In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at different armies of the Warhammer universe, examine their history and heraldry, and look at several different methods for painting them. With the release of the new Psychic Awakening V: The Greater Good book, we felt it was a good time to dive into the perfidious sects of the Genestealer Cults. So join us as we look into how to paint one of the Imperium’s worst threats from within.
Who Are The Genestealer Cults?
Genestealer Cults are one of the oldest factions in Warhammer 40,000, appearing in Rogue Trader as an insidious force resulting from infection by Genestealers. In their earliest incarnations, Genestealers were just another alien race, spreading form the moon of Ymgarl, completely separate and unconnected to the Tyranid threat (though they’d later be identified as the vanguard Hive Fleet Behemoth as the fluff was revised). Genestealers got a scarier (and decidedly alien-inspired) overhaul with the release of the Space Hulk board game, which also reintroduced them as a more sinister, widespread threat capable of infecting humans and other races. Old school Genestealer Cults had some incredibly funky models and relied a lot on conversions.
With the release of the 2nd Edition Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Tyranids, Genestealers were officially folded into the larger Tyranid grouping, becoming the vanguard of Tyranid hive fleets, infecting local populations and driving them to sabotage local infrastructure in preparation for the fleet’s arrival. Genestealer Cults received their first full army list under these rules, giving them access to Patriarchs, Magoses, and Cultists of various generations, signifying how close or far they are from the purestrain Genestealer DNA that births the cult. After receiving no model support in 2nd edition Warhammer 40,000, Genestealer Cults vanished when 3rd rolled around, and didn’t show back up until the end of 7th edition, when they were re-released as an entirely new army, focused on a mix of cultists and infected Astra Militarum Imperial Guardsmen to create powerful insurgent forces.
It took Games Workshop a while to get Genestealer Cults right – as an insurgent force, they’re lore-wise not particularly suited to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, where it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have a handful untrained workers with rock saws facing down Space Marines. But with the release of 8th edition and its Keywords system and the addition of the Brood Brothers rules, players are now able to make forces that combine Genestealer cults, Tyranid Hive Fleets, and corrupted Imperial Guard to represent Cult forces at the height of their powers, while also giving Genestealer Cults players a wide variety of options without having to create units for the army that don’t make sense.
Unlike most Tyranids, Genestealers possess a high level of intelligence and are able to think and act for themselves. The largest and most advanced of these are Genestealer Patriarchs, powerful psychic entities with a connection to the Hive Mind that allows them to maintain control over its brood. As they increase in power and age, they become powerful psychic beacons for the Hive Mind, drawing them to the most vulnerable worlds. A Genestealer Patriarch will usually be assisted by a Cult Magus, a powerful psychic Genestealer 4th-generation Hybrid capable of infiltrating society proper and representing the cult as a public spokesperson, something a big gross alien monster can’t really do.
Genestealers infect a host using the “Genestealer’s Kiss,” where they use ovipositors to implant a “seed” into the host body, mixing the host’s DNA with that of the Tyranid genome, altering the host on both a physical and mental level. They become subservient to the Genestealer’s brood and become driven to procreate, giving birth to hybrid monstrosities that are further driven to procreate. These offspring are also subservient to the brood and its Patriarch, and will dedicate themselves to spreading the brood’s practices of worship. As the cycle continues, future generations will more progressively resemble the host’s original species, allowing the cult to infiltrate human society at every level. They frequently do so via a mix of physical infection and psychological operations, creating propaganda and messaging designed to undermine the planet’s existing infrastructure. When the Tyranid Hive Fleets arrive, the planet suddenly finds itself unprepared and unable to fight back as its own forces turn on it and submit themselves in worship to the arrival of the “sky gods,” who inevitably consume them all while the Genestealer Patriarch escapes to repeat the cycle once more.
Where to Read More
Genestealer Cults are some particularly interesting antagonists in the 40k fiction. They haven’t really had a chance to shine as protagonists in their own right, but show up in various roles in other books as threats of varying levels. I haven’t read these, but if you’re interested in reading more, I’ve generally heard good things about the following books:
- Cult of the Warmason by CL Werner is primarily about the Sisters of Battle going up against a Genestealer Cults infestation on the shrine world of Lubentina.
