How to Paint Everything: Night Lords

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. In this article we’re looking at how to paint the terrifying VIII legion, the Night Lords.

The Night Lords are the VIIIth legion of the First Founding, and one of the original nine Traitor Legions that turned to Chaos during the Horus Heresy, though their fall began well before Horus decided to rebel. The legion’s Primarch, Konrad Curze, landed on the mining planet of Nostramo as a baby, where he was left to fend for himself. Nostramo was a world of perpetual twilight, whose moon continually blocked out the light from its nearest star. It was a dismal world run by criminal overlords and as the young Kurze aged he took it upon himself to end those injustices by killing said overlords like a kind of insane batman until the Emperor arrived.

At the head of a legion of space marines, Curze wasted no time instilling his philosophy of fear and brutal subjugation within his ranks, and the Night Lords quickly became known for their terror tactics and brutal methods ensuring Imperial compliance. They were known for using excessive force, and publicizing this fact, sowing fear that would prevent future rebellions. In the latter years of the Great Crusade, it was not uncommon for worlds to immediately drop talk of rebellion and submit to full tithing on just the rumor that the Night Lords might be called to put down their rebellion.After Curze left Nostramo, the world quickly slid back into its old status quo and soon the Night Lords’ ranks were being replenished not with the best and bravest the world had to offer but its most degenerate murderers and criminals. This would in turn further contribute to the legion’s descent, as its methods would become more and more brutal. In time, Curze would come to hate his legion and what it had become and when he realized the extent of his adopted home world’s betrayal, he directed his legion’s fleet to open fire on the world, utterly destroying it.

Curze’s actions had finally gone too far and the rogue primarch was called to submit to Imperial judgment and sentencing for his crime and for completely wrecking Rogal Dorn in hand-to-hand combat when the primarch questioned Curze’s loyalty. But before he could be brought in to answer for his crimes, word of Horus’ rebellion broke and the Night Lords were one of the legions sent to destroy the Sons of Horus, Emperor’s Children, World Eaters, and Death Guard in the Istvaan System. Of course, upon arrival, they eagerly joined Horus’ rebellion, and the Night Lords turned on the loyalists, helping nearly eradicate the Iron Hands, Raven Guard, and Salamanders.

Following the Heresy, the Night Lords continued a terror campaign against the fringes of the Imperium until an Imperial Callidus Assassin, M’Shen, was dispatched to kill Curze. Ultimately, the self-loathing Curze allowed the assassin to kill him, causing his legion to further fracture following his death. Currently, the Night Lords operate as a series of warbands, traveling the galaxy sowing terror on unsuspecting worlds wherever they go.

Covered in this Article:

  • How to paint Night Lords Chaos Space Marines, with a look at different methods and notes on how to paint Heresy-era Night Lords.
  • How to paint notable elements of the Night Lords, such as lightning bolts on dark blue power armor and skull paint.
  • Notes on the heraldry of the Night Lords.
  • How to Paint Konrad Curze, the Night Haunter, Primarch of the Night Lords.

Night Lords Heraldry - Click to Expand

The Night Lords’ icon is a winged skull, and pretty much has been since the original legion was founded on Terra, before their primarch’s discovery. The legion’s trademark style is dark blue armor (“in midnight clad”) with lightning bolts. In the legion’s original iteration this would often be ringed by silver or steel-colored trim. They’d also frequently paint their helmets with skulls and their armor with bone designs to strike terror into the hearts of their foes.

Credit: Games Workshop

From there the legion’s heraldry and practices were largely shaped by its homeworld and recruiting practices. While early on Nostramo’s best and brightest were recruited into the legion, as the planet’s crime lords retook power they started sending inmates and criminals to the legion. As a result, those legionaries would adorn their armor with personal heraldry representing their Nostraman gangs.

Even these markings would give way over time to a more complex heraldry of terror – the Night Lords were known for adorning their armor with skulls, viscera, and the flayed skin of their victims – a practice continuing into the modern era.

Credit: Games Workshop

In the modern day the Night Lords still wear midnight blue armor with lightning bolts, but have adopted a distinctive gold trim. They still feature a winged skull as their primary icon, and they still cover their armor with the skulls and flesh of their foes and victims. They still retain a number of practices from their legion days, such as painting marines’ hands red if they’ve been condemned for whatever reason, or using the markings of their old street gangs. There’s a lot to work with if you’re planning to make your legion visually distinct.

