You’ve designed a great Warhammer army. You’ve talked to friends and they think you’ve got a great balance of forces for your style of play. You’ve purchased the army and you’ve assembled it. Now it’s time to get it looking fantastic so you can demolish all opponents in style. What do you want it to look like? What color scheme are you going to use for your army? This article will review some notions on how to approach selecting the color scheme.
The first thing you need is inspiration. Looking at lots of armies is essential for inspiration. The Games Workshop fluff in the big rules books and White Dwarf has great pictures for both 40k and WFB; of course, both genres have the Codex’s or Army Books. There a literally thousands of blogs and dozens of forums online you can scan for great pictures. Another great source, and maybe the best, is going to a larger tournament and looking at armies there. Timing here is important. The best time to look is in between the games during the first and second or second and third matches when players have them on display for paint judging.
When you look at pictures and real armies, ask yourself what you like and why. Really think about it. What are your favorite colors? What style of painting do you like? Do you like darker toned or really bright colors? What emotion do you want to convey? Colors have meaning. Some examples:
- Red is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination, passion, desire, and love.
- Yellow is associated with intellect and energy. (Also joy and happiness, but those don’t seem applicable to either 40k or WFB).
- Combining red and yellow, orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.
- Green symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility, and also safety.
- Blue conveys feelings of trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. (Such an obvious choice for the Ultramarines!)
- Combining blue and red, purple symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. Also extravagance. It is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic.
- White is the color of perfection, and is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity.
- Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. (Now THIS is a color that applies widely to Warhammer.)
Try to come up with a few color schemes. Then think about your army. What do you want to say with your color scheme? Do you like the fluff? (Fluff is the stories and fictional history of 40k and WFB for each of the various races?) Are you making an army based upon the fluff and if so, does that specify a basic color scheme? What does the planet your army’s coming from look like: desert, forest, water, ash waste, ice? Armies tend to pick colors that are sympathetic to the environment they fight in – for camouflage, but also because it will look best. Also, a darker toned army will look more martial; a lighter toned more fantasy.
All of that said, your color scheme choices need to be bounded by some practical, artistic principles. The models are small, and highly detailed. To see those details, you need high color and tone contrast. Color contrast is shown by choosing colors that are opposite on a color wheel; tone contrast is dark vs. light colors. For example, you can’t see a black shoulder strap against a dark brown shirt easily. However, you can see a tan shoulder strap against a dark blue shirt. Also, if you want to paint your army such that all the color areas have depth and high lights, you actually need to choose two or three colors for each color area – one for base tone, the second for mid tones, and finally one (or even more) for high lights.
If you’re painting your army for tournaments, lighter toned armies tend to get judged better. I think this is simply because they are easier to see, but it’s definitely true. Also for tournaments, you’ll need at least three colors.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, can you actually paint the color schemes you’re considering? Using lots of colors may look fantastic, but it’s going to take lots time. It may be fine to spend an bit of extra time working on your characters or key models; but armies are another matter. Is there a way to simplify the paint scheme? Perhaps you can use dipping to make painting armies faster. Will the color scheme work well with your style of painting and the primer you will use? My main style of painting relies heavily on black primer, which just doesn’t work well with some colors.
Once you’ve got the notion down to two or three color schemes, try them out. Do reasonably quick jobs on finished models and see which scheme looks good and is easiest to paint. Show the results to your friends and see which they like. Then, choose your color scheme.
This sounds like a lot of work – but so is painting a good sized Warhammer army. It’s worth spending a bit of time to design the perfect color scheme; and it will make playing with the army that much more enjoyable.