The Good, Bad And The Ugly: A Painting Guide For Mech and Starship Wargamers

What are the correct Martian, Rebel, or X’thingion uniform and spaceship colours in the 25th century? The bad answer: we don’t know. The only right answer: if you research movies and the internet, good suggestions will pop up. SF colour guides follow strict codes and conventions. Below 1) a summary of familiar colour palettes combined with 2) an updated colour wheel 3) practical painting tips. With links to inspirational pictures.

It’s a generic painting guide for 6-15mm, although I wrote it as preparation for my own Dropzone Commander project. I will soon publish a Dropzone Painting Guide as follow-up.

Rule 1: Remember, SF follows archetypes

Yes, all spaceships and 3000 AD-tanks, including the form and the colour, are of course fantasy. The whole idea of explosions, sound and fire in empty space, 270 degrees below zero, no oxygen, is nonsense, (check this great video about the physics of space battles). And why would a spaceship need wings and an afterburner?

However, 50 years of comics and Hollywood movies have dictated the appearance of the archetypical SF cruiser, jet, tank, mech and walker. SF colours and patterns communicate: for example that a model is hi-tec or lo-tec; ‘human’ or ‘alien’; ‘good’ or ‘evil’; regular or pirate. Think. Why do the evil Tie-Fighters have big black shields while rebel fighters are represented as light grey, almost white, space jets with red lining – like medieval white knights? Why does black robed Darth Vader wear a WW2-German Stahlhelm? Your painted model will not convince if it doesn’t copy an archetype.

A catalog of 75 inspiring spaceship concept art can be found here.

Rule 2: silver, grey or black metallic are dominant

In the 1950’s the common image was the silver/ metallic flying saucer. Star Trek brought us space battleships in battleship grey, styled as flying saucers with delta wings and red lining. Star Wars was inspired by WW2 dogfight movies, thus featured jets with afterburners and wings (the Death Star trench run is a remake of the final scenes of WW2 movie ‘Dambusters’).

‘Evil’ hi-tec is often black metallic. Compare the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the TIE-fighter and the black lined Cylon Raider from Battlestar Galactica. below.

Silver and black metallic radiate hi-tec, check the colours of your computer, phone, television and CD-player. Grey is a battleship colour common for space (battle)ships. White is NASA. Light grey with red lining is Star Trek and Star Wars. Often SF ground troops follow the same colour conventions.

Rule 3: Bright Colours For Manga, Transformers, 40K, Mech; Not For Classic SF

Bright blue, red and yellow are popular for GW toys and manga-inspired cyborgs. It’s fantasy, toyish, medieval knights in futuristic armour.

For the ‘classic SF’ like Dropzone Commander models I dislike this style, at least for human UCM and PHR. It might be excellent for large 15mm-28mm 40k models and Battletech mechs. If it looks like a transformer, walks like a transformer and talks like a transformer, paint it like a transformer! But if not…

UCM in red, found in cyberspace. How ugly. Sorry. The owner must have been influenced by Epic Armageddon, from GW, (below) which is definitely more cartoonishly sculpted than Dropzone Commander.

There is one exception to the rule and that is ‘rogues’. ‘Classic’ rogue and pirate battleships are often metallic with colourful parts, as a signal that they’re not ‘mainstream’ and not ‘uniform’, but ‘irregular’.

Resistance fleet

Rule 4: WW2 Camo Looks Fine, But…

Standard camo – olive drab or sand yellow basecoat or grey with a camo pattern – is a common painting choice in SF.

A Brigade Models 15mm SF Grav tank

It’s a perfect and very safe choice for semi-realistic ‘classic SF’ models. I’m not overenthousiastic, however. Standard camo may remove the futuristic look of a model, is difficult without airbrush and decreases the beautiful hard contours of a SF miniature, even more on small scales. If you go for it, try as a more creative, more contrasting, more ‘alien’ camouflage.

Brigade Models, 15mm. A nice two-tone contrasting camouflage pattern
Green Stuff Industries blog

Interesting variation: some hobbyists paint futuristic rectangular and square camouflage instead of standard cloudy stripes.

6inchmove blog

Notice how all painters above have accentuated the black lines between the panels of the models.

Rule 5: Superhero Colours Can Typecast Your SF Vehicles.

I’m a big fan of what I call the ‘superhero colour combinations’. When in doubt, I check this superhero colour theory link.

  • Strong heroes wear red and blue (Superman)
  • dazzling, energetic heroes red and yellow (Iron Man)
  • distant wise heroes / police types blue and yellow (Batman):
  • evil geniuses wear green/purple (Green Goblin);
  • dark clowny heroes purple/orange ;
  • true evil characters purple/orange/green/cold white – yes, The Joker, and Kingpin.

Grey and black give heroes and villains a darker, more gothic effect – compare classic Batman with modern Dark Knight-Batman. Earlier, I successfully used the superhero/villain palette for my Zombicide survivors and zombies.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor klingon spaceships
A Klingon spaceship. Orange, green, grey and purple

I also used it for my Scourge army. The Scourge are alien hi-tec bloodsuckers. Evil. My base colour for the dropships and vehicles is brown gold metallic – orange. I combined it with green – aha, evil. They didn’t look evil enough, so I added purple and white. Classic supervillain Joker/Kingpin. See below.

Scourge Dropship: almost a Klingon fighter, but upside down. Orange, green, white, purple.

