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 chapter, we’re zooming right in on one of the iconic pieces of the setting – power weapons.
Probably the best known science fiction or fantasy image is the lightsaber. Lightsaber duels were the coolest parts of Star Wars, and the only redeeming part of the prequel trilogy, and energy swords of some kind or another are common across many different kinds of sci fi. Warhammer 40k shares this heritage, but eschews the “elegant weapon for a more civilized age” for hefty swords and axes that look like they’re ripped straight out of a Victorian romantic’s conception of the Middle Ages. That said, many of those are also magic swords and axes (not to mention hammers and great big fists) powered by energy fields, fitting right into this longstanding tradition.
Over the years, players have approached representing this on the table in many different ways. Some people opt for the straight-up metallic look, reasoning that the sword or axe or whatever else is just that, and the energy field is likely invisible. Others try and represent the shimmering power of the field itself, or simply use it as an excuse to do something creative and visually interesting without worrying too much about it.
In this article we’re going to take a look at a whole bunch of worked examples and techniques, giving you the tools to try out any spin on these iconic weapons you can think of.
Neither of my examples here are strictly power swords, but they’re definitely magic, being the legendary croneswords of Morai-Heg. The Visarch wields Asu-var, the Sword of Silent Screams, while Yvraine carries Kha-vir, the Sword of Sorrows.
Both examples utilise my one good technique, wet blending. Of the two, Yvraine was simpler. I started off by basing the whole sword in Kabalite Green, ensuring an even base, and then blending through Kabalite, Moot Green, Warpstone Glow, and then working up to the tip with Averland Sunset and some Flash Gitz Yellow. In this case I was looking for a straightforward progression from one colour to the next, which made things simpler. The important thing with wet blending is to make sure you actually blend the colours – which means a little bit of work in both directions to get smooth transitions.
The Visarch was a little more complex. I knew I couldn’t pull off the hard, mirrored technique on the GW model, but I thought I could achieve something cool with blending. This time around, I based the sword in Kantor Blue, and then progressed through Kantor Blue, Macragge Blue, Teclis Blue, Lothern Blue, and Baharroth Blue, all the way up to a sliver of white. I aimed about halfway up the sword, then came out the other side and progressed back down to Kantor. On the back edge, I did the same thing in reverse – starting at my lightest colour, then aiming towards the darkest point in the middle, and back out the other side. To finish it off I gave it a very thin glaze of Drakenhof Nightshade, and then painted a thin line of white along the edge of the blade.
Both of these look good, in my opinion, while being pretty simple to pull off. Blending like this is a great way to lean in hard on the “power” part of power weapons, and looks striking on the table.
Power weapons are great. But do you know what is greater?
As we all know, power swords are the best and therefore we need to paint them awesomely to reflect this. In my little section in this article I’ll go into the ones I’ve done in my armies, namely my Swords of Davion, the mighty heroes of the Imperial Davonic Republics, and my Night Lords, who aren’t very heroic or brave at all.
Most of my power swords use this Duncan video, which outlines the technique I use on pretty much everything. For the record, I realise direct linking to a Duncan video in HTPE is considered slightly poor form but it’s honestly the best way to describe the blend, fear not I go into how to modify the tech for different colours in a bit!
These are the swords I painted 1:1 with that tech. Note that I’m not as good at this as the almighty Dunc, but it still works great.
My Night Lords use a very different palette from the Swords of Davion making the blue blades slightly unsuitable. However we can use the same underlying technique with a different colour.
So what I did was change out the blues for Incubi Darkness and Kabalite Green. I kept the Ulthuan Grey -> White Scar stages as per the video.
You can also use this on lesser, non power sword power weapons like these Warp Talon claws. Note you might want to pass of the lightning step on such a small area.
I also used this on my Blackstone Fortress Rogue Trader, minus the lightning with a Kantor Blue base. Honestly you can skip the lightning step if you don’t like it or have trouble with it, I’ll admit at times I have been happier with the effect before I added the lightning….
In short if you have a dark colour and it’s next Citadel Colour System highlight, you can sub in almost any colour to get a different crystal effect. I think Naggaroth Night purple, Avaland Sunset yellow and Caliban Green could be good sources to experiment with.
Another POWER SWORD I have done is this relic blade, using this Dunc vid:
I did this tech before my power sword one and it became a happy accident. I expanded this away from swords (sadly I might add) for this Chaos Lord with thunder hammer:
A quick aside about army theming via Power Sword Techs:
Across the Swords of Davion I’ve used different methods to show different types of sword. This is pretty important from a theme-ing point of view, as this chapter of swordsmen would be loath to sully their hands with a non bladed weapon…
It’s also great from a gaming perspective for my opponents, with a quick glance they can tell what weapons I’m running in a squad thanks to the common theme running through the army’s weapons. It also suggests that there is a vibrant production of Power Swords in the Imperial Davonic Republics.