Painting Night Lords

Despite being the 2nd edition poster boy/studio army faction, Night Lords have one of, if not the, most complicated color schemes of any of the Chaos Space Marine legions (the Flawless Host probably give them a run for their money, though). This is because of the army’s signature lightning bolts — their dark blue armor is streaked with lightning bolts , and the process of painting these can be very daunting for a new player. Add to that gold or brass trim and you’ve got a difficult scheme to tackle. The upside is that, aside from 40k models having more gold trim to paint and fewer chunks of flayed flesh, the paint scheme for the Night Lords is pretty much the same for 40k as it is for the Horus Heresy. And as always, we’ve got your back and are presenting multiple ways to tackle painting your Night Lords.

Painting Lightning Bolts - Click to Expand

The signature element of the Night Lords is the lightning bolt patters on their armor. These can be really daunting to paint, and basically require doing freehand on every model. That said, they don’t have to be as difficult as you’d think, and there’s an easy three-step process you can follow to make them.


  • Start by painting the core line for your bolt. This is the thickest line in the pattern. You want to use an off-white for this; I use Reaper Ghost White for these lines, but any very light blue will work. You want the paint to be pretty thin, but not so thin or have so much of it that it pools on the model. The goal here is to make a single line with some good jittery motion to it – your bolts will look more real if you have lots of curvy/jittery motion to them.
  • Next add the forks to your bolt. These are very small bolts that should taper to a point. Start from the center bolt and work outward.
  • Finally come back and re-paint the center bolt with pure white (I use Reaper Pure White). Ideally you leave some outer bolt parts visible. You can also paint a part of the forked bolts as well. The goal is to make the center of the bolt brighter than the little fork pieces.

And that’s it! Practice a bit and you should have it in no time. You can also make the bolts “darker” by starting with a darker blue, like a Lothern or Hoeth Blue, and then doing the bolt highlights with your light blue/offwhite.

Painting skull paint - Click to Expand

Another unique element of the Night Lords is their penchant for painting skulls and bones on their armor. These are another element which can be really daunting but isn’t so bad with a bit of practice.

As with most freehand shapes you want to start by painting the outline – for the skull on my helmet, I’m painting the dome first, then coming under the eye lenses to add the skull’s cheeks. I want to leave a bit of space under the eye lens but that’s not strictly required. Next I come back and paint the maxilla (the part of the skull below your nose which holds your upper row of teeth). I try to block out the nasal cavity and teeth, then I’ll come back and clean them up a bit with the blue highlight color.

Add some highlights at the end – I started with Reaper Polished Bone and then did highlights with a mix of that and Pure White – and you’re pretty much done.

Painting the Night Lords logo - Click to Expand

I really dislike using transfers, and I hated how goofy the old Night Lords transfers looked and I hate trying to make transfers fit on rounded shoulder pads. So what I’ve been doing for the last few years is freehanding shoulder icons. So if you have the same brainworms I do, you’ll want to know how to freehand the icon on the shoulderpads. This is my process.

  • The Wings – Start by blocking in the wing shape. There are a few different ones you can use, but I’m going with the most basic shape here. We’re gonna layer this up, so I start by painting the full set of wings that’ll go here. For the wings, I use Mephiston Red.
  • The Skull – Next I block in the skull. You draw the outline using a bone color, then fill it in.There are several shapes to do here, but the basic top half of the skull with fangs is the easiest. I use Rakarth Flesh or Reaper Polished Bone for this.
  • Details – Now it’s time to add some details. I use Evil Sunz Scarlet to draw the “fingers” of the wings. You can shade inside them later with Khorne Red if you want to go real detailed. Next I use Black Legion Contrast paint for the eyes and nose, and then I use Reaper Polished Bone to touch up and highlight the skull to give it a little depth.

