Bolt Action Starter Set; A Build Blog by Howard Nason

Post 5 – Painting the German Sd Kfz 251

I’ve been looking forward to this project.  I’ve loved building military models since I was a kid in all scales up to 1/35.  In a larger scale game like Bolt Action, you have the opportunity to really pour some time and energy into your armoured vehicles because there’s just so much ‘real estate’ to work with.   German tanks especially give so many choices for the modeler around a variety of configurations and camo patterns.

I decided to start off by reviewing some reference material for inspiration.  I find I always need a bit of help when planning camouflage, personally.  Otherwise, my own creations just never seem to look right.

If you want to be very specific, you can re-create exact vehicles of specific units by including regimental or divisional markings and there’s all kinds of decal options out there in the market.  But in this case I’m just going to create a typical German vehicle that could have been used virtually anywhere, so I’m just looking for interesting camouflage patterns.  From across my book collection I dug out “Panzers in the bocage”, by Karl Berne.  Along with some amazing period photos it has several pages of colour plates, and I zeroed in on a pattern I like the look of (the one with the ‘3’ on it).  I like the tiger stripe effect, it’s different from most patterns I’ve seen.

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At this point, with the model assembled, I need to finish base coating it.  If you’ve been reading this far, you know I’m a lazy painter, and I’m all about the rattle cans for base coats, if I can find them!  So, Vallejo to the rescue.  I decided to try out their range of sprays and selected the colour 28001 “Panzer Yellow Dunkelgelb”.  Dunkelgelb means pretty much “dark yellow” in German, by the way, and it was a standard base coat applied to most vehicles for the later years of the war.

It sprayed on as a pretty intense yellowish green colour.  I’d say if I were doing a camo pattern directly on top of that colour, it would probably be too bright, but I’m planning a modulation effect with the half track, so it’s a good starting point for me.

In the past I’ve used Vallejo Model Color Middlestone 70.882 and airbrush-ready Vallejo Model Air Middlestone 71.031.  They’re all okay for a base coat if you’re doing late war German armour, but the Middlestone colors are definitely a little more muted than the spray I tried out.

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Basecoat of Vallejo dunkelgelb sprayed on from a rattle can.  It’s bright, but it’s just the starting point.  Tissue is stuffed carefully into the passenger compartment to mask off the interior paint job.

Next up is the airbrush modulation.  Later in the war you can start to see the German colour pallete seem to shift to more of a tan base coat, rather than the yellow green.  I really like that tone, so using a couple other colours I’m going to use masking tape, straight edges of paper and contoured edges as needed to try to provide some colour modulation on each panel on the half track.   I use panel lines as demarcations, and try to imagine that there’s a light coming from one specific source.  Either straight down or with some direction to it, like from the front/top, looking down.

I’m going to start with Vallejo Model Air Sand Yellow 71.028 over top of the base coat, and spray from the edge of a panel line to about 2/3 of the way back or down into the area I’m spraying.   After that I use Vallejo Air Sand colour 71.075 and I spray the same method but only covering about 1/3 of the way back from the front edge in each area.   So you’re looking to have the dunkelgelb base colour almost in it’s pure colour farthest away from the light source, and as you get closer to the light source you’re getting progressively lighter in colour, fading through the Sand Yellow and into the smallest area where Sand makes it look like it’s the brightest highlight.

I don’t always get the dramatic effect I’m looking for if I overdo one of the colours, but what I’m looking for you can see on the top panels, especially the one side panel at the front where the crew sits.   You can see how the stark dunkel colour is mostly gone now, visible only at the back edge of the panel and replaced by a faded yellow/tan colour up to a lighter sand colour.   This is the modulation effect we’re trying for.   Some folks go really bold with this look, but I like to avoid stark effects personally, as it can get almost a little “cartoon’ish”. However I do push myself to go further than I think looks correct, because the weathering will tone down the stark differences and tie it all together as well.

