How to Paint Everything: Ultramarines

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. Following up on a prior article on how to paint the Thirteenth Primarch himself, we take a look at his legion and chapter: the Ultramarines.

Who Are The Ultramarines?

Credit: Games Workshop

What can be said about the Ultramarines that you don’t already know? They are the poster boys of Warhammer 40,000 and for many people, they probably are the first thing that come to mind when they think of 40K. This has also led some people to think that Ultramarines are boring Mary Sues compared to more divergent chapters like Black Templars, Blood Angels, or Space Wolves. Those people are wrong.

As the Thirteenth Legion of Space Marines, they were second only to the Luna Wolves in conquests during the Great Crusade and were the biggest Legion by far. They were notable for the mini-Imperium established by their Primarch, Roboute Guilliman, known as the 500 Worlds of Ultramar. Unlike most of the grimdark bullshit of 40K, Ultramar is actually a cool place to live, by most standards, where people can live out relatively happy lives and enjoy some semblance of peace and prosperity. Guilliman did not see Space Marines as Eternal Warriors but instead believed that developing peace-time skills like statesmanship was just as important as warfare. The fluff often makes note of Space Marines’ superhuman minds and ability to process data far more efficiently than baseline humans, but Ultramarines are one of the only chapters that actually leverage this capability for something other than war. So that automatically makes them pretty cool.

Following the Heresy, Guilliman established the Codex Astartes, which is basically the How To: Space Marines manual. In 40K, Space Marines are often defined by how they adhere to or diverge from the Codex. The Codex dictated that Legions be broken into Chapters, established standard doctrines, battle company composition, squad heraldry, etc. While the Ultramarines obviously follow the Codex quite closely, they aren’t nearly as dogmatic about it as some chapters (like the Hammers of Dorn or Black Consuls); one of the first things Guilliman did when he came back was a big re-write of the Codex and current fluff makes it seem more like a living document than a holy text set in stone.


Credit: Games Workshop

In the 41st Millennium, Ultramar is still mostly a cool place but it’s seen its share of trouble between a Hive Fleet invasion known as the First Tyrannic War (which wiped out the entire First Company of the Ultramarines) or the more recent incursion by the Death Guard that devastated idyllic worlds like Iax and serves as the setting for the Dark Imperium starter box. Most recently, Ultramarines find themselves running point on Vigilus, pushing back Xenos and Chaos forces to prevent the Imperium Nihilus from being completely cut off from the Imperium proper. 

Marneus Calgar Credit: Games Workshop
Marneus Calgar Credit: Games Workshop

As befits one of the main protagonists of the setting, Ultramarines have plenty of notable characters, many deserving of their own articles. We have covered Roboute Guilliman already but no discussion of the Ultramarines would be complete without mentioning their Chapter Master, Marneus Calgar. Calgar is one of the oldest characters in the setting (real-life old, not fictional old; the latter honor falls to Dante) and is currently on his fourth model incarnation! Marnie is a veteran of the First Tyrannic War and for a while was more machine than man, having lost several limbs and an eye to the Tyranids. He got owned by Tyranids a lot but also did some really cool stuff like holding off an entire Ork Waagh! for a day and night at the Siege of Zalathras (which is covered in detail in one of the books mentioned below). Calgar also holds the honor of being the first squatmarine to undergo the Calgarian Rites and become a Primaris Marine, resulting in a new and improved Marneus Calgar who was promptly owned on his own battleship by Chaos forces while fighting above Vigilus. There’s a lot more that could be said of Marneus Calgar but let’s just say he’s a very storied character with some great models and good rules to go with them. 

Where To Read More

One of the great things about being so iconic is that Ultramarines are featured in tons and tons of great books. One of the worst things about being so iconic is that sometimes Nick Kyme writes a book featuring Ultramarines. Still, you certainly aren’t starved for choice like you might be with other chapters (*cough*ImperialFists*cough*).

My personal favorite Ultramarines book is Know No Fear by Dan Abnett, which details the Betrayal at Calth during the Horus Heresey. It is told from multiple perspectives and has a number of interesting Ultramarines characters that help flesh out the Legion as more than just the boring Codex Marines many people seem to think they are. It also features the single coolest Guilliman fight scene in any Black Library book. 

