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Monday, April 22, 2013

Bolt Action - US Infantry Painting Guide

The following is courtesy of Duncan, the wiz behind our list utilities (available in the downloads section!) and various forum contributions. He's also, apparently, an amazing painter! - Judson

After seeing the number of posts from people putting up pictures of their US Bolt Action forces or asking questions as to what colour to paint what, I thought I’d share my method on how I paint US figures.

First off, I’d like to say that I am a bit OCD when it comes to the painting given this is what I spend most of my time doing outside of the paying day job, as other commitments prevent me from getting in that much gaming. As a result, I spent probably way too much time at the painting table and go overboard in the painting stakes in terms of layering/shading. So what follows is well and truly OTT but, hey, that’s what works for me!

Starting at the very beginning, good figure preparation is, in my opinion, critical to getting good looking figures for either the table or display cabinet. There’s nothing worse than having a great paint job marred by a massive mould line running right across a helmet, arm, leg etc. For me, preparation consists of taking my trusty hobby knife and a bunch of needle files to each figure and getting rid of those mould lines.

Patience and a light touch is essential – if you go at it over zealously, you’ll end up removing a lot of detail, such as folds in trousers/tunics. My favourite file is a “rat tail” – the tapered & slightly curved point helps get in all those hard to reach places!

A key part of the preparation phase is filing down the base. I use the same “lipped bases” (Malifaux/Warmachine style) that Steve’s used for his DAK & 8th Army. One thing that my OCD can’t cope with is the raised “hump” that’s caused by the figures integral stand when it’s glued to the base (I did say I was pretty anally retentive about all this didn’t I?). Therefore, I use my trusted rasp file to grind down the figure’s base until it’s about 1-1½mm thick (i.e. so when glued to the lipped base, it’s flush to the top. Normally, it takes about 30-40 “swipes” back & forth along the rasp to get to the required thickness. A word of warning on this – the figures get quite warm when you’re filing down the bases so wrapping them in a bit of foam from a blister helps protect you pinkies (it also stops you getting hurt by the sharp/corner bits of the model digging into your fingers too!).

So once all this has been done, I use PVA to glue the individual figures to a small block of wood so that I’ve got something to hold when it comes to the actual painting. When I paint FOW figures, I stick them to the top for 2” nails but I find 28mm figures are too top heavy for this so the wood blocks fit the bill much better.

Once dry, the figures are undercoated. I vary between black & white undercoats depending on the type of figures being painted. For Bolt Action, I generally undercoat with white for two reasons: I find it makes it easier to see the detail; and it helps make colours “pop” compared to a black undercoat which, to me, dulls down the colours somewhat.

So… on to the actual the painting part! Unless noted otherwise, all colours are from Vallejo’s Model Colour range. You need to make sure these are thinned to the consistency of milk. I also add a drop of Daler Rowney Fluid Enhancer” as this helps break down the viscosity of the paint and, as the name suggest, helps the paint “flow” better. The one downside (if you can call it that) to undercoating in white is that the first basecoat of paint often comes out patchy. The obvious answer to this “add more paint” or “add thicker paint” but this runs the risk of masking detail on the model. My solution to this problem is rather to do two thin coats as this gives good coverage but still keeps the detail crisp. If you follow this approach, I can guarantee that your initial reaction after the first coat will be “yuk”. But bear with it! – the second coat does correct this and bear in mind that you’ll be adding several other colours anyway so little will remain of the base coat at the end anyway.

Before we dive into the painting itself, I want to say a few words about brushes. Like many, I grew up using the cheap brushes from the likes of GW (although they’re not that cheap!). Whilst these were ok initially, I found that after a short time the tips curled or split. Therefore, I few years ago, I invested in a couple of Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes (the “Miniature” line) and I can honestly say they’ve revolutionised the way I paint. I still use an old GW brush to mix/thin the paints though so that I don’t ruin the W&N brushes by getting paint all over the ferule.

Right, about time to put paint to model! I try to follow an “inside out” approach so first off is “faces & hands”. I first apply a base coat of 860 Medium Fleshtone (two thin coats remember). This is followed by the stages below:

  • ·        860 Medium Fleshtone / 955 Flat Flesh (50:50 mix)

  • ·        955 Flat Flesh

  • ·        955 Flat Flesh / 815 Basic Skin Tone (80:20 mix)

  • ·        955 Flat Flesh / 815 Basic Skin Tone (20:80 mix)

  • ·        805 Beige Red – just to the bottom lip

Once this is all dry, I hit the faces and hands with a diluted wash of 1 part GW Devlan Mud to 5 parts water. This just brings all the layers together, smoothing out the transitions.

There’s been a lot of debate on various forums about painting eyes. Right now, I don’t paint these features - I used to do this but found it very difficult to not end up with models that look boz-eyed. When I get time, I might invest in practising the techniques suggested by many – there’s an excellent article by Matt Parkes in a recent copy of WI that’ll come in useful here.

Next up is trousers! Again, this follows a multi-stage process:

  • ·        921 English Uniform (2 thin coats again)

  • ·        873 Field Drab

  • ·        874 USA Tan Earth

  • ·        874 USA Tan Earth / 819 Iraqi Sand (80:20 mix)

  • ·        874 USA Tan Earth / 819 Iraqi Sand (50:50 mix) – this is only for the extreme highlights!

