Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tutorial: How I Paint Starships

Commenter Desert Scribe, in the comments section of my August 14 post, requested that I do a tutorial showing how I paint my starships.  Ideally I would have done this with some Aquan cruisers.  Unfortunately the Gaming Room remodel has run over budget (what project doesn't?) so I'll be waiting on the Aquan cruisers until next month at least.

In the mean time, I thought I'd do an article showing you how I turn these:

into these:

 First, however, a bit of a disclaimer.  I don't consider myself a great painter by any means.  Buying, assembling, and gaming with miniatures far outweigh the painting aspect of the hobby for me.  I don't like fielding unpainted minis though.  In my opinion the visual aspect of the hobby is paramount.  My style of painting is what I (and most people I hope) would call "gamer standard."  I'm certainly not embarrassed by it (I started this blog after all), but I am not going to win any contests either.  Acknowledging those limitations let us look at how I get the results I do.

First let's look at the miniatures.  What I have here is a pair of Ground Zero Games FSE
 Battleships.  These are miniatures from the original mid '90's FSE range, so you won't find them on the site to my knowledge.  That's what happens when you dig into the backlog of starships for somthing to paint.

The thing I really liked about these, and the reason I chose them for this article, is all the lovely panel lines.  I like it when a sculptor gives me detail so I don't have to try and paint it on myself.  As far as prep goes, I do very little.  Some people will wash their miniatures first, but I've never had a problem with working from the raw metal base.  If these were resin, I might do differently.  The second step I am going to skip is priming.  The reason for this will become evident when we get to the base coat.
Now we see the models in their base coated state.  I've used one of Games Workshop's (relatively) new Foundation Paints.  I've found these to cover nicely, and provide a robust basecoat to work with.  The particular color I used here was Adeptus Battle Grey.  This is a fairly dark grey color and will end up giving you a mid grey ship when done.  It could be highlighted all the way up to almost white (I did on some of my Aquans) but for this tutorial I'll go with the mid tones.

With the basecoat applied and dried (this only takes a couple minutes with foundation paints) I have now applied what I would call a "robust" dry brush of light grey to one of the ships.  I've left the other in the base color so you can see the difference.  In this coat I really only want to leave the edges of the panels and the recesses dark.  My favorite brush for this full figure dry brush is my trusty (as in I've had it about 15+ years) Games Workshop "Tank Brush."  (no, really that's what they call it).

The next step is to give our ships a little depth.  For this I use an ink wash.  I have two go to sources for this.  The first (and the one I use here) is DiDi's Magic Ink from The Warstore.  It could be because my bottle is a few years old, but I find I need to thin the black ink by about 30-50% or it is too dark.  It also comes in shades of red, green, brown, and blue.  I highly recommend the 5 color set, though I use black more than the others.  My other favorite wash (though not used here) is Games Workshop Devlin Mud wash.  This stuff could be called "miracle shade" in my opinion.  Love 'em or hate 'em, GW gets some things right.

With the ships we are working on, I wanted a smooth flowing wash that would fill in all those cool panel lines, so for this (and because the base and final color were grey) I chose to use DiDi's.  After applying a liberal ink wash the difference is clear.

 The first two pictures show one ship still at the drybrush stage, and the third shows both ships shaded.  One of the best things about DiDi's is that it takes little time to dry.  Twenty minutes or so is usually adequate unless you put it on really thick.

With the shading done, it is time to pick out some details.  I gave the ships a second light grey dry brush, but this time went very very light on the coverage.  This just compensates for the shine, and the darkness of the ink.
 The ship on the right is still at the wash step.  The one on the left has had its second highlight applied.

Once again it is back to the paneling.  I took the same light grey I used in the drybrush steps and painted a few of the panels on each ship a solid light grey.  This can be seen below.

Heading into the finish, I pick out a couple other details in different colors.  The bridge windows are painted a dark green with a very light (almost neon) green highlight, and the sensor dome is painted white.

Finally, a second wash is applied over the top of it all.  This is a very thinned down wash of DiDi's once again (about 60-80% water).  I just wanted to give the details a little shade, and tie the final drybrush shading together.  With this done and the bases painted, the ships are finished.
Total painting time (not including ink drying) was maybe two hours tops.

I hope that gives you some ideas for painting your own ships.  Thanks for reading.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Dan. It's always good to see other folks' techniques. I might have to get some inks to do my washes; right now I just dilute paint with water, and I'm not too happy with how it comes out. Any tips on mixing paint & water for washes?

  2. Sadly, not really. I started using the same method you do, but I found it to be a hassle, and to be inconsistent. I like having pre made washes. Another method I have used (and still do on occasion) is to skip the wash, but start the base coat a shade or two darker than the desired color, then give 2-3 progressively lighter highlights. That method works well if you prime in black. I've used that method on starships with lots of surface detail like Battle Fleet Gothic ships. I finally settled on this method because pre made inks are consistent, and they flow into the gaps nicely.