So, you want to paint the color yellow? And, I mean bright yellow. Did you know yellow is one of the hardest colors to paint? In general, yellow acrylic paints have poor coverage and can often come out splotchy and uneven. If you’re looking to paint your wargaming miniatures with the color yellow, you’re in for a few extra challenges. Not only does yellow appear best when the paint coverage is smooth, but it is also hard to shade. In my experience painting Warhammer 40k Imperial Fists (“the Yellow Space Marines”) I’ve been using a simple workflow to speed up the yellow-painting process and produces really nice results fast. Check it out below!
In this article, I share the process of how I quickly paint my Imperial Fist space marines in the Warhammer 40k Universe (Games Workshop).
Why is painting yellow hard?
When I first started painting my 40k space marine army, I wanted them to stand out on the tabletop. That meant the brightest, impactful color in the rainbow.
Geez. Was I in for a shock!
Little did I know how hard this color would be paint.
My first attempts at painting yellow resulted in splotchy, uneven coats of paint. The yellow model paint never covered the primed surface. Forget priming with black (my favorite color to prime with by the way).
I also tried using all the fancy Citadel Shades, including Lamenter’s Yellow and Casandora Yellow. In either case, these shades (or washes) worked well to achieve that first base yellow color. They quickly allowed me to coat a white-color primed model.
But, how do you shade yellow miniatures? I mean, seriously, shading yellow sucked because I was never sure what was a “darker version of yellow”. Was it orange? Brown?
When you mix yellow with orange or brown, you still get… well, orange and brown!
So, yes, I agree with you. Shading yellow on miniatures is hard. It’s hard to build contrast on miniatures when they are mainly colored yellow. Contrast is the key to making miniatures look great on a tabletop or for display. Contrast adds that “pop” everyone talks about.
In a nutshell, here’s why painting yellow on minis is hard:
- Yellow model paint coverage is unreliable
- Hobby model paints with yellow pigment often and easily separate in the bottle or pot (trick: try using a shaker).
- Yellow shades or washes are quick and easy to use, but are hard to shade (e.g., create shadow)
- It’s hard to add contrast to miniatures with yellow as the main color
- Most other colors you mix with yellow overwhelm the yellow hue and you lose the “yellow-ness” of your paint (trick: mix neutral, unsaturated colors, such as whites or grays)
Airbrushing yellow is easier than regular brushing yellow
You can solve many of the issues with painting yellow by airbrushing (see this guide for airbrushing miniatures).
The airbrush allows you to apply even, thin coats over an entire model quickly. If you’ve mixed your yellow paint to the right consistency for airbrush use, then the yellow paint color won’t be so difficult to use.
Of course, first you need to have an airbrush and know how to use it.
And, then you’ll still have to figure out how to shade your yellow base coat once you’ve airbrushed it on your model. Problems, problems…
As a commissioned miniature painter, I’ve had to learn how to paint fast while still maintaining quality. The airbrush has been an indispensable tool in my mini painting arsenal. In fact, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on many airbrushes and accessories over the years. And so I know how finicky airbrushes can be.
Not everyone has an airbrush or wants to get one. They are a tool that can’t replace the feeling and control that a regular brush paint job can achieve (see why an airbrush is never going to be as cool or exciting as painting with a regular brush).
Ultimately, I’ve discovered that I prefer using a regular brush more than airbrushing most of the time. Even though painting yellow across large models is still easier with an airbrush (see this 3D printed Imperial Fist Assault Tank paint job), I feel more accomplished when I finish a miniature painting with a regular brush.
As a result, I wrote this article to show you how I now approach painting yellow across my Imperial Fist Space Marine army.
Yes, you guessed right: I now use Citadel Contrast color as a main tool for painting yellow. Check out my review of Citadel Contrast Colour paints.
How to Paint Yellow (or How to Paint Warhammer 40k Imperial Fist Space Marines)
Here are the 7 easy steps I use to paint yellow miniatures.
1. Prime white or light gray
I use Vallejo Surface Primer for most priming work. Its easy to apply with a regular brush or airbrush.
For best results, I recommend spraying your primer.
For this project, I used an airbrush to coat my models with gray Vallejo surface primer in a spray booth.
