Metallic Paints versus Non-Metallic-Metal Effects

The other day I saw someone online say that non-metallic metal is the best technique to use on Infinity models, and that metallic paints don’t look good on them for some reason.

This got me thinking about the techniques we use for painting metal.  I should say right now that in most cases I prefer using metallic paints (even on Infinity models).  This is because I think NMM methods can create a cartoonish effect.  Lately I have been leaning more and more towards a realistic style, similar to the one a lot of historical modellers aim for.  By this I mean creating depth and realism by using subtle highlighting only, and applying weathering powders and oils over what is essentially a simple neat paint-job.

The thing is, neither method is better, and both involve assumptions.  If you use NMM then you commit yourself to mimicking the effect of a light source, which means imagining where it would be and then painting the areas that you want to look reflective as though the light was there.  This is why I think NMM creates a cartoonish finish, or at least a painterly one: the model will forever after have a light source basically painted onto it, which I think removes it from its environment a little.

Metallic paints actually make the area reflective, which means that the model is at home in its surroundings.  One problem with metallics though is that they get their effect by having lots of tiny chips of shiny in the pigment, so it’s almost impossible to avoid leaving a texture, which doesn’t look great since metal areas are naturally smooth.

I’ve found that this can be overcome by using better quality metallics.  Your GW or Vallejo acrylics have this problem, but fork out a bit more money for some Vallejo Liquid Silver, or a Humbrol enamel, and you’ll find they have a texture similar to non-metallic paints.  Just remember that they clean up with spirit instead of water.

The real problem though is consistency.  If you’re going to use NMM, then you have to paint the whole model as though it has the imaginary light source.  This might sound basic, but I’ve seen models with clever NMM and then the rest of it is shaded and highlighted in a neutral way and doesn’t match.

Likewise, if you use metallic paints then I think the model will look better if the rest of the colours also speak for themselves, and realism is achieved mainly by weathering.  Don’t dramatically highlight the cloak comic-book style and then have a sword that gets its metal effect via natural light.

Anyway that’s just some thoughts.  I wonder if there are other ways to paint metal?  These are just the two that I know of.

Till next time,


4 thoughts on “Metallic Paints versus Non-Metallic-Metal Effects

  1. SinSynn says:

    Well I can tell you straight up that I don’t quite have the skills, or the patience to develop them, really, to do a proper job of painting non-metal-metal effects. Kudos to those that do, actually.
    I am in the market for some new metallics, and to tell you the truth I’m a lil’ bit too lazy to start working with paints that require spirits to remove from my brushes. Is there a decent brand of metallic paints that’ll work with good ol’ soap ‘n’ water?

  2. beat ronin says:

    Hey SinSynn, nice to see you 🙂

    Yeah I don’t want to take anything away from the people who use NMM to good effect. It’s certainly much more time-consuming and requires greater planning and practice than simply using a metallic paint. I think that’s probably why people often seem to think that an NMM paint-job is “better” than a metallic-paint one actually. They equate “more difficult” with “more worthy.” I don’t agree, I think they both have their place and just because metallics are easier doesn’t mean the person using them is a worse painter, or the paint-job is worse. You should just use whichever technique is going to create the effect you like.

    Hmmm. The only suggestion I could make if you don’t want to use GW or Vallejo acrylic metallics is to try Vallejo’s acrylic metal medium. It’s essentially a straight-up bottle of the little shinies that are mixed into metallic paints, so you can add as much or as little as you like to any other acrylic colour and make your own metallic paint. Which is cool. I also find it thins easily with water. I’ve used it to good effect. In fact I love it. I use it for extreme highlights on metal areas. I can’t speak for PP paints as I only have one, and it’s navy blue.

  3. Greg Heilers says:

    re: “This is why I think NMM creates a cartoonish finish, or at least a painterly one: the model will forever after have a light source basically painted onto it, which I think removes it from its environment a little.”

    Actually, it forces the modeler to *ensure* that the model’s “real-life” natural environment is represented and preserved. Yes, that means the modeler will have to control the viewing angle of the finished model, as well as how it is lit and displayed…but so what? We modelers should be doing that, anyway. Remember: this is art! If you were to acquire an original Rembrandt painting…you would not simply lay it on a table or tack it to the wall. You would take into consideration how it was to be displayed, how it was to be viewed, the lighting, etc.

    • beat ronin says:

      Hi Greg, thanks for commenting. I agree, there’s nothing wrong with it – as you said, this is art. So any and all techniques are fair game. What I was trying to say is that the techniques we choose have ramifications. I don’t agree that modellers and painters should necessarily be controlling the way models are displayed. Maybe for display pieces, but that is not what most miniature painters are producing. A game piece is going to be used in many lighting environments and moved around. It’s not the same as a Rembrandt painting.

      What I mean is that a painterly style has weaknesses as well as strengths, just like any other method. If there was one way of painting that was obviously better in all circumstances we’d all be doing it. And then it would be less about self-expression and creativity and more about replicating norms. I don’t call that art.

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