Monday, March 7, 2011

Red can be an elusive color to get right

Forget getting it right, how about just getting it on the model so it looks like something other than an accident? Red is one of those colors that gives almost everyone trouble.

I am blessed in the respect that red is one of my favorite colors to paint and perhaps the easiest for me now. It's one of the few colors I can get some really nice shading results with. I am the silly exception to the rule it seems.

Looking at the first two pictures in this post gives you a hint at how wide of a variety of reds there are out there.

Just trying to get the one shade you like the most can be a huge feat. The top picture comes from a reader who is trying to get his red looking correct. He emailed me and said, "I've been using Army Painter Dragon Red as an undercoat and then painting up with blood red and blazing orange as a highlight..."

I think he's just about there with his model. If I were to offer a suggestion, it would be to use his base color to go back in and clean up some of his line highlighting. While it doesn't directly relate to painting "red," the clean look of line highlighting can go a long ways towards making the model appear finished. The only other step I might add would be a wash to reinforce some of the recessed areas.

Getting a good looking red isn't hard to do, but it's not as simple as making one pass with the color. Even on the correct primer, you've still got some work to do. To really make red come alive, you need to be prepared to work on your shading and highlighting.

Note: Try using a light grey primer instead of black or white when painting red. It won't affect the final shade of the red as much as black has a tendency to do and will help minimize the amount of coats you'll need to get a nice, smooth base coat. Why not go right to white then? Because it has a tendency to make some reds look splotchy. The light grey color (similar to the grey your unpainted minis are) is closer in value to most reds and also minimizes the splotchy look.

I'm always looking to see how others paint it (the color red) and even I've refined my own approach over time. This is not new material though, I've posted my previous "formulas" before. This time I'd like to look at some other examples that have been sent to me recently along with my latest formula for painting red.

This example comes from John over at 40k Hobby Blog where he has posted his Blood Angel terminators. After looking at John's stuff and reading his technique, I find myself wondering where all the steps have gone to be honest.

I think John has got a great looking model here (that's his to the right there) and I'm able to recognize it as his work after seeing as much of his stuff as I have recently, but with the red on this model, I'd love to see just a bit more highlighting. The red armour falls a hair flat for me. I like the shading and the base color, but it feels like it's missing a highlight.

I'm not saying it needs to be anything bright or a sharp line highlight, I'm saying I'd love to see a shade lighter along the edges. Maybe either with an airbrush in the beginning like John does sometimes or towards the end with a regular brush.

Something to give me the range of values in the armour that is present in all the surrounding details on the model. All that being said, this is just a picture and the actual model may have much more subtle shading than we're able to pick out in the photo we have there.

The addition of a highlight (even a subtle one) to bring some focus to key areas on this model would really make it jump out on the table I believe.

How I currently paint red armour
My latest formula is nothing more than a refined version of my original approach I picked up a while back. As I painted more and more "red," I found a look that I liked and have worked towards refining it.

The colors (and brand name) used:
GW Foundation Mechrite Red
Bright Red from Delta Ceramcoat
Terra Cotta from Americana (optional)
GW Baal Red Wash
GW Devlan Mud wash

The first step is priming this guy light grey.
The basecoat is done with Mechrite Red. Since it's a Foundation color, it's fairly opaque and usually requires two thin coats with some touch ups in places I missed in order to get a nice smooth finish. You can do it in one pass, but with the Foundation colors being so thick,
you run the risk of obscuring some details.

After that, it's a series of washes to create the shadows.
Two washes of the GW Baal Red turn the base red into a rich red color. One pass with Devlan Mud in the recessed areas adds some contrast and darkens the recessed areas.

The highlights are done with Bright Red. The reason this color works so well is because it's a semi-transparent color. That means it will take two or three passes to get the actual color on the model. This allows me to blend the highlights into the model without any problems.

Note: Thin your Foundation colors ever so slightly, they're thick and can stand to be thinned a bit to get the best results. It doesn't have to be much, just a little bit still keeps the opacity but helps you get a nice smooth coat down on your model.

I just start painting where I want the highlight to be the strongest and continue to feather the paint out from that. Sometimes I'll add just a tiny bit of water when I'm blending it out so the transition is super smooth.

And here he is with the black areas blocked out. This gives you a better feel for how the highlights stand out on the model since it can look a little dark overall with no other parts painted for contrast.

If I feel like the model would benefit from having a line highlight for emphasis, I go along the edges with the Terra Cotta color. It's a muted orange brown color that adds a nice highlight and keeps the overall look slightly muted.

Now that I read this post, I realize that my method for painting red is specific to this color alone. It's not how I paint blue or green or any other color. I have different methods for those. Maybe that's why it can be so problematic for some folks... trying to paint red like you do your blues may not always work as well.

And last but certainly not least, I'd like to thank the guys for allowing me to post and share their work with everyone. The idea is to help all of us get better at this. Unless we share what we're doing, look at it honestly and ask questions, we'll never really get better.


  1. If my red looked that good, I'd have not stopped painting my Marines as Blood Angels ten years ago. Very nice red.

  2. Getting into how paints are more than just colour, red is usually thinner and if painted over a dark colour, the darker colour will still show through some.

    You can paint some darker red in areas BEFORE painting blood red over it, and see some more natural shading.

  3. Great looking!
    This is really a nice red, nice transitions and highlights.

  4. The Inner Geek: What? You played Blood Angels? Well now you can go back and try your hand at them again.

    Dave_G: Absolutely. Now you're really getting into the finer points of it. Using two base colors or preshading the model can make a difference when it comes to things like red and other colors that are semi-transparent.

    Klaus: Thanks!

  5. I really like it alot. I have used similar tones in the past and the things I have struggled with is, its very easy to make red not red, by going to orange/brown or to pink, unlike blue are green you have more room to mix darker and bright colours. You hit the right balance there, could use an extreme highlight to pick it out a bit, but thats certainly a core method. Nice work sir!

  6. Mart: Thanks, I'm working on my line highlights with red. I did a little bit of practice on the Blood Angel Vanguard Sergeant in the post before this one... but I still need some work.

  7. I haven't tried this myself but according to you can use red artist's acrylic ink to thin your paint instead of water. The ink will reduce the thickness of your paint the same as water but is also highly pigmented so you get great coverage as well.

  8. Chaosheade: Very cool, thanks for sharing the link. That's one thing I've not done much with... inks.

    One day I will eventually.