A look at some basing color concepts

When it comes to basing, we usually think about what kind of theme we want, but often forget about taking that theme and applying color to it as it relates to our model.

I got this very question the other day and thought I might go into the things I consider when basing a model. Most of the time, I know what theme I want from the beginning. We all have our favorites. Mine is the urban look as though your force is pushing through a destroyed city. But then there is the question of what color to use.

I have two major approaches
I have two basic approaches when it comes to picking colors (or values at least) for my bases. Both of them play on contrast and are designed to make the model stand out from the base and pop on the table.

Here's a closer look at this guy.

The first approach is the dark model on a light base
If my model has a dark color scheme as this Iron Hands marine does, I will usually go with a light colored base to make him stand out. The weathering on the lower portion of the model is designed to tie both the model and the base together, but he still stands out as a dark shape on a light base.

The second approach is the light model on a dark base
The very same thing as the first approach except you flip the light and dark. In this case, I have a light colored model I want to make stand out so I do the base a dark color.

Beyond value, using color to separate model and base
You can also use contrasting colors (blue model on an orange base from example) to help make your model stand out.

By taking a little bit of the contrasting color (compared to the predominant color on your model) and incorporating that into your base, you can help set the model apart from the base. And don't feel like it has to be obvious. Just because your Blood Angel is red doesn't mean your base has to be green. You can add a slight hint of green to help get the effect.

What about making your model blend into your base?
Not everyone wants to stand out on the battlefield. While marines may not use camouflage extensively, other armies do. In the case where you want your model to match your base, it's as simple as using similar if not the same colors on both the model and the base.

Since this guy is wearing camouflage painted armour, it wouldn't make any sense if the pattern on his armour was different than the base he was standing on. I used the same colors on the base as I did on the armour so he would "blend in."

You can do something similar by putting a dark model on a dark base or a light model on a light base. Instead of standing out due to a value contrast, your model will blend into his environment a little more.

This means I could take my Iron Hand marine up there and put him on a both a light or dark colored base. Both would work just fine. The light base (since he is dark) would make him stand out. Putting him on a dark base would make him blend in a little more.

There are other ways to tie your model and base together
Looking back at the Iron Hands marine, the weathering on the lower portion of the model is designed to tie both the model and the base together. Whether you do it with powders, washes or drybrushing, taking the few extra minutes to tie your model to the base can really change the look of your army overall.

It doesn't have to be over the top either. You don't have to do crazy mud caked up on the lower half of the model or enough dust to cover the original paint scheme. A subtle shading/highlighting effect can do wonders to bring both parts together as one piece.

In this case here, I used the basecoat of this model to tie the whole thing together. If you look carefully, you can see both the model and base are basecoated with a reddish-brown color. Having the reddish-brown color show through on the model and the edge of the base ties the whole thing together as one.

Putting it all together
Let's look at an example to show how it all comes together. We'll use my pretend Ultramarine model here as our test subject.

Since he's sporting dark blue armour and I want to do an urban style theme, let's look at some of my options. Across the top row, we have the light and dark options going with a basic grey color. The light grey color offers a little more contrast than the dark grey color. Since I like dark colored models, I'm going to opt for the dark grey though.

Across the bottom row, we have our same Ultramarine on a contrasting color base (orangish-brown color). We have two options of light and dark again as well depending on how much we want our figure to stand out.

Sticking with my dark look, I'm going to take the features I like from both rows of base options and go with a dark orangish-grey color base. The dark color of the base will tie in with the model and give me the overall dark look I like and the addition of the orangish-brown color will give me just a bit of contrast and separate the mode from the base.

Make sure to check out these posts as they might help:
Basing with free materials found around your home
How to apply static grass so it stands upright

Ron, From the WarpIf you've got any questions about something in this post, shoot me a comment and I'll be glad to answer. Make sure to share your hobby tips and thoughts in the comments below!


  1. I often ask myself how to find the best base color to match my model's color scheme and this answers the question.
    Great stuff!

  2. I have never considered bases that much before. But it makes since, with my next project I will have to play around with this. Thanks.

  3. There's only one base colour - Red Planet ;) Saying that there's all sorts of shades of red I've been seeing that range from the orange/yellow sand on your Howling Griffon to the brick red on your Eldar Corsair so there's plenty of scope within one aspect only.

