Hello everyone, my name is John, most people will know me as Darkmessiah, for the last 3 years I have been attending many competitions and workshops around Europe, I have been learning many new skills, techniques and ideas from some of the best painters in the world, this has drastically improved my hobby skills. This article will take you through an in depth look at the seven different types of contrast that I have learnt about on my travels!

Before I start, just a quick note, this is not meant to be the definitive guide to contrast, the hobby of painting miniatures has a huge collection of very talented people, the majority of my knowledge has come from such people, however, there is still so much more for me to learn, use this guide as a starting point to improve you painting skills but realise there is always more to learn and there will always be new ideas, new interpretations of old ideas, new materials and mediums, make sure you keep an open mind, never let someone tell you something is impossible and PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE! Reading about an idea or technique is no substitute for sitting down and actually trying it a few times!

There are 7 forms of contrast that I am aware of, some types of contrast you will use be able to use quite often, some are a little bit more specific, what they all have in common is that if you use them correctly, the contrast on your model will increase. I will explain the idea behind each type of contrast and then give you an example of a model where it has been used.

1. Light and Dark Contrast
Light and dark contrast is the most widely known form of contrast, when painters talk about a model lacking contrast on a miniature forum, this is usually the contrast they’re referring too. The idea is if you place a light colour next to a dark colour the difference between the two colours will create contrast. You'll see this contrast really exploited in NMM, zenithal lighting, directional lighting and object source lighting.

Pretty much everyone uses this when they paint highlights and shadows, you can stretch the contrast by adding pure white and black into ur shadows, be careful though, as a dark blue can look darker than a heavy black shadow. Another way it can be used is actually a much simpler way of using it and thats actually just placing a dark colour next to a light colour and vica versa.
In this example you can actually see a step by step of a fully NMM Iron Man bust, from the initial 'sketch' in white/black/grey to the final image where white and black are used heavily.


Here is an example of a light/dark contrast used in zenithal/directional lighting, the face has alot of white and black in it, the contrast on the face really helps make it the focal point, especially as large parts of the model are muted.

Here is an example of light/dark contrast being used by placing a dark part of the model next to a light part of the model, the darkness of the armour has been placed next to a very bright tunic and cape, the lightness of the face is surround by quite a dark lining where the face meets the skull cap, the contrast is further exaggerated with the use of strong highlights and shadows on his face and tunic. The tunic itself goes from white at the top to a very dark brown at the bottom, the shades in the folds of the tunic are also a dark blue.

2. Colour
Colour contrast and colour theory pretty much go hand in hand, colour contrast is a corner stone of colour theory. Now, whilst colour theory can be made to be very complicated and challenging, colour contrast can be made to be very simple!

So below is a colour wheel, colour contrast is about picking two complimentary and using them on your model. A complimentary colour is the colour opposite the colour you have chosen, if I wanted to use red, green would be the complementary colour, with purple its yellow, with blue its orange etc, etc.

If you want something a little more refined and interactive I’d recommend you have a look at this site, Colour Scheme Designer, their you can choose complementary from the menu, pick a colour and it will show you its complementary colour and that complementary colour's and lighter/darker variation, picking your colours is no more difficult than that.

Once you have your colours chosen you have the more complicated task of choosing how to use your colours. The following examples are either common ways I’ve seen complimentary colours applied or an applications I’ve found interesting, colour in itself is infinitely variable, please don’t get tied down to using colours how they are in the examples, play with your colour choices try new things, try mad things, try crazy things!

Using them your as main colours, but as separate colours
This is Martin Footit’s UK Open gold winning model from 2011 and it uses complementary colours (red and green) in a simple but very effective way.

Here is another example of the same use of complimentary colour, but its blue and orange.

another example from Darren Latham using purple and yellow

The 2nd example is
Mixing your complimentary colour into your chosen colour to create a highlight or shadow
This idea is used quite a lot by intermediate to high level painters, it can be a very subtle effect but it’s a very effective because it can add a lot of depth and complexity to your colours.

The 3rd is
Using both your complimentary colour and you chosen colour to make highlights/shadows of each other
If your struggling to get ur head around this idea I don’t blame you! it’s the most complicated use of complimentary colour and requires a good understanding of the colours your using.

In this example Chris used purple and yellow as his complimentary colours, he used the purple to shade the yellow and used yellow to shade the purple.