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Example of modulation, best visible on the panels at the front of the driver’s compartment, and notice also the fading effect along the long angled panel of the crew compartment.  You can see the dramatic change from the base coat.

Now I’m ready to spray on the camo pattern. Using the reference picture as a guide, I’m going to try to spray on some tiger striping of green and brown, using my go-to colours for late war German camo – Vallejo Model Air Panzer Olive Green 71.096 and Armour Brown 71.041.  You can add a little white into the brown colour if you like, to tone it down a little.  I sprayed it straight in this example, and it’s probably a little darker than I like, frankly.

On its own the green seems a little light, but I know that after some paint chipping and oil washes the whole vehicle will look darker, so it’s going to finish up right where I want it.

Now if you don’t have an airbrush there’s other options to paint camo.  Stippling can give the soft-edged effect, or there’s also some terrific camo patterns that had hard edges and you could accomplish those with masking tape and simple brush painting.  Stencils or even a steady hand can paint up some straight-edged camo.

But if you have an airbrush and want to give it a try, the best advise I ever had (from Scott Pasishnek, who owned Small Soldier, a local model shop, and who is probably the best painter I know) is this: for airbrushing, you want to thin your paints to the consistency of milk running down a glass.   (If you want to be amazed, go follow “Small Soldier” on Youtube, Scott’s really a world-class talent right here in Calgary.) He also taught me that typically you’ll be spraying at a fairly low psi – 10-20psi, depending on the task, sometimes lower.

Airbrushing is really about practice as much as anything.  Get to know your paints and the pressures to spray at for certain tasks.  If you’re having spitting or spidering of your paints, those can both indicate psi and/or thinning issues, so finding the happy medium is really just experience.  I’m no expert, but because there’s really no substitute for a soft edged camo pattern, I step into the ring with my airbrush and go a few rounds with it on a regular basis.  Just about everyone I know has good and bad days with their airbrushes, so if you’re getting frustrated, you’re in good company!  Keep practicing and it’ll get better.

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Green camo stripes starting to go on, trying to have a light touch with the airbrush.  Note the modulation of the base colour down the hood, on the doors over the engine etc.  Each area is masked separately with either tape or just a straight edge of paper so that separate panels can have their own modulated effect.

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A quick shot just to show that I definitely have good days and bad days with my airbrush!  Here I’ve reached boiling point, and stripped it down for a couple cycles in the ultrasonic cleaner as I wasn’t getting the performance I wanted. This is often due to paint buildup inside the chambers of the airbrush, so ongoing maintenance and cleanings are key.

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With both the brown and green lines sprayed on, the camo is finished!  As mentioned, in retrospect I should have added some white to the brown, as it went on a little darker than I would have preferred.  

After the camo is on and left to dry for several hours at minimum, it’s time to get ready for the decals.  Something I’ve been doing for the last few years for my decal applications is to apply them over a gloss coat of some sort, and then to seal them again with a gloss coat.  The gloss coat will help the decals adhere to the shiny smooth surface better, especially when using the MicroSol / MicroSet solutions.  If you don’t have a smooth surface, you can get air bubbles trapped under the decals that will start to look silver with age.

The second coat of gloss on top also protects the decals from all the oil paints and thinners, which can be harsh and damaging to the fragile decal paper.   This process also ensures you pretty much never get ‘silvering’, where you see the shiny edges around a decal on the finished model, and ensures that you don’t suddenly lift off or tear your decals while you’re doing weathering, which is disheartening.

Wherever the decals are going to go, I’ll paint the entire section of panel in gloss, since it goes on heavy and I don’t want to see any demarcation line after a couple layers of gloss varnish.  I’m using the GW bottle of gloss, but you could spray a gloss varnish from a rattle can or through an airbrush too.

This vehicle has the PaK gun, which were typically mounted on the platoon leader’s track, or vehicle 1 in any platoon. So I decided this would be vehicle 221 (2nd company, 2nd platoon, 1st vehicle), and I carefully cut out each number.  Balkenkreuze markings, the German cross used through WWII, go on the hood, rear doors and side panels, and then a license plate on the back fender.

