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 only one loyalist legion untouched in the HTPE series, it was definitely time to look at the mighty XVIIIth, the Salamanders.
Who are the Salamanders?
The Salamanders are one of the original 20 Legions of Space Marines, warriors whose origins stretch back as far as the era of the Great Crusade. Originally known as the Dragon Warriors, the Salamanders were renamed after being reunited with their Primarch, Vulkan (not to be confused with current special character Vulkan He’stan!)
The Salamanders fought honourably throughout the Great Crusade, with notable actions including the Compliance of Kharaatan and Conquest of One-Five-Four Four. However, their main role in the Heresy was being on the receiving end of the Isstvan Dropsite Massacre along with the Iron Hands and Raven Guard. Few Salamanders survived the massacre, and Vulkan himself disappeared in the chaos. After being captured and tortured by Night Haunter, and then taken to the Imperium Secundus where John Grammaticus attempted to resurrect him. Initially this was thought to have failed, but eventually, on Nocturne, the Primarch was revived.
The Salamanders’ main participation in the rest of the Heresy was acting as a guerilla force, striking back against the brothers who had betrayed them. Following the end of the Heresy they were able to seamlessly reform themselves as a Chapter without splitting the Legion, supposedly because there were too few Salamanders left to exceed the manpower restrictions of the Codex Astartes! There are no official Salamanders successors, although the Storm Giants and Black Dragons are rumoured to utilise their geneseed.
In the modern 40k setting, the Salamanders are unusual in that they are formed of 7 companies (reflecting the tribes of Nocturne) rather than 10. They are also seen to be much more closely connected to humanity than other Space Marine Chapters – unlike those Chapters which occupy remote fortress-monasteries in hostile terrain, emerging only to select new recruits, the Salamanders have an official base on the moon of Nocturne, Prometheus, but when not on campaign most brothers spend their time living in the villages from which they were recruited. The Salamanders have taken part in some of the best-known actions of the 41st Millennium, including the Second and Third Wars for Armageddon where they fought with distinction (and in the latter case, they were one of the Chapters which received special rules in the Codex: Armageddon campaign book), as well as the cleansing of the Ymgarl moons where Genestealers were first encountered and the Badab War.
Where to Read More
The natural place to start is, of course, the Salamanders Codex Supplement, which is full of fluff about the Chapter. Besides that though, the Salamanders have appeared in a number of Black Library novels.
- Vulkan: Lord of Drakes covers the big man himself, as part of the Primarchs series.
- In terms of mainline Horus Heresy books, the Salamanders appear prominently in Vulkan Lives and Deathfire, as well as making supporting appearances in a number of others. There’s also Born of Fire, a short story/novella collection all about the Salamanders.
- In modern 40k, there’s the Tome of Fire series – Salamander, Firedrake, and Nocturne. These were all helpfully collected into an omnibus edition which you can find here.
A word of warning on the Salamanders novels – with the exception of the Vulkan book, most of them were written by Nick Kyme, who isn’t necessarily the best-regarded Black Library author. If you’re really into the Salamanders and want to read more about them though, there aren’t a ton of other options, and on the positive side Kyme does seem to really love the Chapter.
The Codex Supplement released in September 2019 gives full rules for playing the Salamanders, and we handily reviewed it at the time, which you can find here. Sadly the Salamanders seem to have not quite made it to the same levels as their brother Space Marines, with very few winning appearances at tournaments – however, they’re still Marines and right now Marines are good. We’ll have a full Start Competing: Space Marines up very soon written by the author of this very article, so keep an eye open for that.
We broke down playing Space Marines in Kill Team here. In KT the various Space Marine chapters are a little less distinct than in big 40k, but the Salamanders have a unique Chapter Tactic from the Elites book and it’s a good one!
In Apocalypse, Salamanders are just Space Marines. Very cool-looking Space Marines, though!
