Painting True-Metallic Metals (TMM)

Over the next while, I’m going to look at different ways to paint metallics. Most people are familiar with “True” and “Non” Metallic Metals, but I use more methods than these two and you’re going to get to read about them all! Sound good?

“True” is the term given to using shiny metallic paints that actually shimmer like metal does. It also means that as you move the model around or look at it from different angles, the highlights change. This is by far the easiest way to paint metal and is the most “realistic” way to paint shiny metal. (I say “shiny” because some metal is naturally dull and you’re better off using Non-Metallic Metals.) It has both colour and reflection.

True Metallic Metals vs Non Metallic Metals

In the photo below, you can see the difference between TMM and NMM. As I turn the model under a fixed light source, the highlights and shades on the TMM (The RED section.) changes, starting very bright and getting dark as it leaves the light. The rest of the axe (White/Grey sections.) are painted with NMM and you can see that it stays roughly the same bright / darkness the whole time.

* Worth noting – I have some NMM streaks to highlight the Red TMM. I’ll get into Mixed-Metallics in a later post,
but this keeps a certain element of a highlight visible, no matter the angle the light hits it.

Painting TMM

The Easy Method:

1. Pick up the paint that you want, be it silver, gold, bronze, etc and paint it on.

2. (Optional) I usually recommend a black wash over metals, but there’s still a lot of people not using washes.

The “Little Bit of Effort” Method:

Metallics can be a little stark on their own, essentially, just like any other paint. A few simple layers will go a long way to making them look better.

Before the black wash, I used a blue wash to
tint the armour for a cool blue-grey look.

1. Use a black base to create a dark shadow for your metal.

2. Dry-brush metallic paint over the black.

– This basically means using a rough brush dipped in paint, wiping most of the paint off on your cloth, then quickly swiping the brush over the piece you’re painting. The light paint coating should cover all the raised areas and leave the indents black.

– If dry-brushing isn’t your thing, just paint the metallic over the black, focusing on raised areas and avoiding shadowed areas.

3. Wash the metal with a black wash.

– Alternatively, use a coloured wash to add some colour / tint / alien world reflection to the metal.

4. Highlight tips and edges of the metal. (Anything sharpened, scratched or worn.)

– I usually suggest using an off metallic to highlight with as it’ll bring out the effect of sharpness and wear. Often this would be silver, but doesn’t have to be.

1. Black base, 2-3. Bolt Gun and Silver painted on, 4. Washed with a mix of Black & Blue, 5. Highlighted with Silver
On this red-metal loin cloth, used more red metal to edge and bronze for bolts.
The bronze mixes things up nicely to add a little variety.


The Better Method:

Metallics can be layered and painted just like any other paint. You’ll need a selection of TMM paints or your own Iridescent Mixes. (More on that below.) Then just paint light you normally would, starting either with darker metals and painting lighter or with lighter metals and painting in to the shadows.

(Nowadays, I’d probably throw a Black Wash, then final highlights on there too.)


Layering Metallics

In addition to the above method of using brighter metals to highlight darker ones, you can also layer different metallics to create a multicoloured finish on your metals. Blue/Green Metallic also works well.

Painting Chain mail

Guilty secret: I love painting chain mail. Always have. There’s something about brushing silver over loops that just speaks to me.

1. Start with a black base

– Careful, all those little holes can create air bubbles that prevent paint from getting in and leaving you with primer or bare metal. Make sure these are all taken care of first.

2. Dry Brush a layer of silver.

3. Dry Brush more layers of silver towards edges, leaving shadowy areas darker.


On this model, I didn’t, but you can also start with a dry brush layer of a darker silver like Boltgun Metal
before the brighter Mithril.


Dry Brushing

You’ll notice I’ve mentioned it a few times. Dry Brushing is a technique that as I’ve become more skilled, I’ve moved away from. It’s a GREAT technique for doing quick and easy highlights when you’re starting out but starts to look a little rough as your quality improves.