I work with my decals one at a time, so each digit was cut out separately, soaked, applied and only then do I start on the next one.  After maybe 20-30 seconds in warm water (not too hot, as the decals can break up!) held with the tweezers, I remove the decal, blot it on a towel and then give a very gentle touch with my finger to make sure it’s loose and will slide off the paper.  Holding the decal paper on an angle right up against the model, I then use the sharp knife to very carefully slide the decal off onto the model.  Having a bead of your decal solvent already sitting on the model ensures the decal will basically just float onto the model, and hopefully not fold under and get ruined. Keep the backing paper flush to the model while sliding the decal off to avoid that.

I use a tissue (not a paper towel, as nothing else seems to wick away water as well as a tissue), and I touch a corner to any beads of water, so the decal isn’t floating on a big drop of water or decal solvent anymore.  It should settle flat on the model.  Then I quickly slide it into place with the knife or a brush, make sure it’s straight and using the tissue I gently roll my finger from one side to the other, without too much pressure.  This pushes water drops out one side, makes sure the decals settles flat and stays down.

At this point, I go through several applications of the MicroSol and MicroSet.  I never remember which is which, so I wrote 1st and 2nd on the bottles with a Sharpie to remember the order!  But the instructions are on the bottles.  The first solution softens the decal and helps it settle in, the second one really ensures it settles into every nook and cranny and ensures it’s adhered completely, and wrapped tightly around any little raised details.

With practice and multiple applications of solvent, the decals will conform to all kinds of raised details or contours and panel lines so they look like they’re painted on, and not sitting on top of the details with bubbles underneath.

Notice through the attached pictures that although the surface may be shiny (which dullcoat will deal with), you can’t really see any shiny edges on the decals and they’re very flat over any details.

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The tools of decal application – sharp knife, tweezers, warm water and MicroSet / MicroSol solutions. 

Important Tip: It’s key that once you’ve set the decal, and started applying the decal solvent, you cannot touch the decals anymore!   Especially when you apply solution 2, the decals can actually wrinkle up, which is quite concerning at first.  But this is a normal part of the process.  Don’t touch!! The decals are incredibly fragile at this stage, let them dry and flatten out naturally, don’t rush it, don’t touch them and they’ll settle down nicely.  You can repeat solution 2 several times, allowing it to mostly dry in between applications, and always being very gentle with a brush while applying a thin coating of solvent.

Once you’re happy let them dry for several hours, ideally overnight.  Then you can coat again in gloss varnish to seal it all in and protect them.  With this method you’ll be able to apply decals right over details like rivets, panel joints and door seams and other raised details, and they’ll appear to be painted onto the model with no air behind them.

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Now we’ll move onto paint chipping and scratching.  I use a couple methods here, and depending on how good a result I want to deliver, it’ll be less sponging and more brush work.  But basically I’m going to use a sponge to apply some paint chipping and rubbing, and a brush to also provide paint wear, chipping and especially fine scratches.

Sponging is literally the technique of using a sponge of some sort to blot up a bit of paint, remove most of it on a paper towel and then gently dabbing the sponge against the model to leave tiny droplets of paint.  When repeatedly dabbed over an area (maybe just a couple times, maybe dozens of times), the dots overlap and start to look like paint chips and also paint that has been rubbed down to primer, or like rusted areas if using brown tones.

Sponging is fairly easy to do and a quick method to impart wear and tear on your models.  If you’ve never done it, start slow, get almost all the paint off the sponge before dabbing it on the model in a practice area to get the feel for how much paint is actually being deposited each time you dab the sponge on the model.  As you use up the paint on the sponge, you’ll be dabbing with increasing force, much like dry brushing starts out gentle and then ultimately ends up in a scrubbing motion as the paint is consumed off the brush.