For more recent, which is to say 40K, fiction, you can’t go wrong with the already recommended Guy Haley books: Dark Imperium and its sequel Plague Wars. They largely focus on Guilliman himself rather than the Chapter as a whole but in fleshing out the Primarch, they add a lot of character to his sons as well, including the oft-derided Captain Cato Sicarius. I am personally a big fan of Paul Kearney’s two books: Calgar’s Siege and Calgar’s Fury. Like the two previously mentioned books, they do a lot to develop the main character (in this case Marneus Calgar) and are very fast and fun. You won’t think the Ultramarines are boring after reading those.

Three other, more tepid, recommendations are the novella Crusade by Andy Clark, Of Honour and Iron by Ian St. Martin and Blood of Iax by Robbie McNiven. Each of these star Primaris Marines and provide some interesting background on this new breed of Space Marine while telling fairly interesting stories that feature Death Guard, Iron Warriors and Orks as their respective antagonists. They are all ultimately bolter porn but make for quick and entertaining reads.

A notably absent recommendation is the Ultramarines series by Graham McNeill. Aside from the fact that I think Graham McNeill is a poor author with highly problematic treatment of female characters, these books are old enough that their portrayal of Space Marines feels very much at odds with the current fluff. The Ultramarines read more like Frat Bros in Space than transhuman warriors fighting for a dying Imperium and a lot of the dialogue and characterization just feels outright dissonant, particularly when compared to something like Spear of the Emperor by Aaron Dembski-Bowden or Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abnett, which really capture the transhuman aspect of Space Marines. 

Playing Ultramarines

The Ultramarines are a chapter of Space Marines and adhere closely to the Codex Astartes. They also have their own supplement. You can read more about how to play them in Start Competing: Space Marines.


Painting Ultramarines

A Note on Heraldry

Ultramarines are THE codex Chapter and as such they follow all the heraldic conventions laid down by Roboute himself. This makes for a lot of fun opportunities for little details and visual interest, such as distinguishing a squad of veterans with white helmets, or picking out a specific sergeant as a veteran with a red helmet and white stripe, or individual squad markings, etc. The adherence to codex markings is actually one of my favorite things about the Chapter because it adds some visual variety and also helps you tell micro-stories as you paint your squads and models. Ultramarines are vaguely Greco-Roman, and as such you can also make good use of certain motifs like laurels or helmet crests to help set models or units apart. 

Another option when thinking about heraldry is to use an alternative color scheme for a unit or set of units to distinguish them on the battlefield. Fellow Goonhammer author SRM has made great use of this for his Vanguard Marines by painting them in a scheme reminiscent of the Ultramarines Destroyer Scheme from the Horus Heresy. This gives the models a very distinct look while also looking cohesive with the rest of his force, you can learn more about it here.

Alfredo’s Method: Victrix Guard

I recently painted Veteran Battle Brothers Argentus and Auralius to accompany leaders of the chapter into battle and so I thought I’d share my process for the pair.

Step 0: Planning

For any project, you want to have a plan! This was particularly the case for these two models because their cloaks were broken up in such a way that I couldn’t feasibly paint them in subassemblies without (even uglier) seams when I was done (aside from heads and backpacks). With that in mind, I decided I would spray three main colors, blue for the armor, red for the cloaks, and metal for the swords, in that order and mask in between to protect previous steps. 


Another important consideration was the inside of the cloaks. I chose not to glue the models to their bases while working on them so that I could pull them off and get at the space between their legs. This is good to keep in mind for any model with a cape or cloak. I did not think of this when I built my first squad of Skitarii and it was… not fun.

Because the models consist of two main colors, blue and red, I took some time to think about how I wanted to paint those. I have a standard recipe for Ultramarine armor I use (scroll down) and I of course wanted to stick with that so they’d fit in with the rest of the army, so I needed the red to work with that. I find the red that ‘Eavy Metal uses for Ultra’s cloaks to be a bit too bold and vibrant for my tastes, particularly since my army is quite battle-worn. I decided to go with a deep purple base for the read in order to tie it back to the purple tones of the blue and create some cohesion between these otherwise very different colors, and then bring the red up all the way to a bright ochre, without tinting it too far towards orange with highlights. The goal was to create some nice contrast between the red and blue while unifying them with purple shadows and also ensuring that the blue was the most saturated color on the model, they’re Ultramarines after all. 