Rule 5: Analogous Is Best For Mass Armies

I hadn’t painted fantasy / SF miniatures for a very long time so I needed to rediscover the painting style. I stumbled upon a helpful colour wheel from Sandwyrm. It’s helpful because it connects the colour wheel with Citadel colours.

I recommend to read his 3-part pictorial essay, with examples and comments. Summary:

  • Analogous colors are hues which are close together on the colour wheel. Miniatures painted in analogous colours often look fine. Analogous is the best way to communicate an intense feeling or unify a large number of elements like miniatures
  • Complementary colours occupy opposite positions on the color wheel. This is the best way of showing contrast, particularly if you paint most of your image or miniature with one color and some important detail with the other.
  • Besides a straight-up complement, artists will also contrast an analogous range of colors with a complement to that range.
  • If you highlight, add white. Because if you highlight analogous (purple with light blue as highlight, or orange with yellow as highlight, the result is less natural.
Here you see blue and cyan, two analogous colours, combined with complimentary red.
This Space Marine has the same colour palette as the Incredibles picture above: blue, cyan and red.

So, how many contrasting colours should you use for SF armies?

Not many Few. Try (mainly) metallics with analogous colours, maybe small parts in a contrasting (complementary) colour. I tried three-tone-palettes (orange/green/with too much purple for Scourge, blue-grey-red for UCM, but that was ugly. Somehow, too many or too bright colours on a small model are distracting. In SF-movies hi-tec planes and tanks never look like an African T-shirt. In the end, I limited the use of a (third) complimentary contrast colour to small parts of the model.

Paneling and analogous colours: a step-by-step-example

2002 Golden Demon winner Joe Wiedeman from Cincinatti published back in 2008 a spaceship tutorial instructable that I uncovered on TMP. The style was not suitable for my Dropzone dropships, but might be perfect for big space cruisers and battleships.

I noticed btw that in this example he is using analogous colours in the green spectrum, he accentuates panels and geometrical shapes. Thus, the spaceship has a ‘typical’ futuristic appearance and doesn’t resemble a mere WW2-in-space-plane. Thumbs up for his painting.

His step-by-step-pics below, from basecoat to finish:

Rule 6: Ink, Don’t Paint

I don’t believe in hypes so I don’t believe in GW Contrast Paint. Not as such. GW traditionally promoted painting on a black undercoat and sold their customers pigmented, opaque acrylic paint. They also sold inks. In 2019 they revived an old modelers technique known as ‘stain painting’, (diluted paint over a white undercoat) and introduced a new range of improved inks, the so-called Contrast Paints.

That said, I think that the fine lined 6-15mm models need very thin layers of paint. Thick paint eliminates the fine lines between the panels that are IMHO essential for the SF appearance. Even more with Dropzone, the models have very fine details. Thus I recommend to apply a thin light undercoat and a coloured wash – Contrast Paint.

But you don’t need Contrast Paint to contrastpaint. Instead of buying an expensive new range I use my old GW inks, and I bought Vallejo thinning medium to dilute my standard Army Painter and Vallejo paints. AP sells coloured washes btw with the same effect as Contrast Paint. Vallejo Model Colour is more transparent and fluid than Vallejo Game Colour or Army Painter.

In short: Contrast Paint is a good choice. Other options are available. Anyway, make sure that you ink the model and/or use very transparent colours.

Expert tip: I bought Vallejo metal medium. If you mix it with wash/ink, it will give a metallic look: chrome red, silver grey, etc.

Rule 7: Paint Reflecting Cockpits

All serious spaceships have serious reflecting cockpits. Blogger Four Realms of Chaos published a good 6-minute instructable on YouTube.

Rule 8: Never Forget The Plasma Effect

You better return to WW2-wargaming if you hate plasma guns because they are dangerous for humanity, bad for the environment or if you’re not able to paint plasma guns. But maybe read this easy tutorial here, first.

Rule 9: Buy decals

Decals on wings and tanks enhance the look of the miniature, and when camouflaged, even more so. Magister Militum sells WW2 aircraft and tank decals you can use. I bought SF Hammers Slammer decals from Brigade Models. Piranha sells Battletech decals.

Rule 10: Panels! Panels! Panels!

SF is all about blingbling, panels and contours. Extra lining, extra highlighting and extra contouring is advisable according to all instructables on the web. All painters in the instructables reline the panels with a dark wash and all advise to highlight the panels, instructable here. Dropzone suggests a nifty trick btw, to scratch off a little paint from the corners.

A Word About Dropzone Commander

I like large land battles in small scales. I play Napoleonic and WW2 in 6mm so 6mm SF seemed a logical choice. The 10mm DZC miniatures however are very well sculpted and I think that 10 (and 15mm) does more justice to the individual beauty of SF than tiny 6mm. The 50-pound (now OOP) 2-player set with 2 armies and cardboard scenery was a bargain and the boxed armies and discounted scenery sets still are. Not only for DZC, but for many available SF games, like Quadrant 13, Gruntz, Dirtside, Future War Commander or Dark Horizon.

Useful links

How to paint ‘evil’ alien (Dropzone) spaceships

From the Late Night Painting Blog

Two years ago – then already long overdue – I blindly bought a discounted Dropzone Commander set. The box gathered dust on my shelves, but finally, more then 4 years after the peak 🙂 it’s party time! In this short blog I share my impressions after unboxing and show you how the effective Cartoon Supervillain-colour scheme can be applied to spacecraft. Any evil alien spacecraft, the palettes are universal.