I focus on key areas where heavy use would wear away paint – door edges, corners where anything might rub (like trees or walls & structures), areas where people lean on edges, climb over etc.   I have used the little foam inserts that are often included in blister packs, ripped into an uneven edge.  You can also use makeup sponges to do this.

The key, as with all weathering, is to not over do it.  You don’t want to deposit big blobs of paint, and you don’t want streak the paint either, so it’s important your movement is straight into the model and straight out again after the sponge hits the model.

I’ll use Vallejo Black Grey as the first colour, which is a good representation of steel that is visible where the paint has worn away.  You can also go over the same areas with a second treatment using German Camo Black Brown.  Over top of the grey it gives a nice patina that hints of rust on the exposed metal.

After the sponge method (which is totally optional, you may wish to do all the chipping with a brush, which does look even better) I move to a 000 brush and I apply some scratches in areas that they’ll be noticed, and where it would make sense a tree or a structure or wall has scratched up the paint.

For these, a fun method is to start with some thinned down Iraqi Sand paint.  I make long thin scratches with the sand colour first. Then I come in with some black grey colour, thinned down as well, and I paint a grey scratch right over top of the Iraqi Sand, trying to leave a few little edges of the sand showing.   This is a neat trick to imply that you’re looking at a scratch that’s gone the full thickness of the paint on the vehicle, right down to the bare metal.

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The sponge chipping method, visible along the top edge of the passenger compartment, where they’d often climb over the side, along stowage bins on the side, fenders and other areas of high wear and tear on the vehicle.  Also see the Iraqi Sand scratches applied in areas likely to be scratched up, and right through the vehicle’s number too.

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Painting Scratches Step 2: Black Grey is applied over top of the Iraqi Sand, leaving just a tiny bit of the sand showing, which looks like the edge of the paint layer of a very deep scratch.   You can even apply German Camo Black Brown as a third layer, for the rusted patina look of an old scratch, as well.  Note the sponge method along the edges again, giving a convincing “rubbed” area.  Other paint scratches and chips are applied by brush as well. Faint rusty streaks down from these scratches is another nice effect you can add.

Once the messy sponge method is done, it’s time to paint the rubber road wheels with black grey.  I use that colour, or Panzer Aces “Old Rubber”, because pure black is too dark.  Rubber fades with time, so the black grey is a nice colour choice I find, and a pin wash is going to darken it a little as well.

Tracks are painted with a favourite colour I found from Vallejo’s Panzer Aces line called “Track Primer”.  It’s a great brownish greyish rusty’ish kind of colour which is great for metal tracks.   I then painted all the track pads with Black Grey as well, since they’re also rubber.

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The wheels at the front are painted rubber as well and then lightly dry brushed with a lighter grey colour to sharpen up the tread detail.

The PaK cannon gets a chipping treatment as well, the areas around the breach and all the high-touch areas getting some brush chipping too.

The MG-42 on the back was painted up like the infantry weapons, and the muffler gets a series of reddish browns to look rusty.   I’d also drilled out the muffler pipe and the barrel of the cannon earlier, so they get a black wash in the holes.

At this point, all of the painting is done.  It’s looking pretty good already, and I can’t resist gluing in the crewman.  I positioned him far enough back that I can actually glue the stock of the MG-42 machine gun to his back, which makes both the fragile MG and the figure a little stronger and mutually-supporting for all the hands that might be knocking them about in the years ahead!

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But we’re not done yet!  Next up is my favourite step with vehicle models: applying the oil wash.  I know there’s some excellent products on the market from a variety of companies like AK, MiG, Tamiya, Army Painter, Vallejo and GW. I still love artists oils, but will soon be testing out some AK products.

The advantage of oils is that unlike an acrylic wash, oils can be lifted off again if you don’t like how they dry.  Or, using mineral spirits (I buy odourless turpentine), you can dampen a brush and drag oil pants down for grimy and rusty rain streaks, or completely lift them off and try again.  Once an acrylic wash dries, it’s dry.  You’re done, there’s no ‘undoing’ it and starting over.