- Cult of the Spiral Dawn by Peter Fehervari that looks at just how sinister and insidious the Genestealer Cults can be, following the story of some pilgrims who quickly discover some secrets that were better left hidden as they return to their Imperial Sect’s world of origin.
- The Alien Beast Within by Ian Watson follows the Callidus Assassin Meh’Lindi as she infiltrates a Genestealer Cult.
Playing Genestealer cults
After laying dormant for nearly twenty years, Genestealer Cults made a major comeback at the end of Warhammer 40,000’s 7th edition, with an all-new Codex and a full range of models. These were further expanded on in 8th edition and Kill Team, where Genestealer Cults are well-situated with their plethora of rank-and-file options.
- Warhammer 40,000 8th edition – Genestealer Cults have fallen from the top tiers of competitive play recently, but are still a force to be reckoned with, especially against opponents who aren’t familiar with their tricks. We cover how to play them in detail in our Start Competing: Genestealer Cults article. It doesn’t yet include the updates from Psychic Awakening V: The Greater Good, but until we update it to reflect those changes, you can find info on those new abilities in our Review of the Genestealer Cults’ Psychic Awakening rules.
- Kill Team – Genestealer Cults are basically made for Kill Team, and were packaged in the game’s starter box. We haven’t covered how to play them in detail yet, but stay tuned!
- Necromunda – Genestealer Cults initially got gang support in White Dwarf, and that got expanded in the Book of Ruin. Dan and Merton covered how to build and play a Genestealer Cults gang in their Necromunday article on Genestealer Cults.
Painting Genestealer Cults
There’s a lot to cover when it comes to “Genestealer Cults,” with Neophytes, Genestealers, Characters, Aberrants, Metamoph Hybrids, and vehicles like the Achilles Ridgerunner and the Goliath Rockgrinder. We may cover individual models in greater detail in the future, but in the meantime, we’ve got a few different methods for you to consider here that cover different paint schemes and methods for achieving certain looks.
Genestealer Cults Infantry
– Highlight metal with Vallejo Mithril
– Basecoat gun casings and knife handles Vallejo Black
– Highlight gun casings and knife handles Vallejo Cold Grey
Painting Cult Vehicles
– Highlight metal with Vallejo Mithril.
Beanith’s Contrast-Heavy Method
- Undercoat with a Greyseer rattle can
- Smoosh on some Talassar Blue on the cloth.
- Splash on some totally loyal Dark Angels Green on the armor.
- Basilicanum Grey and Black Templar on the weapons, chains, tubes and backpacks.
- Runefang Steel on the shoulder lamps and goggles etc. Then add a layer of Aethermatic Blue on top of that for a nice and simple lense effect.
- Snakebite Leather and Iyanden Yellow on the pouches and icons.
And now for the fun part: Just like Lupe, I experimented with several different skin tones to show that my gang was made from different generations of Hybrids and Backgrounds… that and I wanted an excuse to buy more paint.
- Guilliman Flesh
- Magos Purple
- Guilliman base, Magos layer
- Magos base, Guilliman layer.
Bosh, a simple and quick method to make the horde tabletop ready to sneak up and ask you if you’ve heard the sweet siren call of the Four Armed Emperor?
I started my GSC army at the beginning of 2019 with the advent of their Codex. At the same time I made the commitment to attend the NoVA Open, where I was aiming to get 3000 points of cult painted up in 6 months so I could take part in my first Apocalypse game.
I managed to get them done in time by horrendous amounts of batch painting. The main approach I took was from this video, which I found had the quickest approach to producing reasonable cultists at speed. I ended up taking this approach to all aspects of the army from line troops and characters through to my bike squads.
