How to Paint Everything – Crimson Fists Space Marines

In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at how to paint, well, everything, with a look ta different techniques and approaches from different artists. Today we’re looking at the original Space Marines and staunchest defenders of humanity, the Crimson Fists.

Like the Black Templars, the Crimson Fists are a successor chapter of the Imperial Fists. When Guilliman decreed that the legions would be split into smaller chapters, Dorn nearly rebelled but eventually consented and so the youngest of the legion became the Crimson Fists. 

All right, let’s get this out of the way: the Crimson Fists get owned a lot. Whether it’s the classic Last Stand by David Gallagher, the updated Primaris Version, or even the original cover of Rogue Trader, the Crimson Fists are prone to finding themselves in a desperate struggle for survival. What makes them great is that in the face of the most desperate odds, they never lay down and die. They fight to the end and they prevail. Crimson Fists represent the epitome of tenacity in Space Marines, and in an uncaring universe that will someday destroy you, there’s something undeniably noble about the Crimson Fists’ spirit. They’re the Chumbawamba of the 40K universe.

One of the more famous (or infamous) accounts of the Crimson Fists in the 41st Millennium was the fall of their homeworld, Rynn’s World. Under invasion by an Ork Waaagh! led by Snagrod, the Arch-Arsonist of Charadon, the Crimson Fists mounted a heroic defense to repel the greenskins. Unfortunately, whether due to Inquisitorial sabotage (they do hate sons of Dorn after all), a failure to follow proper preventative maintenance schedules, the whims of Chaos, shoddy 41st millennium manufacturing, or just plain bad luck, an orbital defense missile fired from the Chapter’s fortress-monastery managed to misfire and blow up the Crimson Fist stronghold. In one fell swoop, most of the chapter was atomized, reducing the Crimson Fists to less than half strength. As you might expect, this led to a desperate struggle for survival, led by Chapter Master Pedro Kantor (certified bad-ass), where the Crimson Fists emerged severely bloodied (or nearly dead) but victorious.

While the survival of the chapter was definitely in question after the fall of Rynn’s World (what with all the lost geneseed, relics, and what have you) and subsequent daemon invasion (because of course), Deus Ex Primaris has fortunately restored the chapter to near full strength (which also means a full Primaris Crimson Fists force is extremely fluffy). Just recently, the Crimson Fists played an important role in the defense of Vigilus.

Covered in this Article

  • How to paint Crimson Fists space marines, with a look at different approaches from different painters.
  • Notes on the Heraldry of the Crimson Fists and how they mark their companies and squads.

Crimson Fists Heraldry - Click to Expand


Crimson Fists are pretty non-compliant when it comes to heraldry. The most striking aspect of their color scheme is of course the eponymous left red fist that all Crimson Fists bear. Veterancy is indicated by a right red fist as well. Strictly speaking this is for 1st Company Veterans, but many people like to use it to indicate any kind of senior model, such as a Sergeant. Perhaps because of their decimation, Crimson Fists don’t use company markings, leaving their shoulder trim blue. They do use typical squad markings (gothic script) and battlefield role markings.

Crimson Fists Heavy Intercessors. Credit: Corrode

Since the Crimson Fists use silver for the chest imperialis/aquila, white can be a good color for heraldic markings, alongside red to add color and break up the blue armor. Crimson Fists are a crusading chapter so a crusade badge on a kneepad can be a nice bit of detail to add, much like with Black Templars.

Painting Crimson Fists

When it comes to painting Crimson Fists, you’re free to use whatever shade of blue suits your fancy, though generally the recommended starting color is Kantor Blue (which shares a name with noted Crimson Fists hero, Pedro Kantor). Though as we’ll see, you can create striking results with a variety of different blues.

Alfredo's Method - Click to Expand

For Lieutenant Salazar, I used the 500th store Lieutenant as my base model. Then, I used the power fist from the Vanguard Veterans kit because I wanted a right-handed power fist so that Salazar could fist bump Lieutenant Domeric (and the arm is magnetized for just that purpose). I also added a very angry head and resin back banner with a giant fist on it.

Salazar WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Salazar WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

This was a relatively straightforward model to paint.

