Saturday, January 22, 2022

Painting Tutorial: Imperial Fists

I've found a (mostly) quick method of painting yellow Space Marine armor. Here's a step-by-step look at the process I used to paint my Imperial Fists.

Yellow Basecoat

The toughest part about painting yellow, I find, is getting a rich and consistently smooth basecoat. This is where the color chosen for the base spray can really cut down on the amount of work you have to do. I prefer a darker, more "golden" yellow, over a bright "lemon" yellow, so I've selected Tamiya Camel Yellow for the base spray.

Prime the model with Citadel Wraith Bone, and then spray it with Camel Yellow. (The yellow gets better coverage over the Wraith Bone, as opposed to a white or grey primer.) Use several thin coats rather than one thick coat to ensure that the details don't fill in and so the sprays don't pool and drip. Because sprays tend to be glossy and smooth, once the yellow has fully dried, give the model a light coat of Tamiya TS-80 Flat Clear (or Testors Dull Cote, if you have a can that's genuinely "dull"). This matte layer will serve as a clear primer with a slight "tooth" that the shade will sit on better, rather than beading up on the glossy surface.



For dark models (like my Black Templars), I can get away with painting the model when fully assembled, because the black in the recesses can be largely ignored as "shadow." But those recesses remain highly visible on bright models, so it's better to paint them in parts so you can reach those deep areas with your brush. I assembled the marines' bodies, and kept their heads, backpacks, and weapons separate, pinned onto dowels to serve as painting handles. The bodies were attached to the dowel with a piece of puffy double-sided tape. Here are all the parts, sprayed yellow:



To shade the yellow, use Citadel Casandora Yellow Shade. Paint it straight from the pot with no water or medium added. Coat the entire model, and use your brush to wick up any excess shade that might pool on the surface, particularly around the feet or on the shoulder pads.

I experimented with Iyanden Yellow Contrast paint, and just didn't like the results. It looked patchy on the surface, and when used as intended (straight over the Wraith Bone primer) it didn't seem "yellow" enough. Casandora Yellow over Camel Yellow gives me exactly what I'm looking for: A deep golden yellow with a tinge of orange, in basically two steps (spray and wash).



I shaded all of the components this way– body, heads, backpacks, and arms.




The most time-consuming step is painting in the separations between the armor panels. My secret for this is using a mix of black India Ink and brown ink (Liquitex Burnt Umber Transparent Ink is my preferred brown ink). I like to use India Ink for any fine detail lines (including the fine script on purity seals) because it's opaque and stays wet in the brush much longer than thinned black paint. This allows you to get better control and maintain smooth lines much easier.



The ratio is mostly brown ink, with just a touch of black India Ink (the black darkens it up fast, and you still want the line to have a hint of brown). Using a sharp, fine detail brush is essential, so break out your best sable brush for this step. Paint a line into the recesses wherever there's a clear panel separation on the armor, and into all of the vent slits. Do your best to keep the lines thin and under control, but if you stray or slip, don't sweat it– You can clean things up with the edge highlights, or cover any mistakes with weathering.



Here's an example of one leg with the blacklining, and one without so you can clearly see the difference. I wouldn't hold it against you if you're satisfied with the orange-shaded lines and skip this step, but I urge you to try it at least once because the darker panel lines really make the model pop and add another layer of depth.



Here are all the parts with their panel lines:



Recessed Details

It's best to paint any details in recessed areas before tackling the yellow edge highlighting, so you can use the edge highlights to clean up any mistakes.

Paint the eyes with a bright red. For the sergeant's helmet, basecoat it with a mid-tone red like Army Painter Vampire Red, and then wash it with a mix of Army Painter Crusted Sore and a touch of brown ink.



Add a dot of white in the eye lense, and then use the India Ink and brown ink to outline the eye, including the bottom of the "forehead brow."



Paint the recessed metal areas of the backpack (all the vents, and the tech panel on the front, and the round spots on the sides) with a dark metal (I've used Army Painter Shining Silver, mixed with just a touch of black). Then, wash those metal areas with GW Nuln Oil.



Use the same technique to paint the metal bits on the helmet. 



Paint the tubes on either side of the face plate with black and then highlight with GW Fang grey. Paint the neck and the ribbed areas of the under-suit visible in the joints with straight Fang grey (we'll return to those at the very end).



Edge Highlighting

Reds and yellows tend to have less coverage than other colors, so one trick I've found to get really bright highlights is to first highlight with white, and then go over it with with the color. The white will show through a bit, resulting in a brighter highlight.