Salamanders have a fairly unique scheme as 40k armies go. They’re green with black pauldrons, but it’s a very different, brighter green than the Dark Angels. Their Chapter symbol is cool and relatively easy to freehand if you’re feeling up to it, or of course there’s the Salamanders upgrade sprue pictured above. They also have a lot of scope for cool flame details and conversions to wear drakeskin cloaks – the old Dark Elf Cold One Knights are a good source of appropriate materials. The Salamanders are also notable for being the only prominently black Chapter, although what kind of black has fluctuated across their history, and GW now seem to have settled on “yeah no they’re black like literally coal-black daemons with scary red eyes” which is a bit of a shame.
Below, we have a number of different painting styles appropriate for Salamanders, which you can choose to follow or use to inspire your own take on the XVIIIth Legion.
My Salamander scheme is the result of a bit under three years of iterations on my original scheme which was essentially warhammer TV’s guide, after this amount of trial and error it is dramatically different and feels a bit more like I am just flexin my paint collection. (I use ~70 distinct colours in the army, don’t do this please) I am only going to touch on the three most important sections:, the green armour, the black and the flames. For the rest, they are fairly standard base -> wash -> highlights and can just be explained by the colours used. Check out this paste bin link for those colours: https://pastebin.com/1dpngVxa
The green armour is fairly simple, its initially based with Waaagh flesh before a zenithal coat of warpstone glow, this is pretty dependent on an airbrush as warpstone is an unfathomably poor coverage colour. Then pin wash with nuln oil, I am not really fond of washing and then layering because it is not nearly as smooth as leaving the airbrushed base coat mostly visible. For highlights, move through the sequence of Moot -> Yriel -> Flashgitz focusing on the upper surfaces with the last two focused more on the extremes
The black starts with a base coat of abaddon black, then you have to roughly consider how the highlights are going to lay on the model. I am definitely not the best person to teach this as I have no art background, but you can get pretty far by holding the model up to a very bright light and looking how the light lands on each section. The colours I use in the highlights are Dark Reaper, Thunderhawk, Fenrisian and Ulthuan, the last two are primarily just used in edge highlights but feel free to incorporate them as well.
For my flames I use Evil Sunz -> Fire Dragon -> Ungor -> Pallid Wych, for the pattern I have mostly gone with a really simple cartoon style. I mostly start by placing the brush in the upper middle of the shoulder pad then wandering the brush back and forth while generally moving towards the base, then fatten the line slowly from about halfway between the flame tip and the bottom. I repeat this roughly spaced
If you ever have any questions feel free to reach out to me on my Instagram @mpherrington!
Lupe (Horus Heresy)
My personal Salamanders scheme is pretty weird, and you kind of have to trust the process. I spent ages trying to get the right balance of depth and vivid colour, as well as giving me a good base for weathering.
Let’s start with the armour itself:
- Basecoat Castellan Green
- Wash the whole armour area with a 1:1 mix of Coelia Greenshade and Water
- Wait for it to completely dry (for real). When it is, it’s time to start our dry brushing. I use a soft cheap makeup brush for dry brushing of this type – a smudge brush is what you’re looking for. Our first layer of dry brushing is quite heavy – dip the brush into the paint and wipe off most but not all. It should be dry but not bone dry. Now dry brush in soft rolling motions downwards, hitting the exposed surfaces and staying away from the recesses. You’re almost smudging the paint onto the mini, rather than flicking it across. This layer is done with Elysian Green
- Our next layer is Ogryn Camo. Do the same thing, but lighter, just hitting the most prominent areas, leaving a little less paint on the mini as you go
- Now we’re going for our third drybrush, this time of Krieg Khaki. This should be nice and light, keeping those smooshing circles going.
- Now we’ll hit the whole mini with a much more traditional dry brush of Ushbati Bone, flicking the brush across the mini, hitting the edges and details and picking them out
- Wait for all this to dry and then mix up some Winsor & Newton Vermilion Ink with water. You’re looking for about 1:5 ink:water. Now carefully glaze the entire armour, keeping it smooth as possible
- Now finally pinshade with Nuln Oil, picking out the deep recesses and joins in the armour with that dark shade
For characters I made a bit more effort on the glaze. I mixed a little blue ink into the Vermilion and glazed the shadows with that, and then did another mix with a little Yellow and glazed with that on the highlights. I then tied that together with the Vermilion on its own on the midtones. On my vets I specifically didn’t apply the Vermilion heavily, giving them a faded look.
