How to Paint Everything: Raven Guard

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 Codex Supplement for Raven Guard, we’re taking a look at the XIX Legion – who they are, their history and heraldry, and how to paint them. 

The Raven Guard

Although the Raven Guard are a First Founding Chapter, like several notable chapters from that founding they wouldn’t receive their first mentions in the fluff until the release of second edition, first appearing in White Dwarf #166 ahead of the release of the 2nd edition boxed set for Warhammer 40,000 when all of the First Founding chapters were finally named. This led to some interesting quirks where Crimson Fists and Raptors existed before their own founding chapters. And while Raven Guard and their Primarch Corax finally received mention in the 2nd edition release of 40k, they wouldn’t receive rules until almost a decade later in December 2002, when they finally saw rules in their own Index Astartes article in White Dwarf #276. These would essentially be replaced by the 4th edition Space Marines Codex, which released with a model for the Raven Guard’s Captain of the Third Company, Kayvaan Shrike. As the XIX Legion, the Raven Guard were primarily used for infiltration, recon, counter-insurgency, and suppression missions on behalf of the Emperor. This changed somewhat when the legion was reunited with its primarch: Corax purged the legion’s Terran commanders and placed a greater emphasis on stealth and quick strikes over terror tactics and brutal suppression.

The Raven Guard served the Imperium faithfully during the Great Crusade, taking part in covert operations and regularly employing guerilla tactics to accomplish their goal. When Horus turned traitor, the Raven Guard were one of seven legions sent to Istvaan V, joining the Iron Hands, Salamanders, Iron Warriors, Word Bearers, Alpha Legion, and Night Lords to put an end to the Warmaster’s rebellion. There they were betrayed, as four legions turned on them, decimating the loyalist legions almost immediately. In the fighting that followed, Ferrus Manus was killed, Vulkan was captured, and Corvus Corax barely escaped with his life. The Raven Guard had always been the smallest of the Marine legions, but after Istvaan V, their 80,000 legionnaires were reduced to barely 3,000 surviving veterans. Seeing the devastation of his legion and understanding the need to reinforce them quickly, Corax fled to Terra, where he confronted Malcador to ask for the secrets of the Emperor’s gene-tech. After much arguing, the Emperor granted him the secrets, and he took them back to the Ravenspire, where he used the gene-forging technology to try and breed a new generation of reinforcements for his legion, a blend of primarch and Marine that would be bigger, stronger, faster, and return his legion to fighting strength in time to save Terra. He began work on his new legionnaires and at first the results were promising. But little did Corax know, the Alpha Legion had stolen his tech and sabotaged his gene-seed with daemon blood. This caused Corax’s new legionnaires to become hideous, deformed monstrosities. These mutants fought ferociously in battle, but were warped beyond all humanity and reason. The Raven Guard were able to fight off Alpha Legion and Word Bearer attacks during the Heresy, but never recovered from their losses on Istvaan V, and had to go to great efforts to cover up the shame of Corax’s twisted gene-sons.

The Primarch brooded in his tower over this for a full year following the Heresy. When he emerged, he had a haunted look, and fled for the Eye of Terror. He has not been seen since. After their initial rules in Index Astartes, the Raven Guard featured in the 4th, 5th, and 6th edition Space Marine codexes. They did not receive separate new rules until 7th edition, when the release of the Kau’yon and Mont’ka campaign books re-introduced rules for them along with rules for White Scars and T’au. These were further expanded in the Angels of Death supplement, which added relics and warlord traits for the chapter. With 8th edition, the Raven Guard rules were scaled back to a Chapter Trait in the first Space Marines Codex before being expanded significantly again with the Raven Guard Codex Supplement. In addition to their rules, Raven Guard have access to a number of great upgrade kits and models in their Forge World range, and just received a Primaris upgrade sprue that has shoulder pads, multiple helmet/head options, and sergeant guns.

