Painting Black Power Armour by Giovanni Di Lena


Hi all!

About a couple of months ago Jason aka Redrum asked me if I was interested in showing how I paint the Black Armour for my Deathwatch Space Marines. Obviously I was! And I would like to thank Jay for his interest and for this fantastic opportunity. So here we are, and I’ve prepared for you this little step by step article with a little tutorial inside on how I usually paint scratches on the armour and weapons of the 41st Millennium!

A little bit of introduction
First of all, as a Games Workshop fan and a lover of Space Marines in particular, I would like to introduce these characters to all of those who have yet to know of the Space Marine: super powered warrior-monks, grim defenders of an humanity on the verge of collapse. One alone can fight entire armies, and a Space Marines army is one of the most powerful weapons in the Galaxy. You know, they are AWESOME, and knowing their background, painting one of them is a terrific experience! So, galvanised, we put on some of our favourite epic music (some Beethoven, or film soundtrack if you want) and we go on! Ok now for the tutorial!


I started preparing and cleaning the miniature for painting: I usually paint multi-part kit miniatures piece by piece and in the case of Space Marines I always start with the legs. (Then I proceed to the torso, arms shoulder pads, backpack and last the head, which is the focal point of every miniature. This allows me to give it the right values of light and contrast, in order to guide the observer.) For convenience I limited myself to a leg of a Marine I am currently working on, an assault veteran.

Finally! Let’s talk about colours. For Space Marines it is a good idea to take as a primer the base colour of the Chapter’s armour, to save time. The armour of the Deathwatch is black, so the primer will be black. Personally I find that pure black is not such an interesting colour, so to add depth and a little bit of tone, I prepared a mix with Black and Dark Prussian Blue VMC (in ratio about 40% Black, 60% Blue). This provides a colder tone for our black armour. I usually use only brushes for my miniatures, so applying the primer is no exception, two or three coats will be sufficient.

The armour
We are now ready to proceed with the armour however, first I have done the work to the knurled (a manufacturing process, typically conducted on a lathe, whereby a pattern of straight, angled or crossed lines is cut or rolled into the material) joints using true metallics, VMC Gunmetal Grey as a base colour, Black + Glaze Medium for the shading and Silver for the highlights. This was because these areas are critically near the armour plates, and it would be too risky to paint them after the refined work we will do in black.

I choose to paint my Marine in a modern and “fast” ‘Eavy Metal style (ok, we know this means not real fast, but for me is “faster” than my “all blended all maniac-shaded then edge highlighted” style). This means that all the “geometric” areas will receive only a edge highlight and a subtle texture, with eventually only a black lining if necessary (black doesn’t need it), reserving the smooth blending only to robes and skin. This is possible because of the very particular design of GW products, very sharp on the edges, but extremely smooth on flat surfaces, that grants a natural smooth lighting to the armour panels: all we need do is to make the surfaces understandable to the observer.

(I grew up in the hobby mainly with GW publications, from The Lord Of The Rings to Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, seeing the work of ‘Eavy Metal painters through the years, being interested also in old publications, and taking a look at their vintage style too. So it happened that ‘Eavy Metal style was my first experience in miniature painting, and I spent most of my painting years trying to achieve a ‘Eavy Metal like style. Yet, I find out that if taken to the utmost level, this style is very effective, and comfortable for the majority of painters.)

Step 1
We start with a layer of Citadel Dark Reaper on ALL the edges, coming up with the same bluish tone of the base: remember that this way of painting is not a reflection about zenithal light, but only a visual solution aimed to enhance the global readability of our miniature. Instead the reflections about light theory in miniature painting will be focused on skin and robes areas.

Step 2
Using VMC Grey Blue we do a second highlight over the Dark Reaper, but making lines thinner, in order to give smoothness and precision to our work.

Step 3
Now a small consideration about light and our panels: if a flat surface is supposed to receive and reflect light from one direction, and edges from two directions, then the vertices will receive and reflect light from three directions. So we have to make them lighter. Therefore, we put a small dot of pure VMC Sky Grey on the top of every vertex, where two or more edges encounter each other.

Aaaaah! Now what you were really looking for!

For showing this I take a piece of plasticard and put it on top of a very professional looking support! I have repeated on the plasticard panel all the steps from primer to step 3 of the edge highlighting, so from here we start on our miniature, but first, another consideration on how the light reflects: we are trying to simulate with an optic effect scratches of various shapes.

If the light comes from above (now yes!, we are talking about zenithal lighting) it means that it will be reflected by the LOWER part of our hypothetical scratch, so the technique is to draw a black or dark colour line and JUST BELOW a light colour line (of the same colour of the edge highlight step 2). For black armour the job is a little different: we don’t have to do the black lines, but we will proceed this way:

Step 1
Using Grey Blue we draw some lines on the surface, starting from the edge of the panel inwards. It’s important to be very precise in this phase. To stop my hands shaking I usually work with the miniature leaning on a piece of foam rubber, to protect the miniature from real scratches. The layout, just as the quantity of the lines is up to each one, but take care not to overdo. Simplicity and neatness are, in my opinion, the best way to perform a good result in this kind of works.

If we overdo the lines, we can always “erase” some of those which we don’t want anymore, just by covering them with the mix used as the base colour. The wet palette is very helpful in this case, because it maintains the colour and wetness of the paint from the first phases of the work. Otherwise it will be a thorny issue to make exactly the same colour, but in this case the tone is so dark that also if we err slightly, nobody will notice.

Step 2
Now we have to simulate the optical effect of the depth of the scratches, and, in order to do so we put a little dot where the edge highlight encounters the lines drawn before.

Step 3
Like in Step 3 for the armour we add now some dots where the clear lines encounter each other on the edges, plus some other dots on the inner of the flat surface, to reproduce some light damages and hits.

Step 4
Last we shade down the ending part of the lines to make the effect more realistic, just like if the scratches were thinner where the hypothetical blades or bullet left the armour plate proceeding in their trajectory away from the plates.

SO, as the last step of this tutorial we will apply what we have already learned to the very surface of our miniature, and the effect we will obtain is this. This process has a useful double effect: first it provides the armour a realistic hard looking battle worn appearance, and, besides, it gives the armour a texture that helps to identify each panel’s three dimensional shape.

I really enjoyed working on this tutorial, and I would thank Jason again! I wrote this tutorial thinking about all those who asked me about this scratch effect I do and I hope that it will be useful in some way for as many painters and hobbyists as possible!

the finished project – hope you like it!

That’s all, folks! A big thank you to Jay for offering me the chance to collaborate on this blog, I feel this site will become very important for our figure painting community!

Greetings to all, and keep on painting!


    1. Author

      Many thanks, Giovanni is now working on a tutorial for a White Scar, so if White is a pain for you be sure to keep your eye out for the new tut!

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  2. Alex

    If you guys could ever create a tutorial for painting black-skinned daemons (like the black bloodthirster on GW’s website, for example), that would be greatly appreciated!

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