  4. Love the Iron Hand did you use blue in the highlights or is that a trick of the light?

    I've been considering re-basing my iron hands, they are very monochromatic so putting them on grey ashwaste theme bases wasn't the best idea to make them stand out. It's probably not much darker than your base but yours makes the marine pop so much more.

  5. this is such a good article Ron and well explained. Thanks for sharing. Could you tell em how you painted the sickly skin tone for the Iron Warriors? awesome work.

  6. Nice article, Ron. I actually use a base scheme similar to the one in your final example for my Ultramarines. Dark brown sand drybrushed up to light brown, with dark grey rocks and occasional green grass patches. It provides perfect contrast.

    One thing you might touch on some other time is the color of the base ring. I've seen some beautiful basing work ruined by the application of Goblin Green or Vomit Brown on base rings. I'm a fan of pure black myself, but I've seen white and grey used to good effect as well. How much do you feel the solid base ring color weighs on the end base result?

  7. Glad you like it guys!

    dwez: "Red Planet" is a good one. I am quite fond of that one myself as it lends itself to some great weathering effects.

    skoby: The blue highlights on the armour are from P3 Coal Black. It's blended into the black as the highlight color.

    Dunk: The skin tone started out as a very light grey base color that I applied a thinned purple wash over. Then highlight with the basecolor again for a little bit of contrast. You can also add some black wash to the eyes to make them look a bit more sunken in as well.

    TheRhino: What a great point and question. I give my base ring some thought as well. I think I'll put that together in another post though since there are a few things to consider there as well. The color you pick can certainly affect the final look of your model.

  8. Good tutorial. I just stumbled across the concept last month on tying the mini with the base as you suggested by dusting the mini's lower legs with the same color on the base. Funny how something so simple escaped me so long.

    Keep up the great posts!:)

  9. good blog entry!
    got an off-topic question about that iron hand marine.
    what bits are used for that model? i vaguely recognize the leg but the shoulderpad, the head and the tubes from the armor to the head are new to me... looks amazing though!

  10. Just be careful not to make your nice base over power your mini. Don't laugh, a few times now I've done up and really nice display base for a mini I am working on only to dry fit the min and realize I've done a better job on the base than the mini. ARG!

  11. I usually just go with simple grass base, but the themed, special bases are always good to look. On the sidenote, where did you find the awesome-looking cyborg style helmet for the first marine picture? And can you give me some tips about making bullet mark/damage on armor and shoulderpad?

  12. I paint my Space wolves in a pre-heresy style, ie: dark, dark grey.
    Yet I run a dark basing scheme. Normaly this would look rubbish, but they are lava bases. Bright red and orange streaks running through the gravel give a much nicer contrast than a desert scheme would, without drawing away from the model as I think brighter bases do on darker models.
    I think, that you dont need to have the base contrast with the model, but at least have something on the base that brightens or at least is a break from the armour scheme. Verdigris metal works extremely well for this, so does rust with some schemes(I give my wolves a brownish wash on their armour, so this doesnt work for me).

  13. Fantastic article, as always Ron.
    This has given me some thought as how to paint my bases for my Dark Angels. In fact, the theme I've gone for them are scenic urban ruins, using tiled plasticard, fine and coarse grit sand and bits of battlefield debris (razor wires, etc).

    However, as far as colour schemes go, I am seeking contrast against the dark green scheme of the Dark Angels. Would light, dusty greys be sufficient to create contrast? Following your examples, a contrasting colour to the green would be red, but I am not sure how I would incorporate that into an otherwise desaturated, urban battlefield sprawl. Only thing I can think of are the pools of blood and gore of their vanquished foes, but I fear that'd make the bases too busy. Any thoughts?


  14. Great article on an issue that is often overlooked. You gave me this exact advice when I was doing the colour scheme for my astral knights chapter, they are blue, white and silver and you suggested a reddy brown base for the warm/cool contrast, it looks great.
    Cheers Rob

  15. Workingstiff: That's so true. When it comes to basing, you don't have to do crazy stuff to get nice results. Sometimes a simple wash or powder dusting can make a world of a difference.

    Koen Dijns: The bionic bits come from Puppets War. The shoulderpad is a regular one that I converted by cutting away a small section and resculpting the trim around the edge.