Conversely on my artificer armoured dudes, I mixed the Vermilion 1:1 with Montarion Green.
I wanted my guys to be pretty beat up, so I added a decent amount of battle damage. I basically followed the tutorial you can find elsewhere on Goonhammer.
Let’s move onto the trim. I tried the classic black, but decided instead to go for something a bit… blingier. This is also what we’ll use for decorations.
- Basecoat Scale 75 Decayed Metal
- Layer everywhere except recesses Scale 75 Viking Gold
- Edge Highlight with a bright light gold. I use Daler Rowney FW Gold Ink for this.
I now blocked in the black shoulder pads using Vallejo Black Grey and a Nuln Oil wash. I used this on the bolter too, but then edge highlighted with Vallejo Neural Grey. This was also used on the rubber seals and joins.
For the steel I used Scale 75 Black Metal highlighted with Scale 75 Heavy Metal.
I went for some flame decorations too: Mephiston Red, Trollslayer Orange and Yriel Yellow were the main components.
If you want some alternatives do the same but with the yellow at the bottom and add some black coals to break it up.
Salamanders skin tone is a tricky one to get right. For me I start paler than you might expect – this is my usual approach with skin.
- Basecoat 1:1 Celestra Grey and Dark Reaper
- Wash with 1:1 Nuln Oil and Druchii Purple
- Retouch with your basecoat avoiding recesses
- Slowly add Administratum Grey into your base mix and highlight. Final highlights can be made by adding just a touch of pure white
- Now thin Seraphim Sepia down 1:1 with water and wash the skin with it. This gives it a bit more of the tone of something alive
The eyes I used Mephiston Red with white highlight dots. For the hair I used pure Administratum Grey, washed with Nuln and then highlighted pure white.
When I came to paint Primaris, I took the same approach but went with a more standard shoulder pad arrangement and also used my black recipe on the backpack. My red leather was:
- Basecoat 1:1 Khorne Red and Doombull brown
- Shade with Agrax Earthshade
- Retouch with basecoat and then mix an equal amount of Trollslayer Orange in and highlight
I attempt to follow a pretty traditional color scheme for Salamanders, though there’s a few variations due to personal color preferences. My painting method uses a minimal set of paints and is decently fast to
All models are painted using standard brushes and primed black, which gives the colors a dark and natural feel.
Basecoat of Warpstone Glow
Wash of Agrax Earthshade
Touch up large surfaces and ridges/details with additional layers of Warpstone Glow until they reach a smooth and bright appearance
Edge highlight with a 4/1 mix of Warpstone Glow and Wraithbone. This gives the highlights a bit of a muted color tone, but it looks pretty decent on the table. You could certainly opt to highlight with a brighter green such as Moot Green or its equivalent
Perform touchups of Agrax in areas that may have caught some paint or need to be darkened
Basecoat of Abaddon Black
Lighten large surface areas gradually with a blending of Abaddon and a white/off-white
Eyes are dotted with Wazdakka Red
Wash of Agrax Earthshade
Edges/top surfaces get another lightened coat/drybrush depending on the surface
Small dot of Evil Sunz Scarlet on the eyes
Basecoat of Balor Brown, wash of Agrax, touchups of Balor, highlight of 3:1 Balor and Wraithbone
Basecoat of 2:1 mix of Abaddon Black and White Scar.
Multiple layers on raised surfaces, gradually increasing the white
Using a large dry-brush, dot even-lighter paint on to give the cloak a textured concrete look
Wash of Agrax Earthshade, making sure to not let the wash pool in the recesses
Basecost of Leadbelcher
Paint gun plates with selected color choice (I used black for normal bolt weapons and red for “heavy” bolt equivalents).
Wash of Agrax Earthshade
Edge highlights of brighter plate colors
So, I paint “Heresy-era” Salamanders, from when they were still a Legion. This involves a slightly more “military modeller” muted style, leaning away from edge highlighting and the like, and towards weathering and airbrush techniques. To do this scheme, you will need an airbrush!
