Step by step repaint tips by Ironhawk – Step 1: Setup!

Hi folks,

There has been several requests for tips on how to create successful repaints over MechWarrior concept art from Alex Iglesias. So, for the first time, some trade secrets will be revealed for sharing.

Don’t be surprised if this process appears lengthy; getting to an appropriate degree of detail success requires a lot of work and quite a few steps. Let’s start, shall we?

Step 1: Setup

First things first. Let’s discuss material and software before we even open up a ‘Mech concept art template…

Step 1A: Hardware and Software

There are many tools out there that can do the job on the software side, such as Photoshop or Gimp, and any similar software will do a decent job, but you will need to spend time exploring software possibilities if you want to really get around it and be familiar with its specific functions. Photoshop for example require quite some time to grasp and buying books containing practical exercises along with the software is recommended.

On the hardware side, PC (or Mac) should not be an issue unless you do not have the processing power to run the software. What saves time and will help you produce neat effects is a Wacom tablet. With its pressure sensitive pen, working around with the Photoshop brushes and eraser sets becomes much more intuitive and you don’t have to tweak manually with the opacity and flow to get the desired effect.

It is assumed that you have some reasonable base with the software features to be able to benefit from this post and the ones which will follow.

Step 1B: Template!

So you’ve gone around and spent time working around a ‘Mech concept art image to create a base template? Or better yet, someone has done it already? Here are a few tips on how to improve it:



  1. For this example, the Timber Wolf template was used. You can download the PSD file by clicking on the link.
  2. Let’s analyze the file briefly. It is composed of 4 foundation layers: a) background, b) Soft Light, c) Bleach (sometimes referred to as color or primer), d) Base Layer (or Multiply layer). Here are the respective functions for those: soft light brightens the pale colors while preserving to a degree the contrast of darker colors, bleach has a color mode applied to it that, with its white background base, will remove (or bleach) colors from the ‘Mech, and finally the ‘multiply’ layer allows you to support the paint layers above it while limiting your paint surface to the ‘Mech’s armor plates.
  3. So let’s play with those!
  4. Soft Light layer: it is recommended to tweak this layer’s opacity percentage depending on the ‘Mech to get a balance between good black/white contrasts in all parts of the ‘Mech and areas that are bright enough to get the desired paint color in the end (the darker the ‘Mech is, the tougher it’ll be for you to get pale or more vivid colors.)
  5. Bleach layer: if you leave it at 100% opacity, your ‘Mech color may seem off from the background. What you can do is either reduce the opacity of it (by just a few percentage points) or use a very pale ‘color overlay’ (available via the FX tab at the bottom of the Layers window in Photoshop) matching your background lighting and applying that with a very subtle percentage (2-4% should be enough).
  6. Base layer: this one, you’d normally would not want to touch, but… that’s not why we’re here! We want to tweak, screw up a bit, and get to that next level of craftsmanship! (do not, however, play with the opacity for this layer; it has to remain at 100% for you to get 100% out of your paint colors from the clipping mask layers above)

Step 1C: Messing around with the Base layer

The idea here is to create that more realistic tank-like, metal plate effect you’d see on a military heavy gear on your ‘Mech repaints. So a lot of the tweaking resides in recuperating some of the whites and silvers you lose from the Soft Light and Bleach layers, and building some extra realism in there as well.

  1. Wear and tear: that’s what it’s about. Metal plates for ‘Mechs that have been around will have some paint scratches and chips all around the edges, especially where the ‘Mech parts such as legs and arms encounter rocks, trees and other obstacles from the various Inner Sphere environments out there. You can search the web for tank and metal wear images if you need inspiration.
  2. So how do we do that? Make sure you have selected the Base layer. Time to take out that Wacom tablet if you have it. Chose the eraser and select a single pixel brush at around 70-75% opacity. Oh and it’s time to crank up volume with your fav music by the way.
  3. Zoom! Zoom! Zoom-in! Only by zooming in on the image will you be able to identify the trails that Alex has left for you for metal wear and scratches. Just look at the great level of detail and realism this guy puts in his concept art. Just amazing!

    Click on the image for full-size view

    Click on the image for full-size view

  4. So now’s the time to mess around and erase spots that seem right to you until you get the desired effect. Explore that Timber Wolf template example made for your enjoyment. Expand on it. Make love to it. Have fun above all!
  5. This is the Base layer we are talking about. Anything you erase will not show paint and appear white so make sure to use subtle, varied pressure around your erasing job.
  6. If you want to gauge the full impact of what you are doing, you may select a darker color on the first paint layer (just change the color from the color overlay filter or fill in the layer with a dark color).
  7. For the purpose of this exercise, I chose “black”… but do notice it is actually dark gray. We will touch on that subject in the next tutorial.

If you de-activate your Background layer, you should see something like this…

Touched up Base layer of a Timber Wolf 'Mech paint base job without background

Touched up Base layer of a Timber Wolf ‘Mech paint base job without background

So you can imagine the amount of work that was put in over 200 repaints now. Good news is that with a good template base like this one, and because you have worked on the Base layer, there is no need to repeat this for every repaint job. Just once per ‘Mech model (or variant if you are crazy enough to do mods, which is another sport).

Hope you’ve enjoyed those few tips.


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