Sunday 11 October 2020

Colorshift Paints: An Experiment in Paint Wizardry


Hi folks,

There is something about metallic paints that has always fascinated me. Back when I was a kid, I used to build and paint aircraft models with my Dad. Painting the metal parts was my favourite thing, the silky quicksilver of an enamel gunmetal grabbed my imagination. Perhaps it was the conceptual alchemy of it all, as you watch matt plastic turn into a shiny and reflective surface, or the way it helped with the suspension of disbelief; making the models look that much more life-like. What ever it was, I kept my metallic enamels long after the other paints were thrown away. I even used them on my first 40K miniatures.

More recently, I have continued to be a sucker for metallic pigments. Many of my projects have involved a significant metallic component and I have avoided non-metallic metallics for most of them (though I have sometimes used the technique with true metallics). My Iron Snakes and Knights have both explored the weathering of copper, whilst other projects have featured oxidised iron. My Tyranids are all glazed metallics, which allowed me to paint them very quickly.

When colourshift metallic paints started hitting the market they caught my attention. Like me, you have probably seen some amazing Tau and Tyranid models painted with these paints and, when done properly, the effects they can achieve are eye-popping. During the holidays my wife and I bought some to play with. I purchased a set of 6 from Green Stuff World for about $50 AUD. If you have never taken a look at Green Stuff World, I highly recommend their products. They have amazing paints and other hobby tools.

If you are thinking about trying these out for yourself, here is some advice that may save you some time. Foremost, the instructions on the back are exactly how you should use them. Wifey and I played around for hours and following the advice provided on the packaging yielded the best results.

1) You will most likely want to undercoat the area in black.

2) Adding a gloss varnish coat to the area enhances the effect.

3) Use ultra-thin coats. This feels weird, as the paint itself has the consistency of a wash/glaze, or perhaps a thinned varnish. To describe how it feels to apply with a brush, I would say you are dry-brushing a glaze! Let each coat dry completely before adding the next. 

4) The colour it has as it leaves the bottle has little bearing on how it will look on the figure. If it pools, however, the pooled area will be the same colour as the bottle contents with no effect. This is the main issue with painting coats that are too thick; they will have a cloudy finish in the same colour as the bottle, killing the effect. Remove any excess paint with a clean brush before it drys.

5) Sometimes you can hardly see it go on the figure; tilt the figure and it will appear!

Some words of warning: the bottles come with little ceramic balls inside to help agitate them, but they can get stuck in nozzle when you go to put paint on your palette. The whole nozzle is removable (easily...) so if you apply any pressure the whole nozzle pops off and you get $8 AUD worth of colour shifting paint on your kitchen table. Thankfully, I had the tools needed to recover it!

Here are some photos showing the step-by-step process I am going through to give my Tyranids a colorshift make-over:

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the two schemes. The colorshift paints used were Martian Green for the layer and Emerald Getaway for the highlight. It shifts between metallic purple and metallic green with a light blue, yellow or purple edge. At some angles, the figures look very dark and maroon in colour; the layer and the highlight shift to match each other. Walk around the table a few steps, and suddenly they flare bright green and turquoise!

A few random thoughts: as much as I love this product (I really do), it would not feel right entering it in a painting competition. I think you would be leaning really hard on a gimmick to earn points. Some artists are able to mimic such an effect using standard paints; they get a huge amount of respect from me, as do those who paint amazing NMM. Finally, if your display area or gaming area doesn't have great lighting, most of the effect is wasted. You just don't see it. The most fun is having these in a game, where you are always moving the models and around the table.  

The wifey has been using a different scheme to paint her Necrons, but I will let her tell you about that ;-)

See you across the table,



  1. This looks great. I must respectfully disagree on the competition aspect. I've used colorshift paints in competitions (well, one competition, but I won it). I don't feel guilty about it at all. To my mind it's no worse than using an airbrush, or decals or GW's Technical Paint range. Strut your stuff, man!

    1. Was that a GW competition or a general community one? I wonder if store owners have any particular policy about them, I'll have a chat with mine about it and see what he thinks.