How To Paint Everything: Space Wolves

In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at different armies of the Warhammer universe, examine their history and heraldry, and look at several different methods for painting them. In honor of Saga of the Beast and the (hopefully) impending release of Ragnar Blackmane himself, today we present you with lots of words and pictures covering the Space Wolves!

Who Are the Space Wolves?

Vlka Fenryka! The Rout, the XI Legion, the Space Wolves! The Space Wolves are one of the more flavorful Space Marine Chapters, portrayed at times as savage Viking warriors and at other as full-on furries. If you are into sagas, and boasts and grudges and honor (and wolves), Space Wolves might be the chapter for you.

As one of the original 20 space marine legions, the Space Wolves hail from the planet Fenris, where their primarch, Leman Russ, was discovered after being raised by wolves. After being taken in by one of the human kings of Fenris following his capture by a hunting party, Russ learned the ways of war and became a capable leader, drawing the Emperor’s attention. The Emperor arrived on Fenris and instead of paying homage, Russ challenged the Master of Mankind to a series of contest. Only after besting Russ in combat did he swear fealty.

Space Wolves
The Battle Begins. Credit: Games Workshop

The Space Wolves were widely renowned for their ferocity and combat prowess and were often called upon to fight against other space marine legions, with Russ acting as the Emperor’s Executioner and Enforcer. It is also hinted at in the lore that Russ may be responsible for the fates of the two forgotten primarchs. This was also the case when the Space Wolves were called upon to wipe out the Thousand Sons legion following Magnus’ attempts to use sorcery to warn the Emperor of Horus’ betrayal. The Space Wolves descended upon Prospero and attacked the Thousand Sons, ultimately cementing their turn to Chaos and kicking off a bitter rivalry that would endure for millennia.

During the Horus Heresy, the Space Wolves stayed loyal to the Emperor, fighting back against their fellow marines with ferocity. Russ himself was responsible for a desperate attack against Horus that almost killed the traitor Warmaster but ultimately failed, leaving a wounded Russ in a comatose state. Following the Siege of Terra, Russ was one of the primarchs who opposed Guilliman’s Codex Astartes and ultimately the Space Wolves would deviate heavily from the tactics therein, and sire only one successor chapter prior to the Ultima Founding, the ill-fated Wolf Brothers.

The Space Wolves are a hardy and proud warrior chapter, with many visual cues taken from Norse iconography and mythology. They suffer from a peculiar genetic trait, which in extreme cases causes violent mutations into wolf-like creatures referred to as the Wulfen. These ferocious fighters are a terror on the battlefield, and their mere presence can incite fury in nearby Space Wolves.

Where to Learn More

Space Wolves are blessed by the All Father with a wealth of fiction covering their exploits. Some of the highlights include Prospero Burns by Dan Abnett which provides some great insight into the VI Legion while also giving context to the hatred the Sons of Russ and Magnus hold for each other. Chris Wraight is another great author who has penned a fair bit of Space Wolves fiction, including the Leman Russ novella that explains the ten thousand year rivalry between the Wolves and the Lions (Dark Angels) as well as the really fantastic War of the Fang.

For their most recent exploits, check out our review of the Lore in Psychic Awakening: Saga of the Beast.

Playing Space Wolves

As this article coincides with the release of Saga of the Beast, we have a number of articles to help you play Space Wolves:

  • Check out the Saga of the Beast Review for a rundown on all the new toys Space Wolves have to play with.

  • If you’re competitively minded, Jon Kilcullen has written a great article on how the Sons of Russ might fit into the meta after Saga of the Beast.

  • We also covered some interesting math around Space Wolf characters in Hammer of Math.

  • In Kill Team, Space Wolves play like marines, so check out our overview of playing Space Marines in Kill Team for more on them.

Painting Space Wolves

Why Paint Space Wolves?

Why paint Space Wolves instead of some other flavor of Space Marine? For one, they have a lot of material variety on their models that helps break up the normal Space Marine armor. Bone and Fur are particularly common and the latter is a very fun thing to paint, with a lot of room for creativity and interesting patterns. Frost weapons is another cool reason, as they can make for an eye-catching and striking effect. They also have the best beards in the Space Marine range, so take that into account.

