Getting Started: Starting Out with Colors


If you have been keeping up, you should now have or be ready to purchase brushes, a palette, and know which vendor(s) paints you want to go with. The next thing to find intimidating is the number of colors in that paint rack. Most manufacturers churn out 40, 50, 60 or more colors and picking which colors you want to get started at a few US dollars for each pot or dropper bottle can stretch your initial hobby funds pretty thin.

In this article, I will go over some strategies you can use in deciding what colors you want to pick up first as you start to put the finishing touches on your starting paint kit. It shouldn’t take a ton of colors to be able to get started with painting. Down the road, as you expand your collection of paints or perfect your abilities to mix the colors you need to help with your growing and continued painting hobby.


Color Theme

Most collections of models involves getting started with models of various different colors, that part is obvious. The key is focusing on a theme for the initial collection of models. There are a couple of approaches here, but here’s a couple of key things you can do to keep the choices simple:

Keep the colors simple. One base primary color, one secondary color and then neutral colors. Perhaps that unit of soldiers would look great in your head with intricately detailed camouflage, but simplify what you can do down. Too many colors and too much complexity will discourage you more then help you in the early days. In addition, but focusing on less colors it means less paint to buy up front. As an example, perhaps that solider is a Roman infantryman so a crimson red with a golden yellow would be a good primary and secondary start. At this point, we are only 2 pots of paint going into this project. Not to bad for a start!

Always Includes

There are a few colors that I always include in the beginner paint collection after you have your primary two colors for your first set of models. These are going to let you paint a number of interesting things with your models such as belts and leather bits, flesh tones, shading and highlights. Heres’ a quick list:

  • Black. Always a classic. It’s great for both darkening a color you are using, but for painting in solid bits. Such as our Roman soldier, perhaps we decide to paint the boots and hair on the model using black.
  • White. Another classic and extremely useful for lightening the shade for highlighting layers. Also not a bad color to use for extreme highlights.
  • Brown. I like a deep, solid brown here. You will be able to mix in a number of colors to get brown to do a number of cool things if you need to, but just a little black to darken or a little white to lighten will help you get some basic shading in the early days should you want to try that with your browns.
  • Flesh tone. Stick to one flesh tone to start with and mix in a little red or white to lighten it up or a little brown to darken it and see what happens. Flesh tone can also be a great highlight to a lot of brown leather bits.

Expanding the collection

With a very small collection you can do quite a bit with your first paints, but you will very possibly want to expand up your collection. There is a lot you can do with mixing colors and if you are enjoying that part of painting, make sure you have your primary colors red, yellow and blue in your collection even if they aren’t your primary paints in your collection.

Another thing to keep in mind is adding in grays and metallic paints. Both will give you more range in your neutral colors to work with. Early on, you can use grays to do a lot of your silvery metal colors, but you can also do it with a silver paint. Best thing to keep in mind when using metallic paints is that they tend to look best over a black undercoat. At least when you are first starting out.

If mixing colors isn’t working for you, look at expanding several shades of the same color from the same vendor. This will give you a bit more consistency in color transition when you are painting your models.

There are a number of different directions you can go when adding paints at this point, but the key is that you continue to have fun and enjoy the hobby you have just gotten into.

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