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Vehicle Weathering: The Entropy Way!

01 July 2012 | Jael Edwards

Vehicle weathering: The Entropy way!


In beginning this tutorial I think itís important to offer some insights into what I think weathering is and how it can enhance the look of your miniatures. Firstly, I think it's worth noting a logical progression - good assembly techniques are the foundation of good painting. Likewise, good painting is the foundation of good weathering. None of these aspects can be taken in isolation, and none SHOULD (although the latter CAN) mask weaknesses in prior stages of the process. Essentially, weathering makes your model tell a story - where has this vehicle been? How old is it? Has it been well maintained, or is it on its last legs?

These aspects of painting and weathering tend to be more pronounced in scale modelling, and particularly in diorama building, where the model is not part of a larger army but instead needs to be the centre of attention and blend seamlessly into the fictional environment you as a painter have created for it. However, I think approaching the painting process with these questions in mind allows the painter greater scope to present a unified or themed army. Do the bases on your squads reflect the kind of environment your vehicles have been in? Do the colour schemes tie together? Do they match the display board? All valuable questions to ask in the planning stage of creating an army.

In this case, the 2 Leman Russ tanks I'm going to use to illustrate these techniques are part of my Death Korps of Krieg army. So muted colour schemes, mud, rust and grime are the order of the day. This in itself creates a problem if you are going for high painting scores. I have seen time and time again at tournaments painters who have approached their army from a viewpoint rooted in scale modelling realism lose out to armies painted in quite over-the-top tabletop style simply due to bad lighting. It's simply the nature of the beast that the techniques I aim to illustrate in this tutorial are subtle, and truth be told I would probably make a fairly awful Eldar painter due to my desire for realism over stylisation. But I think painters of many if not all wargame systems and armies can find something useful to take away from this.


Airbrush + Compressor
Model air colours
Dark Yellow
German Green
Other paints:
Tamiya XF-9 Hull Red
Sin industries P242 (Tan for German tri-tone camouflage) filter paint
Burnt Sienna oil paint
Doc O'Brian's weathering powder (various colours)
Vallejo brown iron oxide pigment
Vallejo texture paste (dark earth)
Gloss varnish
Matte varnish
Artistís white spirit
Decal softener
Black ink

Part 1:

Here we see 2 Leman Russes I will be using throughout the tutorial to illustrate the techniques. As these were purchased 2nd hand from our beloved Buy, Swap and Sell forum and stripped, the level of control I have had on them is fairly minimal, and this is immediately visible as you witness the glue residues and various damage on the surface detail of the models. The aim is to use one to illustrate the techniques and keep one in its stripped-and-repainted state as a control. With this in mind, each step of the process will be illustrated by photos of the work-in-progress tank and the control.

In their initial stage, both tanks have been stripped of their original gluggy layers of paint (one even had chunks of balsa wood glued to it which have resulted in a lot of surface damage to the model). They have been painted in a camouflage scheme common for late-war German vehicles using an airbrush. This paint scheme guns as follows (all colours are from the Vallejo Model Air range):

Primer: Grey auto primer

First coat: Dark Yellow

Second coat: Dark Yellow + Sand to create a panel fading effect. Work out from the middle Ė contrary to the way most tabletop vehicles are painted, armour panels fade from the middle out rather than the ubiquitous "edge highlights."

Third coat: German Camo green

Fourth coat: Light brown

Fifth coat: Tracks, exhausts and so forth sprayed with rust

Once this is done and the paint allowed to dry for a day or so, areas where decals sit are primed with gloss varnish. Decals are applied as usual, and then hit with a couple of coats of decal softener. Once this is dry, the gloss areas are brush painted with Testors Dullcoat. The application of these preparatory varnish coats is important - decals adhere best to a completely smooth surface. I prefer to use a brush rather than a spray (despite the awful headaches using lacquer-based products give me), as we want to keep a satin finish on as much of the surface as possible.

At this point, both vehicles would be quite acceptable to put on the tabletop. But this is just where the real fun starts!