Unboxing

Even post-hype this game is a bargain and still a must have. As you see above, the resin sculpts are beautiful, better than Adeptus Titanicus or 6mm SF, incredibly high standard. No mould lines, and glueing the parts was easy, perfect fit. A 28mm Bolt Action miniature is less detailed and harder to glue than these tiny spaceships, I discovered.

(more pics on the blog of Gemana)

In my original 2-player box (now sold out), sturdy cardboard scenery is included, Buy it asap! The highly useful set, discounted to only 20 pounds) is still available at TTCombat. 20 pre-cut buildings and 24 tiles is a bargain for all 6/10 and 15mm players. You can also download the buildings for free via TTC’s website. It’s useful for all modern and SF games.

The now OOP paperback rulebook is (was) gorgeous. TTCombat sells a new version 2.0. But the previous ruleset 1.1. can be found as PDF and you can still buy the ‘Reconquest’ supplements for a discounted 15 quid as a bundle.

It’s a simple, fastplay, but very cinematic game. DZC 1.1. had positive reviews in the past. Check Shut Up And Sit Down, for example, with tons of pictures. SU&SD wrote:

You will activate a battlegroup, you will use your ruler to move the pieces in it, you will shoot things by rolling some six sided dice to hit and then re-rolling them to damage. There is even a damage chart, although it’s a simple one. In other words, if you’ve ever played a popular wargame I keep having to obliquely reference in these columns, nothing here will surprise you.

(…)

Lots of games have transports, where you put your little things in bigger things to move them across the board. They are usually boring. But DzC makes the daring move of taking these transports as its central conceit. Dropships are absolutely crucial to combat. They are fast, they can pick up and drop off units in the same turn, and they can (usually) fly over intervening terrain.

(…)

I don’t know yet if I will become a regular DZC-player. If the game might disappoint me, I can play Quadrant 13 (an IABSM variant), Future War Commander (a Blitzkrieg Commander variant) or BattleTech with the same set.

Painting aliens as cartoon villains

Colours send coded messages. I experimented earlier with superhero and supervillain colour schemes for Zombicide. Disney and Marvel use the same colour codes: primary colours red-yellow-blue are ‘good’, secondary colours green-purple-orange are evil.

As you see the supervillain palettes give easy combinations that always work fine together for evil types.

Scourge: no monotone

Scourge miniatures are clearly inspired by crabs, scorpions, the octopus and other sea creatures. See below. I tried to find Octopus colour schemes, but they kept changing colours :-).

File:Octopus-vulgaris-4.jpg

Simple painting schemes and the official painting guide advise to paint Scourge purple or grey/metal and purple.

TT Combat

Purple is also an ‘evil’ colour. As you see above purple is combined with orange, The simpler painting instruction advises grey metal with purple dots. Although effective, monochrome or grey/purple colour schemes are often quite boring, IMHO.

Purple with green and/or orange?

Evil purple should be combined with evil green and evil orange, to make it arch-evil.

Dropfleet Commander The Scourge Battlecruiser Akuma/Banshee
Purple and green
Dark purple and brass orange, with blue

Like below: the painter below combined evil green with bone yellow

Image

I liked that two-tone-yellow/orange-green approach. However the miniatures look reptilian and non-metallic. Orange, in metallic version, is gold or copper. In steampunk pictures it’s often combined with emerald green, the paler, the more evil it is. A few internet pics to give you an idea.

Above a ‘friendly’ steampunk scheme. Evil steampunk is paler, with green fading to white. The octopus is a common steampunk icon. Spaceships images that I liked were very copper with green, pastel blue, and grey.

So the major colour scheme should be copper orange with pale green. I was tempted by the purple/brass scheme below but green/evil gold/evil copper is flashier 🙂

Brass supervillains: work in progress

I primed the vehicles grey and basecoated them with GW’s Gehenna’s Gold. Busy now with orange and other details, and shiny purple. They must radiate evil, from the first moment they enter the board.

Infantry in basecoat: German field grey combined with purple pants and brass helmets. White, purple, green, orange, thats vintage Joker, indeed. I will brighten them up and add pale greens and purple.

I haven’t decided about the UCM colour scheme yet. UCM are the human army in the game. So I might paint them in camo WW2, in a vintage dark/blue Batman colour as antagonist to the supervillain scheme or in stylish black and gold: the new Batman Dark Knight of John Player Special Formula One palette. I will post a full update when the project is finished.

Uniform Guide: Russian Uhlans & Cossacks

Yes, painting guides for the white Russian Cuirassiers, green dragoons and colourful hussars are easy to find online. Apart from the Baccus Painting Guide I consult the well-researched website napoleonistyka.com. Russian uhlans and cossacks are a different story however, no easy results. A quicky below, in addition to the regular sources, for myself and the Napoleonic wargame community.

