nearby when washing. If you mess something up, you can use it to wick up your wash or ink before it dries, and correct your mistake easily without having to re-paint an area.

Once the base coating was dry, I washed everything for the shading. The silvers were washed with Armour Wash mixed with some water and matte medium. The golds were washed with a mix of Brown, and Turquoise Inks. The Brown to Turquoise ratio was 3:1. It should be very dark, but not quite black. If it’s black, then add more brown ink. This was then mixed with some water and matte medium.

When painting smaller surfaces, take your time, and use a smaller brush. Place the wash precisely and carefully, and you won’t have to go back and repaint any areas. Patience is key when washing tiny details.

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Once the washes were completely dry, the silvers were then highlighted with Chainmail, and the gold were hit with another layer of Shining Gold. Make sure that some of the wash is left showing on the lower 25% of any gold surfaces. This will give it a nice shadow, and have it look slightly tarnished. The same goes for the silver; leave about 25% of any lower surface in shadow by not painting over your wash. Make sure each detail has a dark outline of wash around it; this will help lift and separate it from the area surrounding it.

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The silvers were then hit on the top 10% of any surface with Mithril Silver. The golds were highlighted with a mix of Vallejo Model Colour (VMC) – Metal Medium, and Shining Gold (2:1 Shining Gold to VMC – Metal Medium ratio). The last highlight on the silver was just an edge highlight of pure VMC – Metal Medium. The gold was hit with one more highlight of Shining Gold and VMC – Metal Medium mix (1:1 ratio) along the very tops and edges of the details.

Here’s a few close ups of the details, so you can pick out, and see where the highlights were placed.

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All of the highlighting on Strakhov’s details are complete.

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The Blade:
When highlighting a flat surface, there a few things to note.

  1. The shadows and highlights should be sitting next to one another
  2. The brightest highlights will be away from the light source
  3. In most cases, the shadows will go on the top of a surface, and the highlights, the bottom

This will give the appearance of the surface being reflective. The shadows and highlights reversing is what commonly happens on any surface that is highly reflective, and in order to get this particular blade to appear this way, we just follow these few simple rules. This is how NMM techniques work, except using metallic paint is easier, and much more forgiving to the novice painter. Plus, metallic paint gives us a nice shine, further enhancing the reflective illusion.

In the case of Strakhov here, I have used zenithal lighting (from above, as though it were mid-morning, or about noon). Thus, if we take a look at the blade, the shadows will be on the highest surface of the knife, and the highlights will fall along the tip, and sharpened edge. The orange is where we will be placing the brightest highlights, and the blue is where our darkest shadows will be. Notice how the darkest and brightest areas are butting up against one another. This is key to getting the illusion to work.

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The blade was base coated in Boltgun Metal, washed with Armour Wash, water and Matte Medium.

I then placed some highlights with Chainmail, following the pattern I Photoshopped in orange.

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It was further highlighted along the upper and lower edges with Mithril Silver, and along the majority of the tip.

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A final highlight along the edges, following the Photoshop orange with VMC – Metal Medium was our final highlight.

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And to give the blade its final ‘pop’, several thin layers of Armour Wash, water, and Matte Medium were painted in the Photoshop blue sections. Use a thinner wash here, with about twice as much water to wash.

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I pulled back, so you’re able to see the effect at a more reasonable distance.

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And the finished piece!

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That, Hand Cannon readers, is how to use metallics!
Until next time!


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  1. Rob C. said:

    Just stumbled on this today, literally hours before getting some VMC Gold metallics I had on order; ah well. Thanks for the tips on the composition of the paints and a comparison between lines–I see less of that sort of thing than I’d like in general!

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