Credit: Games Workshop


Where to Read More

The new Codex Supplement is the best place to start – Raven Guard have long been under-served fluff-wise, and the new book adds a ton to them that hasn’t been seen before or sums up what happened to them in other books. If you want to read even more about the Sons of Corax, there are a few different places where you can read about them:

  • Warzone Damocles: Kauyon is a 7th edition campaign supplement that details the Damocles Gulf campaign. Specifically, the part the Raven Guard played in the action, and details the circumstances that would lead to Kayvaan Shrike becoming chapter master of the Raven Guard.
  • Like all the other primarchs, Corax has his own novel series. The best way to read these is to potentially start with Corax: Lord of Shadows, which starts during the Great Crusade.
  • After that, pick up the Corax Anthology, which collects three novellas and three short stories about the primarch and the Raven Guard during the Horus Heresy.
  • Deliverance Lost is the Horus Heresy novel that details Corax’s failed efforts to rebuild his chapter using genetech.
  • The Sons of the Emperor is an anthology series with lots of short stories about the primarchs, including one that reveals Corax’s present-day whereabouts.
  • Space Marine Legends: Shrike is your go-to if you want to know all about the Chapter Master and his transformation from Shadow Captain.
  • If you still want more after all that, check out the Sons of Corax anthology, which has more stories about the Raven Guard doing covert stuff.


Playing Raven Guard

Warhammer 40,000

If you want a full run down of everything in the new Codex Supplement and how it interacts with the base book and the 8th edition meta game, check out the Goonhammer review of the Raven Guard supplement here. Raven Guard excel at killing characters thanks to their Surgical Strikes Chapter Doctrine, effectively cutting off the enemy’s head and throwing their army into disarray. In game, that looks more like removing all your opponent’s auras and character buffs, allowing the rest of your army to take advantage of their reduced effectiveness and sudden lack of force multipliers. Unlike some of the other space marine chapters, who tend to require going “all in” on a strategy, the Raven Guard can get a lot of mileage out of a little bit of extra attention, taking a few squads of Eliminators and using the Target Sighted stratagem to pick out characters will let you take full advantage of this Doctrine long enough to cripple your opponent’s army, while a mixture of infantry and heavy vehicles make short work of the rest.

Kill Team

Space Marines are great in Kill Team, and Raven Guard get one of the more powerful chapter traits, counting as obscured from enemy models (and thus incurring the -1 penalty to be hit by ranged attacks) when they are more than 12″ from the enemy model shooting at them. This won’t help you with injury rolls (those require you be within 1″ of a piece of terrain and that terrain be between you and the firing model), but it will allow you to more safely position your Raven Guard Marines in the open, or cross open spaces on the board without fear of losing the major benefits of cover. So play them like Space Marines who aren’t as afraid of being out in the open.


Raven Guard are pretty much just Space Marines in Apocalypse. They have two unique Command Assets:

  • Shadow Masters – Used in the Action phase to make a Raven Guard detachment count as obscured (-1 to be hit) for the phase. Alternatively, it can be used to re-roll a hit roll for an attack made by any Space Marine unit. This is a useful ability, and powerful because it applies to an entire Detachment. It’s worth including in your Asset Deck if you’re playing Raven Guard. Just note that its major downside is that it doesn’t stack, so you can’t use it to give an opponent -2 to hit a Detachment Warlord.
  • Strike From the Shadows – Used in the Action phase to pick up to three Raven Guard Infantry units in your army. Until the end of the phase. melee weapon attacks for those units automatically hit if either the attacking unit or its target is garrisoning a Defensible Terrain feature. Like all the other chapter-specific assets, it can also be used to re-roll a hit roll for any Space Marines. This one is more situationally useful, and you may find yourself using the secondary mode more often if you haven’t set up the table with lots of Defensible Terrain to garrison.


Painting Raven Guard

Raven Guard are one of the three main Space Marine chapters which are essentially wearing all black armor (the other two being Iron Hands and Deathwatch). So when painting Raven Guard, the real things you have to consider are going to be:

  • How are you going to paint (and properly shade and highlight) the black armor?
  • How are you going to paint (and properly shade and highlight) the white parts, such as helmets, guns, arms, and shoulder pads on veterans?
  • What spot colors are you going to use to make the models “pop,” so they don’t look monochrome?


Dan “SexCannon” Boyd

I’ve been playing Raven Guard since 2007. It all started after I had finished my 1st army, Grey Knights. I was looking for a new project and saw pictures of black-armored space marines in the 4th Edition Space Marine Codex. Being an edgy college student, I immediately warmed to their style. As a life-long bird-watcher, too, I was excited to read that they were named after my favorite (at the time) bird, the raven! Indeed, their primarch’s name is Corvus Corax, which is literally just the scientific name of the common raven. It was as if Games Workshop had created a Space Marine Chapter just for me! I loved the idea of lightning assaults and heavy use of jump packs, so I went about painting (then) Captain Shrike, Shrike’s Wing (an old unit of lightning claw-armed veterans that Shrike could pal around with), some tacticals, sterngaurds (when the 5th edition codex dropped) a couple of vehicles, and 5 drop pods. This army was a ton of fun! I would null deploy and try to go second, with everything arriving by drop pod, deep strike, or outflank (Shrike gave his infiltrate ability to other squads and I WILL NOT BE TAKING QUESTIONS ON THIS). This, naturally, really messed with my opponent’s battleplan, and thus began my long association and love of shenanigans.