Russian Uhlan colours 1812-1815

Lithaunian lancers

Blue jackets, grey pants, girdles, and saddlecloths, with the following distinctions:

  • For the Yamburg — raspberry collar/facings/trim, white shapka headdress, with red braid and pompon; white top half to the pennon, with a narrow raspberry stripe, and a raspberry lower half,
  • For the Orenburg — as above, but with raspberry shapka headdress, with yellow braid and pompon; blue top half to the pennon, with a narrow raspberry stripe, and a raspberry lower half, with a narrow blue stripe
  • For the Zhitomir — red collar/facings/trim; blue shapka headdress, with white braid and pompon; yellow/blue pennon
  • For the Siberia — as above, but with white shapka headdress, with red braid and pompon; yellow/white pennon
  • For the Vladimir — blue collar/facings/trim; blue shapka headdress, with yellow braid and pompon; yellow/blue vertical pennon
  • For the Taganrog — as above, but with white shapka headdress, with red braid and pompon; yellow/red pennon
  • For the Serpukhov — blue collar; red lapels, facings, trim: red shapka headdress, with yellow braid and pompon; blue/red pennon

(Check Mark Conrads translation of a Russian 1853 army handbook for more details). Russian lancers are probably overlooked by wargamers because they were converted from or to cossacks or hussars and less ‘iconic’ for the Russians than the cossacks or the big cuirassiers.

French or Austrian lancers can be converted, but for my 6mm Russian army I prefer the Baccus ‘Austrian’ Lancers. French Polish Lancers have a big emblem on their czapka apparently.

Lead Mountains 6mm Vladimir Lancers

Cossacks

Cossacks had an irregular blue uniform. My Osprey guide:

“simple; a blue jacket (with a white frog on the cuff or cape), fastened with hooks; a pair of loose trousers, a black lambswool cap made from which depends a red pandour sack, a plume on the side of the cap, or a cloth cap with a kind of sack hanging behind, in which he stuffs his provisons and a white or black hair Circassian short cloak’.

Red facings and trouser stripes were common; and ‘a broad leather belt, Principal weapons are a pike about eight feet long, and a pair of pistols. A black belt crosses their left shoulder, to which is attached a sort oftin cartouch box, holding ammunition, and surmounted with a ramrod.”

Front Rank Miniatures
Lee’s figurepaintingtherapyproject blog

In 6mm they can be painted as above or with more colour variation, to accentuate the irregular status.

PS the lancers on the copypasted 28mm Russian Lancer-image that is the featured image of this blogpost were painted by blogger Lace&Big Heads. Great paint job!

Speedpainting Zombicide? Try the Supervillain/ Superhero Colour Scheme!

Last week my new family board game Zombicide arrived with 76 zombies. And a few heroes. I wanted to paint them quickly. Just grey is …. just grey.

I wanted an EVIL colour scheme

I checked the web. I started with the zombie horde. Villains/supervillains dress in purple, green and orange.

I copied this scheme. Manic evil. Great.
Many zombies have a greenish skin. Combined with purple and  a touch of orange you have the perfect dark villainous zombie horde.

So I carelessly and quite randomly splashed green, purple, orange and a few variants on the miniatures, quick-quick-10 per hour, not too neatly. They’re dead already! and, btw, will be covered in blood and dark varnish, so who cares about precise detail? I painted all bases black to accentuate the PURE EVIL! A grey highlight finished the pre-Army Painter job.

For the Abomination, Zombicide’s arch-boss, I blatantly copied the Joker’s colour scheme.

The H.E.R.O. colours

With the zombies painted as cartoon villains, a superhero colour scheme for the Survivors would be a logical choice. Superheroes wear primary colours. Red/Blue is dominant, Red/Yellow is vibrant, and sometimes blue/yellow is chosen, check Batman or the original blue-yellow X-Men. Blue/Yellow is police-ish. Some heroes are yellow/green (Green Lantern) or red/yellow with a green subcolour (Robin)
Notice that heroes are most often dressed in the primary colours red, blue and yellow, and the villains in the secondary colours purple, green and orange. Thus you have a primary/secondary colour contrast. Superheroes more often have white accents (Wonder Woman, Thor, Captain America) while supervillains wear black more often. I primed the girls red, the office worker and the police-officer blue and the old hipster Ned and the boy yellow-brown.

Here they are. Ned on the left is painted as the Green Lantern, the girls were inspired by Spider(wo)man and Wonderwoman, the police officer is painted as in grey/black/blue and yellow like the Batman, the office worker has the Superman colour scheme, and the boy was painted as Robin.

The zombie giant in the left corner is the vintage Joker.
I could write a lot about speedpainting, but to make a long story short, I followed standard techniques. Dipped the monsters in black and the heroes in brown, to accentuate evil/good, and highlighted the heroes extra to make them stand out on the table. I covered the zombies in dark red blood that I highlighted with pure red for extra drama.

I finished the project within a week, 4-5 evenings I suppose. Happy with the results. For newbies: just be confident, keep it simple and start dipping. Have no fear! Not for zombies, at least.

I played the game today with my 9 and 10 year old kids (I try to infect them with my miniature gamers disease) and it was instant fun. Very Scoobydoo! And So Much Better Than Catan!

Painting Private Ryan: a 6mm-how-to

Creating a Hollywood action army in 6mm

Last year I finallly started a 6mm WW2 project after several years of collecting and painting 6mm Napoleonics. I like grand scale battles. I bought armies for the Blitzkrieg Commander II ruleset. When browsing for 6mm-pictures and painting guides I often found quite similar, relatively dark armies. On many internet paint blog pictures it was hard too see the difference between a 6mm Axis and an Allied unit.

Besides, WW2-basing looked static, Napoleonic in fact: the miniatures are centered or evenly spread out on a base, and standing in line. In Hollywood and my favorite video games, soldiers run for cover. 