To summarise the approach:
- Prime Mechanicus Standard Grey
- DrybrushLongbeard Grey everywhere
- Ulthuan grey on the shoulder pads and edges of the armour\
- Bugmans glow on all skin/Orange bits
- Jokaro Orange onto all orange bits
- Highlight with Fyreslayer orange
- Reikland fleshshade on the skin
- Highlight with Kislev flesh
- Basecoat Xereus Purple
- Pick out raised bits with Genestealer purple
- Edge highlight Daemonette hide
- Druchii Violet wash
Carapace and capes
- Base with Macragge blue
- Pick out raised bits with Teclis blue
- Pick out even less with Temple guard blue
- Edge highlight extremes with Baharroth blue
A shame they won’t see the table often since Chapter Approved 2019, the Abberants were the lynchpin to all of my lists. For these I used the brilliant Marting Siversten’s approach to get the flesh tone I was after
- Mix of Rakarth Flesh and Ubshanti bone base
- Druchii Violet wash mixed with medium
- Reikland Fleshade wash mixed with medium
- Pick out raised details with a mix of Rakarth Flesh again
These took the same approach as the basic troops
Way back when, before Goonhammer was really a thing and it was just a hobby blog a few of us were messing around with, we started up the Tale of Goon Gamers. Like a lot of goon projects this went absolutely nowhere, but I did start painting some Genestealer Cultists. This army was meant to be a giant, sprawling mixed Tyranids/GSC force but sadly it’s never really taken off, but the guys I did paint for it I really like, and I hope one day to revisit it.
For the basic Neophytes, I wanted to use something like the classic blue/purple Tyranids scheme, but different enough from any of the stock GSC schemes that I could play a variety of cults with them. To this end I painted all the ribbed armour blue,, the “cloth” and some of the other details like some of the tubes purple, the fatigues or overalls black-grey, and the metal kept dark with straight Leadbelcher. For the skin I tried to get a mix of different tones (although if I revisit these I’ll take it further, and mix in some other skin types too). The fourth-generation guys, who are closer to being true Tyranids than humans, got grey skin to match the fleshy parts of the “real” Genestealers I was painting, like the Patriarch below. I also wanted to add some little bits and pieces of detail, including the KVLT and stripes on the guns, and some of the veins on top of the heads.
The Patriarch’s chitinous parts are the same blue as on the ribbed armour, his skin and spines are the same black-grey, and the bulk of his head is the same purple. This helps tie him to the more human parts of the army.
For the characters, I kept the same elements but reconfigured. The Primus is obviously quite similar to the Cultists, but the Magus trades some of the blue for his rich purple robes.
The characters have a lot of gems and such, which I painted orange as a contrasting colour.
Recipe-wise, the key colours are as below.
Blue: a base of Macragge Blue, then Teclis, washed Drakenhof, highlighted Teclis and then Lothern.
Purple: Naggaroth Night and then Xereus Purple (I love, love Xereus Purple), washed Druchii Violet, and then re-layered Xereus on the higher parts and highlighted with, fittingly, Genestealer Purple.
Black: primed black, VMC Black Grey, washed Nuln Oil, highlighted Mechanicus Standard Grey.
The only other model this army has gained in the interim is this Jackal Alphus. She has less of the ribbed armour and no purple, and instead her bike is a deep green. Even though I was definitely not playing GSC at this point I still bought and painted her because this model rules.
Jay (Steel Mentor)‘s Method
A good source for inspiration for Genecult colour schemes is to look at their tentacle-mawed gods’s own. After all, it’d make sense they wanna emulate the giant space bugs they’re desperately trying to summon right?
The 2019 codex features 2 minor cults that do this with the Sons of Jormungandr and the Behemoid Undercult parroting the schemes for Hive Fleets Jormungandr and Behemoth respectively, with and this formed the basis for my own cult’s scheme based off the cold minty chitin of Hive Fleet Tiamet.
– Prime Grey Seer.
– Wash with Apothecary White, keep an eye out for pooling in the crevices and draw it away before it sets too much.
– Soft Drybrush VGC Ghost Grey with a round-tipped makeup brush.
– Edge Highlight the most raised parts of the armour with White Scar.
– Wash with a 50/50 mix of Coelia Greenshade/Lhamian Medium.
– Apply a light 60/40 mix of Coleia Greenshade/Lhamian Medium to the more prominent crevices and separations in the alien arms.
