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How to: Color Modulation | Gundam Zaku II Mega Scale

First post on this new blog. I've recently gotten a lot of requests to do a Color Modulation tutorial for Gundam so here we go. You can purchase a lot of DVDs and books that cover this technique, but I have neither the time nor skill to make either of those so this article is free - just leave a comment if you liked it or if you have any questions. So first, what is Color Modulation? Color Modulation is a relatively new technique that's all the craze with military modelers. It basically takes the zenethal highlighting technique a step further to pull more contrasts on the model and make the base color more interesting.

Color Modulation is an exaggerated base color with more highlights and shadows that will serve as a base for the weathering. Color Modulation is sort  of a controversial technique. Some say it's brilliant, others say its unrealistic or fantasy. I was talking to my brother about this technique and he likened it to a video game model with unreal lighting. So the question is Color Modulation realistic? Well... no it's not. It's just an interpretation of light. Color Modulation brings contrasts between the different sections of the color - sort of like how panel lining and pre-shading are also used to distinguish areas and make them more interesting to the viewer. Technically, Color Modulation should be done from a zenithal light source, but remember that the model is not static so as soon as your repose it, all the shadows will be wrong! Luckily modellers before me have compensated by applying the light source to individual panels and sections.

Finally, just remember that Color Modulation is just another technique that you can use on your model. I do not use it all the time, sometimes I do Edge Highlighting, sometimes it's Drybrushing. Remember it's your model and you can do what you want because if you really want realism in your model, it is actually very disappointing. Stand 20 feet away from a tank and you won't even be able to see individual panels much less the actual rivets which painters bring our by panel lining and washing. I like to think about miniature painting as an art. Historical oil paintings at the museum are beautiful but they aren't realistic compared to a photograph. If you want true realism, just paint your model in a solid color and spend a lot of money on lights to mimic the sun (but that would defeat the whole purpose of painting since that is just photography!). Enough about the theory, let's get started!


If you are looking for a quick introduction to Colo Modulation, I would recommend the AFV Painting System sets by Vallejo. I've linked to the Olive Green one which I used as a base for this set (meaning I modified the recipe). When doing color modulation, firstly pick the base color you want the model to primarily consist of. Then choose 2 shades darker and 2 shades lighter. If you really want a natural fade, you should mix your colors like I did. I primed the Zaku's chest with Vallejo Olive Green Primer, although the primer color does matter (I ran out of this so most of the pieces were just primed grey). The first step is to pre-shade the model. This should be done with the darkest shade. Usually I would not use Black, but for Olive Green, it's okay. My favorite color of Black for airbrushing is Woodland Scenics Black. It's a very thin paint that is just perfect for airbrushing right of the bottle. It's also a very light paint so it's forgiving and fades well. You may have to do two passes of this color. As you can see, I was not very neat, you just needs to outline the panels for the next step.

The next step is to take the shadow color and blend it into the pre-shade color. Remember you can go back and forth if you accidentally cover too much. At this point, you should also decide your rules for your light. On this model, it is vertical (top down) and front to rear. This will be more apparent when we get to the highlights.

Next, we are applying the base color. This is the most dominant color on the model. As you can see we've faded it with the shadow color that in turn transitions to the pre-shade color. You can also see that the shadow comes from the bottom of the panel line. Remember to have masking tape on hand when doing this technique!

Here we have the first highlight applied top down. This is a lighter version of the base color. In my case, I did some mixing because I couldn't fine a factory color I wanted. I added some Light Grey and Buff/Ivory to the base color. Again, use masking tape to prevent the color from touching the shadows on the panel above. Masking tape allows you to get that crisp line that brings the most contrast.

Here is the peice with the final highlight applied to only the very top of the panel. I mixed my previous highlight with more light tones to get the color I wanted.

Here is the chest piece outside of the lightbox so you can see the contrast a little bit more. That was a lot of work, but the magic hasn't happened yet.

As you might notice the color after the modulation is very saturated so we will want to bring some life back in the color. To do this, I used a Filter of Green to bring the tones back to where I wanted it. This is the most difficult process in modulation as it requires more finesse and patience. In my case, I used Vallejo's Dark Green wash mixed with airbrush thinner, water, and acrylic medium. There is not a set ratio, you will have to play with the ingredients to get the consistency that works for you. I would start with a 50:50 mix of the Wash and everything else. This is applied with a flat brush. It is important to do this directionally or else it will look like smears. I followed the direction of the Color Modulation (top, down, or front, back). If done correctly, the subtle effect will blend the colors together and leave a light rain streak effect.

Here is a close up of the foot that helps show the streaking more. This is another way to add interest to the colors without going overboard with the weathering. A thing to remember is that you should do each panel individually so your streaks don't run across different sections. Also I didn't take a picture, but I Panel Lined the Green with Black before the filter was added.

I forgot to take a picture while doing it with the green, but for the extreme highlight color, I wanted to bring attention to individual hatches so I masked them off and highlighted them.

Here are the Khaki parts with Color Modulation and Panel Lining. It's more of a matter of preference, but I did apply a Satin Varnish coat between the Color Modulation and the Panel Lining and again before the Filter. I used a Medium Brown wash.

Here are the Khaki Parts wit the Filter applied. In this case I've opted for a Sephia colored wash.

And there you have it, the basics of Color Modulation. If you liked this article, please let me know in the comments! If I wasn't clear on my explanation of certain steps, ask me below. Thank you for reading.