Highlight the edges of the armor with straight white. Use the side of your brush wherever you can to easily paint the corners.



You'll also want to add a spot on the top of the knee pad and the toes.



Use the same process for the backpacks, helmets, and arms. While you've got the white going, paint the center of the Imperial Fists icon on the shoulder pad. Paint white edge highlights on the red sergeant's helmet too.



Then, thin some yellow paint (I used Vallejo Golden Yellow here) and paint it over the white, almost like a glaze. Paint it over the spots on the knees and toes , and diffuse the edge to create a brighter highlight on the top of the knees.



Repeat this for the other components, but use a bright red for the sergeant's helmet highlights.



Weathering and Final Details

You can add chips in the armor by applying paint with a sponge or bit of foam. Mix Army Painter Shining Silver, Formula P3 Bloodstone, and brown ink to create a suitably rusty metallic color, and dab it on. Focus on the knees and feet, but hit the other exposed edges around the model as well. Add as little or as much chipping as you want, depending on how battle-worn you want your marines to be.



At this stage, you can paint some of the other details around the armor– the metal belt buckle, and the small bolts and lights on the leg greaves and arms.

Add dirt, dust, and rust streaks to the feet by applying GW XV-88 brown and P3 Bloodstone in various combinations. Use a mix of drybrushing, stippling, washing, and splattering to achieve a suitably weathered appearance. As with the armor chipping, you can go as heavy or light with this as you like.



Paint the pouches, grenades, and purity seals like you normally would. For mine, I used GW Rhinox Hide to basecoat the pouches, mixed in XV-88 brown for the mid-tone, and then mixed XV-88 and GW Screaming Skull for the edge highlights, and brown ink to shade under the pouch flap. The parchment of the purity seals was painted with Screaming Skull and shaded with GW Agrax Earthshade, and then the script was added with a fine brush and my India Ink and brown ink combo. The grenades were basecoated with GW Castellan Green, highlighted with a mix of Castellan and GW Moot Green, and shaded with Nuln Oil.



The wings on the chest and the Imperial Fist are painted the same way: Basecoat them with black and then Fang grey, Mix a little white into the Fang and drybrush some subtle highlights, and then wash it with Nuln Oil.



Paint the armor trim and the circle around the fist icon black, and add a simple edge highlight with Fang grey.

One thing I'd like to note is that I feel like I made a mistake by adding the sculpted Imperial Fist shoulder pads. If you've been following my blog for the past couple years, you may be aware of how long I held off on these marines while I waited for the official Imperial Fist upgrade kit. Then, I had to cut away the original shoulder pads so I could add the new ones. Well, I wish I had gone with decals instead, because painting these is a major pain, particularly the raised ring around the icon– The line work needs to be PRECISE all the way around, or it looks wonky and lopsided even though the sculpt itself is perfectly round. It was almost as much effort as painting a freehand emblem!



At this stage, the painting is about finished, so spray the model with Tamiya TS-80 Flat Clear, and then apply the remaining squad decals. Once the decals are dry, sponge on some armor chips and hit the shoulder pad with more matte varnish to get rid of the decals' shine.



After the matte seal, paint a wash over the ribbed joints that we left as straight Fang grey earlier. Use a black wash with a bit of a gloss so they shine like a rubberized suit. I used Formula P3 Armor Wash, but something like the gloss version of Nuln Oil will work too.



The final step is to paint the bolt rifles– Just mix a bit of Shining Silver into black, and basecoat the entire weapon to get a dark metallic black finish. Then, drybrush the edges with more Shining Silver in the mix.



Final Assembly

And that's it! Glue on the weapon arms, heads, and backpacks, and the marines are ready for basing. I'll tackle the bases in a separate post– I'm going to do a specific step-by-step tutorial for my Skull Forge Scenics industrial bases, and then I'll add these guys.



In the meantime, here's a look at the squad. Thanks for following along, I hope you'll try out some of these techniques on your own marines!



'Til next time!


  1. Dang. Imperial Fists are my least favorite chapter(legion), but when you paint them like that I have to reconsider. I'll have to try some of your techniques as well.

    1. I hope it helps. This can definitely be applied for any color combo.

  2. Nice result - I haven't found a method I really like yet so I may give a variation of this a go when I next to paint some yellow guys. Seems to happen fairly often despite trying to avoid it!

  3. And to think that I paint mine with a gray drybrush over a black basecoat

  4. Extremely good work, and very useful tutorial as well. Thanks!


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