World War 2 - Vehicle Painting Guide 1

So you've made the step and decided to paint that Armoured Fighting Vehicle (or group of said vehicles). It is important to follow a number of simple steps. These will ensure you will have a successful and accurate conclusion to the work you have done, making your model.

Compiled and updated by Stephen White from original work by Dale Murdoch.


Prior to beginning, it is ALWAYS necessary to do some research about your subject vehicle. This will help you find an appropriate reference. This may be in the form of a colour photo or colour drawing of the vehicle you are modelling. Libraries (including the NWA library) are a good place to conduct your research. Needless to say, it is usually preferable to refer to a vehicle from a similar period and theatre to the subject you are building.

Secondly, it is advisable to paint the interior parts of the model before assembly. Also, tank tracks and crews should be left off, until the vehicle has been completely painted and 'weathered'.

Thirdly, once you have completed some research, you've established the colour and/or combination you are to paint your model, you must take into account a few items regarding colours.

Colour fits into 3 categories:

1. Actual or real from a paint chip or colour photo or personnel examination.

2. Faded. This varies depending on the conditions the paint has been exposed to. For example, the 'showroom' colour may have been exposed to wind, rain and sun. In this way, desert conditions may make colours fade to a 'chalky' appearance. Green may look grey and brown may darken.

3. Scale Colours. Follow the "rule" that the smaller the scale the less light is reflected, making the colour appear darker on a scale model. Therefore, a different shade may have to be used for the model colour to 'look right'. Generally. the colour on a 1/72nd or 1/76th scale model must be several shades lighter than the real item.

4. Once the research is done and colours have been decided upon, it would be helpful to have a ready reference guide to paint schemes. Well your prayers have been answered, one is presented here for your benefit. This is designed to help you to correctly discern which colours appear in your reference and to make sure they can appear on your carefully constructed models.

A few explanatory notes:

1. These are the 'recommended colours' for the various nations. These colours are in "faded scale finish" and are appropriate for 1/76th and 1/72nd scale AFV's.

2. All colours are Humbrol colours, unless specified.


At the start of the war British equipment was authorised to have a base colour of khaki green or middle bronze green (medium green). Over this, a disruptive pattern of either deep bronze green (dark green) or light bronze green (light green), could be applied.

At the end of 1941, a khaki brown (brown) colour was introduced. During 1942, this usually took the place of the base khaki green colour and often disruptive colours were not used. In 1944 a khaki green colour (green drab) was introduced to replace the middle bronze green and khaki brown colours. For all intents and purposes this colour is identical to the U.S. Army olive drab.

In Europe, some soft skin vehicles had their tarpaulins camouflaged with the so called Mickey Mouse Ears. This would be typically done in a deep bronze green or black.

Theatre Of War Color Humbrol Paint No
Europe 1939-1940 Medium green
Europe 1944-1945 Green Drab 155/159/179
Desert Sand
Italy 1943 onwards Earth 30/91


American equipment, from early 1942, was always painted in an overall base olive green colour called green drab. Over this could be applied disruptive patterns of forest green, earth brown or black.

In the desert, vehicles were often repainted. frequently this was with desert sand or earth yellow. These could be applied overall or as a disruptive pattern, over the base of olive drab. Tan Sand and red brown could also be found on equipment in the desert.

Theatre Of War Color Humbrol Paint No
N/A Olive Drab
N/A Forest Green 30/86
N/A Brown Testor's Military Tan
N/A Tan 119
N/A Sand 148
N/A Black Any variety of Black or Charcoal

Painting German

From 1939 to the winter of 1942-1943, German equipment had a base colour of panzer grey. This colour varies between a medium blue grey and a dark grey.

From the start of 1943, a new three colour paint scheme was introduced. The base colour was called sand tan primer or dark yellow. (This was a darker shade than the sandy yellow colour used in the desert.) Over this base, medium green and/or red brown could be applied. This varied according to the terrain in which the vehicle or gun was to be used.

In the desert after about the first six months, vehicles were repainted a yellow brown. To break up the vehicle outline, either grey green or dark earth could be applied over the base colour. These colours were also used over the panzer grey base, on the Eastern Front.

Theatre Of War Color Humbrol Paint No
Early War Grey
1943 Onwards Sand Tan Primer
Medium Green
Red Brown
Tamiya XF60/Humbrol 83
Desert Sand 63/94

Painting Soviet

From the start of the war, the Soviet vehicles were painted in a base colour of olive green. Although the shade of this colour varied from one unit to another, three main shades were utilised through World War Two.

From 1939 to 1942, a light reed green was in evidence.

From 1942-1943 to 1944-1945 a medium olive green was used. This was almost identical to the U.S. colour, olive drab.

In the final year of the war, many new vehicles were painted in a dark olive green. Occasionally, equipment could also be painted a base colour of brown, red brown, sand or grey. Over any of these, a disruptive pattern of a darker shade or colour could be used. For example if medium olive green was used as a base, a darker green or dark earth could be painted over it. Earth and sand colours tended to dominate in the Asiatic and southern regions. Greens tended to be more dominant in the central and northern regions. Lend-Lease vehicles were generally left in their original colours by the Soviets.

Theatre Of War Color Humbrol Paint No
Early War Green
Mid War Green 86/102/159
Late War Green 116/117/123

General Painting Tips

This list is not comprehensive as Italian, Japanese, French, Hungarian and a wide variety of other countries are not included.

There is also no mention made of the effects of fading and colour variation (due to the original paint being applied using petrol, oil or water or the difference of using a brush or spray-gun). The effects of weathering are not covered either, as this is a whole subject on its own. The markings that are used on the various AFV's have, by necessity, not been covered. For references to these, it would be worthwhile to refer to the NWA club library.

So now we come to the painting. Carefully mix the paint, so that the colour is consistent over the whole vehicle, or group of vehicles. Care must also be taken, when using a brush, that the paint is not too thick. If the paint is too thick, there is a possibility that two problems may occur; brush marks may be left visible and/or the detail on the vehicle will become obscured.

For variety between different units or different vehicles, some of these colours could be lightened or darkened. This can be done by mixing with yellow or grey respectively. it is advisable to allow a minimum of six hours drying time before handling or overpainting.

At this stage, any unit/vehicle markings should be applied - in accordance with your reference - and small details, such as tools, machine guns and jerry cans should be painted.

Moving right along. Basic weathering can be done in two stages. The model is first "dry brushed", in a shade slightly lighter than the predominant camouflage colour on the vehicle. "Dry Brushing" is achieved by scuffing the vehicle corners and other likely areas. using an old stiff brush, from which most of the paint has been removed. As with most things, moderation is the key; don't overdo it.

When painting tyres and rubber road wheels these should be painted dark grey, NOT black (remember the three categories of colour i.e. colours on a small scale vehicle will appear darker.). Tracks can be painted overall mud (dark brown) or any red brown colour to represent rust. Parts of the track links that stand out that would be constantly grinding on roads, should be highlighted in silver metal colour, using the "dry brushing" technique.

The second stage in the weathering process is the everyday stains that are found on all vehicles. Stains such as oil, petrol and watermarks, scuffing dirt and mud. References should be studied to determine the extent and positions of such stains. Again ,remember, moderation. A little is better than a lot. A good method of determining the correct colour and consistency of these stains is to look at real life vehicles, that are rarely washed (e.g. bulldozers, trucks etc.)