I have done all my vehicles and infantry (so far!) in the same scheme. An example of the “finished product” first – a Castaferrum Siege Dreadnought, Ancient Th’aranak:
You can see that this uses shading on the greens, and then fairly heavy weathering in a mix of techniques.
An example on an infantry model can be seen with these Tactical Marines:
The idea with this scheme is to have something which looks striking, while not taking forever and a day to paint.
Yes, I could spend an hour per model perfectly doing the oil streaks to get them just right, but then I would never finish a Tactical squad in any reasonable length of time. It is geared towards batch painting in sets of 5 models, to get an army on the table which looks good as a unit.
So, the stages go as follows:
Take the model, prime it black (I use Vallejo Black Primer through an airbrush). I mount the heads and weapons separately, usually – it’s just easier to paint the whole model that way.
Then take a light grey (e.g. Stonewall Grey), and thin it down in the airbrush. Next you want to preshade with the grey. The idea is to get bold contrasts, while trying not to have too much pure black on the model. You can darken down a light colour at a later stage, but you can’t really do the reverse.
You could do an easy “zenithal” highlight from about 45 degrees downwards. I tend to do a slightly more detailed preshade, focusing on the upper arms, “halo” around the head, and the front of the legs, and then doing the feet from the back, and parts of the upper torso at the back.
Once the grey is done, swap to white (I use Tamiya Flat White) and just make the brightest points “pop” a bit more. Then take black (I go back to primer) and tidy up the shadows.
An idea of how this looks when done can be seen with the Termite below:
Once that’s done – time for some colours.
Take Tamiya Flat Green, thin it down, and give a series of thin coats onto the models. You’re aiming to “tint” the preshade, not replace it.
Then take Vallejo Green Zinc, thinned, and pop the highlights with it. Next, do a 50:50 Vallejo Green Zinc and Vallejo Escorpena Green, and hit the brightest points.
Finally, Vallejo Midouri Green where the shadows are – again, you’re trying to tint, rather than replace.
Now, dry it, and hit the entire model with some Gloss Varnish – I use Vallejo Polyutherane Gloss, thinned. 2 coats.
Here are some models at this stage:
Note – if you want to do stripes, this is the time. Make sure you do it after the model is glossed, and tape up the relevant area, spray the colour, and then gloss it up when it’s done.
(iii) Pinwash & Transfers
Let the gloss try and cure for a bit – 30 mins.
This next bit is important to really get the details on these miniatures to stand out. Take some Black oil paint, and mix it up with some white spirit or Sansodor. Taking an OLD brush (this will wreck anything nice!), load it up with a bit of oil wash, and gently touch it to a recess/detail. If the gloss is cured and dry, it will have a capillary action, “sucking” the oil wash into the recesses to make them really stand out. Do this all over the model, wiping off the excess with the brush.
Let it dry for 20-30 mins, and then if you want (optional), you can put transfers on. I use Forge Worlds A+++ top quality Salamanders transfers. Put some Microset solution where you’re applying the transfer, slide the transfer on after soaking it in water, pat it down with a bit of kitchen towel, and then put Microsol on.
Now – this is important – LEAVE IT FOR 4 HOURS if you’ve put transfers on. The Microsol needs to react with and dissolve the transfer film. Otherwise it will look “shiny” and not “painted on” like you want it to!
Before the Microsol set, this is what the Dreadnought looked like (you can see the details standing out from the pinwash):
(iv) Varnish & Blacking Out
This is my least favourite step, I’ll be honest, but it is essential. Every time I’ve skipped it, I’ve regretted it.
This is the stage where you select your armour finish. I tend to go for a “satin” look – 70:30 Matt:Gloss varnish where you get a slight sheen, but it is mostly matt. When everything is dry, blast the models with 2 thin coats of this, and dry it all off.
Now for the boring part. Anything which is going to be metal, needs to be blacked out with a brush. Go over the trim, the boltgun, the leg “ribbing”, the chest decorations, etc. This is very tedious. You will thank yourself for it later.
You can see on this Delegatus where bits were blacked out:
(v) Metallics & Washes
Metals can be as complicated or as simple as you like. I tend to do a multi-stage approach to get an “aged” look.
