Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Painting Black – Um. Help.

I come to you, asking a favour. Guide me, if you will. Take pity on my poor (currently unshaven) head.

It’s about 6:50am and I really need to crash to catch a few hours’ sleep. Betrayer is going well – going great, in fact, which is lucky since I’ve only got a month to finish it. ‘The Underworld War’ for The Mark of Calth anthology is winding up to completion, too. It’s about the Gal Vorbak left on Calth after Kor Phaeron flees, and they’re slowly coming to terms with the fact that Lorgar isn’t coming to save them. They’re trapped there. They’re going to die there. Night after night, the Word Bearers lose more men to Ultramarine guns.

At this stage, I’m working about 12-14 hours a day, most of which involves going back over sentences I wrote earlier and deleting them before anyone realises I have no right to call myself an author. I don’t mention those hours to incite you to start secreting some kind of oil, ill-deserved sympathy juice from your empathy glands. No, no. I tell you purely so I’ve got an up-front excuse for blogging even less than usual.

I bought two copies of Dark Vengeance. I’m using over picking up a third, but I should probably calm the fuck down on that score, seeing as the Dark Angels in it will see absolutely no use. Some of the Cultists are earmarked for use as models for my Necromunda gang, the Dart Frogs. As you may recall, I play Necromunda. My gang rolled five (yes, five) ‘Slag’ territories, meaning my gang claims a slice of the Underhive the other gangs sniggeringly call Slaghaven. The whole turf is about as valuable and useful as a punch in the dick.


I’m crazy-tired. Excuse my rambling.

I come to you in need. With the new Citadel paints and the step by step guides in White Dwarf, I can actually risk painting rather than just basecoating and dipping. And, for once, I actually quite enjoy it, though I paint about as ‘quickly’ as I write, which is deeply unimpressive. But I’m having a load of trouble with black.

Black power armour, to be precise. I’ve got various reds down really well, but the black is kicking my teeth in.

What I’m after is that “so black that it’s blue” kinda blackness, as shown in these pics:

But, even more specifically, I’m looking for a guide (or advice) using the new Citadel paints, to keep things simple and achievable for my monkeyish paws.

If anyone can give me any advice, or a link, or something more useful than “You’re shit” and “Use different paints”, then you’ll live forever in the Hall of Valour, and when I inevitably ascend to Godhood over the world’s insomniacs, I guarantee* I’ll reward you by totally buying you a rollercoaster.

The kind of step-by-step guides I mean are the White Dwarf ones, like so, that tell you to Basecoat, Layer, Glaze, and so on:

* Not a legally binding guarantee

September 3, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. Could this be what you seek?

    Comment by Forkmaster | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  2. http://www.bolterandchainsword.com/index.php?showtopic=259565

    Talk to Subtle Discord. He’s got your black & blue hookup.

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • I was just about to post the same link 🙂

      Comment by kizzdougs | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  3. when I wanted that effect on my deathwatch marines, I painted them the darkest blue I could find and then dry-brushed black on top… pretty satisfying if you don’t want a glossy finishing. If anyway you wanted it glossy, try to overcoat them with glossy topcoat. Two beneficts; Glossy finishing and mini protected against chipping and getting damaged.

    Comment by Toni | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  4. I’m a pretty decent painter. I love it.

    Can’t do black power armour though.

    Good luck!


    Comment by primarchs | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  5. The trick to painting black – and as I type this, I can already foresee a dozen contradictory posts by better painters going up before I finish writing this one – is to remember that nothing’s ever proper, full-on black. There are always shades of other colours in there. As a result, you’ll want to start with a black basecoat, do a couple of highlight stages with dark shades (I normally mix another colour into black), and knock it back with a glaze if it gets too much.

    That’s the theory. How about some practice?

    Starting from a white undercoat– No, I’m being a dick. Starting from a black undercoat, do as follows! (This is just one way, the way that I tend to do it. I’m hardly ‘eavy metal standard but I’ve got a cabinet full of models that I think are quite good, and I’m not particularly delusional, as far as I’m aware.)

    BASECOAT a 1:1 mix of Abaddon Black and Naggaroth Night.
    LAYER a 1:1 mix of Abaddon Black and The Fang
    EDGE HIGHLIGHT* with The Fang
    SHADE with Nuln Oil (I normally use an old Badab Black wash, watered down a bit – not tried Nuln Oil yet, but this should still work. If it kills all the colour, try adding some Lahmian Medium.

    That’s what I do, and it seems to work out okay. Give it a go on one model, see if it works. Good luck!

    *Yeah, I added a stage that you don’t normally get in proper painting guides! This is fiddly and optional but makes power armour look rockin’. Personally I’d save it for stand-out models in the army; otherwise it’ll take forever.

