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Posted by Terarin


The techniques used to create an artificial sense of light are some of the most visually interesting effects that can be accomplished on a painted miniature. Whether you call it lighting effects, object source lighting, OSL, or reflected light, the end result is the same: faking light. The effect utilizes an artificial light source, whether created on a model or external to it, and paints surrounding areas to give the illusion of light being cast on surfaces. The most common examples in IK miniature painting include fire light from torches, reflected glowing lights from warjack furnaces, and glowing electrical components/coils.


This is not an article for beginners; this is an article for those people who have a grasp on applying paint to a model. This article assumes that you, the reader, have a basic knowledge of miniature painting. This article presents some very basic principles, but references many techniques with no explanation as to what they are. If you know what I’m talking about when I say “washing” or “highlighting” or “feathering” then things will be just fine. If not, I recommend getting some experience with mentioned techniques before continuing on.

This is also not meant to be a physics lesson. Some of the language has been chosen to more effectively get a point across; saying more with less. If you’re a physics teacher, please don’t email me with corrections and diagrams. *laugh*

Direction and Intensity

There are two basic principles to understand when working with light effects: direction and intensity.

Light travels in constant speeds and direct lines. Often we don’t see these direct lines, and instead see the effect of infinite lines going in infinite directions because typical light sources do not focus light.  We often see a forced direction to light when something is used to block light from traveling in given directions. Check a flashlight sometime. The light appears to travel in a beam because much of the light is being blocked by the flashlight housing. This is important for reasons you’ll see later. Needless to say, it will be important to understand how to develop the illusion of direction and path in order to create lighting effects. Light has direction, and if something gets in the path, there will be no light past it.

The other important principle is intensity. Objects “light up” because they reflect light shone on them. The closer an object is to the light source, the brighter, more intense the reflected light is. As an object gets farther away from the light source the reflected light will begin to diffuse, to look faded. Ambient lighting (lighting in the environment) is also an important factor for intensity. Ambient light will “pollute” light from lighting effects, decreasing the intensity. Reducing or removing ambient light will enhance the intensity of reflected light.

Here are real examples of how light is reflected from an object, with examples of direction and intensity. Both use the same lamp with the same blue bulb, at the same distance.

Note in the first picture the direction of the light. The light source is on [our] left of the skull. The light is traveling in a direct line to the right face, and all surfaces in the path are reflecting the light. The surfaces on the opposite side of the light source are not in the path of the light, and therefore remain dark. A really important example of the path the light is taking is with the crater in the forehead. The entire left surface is lit up, and then the crater becomes dark as light is blocked. However, along the right edge, some light does manage to travel past and you see that right edge lit up as well.

The intensity of the light in the first picture is also important. Note that the right face cheekbone and the very edge facing the light appear much brighter. The jawline and edge of the nose, too. Now, take note on the reduced intensity of the light across the forehead, and at the lighted portions of the crater, on our right.

In this second picture, ambient light has been added. You can now see the entire skull. The direction of the blue light hasn’t changed, so you should still see the same lighted and shadowed areas as before. The intensity of the blue light, however, is much less. Take a minute to study the two photos and understand how the light is working here.

Intensity is also changed at the light source itself. A more powerful light source can overpower the light pollution caused by ambient light. More on that later.

OSL in practice

The easiest way for me to explain this further is to work with an example. Here I have a Warder for a Druids of Orboros unit. My goal is to create a sense of light for this model as he draws on power for a Devouring. The model is about 75% complete. There is no right time to add light effects. It can be done at the beginning, before any other part of the model is done, at the end as an afterthought, or anywhere in between.

First off, choose a color for the light; something that when highlighted with white will give the illusion of glowing. P3 Arcane Blue and Necrotite Green work. You can also do this with fire using yellows and reds, but I’m going to stick with Arcane Blue for this.

The next step is to determine a light source and block off the colors for the source. You can see in the photos that I chose the right hand to be the light source, and have only gone in with straight Arcane Blue to cover the area that will be “the light”.

Remember that comment about the flashlight housing blocking the direction of light? Here’s where you get to see the concept start. Only the palm of the hand is painted, and the hand itself with serve to block light from passing “behind” it.

Once you’ve blocked in the light source, imagine lines of light extending out in all directions. You’re going to have to eyeball where the light falls and where the intesity is greatest. Figure out where the light would go, and make sure to identify spots where things will block the light. A hand in between the light source and a shoulder will create a shadow on the shoulder, a bent leg will likely block light to the crotch, one side of the face will be lit and the other won’t be, etc.