For bronze, I do Scale 75 Dwarven Bronze, and then shade in (with a brush) some thinned down Scale 75 Elven Gold where there is going to be brighter parts of the model. Then I hit the shadows with thinned down Vallejo Hull Red, before washing the entire bronze part in Agrax Earthshade when its dry, to draw the colour together. Then I gently edge highlight with Vallejo Chrome.
For actual metal, it depends on the size of the model, but it’s broadly the same. Start with Vallejo Metal Colour Magnesium (the best coverage in the business, but very thin!). Then drybrush Boltgun Metal. If its an infantry model, I’ll wash with Nuln Oil. If its a vehicle, then go back to your black oil wash from earlier and use that – the coverage is better over large surfaces.
When it’s all dry, go onto the next step.
This is where I do eye lenses, a bit of edge highlighting, and heat effects. I also wash anything else which needs washing (e.g. cloth).
Heat effects are where you take the flamer or exhaust, gently shade it with Scale 75 Elven Gold through the airbrush, and then gently layer on, with the airbrush, purple ink, and then red ink. You have to be very careful and let each layer dry. You’ll end up with a nice “burnt” look. Add blue at the end for a more high contrast finish – I don’t do this.
Now, assemble the miniatures (e.g. put the heads on):
Now, to mess up your lovely paint job!
I start with sponging Rhinox Hide. With weathering, less is more. You want to dip the bit of sponge, and dab it onto a paper towel to remove most of the paint. Then gently sponge it on, building up the colour, onto the feet, kneepads, elbows, and the front of the shoulder pads. Do some “focal points” to make it interesting.
I then highlight the bigger chips with Steel Legion Drab, before doing another gentle sponge with Leadbelcher, focusing on edges.
Next up, some oils. Take some brown oil paint (e.g. Burnt Umber) and thin it with white spirit, gently “streaking” it over the model to make some drips and “mud”. I then do some Raw Sienna sparingly for rust streaks.
When the oils are dry, get some light brown (e.g. Leather Brown Vallejo) and thin it down, before gently airbrushing it onto the feet of the models to “tint” them for a dust-wash – they’ve been walking around in the desert after all! Change the colour depending on your basing.
A model which has been weathered, with the basing not finished:
Finally, base the miniature. I put some reddish sand on, seal it in, then give it an Agrax wash and some drybrushing with Steel Legion Drab, before finishing off with a tuft.
Just remember to paint the base rims black – this is a must-do!
Another example of a finished model in this style is the Termite below:
And there you have it – some Salamanders who look like they just walked off the battlefield.
This scheme is not for the faint hearted – there are some advanced techniques in there and you use oil paints as well as a mixture of airbrush and paintbrush. However, it is not that time consuming once you get the stages down right – a lot of it is in drying times.
Feel free to hit me up on Instagram – @LordTwisted – for any guidance on this scheme!
I take the polar opposite approach to LordTwisted, leaning heavily into sharp edge highlighting and strong colours which result in a vibrant scheme that looks striking on the tabletop. This is definitely labour intensive and takes a fair few hours for each model, so I wouldn’t try this for a horde army, but I’ve been building my Primaris force slowly enough that it’s not an issue.
By far my biggest tip, which applies to any miniature painting, is to get a high quality brush and a wet palette. A good brush (I use near-exclusively a Kolinsky Sable #1 brush) is able to hold a fine point for a long time, and a wet palette lets you control the consistency of your paint for extended lengths of time by countering evaporation. I remember watching this video (https://youtu.be/VbAUFTXA13M) when I first started painting and thinking it was black magic, which is an excellent example of someone with a quality brush, good brush control, and impeccable dilution of their paint.
If you want to get at every part of a model then subassemblies are the only way to go. I try to keep subassemblies to a minimum, usually keeping the arms seperate from the body so the chest eagle is accessible, and anything that is entirely a different colour such as the backpack.
I glue each subassembly to a length of sprue, secured somewhere out of the way like on the sole of a foot or inside the shoulder. This pairs well with using an airbrush to prime rather than a rattlecan as you can spray each subassembly individually without wasting much primer.
