Nowadays we can find very different lighting styles in the modeling world, mainly in large scales. From a complex pre-shading system with black and white colors, to the using of only one plain color without lights and shadows. But there is not one style strictly better than other. They are just different, and they offered us distinct final results. The application of one or other method not only depends on our own painting style, but the time we have and the looking we want to reach are also important.

Lighting styles

I love color modulation and this post will be focused mostly in this style. Time ago I prepared another post about color modulation, and therefore the point of view of this post is more “philosophic” than technique. But first I wanted to introduce some of the lighting styles we can find, under the perspective of our tiny models in 1:100 scale. Note that if I like the color modulation it doesn’t mean that this technique is the best one and the others are a mess. Not at all! Personally I really enjoy applying this technique and the final result delights me. That’s all.

Lighting styles

No lights

Do we really need to apply lights? Real vehicles are painted in a plain color. This system is really fast, since we only have to apply the color we want and nothing more. But I have to say that although lights are not really needed in large scales, in 15mm we need to give something more to our model to “save” the scale effect. That is, our models are so small. And the smaller is a surface, the smaller is the reflected light (and therefore the vehicle is darker). Although we use the same real color, in our small model the final look will be too dark, because it is not reflecting as much light as the real vehicle. Indeed, this is the reason because some painting companies, like AMMO of Mig Jimenez, produce lighter colors.

Lighting styles

Zenithal lighting

Probably the most common one. We need to image only one light spot, commonly the sun, and apply the lights following it. We usually apply the lights in the upper areas, meanwhile we keep the bottom ones in the dark color. Indeed, this is probably the more real lighting effect we can simulate and the work needed is minimum. We only need to airbusbrush the light color on the upper areas. However, at the end the result is not so defined because we are not “splitting” the different panels. That is, we apply a general light over the whole surface, including all edges and details it has. So we are partially losing the definition of these elements. They are “mixed”.

Lighting styles


Nunca lo he intentado, pero me gustaría. Siguiendo este método, primero pintamos el vehículo sólo con los colores negro y blanco. Usamos ambos colores para crear contrastes entre paneles y para incluir sutiles efectos de desgaste. A continuación, se pinta el color original en una capa muy fina (diluida). Al ser esta capa tan fina, los contrastes creados con los colores negro y blanco se mantendrán. Las partes pintadas en negro serán más oscuras, mientras que las pintadas en blanco, serán claras. Aunque esta técnica puede parecer muy complicada de aplicar en los 15mm, al final no es más complicado que pintar un camuflaje de culebrillas!. Podéis echar un ojo al perfil de FB o Google+ de Alexandre Benvenuti para ver algunos fantásticos ejemplos.


This style assumed several light spots and not only one. But more interestingly, we individually work every panel. Paneling is also a very real style, and we can get very nice contrasts without so much work. We have two options to achieve this. First, we can apply the lights ONLY in the central area of the panel, leaving the dark color in the edges. On the other hand, we can do just the opposite. After painting the color we want, we foreground with a dark color the union between panels and recesses. The second option is very common in large scales, but it’s complicated to do in our small scale. The work would be similar to the pre-shading effect, but meanwhile in that one it doesn’t mind if we commit errors (we can easily repair then), in this case the errors are unforgiven. Therefore, I think it’s easier if we just apply the light in the center of every panel. Take a look to these fantastic comparison created by my friend Angusin from ModelBrush:

Lighting styles

Color modulation

As you have probably noticed, this is my favorite one. This style is similar to the last one since it involves several light spots and we work every panel. However, the idea is totally different. In this case we want to increase as much as we can the volume of the different panels. To achieve this effect we can combine the shadow of one panel with the light of the adjacent one, as you can observe in the following picture. In addition, following this link you can find more information.

Lighting styles

In summary, I think we should use some kind of illumination system in our small models. Itdoesn’t mind the style we like, but they are so small and we need to force the contrast to transform them in a more attractive model. In addition, weathering effects are much better on light surfces!. And altough the contrast we obtain are too strong, remember that when we apply the weathering effects these contrast will be partially masked.

Color modulation is probably the most unreal lighting style, since we are creating impossible lighting effects. But in my opinion, the generated contrasts bring to life our models because they are “telling” something more. Indeed, we can observe these models and start thinking about that something is wrong, but we don´t know exactly what is. So they are just capturing our attention. Of course, we already use plenty of weathering effects and so forth to precisely capture the spectator´s attention. But we can also use an interesting base to work them! For example, if you want to represent a dirty area you can easily apply a brown filter on it. If the base is painted in a plain color, the whole area will have the same final tone (obviously you can work a little more this area with other techniques). Nonetheless, if the surface has some lights and shadows we can obtain very interesting and different tones using the same filter. And especially if the surface is modulated, the contrasts we can get are really nice since they are so strong. We should remember that we are working on 1:100 scale models!. They are too tiny. And the modulation can be used to compensate it.


Finally I wanted to comment that there are people who love color modulation and people who hates. Somebody thinks that color modulation is just a temporal fashion, but probably is mostly a trend because more and more people use it. Interestingly, once I read in a forum an remarkable comment, something like this: “nowadays many people use color modulation only to show that they have applied the color modulation”. Maybe this guy is right, but I don’t think so. In my opinion, modulation is another technique, like mud splashes or chipping, which provides an additional looking to our models. At the end the final looking is the result of the sum of all layers we have applied.


What do you think? Which style do you prefer? And what do you think about the others?

T54 battlefront

On the other hand, if you are interested, I have recently published a painting article involving the topic of this post in the last issue of The Weathering Magazine. The theme of this issue is Vietnam, and using some T-54 tanks from Battlefront I describe three different painting styles: basic, intermediate and advanced. I applied soft lights with the drybrush technique, zenithal lights and color modulation respectively. And the weathering effects are increased in amount and quality with each level. In addition in the magazine you can find another fantastic tutorials, from tanks to planes, and including a mech and a couple of very interesting articles about modelling materials and the different soils of Vietnam.


And in a close future I will publish a new book about how to paint wargames tanks in collaboration with Mig Jimenez (thanks for the opportunity!!).

wargames book


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