If I could go back and do one thing differently, I’d be a bit more conservative in how I welded the seams on the cloaks. I use a mix of Tamiya Clear and melted sprue to create a liquid filler, but I went a bit overboard in my application and you can see actual seam welds in several areas, which isn’t ideal. So while the idea is sound, you really want to make sure you’re not applying too much and take the time to sand and smooth down the seams to get a nice finish.

Step 1: Priming

I went with a black to white zenithal highlight for the pair. I wanted the maximize the contrast between the armor shadowed by the cape and the bright blue of their exposed pauldrons and helmets.

Step 2: Basecoating

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

For the blue armor, I went way off the reservation and used a Reaper Master Series Triad called… Ultramarine Blues. Crazy, right? As you can (hopefully) see, the darkest color in the triad has some nice purple tones and overall the triad is quite vibrant and blue.

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Unlike most Space Marine models, the Victrix Guard have two very large areas of color, the armor and their capes. Rather than basecoat the caps by hand, I wanted to paint some nice and smooth gradients with the airbrush so I masked off all the armor with a combination of Tamiya Tape and Masking Putty.

In order to create strong contrast between the light and dark areas of the cape while also unifying the shadows with the armor, I sprayed the entire cape with Vallejo Game Air Hexed Lichen which is a dark and deep purple, and then sprayed Vallejo Game Air Bloody Red from a high angle. Using a very small needle, I was then able to get some very thin highlights on some of the folds of the cape with Vallejo Model Color Yellow Ochre. My cape was now going from purple to yellow so in order to unify the whole thing, I sprayed it with some thinned Scale75 Inktense Red.

There were relatively few colors left to basecoat:

  • Gold: My usual recipe for Ultras is Scale75 Decayed Metal as a base, followed by covering most areas with Scale75 Necro Gold and then highlighted with Scale75 Dwarven Gold.
  • White: For some of the white, I stole a trick from fellow Goonhammer author (and resident Dadhammer expert) Lupe and used a mixture of Vallejo Model Color Light Sea Grey, which is a nice cool off-white with fantastic coverage, and white Artist’s Ink from Daler Rowney. This gave me a nice smooth white in 2-3 coats. For the big Ultras on the shields I ended up re-masking the model and cheating with an airbrush, using a progression of Reaper Snow Shadow, Reaper Ghost White and Valejo Model Air Insignia White to get some nice and smooth blends on the larger area. Masking might sound like a lot of work but I promise it’s not and can ultimately save a lot of time for tricky colors like white, red or yellow.
  • Other Colors: For the rest of the details I used my usual Vallejo Model Color Dark Rust for the leather, Vallejo Model Color Cavalry Brown for the aiguillette across the chest, Vallejo Model Color Buff for the parchment and Vallejo Model Color Magenta for the purity seal wax.

Step 3: Washing

Before washes, I applied decals on the gloss-coated model. See JD’s section below for details on how best to apply decals.

Washing was pretty simple. A pin wash of a black/burnt umber mixture (giving me a warm black to contrast with the cool blue) on the armor and deepest shadows of the cloak and all-over washes of burnt umber on the gold and other details. The interior of the cloak got an all over wash which I ten cleaned up with some white spirits.

Step 4: Highlighting

Highlighting follow my usual process. I start with highlighting every armor edge with Scale75 Sky Blue which is a nice vibrant and bright blue. I then hit top-facing edges with Vallejo Model Color Sky Blue, which is a much lighter color despite having the same name. Finally, I hit corners and compound edges with Vallejo Model Color Blue Grey Pale.

Step 5: Weathering

My Ultramarines are typically weathered in three stages:

  1. Using a piece of sponge, I apply first Scale75 Trash Metal and then Vallejo Model Color German Camo Black Brown to area of wear such as the top of the helmet, shoulder pads, feet, hands, etc.
  2. Take some dark umber pigment powder and mix it with pigment medium to create a runny paste. I then apply this to some of the recesses on the legs and feet to show areas where mud has built up and dried.
  3. Once that is dry, I apply dry pigments to the legs to get a dusty effect. Depending on what I’m going for, I might do this more than once with applications of matte varnish at very low PSI in between.


Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

With these models being so similar, I chose to use a little bit of heraldry to differentiate them in my head and give them some backstory. Brother Argentus is recently promoted to the Victrix Guard after the death of one of his predecessors and you can identify by his Vigilus Campaign Badge (peeking out behind the shield on his right greave). Brother Auralius on the other hand is a 2nd-generation Primaris that underwent the Calgarian Rites and has served the chapter for well over a century. His left greave is decorated with a much older Campaign Badge, commemorating his valor in a joint action with the Crimson Fists a long ways away from Vigilus.

The 60-Minute Smurf: The Richyp Method featuring CONTRAST

As is becoming standard, Richyp brings us yet another shamefully fast take on our Chapter of choice with great results!

Another quick paintjob that looks good from table top distance. Note this model has had 2 failed paintjobs underneath it so some of the details are a little more clogged than I’d have liked, but it works well enough to demonstrate it.

Step 1: Base Coat

After priming the model grey, cover it in thinned Macragge Blue (it took 2 quick passes with a size 3 brush to get an even coverage)

Step 2: Rough Highlight 1

For this step thin some Russ Grey and do some thin lines around the prominent edges. They’ll look quite stark against the Macragge Blue, but the even starker inner highlight later will actually make it look less overpowering (as counter-intuitive as that sounds).

Step 3: Adding a bit of Contrast

Take some Nuln Oil and mix it with Contrast Medium, mix it about 1:2 (1 part Nuln to 2 parts Contrast Medium). Now cover all the blue areas. I switched to a different background here for some unknown reason.

Step 4: Edge Highlight 2

My favourite bit after the owl painting section is this bit. I used Blue Horror for this stage, but Ulthuan Grey would probably work equally as well if you’re not an edging enthusiast. Take the colour and thin it with water until it almost breaks, then it’s ready to use. Using a smaller brush (I used a 1 for this bit) draw some smaller lines inside the previous highlights and it’ll make it look like the blue is glossy.

Step 5: Black-Lining

Thin some Abaddon Black (again get it to the point where it almost separates) and apply it in the deepest recesses, and cover any metallic areas or anything that will actually be black (in this case the gun). The thinned black will pool in the recesses over the grey primer and give you a cheap shade and base coat in one. Not pictured in this step I also painted the eyes with the previous mix of Blue Horror (I also did the plasma coil the same).

Step 6: The Devil’s in the Details

This step looks like there’s a lot of work involved, there really isn’t but because of the amount of little bits I’ved bundled them into one step.

Paint scratches in the thinned black from the previous step, and paint the under-edge of the lines in the same Blue Horror colour from the previous step to give yourself a fake 3d scratch.

Paint the eye sockets in orange, and dot the same Blue Horror in the back corners. Write some text, U Symbols squad markings etc.. also using the same Blue Horror colour. (I did a couple of red bits too for variety and to tie in with the eye lenses). Cover the plasma coil in Aethermatic Blue Contrast, and deliberately go outside the lines to fake a glow.

Edge the pads in gold or whichever company colour you’re aiming for. (I used S75 Elven Gold and blended it with some silver while it was wet).

Don’t forget to paint GH on the shoulder to show your allegiance.


Paint Them Like the Box Art: Ultramarines by JD

Self-deprecating introduction aside, JD paints some fantastic-looking Ultramarines that look like they popped off the ‘Eavy Metal box art. With this in-depth breakdown, you too can have an ‘Eavy Metal Ultramarine army!*

So you want to know how to paint Ultramarines? What can I say that you don’t already know, or can’t look up yourself? Did you fall in love with Games Workshop’s box art? Do you like following the rules, and have no imagination of your own? Then maybe this is the tutorial for you!

I haven’t been part of this hobby long when compared to some of the other hobbyists on here, but what time I have spent within it has been devoted almost entirely to painting Ultramarines, so hopefully this article will help you avoid some of the mistakes I made. Over time I have done my best to mimic the ‘eavy Metal style you see on the box art, and I am here to say anyone can do it given the following: practice, steady hands, and good eyesight. No artistic talent required, trust me!

