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Painting Miniatures With Photoshop

Article by Paul Nortness

Have you ever got a new miniature and looked at it and came up with a killer paint scheme in your head, then, worked for days getting it just right only to find out that the colors are all wrong? Let's face it, paints aren't cheap and it's a real bummer to spend all that time and effort only to have a goofy looking miniature. Luckily, modern technology comes to the rescue! All you need to do this is a good camera and Photoshop.

You could get away with just Photoshop and use the pictures on a manufactuer's website as they are often pictures of unpainted miniatures, but I prefer taking my own pictures because you can get a good high resolution image. I am using a Zaku from the Gundam series for this demonstration. I have a custom paint job in mind and I want to see what it looks like first. This technique will work just fine on anything really, be it miniatures or models.

digitally painting gundam figures

Once you get a picture of your subject, load it up into Adobe Photoshop. I am using Photoshop CS5, but this technique should translate to other versions.

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Once Photoshop is loaded, we need to create a new "Layer". Do this by clicking "Layer", then "New", "Layer".

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Almost ready to start painting? Good, cause we are getting close! When you click on "Layer", a pop-up box will appear. You can name the new layer anything you want, I used "Base Color" because I will be using this layer for the main color. Then, select "Multiply" in the drop down for "Mode". This is very important. Without this setting, this technique will not work.

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Now that your first layer is created, we can begin painting. Select your Polygonal Lasso tool and outline the area you wish to paint.

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OK, ready for the cool part? Select your color and paint it using the Fill tool.

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How cool is that? It added the new color, but kept the shading underneath! Technology at its finest folks! Let's continue with the base color. Don't worry, you can always remove something if you don't like it! Just click "undo" and it is gone.

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Here is my Gundam Zaku with all my orange base color applied. The orange didn't come out quite as orange as I would like because the model is already colored a slightly bluish grey color. That is OK though, I still get the idea of what the model will look like in orange. Now, it's time to add my secondary color. I will need to create a new layer for the second color, making sure to set the mode to "Multiply" as before.

I am thinking of using a darker color for the secondary color, maybe black or a dark blue. To ensure I still get detail and shading to come through, I want to do one extra thing when creating this layer. I need to adjust the opacity. Dropping it to 80% should give me a nice dark color while still showing detail.

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Now that I have created the second layer, I can begin applying my new color. Just as before, select the area with the Polygonal Lasso tool and fill the area with the new color.

Here we have the secondary color. I have added a dark blue to the section between the arm and chest. I must say, I am not a huge fan of the dark blue. Let's try black.

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Ah, I like that much better. All it takes to change color is a click with the fill tool. Easy! So, I will continue filling in my secondary color until I am satisfied.

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Here is the Zaku with the secondary color added.

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I want to create one more layer, this one called "Accents". This final layer will be a greyish color so I won't need to adjust the opacity this time. This color will be used on joints, ports, etc., and will actually be a dull silver on the model.

Looking at the orange, I decide I am not such a big fan. If I painted that, I would have to dip the model in Purpler Power and strip off all that paint not to mention all the hard work lost. But, since I did it in Photoshop first I can just adjust the color. I select my "Base Color" layer and click "Image" in the Toolbar. Then select "Adjustments", then "Hue/Saturation". Using the sliders, I can change the color until I find something I like.

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And with just a quick flick of the mouse...

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Red! With the Hue slider, you can get just about any color you want. Unfortunately, with my choice of black as my secondary color the Hue slider will not work.

This technique is also helpful for car modelers wanting to try a new custom paint job on their hot rods, or maybe a "what if" builder (USMC A-10 Warthog anyone?). Even model rocket enthusiasts can use this technique to create new paint schemes on their rockets before going to the paint booth.

Now using this simple technique you can save yourself a lot of hard work and paint. So start taking pictures of those miniatures and start digitally painting them!

Have fun and happy painting!

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