Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Color Question: Tau Battle Suits

by SandWyrm

Dear SandWyrm,
I have a color question for you.  I am painting a Tau XV9 battle suit in the typical Vomit Brown (in my case VMC Medium FLeshtone) scheme.  But I wanted to add a bit more color so I started adding some Blue and Greys to sub-panels.  Although I like the colors a lot, I think it is making my model too busy.  I want to bring some uniformity back to the color scheme, but stay away from the mono-chromatic crisis suits the 'eavy Metal team uses.
Here is a link to my Picasa album for this model.
I am using mostly VMC paints but I have most of the VGC line as well.  My GW paints have mostly turned into sludge, so if you are able to offer any advice, could you suggest paints from the Vallejo line?
Thank you,
PS:  Feel free to post this question and any pictures from my album on your blog.
SandWyrm's Reply:

Your pics are all of individual parts, so I made a quick Photoshop comp of your legs and torso bits so we have something closer to a complete suit to look at.

Here we have your original colors mapped out. You're using a near-complementary harmony of orange-yellow and a slightly blue cyan.

If you remember from my Third Post On Color Theory, complementary harmonies are visually striking because they use opposite hues on the color wheel. That's why they're commonly used on super-hero costumes and such.

Problem is, it's a harmony that screams "LOOK AT ME!!!". So if you're not using it to attract attention to something specific, it'll just create a lot of meaningless visual noise.

What you need to do then is to decide how much hue contrast you want. Maximum contrast is achieved with opposite hues like you have here. You reduce hue contrast by traveling back around the hue wheel until your 2 hues merge.

Let's go half-way back to orange-yellow on both sides of the wheel:

On the left we have a slightly reddish Magenta, while on the right we have a slightly Cyanish Green. This one-quarter chunk of the hue wheel is the widest range that can really be considered an "Analogous" harmony.

Going with a wide analogous harmony like this lets you accent things without drawing too much attention to them.

Now let's cut the difference in half again.

Now we have a desaturated mid-tone Red on the left and a desaturated, slightly greenish Yellow on the right. Again, we have accents and some color interest, but not very much contrast of hue.

And finally...

Here's your model with a Monochromatic scheme, where it's all Orange (just different shades).

GW's typical Tau scheme, BTW is mono-tonal, not mono-chromatic. They're using Orange + Magenta-Red. So I think mixing up the shades in a monochromatic scheme like my orange example above is the way to go.

I could pick out some specific paints for you to use, but I'd rather make you think. There's a nice chart of Vallajo's colors here. :)


  1. Great analysis! If that doesn't help Atreya it will sure help me.

  2. Damn, SandWyrm. That was pretty cool.

  3. very nice, simple yet very informative. That is a great help.

  4. Posts like this is very helpful, thanks man!

  5. SandWyrm,

    Thank you for your explanation. That really helps me. I bought the Vallejo painted chart, so I can probably find a close match fairly easily.

    If you don't mind another question:
    In order to bring some attention to the model I read somewhere that it is a good idea to create a sort of triangle of complementary colors on the model. In this case it would mean some part of the hands or legs and the head should be painted in complementary colors (the vertex of the triangle being the complementary colors). Could you comment on that?

  6. @LumoColor

    Go read my 3rd Color Theory Post. It discusses the different harmonies.


    The way I would approach it is this:

    1) Decide on a master color that you like.
    2) Decide on some Analogous colors, if any, to add subtle interest.
    3) Decide if anything needs to stand out or draw attention. If so, go with a complement or a complementary range.

    The reason I say this is that if you just throw an arbitrary harmony like a Triad on a model, it's not going to COMMUNICATE anything beyond being colorful and pretty. The best artists have a reason for everything they do, including color choices.

    If you look at my SangGuard prototype, I made very deliberate choices to convey a mood. You might be tempted to think that the figure is Black, White, and Red. But it's actually Cyan and Red. It's just that the Cyan is very desaturated and subtle. But having a bit of color in the "Blacks" and "Whites" makes the Red Blood stand out that much more.

  7. Excellent post! I'm banging my head against the wall trying to come up a color scheme for my newly glued-together tau. I'm also going with orange-yellow as my master color. Thanks for the in-depth analysis.

  8. You know it! That's what a Tau super-heavy should look like dammit! :)

  9. SandWyrm,

    I think I understand what you said: keeping a close and small range of colors will convey a singular feel to the mini, but I can add interest by having a range of tones.

    My question earlier was about spot colors. I think the Citadel "how to paint" book said something about choosing 3 spots on your mini to add a "constraining color". I wasn't really sure what that was about.

    I've got your color theory articles bookmarked!

  10. That's seriously helpful analysis and done in a generous and friendly way.

    Thanks for all of your insightful comments!

  11. @SandWyrm

    I'd like to know what you think of the color scheme I've chosen for my Tau.

    I didn't use exact contrasting hues from the color wheel, and ultimately chose colors that I thought looked good together. I wanted to use a darker color for the base armor, and a contrasting lighter color for select portions. My fluff reasoning for this is that the lighter color would naturally draw fire from vital areas to better armored nonessential ones. I used white sept markings on both armor sections to link them together, and used green for specific details as it seemed to pop more than any other colors without being too distracting.

  12. @LumoColor

    If something GW said makes no sense, relax. This happens all the time in the art world. People get used to their own idiosyncratic ways of doing things and then babble on incoherently when trying to rationally communicate something with their left brain that was only ever internalized by the right brain.

    When all else fails, practice. That's the only way to engage your right brain. In computer terms, it's a trainable DSP, not a CPU like the left half is.

  13. SandWyrm, this is by far one of the most reasonable and simple articles on colour theory I have seen in a long time. Kudos!


out dang bot!

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