Credit: Dan “SexCannon” Boyd

When 8th edition came out in 2017, I was excited to try and revisit my Raven Guard army. I loved the look of the Primaris Marines, and I wanted to do a pure Primaris Marine army. I had toyed with the idea of coming back to my goth roots in the past, and the gorgeous new models gave me the opportunity to do just that. I also wanted an excuse to “level up” my painting. Instead of drybrushing, I would edge highlight. Instead of solid colors, I would try blending and shading. And instead of unadorned scrolls, I would try my hand at script. Taking this mindset and running with it has been great for me, as my painting skills have greatly improved, and I am more proud of this project than I am of anything I’ve worked on before. Now that we children of Deliverance are getting our own codex supplement, I’m really looking forward to all the gnarly things I can do to my opponent, especially where the lives of their fragile characters are concerned. It seems as if the Raven Guard will once again be the chapter of shenanigans, misdirection, and surgical strikes, and I could not be a happier bird bro!  

Dan’s Method

My favorite color combo is black and white. I adore high levels of contrast on a mini or in a squad, and I wanted the areas between black and white to skew in the direction of grey, not blue or green like many people do with black. I wanted to highlight (get it) the beauty of pure black by sticking to neutral grey highlighting on my blacks and neutral grey shading on my whites. Red would be my accent color, breaking up the black and white, and then some details would involve green, in contrast to the red. I obviously didn’t want to do black leather on top of black armor, so I went with brown for my leather. The brown and red details tend to give my army a warm “theme” and, while this was unintentional, I’m happy with the result.

The Process:

I do not paint one color to completion like some folk do, but instead I paint in “like layers” because I am not good or steady enough to not splatter paint all over my finished highlights. It goes like this:

  1. Prime black (obviously)
  2. Basecoats
  3. Touch-ups
  4. Lighter basecoats for colors that need it (white and red, mainly)
  5. Touch-ups
  6. Shading
  7. Touch-ups
  8. Highlights
  9. Bases
  10. Transfers

The longest step is the highlights step. Black is a hard color to paint well, and my recipe involves 3-stage edge highlighting. It think it works well and really allows the model to pop, but man oh man,is it time-consuming. The final product is worth it, though.  

The Recipes:

I use Citadel paints and I do not own an airbrush, so get ready to make fun of me or whatever. Black

  1. Abaddon Black basecoat.
    1. I do actually paint Abaddon Black over black primer. They both finish differently, and any touch-ups in Abaddon are noticeable. To me, at least.
  2. Eshin Grey edge highlight.
    1. This one can be a little thick.
  3. Stormvermin Fur edge highlight.
    1. This one should be thinner than the previous layer.
  4. Administratum Grey edge highlight.
    1. Just at the corners and raised areas on the model, not all over.


  1. Mechanicus Standard Grey undercoat.
  2. Ulthuan Grey basecoat.
  3. Nuln Oil recess shade.
  4. White Scar edge highlight.


  1. Rakarth Flesh basecoat.
    1. Raven Guard are canonically very pale, and Rakarth Flesh is a great base for an unhealthy pallor.
  2. Reikland Fleshshade recess shade.
  3. Druchii Wiolet recess shade around the eyes.
    1. A very light shade, here, just for increased depth.
  4. Pallid Wych Flesh highlight.
  5. Abaddon black eyes.
    1. Canonically, all Raven Guard have black pupils, irises, and sclera, so coloring the eyes in with black is both easy and canon!


  1. Mournfang Brown basecoat.
  2. Agrax Earthshade all-over shade.
  3. Gorthor Brown edge highlight.
  4. Runefang Steel highlight on any buttons, snaps, or buckles.


  1. Khorne Red undercoat.
  2. Evil Sunz Scarlet basecoat.
  3. Agrax Earthshade all-over shade.
    1. On cloaks and red cloth I keep the shade to the recesses.
  4. Wild Rider Red edge highlight.
  5. Troll Slayer orange corner highlight.
    1. I usually don’t go all the way up to Troll slayer on regular dudes, but reserve it for characters with a lot of red on them, like chaplains and captains.

Bones and Scrolls

  1. Zandri Dust undercoat.
  2. Screaming Skull basecoat.
  3. Agrax Earthshade all-over shade.
  4. Rhinox Hide writing.
    1. If applicable. On purity seals I do squiggly lines, but on scrollwork I try to write a word that suitable Raven Guard-ish. My favorite bit is from my Primaris Ancient.
  5. White Scar corner highlight.


  1. Leadbelcher basecoat.
  2. Nuln Oil all-over shade.
  3. Runefang Steel edge highlight.

Gold (I try not to use a lot of gold, because unlike Ultramarines, my guys are trying to be sneaky!)

  1. Retributor Armor basecoat.
  2. Agrax Earthshade all-over shade.
  3. Liberator Gold corner highlight.

Eye Lenses

  1. White Scar horizontal line, done with a very tiny brush.
  2. Bloodletter glaze.

Rifle Scopes and Vehicle Optics

  1. Khorne red basecoat.
    1. Apply to half of the area on the diagonal.
  2. Evil Sunz Scarlet highlight.
    1. Keep a line of Khorne Red still showing.
  3. Wild Rider Red highlight.
    1. Once again, keep some of the previous color showing.
  4. Troll Slayer orange highlight.
    1. Last time, but keep some of the previous color showing.
  5. White Scar dot opposing the red gradient.
    1. Makes it look like shiny glass.

Green Bits (screens, glowing things, etc.)

  1. Caliban Green basecoat.
  2. Warpstone Glow highlight.
  3. Moot Green highlight.

Blue Armor (for Librarians)

  1. Kantor Blue basecoat.
  2. Druchii Violet recess shade.
  3. Alaitoc Blue edge highlight.
    1. This one can be a little thick.
  4. Teclis Blue edge highlight.
    1. This one should be thinner.
  5. Baharroth Blue corner highlight.

Camo Cloaks (outside)

  1. Mechanicus Standard Grey undercoat.
  2. Stormvermin Fur basecoat.
  3. Administratum Grey geometric shapes.
  4. Eshin Grey geometric shapes.
    1. These overlap and intersect the lighter shapes.
  5. Nuln Oil recess shade.
  6. 1:1 mix of Stormvermin Fur and Ulthuan Grey highlight.
    1. For the raised portions of the Stormvermin fur.
  7. 1:1 mix of Administratum Grey and Ulthuan Grey highlight.
    1. For the raised portions of the Administratum Grey.
  8. 1:1 mix of Eshin Grey and Ulthuan Grey highlight.
    1. For the raised portions of the Eshin Grey.
  9. Ulthuan Grey edge highlight.
    1. Only on the extreme raised areas and the border of the cloaks.

Camo Cloaks (inside)

  1. Mechanicus Standard Grey basecoat.
  2. Nuln Oil recess shade.
  3. Stormvermin Fur highlight.

There you have it! Hopefully this inspires you to paint some bird bros, but it probably just makes me look like a crazy person.  



I’d not played 40K since the Rogue Trader days, so as a returning player picking up the 8th edition Dark Imperium set, I had no idea how I wanted to paint my Marines other than that I didn’t want to do Ultramarines, and I really didn’t fancy painting red, so Blood Angels were out. I’m not the most competitively focused player, so aesthetics is everything to me when it comes to collecting a force. I really wanted to paint a Marine army in black armour, but my friend who is a long time player already had Black Templars. I came across the Raven Guard on the front of the old Kill Team box and immediately loved the look and the chapter emblem. When I read about them and realised they were a stealthy, surgical strike style force, it really appealed to me. The challenge I had was that I wanted to paint black, but I also wanted them to look distinct from my friend’s Black Templars. Looking at photos of Ravens and other corvids I decided I wanted to capture the blue sheen sometimes seen in their feathers, so I did my best to find paints that worked for that purpose.

Credit: Serotonin

Serotonin’s Method

I start with a black base coat, then zenithal highlight the model with an airbrush and P3 coal black. Then I cover that with a 50/50 coal black and Vallejo game air wolf grey mix. Wash with thinned Secret Weapon blue back wash. I’m not sure there’s a direct GW match to coal black, but Wolf Grey is basically Fenrisian Grey. Handle the metal parts, plasma coils, and shoulder trim however you need.


Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

I don’t play Raven Guard. At least, not formally. But my method for painting Deathwatch Raven Guard is exactly the same method I’d use if I had to do an entire army of them. So, this seemed appropriate to include.  

TheChirurgeon’s Method

The Armor: I start by priming the model black. Then I basecoat the black areas with Abaddon Black. I agree with Dan — this makes a big difference, and gives the model a darker tone. Then I do a series of edge highlights with Kantor Blue, followed by another, smaller set of edge highlights using The Fang, and a third set using Reaper Snow Shadow, just hitting corners and the tops of things. Feathers: Those are a basecoat of Celestra Grey, washed with Nuln Oil. Then I use Reaper Pure White to pick out the feathers again. Lightning Claws: Basecoat with Incubi Darkness, work up to Sotek Green, wash with Drakenhof Nightshade, then edge with Lothern Blue. Metal bits (except for the arm): Leadbelcher, washed with Nuln Oil, edged with Iron breaker. Gold: Retributor Armor washed with Agrax Earthshade.    


Alfredo’s Method

For this project I wanted to get some really strong black/white contrast so I chose to paint a phobos Marine converted to a Vanguard Veteran Sergeant with white arms and white helmet. In order to keep everything cool, I used blues in my shadows as well as my highlights.
Raven Guard Vanguard Veteran WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez Raven Guard Vanguard Veteran WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez


  1. Reivers make for a fantastic Vanguard Veteran base. They have some great dynamic poses and their stripped down armor helps convey the agility you’d expect from melee shock troops. I used the running body (D) from the multi-part Reivers kit and then took a pair of lightning claws, jump pack and helmet from the Vanguard Veterans kit to complete the conversion. An important consideration is ensuring the arms work with the body. There are three sets in the kit and I felt like the set I used best complemented the running pose, as if the Marine is captured mid-stride.
  2. I primed and sprayed the model mostly disassembled since I wanted the arms and helmet to be fully white while the body was black. For the white I used my typical cool white approach of spraying Reaper Snow Shadow and then highlighting with Ghost White. For the black armor, I basecoated in Scale75 Flat Black then applied zenithal highlights of Abyssal Blue followed by Anthracite Grey. As always, be careful with the highlights to avoid “greying out” the model. I also wanted the lightning claws to be a source of spot color so I basecoated them metal and then airbrushed Tamiya Clear Blue to get a nice blue effect.
  3. There were few other colors to apply after that, mostly Dark Rust for the leather to break up the black, some silver and gold, Vallejo Buff for the scrolls and then Flat Red for the cables to add another spot color. Red and black work nicely together so a brown red for the leather, reddish gold and red all work together on the model.
  4. For shading, I used a mix of Cobalt Blue and Lamp Black to make a cool black wash and applied it as a pin wash everywhere except the gold and scrolls, which I washed in Dark Umber. I’d originally considered doing a much softer wash on the white but decided I wanted to extend the contrast as much as possible from black to white and in general I like having my shading be consistent across the model.
  5. Finally, some edge highlights to really make the model pop and a subtle bit of sponge weathering. For the white I’m just using a pure white to highlight, any will do. For the black I’ve chosen to go a bit more blue than I might normally in order to accentuate the satin finish of the armor and also to get something reminiscent of the blue sheen of ravens’ feathers. I’ve used Scale75 Cantabaric Blue, Bering Blue and Arctic Blue for the three stages. Finally, I’ve chosen to satin finish the model rather than my usual matte finish for Marines, mostly because it helps keep things looking black and it also is reminiscent of the satin finish of a bird’s feathers.
And here we are:
Raven Guard Primaris Vanguard Veteran Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Raven Guard Primaris Vanguard Veteran Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Final Thoughts

The Raven Guard are a rewarding army to paint and play, overall – the new Codex makes them significantly more powerful, but doesn’t put them over the top in such a way as to be ludicrously annoying in the new meta like say, Iron Hands. You’ll make more friends playing Raven Guard, is what I’m saying. Painting black armor is a double-edged sword: It’s easy to paint on the whole, and requires less work than brighter colors, but it’s also difficult to make an army in black armor look good, stand out, or photograph well. That said, if you have any tips or tricks for painting Raven Guard, want to show off your own models, or have any questions, feel free to drop us a line at