Home Forums WWII Painting 3mm (1/600) vehicles and figures

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    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    (By Thaddeus Blanchette, exclusive for The Wargames Website)

    There is a growing interest in 3mm / 1/600 scale gmaing, largely fueled by Oddzial Osmy’s excellent figures (which now take in both World Wars, the Cold War, and Science fiction). With Khurasan’s stuff soon to come on-line, an increasing number of 1/600 manufacturers on Shapeways (such as Kokoda Trail and The National Cheese Emporium) and Brigade Model’s expanding 2mm terrain range (which works like a charm for 3mm), this scale has been consolidated. everything you need to play micro armor in 1/600 is now out there, in abundance.

    It is certainly here to stay, as a scale, and will probably only increase in popularity as figure prices rise and salaries and living spaces shrink in the upcoming decades.

    But how does one paint the blessed things?

    1/600 – or pico-scale – is the second smallest gaming scale there is (losing out only to Irregular Miniatures 1/900 or 2mm stuff), but much of the received wisdom regarding painting micro-scale 6mm figures can be applied here. Nevertheless, it’s worth repeating these points and highlighting a few other tricks of the trade, so that neophyte painters can avoid common pitfalls.

    I’ve been painting pico-scale figures since 2004, when I took in my first shipment of Irregular 2mm Napoelonics. I was one of Marcin (of O8’s) first buyers when his stuff began to come out and I am very much a faithful customer, buying from Pico Armor in the U.S. and Fighting 15s on those occasions when I go to Europe. Both mail order houses have given me excellent service but I have to say – with no criticism to Fighting 15s – that John and Jon at Pico Armor just can’t be beat when it comes to first class customer service. If you’ve got the opportunity, use them for your 1/600 needs.

    Now, where was I? Oh, yes! Painting!

    Basically, the problem with 1/600 is that they are so damned small. If you play modern conflicts with them and paint up your figs realistically, there’s a very good chance that they will bnlend right into the table, what with the camouflage and all. Even if they don’t blend in, all you might see at arm’s length, are little black blobs, making it impossible to conveniently tell (for example) a Pz. Mk. III froma Pz. Mk. IV.

    I have futzed around with paint schemes to no end, trying to overcome this problem. Right now, there are three main schools of thought in painting 3mm pico armor:

    Realistic Painting
    This school of painting is perhaps best exemplified by History PhD and can be seen to good effect on his Very Tiny Wars blog. HPhD’s philosophy can best be summed up in one word: realism. Let me quote from his recent (and excellent) post on painting:

    I… like my vehicles to be closer to REAL reality. Sometimes I hear that my paint doesn’t provide enough contrast and that my flocking is too close to the color of the vehicles. I disagree. The whole purpose behind painting military vehicles is to help them blend into the background (along with helping to protect the metal). I use a shade of flocking that is just slightly lighter than the vehicle. I want what I paint to be as close to reality as is possible without losing too many things on the tabletop. I go slightly lighter on the flocking shade I use, but I’m NOT going to use flock that makes it look like my vehicles are on the fourth green at Pebble Beach! I also give each vehicle a bit of bright, but historically relevant color (“bling”).

    HPhD’s stuff is smashing up close and very realistic, as you can see here:

    The problem with this technique, however, comes when you look at it from a distance, en masse. to wit:

    Notice that these stands are on a contrasting white background, but already one can see that the figures blend right into the flocking. This problem will be exacerbated several fold when the battalion deploys onto a flocked wargames table. The slight shade difference between the figures and the flocking isn’t enough to highlight the castings. Although one must take into account the fact that these photos probably don’t HPhD’s wonderful paint jobs full justice,  it’s still easy to see how painting this way, while great on a figure-by-figure basis, is going to cause some recognition problems when it comes time to play.

    Neon Popping
    At the other extreme of the painting spectrum, we have what I like to call the “neon popping” technique. The current master of this is probably a chap who goes by the handle of NogenoN and who hangs out on The Commander Series Forum.  Here’s some of his stuff:

    Noge’s techniques are revolutionary and involve the use of neon-colored highlights along vehicle edges. A bright, goblin green over medium green, for example, or white over tan. When applied with care, these figs really stand out against their basing and, indeed, on the table. You can see exactly where everything is and, at a distance of an arm’s length, you can usually identify it, too.

    There are only two problems with this technique:
    1) It takes a long time and require mad painting skills, and;
    2) If you are not careful, well… Let’s let History PhD do the talking once again:

    I can honestly say that I have seen other folks’ minis which seem to need “Ringling Bros” painted on the sides. Virtually neon circus wagons.



    In my opinion, neon-popping is a must when one wants to paint 3mm sci-fi. You might as well do it, because the figs will look great and, as it is sci-fi, who can say what is realistic and not?

    Here’s a neon-popped sci-fi tank battalion that I recently did:

    And here is a study of four different types of paint jobs for the same miniature, going from “realistic” to “neon popping” and clearly showing what a difference this can make:

    But fair go: History PhD has a point. Unless you are an EXCELLENT painter like NogenoN, if you’re doing modern or historical figures, neon-popping runs the risk of making your troops look clownish at close range. Sure, they’ll stand out on the table, but they’ll also look silly when you hold them up to eye-level.