I don’t want to sound derogatory. If you want your miniatures to ‘blend in’ I understand. But I respectfully disagree. I want my 6mm-miniatures to stand out, even in this camouflage war. Recognizable – just as my 6mm-Old Guard or my Black Brunswickers.

So instead of a more conventional approach I experimented with brighter-than-normal earth colours, as much colour distinction between the uniforms as historically possible, and a scenic ‘cinematic’ basing. My 6mm soldiers kneel, hide and run behind scenery. I use signs and of course decals. I made diorama bases to get a gritty Band of Brothers/Saving Private Ryan/Return to Castle Wolfenstein-look, clearly visible from a meter distance, like below.

Finally I wrote this instructable. Content:

  • which vehicles to buy: GHQ or something cheaper?
  • which infantry to buy?
  • basing system; why you should use a logical universal basing system for 6mm?
  • painting: how to exaggerate the minimal uniform colour differences
  • decals: tedious, but don’t hesitate, Just Do It!!
  • Spielbergian basing: how to make more individual bases with miniatures hiding between ruins, houses, oil drums and walls with propaganda posters
  • final words: difference between 6mm Napoleonic an WW2 painting projects

A Hussar Painter Moves To The 2nd World War

I have loved Napoleonic miniature painting since I was a boy and WW2 always lagged behind. WW2 is so monotonous. A big block blue French Old Guard is an attractive view in 6mm and totally different from the shining red British line infantry, even from a meter distance. Units have flags and are instantly recognizable, if painted well. For example, a block of British hussars (not mine), below.

(courtesy of painter papayankee at mywargaminglife.com)

WW2 miniatures are dull grey, brown, green: fifty shades of grey without the sex.

I have a long running Napoleonic 6mm painting project, but for a change I bought 6mm WW2 last year. With, however, the same ambitious goals: distinctive armies, realistic but DISsimilar, with the same ‘wow-is that possible in 6mm’-effect as massed 6mm Napoleonic regiments have. Yes, Brutus says that I’m ambitious – and Brutus is an honourable man. Here’s what I did.

Choice of miniatures: Irregular vehicles and planes

The prevailing opinion is that GHQ has the best 6mm WW2 miniatures, at least the vehicles. This is GHQ, two German tanks.

Beautiful miniatures. Wonderful pictures. With a good painter and good photographer any 6mm miniature can look as impressive as any 28mm miniature.

But the price! 12 dollars/9 pound or 10 euro for a pack with 5 miniatures = 2,50 dollar/plus/ minus 2 pound or euro per miniature! Yes, I’m ambitious. I would sure buy GHQ if I had the money. But I’m an honourable man :-).

Other manufacturers are cheaper and not too bad. Below, Heroics & Ros, 55p per miniature

Below in comparison with GHQ

(the GHQ model on the left)

And below Irregular, one of the uglier pictures from their website, same price range as H&R

From a distance it looks better:

And this is a discounted armoured division from Irregular, from 3 ft / 1 meter distance:

In fact I think that from a distance, and properly based, the general look of these miniatures is the same. Below grey Irregular and khaki GHQ. The further away, the less obvious the difference.

Above: enlarged. Below: as you view them from a distance.

You see?

Below: painted tanks from 6 different vendors, including high quality GHQ and low end H&R and Irregular. Notice that they all look the same, even on this enlarged picture.

(original pics from the website wargames.nordalia.com)

A penny saved is worth two in the bush, as they say in English, or ‘it is a six of one and half a dozen of the other’. So instead of 40 GHQ vehicles I bought three Irregular armored divisions, more than 120 different vehicles, plus relevant scenery like bunkers and pontoon bridges. I know that some wargamers are relentless about Irregular and that reviews of Irregular vehicles are mixed. However, the same reviewer wrote about Irregular WW2:

But as we went through and painted them, we remembered that most detail is lost at three feet away, and when the figures are about the size of the head of a 28mm miniature, detail requirements go down.

Those of us who play together regularly run the gamut where WWII Micro-armor is concerned. The Ninja is happy with three cans of spray paint – light gray for the Germans, Green for the Americans, and desert yellow for the British. The WebMistress is a fan of flesh on hands and face of each figure, and The GM is a stickler for trying to paint everything the artist put into the figure. Since The GM (that’s me!) did this review, they’re mostly done, but even then the web-gear that is on most of these miniatures is not painted. 1:300th of a two or three inch belt is… Not visible at anything more than a few inches away – particularly not with a dark uniform and a black belt.

So the figures are mostly “good enough” – with a few rough ones and a few gems. We’ve only seen one GHQ miniature that we thought fell apart on detail – the German heavy mortar team in this review. There are several cases where a little creative thinking is required with these figures. Some of them are as bad as the GHQ mortars in that review. But most are just soldiers, sculpted up to a satisfactory standard, and as we mentioned, a couple – like the LMGs for both sides – look pretty darned good. The planes are actually very nice, as you can tell from the pictures, while the armor and AT guns are definitely passable, though not the nicest on the market. Again, they’re 6mm, not 1:35th armor, and you can clearly tell what each is just by looking at it.

H&R might be a good or better choice than Irregular, but the H&R website and catalog looked out of date when I placed my order, and lacked pictures, Besides, Irregular sells convenient buy-and-forget-armoured division vehicle bags and has a nice 6mm scenery range. I decided I would fullfill my ambitions with these honourable mini’s. I bought three armoured divisions (German, UK, VS, basic cost 32 GBP for 40 vehicles and 20 infantry strips), 6 planes, a searchlight, two bunkers, a crashed plane, and two pontoon bridges, for 95 GBP including P&P = €107,50.