A Note on Heraldry

Space Wolves have some complex and non-traditional heraldry that can add a lot of visual interest to your models.

Space Wolves Heraldry Credit: Games Workshop
Space Wolves Heraldry Credit: Games Workshop

Of particular note is that rather than a chapter emblem on their left shoulder pad, Space Wolves wear the insignia of their Great Company. While 99% of the painted models you’ll see bear the yellow and black of Ragnar Blackmane, keep in mind that you have a lot of other options.

Because most of the Wolves’ heraldry is triangles in some arrangement or other, freehanding it is not that difficult, so fear not!

Haldor Icepelt by Alfredo

Haldor was a very fun model to paint with a variety of materials and a fun, dynamic pose. As usual I went for a clean ‘eavy metal look but decided to alter the color scheme somewhat.

Choosing the Color Scheme

Going in, I decided I didn’t want to do the typical baby blue armor scheme for Space Wolves. I’ve seen people do the Heresy Scheme on primaris before and like that but wanted something in between. So I settled on a dark blue grey for my primary armor color and chose Scale75 Anthracite Grey for that.

I also decided I didn’t want to go with yellow as my spot color but instead something darker and decided on desaturated brown-red, leveraging Vallejo Model Color Cavalry Brown and Hull Red. I went with a heresy style set of markings, insignia and trim.

Everything else was fairly standard, I wanted a reddish gold to contrast with the grey-blue of the armor so chose Scale75’s Viking Gold. My two other areas of spot color were going to be the frost axe and the weapon handles. Since the axe was going to be a greenish-blue, I went with orange-y leather for the weapon handles, using Vallejo’s Red Leather.

The General Process

I followed my usual general process for this one:

  1. Assemble
  2. Prime
  3. Airbrush the armor.
  4. Hand paint everything else.
  5. Gloss coat then apply oil washes.
  6. Matte coat then edge highlight.
Haldor Icepelt WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Haldor Icepelt WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Assembly, Priming and Basecoating

  • As you’ll see below, while I primed the model mostly assembled, it’s actually held together by Blue Tack. I actually kept almost everything separate, including the torso and legs so that I could more easily paint the inside of Haldor’s pelt. I still like to prime assembled so I can get highlights and shadows where they are supposed to be.
  • I primed with a standard zenithal going from black to grey.
  • The main armor basecoat was many thin layers of Anthracite Grey. I then applied sparing highlights Arctic Blue using the airbrush.
  • To create some additional contrast, I then sprayed the model from below with Sepia Ink, which contrasts quite a bit with the blue grey.
Haldor Icepelt WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Haldor Icepelt WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

A Note on Fur

I’ve noted before that fur is a big characteristic of Space Wolves models so it’s worth taking care when painting it and going beyond the typical basecoat one color then wash then drybrush approach you sometimes see. It is nevertheless relatively simple and forgiving.

  • There’s a fair bit of wet-blending on the fur, which is much less complicated then it sounds. Basically, every paint I used got mixed with some drying retarder to give me lots of working time and make it easy to blend from one color to the next.
  • First things first, I put every color on my palette. In my case, I chose to go from pure black to dark brown all the way to a light khaki color. Go with three colors at a minimum but I did five (black, dark brown, lighter brown, reddish brown and a light khaki).
  • Then decide what your overall pattern is going to be. I mostly wanted to go from dark to light from the center outwards, with the black being reserved for the back and the socks.
  • I did about two of the darker colors and three of the lighter colors. I applied every color while the previous one was still wet and basically just feathered the transitions to blend everything together.
  • After basecoats, I applied some drybrushing to the various areas, a dark blue grey for the darkest areas and then lighter colors for the lighter areas (Vallejo Iraqi Sand and Pale Sand).
  • I then mixed up a dark brown wash (Agrax is fine) and applied that liberally to help unify everything further.
Haldor Icepelt WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Haldor Icepelt WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

The Frost Axe

The axe is mostly just a lot of washes. I base-coated with a very light blue grey and then hit it with Akhelion Green Contrast paint. After that I applied a blue and a green wash (saturated blue, like Guilliman’s Glaze* and dark green like Athonian Camoshade). Finally I drybrushed the whole thing white.