3. Temperature
Temperature contrast relies on the temperature properties we associate with certain colours, whether we think a colour is warm or cold. Temperature can be a very powerful tool to create atmosphere because the viewer can quickly see the story the model is trying to tell.
As stated temperature contrast is spilt into hot and cold colours, cold colours are your violets, blues and teals, where you warm colours are yellows, reds and greens
In the example below you can see Isidro has used largely warm colours to give the impression that the farseer is standing under a warm sun on an alien planet.

In this example Artur has used a combination of cold colours to place this terminator in an icy wasteland.


A step up from using just cold colour or just warm colours is using them together to further enhance features or details.
The example blow is a bust painted by Diego Esteban. it’s a fantastic example of how a combination of cold and warm colours creates a powerful atmosphere and story. As soon as you look at the bust a story starts to unfold, the touches of snow on his cloak, the way his hands and face are starting to turn blue shows he is obviously in a frozen, bitterly cold environment, the vivid slashes of blood red and mud smears, shows he must have been in some kind of battle or struggle, maybe he was ambushed by wolves whilst hunting, fighting a local tribe over land or maybe he is escaping from an encounter with a Roman Legionnaire. What makes this bust work so well is a clever combination of colour, the focus of the bust is the face and his hand, both warm colours surrounded by the cold colours of his cloak, Diego has then combined a blue shadow and mid tone with the warmth of the face to really show how much the warrior is struggling.

Another example of combining cold and warm colours to create atmosphere is this bust by Isidro Moñux, it is a much more subtle paint job, but for me it is no less dramatic. Isidro has combined subtle blues and warm orangey browns to create a bust of a Spartan travelling through the night. One component that really helps sell the night scene is the direction of light from left to right, the colours subtly shift from warm and neutral to cold colours. This colour shift is most obvious across his chest, if u compare the arm on the left, which is mostly warm colours shifting to neutral to the arm on the right, which is entirely cold, mostly blue in fact. This shift in colour is evident on all the components of the model, on this neck and face, his cloak and helmet.

Isidro Moñux - Spartan

And here are 2 examples of miniatures with a similar combination of cold and warm colours.
Seb use mostly cold colours on this model, however a subtle use of red in the skin really helps add life.

Anakin vs Obi Wan by Alfonso Giraldes, the heat of the lava evident on Obi Wan’s back and the cold light of his light sabre makes for a fantastic combination of light and temperature.

One last example is from Bohun, he uses temperature in a very interesting way, before I go through the examples, I need to explain that any colour can be made to be hot or cold, if you take a warm red and add a cold blue, the red shifts towards a colder purpley red, if you take a cold blue and add a warm green, you take the blue towards a warmer teal, this is something Bohun uses heavily. When Bohun paints a model he will have 3 different variations of the main colour, a cold version, a warm version and a neutral version (the cold and warm version mixed in equal amounts), he places them close to each other in almost a random way. He uses this combination of colours to create very high contrast paintjobs

4. Texture
Texture is a type of contrast that has been used in the historical side of the hobby for many years and has started being used by more and more by painters on the sci fi and fantasy side of the hobby. Texture is about creating a random pattern, usually with sponges or paint brushes. Texture is usually used to recreate the look of leather, fabric and paint chips, although is becoming increasing popular in creating the texture of stone and heavily used armour.
Texture is a great form of contrast when used against or with smooth surfaces, it helps add depth and variation to a model.
I am going to go through a few examples and quickly talk about how the texture was created
Here is a work in progress picture a flatbed truck John painted, (he is a member of the Wamp forum and uses the name megazord_man) no doubt some people will recognise it, you can see on the inner wall of the back of the truck the dark brown chips, this effect was created by sponging paint on to the model. It’s quite a widely used technique and a highly effective one.

This is also a WIP image from an up and coming Spanish painter called Aitor Molero Pujalte, he used an old brush as his random pattern tool, stippling several different colours over the top of each other to create a shield that has been used, abused and neglected. Aitor uses an old brush, I have seen other painters use a cheap flat brush that’s had its bristles cut short. 

Here is a great rock texture from Conrad, he uses variety of sponges to create this rock texture, Conrad also heavily uses texture on his models.

Here we can see the texture on Gandalf’s robe, this has been painted on one using a brush, Javier built up the texture by painting small stripes and dots all over the model.

