Out of the Hive: So You Want to Paint Flames?


Once more I emerge from my wretched hive of scum and villainy, this time to follow up on a lot of interest in my repaint of the new Protectorate Starfighter.

The arrival of Wave 9 renewed my appetite for our little game of miniature spaceships after a few months’ hiatus from the hobby. Those who know me are aware I’m a fan of a repaint here and there, so for me there was only one way to celebrate the arrival of Scum’s new red-dice-hurling ace, Fenn Rau.

The model got a great response on social media and from those who saw it in the flesh on Saturday, at First Founding‘s latest X-Wing tournament in Chessington. I’m grateful and humbled that people have shown an interest. Lots of people have asked about a tutorial and, promises having been made, it’s time I deliver.

Because I have plans for the other Fang Fighter I bought on Thursday, I have attempted to recreate the effect on the nose of a Z-95 (with a view to using it as N’Dru perhaps…) and, helpfully, I’ve taken some pictures of the process:


Step 1: Prime your model. Easiest bit. A round of applause if you manage to do this without spraying yourself in the face.



Step 2: Wet blend a dark red onto the panels, concentrating the brightest of the red pigment towards the front of each separate panel. I used a mixture of Citadel’s Mephiston Red mixed with Vallejo’s Flat Brown. It doesn’t matter too much which paints you use here, as long as they’re not too bright just yet.


I have a very inconsistent approach to wet blending but I always make sure I use two brushes. Use one to apply the colour to the front of the panel, then switch to a wet, clean brush to soften the edges of the paint you have applied, thereby fading it into the basecoat. Keep your paints nicely thinned out and be wary of applying too much. Get yourself some brand of paint retarder to help you with this process – it will give you more time to “move” the paint around on the miniature.

Alternatively, you can achieve this kind of effect with several (very) thinned down layers of paint, gradually building up the layers towards the front of each panel. I would still advise using a second brush to feather the edges of each layer, however, to avoid those nasty lines of residual pigment that you often get when using very watered down paint on a flat surface.

Step 3: Brighten the red, focusing on the front of each panel. Here I used pure Mephiston Red. Again, this can be achieved by wet blending or by several thin layers. The aim is to accentuate the red and begin the process of brightening the “hottest” part of the flames you will be adding later.20160925_132903

At this stage I should point out too that, when blending your reds, you not only want the colour to be stronger at the front of each individual panel, but also stronger towards the front of the ship as a whole. To achieve this, you’ll want to be fading to black earlier on the rear-most panels/where the engines are, while fading out the red on the front panels relatively late. It’s a tricky one to explain but hopefully you can see what I’m getting at in the below picture.

Step 4: Now we begin laying down our “strands” of flame. Mix a nice bright orange in with your red (I used Vallejo Orange Fire), aiming for a roughly equal mix. The initial layer of flames should be fairly muted and look as if it is emerging naturally from the fade you have laid down. If the contrast is too stark, add a little red to the mix. Again, you want the colour to be focused towards the front of the panels, but don’t be afraid to take individual strands further back into the darker areas. Be careful to feather or blend the end of these individual strands so that they too fade into the darkness.


When painting these flames, remember to paint more strands nearer the front of the ship – this will add to the brightness and heat once we start layering oranges and yellows. Also ensure that your brush strokes are never jagged or too straight – try your best to imitate what the individual flames of a roaring fire look like.


Using reference points: always a good idea

Step 5: Move now to using almost pure orange. You will need to use your intuition a little here – if the contrast between this layer and the previous one looks a little stark just add in a bit of red to take the edge off. Add a second layer to the strands of flame, being careful to leave some of the previous layer showing. Once again, we want to focus this orange towards the front of each panel.


You’ll notice in this picture that some of the paint seems to have gone a little lumpy nearer the front of the main hull section. This is on account of two things: 1) I was not patient or precise enough to ensure that every single brush stroke was sufficiently thinned and blended and, 2) the camera picks up on imperfections that the human eye often can’t.

Step 6: Discover that yellow is a horrible colour to paint. I don’t know exactly why (perhaps something to do with the pigment and it being a “weak” colour…?) but I have rarely been able to find a decent yellow for miniature painting.

Mix a little of your orange into a bright yellow (I went for an old Games Workshop Sunburst Yellow) and repeat the same technique used in steps 4 and 5. This time, ensure that your yellow is being applied only to the very front of each panel and to the edges of the thickest “strands” of flame. The addition of yellow functions both as a highlight for the individual flames and as a way of adding more “heat” to the front of the ship – you’ll note that I’ve effectively drawn a thin line of yellow along the front of each section and then faded that into the strongest flames.


The key here is variety – you want your flames to look slightly 3D and you won’t achieve this by meticulously highlighted every single strand with yellow. Some flames are going to be in the “background,” so leave these orange while focusing on picking out the most effective and unique looking flames with your yellow highlight.

You can take this process as far as you want, going right up to using white at the very hottest part of the flames. Personally, I was happy with the yellow as the final highlight and I worried that working up to white might result in a slightly too cartoony look.


So that’s it. Be prepared to approach this with a lot of patience and be ready to correct any brush strokes that aren’t convincing. This technique takes a bit of practice and everyone has their own way of doing things, so maybe have a go on a practice model or (as I did) use the underside of the ship for your first attempt. Keep your paints nicely thinned out to avoid layers caking up and always be ready with a second brush to push and pull the paint around on the surface of the miniature until you’re happy.

Comments, questions and criticisms are always welcome. Until next time, happy painting!

3 thoughts on “Out of the Hive: So You Want to Paint Flames?

  1. Pingback: Flaming Mindlink | ZOMBIE SQUADRON

  2. Pingback: Out of the Hive: So Hot Right Now | ZOMBIE SQUADRON

  3. Pingback: X-Wing Painting Guide: Chip effects | ZOMBIE SQUADRON

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