Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Color Are Ultramarines?

When I started my 40K army, I painted my troops with a black undercoat, a Mordian Blue base coat, and a heavy wash of Badab Black. I finished them off  by painting the highlights with Ultramarines Blue. At first I tried to replicate GW's method for painting highlights, but I soon switched to a dry brushing technique when I found that I wasn't very good with producing consistent fine lines. Dry brushing with Ultramarines Blue had the added benefit of lightening the models, which I still tend to wash a little too heavily. The final color of the models could be described as more or less cobalt blue.

My first Tactical Squad
Base Coat: Mordian Blue, Wash: Badab Black, Highlights: Ultramarines Blue

Cobalt Blue

I wanted my vehicles to look a little lighter than my troops, so I painted an Ultramarines Blue base coat over a blue undercoat. I washed the models with Badab Black and then dry brushed Ultramarines Blue over the wash to bring out the highlights and lighten the overall paint scheme.

My Third Vehicle
Base Coat: Ultramarines Blue, Wash: Badab Black, Highlights: Ultramarines Blue

By the time I had started working on Drop Pods, GW had introduced their new paint line. Since Altdorf Guard Blue was the official replacement for Ultramarines Blue, and since my early tests suggested that they were close, I tried to replicate my original technique using the new paints. While the Altdorf Guard Blue looked fine over the blue undercoat and Nuln Oil was a perfect replacement for Badab Black, to my horror I found that Altdorf Guard Blue wasn't remotely like Ultramarines Blue when I reached the dry brushing phase. Fortunately I was able to save the project by resuscitating the dregs of my bottle of Ultramarines Blue.

My Drop Pods
Base Coat: Altdorf Guard Blue, Wash: Nuln Oil, Highlights: Ultramarines Blue

I've since started on an Ironclad Dreadnought. I treat Dreadnoughts like troops rather than vehicles, so I started by base coating with Mordian Blue. (I bought two bottles before the color was discontinued.) Since I no longer have Ultramarines Blue, I decided to use Macragge Blue for dry brushing over the Nuln Oil wash. (Macragge Blue is supposed to be the replacement for Mordian Blue and is GW's recommended base coat color for Ultramarines, but nearly all modelers say it's closer to Ultramarines Blue.) As I started dry brushing, I noticed something peculiar; Macragge Blue had added a slight purple tinge to the model.

All of a sudden, something I'd only vaguely noticed before became obvious: GW has pushed the paint scheme of the Ultramarines (i.e., their flagship army) towards a more violet color. It's very apparent in their image for the one-click Stormraven/Dreadnought/Tactical Squad package:

Two of these things are not like the others.

The obsessive-compulsive in me wants to scream

The Tactical Squad models have been used in promotional material for years. However, those particular Stormraven and Dreadnought models are relatively new and were presumably painted with the currently recommended colors. The end results are models whose color is between blue and violet. An Ultramarines Predator model on page 70 of the 6th Edition Rulebook also seems to have a violet hue compared to the surrounding vehicles.

After a quick search on the Internet, I found that Ultramarines models painted as GW now recommends all come out slightly purplish:

Artists' webpages here and here

Oddly enough, the shift towards a violet blue color makes the Ultramarines' armor and vehicles literally ultramarine blue. Apparently, ultramarine blue is a pigment produced by crushing (usually synthetic) lapis lazuli. The resulting color isn't anything like the 4th or 5th Edition Ultramarines colors we're used to but more like those that we've been seeing since the release of the new paint line:

GW's Mordian Blue and Ultramarines Blue

Ultramarine Blue and Violet Blue

So what colors should we Ultramarine players use on our models? Do we try to recreate our previous color schemes or do we embrace the new, official scheme?

While I still intend to use Mordian Blue as a base coat for my troops and Dreadnoughts, I don't really have a replacement for Ultramarines Blue. The fact that I'm still using Mordian Blue means that my models aren't quite as purple tinted as the models above. In fact, the difference between the dry brushed Ultramarines Blue and Macragge blue is subtle enough that I couldn't see it in photographs comparing my Black Reach Dreadnought to the in-process Ironclad. The difference is obvious enough to my unaided eye, though.

Additionally, I just don't have enough Mordian Blue to base coat all of my vehicles; I expect its replacement with Macragge Blue will give the models a definite purplish tinge. I've considered experimenting with other colors, but I have the feeling that I won't end up any happier with the results since it's unlikely that I'll ever be able to perfectly match the models I've already finished. From a practical standpoint, it would just be easier to accept the Ultramarines' new color.

The biggest problem for those of us with an obsessive-compulsive streak is trying to replicate the look of the "real" Space Marines. A glance through the model showcase of the 5th Edition C:SM shows that GW itself hasn't been consistent in its colors. While there are plenty of artists' depictions of cobalt blue Ultramarines, I've since found several of Ultramarines with actual ultramarine-colored armor:

Our choices are therefore to assume that the Ultramarines paint their armor and vehicles with a wide variety of blue pigments that range from a light azure blue to a dark violet blue, or that they have used a consistent color for the past 10,000 years and any deviations are artistic license.

I think it can be argued that a Chapter's color scheme could vary with era, company, available pigments, and even the solar spectrum of whatever world the Marines find themselves fighting on. There's precedence for something like this in the significant variety found between individual suits of armor and vehicles, which even extends to the use of multiple styles of the Ultramarines' inverted omega. If even the look of the Chapter's logo is allowed to change, then it would make sense to assume that the color of their armor and vehicles would also be allowed a reasonable degree of variation.

For that reason, I'm willing to paint future models in the new Ultramarines color scheme rather than to try to maintain consistency. I may even try a few different shades of blue just to further diversify the models. After all, what are Space Marines of the 41st Millennium but mere shadows of the Space Marine legions of 10,000 years before? Although still fearsome, the remaining Angels of Death have been reduced to nursing their ancient weapons and equipment along in a desperate fight against mankind's inevitable extinction. Trying to maintain a uniform paint scheme is probably low on the list of priorities when you're having to cannibalize 5,000 year old equipment to keep your 1,000 year old equipment functioning.


  1. I ran into this same thing with my army. I used to basecoat my red colors with Mechrite Red which I loved. GW's recommended replacement was Mephiston Red which I tried and it was terrible. It was much much brighter and did not work at all. I later found that Khorne Red was much a much better fit. It was dark just like I needed, but it still had a slightly different tint. Just like your blue it had more of a purple tint to it. At first I didn't like it, but now that I look back at my old models I decided that I really prefer the new Khorne Red.
    Nice article by the way!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I love the variety and the number of options in GW's new paint line, but it was rough when I found that they had changed my army's dominant color.

      I think I can live with Macragge Blue. I just hope that, like you, I end up preferring it.

  2. BLUE!!!
    I can't tell you how many times I would see Ultramarine players using the old Enchanted Blue for their colours and it would drive me nuts. I was, after all, a painter of the darker Ultramarine-highlight version myself. But then I came to realize that maybe the planet they're fighting on has a red sun and that throws off the scheme. Maybe my planet has a blue sun and that makes the visuals seem different. Maybe the atmosphere has a higher nitrogen content and so give everything a green-ish tint. It turned into 'fun with visuals' for awhile.
    Moral of the story- BLUE! As long as you slap some good blue on and the models look good (which yours certainly do), it's all good. :-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...