TheChirurgeon's Method - Click to Expand

I fell in love with Night Lords back in 2nd edition, when they were inexplicably the studio army for Chaos Space Marines. In retrospect, they were an absolutely terrible choice for a first army to paint, just because of the sheer difficulty of their paint scheme, but they’ve always been my favorites so I’m glad I started with them. Most of my Night Lords are older, metal models at this point, but I occasionally paint some new stuff for the army. I also still scour ebay for decent 2nd edition metal finds to add to the army, though. Painting-wise, I’ve changed how I paint these guys significantly over the last few years. I used to paint them a much lighter blue, such that they almost resembled Ultramarines, then I started shading those marines with Drakenhof Nightshade and Nuln Oil to get a darker look. These days I’ve got a more reasonable, consistent way of painting them that starts with Night Lords Blue. Even with my new scheme, my Night Lords are modeled off the 2nd edition paint scheme, which means I use bright reds for their weapons and greens for their cabling.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Because this paint scheme requires a little more work than usual, I’ve got a full step-by-step planned today instead of just a quick color rundown. Note that I don’t use an airbrush when I paint, and doing the lightning bolts and highlights with an airbrush is almost certainly easier, particularly when it comes to doing gradients.

So let’s walk through this:

0. Prime Black – Always black, but this is especially true for Night Lords, whose armor is midnight blue.

1. Basecoat with Night Lords Blue – The new Night Lords Blue is great. It’s a little more saturated than Kantor Blue, and it’s the right darkness level to start with. Give your primed mini two thin coats of Night Lords Blue, and put an extra thin layer on the top spots to make them a little bluer.

2. Coat with Nuln Oil – Most of the infantry I paint follows a basecoat > shade > coat > highlight process, and that’s true here. Cover your model in Nuln Oil, and hit the lower areas and edges with a second coat of Nuln Oil.

3. Layer on the blue again – Here’s where I come back in with a second layer of Night Lords Blue, then I mix that with a few drops of Reaper Snow Shadow (you could also use Ulthuan Grey or another light blue for this) and do a few passes of progressively lighter blue, moving upward on the model, to get a blended look that puts lighter blues on the raised spots.

4. Block out the Lightning Bolt Auras – We’re going to freehand in some lightning bolts, but we want to have lighter areas around where those bolts are going, so let’s do that. At this step I use a lighter blue mix and I do a blobby blocking in around where the bolts will be. You can see this most readily on the shoulder pad.

5. Freehand in some Lightning Bolts – I do this using Reaper Ghost White. If I’m doing larger bolts, I’ll do a thinner bolt of Reaper Pure White inside that, but for smaller models I just do the one off-white layer. I use a 10/0 brush for this. Put paint on your brush and start at the top, then drift downard using a light touch. Wherever your brush first touches the model is gonna get a drop of paint, so if you add branches I find it’s easier to start higher up and go over the bolt center again. I do all this before I do the trim work, and I’ll paint over the bolts a little as well. Generally, I do bolts on the shoulder pads, the sides of the thighs (if that space is open), and the sides of the greaves. On models with cleaner chest plates, I might add a bolt there as well, or on the tops of lightning claws.

6. Gold Trim – I do my gold Trim with Retributor Armour. I used to do it with Balthasar Gold, then a few layers of Auric Armour but that took forever and came out too yellow. This new method is faster and looks better. Basically I do Retributor then hit it with a couple coats of Agrax Earthshade.

7. More Details – A good half the work on modern chaos models, particularly Night Lords, is filling in all the base colors. I use Warpstone Glow for the cables, Mephiston Red for the cloth and bolter, Rakarth Flesh for any bone parts, Leadbelcher for the metals, Balthasar Gold for the brass on the backpack exhaust parts, and Mournfang Brown for the belts and holster. I used Mephiston Red for the gemstone too.

8. Washes – time to do some fast shading. I use Carroburg Crimson on the red parts, Nuln Oil on the metal parts, Coelia Greenshade on the cabling, and Agrax Earthshade on the gold trim and bone parts. I also use Carroburg Crimson and Nuln oil to shade the upper right corners of the gemstone.

Ok, now it’s time to paint the shoulder pad. I really dislike using transfers, and I hated how goofy the old Night Lords transfers looked and I hate trying to make transfers fit on rounded shoulder pads. So what I’ve been doing for the last few years is freehanding shoulder icons. And today, I’m going to show you how that process works for my night lords.

