Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Zenithal highlighting experiment - Ultramarines, Part II

I've finished my Ultramarines experiment and posted some pics for you...

The mini's

These guys are painted as the 2nd Tactical squad, 5th Company, Ultramarines (hence the black trim on the shoulder pads).

This was kind of supposed to be a speed-painting exercise, but it took a little longer than I wanted.  In fact, the bulk of the the painting was actually completed very quickly, pretty much within one day, but then I started faffing about with the insignia and the bases and I ended up drawing out the whole process.

Overall I like the end result, with the exception of the Ultramarine insignia I painted freehand.  Given enough time I could probably refine it further but in the future I'm going to be very tempted to get the pre-moulded shoulder pads from GW.

Process and paints

For those that are interested I've briefly detailed below the process and paints/materials I used for these Ultramarines (apologies as I don't have pics to illustrate).

Please don't feel you have to copy these steps exactly or use the exact colours I did.  I'm certainly no expert and I was kind of 'feeling' my way through the whole process.  The best thing to do is trust your instincts and take your time.  Don't worry if you make a mistake, if you're anything like me you're still learning and even the pro's muck up from time to time.  So don't sweat it, it's only paint after all.

If you still really want to know... :

Airbrush steps

  1. Prime - Vallejo Panzer Grey surface primer (applied with airbrush)
  2. 1st zenithal highlight - Vallejo Dark Sea Blue
  3. 2nd zenithal highlight - Citadel Enchanted Blue
  4. 3rd zenithal highlight - Citadel Hawk Turquoise
  5. 4th zenithal highlight - Citadel Ice Blue
  6. 5th zenithal highlight - Citadel Space wolves grey
  7. 6th zenithal highlight - Vallejo ivory
Note - The first zenithal highlight was applied per the whole model except the underneath.  Each successive highlight concentrates more towards the front and top of the model until finally your applying the final highlight just to the top of the head and shoulders.

If you don't have an airbrush you can still achieve a similar zenithal effect, albeit less smooth, with spray can primer's.  First of all prime your mini in black, then when that's dry, spray a little white at a 'roughly' 45 degree angle to the front of the mini.

Painting steps
  1. Thin glaze of Dark Sea Blue applied to the entire model
  2. Blacks and metallics painted
  3. Shadow wash of Badab Black/Dark Sea Blue (5 to 1 ratio) applied to recesses
  4. Shadow wash of Badab Black to metallic areas
  5. 1st highlight - Dark Sea Blue/Ice Blue (2 to 1 ratio) applied to tops/edges of backpack, helmet, shoulders, upper arms.  Basically anywhere you think light 'would' be hitting the model if it were shining down.
  6. 2nd highlight - as above with 1 part Vallejo ivory added.  This only goes to the parts that are receiving the most light, i.e. the top and front of the helmet, top of the backpack etc.
  7. Details - Blood red for eye lenses + a dot of ivory to achieve the 'glint' effect.  The wax stamp for the oath papers also gets a coat of blood red.  The papers themselves are based with Graveyard Earth and then highlighted with Dheneb Stone. Very fine lines of Devlan Mud were painted on to simulate the writing.
  8. Insignia - Painted with Space Wolves Grey and then highlighted with a Ivory SW Grey mix.  dark Sea Blue was used to tidy up the edges
  1. Gravel and static grass glued in small clumps to the base using PVA glue, then left to dry overnight
  2. Entire base painted in Graveyard Earth followed by a thinned Devlan Mud wash (use old brushes)
  3. Grass areas painted Catachan Green and any flat areas get another splat of Graveyard Earth
  4. rough highlight of Dheneb Stone to gravel areas
  5. Badab Black wash applied to entire base
  6. P3 Ordic Olive applied to grassy areas, kind of a rough dry brush application.
  7. Sides of base painted with Chaos Black


I'd like to continue painting my mini's with a zenithal highlight as a base.  For me it's a very useful indication of where highlights and shadows will go, so it removes a lot of the guesswork.  One thing zenithal highlighting doesn't do is make me a better painter, I'm still going to have to put a lot of work in to achieve that goal.

Being new to airbrushing, I did struggle at times with blockages, getting the right consistency of paint and remembering that I was supposed to be using the zenithal technique.  All things considered I learnt a lot and that's the main thing for me right now.

For a great tutorial on the concept of zenithal highlighting you should go to the amazing From the Warp blog.

As ever, let me know what you think.




  1. Whoo, man, that is some awesome zenithal effect there. I love that glow of blue on them.

  2. These are amazing. I've been learning to use my airbrush, but I have a loooong way to go ;)

  3. Great stuff man! The Zenithal effect really works well. Can't wait to see what's next!

  4. Many thanks guys, hope to have some more work posted soon!

  5. My only real criticism is that there should be some of the lighting from the top of the helmet and shoulders, on the toes of the boots, tops of kneepads, and on the bottom-backs of the greaves. These areas aren't in shadow like the thighs and bottom of the torso, and would be receiving the same amount of 'light' that the areas you currently have highlighted do.

    Beyond that, I think you're doing an amazing job with this technique and you continuously make me want to run out and buy the equipment for an airbrush and paint booth! Well done, sir :)

    1. Many thanks Tim, I think that's a fair critique. I hope by the time I've cranked out a few squads I'll be on my way to getting confident with the technique. Get an airbrush! You won't look back. I actually got mine free with the air compressor I bought. I should probably do a post about that...

  6. The paintwork is great. They look 'finished' in a way I find really hard to achieve.

    Your basing is awesome too. What are you using as static grass?

    1. Thanks GDMNW, much appreciated. I used the standard GW grass, but quite heavily painted and washed to get it looking the way I wanted.