Choice of miniatures: Adler infantry

I got some discount because I only bought the vehicles and not infantry. Irregular infantry is often ‘bulky’, too bulky to my taste. Below Irregular Germans.

While H&R is too tiny IMHO. Below: Irregular (left) compared to Heroics (right)

First question is: why should I bother if you see them from a large distance? 

I’m sure others will be perfectly happy with Irregular infantry. However I do bother.
1) I’m afraid that these roughly sculpted infantry miniatures degrade the overall look of your army. 6mm soldiers must convince you from a distance that they are little Germans or Americans, not universal blobs. For a good infantry comparison, check this page.
2) Irregular sculpts infantry as soldiers standing in line. When experimenting I discovered that I don’t like that line position. It’s static and unnatural.

After dismissing Irregular infantry I was in doubt about Baccus – Baccus is my preferred supplier in 6mm Napoleonics. This is the developing, and promising Baccus WW2-range (per november 2017)

6mm. Good service. Excellent site with clear pictures, much better and sharper than the H&R and Adler pics. Detailed sculpts. Limited range, yet.

So, finally, for WW2 my choice was Adler. A much larger range than Baccus. Lively poses, ‘heroic 6mm’ actually 7-8 mm. Relatively exaggerated heads/helmets compared to other brands.

(Painted by blogger Siggian from Lead from the Front)

The larger size and these exaggerated helmets make them more recognizable on the tabletop I think. And I was charmed by Adlers message on the site: “I should point out that we are a designer led outfit, (…) this is a one man operation. We don’t have a team of casters and packers waiting around for orders. Basically I do everything from designing the figures to taking the orders down to the post office”. Support you local artisan!

Basing: designing a logical system

I needed a logical system, with not too many subtypes. Because, with 6mm miniatures, it’s often hard to see the diference between the many different troops during setup or on the tabletop. Do you immediately spot the difference between a Panther, a Tiger I and a Tiger 2? I don’t. Not with my middle-aged eyes in the dim lit dungeon that we call our club house.

Besides, many of my opponents are 6mm newbies. We don’t want to play this game with a magnifier, or make mistakes like ‘I shot 60cm but now I see it was not my King Tiger but my Panther so the range is actually 50 cm’. Or constantly check the bottom to see if this was a light mortar or a heavy one. Or spend hours to put the right base in the right box. For smooth play, I want to see from a meter distance:
a) the nationality
b) the troop type
c) the weapon class/ strength (light, medium, heavy)

Tip #1: Different base colours

I admire the armies of 6 and 10mm painter Nik Harwood. Two examples, his GermanRussian 6mm early war miniatures. Great work!

However from a distance they look too similar, IMHO.

My 6mm are playing pieces in the first place, not showpieces. I want different colors, like chess, for easy recognition. So I decided to give every army it’s own base earth color:

  • light grey for the Germans
  • pale sand for the Americans
  • pale brown MDF for the British
  • brick red for the French

No dark grey, medium green or medium brown, 6mm miniatures ‘disappear’ on a medium or dark base. Camo figures in particular.

I sprinkle flock on the bases so the colour difference is mitigated. However, the bases differ.

Tip #2: heavies on large bases, lights on small bases

Conventional basing is one vehicle or squad per base. Which makes recognition harder.

My currently preferred system, Blitzkrieg Commander II, (a Warmaster derivate) has 10 troop types with several subtypes and classes

  • Commanding Units (commanders and subcommanders)
  • Forward Observers (to direct artillery and air attacks)
  • Recconnaissance Units (infantry and armoured recon units}
  • Infantry platoons, with subtypes
  • antitank/flamethrower infantry (actually a heavy infantry upgrade, not a special type)
  • infantry support (slower reacting light antitank guns and mortars)
  • Engineers (specialist infantry and mechanized infantry and tanks, like mining tanks etc)
  • Armour (medium and heavy tanks)
  • Anti Tank (medium guns and ‘tank hunters’, aka self propelled anti tank units)
  • Artillery (heavy guns, and heavy mobile rocket launchers like the Katusha, Calliope and Nebelwerfer)
  • Aircraft (planes)
  • Transport (cars, trucks, halftracks, mules, jeeps etc)

Internet forums advised me:

  • Commanders: 50×50 HQ: 40×40 (in other words: a special large base for the commander and a large base for the subcommanders)
  • FAO/FAC/Snipers: 25×20 (a very small single model square base)
  • Infantry / recce / transports: 50×25 (a small base)
  • Armour: 50×30 (a medium base)
  • ATG / AA: 40×40 (a large base)
  • Artillery: 50×40 (a very large base)

I also checked the Flames of War basing guide. Not that I want to play Flames of War, but Battlefront tries to apply logic to their basing system. The same basing logic that is evident in good old DBA. FoW’s system on rectangular bases:

  • Commanders: no special basing
  • Observers: no such unit in BKCII
  • mounted mechanized large or small recon teams: a large base or a medium base, respectively, facing the short edge when mounted and the long edge when dismounted
  • Infantry: medium base
  • subtypes bazooka’s and PIATS: a small base
  • infantry support, like small mortars, small guns: medium base, facing short edge
  • engineers, infantry or mechanized: no such unit
  • armour: not based
  • large or small mounted horse unit: a large base or a medium base, respectively, facing the short edge when mounted and the long edge when dismounted

It’s very logical: however still a bit too complex to my taste, in particular because I like to have a simple standard base width, no short or long edge stuff.