What you’re looking for in your first coat of primer is a very smooth surface. The smoother your early priming layers, the easier it will be to paint the rest of the model. Make sure mold lines are removed and you don’t create any bubbles in your primer. Yellow is already a flaky, unreliable color. Don’t add to your troubles with a poor primer foundation.
Spend the time to prepare your models for paint and save a lot of time later.
2. Apply a single coat of Yellow Citadel Color Contrast Paint
For most of my Imperial Fist army, I used regular acrylic model paints. But, then I discovered Citadel’s Contrast Colours, which speed up the base coating process. I review Citadel Contrast colors here.
For this project, I used Iyanden Yellow, which is the best bright yellow model paint for base coating your miniatures, quickly. There is a darker yellow in the Citadel Colour Contrast paint line, such as Nazdreg Yellow. But, I wanted a standard studio Imperial Fist yellow, which is essentially a school bus bright yellow.
As you’ll see in the images, I simply took an inexpensive synthetic brush and applied a heavy undiluted coat of the contrast paint over the model.
One of the reasons I enjoy base coating is how simple it is. I feel no pressure to get it “perfect”.
You can work quickly.
No need to worry about your first color spilling into another area of a model. Simply cover your model in a coat of paint as evenly and smoothly as possible.
Sure, as I’ve mentioned, normally yellow paint is difficult to work with because your first coat doesn’t do the job of providing good coverage.
But, I suppose now I’m relying on a new product…As you see with Citadel Contrast color, it speeds up the first base coat process by allowing you to apply it straight from the pot everywhere.
The Contrast Paint will tend to pool in the recesses. But, unlike regular model washes, inks, or shades, this darkening in the recesses works to your benefit. This process shades your yellow base coat, while the raised areas remain brighter yellow.
Of course, as an alternative to using Citadel Contrast paint, you can wash your model in a bright yellow ink. Then, wash it again with a shading ink or wash like orange or brown. But, then you’ll be adding more steps to your project.
With Citadel Contrast paint, you can operate faster. If you’re speed painting, Citadel Contrast paints can help. Of course, if you’re aiming for a final result that is better than tabletop quality, you’ll need to work on your model even more after using Citadel Contrast Colours.
I love how in a single coat, this Yellow Contrast Color slowly melds into the model’s surface.
Close up photos show how nicely the recesses darken with Contrast Color paint. There are drawbacks, of course. Some of the raised surfaces end up being splotchy and uneven.
You could probably even out some of this splotchiness with technical thinning Contrast medium. Note you can’t use water to thin Contrast Color technical paints. It won’t work well.
To save time, I didn’t bother adding any additional thinners to my Contrast Paint. “One thick coat” was all I did.
3. Let your yellow base coat dry, completely
The reason you want to let your first base coat dry is to ensure make sure you have an even coat of paint. You can’t tell if your yellow paint has evenly covered your model until all of it has dried. Even the pooling paint in the recesses can trick your eye into thinking you have complete base coat coverage, when in fact you may have missed a spot.
If you missed a spot, you’ll notice some underlying primer peaking through. Take your brush and repeat step #2 with the Yellow Contrast Paint. But, only apply it to the missed spot.
Now, as you’ve noticed that some of the surfaces on your model are splotchy where the Yellow Contrast Paint has pooled on the open, flat surfaces. On a space marine, this may mean you have uneven coverage (darkened spots) on the shoulder pauldrons, or along the leg armor plates.
4. Dry brush with a complementary yellow paint
To fix uneven open surfaces, I take a regular model paint with a similar yellow color as my base coat paint and prepare to dry brush. In this case, the closest color to the base coat Iyanden Yellow is Citadel Yriel Yellow.
Using the dry brushing technique (shown here in-depth), I apply an even layer of Yriel yellow over the entire model to smooth out the splotchy base coat on the raised open surfaces.
When you dry brush, this an opportunity to highlight surfaces. By adding more yellow on top of those raised surfaces, you are adding contrast. The recesses remain dark with a good dry brush. This dichotomy between light and dark adds to the overall “pop” of the model.
Looking at all angles of your model, make sure your dry brush covers only the raised surfaces of your miniature. This is the key thing you want to do when you’re looking to add that “extra dimension” to your miniature.
5. Add highlights with dry brushing
If you want to push your highlights to a brighter value, you can add brighter paints to mix with your yellow.