    Comment by James | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • This is about how I would do it. The key is to not start with a basecoat of pure black, because otherwise you’d have no way to shade it darker. I’m still trying to use up my inventory of the old GW paints, so I don’t have any experience with the new colors, but I use to basecoat with Black + a little Shadow Grey (The Fang sounds like a good substitute). Then I’d add more Black or The Fang to the mix, depending on if I’m trying to shade or highlight. Line highlights would be done in pure The Fang.

      I’m suprised, A D-B, that you don’t have contacts in the ‘eavy Metal Team. Perhaps Joe Tomaszewski or Keith Robertson are fans of your work 😉

      Comment by Chinh Tran | September 3, 2012 | Reply

      • I know Joe (not super-well, but he’s a lovely dude), and the temptation to text message him to ask is intense.

        But I can almost imagine him rolling his eyes at such an annoying question.

        Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  6. http://corvusminiatures.blogspot.com/2012/09/video-tutorial-painting-black-space.html

    This might also be helpful.


    Comment by Dave Taylor | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  7. The key to effective black isn’t the black, it’s the highlights. Basecoat black, then drybrush with a dark grey (Codex Grey, for example), and highlight with Space Wolves grey (or whatever they are calling it now, I know the shade still exists). Then glaze with Guilliman Blue. You should see some nice, easy to replicate results. Then it’s just a matter of picking out details and edges in brass. 🙂

    Comment by Ben Jernigan | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  8. I’m sure you’ve seen this thread on b+c http://www.bolterandchainsword.com/index.php?showtopic=241839

    I’ll echo the comments of “not really black” as well. After spraying black base with a mix of abaddon black and a tiny bit of a blue grey like fenrisian grey. This stops it being true black. Then highlight by your preferred method using the blue grey scale of paints. Finally use Nuln oil to darken it all down and it will blend all your stages together.

    Good luck maybe post some pictures when their done, around Christmas maybe

    Comment by Geof Andrews | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  9. So I knocked up a quick proof of concept model to show my method.

    I used a Grey Knight as that’s what I had handy.

    Our Black Basecoat:


    As this was just a proof of concept, I only painted the shoulders, helm and backpack.

    Quick and Dirty Highlights:

    And a glaze to pull it all together:

    Hope this helps!

    Comment by Ben Jernigan | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  10. Base: Mix 75/25 Kantor Blue with Abaddon Black, Wash: Nuln Oil, Layer: Mix 75/25 Kantor Blue with Abaddon Black, Edge Highlights: Russ Grey,Glaze Wash: Gulliman Blue.

    Comment by Robert | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  11. I have been playing around with painting a dark blue zenithal highlight over a black base coat, and then highlighting the most extreme edges with very fine lines of a blue grey colour (think back to shadow grey and find a new suitable colour like it) and if you want then give them a further very fine highlight with a lighter grey. And I’d suggest going with a satin varnish as it gives more life to the black. Gloss would look horrible, and matt varnish have a tendency to end up looking dusty.

    Hope this helps a bit 🙂

    Comment by Steffen Søgaard Jensen | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  12. Have to admit, I’m of no real use here. My black tends to be pretty flat black for Ultramarines soft armor joints or Living Metal style “so black that it’s green” for my Necrons.

    I’d posit that you COULD feasibly get the result you’re shooting for by doing this:
    1. Abaddon Black Base
    2. Highlight with Dark Reaper Layer Paint
    3. Extreme highlight with Russ Grey Layer Paint
    4. Nuln Oil Shade
    5. Guilliman Blue Glaze

    You may get better results switching the Glaze and the Shade. I don’t know which order would get you closer to your goal.

    If I owned the greys, I’d test it out for you. As is, this is simply my best guess.

    Comment by Phillip Calaway (TEC) | September 3, 2012 | Reply

    • Also, you might possibly get a better result by combining step 4 and 5 through using Drakenhof Nightshade Shade instead of the other two.
      A dark blue instead of a black and a bright blue.

      Comment by Phillip Calaway (TEC) | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  13. Try highlighting the black with Mechanicus Standard Grey Base, then Dawnstone layer, then Administratum Grey. Progessively painting thinner lines with each layer of grey. also make sure you concentrate the lighter highlights on the extreme edges. Give the whole thing a wash of the Nuln Oil Shade and then Guilliman Blue glaze to give you that blue tinge.
    Happy hunting

    Comment by Action Man | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  14. Rev over on Warseer is an insane painter. He’s been doing old school Grey Knights, getting a velvety black going. Check his post explaining how he does it here :


    Hope that helps!

    ~ Kev

    Comment by Kev Beal | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  15. Listen to 5 & 6.