  1. After priming, I airbrushed first the red and then the blue, masking in between. For the red I used Reaper’s Gory Triad which provides a nicely saturated warm red that contrasts nicely with the blue. For the armor, I leveraged my zenithal prime and sprayed with very thin Scale75 Navy Blue. This gave me some nice graduation across the armour, good saturation and a nice dark blue that matches what you see in the artwork.
  2. This was a relatively simple model so next step was just to basecoat the remaining colors. I stuck with my typical reddish-brown color for leather because it ties back to the red and helps break up the blue armour.
  3. Washing was similarly simple, with a pin wash of lamp black oils pretty much everywhere. In general, when you have two main colors that are practically complements, like red and blue, I think it’s best to use the same wash color for both in order to help tie them together. If not black, a dark purple could also work and would also create some cool/warm contrast on the red parts.
  4. For highlighting the armour, I wanted to create some additional contrast with the red and push it closer to a Prussian Blue so I used turquoises for my edge highlights to add some green. All edges were hit with Vallejo Turquoise and then upward facing edges got a secondary highlight of Light Turquoise. The sharpest corners all got a spot highlight of Light Sea Grey, which may as well be white for my purposes. As always, the goal is to have a range of contrast that goes all the way from black to white, with the color in between.
  5. For the red, I did a two-stage highlight. I started with Vallejo Red Orange to push the contrast with the blue (since orange is the complement of blue) and then tried out Sunny Skintone instead of my usual ochre to keep a bit more orange in the brightest highlight. I was pretty happy with the result.
  6. After highlights, it was just a matter of sponge weathering with a bright metal and then pigments to tie the model to the base (and draw your eyes upward to the face).

And the finished model:

Lieutenant Salazar Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Lieutenant Salazar Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

If I were to do something different, it would be adding a crusade badge to one of the kneepads just to add some visual interest and break up the blue. Otherwise, I was pretty happy and I really wanted the focus to be on the giant powerfist and the screaming face.

RichyP's Method - Click to Expand

RichyP gives us a method for speed painting Crimson Fists, with this 90-minute model that offers a fast, easy way to paint the army.

Step 0

Prime the model black

Step 1

Paint all the armour plates in VMC Dark Prussian Blue

HTPE Crimson Fists 1 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Step 2

Wash the model in Nuln Oil

HTPE Crimson Fists 2 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Step 3

Edge highlight the armour in Macragge Blue.

HTPE Crimson Fists 3 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Step 4

Add a smaller edge highlight of Russ Grey

HTPE Crimson Fists 4 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Step 5

Paint wraithbone over the areas that will receive Contrast paints (face, purity seal, and Ork head in this case). Paint the chest eagle, weapon and ribbing in VMA Steel and the fist + wax seals in Mephiston Red.

HTPE Crimson Fists 5 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Step 6

Paint the flesh in Darkoath Flesh, the Purity Seals in Skeleton Horde and the Ork head in Warplightning. Wash the metals in Nuln Oil.

HTPE Crimson Fists 6 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Step 7 – Detail bits

Paint writing on the seals in Chaos Black. Edge highlight the reds in Cadian Flesh, Highlight the face in Kislev Flesh and using Ulthuan Grey add some markings to the armour. Wash the eye sockets in Drakenhof and add a small line of Wraithbone in the middle. Now spend 10 attempts at getting the pupils straight (repeat the Wraithbone, Drakenhof combo if you mess up) using Eshin Grey.

HTPE Crimson Fists 7 - Richyp
Credit: Richyp

Liam's Method - Click to Expand

Crimson Fists were my first army when I got back into 40k in 2008. I played Blood Angels as a kid, and I wanted something different for a new army – but apparently not so different that they weren’t Space Marines. Inevitably I now have a Blood Angels army anyway, but also over the years I’ve accumulated somewhere around 12,000pts of Crimson Fists.

As you might expect, the painting techniques and colours used have changed a lot, not least because GW have gone through one or possibly even two changes in their range in that time, and I am a corporate whore who mostly paints with GW paints.

Crimson Fists Intercessors. Credit: Liam “Corrode” Royle

The modern iteration of the scheme is as follows:

  1. Prime black
  2. Two layers of Kantor Blue on the armour
  3. One layer of Khorne Red and then another layer of Mephiston Red on the red bits (left gauntlet, shoulderpad)
  4. Leadbelcher basecoat then Ironbreaker layer on the metals – gun, chest eagle, and in this case the soft bits of the armour
  5. Rhinox Hide then Steel Legion Drab on the leather (pouches etc.)
  6. Purity seals in Waagh Flesh, Warboss Green, and Skarsnik Green on the wax, with the parchment being Rakarth Flesh and then Ushabti Bone
  7. Gun in VMC Black
  8. Eyes in Warpstone Glow, Moot Green, and then dotted with Gauss Blaster Green
  9. Astrogranite Debris on the base

Then wash as follows:

  1. Glaze Drakenhof Blue over the blues
  2. Reikland Fleshshade over the reds, and over flesh if there is any
  3. Nuln Oil over black and metal
  4. Agrax Earthshade on the base
  5. Seraphim Sepia on the pouches, and purity seals if there are any

Then it’s highlighting time!