9. The Wings first – Start by blocking in the wing shape. There are a few different ones you can use, but I’m going with the most basic shape here. We’re gonna layer this up, so I start by painting the full set of wings that’ll go here. For the wings, I use Mephiston Red.

10. Now the skull – Next I block in the skull. There are several shapes to do here, but the basic top half of the skull with fangs is the easiest. I use Rakarth Flesh for this.

11. Details – Now it’s time to add some details. I use Evil Sunz Scarlet for the bony parts, Abaddon Black for the eyes and nose, and then I use Reaper Polished Bone to touch up and highlight the skull to give it a little depth.

Great, Icon finished. Let’s finish painting this bad boy.

12. Adding more layers – I highlight the cabling with Moot Green to give it a brighter look that pops against the dark armor. I edge highlight the Bolter with Evil Sunz Scarlet and use Mephiston Red and Evil Sunz Scarlet to build up the cloth tabard. The eye lenses are Mephiston Red with a spot of Evil Sunz Scarlet. I also wash the leather parts with Agrax Earthshade and Nuln Oil.

13. Edge highlighting – The metal and gold parts get an edge highlight of Ironbreaker, and I use the same color for the rivets. For the armor, I do an edge highlight with The Fang and the another smaller edge highlight with Snow Shadow on the corners and top edges. I edge the leather parts with Mournfang Brown. I do a standard gemstone pattern on the gemstone on his shoulder pad.

14. Finish the model off with some basing. I do all of my Night Lords with snow/winter bases. So for most of them, I paint the base with Reaper Ghost White, then I cover the base with Valhallan Blizzard texture paint. I used to use Mourn Mountain Snow for this but that stuff looked like white dirt, and the new texture paint looks much more like actual snow.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

I’m pretty happy with how this guy turned out, and I think the process is repeatable enough to do another three dozen times, not that I’m looking to do that. Working with Night Lords Blue is a lot easier than my prior methods, and it’s a great paint to use for the base coats.

Heresy Night Lords - Click to Expand

The Night Lords haven’t changed much since their Heresy-era days, though it’s worth looking at how to paint Night Lords when you don’t have to add a ton of gold trim and have more open space to work with.

I started by priming this model black.

Step 1. Armor Basecoat

Real simple – paint the model with a coat of Night Lords Blue. 

Step 2. Metal Bits

Next up are the metal bits, like the cabling, under armor, and bolter. Paint these Leadbelcher. We do this second because in the next step it’s all getting washed black.

Step 3. Wash

Wash the whole thing in Nuln Oil. Try to avoid pooling on the large blue panels.

Step 4. Highlight

Time to come back and highlight things and get some more blue in there. Start with a new coat of Night Lords Blue, leaving some of the darker, shaded bits at lower points on the armor, then do a second coat on the raised parts and in the open parts where you’ll have lighting bolts with Kantor Blue. I then came back and added some additional highlights to those areas, prepping a brighter blue for where the bolts would be by mixing Kantor and Altdorf Guard Blue. You can almost drybrush the area in this step, as having a semi-cloudlike effect is desirable for the lightning bolt background.

The Lightning Bolts

Time to do the bolts. I cover this in the above section, but the key here is to start by drawing the central bolt, then do the forks off it. I do the first set of bolts in Reaper Ghost White, then come back and highlight the central bolt with Reaper Pure White. 

The Skull Paint

Another thing I cover in more detail in the above section. This was done with Reaper Polished Bone. Start by painting the shape outline, then filling it in. When I’m done I come back and highlight it with Reaper Pure White and paint the eye lenses Mephiston Red with a spot of Evil Sunz Scarlet. Doing details like this is more important on the Heresy era minis to give them a little more going on visually.

Step 5. Edge Highlights 1

I do an edge highlighting pass. This is done entirely with Altdorf Guard Blue, though if you want something bolter, Caledor Sky could also work.

Step 6. Edge Highlights 2

Time for a second set of edge highlights. This time around I’m going over the last set of highlights, but only hitting corners or really raised edges with a thin layer of Hoeth Blue. If you used Caledor before, try Lothern instead here.

Step 7. Final Details

Time for the finishing touches. I add some silver highlights with Runefang Steel and paint the coils on the backpack with Balthasar Gold, then I freehand the Night Lords logo onto the shoulder.

