Painting Tips Part 10

X. A primer on stripes, checks and plaids.

Anytime you try to do things like stripes or tartans on a figure, you put yourself in real danger of going plum nuts trying to do it "just right". There are three things you need to remember.

1) Contrast - it does NO good to put black stripes on a dark green or dark blue background. It really can't be seen very well. So what you have to do is paint the initial blocking color at least one shade or hue lighter than would be considered normal for the tartan pattern in real life.

For example, if the regimental pattern requires a very dark blue base and I'm going to be putting black stripes on it, I'll use a medium blue shade instead. Counting on the black stripes to make the blue look darker while still being able to see the lines.

2) Size - don't put too many lines or too close together. Leave room for all the colors you're using to be seen. For example, I try not to put more than three horizantal stripes of a single color on a tartan pattern.

3) Wet paint - you have to keep your paint well watered down in order for it to flow properly when trying to paint a straight, consistent line. Too dry and it tends to smudge and flatten out. Too wet and while it might be straight, it's too transparent and doesn't define the pattern well enough. This just takes trial and error to figure out what works best for you and the paint you're using.


Only one tool is essential for doing stripe work. A very good quality 000 or smaller red sable pointer. Natural hair only - acrylic brushes simply will not do for this particular job.


The near-horizantal brush: Your standard method for blocking, staining or washing a figure is to use the tip and perhaps the top 1/4 of the brush. So your paint brush is held near vertical to the plane of the figure. When painting stripes you have to hold the brush tip closer to horizantal in order to use more of the brush sides when painting the stripe.

The downward stroke: Any loose piece of fabric like a cloak or a kilt has an attached point (around the neck or the waist) and a loose end that flaps around. When painting a stripe it is essential that you start the brush stroke at the attachment point and smoothly bring the line of paint downward and off the loose end.

It works best if you try to complete a stripe in one fluid motion.

A unit of Jacobite Highlanders (click on thumbnail for full-size image).

A unit of Jacobite Highlanders front
A unit of Jacobite Highlanders back


Cloaks are useful for practicing techniques.

Vertical stripes: Start by putting one stripe right down the middle of the cloak. This defines the center. Then one either side of the center stripe, do a set of stripes, trying to keep them the same distance apart from the center.

Also realize that stripes are going to be wider apart at the bottom of the cloak than the top. Do more sets of stripes until you've reached the outer edges, trying to keep the distance between each stripe the same.

Horizontal stripes: Start at the bottom of the cloak and paint your first line just a little up off the loose edge. The go up a certain distance and do another. Then another, etc. As you near the shoulders of the figure each end of the line should slightly curve up, the curve getting more and more pronouced until you go around the neck.

Checks: Simply do a set of vertical stripes, then horizontal stripes. Which should define the cloak into little 'boxes'. You can leave as be to make a simple tartan or fill-in alternating boxes to make a checked pattern.

Master class: I've found it useful to put in a series of wide stripes done with a 0 or 00 acylic brush. Then go back in with a 00000 red sable and the same color and paint a very narrow line between the wide stripe.


A plaid is a pattern of stripes and lines, sometimes extremely complex. It typically is going to have at least three colors, although simple red / black or white/black plaids are not uncommon, especially in the ancient or medieval period.

Keep in mind what's most important is good contrast between the colors being used. For example, here's how I do a 42nd (Black watch) regiment's 'goverment' tartan on a 15mm Napoleonic highlander:

Two seperate units of the 42nd Highlanders (click on thumbnail for full-size picture).

42nd Highlanders
42nd Highlanders 2

a) Block the kilt in medium blue and stain with dark blue.

b) Using a 00 acrylic brush I paint 1mm wide vertical dark olive stripes down the front of the kilt, trying to keep about 2mm between each dark olive stripe.

c) Using the same brush, I paint three 1mm wide vertical stripes. The top stripe should be just below the waistcoat leaving just a little of the dark blue showing. The bottom stripe should be just above the kilt edge, once again leaving the dark blue showing. The middle stripe should be, well, equal distance between them.

d) Now comes some of the fun stuff. Taking the 00 acrylic brush and some pale olive paint I place a small dab of paint in the intersection of each vertical and horizontal dark olive stripe.

e) Even more fun stuff. Taking a 0000 red sable pointer and some slightly thinned down black paint, I paint a very narrow black line down the center of each vertical and horizontal dark olive stripe.

f) If I was painting the grenadier company, I'd paint a very narrow red stripe over the blue between the dark olive vertical/horizontal stripes BEFORE painting the black overstripe.

Whew. Thats how I do it. You'll need good light, good brushes and slightly thinned down paint. And practice.

At long last my job here is done. Good luck and I hope this helps.


  • Gettin' Good: An introduction, explanation and disclaimer.
  • Part 1: How to get good at painting? A professional's opinion.
  • Part 2: How to get good at painting? Dissenting opinions are heard.
  • Part 3: The selection, care and feeding of brushes.
  • Part 4: Questions and answers from the gentle readers.
  • Part 5: A primer on using stains and washes.
  • Part 6: Ragged Rebs (or painting irregular units in a regular way).
  • Part 7: Painting Ponies I. Just what sort of beast is that, anyway?
  • Part 8: Painting Ponies II. Your basic black, brown and chestnut horses.
  • Part 9: Painting Ponies III. Fancies - whites, greys, duns and finishing touches.
  • Part 10: A primer on stripes, checks and tartan plaids.