While I still tend to avoid it, opting for a controlled stroke instead, sometimes I still apply it to metals, because the roughness lends to aged and worn surfaces.

Make your own TMM Paints

You can also create your own metallic paints by mixing any colour with what’s called Iridescent Medium. This medium is basically a clear/white-ish paint full of those minuscule flecks that make metallic paints shine.One reason some might go the NMM route is because they’re after a certain colour of metal that they just can’t get out of normal metallics. But with Iridescent Medium, you can turn any paint – or mix of paint – into a metallic. The amount to mix depends on your medium.

What I demonstrate below is how silver paints like Chainmail and Mithril can be used to create metallics, they imbue a certain amount of “grey” into the mix. You can add more colour, but that reduces the shine and darkens it more. Instead, Iridescent and Pearlescent mediums can offer a better mix with stronger colour.

Iridescent is more sparkly like your normal metallics while Pearlescent is more subtle.

It’s also worth noting that some of the craft stores have a wider selection of coloured metallics. (Places like Hobby Lobby or Michaels.) For example, I’ve gotten plenty of use out of my Red Metallic.

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  • Cedric Ballbusch

    The quality and detail in your posts make my suspect you know what you’re talking about.

    It’s hard to do the more advanced stuff on 15mm figures (diminishing returns, lack of space), but I’ll give it a shot for sure.

    • Take enough pictures and everyone thinks you know what you’re talking about 😉

      But yeah, at 15mm, this stuff would be tricky, not much room.. I really want to paint up some Epic scale miniatures and see how my skills now apply. Anyone want to send me an Eldar army? 😀

  • Love the drybrushing shout-outs. I feel like as people become better painters they are able to use different techniques, but proper drybrushing can still create a really nice table-top effect. And, due to how easy it can make painting, I feel like it is also a great tool in the war against grey plastic/pewter.

    Great article!!!

    • Von

      “You were so busy trying to figure out whether you could do it that you never stopped to think about whether you should.”
      — me, on giving up drybrushing.

      If it means models get done to a reasonable standard (i.e. looks good from four feet away and isn’t a big acrylic blob), I’m all in favour.

  • The Warlock

    Excellent tute Dave, I did not know about iridescent and pearlescent medium until ~5min ago so I thank you as those seem like an excellent way to do marked warrior of chaos armour.

    A couple of questions (as I’m always trying to improve my painting skill):
    – Would a brown wash be suitable in place of a black wash if the armour is gold/bronze? Outside of AP’s Strong tone and P3’s Armour wash, who should I look into for inks/washes.

    -Where could I find an analogue for Mithril Silver/Chainmail/Boltgun metal? I’ve tried VGC’s equivalents but they don’t have the right consistency/feel and look a bit like craft store silver paints/too many flakes- it’s hard to describe :/

    Looking forward to more of this! 😀

    • Michael Sellwood

      Hi The Warlock.

      From my experience brown is a nice wash for gold/bronze. Black is too stark, and I find it makes gold/bronze look dirty rather than shaded. Although we think of gold as a colour in and of itself, really it is just very reflective yellow / orange, which you would normally shade with brown. You can also use brown paint as a base coat for gold/bronze rather than black and this gives a slightly softer look at the end.

      In terms of inks/washes I actually find the GW range to be pretty comprehensive and quite good. Another alternative is both Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney do ranges of artists inks and they are very good, if expensive.

      In terms of non GW metallics, most ranges have rough analogues. I find GW metallics very good however and use them in preference to any other brand. However if you do find a silver that you like you can get any variation you like by just mixing in increasing quantities of black to move it down the brightness range.

      • The Warlock

        Hey Michael, thanks for replying!

        I’ve seen people use brown as the basecoat for golds/bronzes though I still use a silver basecoat over black. Blame the LOTR magazine series from the early 00’s haha, a lot of my painting knowledge came from that.