    In related news, anybody who mentions the word ‘drybrush’ in relation to painting black space-marine armour except in the sentence ‘One should never use drybrushing to paint black space-marine armour’ makes me somewhat concerned…

    Comment by Dr Marco | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  16. 1-Buy P3’s Coal Black

    Comment by Brian | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  17. try starting with a 2:1 mix of abaddon black and kantor blue. As said above, black is rarely ever… Black.
    wash with nuln oil (or even a nuln oil nagaroth nightshade mix)
    For marines you can happily just do edge highlights.
    layer1 grey or blue on all upper and exposed edges
    redo the highest points and where 2 edges meet with layer 2 grey or blue.
    run the side of the brush against the raised edge (rather than the point) to get a better line

    <======== (brush)
    / \ (edge)

    Comment by Owen | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  18. Aaron, I love your skull bases. Have you seen these? I think they would mesh rather well alongside yours!

    Comment by David Pease | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  19. I guess that you have had lots of similar comments but this has been distracting me all day (and I had science to do) so…
    For my Wolf Priest and my Chooser of the Slain I first:
    Undercoated with Chaos Black Spray
    Used a 50:50 mixture of Chaos Black (Abbadon Black) and a dark Prussian Blue that I nicked from my boyfriend (Cantor Blue I guess). Try playing around with different ratios though.
    Washed with Badab Black (Nuln Oil)
    Edge highlighted in the Prussian Blue (Cantor Blue)
    For the Chooser of the Slain I then added a few extreme highlights on some of the feathers in Hawk Turquoise (Sotek Green)
    I would aim for mixing black with a blue rather than a blue-grey because I found that the latter gave a rather dull dark grey colour.
    If you’re going to use it a lot I really recommend making up a pot of the colour (old paint pots are good for this)
    I don’t do a layer after the wash because I’m a) Lazy and b) like the effect on most of my models.

    This is my Chooser of the Slain (I hope it’s ok to link to it) http://lostonfenris.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/chooser-front.jpg. The Wolf Priest is probably more relevant but he was my first conversion and second attempt at highlighting so he’s a little bit embarrassing.

    Comment by lostonfenris | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  20. Ok…there are already some excellent ideas on this post, but I want to share my own experience while painting up my Death Company, Chaplain Lemartes & DC Dred…
    I undercoat in white as I find it easier to see detail…
    A good covering of 3:1 mix of Black paint & ink…
    Now the good bit…a healthy dry brush using Boltgun metal, or Silver if you want to really pull out the detail…
    Then a good wash of Black ink 3:1 mix…
    Works really well to provide detail and perspective to a flat colour


    Comment by Rob | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  21. Awesome! You used my pic up there 🙂 I’ll walk you through the process as its a pretty simple one.

    I start with a testor’s flat black spray enamel

    1) After it’s dry (2 coats should do to make sure you get the majority) I mix up a slightly lighter than charcoal grey (really, really, dark grey, almost black). The reason for this is when you wash afterwards, the black in the recesses will be darker than your armor and so you can tell a difference.

    2) Drybrush fortress grey, and I mean you really need to make sure 99% of that paint is gone. You want only the barest hint of grey to show through but enough to catch the eye.

    3) Wash the model with Drakenhof Nightshade till you’re satisfied. The grey will pick up the tint and it wont be grey anymore.

    That’s how I did the first termie and the lord. As for the other one there, the one with the blue highlights, I did the charcoal grey base coat, then took ultramarine blue and lined the model (thats where you take the edge of the brush and not the tip and run it along the edge of the model to catch a good line) and did a highlight color. If its too light, simply add a bit of nuln/badab black wash to darken it up some. It takes some playing around, but should come out pretty good.

    Hope that helps, if you need any help or questions, I’m Draconis on warseer and Nintura on b&c

    Comment by Joshua Jordan | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  22. Dude how the hell do you function with so little sleep? You seem to blog at the most insane times. Don’t know where you get the staying power from dude but please, pass on the secret!

    Comment by Dorns Padawan | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  23. I usually start with a mix of Abaddon black and Kantor blue (2 parts black, 1 part blue)
    Then I add 2-3 successive highlights by adding Altdorf Guardsman blue to the mix. (a bit more each time)
    Finally I use Drakenhoff Nightshade over all of it to give it a really midnight sort of colour.

    Comment by Braeden | September 3, 2012 | Reply

  24. Speak with John. He’s a genius.


    Comment by Buzz | September 4, 2012 | Reply

  25. I have been painting for a few years and have bought DVD painting guides and read as much possible. I take huge swaths of time off between painting but here here is a recent one I found useful.