I started painting my Ultramarines back in 2014 (maybe?), and didn’t even use the now standard Games Workshop scheme until 2015. As any veteran painter can sympathize I view all models from this era as total trash that belongs in a dumpster. While this is overly critical of my previous work it is important for a painter to have a constant desire to improve. I feel the steps I will list are perhaps the maximum effort I am willing to expend when it comes to painting line troops and vehicles in my army, which is admittedly already very time intensive. There are further techniques such as air brush highlighting and blending that can take everything here once step further, so don’t hesitate to introduce them if you have that extra time to burn.


Before you even begin to paint to your models here are some steps that everyone should take regardless of whether they are painting Ultramarines.

A. Subassemblies: These are important for a couple reasons. 1) If you fully assembly a model you’re often going to find that you aren’t going to get 100% coverage with your basecoat if you’re using a rattle can (in this case Maccrage Blue Spray). Not fully assembling the model will allow the paint to hit those areas you might otherwise have trouble hitting and keep that undercoat consistent model-wide. 2) Keeping your model broken up will also allow you to get to details with your brush that might be harder to reach on a fully painted model. How many times have you been trying to paint the aquila on the chest of a marine only to get gold on his boltgun that he is clutching tightly to his bosom?

Credit: Ourobouros

B. Taping: This is done concurrently with sub assembling and is just as important. Use an X-Acto Knife to cut out small pieces of painter’s tape to cover the connection areas of the sub-assemblies. This is important because paint over these areas will make it hard for the glue to hold the final model together, and because GW’s current line of models fit together so perfectly the undercoat can prevent the model from coming together as intended.

C. Pinning (keeping your dirty nerd hands from ruining your work): For this you want some paperclips and wine corks. What you then do is drill a VERY SHALLOW hole into a non-visible part of the model like the bottom of a foot, gun barrel, or connection point and then use a small amount of super glue to attach a clipped piece of paper clip to it. You then suspend the assembly upwards by push the other end of the paper clip into the cork.

Credit: Ourobouros

Step 2: Painting time!

'Eavy Metal Ultramarines Credit: Games Workshop

So here is the ‘Eavy Metal recipe, but this leaves out some important information on how each of these steps are accomplished, which I will attempt to illuminate on.

Author’s Note: I do not 100% copy the colors outlined by ‘Eavy Metal, but as you can see from my pictures they are basically a match. Feel free to use either color scheme, and just focus on my tips for applying progressively lighter edge highlights. You’ll notice that in the above picture steps 4-6 are merely described as “edge highlight” which doesn’t convey the differences in each step.

A. Basecoat Maccrage Blue – The best way to accomplish this is using the GW rattle can. It is going to provide very even coverage, and doesn’t even require a primer. If you want you can go over the bottle with Chaos Black primer and then follow it up with the Blue spray. This is can be useful if you wish to ensure no grey areas are exposed, however it isn’t necessary as long as you are being thorough in how you apply the Macragge Blue.

Credit: Ourobouros

Author’s Note: I tend to finish my bases before I begin the model itself, and use a GW painting handle to prevent paint from being rubbed off.

B. Recess shade with Nuln Oil – I use a GW glaze brush to shade every recess of the model. This can be time consuming, but I find it more efficient than an all-over wash, since you don’t have to go back and brighten all the armor panels.

C. Thick Edge Highlight of Calgar Blue – What does this mean? Basically you’re looking a line of paint less than 1mm wide on all armor panel edges. Perhaps the most important aspect of edge highlighting is maintaining consistent width throughout the model. You may have to go back and use Macragge Blue to tidy up, but be patient because this is perhaps the LONGEST and most important step to this technique.

Credit: Ourobouros

D. Thin Edge Highlight of Fenrisian Grey – Much of a repeat of the previous step but you are covering slightly less of the area than in the previous and the your lines are noticeably thinner, less than half the width the Calgar blue, and covering about 50-75% of the edge area focusing the raised portions.

