+ inload: Creating an army of your own II: Heraldic paint schemes +

+ Creating an army of your own – part II: paint schemes +

+ This is the second part in a series of articles on creating and developing your own personal army. Part I can be found here: [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] +

+ In the previous inload [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+], we looked at picking a name and generating the seed of a culture for your army. This theoretical work then led into you building the first model of your force. +

+ In this inload, we look at what can be the first big stumbling block in creating your own army: coming up with an effective scheme. +

+ Noosphericinloadlinks +

I – Invitation and overview
II – Paint schemes and heraldic schemes 
III – Muted schemes
IV – High impact schemes [This inload]
V – Analogous schemes [Spooling]
VI – Enemies and allies [Spooling]


+ Choosing an effective paint scheme +

Whether you're a beginner or award winner, and whether the piece is intended for the tabletop or a display case, a strong paint scheme will improve the appearance of your model. The choices of colour will, of course, depend on your taste, but the sheer breadth of possibility can be daunting. Where do you begin?

Colour theory is a huge, complex and contentious subject, so the first thing I want to do is set out some limits to give us a framework. Over the next couple of inloads, we're going to look at four broad types of paint scheme: heraldic, muted, high-impact, and analogous; each of which has their own set of guidelines that make them very useful to generate ideas.
  • Heraldic – Inspired by traditional heraldry, these schemes are defined by vibrant primary and secondary colours laid out with clear structural rules that you define. 
  • Muted – Using naturalistic and often earthy colours, muted paint schemes make a virtue of subtlety. 
  • High-impact – The polar opposite of muted schemes, high-impact schemes bring instant clarity and definition to miniatures. 
  • Analogous – This sort of colour scheme makes use of closely-related colours to give a harmonious effect.
For each type, we'll look over some specific examples, then consider why – and how –  you might choose a particular paint scheme type for your own personal army. The example Gatebreaker model I've used below is intentionally work-in-progress, as I want the emphasis to remain on the basic paint scheme for your force. I'll develop my basic scheme – along with yours – further in a future inload; where we will look more closely at how we can use our 'culture seed' to inform and develop the basic scheme into something with more atmosphere and character.


+ Painting models and painting armies +

Before we begin, I want to make it clear that the advice below is necessarily limited. Each of these approaches has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so from the start it's important to know that there is no single right answer to getting a good scheme. The guidelines below are artificial limits to help you find a handle on how you want to paint your force to make it personal and distinctive.

Secondly, this isn't primarily advice on how to apply paint. While I outline how I've painted the example figures below, the aim is not to show you how to paint, but what to paint. Your painting techniques and style are key to giving your models character, so the key advice here is really hung around answering the questions of 'what colours do I use, and where do I put them'?

Finally, I want to arm you with techniques that work both for single models and can scale up to a whole force; so I've included information that will help you apply the schemes to infantry, tanks and monsters. Whether you choose to paint just that one figure you built last time, or go on to build a bigger army, this article aims to help give you striking, distinctive and personal models.


+ Heraldic schemes: Theoretical +

These schemes typically involve bold, bright areas of rich colour and marked contrast. Different areas are strongly delineated; either by the physical structures of the model (i.e. gaps between armour plates are obvious), or by freehand work. Heraldic schemes typically make use of primary or secondary colours; which are consistent across the army.

The GW studio Space Marines and Eldar are good examples of heraldic schemes. Infantry and vehicles share the same bold, saturated colours; and the placement of those colours usually follows some sort of pattern – helms are one colour; trim another etc., for example. Even less brash armies, like the Black Templars Chapter or Ulthwé Craftworld, are examples of heraldic schemes.

+ Iyanden Craftworld: an example of an heraldic scheme using
bold blue and yellow +
The specific hues you choose are largely unimportant for this type of scheme – almost anything can work as long as they are distinctly different in tone and applied relatively consistently. The scheme I have chosen for my Gatebreakers is an example of an heraldic-type scheme:

+ First steps: Gatebreakers colour scheme +

It gives equal weight to two colours, yellow and green, which are our dominant colours. In addition, we have an accent colour – purple. For the work-in-progress piece above, the accent colour is used just for the eye lenses. Note the proportions of the colours. The yellow and green cover equal amounts of the model's surface, while the accent is restricted to a very small area. 