    Comment by Tony | September 4, 2012 | Reply

  26. Do you still have Charadon Granite?
    Use that as a base,wash with Nuln Oil,highlight with Charadon
    Doesn’t Nuln oil sound like something a sister of battle uses not to squeak?

    I have a good White recipe too
    Celestra grey,mix Nuln oil with laraman medium 50/50,highlight with white scar

    Comment by Will W. | September 5, 2012 | Reply

  27. There’re a few useful articles on painting black armour on the below link, but not the blue sheen you want. Easiest way might be to start with dark blues, plus lighter highlights and then wash with a watered down black.


    Comment by Thee Matt | September 5, 2012 | Reply

  28. Ok, this may be beyond most of our abilities, but check out Bohun’s tutorial of this Ravenwing Biker:

    Comment by Chinh Tran | September 6, 2012 | Reply

  29. Ok, having actually read what you’ve written about the effect you actually want to achieve, i have the answer for you: [for the sake of pedegree, this is the technique that several former and current Eavy metal peoples use on their own minis… also a gallery with some of my black and white marines is here http://s907.photobucket.com/albums/ac275/thealleycat/Mini%20Stuff/#!cpZZ3QQtppZZ20 though the black parts look darker because of the contrast, irl detail shows well ]

    The answer you are looking for is Hawk Turquoise [now named Sotek blue i believe]

    Prime black as you normally would… anyone priming a mini meant to be black by using white is a masochist.

    Now, add a mall amount of hawk turquoise to pure black, to estimate ratio id say one part in 5 or 6. You should almost not be able to notice the change in colour.

    Use this colour to either paint the edges of all your black areas [or you can drybrush if this is your preferred method] What this will do is ever so slightly lift everything from the black prime and allow detail to show but the mini will still look black.

    Then add a little more turqoise. How much depends on how many highlights you are likely to do. For tabletop standard; add enough turquoise that you have a noticable blue/black colour but not so far that the colour starts to saturate. use theis to pick out the edges of any upward facing surface you want highlighted. Also use on any sharp edges that would catch the light.

    Final stage is to add a little Dawnstone [was Codex Grey] to the above mix, it will lighten the colour but stop it from saturation. Then use this colour to highlight the very sharpest edges where the light would catch from above.

    All the above means that the blue shift in tone will keep the mini looking black, with the highlights shifting to a blue/grey tone like the reference pics you included.

    [Technical blather. The true highligh irl for black is actually white. Black either absorbes all colour or reflects it. Our eyes quite often interpret this as shades of grey. Because our eyes are actually very good at distinguishing the grey scale, if you highlight a mini with pure grey then you can make the whole mini look grey rather than black.]

    Use Hawk Turquoise [Sotek Blue?] to add to black, add a tiny amount of grey to the mix for final highlights. If the mini looks to bright at the end or transitions are obvious, use badab black to pull the colour down.

    Comment by Thomas Redcliffe Salamanca-Darke | September 8, 2012 | Reply

  30. *in Julie Andrews sing-song voice* Shaaaadooooow Greeeeeeeey!

    Comment by Artemis360 | September 10, 2012 | Reply

  31. If you’re looking for a very good paint scheme that’s black but not exactly very black (and also very easy to do), you might want to try Kantor Blue. Then slather with wash, either 5:1 water/abaddon black, or with Nuln Oil.

    Comment by Ben Unay | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  32. So, black is something many painters struggle with. Light has a way of casting itself over 3 dimensional black objects in a way that is difficult to represent on a model.

    I don’t have a tutorial to link you to, but can describe my technique. I am a Black Legion player and have been working on this for about 3 years. Most of my models are painted to above table grade, and I can post some pictures if it helps.

    1) Basecoat the model in Chaos Black.

    2) Highlight the model in a dark gray. To highlight, paint large, blotchy areas of gray on top of the black, where the light goes. This is going to serve as a place where the highlights will end up.

    3) Highlight the highlights in a light gray. Draw blotchy areas over the dark gray to represent the highlights that occur in the middle of large, raised areas.

    4) Wet-blend the dark gray around the light gray. Wet-blend chaos black around the dark gray.

    5) Use light gray extreme highlights on sharp corners, eventually mixing them up all the way to white.

    This gives an even tint and nice pallor to the surface of armor that can be expanded on in numerous ways. Mix small amounts of blue or brown into the paint to give it some tint, the GW grays are really gray.

    Comment by techsoldaten | October 24, 2012 | Reply

  33. you’re looking for french imperial blue. a deep indigo, you’re looking for foundry’s dark Prussian blue, doing it over black, highlight with the other two pots in the triad.

    Comment by Alexis Athena Somerville | March 15, 2020 | Reply

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