When it comes to painting white, I have two completely different methods for doing it. It's all based off how much white is on the model overall. Of the two, I use the one that works best for what I'm painting in order to make the process as smooth as possible. I'm going to show you the two ways I paint white along with how I chose my method and some examples of each one.
How do I know which method to use?
The first thing when deciding which method I'm going to use to paint white is to determine just how much of the model is going to be white in the end. I don't have a specific percentage, but if the majority of the model is going to be white then I'll use my first method. A White Scar space marine is a perfect example. The majority of this guy is going to be white.
If it's only a spot color or a smaller portion of the model that is going to be white, I'll use my second method. A good example here would be the helmet or shoulderpad of a terminator.
But what if my model is half white and half dark?
You know, like in a quartered or split color scheme. This one is easy as well. Use the first method below and prime your model white. Work your darker colors over the white after you've shaded it You'll just need to be careful, but you knew that already since you're tackling a split paint scheme to begin with.
What if I don't have any white, it's just white freehand work?
In this case, I use a light grey color as my base and then finish that off with white as needed to give it some variety. When it comes to freehand, there are bigger things you need to worry about like when you do it more than the color white.
I still wouldn't do the million layers of thinned white and build up to it. Go right for the light grey color (especially if you're working over a dark color) and then go to white for the finishing touches.
So let's look at the two methods I use:
The first method: The majority of the model is white
Believe it or not, this one is the easier one of the two despite there being more white on the completed model. I've already outlined the process in its entirely in this post on painting White Scar marines. It comes down to priming the model white and adding a specific wash for the shading.
The beauty of this method is that it is very fast and very easy to do and will give you a great results with a little bit of clean up work in the end. By the time you add your additional details and such like weathering, the model really comes to life.
Using this method, you could put a White Scars or Pre-Heresy World Eaters army on the table in no time at all. Any marine army with predominantly white armour becomes super easy to do.
The second method: Only a small portion of the model is white.
This is the method I use when only a small portion of the model is going to be white. The process involves a series of layers to build up a white finish. Since I'll most likely be working over black primer (remember the majority of the model is dark), I'll need to build up to white.
There's no point in trying to use a zillion coats of thinned white as the only thing you'll most likely end up with is a spotchy, uneven, obscured model along with a permanent cramp in your hand and lower back from painting for so long.
I start with a dark grey color (GW Mechanicus Standard Grey would work here). Over that, I apply a lighter color grey (GW Administratum Grey Would work here) leaving the darker grey showing in the deepest recesses only. The final layer is white and that can be either layered over the previous one covering it completely or blended using a wet blending approach for additional shading. The wet blending is not needed, it just makes for a nice touch. Here are few pointers on wet blending for those looking to try it out.
A few more things worth considering
1. Priming matters.
And by that, I mean the color you use. When it comes to the second method, if you prime with a light grey color instead of black, you can still get your dark model overall, and it cuts out a step when it comes to painting the small white areas.
As a side note, I use cheap primer for my models as I'm convinced it's how you prime that matters more than what you actually use.
2. Assemble then paint or paint then assemble.
These two methods are based on my process of building my model in it's entirety and then painting it. If you paint your model in sub-assemblies and then put the pieces together in the end, you can use the first method in some case as you'll be able to prime those particular pieces white as needed.
3. Varying the techniques is a good thing for results.
When it comes to the second method and layering up the greys to get to white, you can use cool greys or warm greys to give the model different looks. It comes down to personal preference in the end.
Hopefully this post shows you that white is not a super hard color to paint. It's not impossible to have a great looking white armoured force if you're willing to try a new technique or two. Believe me, I used to think white was an impossible color to paint as well.
Make sure to check out these posts as they might help:
Priming, a look at how I do it
White is similar to black... the details matter