So this is my system, tailored to DBA-sized 4cm bases:

  • Commanders & subcommanders: 4x4cm. Large base. Higher than other bases.
  • Forward air/artillery observers/snipers: for these individual bases, I used some spare round 4cm bases, instead of a 4×4 cm large base. Binocular figures. Sandbags.
  • light recon teams, light tanks and transports: 4x2cm. small base. A vehicle and a few miniatures.
  • infantry platoons: 4×2 small base. 4-6 miniatures. Some terrain.
  • infantry anti tank upgrade units: 4×1,5cm small base, 2-3 miniatures, placed directly behind the platoon, in base contact
  • infantry support units like medium guns, mortars, MG’s, etc: 4x3cm medium scenic base. Medium mortars, two per base. Heavy mortar: one per base.
  • engineers: one vehicle and a couple of engineers, on a 4×3 base.
  • armour on 4×4 diorama bases. Medium tanks: 2 tanks on a 4×4 base. Heavy tanks: 1 heavy tank on a 4×4 base
  • anti tank guns, tank hunters: 1 model on a 4×3 medium base.
  • heavy artillery, heavy mobile rocket launchers: 1 model on a 4×4 large base.

Thus all light troops are predominantly on small bases, all medium units predominantly on medium bases and all heavy units on large bases, two models for medium heavies, one model for heavyweights.

I think it’s quite universal. This system makes 6mm FoW an option indeed. Or Spearhead. Or I Ain’t Been Shot Mum.

For extra visual impact I ordered 6mm scenic items from perfect six scenics to give the bases more dioramic quality.

Tip #3: paint brighter colours

As Peter Berry in his Baccus 6mm painting guide wrote: what many wargamers

 fail to realise is that painting 6mm castings requires a rethink of techniques and methods of applying paint. As opposed to producing pieces of military sculpture on wargames bases, we are attempting to create an overall effect of a large body of men and are therefore aiming to emphasise only those features that can be picked out from a viewpoint of over a metre away from the figures.

The general rules that I learned when painting 6mm Napoleonics were:

  • use bright colours, brighter than normal. When painting Napoleonics the trick is to paint the miniature in bright colors, to make it stand out. Don’t use Napoleonic dark blue, but very bright mid-blue: don’t use dark grey, but light grey. Authentic colours often appear as black or brown from a distance.
  • the visual power is the ‘mass effect’
  • paint the unit, not the miniature: the overall look of a base is more important than a bi-coloured plume.

I applied these rules to the WW2 vehicles and infantry. I wrote a quite long detailed how-to-page, with examples from the web. I will not repeat it here, but to summarize:

  • all vehicles: extreme highlighting, with bone yellow higlights (German vehicles) and grey (Allied). For the Germans I used extremely bright camouflage colours: red, grass green, The authentic colours are too dark.
  • Germans: the regulars light grey with a field grey jacket, the Waffen-SS the ’44 mustard yellow camouflage ‘Erbsenmuster’. I chose mustard instead of the green camouflage schmock, to emphasize difference with the US troops. No camouflage, useless for 6mm.
  • German fallschirmjäger: also mustard yellow, but with mid-blue trousers and green-grey helmets here to emphasize difference with the SS
  • UK: regulars brown, with quite bright, sand yellow, highlights,
  • UK paratroopers mid brown and army green. I – reluctantly – painted bone yellow, wine red and bright grass green dots on the jackets to emulate camouflage. Otherwise the difference with UK regulars and brown/green Americans was too small. I gave all red berets orange highlights, all helmets bright green highlights. Still not satisfied I colour coded the base with a red rim.
  • US regulars: mid brown trousers, 60% an army green jacket 40% the distinctive buff blouson, painted in a bright off-white and with a brown wash.
  • US paratroopers: very, very pale khaki.

Below a few Allied infantry samples. Britis regulars, British paratroops, US regulars, US paratroopers

Tip #4: Use a Lot of Big Decals on Top

Several companies sell home-made or GHQ-micro armour decals, I bought mine via Magister Militum. It’s a fiddly and time-consuming job. For instructions, check this manual. It’s worth the effort, though. Any vehicle miniature gets an immediate visual upgrade. A German tank in camouflage is just another German tank. With a German cross and/or a miniature swastika it’s suddenly a movie villain tank, easily spotted from a meter distance. Allied vehicles are upgraded to liberators with their great white Hollywood stars.

My tricks
Decals on the sheets vary in size. If enough space on the model, I used a larger, slightly out-of-scale star, cross or swastika to maximize visual effect.
Historically, the Germans had markings mostly on the sides and the Allied troops on top of the vehicles. On a wargame tabletop you see the miniatures from above. So I often added an extra decal on top of a German vehicle. 

The Balkenkreuz had a hollow white early war version, and a later war black version. But large white decals are better visible than black decals, so I unhistorically used the white version for my later war vehicles. A small adjustment with great effect..
My British tanks have a star on the hood of the vehicle and an encircled star on the rear deck, American vehicles vice versa.

Tip #5: Base Like Spielberg

Conventional 6mm WW2 basing is often like the picture below.