Blue crystal: Power Sword.
Red fire: Relic Blade. I’m seriously thinking about switching this out at the moment though….
Dark Blue crystal, moving to grey/black: Power Fist aka Davonic Pattern Powered Heavy Gravity Blades. That’s right, two handed Power Swords with gravity generators because I didnt want to sully my jumpy lads with power fists. I’ve also yet to paint one of these so imagine something really cool and good dear reader!
Black: Emp champ’s blade.
White: Burning Blade
The Burning Blade is used by my proto Slam Captain/Chapter Master, Tiberius Rex. The blade is Ulthuan Grey highlighted with White Scar. I deliberately made it and the “Black Sword” as simple as possible compared to the fancier powered weapons for they are blades from a different, more civilised age.
This is my Emperor’s/Company Champion for the Swords Of Davion (check out their HTPE here). Simple block black then highlighted Ulthuan Grey and an extreme White Scar highlight. I’ll probably go back and coat this with a gloss like ‘ardcoat for shininess when I feel brave enough to do so.
RichyP: Aethermatic Blue and [optional] OSL
There’s a lot of Grimdark up in here, so for a different feel (and because I’ve been painting these up recently) I went with some Age of Sigmar Wanderers, aka Fantasy Wood Elves.
As I’ve been using Contrast paints for the Power Weapons (and the rest of the Aelves as seen in another article) I primed the models in Wraithbone Spray Primer.
Before working on the Power Weapons I painted a majority of the rest of the models as I wanted to add an OSL glow around the surrounding areas, and with Contrast paint working like glaze having the colours underneath tint is a massive bonus.
The rest of the models in the above image have been painted in Death Guard Green, Wyldwood Contrast, Runefang Steel, Skeleton Horde and Darkoath Flesh. I’ve got a step by step of the complete process in the pipeline.
Next up, I painted the weapons I wanted to be “Power Weapons” in Aethermatic Blue (the Bows and the Long Swords)
Behold the power of Contrast(™); when applying the contrast paint, be sure to pull the paint away from the middle of the weapons towards the lower and upper parts as this will give you a lighter middle section making it look even brighter there.
To be honest they look pretty Power Weapony already but I’m known for going OTT on many things so why stop there…
Next up I painted some of the Aethermatic Blue on parts of the model that are close to the weapons to give a reflected light effect. On the faces and cloth only apply small amounts, whereas on the metal areas you can go overboard and add a couple layers.
Apply some white paint to the centre of the brightest reflected areas e.g. uppermost raised creases in the cloth a line parallel to the arrow etc..
Finally cover the white areas in thinned Aethermatic Blue, and add some Arkhelian Green to the deepest recesses of the reflected light for the full effect.
Here’s a bonus of a full unit of 10 in all their glowy Power Weapon glory.
I am going to cover painting an electricity effect on the power sword. The colors I’m using are a deep blue and white, which I mix to the tone I want. In Citadel paint terms I’d use Kantor Blue as deep blue,Temple Guard Blue or Baharroth Blue as medium/light blue, and White Scar, (along with any shade of blue between these you might have sitting around). Other useful materials are matt medium, and a sharp brush (I’m using a Citadel small layer brush). I would highly recommend using a wet palette for this (and in general) as it will make it much easier to mix colors and to help keep the paint thinned to a good consistency. Keeping the paint thin will let you build up overlapping layers without your sword getting crusty.
1.) To begin the process I start with a blade painted black. Then, with medium/light blue, a streak of electricity goes mostly up the center of blade, with arcs coming out to the edges. The main trick here is to keep the lines irregular. Barely drag the tip of the brush along the surface, making jagged/shaky branching lines that curve randomly.
2.) Next I come back with the deep blue mixed with a tiny bit of light blue and go over the edges.
3.) Go over the electricity with at least a 1:1 mix of deep blue and medium.
4.) Then with white hit the spots where the electricity branches and the top ends of the power nodes. Also hit the edges of the blade where the arcs touch it.
At this point you can practically call it done for a quick effect or continue to do steps three and four over again until it’s as refined as you want. Any mistakes can be easily touched up using black or deep blue. This repeated process will build up depth and saturation giving a more vibrant effect.
Another way to do this process is to build up layers from darkest to lightest. Start with your deep blue and keep adding a little bit of white with each layer, making finer lines as you get lighter. The ‘owl in the room’ here is in step one with painting the lightning streaks. It may just take a little practice to figure out. Avoid doing straight lines, and look at some pictures on the internet- both of real lightning and electrical arcs and at other peoples power weapons. This same process can be done with other colors too using the dark/medium/white scheme. Another cool effect is to build from dark purple into reds and oranges to yellow.