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.
Salamanders are my second largest army after Tyranids and my scheme has gone through quite a number of iterations. This will be the 3rd revision in as many years – mind you I only started collecting this army with Dark Imperium. While the core green, black and gold retain the same base coats, I switched up washes and highlights to really bring the recipe in line with my more recent style. I think I have managed to make this new generation of Marines striking without clashing too hard when combined with the rest of my army.
While in a bit more logical order than my Death Guard scheme, I will apologize in advance for my tendency to bounce between different colours as this guide is in chronological order. In addition, I will mostly not list the specific colours in the accompanying text as that can get pretty repetitive and a bit redundant with the paints being in the pictures themselves, instead I am mostly going to be talking about why I made a colour choice.
I started with a airbrush base coat of Warpstone over Nocturne, this is roughly a zenithal basecoat since I only focused the Warpstone on upper faces of the model. This is not super visible from most viewing angles, but speeds up the pin wash substantially as the darkest areas are already shaded. For the wash I used blue rather than a black to provide a slightly more natural shade. In proper colour theory, one way you can darken a colour is by mixing toward the “bottom” of the colour wheel with blue in this case. Of course that is just one method, you can also shade by working in a complementary colour for warmer shadows.
I quite like how Basilicanum Grey is basically super Nuln Oil, achieving the same kind of colour smoother and darker. An additional layer of Fyreslayer makes a delightful copper-ish colour. I nicked the idea for black metal for Salamanders from the Bladeguard that was shown off on Warhammer Community to prevent from having the gold being overbearing as was happening on previous iterations.
A recent change for me is making use of more drybrushing in stuff like metals instead of intermediate edge highlights, which saves a bunch of time without a substantial loss in quality. I used to be super against drybrushing, but these days the extra effort just not worth it given I can get a greater differentiation of metals vs other textures with less time.
The gold is mostly pretty typical other then the using contrast to get a really rich colour along with a dry brush of Liberator, I quite like how it turned out!
I made use of contrast over a dark-ish base coat to get a rich dark red for the tassels, this is one of the ways you can really get a lot more colours out of contrast paints, don’t lock yourself to Wraithbone and Grey Seer! One thing that might be a touch confusing here is that the Agrax and Sepia was used for the cables and bone/parchment respectively.
I go with these basic layered zenithal highlights on the black primarily for sanity’s sake, on the table top a lot of stuff like that ends up looking nice and smooth when amongst others and the terrain without having to spend a ton of time on fancy blends. The Agrax was used on the bone to give it a slightly more muted colour along with the dryad bark.
I quite like Apothecary White as it gives a decent neutral color over white but you could use pretty much any wash thinned over white depending on what you want to go for. We will come back to finish the iconography off in a bit once the wash has dried!
For the yellow cables I started with a brown base coat to provide a really stark contrast against the highlighted sections, otherwise I find cables can look like they have not even been highlighted from a distance.
We return to finish off the iconography! I somewhat violate the my typical behavior of only doing zenithal highlights on these as I want to put a lot of emphasis on the depth of the dragon’s face. For this I put the brightest points on stuff like the jaw, brows, and spines that should be be bold against the rest really to emphasize the key parts of the Salamanders logo.
For the flames I don’t really go for fancy super realistic or very cartoony, I think these end up somewhere in the middle and also being pretty fast. I don’t really go for any shape in particular but I find it is pretty key to have a few floating embers or it looks really lame. I start with a couple of layers for the underlying red, but you can get away with a single coat for the rest as blotchy-ness in lower layers just leads to subtle colour variations in the final design.
For the eye lenses I do a fairly traditional gem effect. For those who have not done gems before, the general idea is to subdivide the lense into smaller crescent shaped areas of successively brighter colours towards one direction before a final point of white on the opposite point. Usually you select a lower or further into an object for the crescents of colours to imply light shining through and reflecting off the inside of the gem/lense.
While optional, I came back to put a few edge highlights on the black to differentiate the smooth curves from hard edges. Then we return to the green after not having touched it since the recess shade, I left the main panels to end as this lets you hide mistakes from other colours under thicc highlights. The yellow in the highlights is also calling back to basic colour theory where we move successively brighter shades of a colour towards the top of the colour wheel, typically the only colour you can highlight with white without losing saturation is yellow.
My bases on smaller models is typically fairly basic, just wash and drybrush over a texture paint before cleaning up the rims and throwing on tufts from Gamers’ Grass.
I am still unsure my exact strategy for how I am going to handle the skin tone going forward, when I have figured it out I will probably come back and drop in another section somewhere down here. My current plan is probably doing more conventional human skin tones glazed with a ashen grey or similar.
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: (i) Preshading 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. (ii) 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. (vi) Details 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):
(vii) Weathering 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:
(viii) Basing 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. https://youtu.be/b5UyWTHyDks?t=1063 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.