Evenly spaced out miniatures on a flat base, that’s apparently the standard. Infantry and vehicles based separately.

I tried the same (picture below, right base) but this first base scored a zero on my hot-or-not-rating.

WW2 soldiers do not fight in line and should not be based like Napoleonic line infantry, I thought. They are running for cover, hiding behind walls, lurking in bushes, dodging bullets. Like the left base, below.

A base becomes more dynamic when you vary the spacing and the facing of the miniatures. Scenic bases are much more cinematic than standard flat bases. Hollywood B-movies and videogames gave me great inspiration.

Take this vehicle base for example, above. Two Panther tanks, lurking behind a wall. Panthers are medium tanks, so I glued two on a large grey (German) base. I added two miniatures and a made a simple ruin from woodsticks.

Above: Wolfenstein. Below: a 6mm Tiger. Achtung! Panzer!

Just like photo’s, bases are more lively with human figures who look in different directions, and asymmetric basing. Why glue a vehicle in the center of a base? It’s not necessary for gaming purposes. Use the full base and make a diorama.

(above) A Tiger with some Wehrmacht soldiers. Diagonal, out of center, barricades, action!

As a side effect if you base vehicles together with soldier miniatures, you create IMHO more a suggestion of ‘an overall effect of a large body of men’, everywhere on the tabletop, more than when you have empty vehicle bases.

Some more examples

Above: the ruin above was made from two simple popsicle sticks. The ‘billboard’ is from a free print from Warflag.com. You can also scale down the free WW2 Normandy billboards, markings and roadsigns from Rapid Fire, here. 4×2 is big enough for scenery items. Below: a Hollywood cinematic drama scene. A MG-42 shooting behind a giant draped swastika flag. It’s not ‘realistic’ at all. It certainly is a Hollywood B-film-shot. But on a 6mm-tabletop it’s very effective, this is clearly a Nazi base recognizable from a meter distance. Get those Inglorious Basterds!

(Flag from warflag.com. Sandbags from perfect six scenics).

Above: British paratroopers in a French town hall. Made with foam and a downscaled Rapid Fire cutout. 

Below: German Fallschirmjäger..

Above: an American 4×4 command base. Tomb from Perfect Six. 

Several Allied bases, above.

Last: true Wolfenstein.

SS Command base. Over the top, indeed. Don’t try this at home 🙂

You see, a ‘historically correct’ SS commander would probably be a war criminal and nazi fanatic. So my CiC is a cartoon nazi: a Nazi Zombie SS commander in chief, big pulp poster in the background, standing in a graveyard. The proud boss of an evil dark force, unforgettable on the tabletop.
Heresy. But fun. Why so SS-erious?
Does it work?

Above: German units approaching. Are they ‘typical Germans?’ Instantly recognizable?

Below: American units. Pale bases.

Back row left: two medium tanks (Shermans) on a large base. Back row right: a single Pershing heavy tank on a large base. Front row left: armored car on a small base. Front row right: tank hunter on medium base. Buildings: foam. Signs: downsized Rapid Fire markings. Statue, pole, barricades: Perfect Six Scenics.

Below: a picture from above. Can you see from a distance the difference between the British and the German Army? Judge for yourself.

6mm WWII – an after action report

I painted 6mm Napoleonics, 6mm WW2, 20 and 28mm WW2 in 2017. A comparison:

  • I paint most WW2 infantry just as quickly as Napoleonics, 40-80 on a long evening. Camouflage jackets however were time-consuming, even tedious.
  • On the whole, a 6mm WW2 army cost me surprisingly a lot more time than a Napoleonic brigade, only because of the decals. 40 vehicles is 80, quite small, decals. I had to cut out every decal with a knife, put it in water, carefully glue them on the vehicles… a very time-consuming process, one or two full evenings per army.
  • In comparison, speedpainting a 20mm or a 28mm 25-figure WWII platoon is relatively simple. Easier. A few block colours, Army Painter, matt varnish, ready. And 20 or 28mm looks good on any table top, even with a mediocre paint job. I’m afraid that a mediocre 6mm WWII army – a monotone army without decals – looks drab and unimpressive.
  • Rating overall ‘speed & simplicity’, I would say that blocks of 6mm Napoleonics and one-piece 28mm or 1/72 miniatures are quick jobs. 6mm WW2 is also simple to paint but camo, decals and basing take extra time. Hardest IMHO was finishing a 28mm multi-part-multi pose WW2 plastic Warlord platoon, not because of the painting but because of all the assembling and glueing.
  • I doubt if 6mm WW2 is much cheaper than 28mm WW2. More specific, I think that a 6mm grand scale WW2 set with a mix of infantry and armor will cost the same 80-100 euro as two 28mm skirmish platoons with a vehicle.

So it’s a matter of taste: do you want to capture 6mm Arnhem, or do you want to capture a 28mm Dutch farmhouse? A campaign, with artillery and air support, or just a firefight?
The price of the toys is the same. Money is not an argument. Manageability is. I can store my three armies in a few cigar boxes.
Don’t forget that for a 6mm battle good scenery is as important as a well painted army. Spend as much time and money on scenery as you spend on your 6mm toy army.
Sometimes people react that they dislike the bright colours, large, wrongly positioned decals or the idea of a scenic base in a city or field. Again, it’s a matter of taste. In the continuum between ‘historical unit’ and ‘chesspiece’ my based units are more ‘chesspiece”