How to Paint Metal
High Contrast Metallics
"Metal is easy. All you need to do is base coat it, wash and drybrush the highlights and you're done!"
Metallic paint sometimes gets some flak for being the easy way out for doing metals. It's also been known to be hard to photograph properly, due to the light reflecting off of the metallic flake in the paint and messing with highlights.
As such, Non-Metallic Metals, using regular paint to simulate metal surfaces, has gained popularity recently. Many of the models you see in catalogs, competition and display pieces seem to lean towards NMM as the way to go.
But what if we take the principles of NMM and apply them to metallic paints?
This is what High Contrast Metallics is. Using lessons learned from the non-metallic way of doing things and applying them to metals to get a really nice and interesting metal surface using metallic paint.
It's something I've been working on for the better part of the year, and now I am ready to share it.
A little back story on this whole thing.
A few years ago, I realized that if a mini was painted in full metallic paint, the details were hard to see. The shine of the metallic reflected the light and obscured the details. Something needed to be done to separate the metal plates so the eye can see it easier.
This mini was Iron Man, which was gloss coated after I painted him. The gloss made it even worse too. So I went over all the seams with (I think) Khorne Red. This helped out a lot and made it easier to look at. From then on, I started dark lining the recesses and painting shadowed areas black to help knock down the shine.
Fast forward a few years and I'd still been having issues with metallic sections not living up to the quality of the rest of my work. I ended up with a commission for Son Goku from Ninja All-Stars and tried pushing contrast a bit more on the gold sections, using Rhinox Hide in the shadows and mixing it with gold to get a better transition.
It seemed to work really well and I was pleased with the results. But it still wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I kept at it, trying new things with Shojo as well and then it all started clicking.
By the end of 2016, I'd decided to focus on improving my metals and began work on Iron Golem. That model proved to be a test of patience, as I tried new things and hammered out issues. But I think he proved to be a boon by the time he was finished, as I learned a lot about metallic paint and what does/doesn't work.
Why use metals instead of non-metals?
Well, for me, its a preference thing. I like the look of metallic paint, always have. Also, in my opinion, sometimes non-metals can look too much like smooth stone for my taste and style. I appreciate the technique of NMM and the skill it takes to pull it off nicely, but my preference for True Metallics is still there. I needed to find a middle ground. Something that looked good, and had a nice depth to it, while still using actual metallic acrylics.
How High Contrast Metallics works.
High Contrast Metallics work by dialing up the darkness of the shadow areas and working up to a bright highlight of your shiniest silver. You also want the surface areas to transition from light to dark to control the reflection of the metallic and force your eye to read the surface.
You want the shadows to be as dark possible, which means we'll be using Black in the recesses. You need Black, because Leadbelcher is not dark enough and you don't want the metallic shine in the shadows.
From there, its just a matter of layering on Leadbelcher, Ironbreaker and Stormhost Silver to get the highlighting where we want them. We need our brightest point to be Stormhost Silver, none of this business of using White for highlighting silver. That's why dialing up the darkness of the shadows is so important.
But you can't really go from Black to Leadbelcher, as it is too much of a jump in contrast, so we need to mix them together to find a happy medium. Generally, I'll just do some work on the palette and mix them until I find a shade I like, but for this tutorial I'm going to call it a 4:1 ratio of Black to Leadbelcher.
For the most part, learning how to lay the paint on each surface will take practice. But the biggest thing is that you generally want to butt a dark against a light. So if one panel has a dark section on one end, the next one should start with a light end next to it.
This is where stealing ideas from the NMM way of doing things comes in. We will transition from dark to light across the surface. Flat surfaces we will transition from dark to light in a gradient across it. Cylindrical surfaces will get highlighted along the length of it, with the brightest highlight in the middle of the cylinder.
Enough blabbering on about it, lets get to the actual tutorial.
List o' Colors
- Citadel Chaos Black Spray
- Citadel Leadbelcher
- Citadel Ironbreaker
- Citadel Stormhost Silver
- Vallejo Model Color Black
- Testor's Dullcote
- Metallic paints generally don't like being thinned out. But for this we want thin coats to help with the transition of color. Each step may take multiple coats to get coverage where we want them. But if the paint is too thin, the paint will break down too much, so you have to find a happy medium.
- I use a wet palette for my paint, but that's more of a preference thing than anything. Use whatever palette system you're comfortable with.
- I use Citadel spray for all my priming, due to issues with other brands. But use whatever black primer you are happy and had good results with.
- Some of the pictures are a little hard to see what happened, and a a little blurry. I apologize in advance for this. I will try to be as detailed as possible in each step to make up for it.
Prime - Chaos Black Spray
Prime the model in black spray, I use Chaos Black from Citadel. Try to get as even a coverage as you can and into any recesses. Don't worry too much about the hard to reach areas, we'll be fixing that in the next step.
Base Coat - Black
Base coat the metal areas in Black. For this one, its pretty much all metal so I went over the entire thing.
Layer - Black : Leadbelcher ~4:1 ratio
Make a mix of Black and Leadbelcher at a ratio of roughly 4:1. I mix this by sight and look for a shade that is roughly halfway between the two.
Paint this mix on the surface, leaving black in the recesses and any shadowed areas. Try to pay attention to how the light would play on the surface.
For example the center of the bracer will end up bright in the middle and run the length of the bracer. While the upper and under sections will be dark.
Layer - Leadbelcher
Next up, we paint Leadbelcher on top of the previous layer, leaving the previous mix showing and trying to blend the two together.
Use multiple thin coats to build up the coverage and you should end up with a pretty smooth transition from the 4:1 mix to pure Leadbelcher.
Layer - Ironbreaker
Similarly to the previous step, add a layer of Ironbreaker over the Leadbelcher. This time though we want an even smaller area to be highlighted.
Again thin layers and gradual change in color are the key. We want to go from Leadbelcher to Ironbreaker as seamlessly as possible.
Edge & Spot Highlight - Stormhost Silver
Finally we edge and spot highlight the areas with Stormhost Silver.
Do any edges that would be hit by the light, regardless of it its on a dark section or not. Also in the shadow areas you can line any sharp edges that would be reflecting rebounded light from the ground. For this you may want to use Ironbreaker instead, but for this model I just used Stormhost Silver or all my lining.
Also on any armor plates, do spot highlighting. For example the very center of the bracer, the "knuckles" of the gauntlet, etc.
Darklining - Black
This one takes a bit of control. But to help seperate the metal surfaces, line the recesses of the section with black. This helps your eye "see" the individual sections better and knocks down a bit of the glare too.
Do any areas that would be shadowed by another area. So, for example, around the skull on the bracer, the joints of the fingers and the backhand where it meets the bracer.
Matte Varnish - Dullcote
Finally, we spray the piece with Testors Dullcote. This serves two purposes, it further knocks down the shine of the metallic paint and it deepens the color.
I'd go as far as to say that this is the most important step.
Compare the image on the left with the one on the right. The left one is before being sprayed, while the right is after.
If you look at the two, the right one has deeper blacks and the colors seem to tie together more. Its especially noticeable on the sword's blade.
And that's it! Even at 8 steps, its relatively quick once you have some practice in it and the results speak for themselves.
Also, if you're not 100% happy with the depth of the shadows, you can always glaze in some more black to the shadow areas to get it darker. I find I do that a lot while working, its almost second nature.
Here is the finished model, all the metals painted in this style. I decided to paint the inlay of his bracer red, in the end and it helped the metal effect work even more. Less is more, as they say.
As always, I hope this helped you with your painting. If you're interested in seeing projects I am currently working on, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram.