How to Paint Everything: Raven Guard Space Marines

This article is part of a larger series on how to paint Space Marines. To return to that series, click here.

In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at how to paint well, everything, with a look at different approaches and techniques. 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. 

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. This was a blow the Raven Guard would struggle to recover from, removing them from much of the fighting of the heresy.

Covered in this Article

  • Techniques for painting the core elements of the Raven Guard, including their black armor and white accents.
  • Heraldry for the Raven Guard.
  • Schemes from different painters for the Raven Guard.


Raven Guard Heraldry - Click to Expand

The Raven Guard are a Codex-Compliant chapter and follow those guidelines when it comes to company colors/shoulder pad trim and markings. They use white gothic script on the left knee pad for squad number. One thing to note with Raven Guard however is the way they do their battlefield role designations – rather than using solid white Shapes Raven Guard use white outlines to denote the unit’s battlefield role.

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?

The standard Raven Guard paint scheme answers this final question by using lots of white, giving the models a very stark contrast between their black and white elements. Those can be tough to paint – you need a plan for how you’re going to do bright white, and that may mean subassemblies where prime parts white.

Alfredo's Method - Click to Expand

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
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

Dan's Method - Click to Expand

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.

I’ll warn you that this process is pretty time-consuming. I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to painting, and this method is extremely thorough. If you’re looking for a quick way to get bird bros painted up and on the field, then this might not be the method for you.

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
This is what a mini will look like after the 1st round of basecoats and undercoats. There’s obviously a ways to go, but the scheme is definitely taking shape.
This is the same mini after the 2nd basecoat step, where I work up the whites and reds.

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, as stated before.

Primed and ready to go.


  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.
Here you can see the 1st highlight: Eshin Grey, applied rather thickly.
Same area, but the 2nd highlight, Stormvermin Fur has been applied. Notice how the two grey tones begin to create a gradient.
Here, on the finished model, you can see the 3rd highlight of Administratum Grey. If you keep it on the corners and especially raised edges, it will give you the contrast and sharpness you’re looking for.


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

Here you can see a lot of the non-black highlights. If you pay attention the helmet, you can see both the Nuln Oil Recess shade and the White Scar final highlight. The final highlight is subtle, but it works to emphasize the contours and shapes of the white armor panels. Additionally, here’s a good look at the finished leather. The all-over Agrax Earthshade serves to tone down and enhance the Mournfang Brown base, and the Gorthor Brown highlight does a great job separating the panels.


  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. Canonically, all Raven Guard have black pupils, irises, and sclera, so coloring the eyes in with black is both easy and canon!
Here we can see the deathly pale skin tons of the Raven Guard. I don’t like going full alabaster for their skin. I prefer to give a little bit of warmth and vitality, but still preserving that unnatural paleness.


  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.
Notice the subtle brown highlights that really let the leather pop out from the black armor. Also, this is a great example of a scroll (or a bone, they’re the same recipe). Note the white corner highlight and the carefully applied squiggly lines to mimic script.


  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. 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.
Focus in on the blood here and notice the shift from deep red to orange. I’ll hit bloody details with a gloss varnish (‘Ard Coat) after spraying matte varnish on the mini to make them look wet.

Bones and Scrolls

  1. Zandri Dust undercoat.
  2. Screaming Skull basecoat.
  3. Agrax Earthshade all-over shade.
  4. Rhinox Hide writing. 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.


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


  1. Retributor Armor basecoat.
  2. Reikland Fleshshade all-over wash.
  3. Runefang Steel edge highlight.
The flamer’s nozzle has been painted in my brass scheme. Note the tiny, little silver highlights that really do a lot to change the visual language from gold to brass.

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.
I don’t know why this guy has goggles and a scope, but he’s got ’em both!

Green Bits (screens, glowing things, etc.)

  1. Caliban Green basecoat.
  2. Warpstone Glow highlight.
  3. Moot Green highlight.
There’s just a tiny bit of green happening on his wrist-mounted scanner.

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.
I really like painting the blue armor of the librarius. If only they were any good on the table in 10th. This is also a good picture of how I do eye lenses. It’s just a white line on black with Bloodletter glaze over it. Simple, easy, effective.

Red Armor (for Techmarines)

  1. Mephiston Red basecoat.
  2. Agrax Earthshade recess shade.
  3. Evil Sunz Scarlet highlight.
  4. Wild Rider Red highlight.
I wanted a more earthy, clay-colored red for techmarines, so I kept the undercoat of Khorne Red as the basecoat.

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. For the raised portions of the Stormvermin fur.
  7. 1:1 mix of Administratum Grey and Ulthuan Grey highlight. For the raised portions of the Administratum Grey.
  8. 1:1 mix of Eshin Grey and Ulthuan Grey highlight. For the raised portions of the Eshin Grey.
  9. Ulthuan Grey edge highlight. Only on the extreme raised areas and the border of the cloaks.
Full disclosure: the camo cloaks take FOREVER to paint, but it’s worth it in the end by my estimation.

Camo Cloaks (inside)

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

Tyranid Stuff

Obviously, the LT with Combi-Weapon has a bunch of Tyranid crap all over him, so here’s what I did with that:

Carapace (Purple)

  1. Naggaroth Night basecoat.
  2. Druchii Violet all-over shade.
  3. Xereus Purple highlight. It’s ok to be pretty thick with this one.
  4. Genestealer Purple highlight. Little thinner than Xereus.
  5. Dechala Lilac highlight. Just on the highest points or sharpest edges.

Flesh (pink)

  1. Screamer Pink undercoat.
  2. Pink Horror basecoat.
  3. Reikland Flesh all over shade.
  4. Go back over the raised areas with Pink Horror.
  5. Cadian Fleshtone highlight.
Oh, gribblies. I like the cool purple that contrasts with the rest of the mostly-warm colors on the rest of the mini.

There you have it! I hope this inspires y’all to paint some Raven Guard. I look forward to seeing and hearing how people have improved on my techniques! Keep painting out there!

TheChirurgeon's Method - Click to Expand

I don’t play Raven Guard. At least, not formally. But I play a lot of armies with black armor and I’ve done more than my share of black-armored armies up to this point, so it’s worth including my methods here. I essentially have two methods: The black armor I did for this test model, and the bluer variant I do on my Deathwatch. I’ll cover both here.

Step 1. Black Basecoat

I started by priming the model black. Next up I blended up to a mostly coat of Corvus Black, which gives some depth and shading to the black armor.

Step 2. Highlights and Metals

Next up I painted the metal bits with Leadbelcher and started highlighting the armor. This part is more tedious than challenging, as it requires edge highlighting the whole thing with Mechanicus Standard Grey. I only did one layer of edge highlights here but if you want to do more, a second layer of Celestra Grey on the corners and very top edges will brighten things and make it stand out a bit more.

Step 3. White Parts

Painting white on black is always a hassle, so I just simply don’t do it. Instead I painted the Aquila and the gun casing with Reaper Ghost White, a bluish offwhite with much better coverage than pure whites.

Step 4. The Yellow Parts

Unlike Dan’s guys, my Raven Guard are from the 2nd company. As such I’m painting their aquila and shoulder trim a golden yellow (actual gold also works but I don’t think it works as well on Raven Guard as it does Ultramarines). This is a coat of Averland Sunset highlighted up to and with Flash Gitz Yellow. 

Step 5. Final Details and Washes

Some final bits here have to be done. The yellow Aquila is washed inside with a touch of Cassandora Yellow and the metal bits are washed with Nuln Oil. I’ll wash the white parts a bit with Apothecary White, then hit them with Ghost White again and Edge highlight them with Reaper Pure White. The eye lenses are last, and they’re just a spot of Mephiston Red highlighted with Evil Sunz Scarlet. 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Bonus: Deathwatch Black 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. I then highlight that armor using Corvus black, and shade up using mixes of Corvus Black and Abaddon Black to blend it.

The big difference when it comes to my Deathwatch are my edge highlights. For most of my black-armored models I do edge highlights of Mechanicus Standard Grey and tiny point highlights of Celestra Grey. When I do them for my Deathwatch, they’re done with blue. I start by doing an edge highlight of Kantor Blue, then I do a second edge highlight inside that with The Fang, and a third top edge highlight with Reaper Snow Shadow, just hitting the corners and tops of edges.

Other Details

  • 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.

Final Thoughts

The Raven Guard are a rewarding army to paint and play, overall. 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

This article is part of a larger series on how to paint Space Marines. To return to that series, click here.