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Miniature Painting While Colorblind


Today’s Guest Article comes from Brandon Barnes, who talks about his experiences learning to paint while dealing with Red-Green Colorblindness. It’s an awesome look at learning to paint and what tools can make it easier to work around issues you might have. – John Arcadian

A gaming pub opened in our area and started providing free events like learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons, trivia nights, and even gaming mini take-and-paint. The latter was presented with some short instruction on painting. It was run by the owner, a former professional painter for several companies. However, when I was about six years old I was diagnosed as red-green colorblind. But, my wife wanted to go and I thought I’d tag along. The worst outcome would have been a crappy painted mini and a couple beers, so why not.

I ended up finding the whole thing therapeutic and I wanted to do more. The mini everyone practiced on was your basic Stormcast Eternal from Warhammer.

The one that started it all. Remember newbies: Thin your paints.

I didn’t get too crazy with my color selection, going with a white base, yellow (wanted gold) trim, and brown leather. Largely I was too timid to get adventurous with colors that I sometimes can’t tell the difference in. What I didn’t realize at first was that even for the colorblind, there are quite a few tools that will help anyone to paint.

A Box of Crayons

Base colors and shading

Base colors. No shading or layers.

The class introduced me to Citadel’s paints as that was what the instructor always used. My wife had previously bought some of their paints and brushes, but we didn’t have a wide selection. We then made a trip to our FLGS and picked up some starter kits. The kits were for different steps in the painting process, which helps beginners like me ease into the process. The kits we got happened to be Citadel paints, so the colors were all themed from the Warhammer universe. That’s not to say there isn’t a “blue” or a “red.” In fact, there are several versions of various colors included in each kit. Like my giant box of crayons I had as a kid, they’re labeled with descriptive names, which helped me immensely.

Some of the names help colorblind people pick the right color even if they might otherwise have issues differentiating them. Names like Eldar (one of the elves of Warhammer) Flesh indicates a pale skin tone, which helps differentiate from (what I’m told) are redder based flesh tone paints like Ratskin Flesh. Having clear names can help if you have an idea of what the colors should be in context. I did picked up a set of minis and got a troop of wood elves, so I had to find the proper paints to use. Having evocative color names like Death World Forest and Mornfang Fur Brown helped me to pick the ideal combination of colors to represent the characters. Other manufacturers like Vallejo, Privateer Press, and Reaper have more general names that denote the colors, which is beneficial when you are mixing your own color palette. For someone with color-blindness, using paints with less descriptive names might mean having someone with full-color vision around to double check the color choices.

It’s Not All About That Base

That’s just the base colors. Once you get to the next steps, you need to find the right paints to go with your base colors. The next two steps in most painting are shading and then highlighting (also known as layering).

Shading and some terrible layering.

This is where some tools like charts come into play. Charts like this [1] helped me pick out what colors to use along with the base colors.

Before I found these tools, I struggled at the store. It was always a concern that some of the pigments might contain red or green and I wouldn’t even notice. Another tool that helped me was the app that helped out in paint selection. These tools show you, “if you used x base, use y shade, and z layer.” Since the apps I used were warhammer specific, it helped tell me what specific colors to use on what parts. For other miniatures, an app or chart like this can help you reference paint schemes from different miniatures to use on the miniature you are painting.

Further along the digital route, there are apps out there that will utilize your phone or tablet’s camera to “read” the color you point it at. These apps may also give you a breakdown of the colors in the RGB format usually used on computers. That can help you with mixing if you can find the ratios to red, green, and blue and map them to how the colors look to you. This can be handy if a person with full-color vision is not readily available.

Well, I Screwed Up, But It’s Not The End

 I should have started a long time ago and followed my own advice I give to my kids, “Never let your diagnosis be a barrier to what you want to do. Just do it.” 
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If you feel you got your color combinations wrong and you feel you ruined your favorite mini, it’s not the end of it. With the right tools, you can strip the mini with something you might already have under your sink. Soaking your mini in Simple Green is one of the ways to remove paint from something you want to redo because you didn’t get it quite right. Of course, any super glue joined parts may come apart as well, and some paint thinners may react to the plastic or metal that the miniature is made of. Knowing you can redo the work if it doesn’t come out right can be a confidence booster when dealing with color-blindness.


