Tuesday, 19 April 2016

6mm vs 10mm and a theory about light

10mm: do they catch the light significantly
better than 6mm?
Regular readers will know I have quite settled (though not unusual) scale preferences. These are 28mm for skirmish, 15mm for small armies especially if they are predominantly infantry (e.g. for games like Crossfire and Irregular Wars) and 10mm or smaller for any mass armies. For at least two future projects (Bloody Big Battles! and Dux Bellorum), however, I have been torn between 6mm and 10mm.

I could say that further light was shed on this dilemma during my recent visit to the Salute 2016 show, but it was rather the lack of light and its effects that struck me. Now, the lighting at Salute is not good, but it it is also probably not untypical of many wargaming clubs. Anyway, in search of the one true scale, I had a particular interest in appraising certain 6mm and 10mm figure ranges.

On the Baccus stall I was struck by the dioramic excellence of Peter Berry's 60mm x 60mm American Civil War bases. I then had a closer look at the painted figures on the stand. Now I know that the Baccus figures are very well detailed, but under these conditions they just seemed 'dark' and silhouetted against their bases.

I then visited the Pendraken stall just around the corner where a unit of French Franco-Prussian War figures were on display.  These did not have a dioramic appeal. To achieve something similar would probably have required an 80mm x 80mm base. But they did not seem dark - they were definitely in full colour.

This was not a controlled scientific experiment, but is it possible that the greater size of 10mm figures, marginal though it may be, makes a crucial difference to reflecting light and thus showing colour?

To be honest, a lot of my own 10mm and even 15mm figures are too dark. When painting future armies I really must make more effort to use lighter/brighter colours.


  1. I am coming around to the conclusion that I need some over bright highlights on the small stuff, that look wrong close up, but right at gaming distances.

    1. I think you could be right - almost a neon effect. The vast majority of wargamers (myself included) are painting figures to be viewed at painting distance, not wargaming distance.

  2. My observation is that the smaller the scale the more extreme the painting to make it look "realistic" on table. So my 15mm painting style is cartoon-like but effective. If I painted 25/28mm figures (which I don't now days) I'd want a more photo realistic effect. The tiny chaps would warrant an even more extreme paint job to be effective.

    And because I don't want to learn those three painting styles I've settled on one scale (15mm) for one-to-one, small armies and massed.

    I'm getting better at my cartoon style but there is no way I could use it on 25/28mm figures.

    1. Thanks, Steven, for that confirmation. I'm currently formulating a new methodology. Can you point me to any relevant online guides for your approach?

  3. There seem to be two schools of thought regarding colouring the little figures. Both acknowledge that they'll be viewed at a greater scale distance than their larger scale comrades in arms.

    The first "realistic" school follows the fact that objects "fade to grey" at greater distances. They suggest using lighter colours to mimic the effect of a quarter or half miles attenuation.

    The other "impressionist" school (of which I claim membership) works on the litle guys needing all the help hey can get to show off their detail. They go for more intense colours, highlights, and lighter veriants on the darker colours.

    My own approach varies depending on the uniform in question. My 6mm napoleonic Russians wear authentically dark green tunics, contrasted by their white leggings, a tiny dash of brass for shako plates and silver for their bayonet points.

    My ordinary dark-age shieldwalls are mainly light browns or linen colours, with the occasional brighter clad individual amid the mass.

    With the small scales, I find that less is more usually applies. I don't paint the cross belts on horse and musket infantry, I limit my irregular formations to two dominant colours, and try to maintain some uniformity in their shield patterns.

    If I'm going to get fancy, I'll typically do it on just one visible aspect of the figure. Headgear is most prominent on Horse and Musket figures, while boots are lost in the mass. For ancients, It's shields, headgear and big weapons that catch the eye.

    Finally cavalry. If you're putting 12 or more horses on a base, it's worth researching distribution of horse colours and their markings. Getting the right mix of chestnut, bay and black, and getting the manes, ankles and face markings right does a lot to bring a unit to life.

    1. Stephen

      This is sage advice which I will ponder. I hadn't really appreciated the possibility of two approaches. I think the impressionist one sounds best and is supported by some previous experience I've had with 10mm and articles I've read about "neon popping" 3mm AFVS.

      As regards horse-and-musket cavalry, I usually do heavy cavalry as blacks and others as bays, but I can appreciate how more variation would lift the appearance of units.