Dominant colours should be just that. Using too much of the accent colour will confuse the eye and spoil the effect. A good rule of thumb when painting an heraldic scheme is to default to your dominant colour(s) when working out what colour a part should be painted. Only use an accent when you can't avoid it.

You'll notice that I haven't counted black amongst the colours used. That's because black (and white) are not considered as part of the scheme. Instead, they're treated as very dark (or very light) tones of the scheme colours. As a result, black and white can be used freely in any heraldic scheme. Think of them as 'freebies' and problem-solvers (we'll look at how they can be used below). 


Heraldic schemes need at least one dominant colour. This can be anything, but for the best effect, pick an eye-catching colour rather than an earthy or muted colour. The primary colours of paint: red, blue and yellow, work well as dominant colours. Bright secondaries – purple, orange and green – are usually bold enough to work as dominant colours, too. Look for vivid, saturated colours, rather than desaturated (pastel) colours. For example, GW's Caledor Sky is a saturated blue, while Hoeth blue is desaturated.

 + The Eldar suit heraldic schemes very well; the tight restrictions
tying into their highly-regimented culture. +
Next, you need to choose whether you want to use more than one dominant colour. A co-dominant colour is given equal weight to the first colour, and is essential for halved or quartered schemes. I advise against using more than two. The more co-dominant colours you use, the more complex the interactions, and the less impact the scheme tends to have; instead disintegrating into visual confusion.

+ Novamarine: Co-dominant blue and white: purple accents. +
When choosing co-dominant colours, they should be markedly different. If they're too similar, you won't get the necessary impact. Holding the two pots up and seeing how they look together is a good, simple way to make an assessment. Another approach is to use the complementary colour to your first dominant colour, as these will always contrast strongly. Red and green are a complementary pair; as are blue and orange; and yellow and purple. Don't be restricted to these classic pairings, however. More unusual pairings are a great way to get some distinctiveness into your scheme. Your favourite colour is always a good place to start!

If you have just one dominant colour, you can pick a subdominant colour using the same approach as for a co-dominant colour. Subdominant colours are used for smaller areas than the dominant colour; and serve to prevent the scheme being monochrome. They should be applied sparingly, and act to support the dominant colour, not distract from it. Co-dominant schemes can involve subdominant colours, but don't need to, as the second dominant colour generally tends to do the same job. If you choose to include one, make sure it works with both co-dominant colours.

+ Scarlet Blade: Dominant orange; subdominant White (legs); red accents +

The final stage is to pick an accent or two. They are used in tiny areas to jump out – just as your final highlights draw the eye due to being different in tone; so accent colours jump our because they are different in hue.

If you have just one dominant colour, the accent can be almost anything as long as it's markedly different from the dominant and subdominant colour. Co-dominant schemes should have accent(s) that differ from both co-dominant colours. This ensures that eye lenses (for example) painted with the accent colour will 'sing out' from both sides.

+ Blood Angels: Dominant red; subdominant yellow/gold; accent blue +

+ Heraldic schemes: Practical +

When choosing your colours:

  • Consider the culture  Heraldic colours aren't picked randomly. They will be invested with symbolism that is pregnant with meaning for your character or force. Spend a little time thinking about what the colour means to them. Perhaps a hive city army picks 'sky blue' as an aspirational colour, a symbol of the ideal, rather than reality, of their polluted homeworld. 
  • Pick pot colours  This stops you having to mix the colour every time, which is both a timesaver and will help you get a consistent colour across the force – important for a finished heraldic effect across a whole force.
  • Take a chance on something unusual  It can be difficult to avoid using colours that you've seen elsewhere, but this is a real shortcut to getting something distinctive. Purple and orange, in particular, are underused colours for forces like Space Marines.
  • Pick something you like  This may seem a bit obvious, but there's no point picking a scheme that ticks all the theoretical boxes but leaves you cold.
  • Make a list  Always useful, but particularly handy for heraldic schemes as they rely on consistency across the force for impact.

+ Applying the paint+

With our scheme chosen, we now need to work out where to place the various colours on our model. If your scheme has just one dominant colour, it should be used for the bulk of the model – basically, anything that can be painted this colour, should be. If you are using co-dominant colours, they should cover a roughly equal amount of space.