And that’s it! I’m happy with how this guy turned out. Easy enough, and I’ll likely pick this method back up when I revisit my 40k Night Lords this year.

Credit; Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

RichyP's Dryrbushing Method - Click to Expand

Night Lords’ Helbrute and Havocs – Credit: RichyP

I painted up some Night Lords for the first time relatively recently (mid 2022 I think). I’ve always preferred the Traitor Legions when compared to the Good* Marines but the scheme never really clicked with me, which given my reputation as a fan of all things blue is probably a surprise. I’m comfortable painting Word Bearers and Death Guard but never found a reasonably quick way to pull off a dark/mid blue base colour… enter black primer and an approach that is quite alien to me, working up from dark to light.

Step 1

Unsurprisingly, prime the model black. I used Chaos Black spray.

Step 2

Using a medium sized Drybrush (I used a cheap Amazon make-up brush which has about 1.5cm or 2/3″ wide bristles) and very lightly dry-brushed Night Lords blue with several passes. On my older models I used Vallejo Panzer Aces Periscopes which is a bit lighter but the end result is close enough, use whichever you have available.

Citadel Night Lords Blue over Black – Credit: RichyP

Step 3

As you can see it’s really dark at this stage, again something I not used to at this stage. Let’s fix that with some Vallejo Game Color Electric Blue and the same drybrush used in Step 2.

This time drybrush really lightly and do several passes, focusing more on the top 3rd of the model, also angle the model slightly so it leaves lots of the previous layer around the edges of the trim.

VGC Electric Blue over Night Lords Blue – Credit: RichyP

Step 4

The two previous steps will leave a nice mottled texture all over the model which at the moment makes it look really messy. Don’t worry though this step, while the longest, is the one that makes everything look much tidier.

Get a small cheap brush (I use an mix of AP Insane Detail and Regiment brushes, the former for the tiny bits, and the Regiment for the rest of the trim) and using the edge of the brush, trace along the trim using Scale 75 Viking Gold or Citadel Retributor Armour, both should work in one coat as you don’t want to do all the trim multiple times on infantry.

S75 Viking Gold over Electric Blue – Credit: RichyP

Step 4

It’s starting to parse a lot more like a Night Lord now, and while it still looks messy you can see the mottled effect of the dry-brushing works wonders for giving a textured blue and a free recess shade.

This step is just painting all the non-gold metals in Vallejo Model Air Gunmetal.

Vallejo Model Air Gunmetal over Night Lords Blue – Credit: RichyP

Now wash the silvers in Citadel Ratling Grime.

Citadel Ratling Grime over Gunmetal – Credit: RichyP

Step 5

Using the same Vallejo Game Color Electric Blue from earlier paint some random small lines that will form the basis of the lightning strikes, also while you’re on the step paint some select highlight marks (boots, fingers and head).

Electric Blue Lightning Markings – Credit: RichyP

Step 6

Paint inside the previous markings with a small amount of Vallejo Game Color Wolf Grey (I also washed any plasma cells with a watered down mix of this) and wash the eye lenses with Vallejo Game Color Red ink.

Vallejo Game Color Wolf Grey over Electric Blue – Credit: RichyP

Step 7

These steps are mostly just extra details for the plasma gun, but I’ll put them here

Citadel Frost Heart over Wolf Grey – Credit: RichyP

Wash the plasma in Citadel Frostheart Contrast, and paint some Vallejo Bone white on anything you want to lighten before a wash (straps and trinket here)

Night Lord – Credit: RichyP

Paint a line of thinned white (I used Pro-Acryl Titanium white watered down about 1:1) along the bottom of the plasma coils and some Frostheart around the edge of the plasma for a rushed glow effect.

Base is Citadel Flesh Tearers Red with Vallejo Game Color Fire Orange and Pro-Acryl Yellow bled into it while wet.

Finished Results

Night Lords – Credit: RichyP

Konrad Curze - Click to Expand

I’d had the model for Konrad Curze for a while – he was a gift from a friend I received shortly after the model released – but I put off painting him for a long time. A big part of it is just that I hate working with Forge World resin – too many bad memories of release agent staying on the model. Anyways after nearly a decade of waiting, I decided to break him out, clean him off, and paint him for this article.