Edge Highlights

People often tell me my paintjobs are very "clean", which sometimes confuses me when I’ve done a weathered model, but that really all comes down to neat edge highlights. So get a pointy brush and some thin paints and have at it.

The armor highlights are of course the most important and for this I used Scale75 Bering Blue and Artic Blue which helped create some really sharp definitions.

For the red, I highlighted it with a desaturated ochre and this included the markings on the shoulder and knee to help really pop the patterns out.

Final Details

To finish off the model, I used Valhallan Blizzard to add snow to the base and also to add an ice effect to the frost axe. A coated both of those areas in gloss varnish afterwards to up the shine.

Krom Dragongaze by Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

I don’t really play Space Wolves myself, but I’ve painted more than a few wolves in my time, both for my Deathwatch and for my friend SD47. This particular model was a gift for SD47 when he started playing Space Wolves. I really liked the Krom Dragongaze model and used it as an excuse to paint one up. Color-wise, I tend to go with lighter tones for the Space Wolves I paint. Krom’s a pretty complicated model with a lot going on, but I ended up using only a handful of colors when painting him.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Armor Basics

I primed the model black and then basecoated the armor with The Fang, doing two thin coats. From there I did a coat of Reaper Snow Shadow, doing some blends with The Fang where I wanted the armor to be a bit darker. The final edge highlights are done with with Reaper Ghost White, a very light bluish off-white. For the gold trim, my current method is to base coat with Retributor Armour, then wash with Agrax Earthshade, touch up with Retributor Armour again, and then edge highlight with Runefang Silver. 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Adding Details

The Wolf Pelts are base-coated with Dryad Bark, then I drybrush them in progressive layers with Mournfang Brown mixed with increasing amounts of Reaper Polised Bone. The Gemstones are Altdorf Guard Blue washed with Drakenhof Nightshade and highlighted along the edges with Reaper Snow Shadow and Ghost White for the blue, while the red are Mephiston Red washed with Carroburg Crimson and edge-highlighted with Reaper Pure White mixed with a little Mephiston Red. 

The Bones and Bone Details are painted with a base layer of Rakarth Flesh, then washed with Agrax Earthshade before I go back over and pick out the raised details again with Rakarth Flesh. Then I pick out the final details with Reaper Polished Bone. 

Krom’s Hair was painted with a base coat of Averland Sunset and then washed with Carroburg Crimson to give it a redder hue. Then I went back and painted the raised areas with Averland Sunset again to give it that blonde look. The Cape is just Mephiston Red as a base washed with Carroburg Crimson, then I work up from that in layers mixing Carroburg Crimson with Mephiston Red to get a more gradual color transition, and highlight wit a little Evil Sunz Scarlet.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Frost Axe is Altdorf Guard Blue washed with Drakenhof Nightshade and then highlighted with Reaper Snow Shadow and Reaper Ghost White along the very edges.

Beanith’s Space Corgi Contrast Smooshing

I’m back once again, this time to relive the joys of my very first army that I started collecting and playing all the way back in 93 with the joy of lead models and plastic arms that always fell off. The young Bean cared little for painting as you can see here.

Space Wolf Long Fang
Beanith’s first attempts – Space Wolf Long Fang 1993

I tried painting some of them but I soon found I didn’t enjoy paint so I quickly fell to the Dark Grey Horde side. Since then many winters have passed and then Contrast came and brought me back into the Light and I found I actually enjoy the time spent painting in the evenings and the pride in having a painted army to face off against my friends.

All that aside, here is my quick and fast Contrast method for churning out those Troops you’ll want to carry Ragnar to Victory!

