Shading Miniatures with Airbrush Colour

Painting Miniatures in 1:72 Scale

Shading Miniatures with Airbrush Colour.

Old Glory 15 mm Russian Infantry in Waistcoats, being painted as Saxons. The waistcoats and officers’ breeches were painted dark blue, drybrushed light blue and shaded with indigo airbrush colour. The effect of the shading is very obvious around the shoulder seams, the pockets on the waistcoat, around the Officers’ gorget and the sash.

Diaphoto colour offered by Schmincke/KEILITZ is a pigment-free and transparent airbrush and retouching colour. When it is used for shading miniatures, the colour is easily absorbed by the acrylic paint, it even bleeds slightly away from the brushstroke and shades the surrounding area in decreasing intensity of colour. This effect can be very useful during shading, but it must be carefully controlled to prevent the shading colour from spreading too much.

Tools and Accessories

  • Size 00 Nylon Paintbrush
  • Brown Black, Diaphoto Transparent Dye 3.1710
  • Indigo, Diaphoto Transparent Dye 31.430
  • Much Water


Brown black airbrush colour can be used to shade most surfaces, even metallic paints used on epaulettes, shako badges and frontplates of grenadier mitres, fringes on flags and horse blankets, sabres, bayonets, musket and gun barrels. Light and medium blue uniforms may be shaded with indigo. Airbrush colour should be diluted with water before it is applied to the figure. This is particularly important when white uniforms are to be shaded and a strong bleeding effect is not desired. Airbrush colour will seep through two or three paint layers that are applied over it and this effect can ruin white uniforms. On dark uniforms, seepage is more easily controlled.

Loading the Brush

The brush will immediately soak up a good amount of airbrush colour when it is held into a drop of the diluted liquid. We need a very fine point when shading, which is why we use a size 00 paintbrush that only releases relatively litte colour during the process.


Locate the important creases in the figure’s uniform and accentuate them by drawing a fine line of airbrush colour through the center of the fold. Shade the uniform around the edges of straps and pieces of equipment, as well as along the undersides of arms and legs which are not exposed to direct sunlight. The shading colour will immediately seep into the paint and expand out, but it will lose its intensity as is spreads away from the fine brush stroke. The raised part of the folds can later be highlighted by drybrushing, controlling some of the seepage and creating a layered effect of shades and highlights. Drybrushing can be repeated in several steps to achieve the desired results.

During the highlighting stages it is important not to introduce water or fresh paint into the shaded folds, since this will stir up the airbrush colour again and destroy the layering effect. In the worst case, shading and uniform colour will turn into a dirty looking substance which will bleed across the fold and onto the raised areas. This kind of damage is difficult to repair even with repeated drybrushing.

Airbrush colour creates a wonderful shading effect on uniforms painted with artists‘ acrylics, and it is a technique worth studying. You may practise your skills on horses’ legs, around the edges of saddles and leather belts with very little risk of destroying the previous paintjob. As soon as you appreciate how the colour bleeds into the layers of acrylic paint, even the shading of white uniforms can easily be mastered.

Painting Miniatures