Beyond this, spend some time thinking and planning before you begin. These heraldic colours don't just look good; they have significance to the character. In-universe, these colours will be important to the force or character, so will be reserved for important areas. You are more likely to see the heraldic colours on shields, ribbons and such-like, not on pouches, baggage and degradable areas like weapon blades.

  • Avoid breaking up your scheme too much  Split schemes such as halved or quartered are already visually complex. Complicating it further, by breaking it up more (having knee pads different from the rest of the leg etc.), is an easy way to lose impact.
  • Get the proportions right  Accent colours should generally be used where things look odd in the dominant or subdominant colour, and the subdominant colour should never take over from the dominant colour. A proportion of 5:3:1 of dominant:subdominant:accent is a good rule of thumb.
  • Outline  Creating visual breaks lets the viewer's eye rest. Black-lining is a technique that's fallen out of fashion in miniature painting, but it's quick and great for breaking up large vivid areas.
  • Respect the heraldic colours  Don't paint disposable or mass-produced items like grenades or ammunition with the heraldic colours – reserve the heraldry for well-respected and culturally important elements like armour and banners; and use neutrals, black, white or metallics for such disposables.

For my Gatebreakers, I chose Flash Gitz yellow, a vivid, saturated and cool primary as my first dominant colour, and Warpstone Glow; an equally vivid cool green as the co-dominant. The grass green and sun yellow were informed by the cultural seed I created; but – more importantly to me – they looked good together. Although both are given equal weighting, I applied the yellow first, on the basis that green covers yellow better than vice versa. Use your first model for such experiments.

+ Gatebreaker basic colours +

I chose a quartered scheme, which is a simple way of breaking things up evenly. However, you can be much more ambitious. My Whisperprince, below, is an example of a complex co-dominant heraldic scheme (purple and crimson). The colours are used both on their own and blended together on the banners; but the balance is such that both are given equal visual weight. A subdominant neutral beige is used for much of the equipment.

+ Whisperprince +

Note that the rest of the scheme is stripped-back. The armour is black, the skin is near-white, and the parts where I could have used accents (hair highlights, jewel) instead use variations of the dominant colours.


+ Consistency and variety +

Most Space Marine heraldry is usually uniform across the army – that is all Novamarines will have a white upper right quarter and a blue upper left quarter, for example; but heraldic schemes don't necessarily need to be uniform.

Understanding this is vital to ensuring you are in control of the paint scheme, and not held hostage by it. For quartered, halved or similar split schemes, the same rules can be applied:

+ Novamarines infantry and vehicles +
... but this is not always the case. If your first figure is painted with a red arm, you know that the next infantryman needs a red arm. This can be applied to other, similar figures – Dreadnoughts, for example, can easily be tackled with the same 'rules'. What, however, do you do when faced with a Rhino?

As long as you keep the proportions of the colours right, you can paint different parts of your force in very different ways. This is a fantastic way to keep your interest up for the whole army, while ensuring visual coherence across the force. Knowing that it is the proportions and not necessarily the placement of the colours will allow you to tackle a vehicle as easily as a second infantry figure. 

+ Brown and blue-grey co-dominants make an unusual harmonious pairing.
Although split in quite a complex way, and differently across the models,
note that they are still used in roughly equal proportions in both cases. +

+ While a very different shape, the Falcon grav-tank here can be tackled
 easily by keeping the proportions of the co-dominant colours the same.


+ Universal principles for paint schemes +

I've looked into heraldic schemes in quite some detail here because they lend themselves well to analysis. I'll cover the other types of scheme – muted, high contrast and analogous – in a follow-up inload soon, but to close this inload I wanted to talk about a few universal principles of getting a good result.

Part of the appeal of making your own army is simply doing something a bit differently; and I encourage you to pursue that way of thinking for your paint scheme – imagination will always trump theory when it comes to personal taste. However, that's not to say that theory is useless. Awareness of the following will help you to achieve a good result; if only to help you head off common pitfalls.