  1. Strip all of your Iron Hand Primaris Marines.
  2. Undercoat the models with Grey Seer Primer.
  3. Smoosh on a coat of Contrast Space Wolf Grey and then wonder if you should do a second coat.
  4. Post on insta and feel slightly put upon when they all agree the second coat looks better.
  5. Smoosh on a second coat of Contrast Space Wolf Grey and agree.
Space Wolf Contrast Coats
Beanith’s choice – One Coat Two Coat
  1. Clean up the shoulder pads, chest and right knee pad with Base Grey Seer.
  2. Praise Duncan for the magical Contrast Iyanden Yellow and apply it to the left shoulder and right knee.
  3. Contrast Blood Angels Red on the right shoulder pad and dabbled into the helm’s eye sockets.
  4. Contrast Snakebite Leather on the pouches.
  5. Contrast Skeleton Horde on the chest birdie, gun birdie and fancy ribbon.
  6. Freehand a pack mark on the right shoulder pad with Contrast Black Templar and do a ham fisted job of it. But don’t worry, we’ll hide our shame with model positioning in the photo.
  7. Finish up with Contrast Black Templar and Contrast Basilicanum Grey on the gun.

Bosh, one Intercessor that could be awaiting transfers and base details but in my case, counts as ready for the tabletop… after the isolation ends so get back there and finish the other 14-29 that you’ll want.

Beanith's Space Wolf
Beanith’s Space Wolf

Nick Kasza’s Method

The Space Wolves were my first army which started way back in 3rd edition. After years of growing as a painter there was a noticeable difference between the first models I painted and the last. I felt the army needed a restart. So, I spent a few weeks stripping the paint off all my models and was ready to start the process all over again. I knew I wanted a different look than the GW powder blue. I started to see more and more examples of their 30k color scheme make its way onto 40k models and I loved this look. I also saw some examples of how painting their weaponry red weaponry contrasted this darker armour choice very well. Let’s not forget the distinct yellow shoulder pad that screams space wolves and the snow base for these fenrisian warriors to finish the model off.

The Process: base, wash, highlight.


  1. Base the entire model with Army Painter – Uniform Gray
  2. Wash armour with Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color – Black
    • This stuff is the real deal. If you haven’t used it for a wash yet check out a YouTube video to watch how easy it is to get amazing results
    • Using the Citadel – Nuln oil works just as well
  3. Touch up any over wash with Army Painter – Uniform Gray
  4. Highlight with Citadel – Dawnstone
Credit Nick Kasza


  1. Base with Citadel – Ulthuan Gray
  2. Wash with Citadel – Agrax Earthshade
  3. Highlight with Citadel – White Scar

Gun – Metal

  1. Base with Leadbelcher
  2. Wash with Citadel – Nuln oil
  3. Highlight with Sharpie – Silver Metallic
    • Yah I said it, it couldn’t be easier to use and looks great!

Gun – Body + Eyes

  1. Base with Citadel – Mephiston Red
  2. Wash with Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color – Black
  3. Highlight with Wild Rider Red
Credit Nick Kasza

Left Shoulder Pad

  1. Base with Citadel – Averland Sunset
  2. Layer with Citadel – Yriel Yellow
  3. Base shoulder pad icon purchased from Shapeways Market Place with Citadel – Abaddon Black
  4. Apply shoulder pad icon

Right Shoulder Pad and left knee

  1. Base with Citadel – Mephiston Red
  2. Wash with Tamiya Panel Line Accent Color – Black
  3. I used a black felt pen to outline the design and filled it in with Citadel – Abaddon Black


  1. Base with Citadel Contrast – Snakebite Leather


  1. Break apart some cork tiles and glue onto their base
  2. Prime the whole base with a Black
  3. Dry Brush with Citadel – Adminstratum Gray
  4. Apply Citadel Tecnhical – Valhallan Blizzard
  5. Apply The Army Painter – Frozen Turf grass
Credit Nick Kasza

Final Thoughts

Space Wolves are a fun interpretation of the savage but honorable warrior trope and this translates into miniatures that tend to be very dynamic with lots of interesting materials to paint aside from grey ceramite. Hopefully this has given you some good ideas for painting your own Space Wolves models but as always, drop us a line at with feedback and your own works of art!