Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tutorial: Colour Modulation Desert Yellow

A few months ago a friend asked me how I would paint colour modulation on some desert vehicles for the new Fate of a Nation expansion for Flames of War. I decided to do a quick test on an old Panther hull. This tutorial will show you step by step how I achieved a modulated colour effect for this desert colour. For this tutorial I have used Vallejo Model Air colours.

All paints used were Vallejo Model Air colours I already had in my collection. I have a lot of brown tones I have used in my hunt for Dunkelgelb (see here for my tutorial on colour modulation of Dunkelgelb).

The colours I used for this tutorial are Vallejo Model Air:

  • VMA 71029 Dark Earth
  • VMA 71024 Khaki Brown
  • VMA 71028 Sand Yellow
  • VMA 71075 Sand

Step 0: Planning!
Plan where you will have your highlights on the model. Sometimes I draw this out on a picture or on a digital image. Try to place areas of shadow and light next to each other to get maximum contrast. Have a highlighted panel meet a shaded part of a panel. Think about how to add visual interest to each panel. Consider how light might fall on the model for the most natural appearance. Colour modulation is mostly about contrast (as opposed to realistic highlights, for that just spray from above with successively lighter colours! Ex. zenithal highlights.).

Step 1: Prime
For my dunkelgelb vehicles I use Vallejo Surface Primer RAL 7028. I used this for this model as well. My friend asked if Black primer would also work. I use black primer on some models but I think you would have difficulty getting good coverage with sandy colours over a black primer (it would take a few coats to cover the primer). I would recommend a white or light coloured primer.

Step 2: Base coat
For this model I used VMA 71024 Khaki Brown as the base colour. I airbrushed the colour over the entire hull. I used a few light coats to ensure even coverage. I just allowed a few seconds for the paint to dry between each coat. Try to get a nice and even finish.

Step 3: Shadow*
For this model I wanted to experiment with adding a shadow. I used VMA 71029 Dark Earth to add a shadow at the base of each panel.

I used a piece of plasticard as a temporary mask to get a sharp edge beside each panel so the brown would not spray beyond the panel. You can also use tape but you risk damaging the paint and it is time consuming. I try to plan my highlights to I don't need to mask and can use plasticard or the angle of the model to control where the paint goes. (See the * below for my thoughts on the shadow layer)
I use a small strip of plasticard to mask hard edges. I cut a rectangular notch out of one end to mask around the smaller panels on the hull.

Step 4: First highlight
For the first true highlight I used VMA 71028 Sand Yellow. I used the dual action airbrush to gently blend this colour towards the top of the panel, covering about 40-50% of each panel. You want a gentle transition between the Khaki Brown and the Sand Yellow. Use the plasticard mask to stop overspray from going onto adjacent dark panels.

Step 5: Final highlight
For the final highlight I used VMA 71075 Sand. For the highlights less is often more. Try to only gently highlight the top 10% of the panel. It may look like there is almost no highlight. You just want to add the lightest spot at the top of the panel. I overdid it on these models. Do less of the lightest highlight than I did. I also did some spot highlights on a few details to add interest on the hull. I often do a little "panel highlighting" on small round features on a model like hatches. They are too small to really modulate but really "pop" with a small highlight on them.

To finish I added a little filter with MIG Brown for Dark Yellow and a pin wash of the details with AK Interactive Dark Brown for Green Vehicles (my go to wash, despite the name).

*-What I would change
This tutorial shows step by step how I painted this test model. There are a few things I would change if I were to paint a company like this. I think the contrast is a bit too large for 15mm models. I think if I were to do this again I would leave out the Dark Earth shadow. I might also experiment with some different colour combinations to suit some of the different desert camouflage patterns used by different countries at different times. I would also apply a little less of the final highlight.

I hope this has been useful. If you have any suggestions for base colours (especially in Vallejo Model Air) for different desert patterns I would love to hear from you. I'm hoping to paint some German WW2 desert vehicles, a British WW2 desert vehicle, and possibly some other desert vehicles in the future and would love to figure out some more colours for them. Thoughts, ideas, comments and constructive criticism are all appreciated in the comments. Thanks for visiting and happy holidays!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Any ideas for other desert yellow colours to use?

    2. I personally don't have much experience with Vallejo Air, since I'm currently primarily using AK or Ammo paints (Just so easy to get different shades for shadows and highlights) and before that I used Tamiya colors (Before I started doing shadows and highlights)


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