What is Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) Painting?

How do some models seem to have an “extra” pop to them? Maybe you have stumbled upon minis painted with a non-metallic metal (NMM) effect. Lovely aren’t they, but what is non-metallic metal (NMM)?

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In this article, Chris Spotter, studio artist and owner of the “The Spotted Painter”, introduces his thoughts on how to paint models with a non-metallic metal approach.

Continue reading to find out more about NMM and where to get started, or simply to find some inspiration.


What is non-metallic metal (or NMM)?

First things first, I’m not gonna claim to be a non-metallic metal (NMM) master. There are people that put me to shame.

But I have committed to doing it on all my pieces (!) and it is something I feel like I have a solid foundation in at this point.

Non metallic metal (or NMM) is the concept of trying to fool the brain into thinking something is metallic but using matte paints. You paint in the highlights and shadows in a way that appears metallic.

How to paint non-metallic metal using acrylic matte paints. Sergio Calvo is a master NMM painter.
A master NMM painter is also a trickster. Image credit: Sergio Calvo Miniatures

In traditional art, NMM was the only way to paint metal for literally thousands of years (except using gold leaf and other highly specialized techniques).

It was totally normal to paint metallic surfaces by mimicking the lights and shadows with matte paint.

What is NMM painting? How to paint gold NMM on armor
This is regular paint applied sequentially to replicate the “reflective-look” of metallic gold. This is non-metallic metal (NMM) painting on some of the most difficult surfaces you could apply it on. Image credit: Darren Latham Miniature Painting

When miniature figures came along, we ended up with metallic paint as well.

RELATED: 5 POPULAR METALLIC MODEL PAINTS (TIPS AND REVIEW)

Metallic model paints have semi-reflective bits added into the paint, so that they would appear to shine as metal.

What is Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) Painting? - reference sword image - bastard sword reflective surface
Reference image of a real sword with a steel reflection. Notice the high contrast (dark to light value) on the metal surface.

Why don’t I just use regular metallic paints?

So whats the problem, why doesn’t everybody just use metal paint?

It’s a problem of scale.

Like most things miniature. Metallic paint on a mini just doesn’t act like real metal would be on a real life-sized piece.

Use reference NMM images to paint non-metallic metal. Start with swords and open flat surfaces. This is a good reference image for painting NMM.

Historically, the metallic paint has also been quite poor with larger metallic flake-pigment and a rougher finish. The “metallic-ness” of old school metallic paint isn’t realistic or compelling.

Some of that has changed, and there are high quality metal paints now.

However, to get them to “shine” right, you still end up needing to highlight and shade them in a method that is very similar to NMM.

sky-earth non-metallic metal (SENMM) painting approach. What is NMM and how to paint it?
This is the result of a sky-earth non-metallic metal (SENMM) painting approach. This is a slightly modified technique for painting a faux-metallic surface with regular paint that mimics the reflection of the “sky” and “earth-ground” within the NMM surface. For more about how to paint sky earth NMM, check out Creative Twilight.

Fun tip: Learning to how to paint NMM allows you to paint regular metallic paint (also known as true-metallic metal or TMM) with more realism.

What is Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) Painting? How to paint NMM using acrylic model paints. Depending on how paint is applied, texture and reflectiveness may vary. Reference photo.
A real-life sword has reflective metal surfaces that produce high-contrast “areas” that need to be reproduce in miniature for proper realism.

NMM gives you complete control for pictures and competition settings.

You don’t have to worry about environmental lights or a strange reflection.

It looks like how you want.

Of course, some people think it looks odd. It’s a matter of preference, but it is something that many people are trying to learn.

NMM painted power sword on a Warmachine Retribution of Scyrah model (Privateer Press). What is Non-metallic metal?
NMM painted power sword on a Warmachine Retribution of Scyrah model (Privateer Press).

Is NMM painting hard to do?

Hmmm… its different.

Many of the ‘rules’ that you’ve become accustomed to when painting matte surfaces, are now exactly opposite.

Here are a couple of simple but essential “rules” you need to follow for NMM painting:

  • Put your darks right next to your lights (e.g., also known as dark-light juxtaposition)
  • Do paint up to super bright to white, or near white (e.g., paint the “hot spots”, catch-light reflections)

As I’ve been practicing more NMM, it occurs to me that really, NMM can be thought of as a series of “clues” that cause your brain to shift more and more metallic and more and more shiny.

The more clues that you give your brain that its metallic, the more successful the illusion.


How to Paint NMM

You can check out my video below showing you what clues I am talking about.

RELATED: TOP 3 WEBSITES FOR HOW TO PAINT NMM

I highly recommend when you start NMM, don’t go all out and do a fully armored piece. It’s SUPER intimidating and difficult.

Try a sword, a knife, some gold trim, etc.

Take a look at real life swords and evaluate.

What is NMM and how do I paint non-metallic metal? Example NMM work in progress WIP on a miniature sword.
A NMM painted sword example: Notice the high contrast and juxtaposed dark and light values? Both the steel and gold NMM looks compelling because of the way and location of the painted brightness values.

What makes them look metal and shiny? What surprises you with actual pictures of swords?

Finally: I’m going to say that super smooth blends are the least important part of NMM.

Check out some non-smooth examples of NMM on Tangible Day’s NMM Pinterest board.

Ultimately, there are many ways to apply NMM to your miniature painting.

What is NMM? Stippling NMM non metallic metal on armor plates. How to paint non-metallic metal on armor reaper miniature
Here I started painting NMM on the blue armor plates using a stippling approach. This painting method applies many small dots to add sequential layers of paint. While the result isn’t smoothly blended, using this with an NMM style produces a unique and characterful texture (which I personally enjoy).

For more about NMM, you can check out some of the related links below, or join Tangible Day to stay up to date with more articles about painting, tabletop gaming, and the scale modeling hobby.

Vallejo NMM acrylic paint set for starting out painting miniatures and models.
Getting started with NMM? Here’s a convenient NMM paint set by Vallejo. The set comes with a very easy-to-follow photo instruction by Angel Giraldez.

Final Thoughts

As with anything in the miniature painting hobby, NMM is simply one way to approach a project.

Experiment, practice, and have fun.

For more information about NMM, check out Chris Spotter’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Or, check out the other how-to articles here.

Happy NMM painting!

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