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Tutorial – This is how I do zenithal highlights

The raw terrain piece that I will use for this tutorial

When I first started out in this hobby, I did as everybody else does, look at videos on Youtube. One of the things I came across was the use of zenithal highlights (some might refer to it as an undercoat). I saw this in one of Sorastros amazing videos, so he needs a lot of credit for teaching me this technique.

This technique is used to brighten the highlights on your mini, while at the same time darkening the shadows. And it works very effectively.

What you need

This is the paints and primers you need to do this:

  • A black primer (I use Vallejo’s Black Surface Primer)
  • A light gray paint (I use Vallejo’s Model Air Light Gray)
  • A white paint (I use Vallejo’s Game Air Dead White)
  • An airbrush (similar results can be achieved with spray cans, it is just a lot easier with an airbrush)
The terrain pice primed all black

Step 1

This step is your usual priming step. Prime the whole model black. Make sure not to make the primer go on to think, that might cover up details on the model. But still make sure you get full coverage, otherwise your paints might not stick to the model, once you start painting it.

Step 2

At a 45-60 degree angle, spray the model with the light gray paint. You don’t want this to cover the whole model, only the surface area the paint can get to at that angle. The light gray will help to make the transition from black white much smoother.

Step 3 and final result

Straight from above, spray the model with the white paint. Make sure only to hit the top surface of your model. This will become your brightest highlights. Make sure to let the primer fully cure before painting the model.

There you have it, it is that easy. It can all be done with different coloured spray cans, but it is a bit harder to control the bursts from a spray can. But it is possible to achieve a similar effect.

Alternate use

This technique can also be used to increase the contrast of your OSL (object source light). If you prime the model black. Then at a 45 degree angle, relative to the light source, spray the light gray. And then white straight on from the lightsource, it helps you increase the constrast of your OSL. You might not want to cover nearly as much of the model, as you normally would with a zenithal highlight. Depending on how intense or spread out you want your OSL.

You can even combine the two methods og using this technique. That is what I did in my Fire Giant from Blood Rage. First I primed the model all black, then at a 45 degree angle sprayed on the light gray, and adding a bit more from the direction of the sword. Before finally spraying white from above and straight from the sword on to model. That helped me to get the highlights and shadows on the skin, and still make the OSL look bright.

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