Saturday 5 March 2011

How to paint modern US desert camo vehicles

Today I am going to share how I do paint modern US armor camouflage for desert areas. I don't claim my way of painting this is right, nor do I say my colour selection works best. However, given the amount of questions in different forums it seems like people like my vehicle's look. So here is a quick tutorial on "How to paint modern US desert camo vehicles"!

What do you need?

-model (obviously *LOL*)
-TheArmyPainters' Desert Yellow coloured primer spray
-Vallejo's Model Color Desert Yellow (70977), Beige (70917), Iraqi Sand (70819) and Pale Sand (70837),
-Goya's oil paint Burnt Umber (32519) (you can also use MIG products, Schmincke etc.)
-thinner (like substitute for terpentine for oil paints)
-matt varnish spray
-empty mixing pots (two)
-brushes (sizes 2-3 down to 0)
-"drybrush" brushes (one with flat tip, one with round tip)
-a well ventilated area to work in (thinner has a strong odour!)

Step #1
I tend to assemble the models completely. Mostly I do not glue MGs or turrets into place - first off because its easier for me to handle them for painting and also I want turrets that can be pivoted. In the picture above I applied TheArmypainters' new colour primer called DESERT YELLOW. It comes in a huge spray can and has good hiding power. I normally use black primer, so why the change? Simply because it is easier to paint black over desert yellow than the other way around. :-) Let dry for at least 3-4 hours!

Step #2
Once the primer has dried completely, I apply the first layer of paint. I have tried a lot of different makes of paint, but none ever has given me a result that would justify to use only one colour instead of a mix. Lesson learned: mix it, baby! For the layer of paint you can see above I do mix one part Vallejo's DESERT YELLOW (70977) with two parts Vallejo's BEIGE (70917) in a mixing pot. Apply to the whole model, try not to cover the details with too much paint. Try to leave out any recesses, this will later help to add natural shadows.
Step #3
This is a tricky part. I assume most wargamers never worked with oil paint washes. This is a step I use because it is done by most professional kit-modellers and gives a lot of opportunities for awesome results. Oil paints can be found in countless colour tones. Each can be used for adding shades and help making panel lines, recesses or surface structures "pop" out better. For US desert camo I use Goya's BURNT UMBER (32519). You need to thin down oil paint for washes heavily. I mean really heavily. To thin it down, I apply into a mixing pot about a tea spoon of thinner (Goya's SUBSTITUTE OF TERPENTINE) and add a knife point of oil paint. Don't use too much oil paint, go with less first. Stir it until you have a dark brown, thin wash. The substitute of terpentine has a strong odour, so you better work somewhere with good air circulation! Apply the wash over the whole model. If the model has good detail, I recommend to use a matt varnish first, let dry and apply the oil paint wash afterwards. I didn't do on these Abrams tanks, but if you have some particular kits, the terpentine might etch the matériel, so be careful! Oil paint needs time to dry out completely, at least 24 hours. I go with even 36h to be on the safe side.
Step #4
The last step before you can start painting details and do the weathering, is drybrushing the models. Again, I have tried many different colours and found that mixing some is a better solution.
For the drybrushing of the US desert camo, I recommend a mix of one part of Vallejo's IRAQI SAND (70819) with one part of Vallejo's PALE SAND (70837). I drybrush the whole model, putting most effort on edges of armour plates, engine grilles or turret hatches. With the darker recesses, thanks to oil paint wash, the model gets a fine textured surface. I use two different paint brushes for drybrushing such models: a large, flat brush (like GW's CITADEL FLAT DRYBRUSH) and a smaller, round brush (like GW's CITADEL LARGE DRYBRUSH). Use the round tip for the details on the turrets and the flat one for the hull and large armour panels. Important hint for this: use the flat brush to drybrush up and down (don't go crazy in all directions), as the effect of applied brighter colour on the darker surface makes it look like stains of water that has run down. It's a simple but effective first step of weathering right there.
Finally, you can paint the details like stowage, lenses or mounted machine guns etc.
I will later add a pic of the finished tanks. They aren't yet. Questions? Just comment underneath this post, I'll answer. :-)


Paul´s Bods said...

They are not finished because you haven´t added the crew ;-D
They look pretty finished to me, very nice and a great article.

Alex McCutcheon said...

Hey, GREAT work! What are you using for crew figures?

Chris M. aka "Sgt. Scream" said...

@Alex: RH Liberation US modern tankers.

Anonymous said...


could i just ask, what make are the tanks and is the dozer blade part of the kit or something you made yourself?



Chris M. aka "Sgt. Scream" said...

They are repainted diecast M1 tanks made by Dragon if I remember correctly.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips, Sarge. I'm in the process of building a couple of AFVs: M60A2 'Starship', an M551 'Sheridan', and a British FV-432 Mk.2/1. I'll be painting the 60A2 as a DS AFV so the Desert Sand color will work just fine. As for the 'Sheridan', it'll be a faded OD to replicate an AFV in 'Nam. Oh, yeah, the FV-432 will be a vehicle belonging to the 'Royal Scots 7th Armored Brigade. So your tip on painting AFVs will come in handy for all three AFVs. "SCOUTS OUT!"