    Light with bling
    A compromise painting style that both I and History PhD indulge in (especially for WWII vehicles) is what I call “light with bling”. Here, one adheres to three principles:

    1) Paint your figures with light colors, typically a dark wash on a white base. (Avoid blaks: use medium greys instead.)
    2) Base them on flocking that contrasts with your paint job (but don’t use bright-colored flocking, as that will lead the eye to the base rather than the mini).
    3) Exagerate any contra-color signs or symbols on the vehicle. This is what History PhD calls “bling”. For example, you Eight Army tank has a little red organization sign on its right front tread guard. Exagerate that sucker! Normally it couldn’t be seen, but take this opportunity to put on a dab of bright color that will bring the figure to the viewr’s eye.

    Even if one paints realistically, this “bling” trick is useful. Here’s History PhD using it on some realitically painted Centurions:

    Just by itself, the red flash draws the eye towards what would otherwise be an almost-invisible vehicle. The technique is even more impressive when its applied with the other two listed above. Here are some of HPhD’s Western Desert Italians, for example (the photo’s not good, but you can see what I mean)…

    Here are a series of different WWII bases that I’ve painted up over the yearsm showing off this technique with varying degrees of success. Of these, I am happiest with the Soviet T-34s: the terracota base with yellow and light green flock sets off the medium green tanks quite nicely. The low-key identifying lable also helps as does the (invisible from this angle) red turret flash:

    I’m least pleased with the Carrier platoon, which is right on the verge of blending into its terrain .

    So, anyhow, there you have it! Any of these three styles will do fine for you, although I would caution against realistic painting if you want to put entire divisions on the table and be able to see, at a glance, what you are playing with.

    Perhaps the best way to get started is to order up a pack of test vehicles – they’re only four dollars for 15 – and try a sequence like the one I showed above. Paint realistically, then go for a neon-pop scheme and then, finally, try to paint very lightly — almost washes on a white base.

    See what works for you!

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    Sure! Thanks! Figured something like that must’ve happened. Any idea why all those “div” markers are in the post?

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoAndy hutchinson

    Nice article.


    I’ve had the </div> happen to me when  was pasting in a thread I’d written on open office.org WP


    Seems like the forum software misinterprets the new paragraph/line commands and adds them as text.

    Avatar photoSparker

    Fascinating article and lots of food for thought – thanks!

    'Blessed are the peacekeepers, for they shall need to be well 'ard'
    Matthew 5:9

    Avatar photoLuddite

    Very interesting article. I am a 6mm specialist myself but some techniques are similar so her is my two penn’orth.

    Much debate is given to painting the models but the question of scenic materials is often overlooked. The overall effect of a small scale model can be ruined by using scenic materials desgined for larger scales. My advice is look for the finest materials you can find that don’t look over-scale in proportion to the models.

    My stuff here http://www.thewargameswebsite.com/forums/topic/african-bush-wars/ uses Hornby R8882 http://www.hornby.com/shop/skalescenics/ground-cover-turfs/fine-moss-green-ground-cover.html as the base ground covering.Old fashioned  Javis coloured sawdust is also good (used as helmet camo on my BLAM infantry).

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    Thanks, Cdr Luddite!

    I agree about scenic materials. The finer, the better. In fact, you might want to think about using none at all, too.

    Recently, I have decided to go with simplicity in my basing schemes. This has made my figs better, IMHO. At 3mm scale, it is far too easy to distract the eye by using multiple flockings and basing grit. You can see that happening above with that WWII carrier platoon. The Pz IIIs, on the other hand, are just fine, even with not flocking at all.

    If you must use tufts or static grass at this scale, use them very sparingly!


    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    I wish I had known about that Hornby fine flock when I was up in England last month! It looks perfect for 1/600. Does it come in other colors?

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoLuddite

    I wish I had known about that Hornby fine flock when I was up in England last month! It looks perfect for 1/600. Does it come in other colors?

    Yes, multiple colours are available.

    The packet I bought says “made in Vietnam”  so perhaps there are other sources than Hornby ?

    Avatar photoHistoryPhD

    Thanks for the shoutout! I really MUST get a better camera, but everytime I decide to buy one, I think “how many bags of O8’s can I get for the price of this camera?”

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    It’s good stuff you do, HPhD!

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!


    my 3mm “trial list”

    P27 ‘Badger’ Battlearmor (15 pcs) – 1 pc
    M57 ‘Manta’ APC (15 pcs) – 1 pc
    Ceasarion MBT – 1 pc
    Thor MRL (15 pcs) – 1 pc
    Infantry – Shako (15 pcs) – 15 pcs
    PT-91 Twardy (15 pcs) – 1 pc
    Shot Kal (15 pcs) – 1 pc

    Painter from 6mm all the way up! contact me if you want some work done!

    Also working on learning sculpting and plan to open my own lines late this year/early next

    website: http://catalystminipainting.weebly.com/

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    The Badger and Caesarion are a blast to paint!  My Mantas, unfortunately, came with some mold line up problems.

    But here are some of my Caesarions:

    I thought I had some photos of my Badger-supported power infantry company, but I guess not. Time to take some…

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoMr. Average

    A great article, and a technique I have endeavored to follow with my Union Commander set so far, to wit:

    Bright colors and sharp contrast with basing materials are key.  The inclusion of base labels also helps, visually, by adding an icon that’s easy to track.  The level of detail on pico scale figures is outstanding these days in a way that would never have been possible a decade ago, and a high-contrast scheme really brings out the best in these figures!

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