        Regarding silvers, I’m mainly after a mithril silver analogue so I can highlight silvers and do chipping. It’s odd, but I find the old 6th edition WHFB/3rd edition 40k books provide some pretty handy ways of achieving different metallics. For instance, khorngor armour was mithril silver -> shining gold -> red ink to get a vibrant metallic red.

        Will look into W+N, I know they do fantastic brushes though P3’s armour wash gets my by for silver metallic washing. May try and find a chestnut/brown ink from W+N in addition to iridescent and pearlescent medium

      • Von

        W&N inks are lovely but mine do sometimes react strangely with acrylic paint over resin. (I might have bought the wrong sort of black ink; not ruling it out.) I’ve found Liquitex to be a more reliable brand for working with miniatures.

    • Thanks, glad to help!

      You can use those mediums to even create Black metallic.. pretty insidious.

      Brown wash will certainly work instead of black on those occasions.

      I’m a huge fan of GW washes and use them exclusively. They’ve also got some different shades of brown wash which can give those other metallic shades a different tone. I’m not a fan of P3 washes and find them way too strong. GW’s have a certain amount of… I dunno… cloud? If you paint them on thick enough. Not actually a bad thing, and actually ties layers of blending together.

      I know what you mean by too many / larger metallic flakes. Just looks cheesy. I’m not sure I’d call P3s analogs, but they’re good. But yeah, I like GW’s too, though I also have a craft store red metallic.

      • The Warlock

        I’ve noticed that GW’s washes do cloud up if applied thickly (though the pre2012 range was good). Am tempted to auction off my unopened bottle of devlan mud (not game enough to open that bottle of Miracle Worker [tm]). That being said the yellow wash is pretty awesome and VGC’s red ink goes nicely over gold.

        Black metallics slipped my mind haha, dang, another use.

        Gonna boot up Dakka dakka’s paint chart to find the P3 ‘close enoughs’ and give them a spin- my mithril silver is dying regardless of my efforts with flow + retarder mediums to keep it going.

  • Great tutorial.

    I would like to see something a bit more advanced though and maybe you have something lined up? For example, with any metallic (TMM or NMM), there are often very strong contrasts with light and shadow. It’s getting that contrast right that really makes for convincing metal. Know what I mean? It’s usually more apparent in NMM as people go out of their way to give that contrast, but it’s just as effective with TMM yet few every mention it or go to the same length.

    • It’s all coming up. Massive Voodoo has done a few good tutorials on this, but I’ll be writing my own on trying to do realistic metals.

      • Awesome. Yeah, Massive Voodoo has been where I’ve gotten some information on it but I love getting more than one take on a technique. I look forward to it.

  • Hi Dave, this might be a bit out there, but have you ever tried leaving metal unpainted on a metal model in order to represent metal? I’ve seen it done to good effect once or twice in those historical gamer mags you can get at the newsagent.

    Seems like it might be an easy way to get a realistic effect, and if that’s what you’re going for (rather than a more painterly look) then I don’t understand exactly why people don’t do it more often.

    • So here’s the thing… with some things, I’m a HUGE supporter of real supplies – mostly with terrain.

      Other things, not so much. There’s a lot we have to paint to simulate a real effect because scale doesn’t allow things to look right. (Think of when you watch an old movie with a flood scene.. even Lord of the Rings had some cheesy splashes with too-large droplets.) We’ll also make shadows stronger because as a miniature, it’s really easy for light to illuminate all the crevices. I’m going to be covering Chrome and I think leaving something bare metal isn’t too far off from just painting it silver without shadow.

      HOWEVER – I bet your idea would work for things like scratches and nicks in armour. It’d create some strong shines. Though you might not have consistency across your army if you’ve also got plastic models.

      Then again, I dunno.. I’ve never tried it and maybe this would be a way to create a sharp metallic contrast. It’s an interesting idea and might have to test it out.

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