+ Tonal contrast +

A strong scheme will demonstrate contrast in tone (the relative lightness or darkness of a colour). A model should have both light-toned and dark-toned areas; though whether these are within a single colour (i.e. an area that goes from light blue to dark blue), or across the scheme as a whole, is not important.

+ Gatebreakers in colour +
Note that each area is highlighted and shaded individually; it's not just the differently-toned base colours doing the work.

+ Reduced to black and white, the scheme is still rich with impact. +

+ The importance of leaving gaps +

Breaks are important in a colour scheme. If everything is clamouring for attention, the scheme dissolves into confusion. Similarly, if everything is muted and hushed, the scheme can be hard to read. Leave visual gaps to punctuate your scheme.

+ Flat yellow is broken up with contrasting bold blue stripes. +

High-contrast lining and edging prevents this ivory-white scheme
from blurring into a boring mass. +

+ Lead the eye +

Your scheme should let you lead the eye to the point you choose. Well-chosen accents and subdominants allow you to drive the viewer's eye to parts you choose.

+ Black-skinned, bright-armoured Salamanders provide
a challenge – how to draw attention to the face? +
The red salamander skin cloak surrounds and leads the eye to an otherwise muted face. Note a hint of the same colour has been used in the cheek – joining the otherwise muted face to the bold rest of the scheme. 


+ Practical +

If you've opted for a heraldic scheme, get on with painting that first model you built after the previous inload; then please do share your results (both models and cultures):


  1. Fascinating read. I'll have to revisit it, I find it educational. thanks!

    1. Cheers Suber – glad I can return the favour, as you mining town blogposts have me fascinated. :)

  2. Great article, good to give some in depth thoughts to things that are perhaps a bit taken for granted. Bravo.

    1. Thanks Kym. Making your own stuff up is so much fun, and it's just a minor shift in mindset to get going.

  3. A fascinating deconstruction of one of my personal favourite parts of the hobby. Thinking about it now, I tend to mostly work with heraldic or muted colour schemes, and the orange-blue pair has popped up quite a lot - your categorization makes me want to experiment more with analogous schemes.

    It looks like I may have missed the start of this mini-series, so I'm not entirely sure if this is the exact thing you're looking for, but I posted a roundup of some test models two months ago that might interest you: https://rhodasreach.blogspot.com/2019/03/paintwater-oracle-colour-theoretical.html

    1. Coo, that's an awesome blog, Sunfire – I hadn't seen Rhoda's Reach before, but I can see some datamining in my immediate future. Love the Beast of Many Faces – what a wonderfully-executed concept!

      The models in your Colour Theoretical article are lovely, too. If you'd like to tie them in with the Alien Wars, I'd be delighted – check the 'The Alien Wars' tab at the top of the page for an introduction to the invitational. (https://apologentsia.blogspot.com/p/alien-wars.html)

    2. Thanks! I'll be sure to check it out - I've been trying my best to keep up with this whole "interacting with people" and "running a blog" thing, but there's a bit of real life time consumption going on at the moment. Alien wars could be a good place for me to join in with some more community/collaborative stuff.

  4. Really loving these inloads! I've been struggling with paint schemes myself lately; I'm trying to find a suitable scheme (as well as other design elements) for an Imperial Fists Successor Chapter, which finds its origins in my M36-era Imperial Fists 7th Company (which you can find over here, by the way: https://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/763732.page; they were partly inspired by your wonderful work!). I'm currently leaning towards a heraldic yellow/purple scheme, but the proportions are giving me some headaches.

    1. Hey Ezra, I'd spotted the Solar Lions before (thank-you for the kind words!) – do you post on B&C, too? I'm sure I've seen your awesome scout conversions over there.

      Can I suggest that you create a successor Chapter based on the same concept? If you'd like some thoughts on a paint scheme, I'd be very happy to help out if I can. Pop up a note on the + Death of a Rubricist + Facebook group (or send me a message) and we can chat.

    2. I haven't made the jump to B&C yet, although I have been planning to do so for a while; maybe it's high time to turn that theoretical into a practical!

      As for the Successor Chapter, I'll certainly swing by the Facebook group in the near future to discuss their colour scheme and such, so you should hear from me over there soon enough! :)

  5. Hello. What a great entry!!!!

    Let me show Atlantida chapter



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