5. Matt/Gloss
Matt/gloss contrast relies on how reflective a surface is or isn’t, it relies on the difference between a glossy surface and a matt surface to create contrast. Most hobbyists would have used a similar type of idea on their metallics, the key to realistic metallic is to have the highlights very reflective and to have the shadows quite matt. Most people achieve this with washes or successive glazes of acrylics, the difference between the highlights and shadows creates a more realistic look, a similar idea can be used to help increase contrast on areas of a models.

a quick example of metallics
If you use an ink or glaze on your model they can add a satin or gloss finish to the area you have painted. A gloss or satin finish can help add depth to the colour it has been glazed over because the surface will reflect more light and therefore more of the under lying colour, especially in comparison to a matt colour. I use this contrast to help enhance my shadows, I glaze with the old games workshop glazes and inks, pushing them into my shadows, because the shadows now have a stain finish they reflect more light and so therefore more colour, they appear darker and more intense, this helps give my models a darker atmosphere. Alfonso Giraldes does the opposite, he uses inks and glazes in highlights, this helps him create models which appear brighter.

This is a WIP shot of the Pre Heresy World Eater Contemptor I converted and painted last year, I used an old GW glaze to smooth the transition I placed with my airbrush, I also used it to give the shadows a satin finish to increase their depth.
In this picture you can see the initial gradient. Take note of the near black colour in the shadows, especially on the side of the shoulder pad.

Here you can see the pad after glazing but before weathering, the shadows are now far more intense and have far more depth, in reality the shadows are now slightly lighter than the initial black shading in the above picture. This isn’t an easy technique to show because taking accurate pictures of glossy/satin surface is next to impossible, but hopefully you can see the effect with the difference between the two pictures

6. Saturation
Saturation contrast relies on using saturated and desaturated colours, either side by side or together. A desaturated colour is any colour that has had, or you have added black or white too, they tend to be darker or lighter colours, a saturated colour tends to be a pure colour, a strong and vibrant midtone.
Saturated models can be extremely vibrant and stand out, unfortunately it can be difficult to make purely saturated models look realistic. In the example below, the model really stands out because of its really strong, vibrant, saturated colours.

Desaturated models are a lot more realistic, they also tend to be more atmospheric, although they can lack the punch saturation can bring. Painters who use desaturated colours tend to end up using different types of contrast to help the model stand out. In both examples the painters have used texture and colour harmony to add more interest, Alfonso goes a step further by using light to help focus the eye on the face of the demon.

A combination of saturated and desaturated colours often can create a model with a lot of contrast, in actuality the majority or painters would have used this combination of saturated and desaturated colours when they use lighter colours to highlight and darker colours to shade.
Here are two examples where the painter has not only pushed the light/dark contrast on the model, but has also pushed the saturated/desaturated contrast

In these two examples you can see how the painter has used saturation to draw attention to areas of importance on the model

Here Camelson goes the other way, he use the desaturation of the white to draw focus to the helmet

7. Brilliance or Luminance
Luminance is about a colour’s ability to reflect light. All colours reflect light in varying amounts, white is the most reflective colour and black is the least reflective, the more white a colour contains the more reflective the colour will be come. This can be especially useful for making light appear more realistic on reflective objects, such as gems, armour and swords.
In this article Chris speaks about an experiment with metallics, he mixes metallic paints and standard acrylics to increase contrast. Chris starts his metallics in a pretty conventional way, using acrylic glazes to shadow the metallics, but he moves away from the conventional method when he paints his extreme highlights. Chris uses standard acrylics to paint his brightest highlight, he uses Vallejo model colour’s Light Flesh, taking advantage of its light reflecting properties being higher than the metallics he uses to attain an even brighter final highlight, which is pretty cool, especially considering the Vallejo model air metallics he uses are extremely reflective. Here is an up to date picture of Chris’ Colossus, it is still WIP but you can see how much the metallics stand out.

You can see further examples below

And that is all I have for the moment! Hopefully you enjoyed the article and are able to take away and apply some of the ideas I have talked about and really improve your skills!


  1. This helped so much, Thanks for taking the time to explain this.

  2. Fantastic article. Thank you so much.

  3. Great article ! Thanks for sharing !

  4. If you are looking for the best Bitcoin exchange company, then you should use YoBit.

  5. I reference this article all the time. Thanks for sharing!