The process is that I squeeze out a little black and brown oil paint onto whatever palette I’m using, and I pour some thinner over the paints and into a couple little tins I have.  This will allow me to mix up washes and also to clean my brushes.  My oil paints are a brand called “502 Abteilung” but a black and nice dark brown will do, that’s all I really use for these pin washes.

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The setup for the oil wash: oils and thinner, any my cheap and simple palette is tilted a little to make a puddle.  I can put a lid on this container and the oil paints will take days, even weeks to dry out sometimes.  If they skin over, just break through and use up the paints underneath.  Brushes include two flat brushes, one of which is small, a 00 to apply pin washes, and a larger brush for bigger areas. 

I’ll be using large brushes to put messy washes over tracks and wheels but I’ll also use a small 0 or 00 brush to apply the washes into all the nooks and crannies; around bolts, panel joints, vision slits, wheels and treads.  This is a “pin wash”, a targeted wash.  I’m not going to slather the wash all over the entire model.  It’s very targeted into just the crevices, and I’m not applying anything to the vast majority of the model itself, except for the tracks and running gear, where I do slather it on.

The goal of the pin wash for me is to add in shadows to accentuate all the little details, without washing out the modulation that I worked on.  The modulation becomes your highlights, essentially, and you’re pin wash will now add in some forced shadows that natural light just doesn’t provide.

But the pin wash can also be manipulated once it starts to dry and this is why we’re using the oils.  For this you’ll want a flat brush that you moisten in the thinner and then drag along the surface of the model in exactly the way rain water would run down the panels.  Your brush is going to represent the rain water running down the vehicle.  Driven by gravity, rain will run straight down the sides, but will run down the length of the hood, for example.   Think about how rain will wash the grime, dust & dirt down the armour plates and where it will puddle and pool.

Using your moist flat brush, start where the wash has collected and drag the brush through it straight down in the way gravity would pull the rain drips.  As you pick up the oils in the wash the brush will streak them down the side, leaving brown/black streaks.   You can do this with rust effects just the same, and grime effects out of a bottle as well. Clean the brush, keep it moist, and you can keep dragging these streaks down all over the model.

In the pictures below, note the very faint streaks running down the hood from under the closed vision blocks.  From the vision slit on the side you can see streaks downwards.

Note that for joints or gaps in doors and panels I’ve applied a pin wash with more black paint in it, like the engine access panels on the hood, or the vision slit in the side of the driver’s compartment.

More of a muddy black brown has been used all over the tracks and road wheels, and you can see how it’s collected in the drive sprocket at the front of the tracks.

The nuts on the front wheels and around the wheel rims have shadows and grime now, and also note how each individual pin in the track links look more pronounced now as well.

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You may need to apply washes to targeted areas multiple times, but using a small brush means when you touch the brush to the seam or joint, the wash will flow only there, so it will build up in several layers as well, only in those targeted spots.

If you want to switch products and apply different weathering products you should first let everything dry for a day or so, apply a dull coat when it’s dry and then you’ve basically “locked in” your work up to that point.  Now the oils are fixed in place and you can continue with additional oils over top.  If you don’t dull coat your work, the thinner might actually reactivate the oils and risk undoing your earlier work.  If you want to use something like AK rust streaks or apply pigments you could do that as a separate stage now or you can use acrylics over the dull coat as well.

I’ve been moving away from pigments in my modeling of late, preferring the look of oils and little else afterwards.  Certainly in the field any armoured vehicle is almost always going to be covered in mud, dust, grease and grime.  But that just ends up covering up all the work of painting the wheels, tracks etc.  I prefer the “cleaner” look of no mud which really shows off the model.  One exception is for rust, and I’ve applied some pigments to the muffler.

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I applied a final subtle dry brush of light grey over the tread details on the front wheels and the spare, just to make it “pop” a little more, and it’s done.  The finished model, dull coated and ready for the table!

Next time in Post 6 – Finishing the buildings from the starter set

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