After this last stage, the trousers will look quite “bright” – a wash with GW Devlan Mud (straight from the pot with no diluting) sorts this out a treat 

Shirts and/or jackets are next. I’ve found the Artizan Designs US range is a mix of models in shirts, jackets or jackets over shirts (where you only see the collar of the shirt). Needless to say, the first colour for both is again done via 2 thin coats of paint – I’ll stop saying this each time now!


  • ·        921 English Uniform

  • ·        879 Green Brown

  • ·        879 Green Brown / 914 Green Ochre (50:50)

  • ·        914 Green Ochre (heavily diluted)

  • ·        Wash with GW Devan Mud – diluted 1:1 with water


  • ·         988 Khaki

  • ·        821 German Camo Beige

  • ·        821 German Camo Beige / 844 Stone Grey (50:50)

  • ·        Wash with GW Devan Mud – diluted 1:1 with water

So, by now we’ve got the main areas of the figure painted – now onto the more intricate details.
I know there’s a lot of debate out there on what colours to use for webbing, gaiters, packs, ammo pouches, water bottles, straps etc. but I follow the guidance given by Battlefront  - so 866 Green Grey is the predominant colour. I start off with a basecoat of 924 Russian Uniform followed by 866 Green Grey and a highlight of 844 Stone Grey.

The buttons on jackets, shirts & pouches etc. are picked out in 995 German Grey with a 836 London Grey highlight.

Helmets start off with a base of 893 US Dark Green followed by 887 Brown Violet, leaving 893 in the recesses and as a border to the leather helmet straps. If the helmet has netting, this is picked out with a very light drybrush of 924 Russian Uniform.

Boots & anything leather (such as pistol holsters) is painted as follows:

  • ·        822 German Camo Black Brown
  • ·        846 Mahogany Brown
  • ·        818 Red Leather
  • ·        818 Red Leather / 981 Orange Brown (80:20)

Our figure should now be looking almost complete - the last area to cover being weapons. All the wooden parts (rifles, SMG grips/stocks etc) get a base of 822 German Camo Black Brown followed by 984 Flat Brown. Highlights are done using Panzer Aces 311 New Wood, heavily diluted.
I really don’t like using metallic paints! Given that the majority of the model is painted in muted / natural colours, I find the shine of metallic paints is somewhat out of place, so I try to achieve that NMM (Non Metallic Metal) look on all the metal areas of the weapons as follows:

  • ·        GW Black (I would use Vallejo 950 Black but, hey, black is black!)

  • ·        955 German Grey

  • ·        802 Black Grey (optional – I generally only use this for models that have weapons where there’s a lot of metal parts, such as SMG’s or BAR’s)

  • ·        836 London Grey

  • ·        990 Light Grey – only on the extreme highlights

Finally, I paint the base of the figure with some cheap (£0.99) acrylic brown earthly looking paint – I use Burnt Umber or Earth Brown. A couple of coats will be required, both because of the white undercoat and because the cheap acrylic has terrible coverage qualities.

So now, our figure is complete! A quick coat of a gloss varnish such as GW Hard Coat or similar followed by 2 coats of Testors Dullcote (the best there is in my view!). I leave an hour or so between each spraying & then leave overnight to dry fully. It’s then onto basing!

Gently remove the figure from the wooden block – I either use a hobby knife or sculpting tool to ease the figure away from the block – and a quick tidy up on the underside of the base to remove any residual PVA.

Using trusty old super glue, I stick the figure to the base – if I did my preparation filing properly, the figures base will sit flush with the rim of the base. As I said earlier in this article, I use the lipped bases – individual figures go on 30mm bases, 2-man teams (e.g. light mortar) on 40mm and 3-man teams on 50mm. Some of the 30mm bases have “slots” so I stick slivers of paper over these to form a solid base.
To provide texture to the base, I apply a mix of good old filler (Polyfiller in the UK) mixed with sand. I did experiment with Vallejo’s Pumice gel but found this shrunk a bit when dry so it was still possible to make out the figures integral base – big OCD moment! Hence, I’ve since reverted back to Polyfller.
I dilute the filler a little with water so it flows better and then apply with a small screwdriver (which came from a Christmas cracker some years ago), making sure I get some of the mix over the figure’s base as well to ensure it blends in. Whilst the filler is still wet, I sprinkle more fine sand over the base in patches & then leave the whole lot overnight to dry.

The following morning, I apply watered down PVA to the entire base, primarily to “seal” the sand otherwise the sand starts lifting when paint in applied. When this has dried, the base then gets two coats of the cheap 99p brown acrylic followed by a coat of 921 English Uniform. A heavy dry brush of 914 Green Ochre comes next, with a further dry brush of 847 Dark Sand – I usually do the last step twice, with the second dry brush being very light & picking out the raised sand parts.

All that remains is to apply some Silflor Tufts or ArmyPainter Tufts – for 28mm figures, I use the 6mm tufts. As I want my force to represent the US in Tunisia and Italy (at a push), I use the Late Autumn / Winter tufts. Although the backing of the tufts is slightly tacky and should stick ok, I use a drop of PVA just to make sure. A final spray of Dullcote to seal everything & the figure is done.

So that’s it – my guide on how to paint WW2 28mm figures for Bolt Action! I’d recommend that everyone write down your “recipe”, whether it’s just a list like I’ve done or a colour sample chart. If you’re anything like me, by the time you’ve completed one batch of figures and started the next, you’ll have forgotten what you used for what, especially when it comes to mixing proportions.

As I said way back at the beginning of this article, my method won’t appeal to everyone but for those amongst us who spend more time painting than playing and are of a serious OCD nature, I hope you’ve found it useful!

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