+ Creating an army of your own – part IV: high impact paint schemes +

+ Creating an army of your own – part IV: high impact paint schemes +

+ This is the fourth part in a series of articles on creating and developing your own personal army. In part I, we looked at picking a name and generating the seed of a culture for your army, which led into you building the first model of your force. We're now deep in other options for paint schemes. +

+ 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]

VII – Building a world: developing a culture [Spooling]

+ High impact schemes: Theoretical +

We all know these. High impact schemes are those that grab the eye for one reason or another. Games Workshop's house style of painting is high impact. They tend to achieve this through bold contrast, using a standard key and use of complementary colours. Where muted or heraldic schemes can be too subtle to work effectively on the table, high impact schemes help show off the detail of the sculpts and makes identification of the different parts of the model easy.

High impact schemes are particularly well-suited to gaming with, as this approach will make your army stand out beautifully from tabletop distance. To illustrate this, compare Stuntwedge's beautiful high impact Hunter Cadre Shaska Nan with my muted Lamb's World 117th.



As you can see, where my Guard blend into one another and the table, every part of the Tau force reads out beautifully. When creating your army, you should also consider the practical side of it. If you're a gamer first and foremost, or you want to make a splash, then a high-impact scheme should be borne in mind.

+ Tonal key +

+ Low-key techpriest. Only a few spots are brighter than a midtone. +
High impact schemes tend rely on using the full tonal range, and it's here that we need to identify the concept of a tonal 'key'. When painting, you have access to all the tones, from white to black. You can make the choice to compress this one way or the other, in order to make an overall lower or higher key – that is, to emphasise the darks or lights respectively.

low key paintjob will keep the deepest shades as near-black, but not go all the way up to white for its highlights; while a high key paintjob will do the opposite; keeping very bright highlights, but using midtones for the shading. The muted schemes we've been looking at above have a narrow key – that is, there's less variation in tone across the model as a whole (though muted schemes often still have a few eye-catching spots to provide interest).

The challenge with a high impact scheme is thus less in catching the viewer's as it is in holding their attention. Badly executed, a high impact scheme can be jarring and confusing, looking garish and off-putting. This is the principle behind dazzle camouflage – or a zebra's stripes (this is turn reminds us that camouflage doesn't have to be muted).

A well-executed high impact scheme will ensure that the model retains some structure. In the Fire Warriors below, the scheme runs from pure black to pure white, with the parts broken up with tonal contrast. The panels of the armour are highlighted with relatively light grey, and the white panels of the gun are black-lined. This sweep of tone makes everything read out beautifully.

Fire Warriors of Stuntwedge's Shas'ka Nan
Visual anchors are places that the eye naturally rests upon. They're very useful in a high-impact scheme as a break from the high contrast. You can't rely as much on hot-spots of warm colour as you can in an heraldic or muted scheme, as they simply won't have as much power to draw the eye in a high impact scheme. That's not to say you can't use them; but unless the rest of the scheme is near monochrome, they're going to struggle to be the focus.


For Shas'O Shas'ka Nan, above, Stuntwedge has varied the same palette of colours – black, white and orange – but swapped them around, making the pure white the dominant colour, the black a high-contrast sub-dominant, and the orange relegated to being a tonic for accents alone. This helps the commander to stand out, even amongst his high-impact army, by virtue of being unusual – a quality that applies as much to paint as it does to naming [ref: inload 1 of this series +noosphericinloadlink above+] – and because white paint is naturally brighter and more eye-catching than other hues.

Note that the guns, head and feet act as visual anchors; the eye roams from one to the next in a pleasing circular fashion. A hotspot on the knee provides a focal point, drawing attention to the pose of the figure, while a secondary hot panel on the helm ensures that the head has sufficient complexity and interest to remain a focus.

+ High-impact palette and colour +

You don't have to run the gamut from white to black across the model for high impact, as Warmtamale's awesome Ghostkeel below shows. While the scheme does run from black and white, much of the impact stems from the juxtaposition of the differently-toned plates. This variety of contrasting tone creates impact, but because it's not starkly going from bright to dark, it's not as wearing on the eye. Contrast here comes as much from hue as tone.