– Soft Drybrush VGC Ghost Grey with a round-tipped makeup brush, focusing on the most prominent raised edges and features (face, hands etc). Build up a few light layers on the smooth areas of the head this way to help blend into the darker skin.
– Edge Highlight with Pallid Wych Flesh.
Mutant Innards (Tongues, Tentacles, Exposed Muscle, Blood Vials):
– Base with Daemonette Flesh.
– Wash with Guilliman Blue (if available) or 50/50 Tallasar Blue/Contrast Medium
– Carefully Highlight with Warpfiend Grey.
– Edge Highlight with Slaanesh Grey.
Green Chitin and Cloth:
– Wash with Terradon Turquoise.
– Layer with Lupercal Green, leaving the deepest recesses.
– Highlight with Kabalite Green, focusing on the raised areas of the cloth/carapace.
– Edge Highlight with Sybarite Green
– Edge Highlight any bladed/horned parts of the carapace with Dawnstone.
(Larger areas of Chitin on Metamorphs/Purestrains, Patriarch can be carefully Drybrushed instead for a more naturalistic, less clean look).
– Base with Dark Reaper.
– Wash with Coelia Greenshade.
– Highlight with Dark Reaper.
– Edge Highlight with Thunderhawk Blue.
Claws and Weapon Casings:
– Base with Corax Black
– Drybrush claws with Eshin Grey, focused along the edges.
– Edge Highlight casing and claws with Dawnstone.
– Wash Claws with 50/50 Aethermatic Blue/Contrast Medium for an alien sheen.
– Base with black of choice.
– Drybrush with Skavenblight Dirge
– Edge Highlight with Stormvermin Fur along the most raised/distressed folds.
– Base with Leadbelcher.
– Wash twice with Nuln Oil.
– Edge Highlight Ironbreaker.
Decorative Metal (Icons, Leaders’ Weapons):
– Base with Balthasar Gold.
– Wash with Agrax Earthshade.
– Drybrush with Hashut Copper.
– Lightly Drybrush with Sycorax Bronze, focused on the edges.
Glowing Areas (Eyes, Torches/Headlights, Battery Packs etc):
– Clean up any overspill from other steps with Grey Seer.
– Wash desired area with Lamenters Yellow (if available) or 50/50 Iyandan Yellow/Contrast Medium.
– Apply another wash of Lamenters Yellow or Iyandan mix, draw the wash out around the surrounding area to start building a glow.
– Wash with Cassandora Yellow.
– Wash with Lamenters Yellow or Iyandan mix, once again drawing the wash into the surrounding areas, but tighter than before.
Toxic Morass Basing:
– Apply Stirland Battlemire to the base, piling up in some areas. Carve out little divots with your texture tool of choice as it dries. Don’t be worried about getting it on the model, they’re trudging through the mess after all.
– Wash with Agrax Earthshade.
– Drybrush with Ryza Rust.
– Lightly Drybrush with Elf Flesh.
– Apply a 50/50 mix of Agrax Earthshade/Lhamian Medium.
– Base the insides of the divots/craters and any deep cracks left by the Texture paint drying with Moot Green.
– Apply Nurgle’s Rot to the green areas until it starts to look thick and toxic.
These steps can be used to paint any unit in the GSC roster, even say… a mildly stole- errr I mean liberated Shadowsword tank.
All it takes is a slightly larger makeup brush.
Genestealer Cult is one of the coolest factions in 40k. The underbelly of society taking up arms with industrial equipment to herald in a planetary annihilation? Yes please, sign me up for all of that. Lore aside, the models themselves are also fantastic and a joy to paint. Here’s how I go about painting Acolyte Hybrids.
A quick note: I keep the heads separate from the body until they are both fully painted. This makes it trivially easy to paint hard-to-reach areas like the collar, base of the skull and under the chin. Once both head and body are fully painted, I superglue the heads on (or magnetize them if there are alternate heads I want to swap between).
First let’s go through clothing, leather, armor, and metal. Next we’ll cover the carapace, followed by skin. Then finally we can go over the remaining details. The order below is the exact order in which I put paint on Acolytes.