Any Forge World model starts with a thorough cleaning – soaking in dish soap and water for a day, then scrubbing and rinsing, scrubbing and rinsing. Once that was done I primed the major parts of Curze on their chunky flash parts, making them easier to paint.

I opted to prime the skulls and cloak with Wraithbone to make them easier to paint brighter colors later, and everything else was primed black. Note that at some point I lost one of Curze’s stupid predator blades. These are impossibly small and a major pain to deal with. I recommend gluing them on before priming. I replaced the missing one with one I carved out of plasticard. It doesn’t look amazing, but it’s close enough.

I started with the main body, and did so by painting the armor with Night Lords Blue. For the most part, Curze isn’t really all that difficult – he’s just a big Chaos Space Marine, and so everything I do for my Night Lords will be done here. Hell, he’s arguably easier since he doesn’t feature any lightning bolts.

Once that basecoat was down I washed the model with Nuln Oil, and then painted back over some of those armor panels again with Night Lords Blue as a highlight.

I kept highlighting this, adding in brighter shades with Kantor Blue for the raised parts of the armor. The edge highlights here are done with Altdorf Guard Blue and then a second, raised highlight was done with Hoeth Blue. At the very end I’d come back and do tiny spot highlights with Reaper Snow Shadow.

At this point I was prepping to do the head so I painted the interior of his collar. This was done with Naggaroth Night, washed with Nuln Oil and then edge highlights of Xereus Purple mixed with Reaper Pure White.

Next up I started painting the trim. Nothing to fancy here – it’s just Retributor Armour. I’ll later come back and shade it all with Agrax Earthshade and edge highlight it with Liberator Gold.

Time for the head. I mostly painted this on sprue. It’s not super complicated – it’s a base coat of a couple thin coats of Kislev Flesh, washed with Reikland Fleshshade. I then came back and highlighted that with Kislev Flesh and again with Flayed One Flesh to give Curze a paler look more befitting his life on Nostramo. I painted the wells for his eyes with a tiny bit of Druchii Violet to give them a sunken, darker look, and added spots of Reaper Pure White for the eyes.

This then got glued into the body. I finished the hair off by highlighting it with Corvus Black and some thin highlights mixing Corvus Black with a bit of Reaper Snow Shadow – the goal is to get a bluer dark gray tone here.

Time for some of the body details. As I paint these the bones will generally be painted with Rakarth Flesh, washed with Agrax Earthshade, then highlighted with Rakarth Flesh before I come in and do some upper highlights with Reaper Polished Bone to really make them pop.

The bat wings are just Mephiston Red washed with Carroburg Crimson. The spines of the wings are highlighted with Evil Sunz Scarlet.

The flesh bits here are painted with Kislev Flesh and then washed with Agrax Earthshade before being highlighted again with Kislev and Flayed One Flesh, plus a bit of Polished Bone on the edges. The inlaid bone dioramas on Curze’s armor are just Rakarth washed with Agrax and drybrushed with Reaper Polished Bone.

At some point I do the metal bits on this guy – they’re just Leadbelcher washed with Nuln Oil.

The cape is a bit more complicated than it looks. It’s a red cape with a skin cloak on top of it, so you have to manage both. I painted the proper cape with Word Bearers Red, then washed that with Carroburg and highlighted it with Mephiston Red. The skin cloak I washed with Guilliman Flesh then highlighted with Kislev and Flayed One Flesh.

At this point it’s mostly final details. I glue Curze onto his base and finish off some of his highlights, and paint his rivets with Runefang Steel. I opt not to do the blood effects on the fleshy bits – I never care for how it looks when I see it on models and I opt to keep things a bit cleaner here.

After that I attached the cape and Curze was good to go. I’m happy with how he turned out. I still need to do his larger scenic base but for now the smaller base works just fine. He’s a great model and was surprisingly easy to paint.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Ave Dominus Nox

That wraps up our look at how to paint Night Lords, a daunting — but rewarding — legion with some extremely cool hobbying opportunities. They’re a visually interesting legion with a ton of depth, and one of the coolest looking factions you can play in Warhammer 40k.

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