The choice of colours is also very important to a successful high impact schemes. The hot pink Warmtamale uses is a colour you don't see much in 40k, so it's already attention-grabbing in its novelty. Using a more common 40k hue – red, for example – would work, but it's not going to be as striking.


Pink works really well here, suggesting an alien aesthetic. Note that Warmtamale has avoided the scheme becoming garish by carefully considering where the accents lie, and keeping them small. Were the blue, green, pink and black applied evenly, the result would be like an 80s nightclub. By applying the scheme as a bold two-tone (pink and black), and reserving the blue and green for tiny accents, the scheme grabs your attention but has sufficient depth to reward a closer look. This is key – it's not enough for your scheme to shout; it must have something worth listening to.

As you can see, hIgh impact schemes work very nicely for Tau, but the approach can work for any army. Orks, for example, can use a high-contrast scheme, as shown by Omricon's Bad Moonz:


While the paintscheme retains some of the muck and dirt you might expect from orks, note that the weathering is restricted to the edges of the armour plates, so that there remains a bold, striking panel of high-impact colour.


My beloved Imperial Guard don't need to be left out, either. High impact schemes are perfectly suited if your army wears dress uniform (perhaps being based on figures like Mordians, Praetorians or Vostroyans), but they can also work for figures in field dress, as with the snow scheme above. This is an unusual example of a high impact scheme, as it's almost entirely monochrome. If you do this, then you really need to pair it with a very strong, highly-saturated colour, like the red accents here.


Blood Bowl teams also work well with high impact schemes – so why not consider your local sports team's strip? While these tend to be almost heraldic, most sports kits are also high impact – another reminder that these paint schemes concept aren't mutually exclusive.

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+ High impact schemes: Practical +

When picking your colours, bear the following points in mind:
  • Run the gamut  High impact relies on contrast in tones. Try to build in white and black, and work starkly between them – avoid smooth gradient blends that cover whole surfaces; keep your highlights tight and clean.
  • Visual anchors  To avoid visual fatigue and confusion, build in some areas 
  • Novelty  Consider unusual colour pairings. Coral pinks, tangerine oranges, lime greens... these are all colours that you don't see much in armies, so they have impact. Look at tropical fish or butterflies for inspiration.
  • Saturation  Pastel, destaurated colours are naturally relaxing to look at; not great for impact. Instead, use rich, vibrant colours for the main scheme. Softer colours do have their place, however – use them for accents, details and markings to create that all-important texture for visual anchors.
Remember, impact doesn't mean high key. As a demonstration, look at the two figures below:


On paper, this first scheme seems high impact. It's use highly-saturated hues, and the colours are bold and bright.


However, when we make the cloak a deep blue-grey, note how much more the surrounding colours pop. The second example uses contrast in tone more effectively, changing the figure from a high key scheme to a broader gamut of tone. It is the difference between light and dark areas that is the secret to high impact.

+ The Wood and the Trees – consider the army as a whole +

One final practical point: bear in mind that you're not stuck applying things in a uniform manner. One way to get a high-impact army is to apply the scheme across the army, rather than on a single figure. In the same way Stuntwedge uses the same core colours across this Tau army, but varies the proportions and parts that he paints in each colour, so you can do the same across a force, using a variety of colours on different models.

+ Warmatamale does much the same thing, applying the same palette of
colours in inventive ways across the force, even within the same squad. +
Harlequins are the ur-example of this approach – despite each figure being treated like an individual with its own schema, the army as a whole is high impact, because all the key pins above – gamut, anchors, novelty and saturation – apply.

In the absence of a harlequin army to show you, the saharduin below are a smaller example of this – they are completely different in hue from each other, but have sufficient similarities in tonal contrast and gamut (and sculpt style, of course) that they read as a cohesive pair. Here, then, is where high impact schemes work brilliantly – in tying together disparate elements.



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