Friday, June 12, 2015

Color Modulation and Weathering on Soviet Bolt Action 28mm Tanks

It's been hard to get hobby stuff done lately. We have a new baby girl who will be a month old on Monday and I have an almost three-year-old, so I am pretty much on the clock from 630 am to 930 pm. I have been really trying to get in an hour of painting / hobby per day, but when you're exhausted it is really hard to do detail work. Enter Soviet tanks for our Rostov 1942 scenario =)

I have painted a ton of tanks but until now I've been mostly focusing on the techniques I already knew - washes, sponge weathering, pigments etc. I've been reading a ton of  high level painting magazines and books lately. A lot of the techniques and products being used on 1/35 scale hyper-detailed models are coming to the wargaming scene and it is pretty awesome! 

I must admit I was a little scared to start doing this. Mr. Justin from Secret Weapon taught us a lot of these techniques at a class he held at Gamers Sanctuary but I just didn't really grok it then. The good thing is you can always try again but stripping a model.

I'm going to introduce the books I used for this project before I go through some of the steps, then show more of the products I used. Two of these books are amazing and definitely must-haves:

Painting Wargame Tanks
This book was written to mainly focus on 15mm Flames of War tanks but the techniques definitely still work for 28mm. They cover modulation a little bit, but mostly I used this for the weathering techniques. They show each and every step for each tank (and they start basic and then have an advanced chapter) with each and every product used.
I highly recommend this book. The whole idea of using all these different products to weather and make a tank look hyper-realistic can be very overwhelming, and they break it down really well.

Modulation & Light Techniques
This book covers the different ways of showing perspective on tanks. I have done edge highlighting in the past on models, but not much on tanks. It usually ends up looking really cartoony and not something realistic. By highlighting using these light techniques you can make a tank look really 3D and interesting.

They cover four different techniques - zenithal, color modulation, illumination by panels, and spotlight highlighting. Some are more difficult than others in my opinion - I chose to do Spotlight and Color Modulation. Some are based on priming with a highlight and some show you how to work through camo using modulation.

The first thing I did was prime the entire model in a very dark Soviet Green color. I used the color modulation set from Ammo of Mig. These are perfect because they include your dark color, your base color, your light color, and your bright highlight color. You don't have to mix anything - it just works.

After I put on the dark color, then I base colored the model over most of it. I put together two squadrons of tanks - BT7 fast tanks and T-34/76 tanks. The BT-7 tanks were spotlight highlighted and the rest of the tanks were painted using color modulation. I mostly wanted to try the two to see the difference and see what I could do. I am definitely a beginner and NOT an expert! Here are my support tanks - a T-28 and a KV-2.

So you can see here that I basecoated the models, applied the base, put the highlights onto the 'higher' areas of the model, then put on the really bright highlights on the area of interest. I put sponge weathering chips on the edges to show some real wear. I took these photos in sunlight so it is kinda hard to see the effect. I used the same color modulation effects on the T-34/76s:

So you can see here again I tried to show light where it would naturally hit - the high parts of the tank, the front track guards, etc. Edges of small details were highlighted as well. It looks a bit cartoonish right now but the weathering will knock it down.

You can see with the BT-7 tanks I did the spotlight highlights. The focus is drawn on the front hull of the tank and turret. The rest of the tank was left a bit darker. I don't know which one I like better.

I lined up the two squadrons so you can see the difference. It is kinda cool to have a visual difference between the two. They won't be on the table together very often so it isn't a big deal either.

Once I was finished modulating, sponge weathering, and decaling, I went on to doing the real weathering. The products I used here were also mostly by Ammo of Mig:

The Mig washes are REALLY stinky, just FYI. They are oil washes (I believe) in that it takes a bit longer for them to dry, so you get time to move it around if you need to. I recommend doing a varnish before putting these on so you can then use mineral spirits to remove the excess. 

To be quite honest, I'm really used to the GW washes and just slathering it on and making it look good. It doesn't work so much with flat surfaces. These washes work well in that if you accidentally put some on a flat surface you can just remove it with the spirits.

You can see the wash here in the slots and detail spots on this Tiger from Patch wrote a great guide on how to use them there.

