Tricks & Tips
1. PRIMARY COLOURS
The three primary colours for paints and pigments are red,
yellow and blue. All other colours are achieved by mixing these
These should not be confused with primary
colours of light (red, green & blue) or those used for printing
(cyan, magenta & yellow).
||2. SECONDARY COLOURS
These are the colours which result from mixing the primary
colours in equal proportions.
50% red + 50% yellow gives orange.
50% yellow + 50% blue gives green.
50% blue + 50% red gives purple.
||3. TERTIARY COLOURS
These colours are those lying halfway between the primaries and
the secondaries: 50% red + 50% orange gives red/orange, etc.
It is customary to show the colours in a circle or wheel, which
was first described by Isaac Newton.
||4. COMPLEMENTARY COLOURS
Complementary colours are those which lie opposite each other on
the wheel - red and green, for example. These colours produce
the highest contrast when placed together.
The hue of a colour is an indication of whereabouts it lies on
the wheel, i.e. which part of the spectrum the colour occupies.
Intensity refers to how bright or vivid the hue is. Left is a
colour wheel with zero intensity values at the centre changing
to full intensity at the outer edge. Mixing a
colour with a shade of grey of similar brightness will produce
these more muted colours, called tones. Intensity of colours is
often called saturation.
The value of a hue, is a measure of how light or dark the colour
is. Colours mixed with white are called tints and have a higher
value than shades - colours mixed with black. The colour wheel
left shows different values, starting in the centre with off
white, and finishing at the outer edge with near-black shades.
The colour wheel is often divided into two halves - warm and
cool colours. Warm colours are reds, oranges, and yellows,
whilst greens, blues and purples are defined as cool or cold
The appearance of a colour is very much dependent upon its context. The
surrounding colours have a great effect upon how the brain
perceives a given colour. The image on the left is composed of
only eight colours, but notice how the green square appears to
almost shimmer against the red background on the top line. A
similar effect may be noticed for each pair of complementary
colours. All the colours appear slightly darker viewed against
the white background, and lighter against the black. Conversely,
the orange squares appear to almost blend in against the red and
So we finally come to
something we can use to help select colours to create accents on
a miniature or building. The greatest contrast will be produced
by using a hue in a complementary colour to its surroundings.
Green gems will stand out most against a red back ground, for
example. In addition, using colours which have similar hues will
produce a more harmonious appearance - choosing one third or
less of the colour wheel, and limiting your palette to those
hues will give far more subtle results than selecting colours
from just anywhere.
||10. RELATIVE VALUES
Another way to produce contrasts, is to use a light colour
against a darker one. The image on the left uses exactly the
same hues as the previous one. The red, yellow and blue have
been darkened to about half their previous value, whereas the
other three colours have been lightened very slightly. In terms
of paint, I have added black to the red yellow and blue, and a
little white to the secondary colours. Notice how the contrast
between the different colours has changed quite dramatically.
The red and orange appear far more distinct against each other,
as do the blue and green.
also that the yellow takes on a sort of dirty green/brown
appearance. This effect happens with paints too, and a "dark
yellow" colour is usually achieved by adding a little red or
orange, rather than black. A near opposite effect happens when a
red colour is tinted - we even give the resulting light red
colour a different name: "pink". In this case, the usual trick
is to add a little yellow to the colour, rather than white.
||11. RELATIVE INTENSITY
This image contains 14 colours. The background colours have been
reduced in intensity, whilst the foreground squares remain at
full saturation, i.e. exactly the same colours as used in
figure 9. Notice how the foreground colours appear to be
less vivid, although they are the exact same ones used in image
than giving high contrasts, the use of a less intense colour
palette will produce a far more subtle appearance.
Many thanks to Yamagata for giving me permission to use this
I hope this will help to
illustrate how the above information can be used to help select
colours for a miniature. Notice the very limited colour palette
which has been used - essentially just shades of three different
first is silver, which is basically a neutral mid-grey colour.
Observe how these areas of the model do not particularly stand
out, other than the areas of high contrast in value. This is
especially evident on the breastplate, where we can white
juxtaposed with black.
other two hues are almost exact complements of one another. The
copper colour is basically a muted red/orange hue. This
contrasts beautifully with the green, which is more towards the
blue part of the spectrum than the yellow.
much more vivid green of the weapon makes this feature of the
miniature stand out most.
Notice also the very dark shading around the head, which serves
as a frame, and draws attention to the face.
Here's a different example, this time to illustrate the
effect of keeping all the colours confined to a small sector of
the overall circle. Notice that nothing particularly stands out
here. The selection of browns (which are actually muted reds and
oranges) gives the figure a more harmonious appearance, despite
having a broader range of different colours than the example
biggest contrast on this model is on the metallic areas, where
black shadows and white highlights occur in close proximity to
the other colours in the palette are similar in their muted
intensities, and closely related to each other in hue. So,
the biggest contrast here is between the different lightness
values. Even then, the lightest colour has a value of around
80%, and the darkest about 35%, so there is nothing extreme to
provide any high contrast.
This third example serves to illustrate
the effect of using colours from a much wider area of the colour
wheel. Many thanks to Imahilus for allowing me to use this
Firstly, notice that all
the colours are fairly similar in value and intensity, and there
are hues from about 3/4 of the available range. Starting with a
purple/red right round to a blue, with an orange/brown, yellow, green
and turquoise between. So whilst the figure is very neatly painted,
the overall result is somewhat confusing, without an obvious
There are many ways in which this figure could be simplified:
darken the orange, red, green and blues, leaving the yellow as
the focus; replace the green and blues with a single, far less
intense colour - a slate blue/grey for example; replace the red
with another blue or green shade; and so on.
In the end it depends on what the figure is
for - this dwarf is fine as a single character model, but a
whole army in these colours would look very garish.
There are an infinite number of colours and colour schemes
available to be used on any figure or other model. I hope the
information and examples presented here, will help to make some
of those choices easier. In the end, much can be learnt
by experimentation, and many people make these choices
instinctively, without realising why they work well. If all else
fails, remember the first rule - have fun with it.