“Dad, why is there a mini in pickle juice?” – My daughter observing the Stormcast Eternal soaking in Simple Green.

There are many options out there for painting your minis while colorblind. Certain products can make it easy to find the right color, like charts and digital tools telling you what colors fit best with others, and then there’s the reset button of just stripping it and starting all over. Finding what works best for you is a matter of personal preference, but there is nothing wrong in attempting it to see what works for you. My advice – if you have been curious, go for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re colorblind. With anything, practice will make you better so long as you’re willing to learn from your mistakes. I should have started a long time ago and followed my own advice I give to my kids, “Never let your diagnosis be a barrier to what you want to do. Just do it.”

This isn’t a comprehensive tutorial on mini painting by any means, just an exploration of what I’ve done to help overcome my disability. I’d be curious to know what tools others might use to overcome personal obstacles, mini painting or not. Please share your story!

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "Miniature Painting While Colorblind"

#1 Comment By Roxysteve On November 8, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

WH40k Minis. The path to mini-painter’s madness. 8o)

Hands down he best paint-stripper that will not harm styrene components at all and leave no smell is … the cheapest Castrol brake fluid.

I’m told more expensive formulations won’t work, but the one that cost 99c a pint when I did my research at the end of the last century (love being able to say that) worked perfectly. Seriously resilient paint (I liked to use metal primers and enamels that keyed into the plastic unlike today’s formulations) shifted after 8 hours with minimum physical labor and plastic minis/parts survived two weeks immersion with no damage or softening. Crazy glue joints don’t let go in brake fluid either.

It is wonderful to watch what happens when I say this on the internet, BTW.

I published this experiment (which involved commercially available paint strippers and the old internet trap “Pine Sol”) on the old Yahoo Imperial Guard Group – which tells you how long ago this was. We were using WH40k ed 3 then.

Then the magic happened.

Two weeks later someone argued with me when I answered a question from a new member on how to strip multi-material minis safely. He insisted Pine Sol was the way to go. I asked him if he’d ever used it. No, but he had “spoken with” someone who had. I pointed out I had done this for myself and the results were in the files and documents repository of the group – including the fact that Pine Sol would turn plastic minis into foul-smelling chewing gum overnight.

The original asker then went on to say he had used Pine Sol which had got “most of the paint off” and “only damaged the mini a small amount”. I was flabbergasted. Why pick the second best way to do something? No man can answer, but it’s happened several times since.

One UK guy took me to task for suggesting anything so poisonous as brake fluid be used. I told him to go read the label on Pine Sol as to the proper mixer to add when drinking it. I made a note not to mention my jar-o-acetone for making crazy-glue let go from all-metal minis.

Like everything else, you have to keep stuff like this away from kids and protect yourself when using it, and dispose of it sensibly (the stripped paint will drop to the bottom of your pickle jar so you can re-use the brake fluid, but the fluid absorbs water and eventually will darken so much you can’t see what’s going on).

For my money, none of the commercial paint strippers is worth buying. My assessment of them was that any paint they would fetch would likely come off just as easily by running under the hot water tap.

Much luck and joy with your new-found love of the painting hobby, Brandon. Try not to get suckered into the GW factory-line painting thing. It robbed all the joy from me over time and I have literally hundreds of minis with only a base coat or still in bubble packs as a result (some of them so old they are the older higher-lead formulation whitemetal).

I’ll look forward to seeing your work in the future.

#2 Comment By Sardonicus On January 17, 2018 @ 4:26 am

Speaking as someone who has monochromacy and absolutely no dexterity ( I rolled a 6 at birth) I am in awe of some of the superb paint jobs. I have never really used mini’s in my games, but I can appreciate how they can add to investment in the game world.