Streaking and grime effects REALLY make a tank look real. You take it and put it on the model's flat sides every few millimeters and then blend with spirits. It knocks down a lot of the cartoony-ness of the modulation and looks amazing.

The last thing I did was put on some fuel stains around the engine areas. I was careful with this as the books I read mentioned not to just throw it everywhere. It really adds another layer to the weathering effects.
I varnish everything then put on pigments from Secret Weapon Miniatures last. To be honest I mostly just use a Q-Tip to put them on the tracks, hull, etc and try to blend it in to make it look like the tank has been everywhere. If I need to I'll mix it with water and use a brush to put it in detail areas.

The Finished Products

I was asked to do a comparison shot pre-weathering and post weathering. You can see here (I took them in a lightbox - sorry about that!) the grime and pigments have knocked down the modulation quite a bit to a more realistic level.

Please ignore some of the artistic license I've taken with the decaling. Apparently KV-2s were mostly sent to the field with no decals or numbers whatsoever to keep the Axis powers from getting intel on them. I really, really, really love how this tank turned out. It is perhaps the favorite one I've ever painted. The grime and streaks really contrast with some of the modulation to provide a great weathering effect. I added dirt and rust to the turret to show the effect of the environment.

The spotlight again started out pretty cartoony and becomes more believable after weathering with grime, rust, dirt, and streaks.

The mud on the tracks were really subdued compared to stuff I've done before, mostly because I didn't want to go way over the top. The wash settles really nicely into details and picks them out - especially the turret pieces, the doors on the front, etc.

The effects really look great when you put them all together.

You can see where the washes really settled nicely into the grating etc. and brought out the details. The streaks look great on the sides of the T-34/76s, moreso than the other vehicles. I focused in on the back of the tank where some of the engine parts are and really put in some oil stains - around the grates and the little port there.

All in all I think the effort really paid off - I got a ton of complements at our Rostov game and the tanks really are a step above what I've done before. Thanks for taking a look - check back next week when I am going to review terrain by Crescent Root Studio.


  1. Outstanding article! Thank you for posting the information as I will use it while working on my new German vehicles and troops.

    1. Thanks! They do sell sets to modulate dunkelgelb.

  2. Hey man, tanks look great!

    How did you find the MiG paints overall!? I'm looking to drop a substantial sum on picking up enough paints to do my Waffen Armour and I was looking about for someone to give me a semi-honest opinion on them...

    Did you have a reason for going with another companies Pigments or was that more a matter of convenience/already having them?

    1. Thanks dude! I thought the paints themselves turned out really good. I have had one bottle of olive drab that just didn't seem to work, but that was it. The wash turned out really well once I knew how to use it. I am definitely going to use them again.

      I have always used Secret Weapon Miniatures stuff since I learned about them - I've met Justin and everything works really well. They're also USA based, so it is really easy to get a hold of them.

  3. Righteous!

    Thanks for the quick reply that was definitely the nudge I was looking for to get in bed with MiG, I have the BA set for late war but I'm looking to take my painting to the "next level" also, I'm not unhappy with them, I just wanted something a little more and MiG's sets just look excellent!

    I have the Painting Tanks+Late War paint set in my shopping cart, glad the book is so handy!

    As far as Secret Weapon goes, they make the slickest resin bases, I bought a metric "force unlawful carnel knowledge" ton of their Corpse Field bases and the skulls and body parts to dress them up, for the volume I purchased there were no miscasts/bubbles or blemishes, I was suitable impressed with their QC, they mixed up 2 bases, but without fuss not buss fixed me up good and proper!

    Not enough good things to say about them!

    As far as Crescent Root goes, I am looking into buying a mountain of their scenery also so I look forward to hearing about it! I was a half inch from buying their whole town setup quite some time ago but life interfered...

    1. As a side note: where abouts in Michigan are you BA'ers hiding? Me and my humble gaming group are located in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

      Filthy fans of battles both small and large (I was never a "just the tip" mind of guy, myself and one other are desperately attempting to recreate some conflicts from Kursk and then I want to replay the military career of "Das Reich" (the 2nd Waffen SS) as they blazed a trail from west to east and then back again.

    2. We are in the Flint area and the metro Detroit area. We actually had some visitors from St. Catherine's come over for our recent scenario game. Check out the MichiganGT - we'll be doing a Bolt Action tourney there. Thanks!