Credit: Ourobouros

E. Corner Highlight of 50:50 Fenrisian Grey and White Scar – This is a final highlight meant to make the sharpest edges standout and should focus on corners and only the apex of rounded areas such as the knee pads. These might seem to bright, but will become slightly dulled down by the final varnish spray used to protect the finished model.

Credit: Ourobouros Credit: Ourobouros Credit: Ourobouros Credit: Ourobouros

I have only outlined the steps for painting the blue armor in detail, however the techniques used for these portions also apply to the metal, gold, and black areas of the model.

  • Black Portions – Base: Abaddon Black > Edge: Mechanicus Standard Grey > Thin Edge: Administratum Grey
  • Metal Portions – Base: Leadbelcher > Allover Shade: Nuln Oil > Edge: Stormhost Silver
  • Gold Portions – Base: Retributor Armor > Allover Shade: Reikland Fleshshade > Edge: Auric Armor Gold > Thin Edge: Stormhost Silver

Step 3: Final Touches

If you have completed the above 4 main portions of the model, congratulations, you’re in the home stretch. When it comes to the purity seals and bolter optics I merely used the tutorials available on Games Workshop’s Youtube page. For the eye lenses I applied Ceramite White, making sure to keep it out of the recesses, and then used a glaze of which color I wanted them to appear. This method creates excellent results and can be much less frustrating that trying the same method that is used on weapon optics.

For the insignia if you haven’t been blessed with the secrets to applying transfers I will outline it for you here.

  1. Buy Micro Sol and Micro Set
  2. Apply Micro Set to the surface you want to apply the transfer
  3. Apply Transfer to area using water
  4. Apply Micro Sol to the transfer in small amounts letting it dry each time. Each application should see the transfer become noticeably softer and softer until it adheres smoothly to the surface
  5. Let transfer dry fully.

Now for the finishing touch. At this point you’ve likely invested a lot of time into the model, and ensuring it remains protected is the final step. I use both a gloss and matte spray varnish to protect my models, specifically, Model Master’s Gloss and Lusterless sprays. The conditions for varnishing your model should be the same as those you used to undercoat it. Apply a single coat of the gloss varnish first, this will provide a thick coat to help protect your model. It is important to note that this stuff comes on thick with even a quick pass over so don’t over do it. Once it dries you will notice your model looks it just went to through a carwash and wax treatment. Now apply a coat of the Matte/Lusterless Spray. Once it dries decide if you want to dull it down with another coat, BE CAREFUL at this stage not to over do it as you don’t want to dull your model’s brightness to a state below how they looked when you initially painted them.

2nd Edition Flashbacks: Retro Ultramarines by SRM

While you can find some of SRM’s excellent Primaris Ultramarines in his Road to Nova Series, here we focus on a different take on the Ultramarines, heralding back to the bright and bold colors of 2nd Edition!

Retro Ultramarines Credit: SRM

Over a white coat of primer I start with Army Painter Crystal Blue. It’s a bit more saturated than the traditional oldhammer look, but if it’s not dayglo I’m not interested. I’ll use their spray or the bottle paint, depends what’s on hand. I shade the recesses with Drakenhof Nightshade, as I want to preserve the saturation of the blue. The first highlight is Calgar Blue, followed by extreme edge highlights of Fenrisian Grey. These both desaturate it just a little to lessen the eye-bleeding factor. GW has a load of blues and you could likely replace the Army Painter Crystal Blue with Teclis Blue and do just fine. I’ll contradict my usual lazy painting here where I cover my sins in weathering. Keeping things neat and tidy is instrumental to painting in the Oldhammer style.

The yellow is Yriel Yellow shaded with Fuegan Orange with a Flash Jitz Yellow and if you’re feeling frisky, a Dorn Yellow edge highlight. This warms up the scheme a bit and the orange compliments the blue.

Finally I do weapon casings in red. Mephiston Red, a Nuln Oil wash in the recesses, and highlights in Wild Rider Red and Fire Dragon Bright will do it.

Bases are Warboss Green with a Skarsnik Green drybrush. I posted these in the Oldhammer group on Facebook and some grumpy old men got mad that it was too saturated a green, but you do you.

Ultramarine Close-Up Credit: SRM