  1. For the reds, I re-layer some Mephiston Red, then hit the edges with Wild Rider Red
  2. For the metals, I hit high points with Ironbreaker
  3. The gun gets an edge highlight of Russ Grey
  4. The pouches get an edge highlight of Steel Legion Drab, and seals get an edge of Ushabti Bone

That’s all nice and easy! The challenging bit comes after that – the armour. There are a lot of edges to Mk 10 power armour, never mind Gravis, so this takes a fair amount of time. My first layer of highlighting comes from hitting all the edges with Altdorf Guard Blue, and then following up with a thinner highlight of Calgar Blue. This takes forever, but it also makes the edges really sharp – it’s very ‘Eavy Metal although naturally not as good.

Crimson Fists Sternguard Veterans. Credit: Corrode

The other thing I’ve been doing recently is adding little individual badges and things to the models – you can see a few on the photo, on the knees of the three guys on the right. This helps break up the model, adds some points of interest, and some variety in the painting. SRM wrote an excellent article on heraldry which you should definitely read – I’ll certainly be applying more of it to my models in future.

Ryolnir's Method - Click to Expand

Crimson Fists are my ride-or-die army. I may have blood pouring out of my eyes over the recent FAQ, but they are the army I started in 4th Edition and keep coming back to almost 15 years later. The last two years I’ve been working on perfecting my Crimson Fists scheme – it’s based heavily on a few different versions of the GW painting guy with some other companies thrown in! I typically try to stay Codex-compliant wherever I can. If I name a paint here without giving the company name, it’s because it’s part of Citadel’s paint line.

Crimson Fists Captain. Credit: Ryolnir

I typically block out each color with their basecoat, then wash, then highlight each model so I’ll be giving instructions in that order. 

  1. Prime black. I use Stylnrez Black from an airbrush but anything works.
  2. Airbrush the entire Kantor Blue Air (unless they have a great big power fist or something, try to miss that.
  3. Airbrush the underside of the model with Night Lords Blue – this acts as a kind of undershade. It’s not as apparent on infantry but it does wondrous things to vehicles as you can see in HTPE: Astraeus!
  4. Paint two thin coats (or more as needed for power fists) of Khorne Red on the model’s left hand. If it’s a veteran (including most characters), also paint their right hand!
  5. While your Khorne Red is out – give the eye lenses a first coat of red. 
  6. If the model is wearing cloth, I use Khorne Red here too.
  7. Paint bolter, belt, and any holsters with Corvus Black. If you haven’t used it yet, Corvus Black is a very very dark grey that you can shade or highlight in whichever direction you like.
  8. Bust out your favorite metallic – I mostly use Steel from Vallejo’s incredible Metal Color Airbrush line. Many of the paints in that line are difficult to handbrush, but Steel always works well for me.
  9. Lastly, I check for any Purity Seals. I do the wax seal in the same old Khorne Red – it’s usually far enough away from any other instances of the color that it works well to continue the spot highlight. The parchment I paint in Rakarth Flesh.

There’s probably some cleanup to do after the initial basecoat, but this typically gets you into a “he looks like a Crimson Fist!” spot. 

Onto the shades…

  1. I use a weird one here – Mr. Hobby’s Mr. Weathering Multi-black. I do a very careful wash of the entire model – wherever I want it to be darker, and then immediately clean up with the Mr. Weathering Solvent before it can dry. This stuff gives you a ton of control so you don’t get a blotchy wash, just dab off your brush and continue pushing it around.
  2. Since most people don’t have that, feel free to use Nuln Oil or whatever your favorite dark/black wash is. You’ll want to wash the recesses of the model, anywhere you painted metal or black, and in the flexible ribbing of the model’s joint armor.
  3. I like to then use Carroburg Crimson over the reds typically, though I used to use Reikland Fleshshade and there isn’t a major difference since Khorne Red is such a strong tone.
  4. I cover the purity seals in Agrax Earthshade typically as I like the shading to be a bit starker.

And then highlights!

  1. Two step highlights for the armor – Alaitoc and then Hoeth Blue. Fairly standard scheme – I don’t do as well with fine-lining so I make a strong effort to hit what I feel are the key parts of the armor your eyes look at. You are likely more talented than I, so go nuts!
  2. Wazdakka Red and Squig Orange for the red. If you don’t enjoy the orange tint, you can stop with Wazdakka or find an even lighter red to highlight with. Note: I shade ALL of my Khorne Red this way, no matter where it appears.
  3. The black parts of the model get an edge highlight of Dawnstone.
  4. A bit of Vallejo Model Air Silver for highlighting gunmetal…

And finally, I do the base and varnish the model! My favorite varnish right now is Vallejo’s Mecha Color Matt. Since the model featured in this post features a lot of gold – I use Scale75’s Viking Gold and shade with GW’s new Cryptek Armourshade Gloss.

Crimson Fists Terminators
Crimson Fists Terminators. Credit: Ryolnir.

Final Thoughts

That wraps up our look at Crimson Fists, who are one of the cooler and more storied successor chapters out there. If you have any other Sons of Dorn you’d like to see featured or additional questions about how we paint these guys, shoot us a note at or drop us a note in the comments below.