top of page

Dwarf Craftsmanship: Painting non-metallic metal.

Hey, fellow stunties. Dave, here. I did the studio Buldahr and you've probably seen my Copperbrows in some of the promotional photos and ads. I love painting and pushing myself to try strange and new techniques and one of my absolute favourites for the Torch & Shield Dwarves is non-metallic metal. So I'm going to run you through one of the recipes I'm using to paint my own crew and talk about some of the theory behind this technique. First up, what is non-metallic metal or NMM for short? NMM is a technique borrowed from classical painters where flat colours are used to create the illusion of a metallic surface by emulating the way light reflects on that surface. From a theory standpoint, it shares a lot of common ground with object source lighting. You have to think about how the surface would react to light from a certain angle and then create shadows and highlights to try and emulate that. Mentally, it can be quite tricky to do properly but I tend to cheat and shortcut a lot of steps because I don't have time to turn every single model in to a classical painting. I'm also very much a newbie when it comes to using this technique, so if you're ever curious about how far you can take it, plug "NMM tutorial" in to Youtube and go down the rabbit hole. Here is what my method looks like when it's finished.

The basic principles of this are pretty straight forward. Treat every surface as it's own set of reflections. Find the highest point or the point where the light would be reflecting and work your highlights towards that point while taking your shadows away from it. Each surface also needs to transition from almost black to almost white or pure white. It is this range of contrast that helps to sell the strength of the light source and the illusion of the reflection.

In some instances, I tend to ignore some of the mental gymnastics and just go for what looks good to me. The shield is a good example of this. From a theory standpoint, it acts like there are multiple light sources and counts four evenly spaced reflections pointing towards the central hub. But every other surface except the sword only looks for one light source. Go with what works for you. I've got dudes to paint. Speaking of... You will need the following paints. This recipe is a silver-alike but you can sub in browns and yellows to get gold, oranges and yellows to get copper and browns and oranges to make bronze. In each instance, you're still working from black to white. Only the mid-tones change. Notice that I've used colours with blue tones in them. This helps keep the colour interesting. Black to white through shades of grey can look a bit boring. You will also need something to thin the layers with. Water or paint thinner, your choice. I use Acrylico Vallejo (AV) Airbrush Thinner because I like the consistency.

Start with your primer. I prime with black because it hides a lot of sins later but if you're going to be working with brighter colours for the cloth, white might be a better choice. It doesn't matter for what we're doing.

Take your darker mid-tone, in this case, AV Field Blue (70.964) and base coat all of the metallic areas you want to cover. You'll notice that I used a mix of Color and Air paints for this tutorial. The Colour paints are good for base coats as they cover better whereas the Air paints are a pre-thinned mix and are good for layering and glazing.

Next step, take your first highlight colour, in this case, AV Pale Blue (71.008), thin it down a bit and roughly scratch in over the area you want to reflect the light a bit. The rougher the edge, the more the armour will look worn and irregular.

For this tutorial, I only painted the outside of the sword as I didn't intend to re-use this model. I am also using a similar "rule of cool" application of light for the sword, with multiple light points reflecting. I find this looks more interesting than just one light point per facing.

Next, take your next highlight colour, AV Pale Blue Grey (71.046). Repeat the same kind of scratchy, irregular edge as the last step but fill in the interior of the area covered by the Pale Blue, leaving a gap around the outside with the Pale Blue showing. If you want to get fancy, you can start glazing these layers over each other to get very smooth transitions but you don't need to. We're gonna fix that in "post".

Now we get to the first and only custom mix. Take your Pale Blue Grey, mix it with a bit of pure white (1:1 is about right) and repeat the last step, again leaving an edge around the previous colour and just filling in the middle. On a side note, you can probably do this entire tutorial with just a pale blue, black and white paint but that's a lot of stopping and mixing colours. Nobody got time for that.

Ok. Now we've got about as bright as we're gonna go. Time to start adding the shadows back in. Grab your AV Dark Grey (71.123), thin it down a little bit so you can glaze with it and put some shadow back in to the areas we didn't paint with the other colours, glazing from the bright part towards the recesses. For the weapons and shield, we're starting to build that contrast from bright area to dark area.

Here is where we start to smooth over and fix our lazy steps. Thin down your GW Agrax Earthshade a bit so you can glaze with it and drag it from your bright area towards your dark area so that the colour tints the previous stages and pools where we want our shadows to be. This will also add a bit of interesting tone to the metal. Try not to tint your brightest part, just everything else and don't let it pool or streak.

Now we get to the bit that sells the whole effect. Take your white, in this case, AV Cold White (70.919) and edge highlight all of the edges. It's also a good idea to put a dot of white on any elevated parts at the highest point. I used it to pick out the rivets on the shield too.

Finally, use GW Nuln Oil to define the shadows right down to black and to accentuate the recesses in the armour, particularly around the waist section, the rivets on the shield and anywhere where the colour has bled over to another section and will need to be cleaned up.

Congratulations! We're done! Now paint the rest of the mini! For further refinement, you can glaze between transitions if you want the colours to be buttery smooth but for gaming pieces, I keep it simple. Until next time, keep the torches lit!

81 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page