Learning how to use the color wheel takes your miniatures to the next level. It’s one of the easiest way to paint better models!
The color wheel is a pretty standard tool in most if not all visual arts. Miniature painting is no different.
Color Wheel Uses in Miniature Painting
Simply put, it shows how the colors interact with one another.
Put your finger on blue and slowly move towards yellow, you’ll get to green. In a shocking twist of fate, if you add yellow to blue paint, you also get green. Mind blowing stuff so far, I know.
Of course this is kindergarten levels of color theory – there are entire college classes dedicated to the subject.
Without digging too deep into the theory, here are ways you can use the color wheel to make your miniatures look better.
The 60-30-10 Ratio
This ratio between colors was first used in print ads, and spread from there because of how effective it is at commanding the viewer’s focus.
Sixty percent of your model should be in the main color. Thirty percent should be either neutral colors or colors that match your main color.
The last ten percent should be your focus color, that will clash with the rest of your model.
Space Marines tend to offer a good example of this ratio, with a main color for the armor, neutral colors accessories and a contrasting color for the insigna and/or lenses.
If you use blues and greens on your model, accent it with red or pink details. You can do the same with muted and vibrant, warm and cold, even light and dark.
This ratio is the premise for the effects we can achieve with the color wheel.
Another time tested application of the color wheel is to use a contrasting color to shade your colors.
Contrasting colors are opposite one another on the wheel, and they provide a very natural shading. The end result is often much less drastic than using black.
For example, try mixing Castellan Green in Mephiston Red to get a dark color in the recesses of your model.
This is a very potent shading method, you really don’t need much green to change the red drastically. It’s also why shading red with Coelia Greenshade or Biel Tan Green shade will produce odd looking results.
You also get to play with your shading, as different tones of green will produce different results. This requires a little bit of trial and error finding combos you like.
If you were a betting painter and you guessed that the opposite of shading with a contrasting color would work, you’d be right!
Analogous colors are ones that are next to one another on the wheel.
Much like its shading counterpart, highlighting with an analogous color provides a softer and much more natural highlight than using white.
Keeping our red example from above, you can mix Tau Light Ochre into your Mephiston Red to get a bright and vibrant highlight color than does not look pink.
Unlike the shading, highlighting has a smaller range of which colors your can use to get a great result.
Of course, there is a lot more you can do by having these colors interact with each other without mixing them.