Thursday, June 21, 2012

Painting Miniatures Declassified - Pigments

The show room finish on vehicles only lasted while they were in a paved motor pool.  Even then they get “dusty” just from the environment, whether in an urban or a rural setting.  One way to weather vehicles is to use pigments.  What are pigments?  They are colored powders that can be used to create many different weather effects.  MIG (MIG Website) and Vallejo (Vallejo Website) both produce pigments that are perfect for what we need to do and both have a broad range of colors to cover any situation you can think of.  I will let you make the decision as to which is better…I use MIG for work. This is mostly because that is what the hobby store when I first started experimenting with pigments.  I primarily use pigments to create dirt and mud effects on my vehicles and this is what I will be focusing on in this post. You can also use pigments to create urban weathering.  For instance, brick dust, rubble dust can be simulated…just use the correct colored pigment.  I will make future posts on other weathering techniques and other uses of pigments. 

So…why should you use pigments?  For dirt/dust effects, pigments give a very realistic look compared to a “mud wash” or textured paint.  Think about it.  Real life dirty vehicles look dusty and the dirt has texture to it.  Textured paint (like Games Workshop’s new range of textured paints or mixing a little paint into pumice or glue with sand in it) can give you the color and texture and replicate a freshly muddied vehicle, but are lacking when it comes to a dusty vehicle. Here is where pigments shine in my opinion.  Since they are dusty to begin with, they replicate dusty effects perfectly.  And let’s face it…vehicles are dusty A LOT of the time.  But how do you make a dusty vehicle and still be able to play with it and not rub the dust off? 

Ahhhh here begineth the lesson and a video!  (Pigment Video) 

To get a dusty effect like the PzIVH pictured above I used the following equipment:

- Flat Matte Finished Model
- MIG Pigment: Europe Dust
- MIG Pigment: Dry Mud
- MIG Pigment Fixer
- Worn out “Thick” Paintbrush to use with pigments
- Medium Paintbrush to use with Fixer 

The first step is to determine what you want the dust to look like.  Here your creative storytelling juices can flow.  For my PzIVH, I wanted to have a group of vehicles that have been moving around the countryside and been in action for awhile. I wanted them to have some built up mud and road dust on them, but not too fresh and had been knocked off a bit from their movement.  So this drove me to use MIG’s Europe Dust and Dry Mud pigments.  Fresh mud would be in the tracks and splash guards and the dried mud/road dust would be higher up on the vehicle.  Dried mud/Road dust is lighter in color than the fresh mud which is deeper and darker.  If I wanted fresher mud/dirt I would have used a dark pigment like Track Brown. So now I have my story and colors selected…what next?

Now the fun begins!  The first step is to make sure your model is sealed with a Flat Matte finish and that the finish is completely dry.  I am not sure of the exact physics, but a Flat Matte finish helps the pigments hold to the model much better.  On a gloss finish, the pigments can slide around.  This can be used to good effect if you only want the pigments to rest in the detail.  Here you apply the pigment of choice and, with your finger, rub the pigment off of the high areas.  This can be used to show where troops have been walking around a dusty area. 

Applying the pigments is easy….but can be messy.  To help with the mess that you WILL create, hold the model over a tray to catch any pigment that falls off (you get a 2-fer on recycling…one for the tray and another for the pigment it catches which you can reuse).  If the model has a Flat Matte finish, you can apply the pigment directly to model.  You can brush it on for a thin even coat or tap it on for a more uneven look.  I do something a little different for my tracks and vehicle sides.  I apply fixer to the area where I will apply pigment before I apply the actual pigment.  Then I apply the pigment pretty thick and heavy where I want a built up mud look and a little lighter and “wispy” where I want a dusting.  I probably don’t need to add the fixer first and can still achieve the same look. I did this when I first started using fixer and liked the look…don’t mess with success, but I am going to test it out with a pre-coat of fixer when I get a chance and see if there is a difference.  To get multiple dirt/mud effects, I start high with the lighter colors to show dried mud/dust and then apply the fresher, wetter, darker colors on top of that and lower.  I tap the pigment in spots to get “bigger” pieces of pigment to fall and replicate clumps of dirt. 

Once the pigments are applied it is time for the magic and to make the pigments disappear and then reappear.  “S-s-s-s-s-say whut?”  Yep.  I get my fixer out and a separate brush and then dab the fixer on top of the pigments….everywhere I applied them.  When the fixer hits the pigment, the pigment WILL disappear.  But fear not!  As I wave my magic paintbrush/wand…Hocus Pocus Pigment come into focus…As the fixer dries the pigment will reappear in all its glory!  First time I saw this I freaked out and applied more pigment and then when everything dried I had TOO much.  So anytime the pigment gets wet, the color will disappear and reappear when it dries.  As you apply the fixer you can create different effect.  If you brush it on, you can move the pigment you applied around and basically “paint” the effect on.  Be warned though, this can leave noticeable brush strokes.  I like to the fixer on the brush…pretty heavy…and then gently touch the side of the brush to the pigmented area and let the fixer flow off the brush naturally then lift the brush off and repeat.  This technique minimizes movement of the pigment.  With the fixer applied is there anything else we need to do?

Yessirree Bob there is!  The fixer gives a LITTLE protective shell to the pigment and will keep it safe from mild…very mild…use.  To be able to use the model in a game I recommend giving the model a Flat Matte coat once the fixer has completely dried.  This will lock the pigments into place and they won’t rub off from use.  Using a fixer first is a must before you apply the Flat Matte finish.  If you don’t, especially if you use a brush on flat matte, the pigments will get all smeared and you will have a “was” effect and not the dried mud look. 

One other little trick you can do with vehicles is to add carbon buildup around the muzzle of the vehicles’ main gun.  Just apply some black (MIG Smoke) pigment to the tip and a little down the sides of the barrel and then add your fixer….BAAAAM!  It looks like the vehicle has been doing a good bit of shooting.  This goes a long way in telling your story. 

Let me know what you think…any other ideas/techniques you use


  1. Does the pigment give the dirt a chunkier 3d effect? I'm having a hard time telling from the pics if the dirt/pigment is raised or acts like a layer of paint. I normally just use layers of stippling for dirt and weathering effects. I've always wanted to try out pigments but I was concerned about knocking it off on the game board.

  2. That is one thing I love about pigments... The. 3d effect they give. As long as you don't turn them into a wash, but rather keep them as a "paste" (even that is not the best word) but keep them thick and use a fixed you will have a 3d effect.

    The fixer locks the pigments down pretty good, but if you seal them in with your favorite flat matte finish they wont come off from casual play.

  3. OK you've convinced me, when I start painting up my french I'll give these a try. Thanks Son!

  4. Great tutorial. I agree on the whole "making sure that it doesn't become a wash" issue, that can really spoil the effect. You have executed the muddied effect really nicely on your tank.

  5. @Throskmorton....awesome! Practice a few times on some scrap plastic. first to get teh technique down before you go to your real models. There are some "fine lines" that if you cross it can make a mess. Lookign forward to see the results!

    @ MoW. Thanks man... the whole "making sure that it doesn't become a wash" issue is one of those fine lines. Practice makes perfect!