Painting Drone Lenses: step by step

Finished Drone lensesWe saw a picture of David “AdvanceOp” Capon’s Concord subverter drone up on Facebook. What caught our eye were the lenses – for he gave a quick overview of how he quickly achieved a realistic effect and it seemed quite straightforwrd.  So we asked him to explain how he did it and he gave us this…

David: Immediately after I was asked if I could write up an article based on a quick description and picture on the FB group, I was honoured. Hot on the heels of that though came another thought: wait… how did I paint those lenses? I usually I jump on the web and look for someone else’s tutorial! So a big shout out to Georg at This Way Madness Lays as he’s always been a big source of inspiration and encouraged me to post my blog article to the Antares Facebook group.

I only use two colours and a wash to paint my lenses. All reference numbers are Vallejo paints.

  • Electric Blue (72.023)
  • Dead White (72.001)
  • Blue wash (73.207)

As lenses tend to be small, I use a highlighting brush (Army Painter) for all steps.

Living “Down Under” certainly helps with the drying time, and at the time of writing this article the ambient temperature was 30 C, so I didn’t have to wait long between steps!

Some general painting advice

Make sure you keep your paints thin. It’s better to put down 2-3 layers than try to do it in one go. In my case, it took 3 layers to get a solid first colour over white. I’ve read the consistency should be like milk, but never really quite understood what that means. Essentially you want good flow, but not so watered down it runs all over the model. I highly recommend testing for flow on something that is not your model.

Neatness is also important. This is a good time to clean up any over-paint. It doesn’t have to be perfect (as my photo’s will show!) just make sure the paint in mostly on the surfaces it’s supposed to be on.

Step 1: Basecoat

My Concord army is white, but all weapons and visual arrays on my drones are black. As machines I see these as being efficient modular designs, so I try to keep them consistent across the whole force. Black is very forgiving in terms of painting neatness, white is not.

A simple base coat of white

Step 2: First colour

For my lenses I start with the colour I intend the lens to be, everything else will be a shade of that base colour. For my drones I use Electric Blue. This works well on both Black and white as a background, allowing me to be consistent throughout the army.

base colour

Step 3: The Wash

Apply your blue wash. Make sure it covers the whole lens. This will be the dark base for the lens. This is also the last chance to do any tidy up on the surrounding area. On black it’s less an issue, you’ll not see any over flow of wash. The white is a different story. If you can try to pool a little more wash where the darker part of the lens will be, but this isn’t critical.

Lens wash

Step 4: Base colour

From here on you need to be mindful of light source. I usually come at this from a 45 degree angle, top left to bottom right. The top left will be darker, getting lighter to the original colour mid-lens through to white at the bottom right. The direction doesn’t matter, you could go top to bottom, as long as you are consistent across the whole model.

Grab your Electric Blue and dry brush from the bottom right corner (remember, this is the lighter end of the lens) through to about three quarters of the way across the lens. For these drones I also pick up the edges of their mounted surface. This creates a little illusion of reflected light off the black/white surface.  Note when dry brushing, don’t thin your paint. I take the paint straight from the pot, then wipe most of it off.

Base Lens Colour

Step 5: First highlight

Mix 75% Electric Blue with 25% Dead White. While that sounds quite precise it’s more like blob of electric blue and add a touch of white to lighten it up. Paint (not dry brush) half of the lens going over where you previously dry brushed the base colour.  Don’t paint right up to the edge of the lens, leave a thin line of blue around the edge.

First Lens Highlight
First highlight

Step 6: Second  highlight

Mix 25% Electric Blue with 75% Dead White. Basically the opposite proportions to the previous step. This is going to create a white tinged with blue colour. Paint about a third of the lens.

second lens highlight
Second lens highlight – building up the reflections

Step 7: Final highlight

This final highlight is straight Dead White. Keep the paint thin and add a line in the last corner of the lens. For the three smaller ones this basically a dot on each.
white, final lens highlght

Step 8: Final Cleanup

This is the last chance to assess the colour distribution. You want that dark blue graduated thorough Electric Blue to white. If your happy with it, move on the next step. I wasn’t satisfied with the darkness in the top left. Knowing the next step is to add a dot of white, I wanted it darker , so added a little bit of wash back over the top left corner

Final cleanup 1 Final cleanup 2

Step 9: The finishing touch

Add a dot of pure white in the area opposite to the white highlight added in step 7. If you want to know precisely where this dot should be I find looking at the wet paint under light it will shine and reveal to you where the dot should be. This can be challenging when the temperature is 30 degrees! Steps 2 and 3 are usually the best times for this as you are painting the whole lens.

Don’t sweat it if your dots are different sizes, or not perfectly round. You really won’t notice these small imperfections unless you are within 6″ of the model, or taking photo’s that make the model many times larger than its actual size.

The finished lenses – large and small

There we have it. I finish with a final coat of gloss once the whole model is complete, based, and varnished. The gloss creates a natural shine and adds a little depth to the lens. However, that’s completely optional. This drone has a lot more work to do and I thought you guys might like this tutorial before Christmas.


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