Create the light source

Creating the light source is easier than you may think. Simply highlight it like you would anything else. In the case of my Warder, I have taken the Arcane Blue and added in highlights using progressively more Morrow White, to the point that the final highlight is straight white.

It really doesn’t look like much beyond a blue hand.

Low Intensity

Using what you know now about direction and intensity it’s time to start making things glow. We’ll start this Warder with a low intensity glow from his hand. The effect will create the sense of less power.

First, find the path of the light. Using the red direction lines from above I could plot out where light should fall. Next, figure out where to stop the reflected light. To accomplish this, pick a point where the light will effectively become too diffused to see naturally. From the Warder’s hand, it’s probably his shoulder. No artificial light should come past that point.

The painting of the light is really just using thinned down Arcane Blue to create a wash over the surface that is reflecting the light. The edges of the Arcane Blue should be feathered with a damp brush so that there aren’t hard lines.  The wash should cover enough of the surface to alter the color, but should not be so heavy as to obscure the base color beneath.

Care should be taken to not stray past the lines created by the direction of the light, and that things like the thumb should appropriately adjust the direction.

Now here’s the amazing part: that’s it. For a low intensity light, all you need is to map the path of the light color and use a wash to color the surface. Any highlights to the Arcane Blue are unnecessary. However, add a little bit of white to the Arcane Blue and apply a second wash and the light will “pop”.

This particular technique is especially useful when you want to extend the glow from a furnace, or add a glow to eyes.

High Intensity

A high intensity light requires a bit more planning. Again, figure out the path for the light to travel. If I step up the intensity on my Warder, it should follow more of the red lines from before and go all the way out to the weapon in the left hand.

The next step, after planning, will be to block in the light color. This will be taking the base Arcane Blue and applying it to all the surfaces that light will reflect from. Take a look at the Warder below. Arcane Blue was painted on quite liberally. Care was taken to maintain the proper paths, and to be cognizant of places where light will be blocked. Note how the light stops at points along the right shoulder pad, the face, the legs, and the arms.

When applying this base coat there are two ways to finish the “edges” of the light color. For edges where the light will naturally diffuse, like one the left arm of my Warder, I recommend feathering the edges of the paint to give it a smoother transition back to the normal base color. This will break up hard edges and will create a translucent edge that will give the illusion of fading/diffusing light. However, for edges created by shadow (light being blocked), like on the right side of the torso of the Warder, sharper edges between the base color and the light color are appropriate.

The next step is the simple part: highlight. Start mixing in white to the Arcane Blue and build highlights as normal over the blue base coat. The important trick here is that every single highlight must be aimed towards the light source. If you highlight opposite of the light source you will destroy the illusion of reflected light. Also, the brighter points of the highlights are going to be pointed directly towards the light source, and the brightest highlights will be closer to the light source. An example can be seen below as the highlights on the shoulder edges are brighter than the highlights on the left arm.

Use progressive layers of highlights, mixing in a little more white each time. Three or four is often enough. Never build the highlight up to straight white; that should be reserved for the light source only.

Here is the [mostly] finished Warder. I have finished the base, and extended the blue light to the ground using the same principles as before.

This Warder is an example of how a very powerful light source has overpowered the light pollution caused by ambient light. Reference back to the skull examples above and see how faint the light actually is. This much intensity would be appropriate if the model was in the dark, and the non lighted areas were all black… or… it is appropriate if the light source has a great deal of power.

Other Examples

The following are other examples of high and low intensity reflected light using P3 Arcane Blue.

The first is Eiryss the Mage Hunter. For this example I have both her sword and the tip of the crossbow bolt glowing. Study the pictures and you’ll notice that the bolt tip glows out along the front edge of the bow arm, and a little bit touches the cloak.

The second example is Krueger the Stormwrath. I have created the light source [again] in his palm, and created a low intensity glow that hits his upper torso and face. Others have remarked that the cloak should have some light reflected, but the cloak is noticeably behind him, so any reflected light would be unnatural.

The final example is a high intensity Woldwarden. You can see how the main Arcane Blue color was blocked out and then highlighted up. Note things like the left shin, where the right knee ends up blocking the path of the light.


I strongly recommend taking some time to look around at the world and watch how light is cast onto objects. Direction and intensity. Those are the two things to remember about painting reflected light. It’s easy to fake, but with a critical eye it can be even easier to create effects that are natural and realistic.

Good luck and good painting!