Step 1: Prime
Prime black with whichever black primer you prefer. Personally, I like airbrushing Badger Stynylrez Black.
Step 2: Base paint with the following:
– Clothing: Jokero Orange
– Leather: Abaddon Black or leave as black primer. If you want brown leather, I’d recommend Rhinox Hide.
– Armor Panels: Administratum Grey
– Metal: Leadbelcher on all the metal. Then pick out the details with Brass Scorpion.
Step 3: Wash
Agrax Earthshade all over.
Step 4: Highlight with the following:
– Clothing: Troll Slayer Orange. Paint this using as thin of a coat as you can manage, and only paint areas that are the raised parts of fabric or the tops of knees and shoulders. A wet palette is invaluable here for getting the perfect amount of paint on your brush.
– Leather: Eshin Grey edge highlight for black leather. If you are going for a brown leather, a drybrush of Skrag Brown looks great. Just be extremely careful not to accidentally paint non-leather areas. Use masking putty, or settle for an edge highlight if you don’t want to risk it.
– Armor Panels: Paint Administratum Grey along the outside edge of every panel, around the collar, and on the flat parts of the backpack. Since you are using the same color as the base paint for this section, the effect of this highlight will be subtle. But it’ll create a clean line around the edges of the armor panels and will make the model look more defined at a distance.
Step 5: Carapace
This covers the arms, calves, forehead ridges and/or horn for the Acolytes. Paint all pieces of carapace in this order:
– Base with Kantor Blue.
– Wash the carapace with Nuln Oil. Careful to not get any on the clothing, leather, armor, or metal.
– Edge highlight with Alaitoc Blue. Hit the edges and corners, but also trace around the edges of the cracks on the forearm and bicep. Trace the sharp edges of any horns.
With a brush that has very little paint on it, gently paint a line down the center of the forehead ridge. Don’t worry if you get any in the sunken parts of the ridge, though. A little bit of Nuln Oil will pool in that sunken part and make it look just fine.
– Edge highlight with Hoeth Blue. Paint this sparingly at just the tips and sharpest corners of the carapace.
On the forehead ridge, use a brush with very little paint on it and gently paint the thinnest line down the center. Again, try to get it only on the raised parts of the ridge and not down into the sunken parts.
Step 6: Skin
This covers the hands, feet, face, scalp, and gaps in the carapace on the forearms and bicep.
– Base with Daemonette Hide. Try your best to avoid getting any on the carapace.
– Wash the skin with Druchii Violet.
– Paint/drybrush Slaanesh Grey. The technique used here will determine the texture of the skin. I used a single thin coat on the scalp to give a mottled look, then drybrushed the face, hands, and feet to cover the raised portions.
For the cracks in the carapace on the forearms and biceps, use the thinnest brush you have and paint a single, very faint line of Slaanesh Grey down the center.
– Edge highlight with Pallid Wych Flesh. Be very, very sparse with this, as it will heavily stand out. The only place I used this consistently is on the cheekbone and the eyebrow ridge, though on a few heads I faintly used it on a few ridges near their temples.
Step 7: Details
This is for all the odds and ends that come in at the end.
– Eyes and Lamps: Yriel Yellow. Careful with this one, as bright yellow will stand out. For lamps with metal grates over the top, paint the bulb and grates all Yriel Yellow, then paint the grate with Leadbelcher. It’s much easier to paint Leadbelcher over Yriel Yellow than it is to only paint the glass between the grates.
– Tongue: Paint the whole tongue with Pink Horror, and then do a faint highlight on the sides and edges with Slaanesh Grey.
– Teeth: Pallid Wych Flesh. Go sparingly on this, as just the tiniest amount on each tooth is more than enough. For models with snarled lips that are almost closed, consider skipping Pallid Wych Flesh entirely and just letting it be.
Prepare for the Sky God’s Arrival
That wraps up our look at painting Genestealer Cults. Hopefully you’ve got what you need to start playing around with different styles and schemes, and you feel comfortable going beyond just the standard blue-and-purple for Genestealers. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.