I’ve received the question on how to paint black a number of times so a few weeks back I put the question to the greater community and have compiled this guide to painting black armor and clothing.
I broke this guide down into a few different sections: background/color theory of black, general tips on painting black, three different methods to paint black, and further reading with tutorials by other bloggers.
Want this as a PDF? I took the extra time on this post to create an eBook for you to download and take with you. Check out the form at the bottom of the post to grab it.
So let’s jump in!
What is Black and Why is it Hard?
What makes black such a hard color to paint? Painters suffer from the opposite problem as painting white: it is hard to shade black. Reds, blues, yellows, they can all be shaded and highlighted. You can change the tone or saturation by mixing in other colors.
Black, well is black.
So while you can’t shade black, you can highlight it lighter greys. Just take a look at this black fabric:
You can look at it and see it is clearly black, but the only place that it is fully black is the recesses. Notice the highlights go from near-black to light grey.
Look at the different black objects above and notice the colors within the black. From the blue tones in the car to the grey-greens in the rock. Texture also plays a part in the highlights as shown by the plastic case having very little variation in color while the car and cloth go from black to near-white.
General Tips on Painting Black
Ok so ready for some tips to paint black? I have more in-depth tutorials below, but here are a number quick tips:
- Leave pure black only in the recesses
- Paint main areas very dark grey
- Add a little turquoise to add some color to the black
- Try other colors to contrast your other colors
- Keep highlights on upper edges, don’t be tempted to highlight all edges
- Think about the texture, metallics should have more extreme highlights
- Don’t just highlight over the black primer, it won’t match the black bottle and touch-ups may stick out. Repaint the whole model with the bottled black.
Methods to Paint Black
I painted up three different Space Marines, well torsos really, to showcase different methods to paint black. The first two, washes and dry brush, are meant for quick and dirty black effects, while the last shows how layering and edge highlighting provide good looking results.
Using a Wash to Paint Black
The first method is by far the messiest but takes very little time of actual painting. Here we will use washes to deepen the recesses with multiple layers.
As shown in the picture above, I started with a white primer. White seems like an odd start for black and perhaps a mid-tone grey would be a good alternative for fewer layers.
The basic steps are to apply multiple a thin layer of black wash, let it dry, and repeat until you are happy with the depth. I also added a layer of turquoise glaze halfway through to provide a bit of color to the black.
Painting Black with Dry Brushing
The second method for painting black is to use dry brushing. It’s not in vogue, I know, but it is quick and easy while providing good tabletop quality results.
The biggest trick with dry brushing black is to do multiple layers of progressively lighter greys, with each layer using less and less paint. I do a final wash a black to tone back the highlights, deepen the recesses, and smooth the brush strokes.
Highlighting Black with Layers
The final method I will highlight is painting black with layers and edge highlighting. It is more time consuming and requires fine brush control. On the other hand, it provides the best results when done well.
I started off by painting a mix of 3:2 Black to Cold Grey over the black primer, leaving the pure black in the recesses. Then add more Cold Grey to get a 1:1 ration and hit all the edges. This does contradict my “don’t highlight the edges” rule, but it helps provide contrast for all the details.
Next, add even more Cold Grey and hit all the upper edges. For smooth areas like the helmet and shoulder pad, add a thicker layer on the top areas and blend back down with more black. Switching to Wolf Grey, highlight only the top most edges.
And finally, to tone down some of the highlights and deepen the recesses, use a detail brush and black wash. But rather than an all over wash, use the brush to add paint only to the recesses.
What is Black? The guys at Massive Voodoo explore different brands’ black paint to determine what black actually is. They rate each on glossiness, darkness, and blackness with interesting results.
Painting Black Armor. Ghool from Hand Cannon shows how he paints the black armor on a Warjack. His basic rule for black: “If you want a surface to appear black, then 50% or more of that surface must remain pure, untouched black.”
Learning how to Paint Black Armor. Ron at From the Warp has a classic on how he did some experimentation on painting black armor. He settled on a combination of zenithal primer, black wash, and an edge highlight.
Black Color Painting Tutorial. Flameon put together a tutorial for very shiny black armor, an almost non-metallic metal look for black. It’s a nice alternative look than the traditional edge highlighting.
Back to You
I hope this guide to painting black was helpful and gives you a couple of ideas to try on your miniatures. Don’t forget you can get a PDF eBook you can take with you for later reference, just fill in the form below to get it.
If you put any of the steps to use, I would love to see the results in the comments below, either upload an image or add a link!
Have other tips to paint black? Leave those in the comments below as well so we can all learn a bit from you as well.