Contrast is what makes a model stand out on the tabletop!
In this case, I added a bit of Creamy Ivory Reaper paint to my Yriel yellow dry brush.
The warm tone of the creamy ivory worked nicely to blend my yellow highlights with the rest of the model.
At this point in the painting, you’re done with your yellow paint job.
When I’m painting miniatures, I tend to take pauses to make sure my progress is going in the direction I originally planned.
Before moving to the next step, just do your final checks to make sure your yellow paint coats are how you like them.
For myself, I’m looking for a decent tabletop quality paint job. Citadel Contrast Color paints along with a good dry brush (2-3 layers to even out the raised surfaces and add highlight) is all I need.
6. Add accent colors
To finish the model, I know I want certain parts to be “black”.
For example, in this Imperial Fist Inceptor, I want the Assault Bolters, Eagle and armor joints a dark gray or nearly black color.
For speed, I plan to use Contrast Black Templar (another Citadel Contrast Color paint).
However, before I do this, I paint the areas I want to paint black with more gray Vallejo Surface Primer. This gives me a clean, bright surface to work on with the contrast paint, which is partly transparent. I don’t want to contaminate my black paint with a yellow hue (if that’s even possible).
Once I finish applying this smooth bright surface my preparation is finished for the Black Template Contrast paint application.
Now, be careful.
Don’t get any new paint on your finished yellow paint job.
Correcting a mistake here might be troublesome. You’ve worked so hard to get your highlights and dry brushing coat done that going back over that again would be difficult.
My tip here would be to apply your next coat of contrast color with a small pointed round brush (like a #0 or #1 size) that has stiff bristles. This will give you more control in smaller places on your model. Sure, you won’t cover as much surface area in a single application, but you’ll reduce the risk of making a mistake paint somewhere you don’t want to.
When you’re finished, remember to let that first coat of black contrast color paint dry, completely. Be patient.
As with your yellow base coat, follow the same principled steps.
Dry brush a similar black color over your first base coat. (Although, in this case, I didn’t mind the splotchiness).
To highlight your black, simply find a brighter gray paint and dry brush that over the raised surfaces. See my photos for what this looks like.
Again, if you missed it, I wrote up a detailed how-to dry brush article (link).
Or, you can check out my quick video on YouTube about how I dry brush.
7. Finalize details
If you’re a miniature tabletop painter, then you already know that details count.
On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore wargamer where painting is a secondary priority for you, then maybe you don’t mind missing a few things in the paint job.
For myself, even if I’m aiming for a tabletop ready paint job, I need some semblance of completion in the form of a few details.
This includes adding those purity seals, eyes/visors, and a decal or two.
I don’t use complicated techniques for any of this. All you need a steady hand, a few simple colors (1-2) and call it a day!
With a few simple touches, you can add a lot of depth to your miniatures without a lot of work.
Rotate your model and make sure when you add those details, you’re not focusing specifically on a single area. Spread out your work through out the piece. You’ll be playing and displaying with your miniatures from many angles (or at least most you will).
Let your viewers’ eye travel over the model by adding interesting points at different parts of the model. If you do want to focus your painting efforts, I would suggest make sure the “face” is well-painted. The face carries the rest of the model in most cases.
For most hobby painters, adding decals is challenging and not worth the effort. But, if you want to go that extra mile, then decals can add that extra level of realism or immersion.
A quick tip with decals is make sure you plan ahead. In other words, apply your decals before you add weathering or other surface effects, e.g., battle damage. This way you have a method to make your decals blend-in with the rest of your model.
Adding decals should not detract from the rest of your paint job; it should enhance your work.
Finally, for a truly complete look for your paint job, I would also suggest protecting your model with a varnish (here is my guide to using matte varnishes).
A good coat of matte varnish will improve the final look of your model by evening out the reflectiveness of your painting. This also has the additional benefit of making your miniature paint job more photogenic.
Well, there you have it, a yellow paint job on a Primaris Imperial Fist Inceptor Space Marine. Quick, fast, and simple, I’m quite pleased with how this miniature looks.
There are definitely many ways to paint yellow. Here’s another fun and unique example of how I paint yellow on larger vehicle models (where Contrast Paint is not feasible).
I hope this article was helpful for you and may be provided some inspiration to paint more yellow 🤪.
Thank you for stopping by!