First I prime each subassembly with vallejo black primer, then undercoat with VMA Black-Green (this is a holdover from when I basecoated with a brush and used to use GW Waaagh Flesh).
Next I undercoat the green parts with airbrushed Warpstone Glow. This produces a beautiful green, but goddamn Warpstone Glow has atrocious coverage and is probably the worst paint i’ve ever airbrushed. One of the times I’ve been most disappointed in the last 12 months was looking through the new range of GW airbrush paints and seeing Warpstone Glow missing from the list. If you plan on airbrushing, be sure to keep some flow improver ready to fine tune the consistency, and keep an eye out for dry tip. This is the stage where many people create beautiful zenithal layers, but I’ve never had much luck with this paint.
Shading is done with a pin wash of Nuln Oil directly into all recesses, keeping it fairly narrow but heavy – i’ve found tapping the brush along rather than painting a single stroke is a good way to get a heavy coat with precision. I also undercoat in brushed on VMA Black any parts which won’t be green and I don’t trust to not pick up some underlying hues, such as the gold chest eagle.
The edge highlighting is the cornerstone of the scheme here, so take your time, use a good brush, and make sure that your consistency is good (hence the wet palette recommendation). You’re looking to make sure every line of nuln oil is bounded on at least one side by some Moot Green.
Soft parts of the armour are based with VMC Basalt Grey, then heavily washed with Nuln Oil. The purity seal is based with VMC Ivory then lightly washed with Agrax Earthshade.
Gold / Trim / Gizmos / Metallics
Having tried many different recipes for dark gold, one of the best looking i’ve found is deceptively simple. I start with a smooth base layer of Retributor Armour, then add a single very heavy coat of Agrax Earthshade. While i’m sure better results could be achieved with a 12 step NMM approach, this does a bloody good job for little effort.
Vallejo airbrush metallics are fantastic, even when brushed on. VMA Gunmetal has completely replaced Leadbelcher for me, though the watery consistency can take a moment to get used to. I’ve used VMA Aluminium in the past as a bright silver which has perfect coverage, but it’s a hair too bright for my tastes.
The easiest way to paint the weird charcoal skin of Salamanders is to not have any skin exposed. Thank you for your time, I will not be taking questions.
I struggle with creating good shapes for the flames on the fly so I can’t provide much input there, but I’m happy with the colour palette i’ve chosen. Start with painting an outline of the flames in Mephiston Red. I start from the tip and bring it downwards in a wavy motion. Connect these flame tongues together towards the base. Then paint concentrically smaller flames with Wild Rider Red and Fire Dragon Bright, then finally underline with a layer of Yriel Yellow.
An alternate style I plan to try some day
I like to add a heat haze to my exhausts to make them look like they’re kicking out loads of heat, and it adds some colour to an otherwise boring black/dark steel section.
- Paint the metallic parts with VMA gunmetal
- Coat the metallics fairly liberally with Nuln Oil
- Edge highlight very finely with VMC Basalt Grey. This is a mid-grey so it’s important to keep this edge highlight thin to stop it being too overpowering. A more subtle and forgiving colour is VMC Black-Grey.
- Jab GW Screamer Pink quite coarsely into the exhausts. This is essentially shading so does not need or want to be particularly precise.
From here on the colour series gets smaller like a bullseye
- Jab a deep orange (in this case VGC Hot Orange) within the Screamer Pink. This is a thin paint so I do 2 coats of differing diameter.
- Paint a light orange (here GW Fire Dragon Bright) on most of the grills
- Paint GW Yriel Yellow on the middle of the grills
- Finally add a few spots of white on the centres of the grills. I avoid doing this on the smaller exhausts as it can be overpowering, leaving those at a yellow
“The eyes are the window to the soul” is a cliche quote but it’s not far off the truth, and remains true for miniature painting. I start with painting the lens with Mephiston Red, then wash it lightly with nuln oil to pick out the rim. I add a small amount of Fire Dragon Bright towards the inside, then very carefully add a dot of white at the back of the lens.
The finished model:
You can find me on instagram under @cowiepaints_402 if you have any comments or want to see more green dudes.