    The extra power cables are added in as well to bulk out some places on the model. I use a Tentacle Maker from Green Stuff Industries to do those.

    Here are some more pics of the Iron Hands marine

    Zab: Yikes! I con only imagine that problem. I can only think of one model that I had to focus more on the base than the model and that was my Necron Canoptek Wraith conversion.

    Anon1: I believe the head comes from Puppets War. The bionics on the model come from them. As far as adding bullet damage and such to armour, there are a couple ways you can do it.

    You can do it with paint and create a faux look similar to how you might apply regular wear and tear to a model. This method would work for surface damage though... anything deeper might require a different approach. The other option is to actually make small cuts and scratches on the model using a hobby knife or drill. This would work for damage that is worse and shows effects that have penetrated the armour and left more than just a scratch on the surface.

    Anon2: You make a good point. You don't have to go all out and do light on dark completely for the effect to work. It sounds like you do something similar, but just toned down slightly and it works perfectly for your guys. The trick is finding a balance that gets you the results you want.

    Steelshanks: Light grey bases against the dark green armour would work perfectly. You would have the light base to contrast against the dark model. You could skip the addition of red all together if you wanted to. If you wanted to include a touch of red, you color try adding some rust to the meal battlefield debris you have on the bases. It doesn't have to be exactly red to get the contrast and make the model pop... you can do the same thing by simply getting close.

    Maybe try a thinned down wash of say a reddish-orange or dark orange color over any metal areas on your bases to see what kind of effect that gives. One test base an you'll know if it's going to give you a look you like. It might be enough to give you a little more contrast on your bases and set your guys apart.

  16. I have been playing for color balance a bit on my recent Orc bases.

    My Orcs are all decked out in earth tones, so I made the bases cool rock tones for contrast. I think it works nicely.

    A Stormboy.

    My Warboss.

    I don't claim to be a master painter, but I really enjoyed seeing I'm not the only one who puts thought into these kind of things.

  17. Midas: That's it exactly. Just putting some thought into like that... warm model vs cool base is all it takes. Nice work!

  18. I think I'm going to change my bases a bit due to this. My models are black and red, and my bases have been a really dark grey to look like a desecrated daemon world. Everything kinda blended in together. To stay with the same theme I think I'm going to make the bases a blue grey to add just a small amount of contrast between the warm greys and red of the armour and the blue grey ground. Thanks for the great post.

  19. Hi Ron, long time reader, first time ... err poster?
    I've got a set theme for my basing across my Necron army, dry brush of Leadbelcher over Chaos and Abaddon Black. I've got a squad of Deathmark's I've painted to be dull (to try & fit in with the sniper role), I'm just curious how you'd go about painting the bases.

    Here are a couple of pics:

    I'm not too keen on changing the base theme too wildly - I'd have to go and change all the rest of my army to suit.

    I've thought about maybe running a dark grey over the base rim to bring that up slightly, and also a dry brush of Runefang Steel over the top to highlight even more the sand.

    Any ideas?


  20. MarkLNZ: Thanks for the comment and sharing the pics!
    It looks as though you've opted to go with the dark base and the dark model and it looks good.

    If I were to do anything, it might be to drybrush some lighter grey over the basing material to bring out some texture to set the model (which is smooth) apart from the base (which is rough). You don't have to go bright either... just enough to bring out the surface texture.

    You could also try rimming the base with grey instead of black which would change to overall feel of the finished model as well.

  21. Hi Ron,

    thanks for the quick reply :)
    Last night I painted the base rim with an Eshin Grey layer, and it's brought the base up a lot (and is something I'm happy to apply to my entire army).
    It just so happens the model above has the darkest of all my Deathmark bases, so I'll absolutely brighten it up a touch.

    Thanks for your comments, I'll post up another picture of this model once I've finished tickling it.



    PS; your work is inspirational! It is one of the reasons I decided to get into WH40k! I was a fence sitter until I stumbled across your blog and saw the possibilities of the hobby, so thanks!

  22. MarkLNZ: Thanks! Remember, you don;t have to brighten it much, just enough to bring out some texture. And it doesn't have to be grey either. You could try using tans or light blues depending on the feel you want to create.

  23. Very interesting article.
    I usually does what seems fun to me on the base, and never noticed how important contrasting colors can improve your model.



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