Part 2: Filters

Filter paints have been one of the more innovative products introduced to the world of scale modelling over the last decade, and represent something of a departure from traditional painting technique. Filter paints are essentially extremely thin enamel paints, and are used as a form of colour modulation. What does this mean? Colour modulation is a way of increasing the visual impact of the surface area of the model. Even with the panel shading technique mentioned above, a model without this technique can appear quite monotone and dull, especially if it is painted in a single-colour scheme. Conversely, using filters allows the painter to reduce the contrast between different colours in a camouflage scheme, visually representing the fading impact of sun, rain and dust.

The first and most important thing to remember is that a filter is not a wash. They do very different things and require a different mindset to use. The aim when applying a filter is to have the brush damp but not loaded - we want to be like Hunter S. Thompson and aim for "Total coverage". To this end, I use a large, soft brush to apply the filter, having first wiped across a piece of kitchen towel. As the model is painted in a popular WW2 scheme, MIG productions produce a filter paint specifically designed for use over German 3-tone Camo. No paint should be allowed to pool in recesses on the surface - remember this is not a wash! Each coat needs to try for around 2 hours before the next is applied, and I generally find that around 6 coats is about right.

As we can see from the shot of the 2 models together, the one with the filter applied has a warm, satin finish with more visual impact and greater depth of colour, while having the overall contrast blended somewhat.

Part 3: Oils

The advantages of oil paints for this kind of work essentially lie in their long trying time and high viscosity even when thinned. The artists white spirit used to thin the paint, by virtue of its nature as basically highly refined turpentine, allows a lot of scope to use the paint as a wash without the risk of dripping and running commonly encountered when using thinned acrylics or acrylic washes for the task. The high viscosity even at such a thin consistency allows for creative use of capillary action to draw the wash around rivets, handles, hatches and so forth. The trick lies in using just the right amount of paint on the brush to accentuate each rivet head. With this paint scheme I then use Burnt Umber. Another handy product is the Tamiya panel liner bottles. Like the filters, this is a very thin enamel: the tiny applicator brush allows the painter to run a line of paint (which will flow through the recesses and not splash or over-run) down the gaps between each armour panel. It comes in black and brown - make a choice depending on your colour scheme. I tend to use black with this scheme. The advantage of oils for these tasks is that itís a very forgiving medium. Any mistakes can be quickly corrected using a damp brush with white spirit.

Part 4: Enamels

Similar to oils, suitably thinned enamels allow effects outside of the scope available with acrylic paints. I donít use a lot of them - in fact the only one I use is Tamiya XF-9 (Hull red). This colour is a fairly close approximation of the RLM primer colour used on German tank hulls prior to the application of the camouflage paint.

The aim of this stage is to simulate the paint chipping and scratches caused as the vehicle brushes against trees, buildings and the like, and also to represent the chips and wear caused by moving parts (hatches, turrets) and areas of high traffic where the crew climb on and off the vehicle. There are more advanced techniques you can use on larger models (search for "texture mapping"), but a nice collection of chips and scratches help "tell the story" of this vehicle. It's important to keep it tasteful and minimal at this stage. Examine trucks and bulldozers you see as you go about your daily travels and look at where wear and tear on the paintwork builds up.

Part 5: Mud glorious mud

Using the texture paste, a dried mud effect is applied with a stippling action around the tracks, lower sides, lower hull and around the mudguards. Once this is tried, a darker version of this is mixed using the texture paste, black ink and gloss varnish to represent wet mud.

Part 6: rust and soot

Around the areas sprayed with the rust paint, a small amount of oxide pigment is brushed on and fixed using the white spirit. Once this dries, small patches of thicker pigment are dropped onto the surface and fixed with white spirit to represent bubbling rust patches. Blackening around the gun muzzle is applied.

I use different brands of pigment for different effects. For preference I use the Doc O'Brianís pigments as they are very affordable, come in a box with 12 colours and are self-adhesive, which means you donít need to apply the white spirit. However, the Vallejo oxide pigment is much better, so for rust effects I prefer to use that.

So here we have the finished article and some comparison shots next to the un-weathered tank. These are all very simple and effective techniques, and with the exception of the initial airbrush work and the filter coats are very quick to apply.

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