Monday, April 14, 2014

Tutorial: Ultramarines With Color Modulation

As a member of the Nova Open Charitable Foundation Ultramarines charity army painting team, I thought it would be good to document how I paint my Ultramarines. I started my Ultras back before the GW paint line changes, and back before I had learned how to use oil paints. What this means is that with the right tools, the painting task is even easier than before. For this tutorial I am going to paint a spare rhino side, a razorback turret, and an Ultramarine that I just never got around to painting, Sgt Chronos dismounted. 

I paint in batch, with an air brush, and in a sequential order that sees little backtracks to previously used colors. This is important. My goal is to go through the blue colors in a sequence that allows me to skip the tedious step of cleaning my airbrush. 

The overall color scheme can be seen above. I use a black base coat, so I thought it would be useful to see the colors over both black and white to help anyone attempting this to color match this. The sequence is fairly simple.

  1. base coat black
  2. 50/50 mix of black and cantor blue (most important color)
  3. cantor blue
  4. maccrage blue
  5. calgar blue
  6. 50/50 space wolves grey + calgar blue near faces or front edges of tanks.

The process I use is called color modulation. Basically it simulates the effect of viewing a large tank with flat edges reflecting different amounts of light. It is not realistic at all. I am totally ok with this. Weathering will tone down the effect.

An essential item for color modulation is a pair of scissors and some cards. In the example above you can see an old taxi business card that I have been using to paint my Imperial Knights as well as these examples. With color modulation my goal is to produce contrasting gradients of color on the model. The template help me do that, and avoid the soft look that air brushing can produce along a model's edges.

The the photo below, I've already started airbrushing straight cantor blue over the 50/50 cantor blue mix. I try to keep the lowest regions of the model the cantor/black color. These are the deep recesses.

By the time I have worked my way through to calgar blue, the shapes have become extremely prominent. When doing color modulation the goal should be to pair light edges with dark edges. The smoke stakes show this really well. Using the business card to mask my airbrush spray, I shaded the light upward on the front of the smoke stacks. On the sides of the smoke stacks I shaded the lighter color down. This produced opposing color gradients.

With color modulation complete, I sprayed a satin varnish on the model to protect the paint. That is essential, because the next step involves pin washes with oil paints. White spirit, the solvent used to clean brushes after using oils, can damage the underlying paint, so a protectant is needed. A gloss varnish would have been better, but I was out, so satin it was.

Using AK-Interative brown wash, I touched the tip of the brush to each area that I wanted the oils to surmount. Once dry-ish, I used a clean brush with a tiny bit of white spirit to clean off any areas where the wash was messy. This is the joy of oils. Once on, oils can be worked into the right locations with ease. They produce fantastic blends, as well providing nice filters and other effects.

With the brown pin washes dry, I used a little bit of sponge and some black paint to dab paint chips all over the surface.

After the black chips were added I used another piece of sponge to add on the silver chips. Less is more here.

Streaking effects can add a lot of realism to a model. Using AK-Interactive oils, I added streaking grime to the sides of the rhino. The first pass can really look this bad. Oils remain workable for a long time.

After the streaks had dried, I used a soft wide brush with a tiny bit of white spirit to drag the streaks downward. The white spirit allowed me to blend in the streaks. After that was complete I sprayed a diluted steel legion drab dust colored paint along the lower edge of the tank.

The tracks are even easier. I sprayed the tracks with black paint, then used metallic iron weathering powder as a sort of paint paint and painted the tracks. After that I made another paint mixture out of green earth and alcohol and painted over the tracks. Once dry I used my finger to rub off the green earth and buff the metallic iron color underneath. Secret Weapon Green Earth pairs perfectly with Steel Legion Drab.

You might have noticed the space marine standing next to the tank parts. I painted him using the same color modulation at the same time as I painted the rhino.


  1. That is a great break down :) I just finished priming Telion and the CC scouts, the sniper scouts are almost prepped and then I'll be pestering you with questions about various parts of their paint scheme, but with this I can tuck right in and AB their armor with my new Badger renegade velocity!!!

  2. Awesome tute, great work taking so many pictures thats something I need to do more of, just get carried away. Your work is great to follow thanks for sharing. Love the AB work, Zab you will have to let me know how your AB goes, I just have a Repco $40 one.

    1. I got a patriot from my dad who hated it so when i was ready to move up to a fine detail brush i opted for another badger. They are easy to get replacement parts for and my local store was having a sale so that made it only thing i wanted for xmas last year. Now I have a chance to use it on some infantry [insert crazed laughter here] !!!!!! Wanna bet i mess up with it really badly?

  3. That was a great post. Thank you so much for sharing.
    I have to try oil washes...
    If I may ask, which colors exactly did you use for the Emperor's Children dread you did a while back? I thought the blueish and the reddish purple worked so well together.

    1. Funny you ask! I forgot to write down the process, and have managed to produce a lot of variants of the color scheme but not an exact match. Royal purple was one of the colors. I will digg around to see if I can figure it out again. (I have a lot of ECS to paint)

  4. Royal Purple (70.810) must be the reddish one. It's a fairly transparent color. Did you prime the model in black or white?
    I tried Violet (70.960) for the other color but it has to much white in it which makes the black primer look grey where it blends with the Violet.

    Anyway, I'm starting an Emperor's Children army and your dread is, by far, the best painting I've seen.
    Purple / violet is so difficult to paint. It needs to be warm without becoming pink and needs blueish, cold shadows. I particularly liked the almost black feet on yours.

    Forgive my broken english, I'm a french speaker.

    And congrats on your painting technique. I've followed your blog since the time you were painting Blood Angels. Impressive journey from there to now.


  5. Well done! Thank you for the write-up.