WTJ Store Header Section

Painting Predreadnought Warships
A great variety of color schemes was used on warships between 1885 and 1918, but in general these schemes tended to use similar basic colors. Many fleets used bright color schemes for peacetime and more drab color scheme for wartime. Peacetime colors tended to be black, white, light grey and/or ochre. Wartime colors were usually some shade of grey as were most vessels after 1905. Below is a table of the colors we use to paint WTJ fleets, followed by more nationality-specific outlines.

Paint Type Usage
Manufacturer Number Color General Notes
Vallejo 951 White Common lifeboat color
Vallejo 950 Black  
Vallejo 862 Black Grey  
Vallejo 870 Medium Sea Grey  
Vallejo 991 Dark Sea Grey  
Vallejo 992 Neutral Grey  
Vallejo 883 Silver Grey  
Vallejo 913 Yellow Ochre  
Vallejo 967 Olive Green  
Vallejo 866 Grey Green  
Vallejo 821 German Beige  
Vallejo 872 Chocolate Brown  
Vallejo 898 Dark Sea Blue Used to paint sea texturing for bases
Vallejo 540 Matte Medium (primer) Used as undercoat for paint
Vallejo 520 Matte Varnish (sealer) Used to seal painted ship
Vallejo 510 Gloss Varnish (sealer) Used to seal textured base
Vallejo 400 Plastic Putty Used for sea texturing model base
Citadel Colours 61-17 Bleached Bone Good deck color, but discontinued
Vallejo (custom) - Buff & Silver Grey Custom deck color: x2 parts buff, x1 part silver grey
Predreadnought Ship Colors by Nationality
Peacetime: Black hull, funnels and ventilators with white upperworks and turrets. Masts would be black or have black bases and ochre tops. One to three white I.D. bands around upper 1/3 of funnels. Wartime: Neutral grey (992) all over with top 20% of funnel black. Some larger vessels had their mast tops painted black down to a point even with the black funnel bands.
Peacetime: Most ships had white hulls with ochre funnels and a black band around the top 25% of each funnel. Wartime: The Baltic Fleet – including those ships which sailed to Tsushima – had black hulls with ochre funnels and a black band around the top 25% of each funnel.

War time colors used by the Pacific Fleet are still somewhat of a mystery. Several years ago some sources began recommending olive green as the color, and I have seen many model kits over the past few years showing Russian ships painted a bright olive green. I believe this is incorrect for the following reasons: An eyewitness US naval officer named McCulley reported that the Port Arthur squadron began the war painted a very dark cinnamon color (painted over the top of their white/ochre peacetime livery). This was probably meant to be the same black as the Baltic Fleet, but black paint at that time actually used lamp black as a pigment, and lamp black often had a brownish hue when impurities were present (which was often). It is entirely possible - and even likely in light of McCulley's account - that the Port Arthur facility did not have access to a quality stock of high-grade black paint, hence the "cinnamon" hue of the early war paint scheme.

Later in 1904 the upperworks (funnels and superstructure) were painted a lighter color and the rest of the ship painted a medium shade, giving a two-tone color scheme. This actually shows in several photos of the ships sunk at their moorings, and McCulley noted that later in the war, the Russians re-painted their ships to match the "russet" color of the surrounding mountains. This is most likely the olive green color alluded to in more recent articles (the logic being that when you mix black and ochre, you get olive green). However I have run several color matching tests and discovered that when you mix impure lamp black (with the dark brown impurities) you do not get olive green, you get olive drab and a completely different look. By mixing some white into the olive drab, you then get khaki, the "russet" color referred to by McCulley. So my belief is that the two-toned color livery of the late war Port Arthur squadron was probably khaki and olive-drab, both of which can be arrived at by mixing various ratios of impure lamp black, ochre and white.

Given the previous outline, the color I've settled on for the Port Arthur squadron's early war lamp-black scheme is one part chocolate-brown (872) to one part black-grey (862). People who prefer a richer, darker color can use black red (859) instead of chocolate brown. Or you can use a higher proportion of black-grey in the mix – maybe 3:2 – for a slightly darker, grayer appearance.

The colors I've settled on for the two-toned livery for late siege Port Arthur ships are: Two parts olive-green (967), two parts chocolate-brown (872), one part silver-grey (883) and one part neutral grey (992) for the olive-drab hull and one part chocolate brown (872), one part ochre (913), two parts silver grey (883) and two parts medium sea grey (870) for the khaki upperworks. You can use German Beige (821) to avoid mixing altogether, it gives a slightly darker, yellower khaki but it's very close. I use olive-drab all over for the Vladivostok cruisers and khaki all over for the smaller cruisers at Port Arthur.

Port Arthur Squadron - Custom Colors
  Vallejo Paints
SHIP COLOR Chocolate Brown Ochre Olive Green Silver Grey Neutral Grey Med Sea Grey Black Grey
Olive Drab 2 - 2 1 1 - -
Khaki 1 1 - 2 - 1 -
Lamp Black 1 - - - - - 1

Peacetime: Most ships had a black hull with white upperworks (superstructure) and ochre funnels. Some light vessels were seen to have all white hulls and upperworks with ochre funnels. Wartime: No special wartime colors are known.
United States
During peacetime US ships tended to have white hulls with ochre upperworks and funnels. The boundary between the white and ochre was different in different ships, and often passed horizontally across major features, especially gun turrets. So that the top half of a turret might be painted ochre and the bottom half painted white, especially in the lower aft turrets. Gun barrels often painted black. During war time they were painted Medium Sea Grey (870) all over (except maybe lifeboats, which can still be painted white with brown wash on top).
United Kingdom
Peacetime: Black hull with white upperworks and turrets and ochre funnels and masts. Great Britain appears to have adopted overall grey peacetime colors very early (maybe by 1903 or so). The black hull often had a narrow white band just below its upper edge, all the way around the ship. Sometimes (rarely, seen once on HMS Nile) the black was carried up onto the upperworks as high as the edge of the spar deck, making the turrets black instead of white. Ships on tropical station would usually have white hull with white or ochre upperworks and ochre funnels. Wartime: Dark Sea Grey (991) all over (except maybe lifeboats, which can still be painted white with brown wash on top).
Peacetime: Hull is black with upperworks and funnels either silver grey (883) or ochre (913). Boundaries between hull and upperworks colors tended to vary widely, some placed very high on the ship at spar deck edge, and some lower at main deck edge.. Best to find photos of actual ships. Wartime: Unknown, probably a Dark Sea Grey (991) or Medium Sea Grey (870) all over. Some sources quote French ships having a distinctly greenish grey, which is supported by some builder's models still in existence.
Peacetime: In European waters the hull can be one of several possible schemes: Medium Sea Grey hull (870) with Silver Grey upperworks (883), or silver grey all over. Also, Silver Grey hull with White upperworks would be another possibility. Other variations seem to have included white turrets (on the Brandenburgs) and dark grey turret tops on the newer battleships. For tropical service cruisers would have their hulls white with upperworks painted Ochre (913). Unknown how their battleships were painted for tropical service, which would apply only to the Brandenburgs. Wartime: Unknown, probably Silver Grey (883) all over, which is what we use. An extra note on German battleships, aerial photos indicate that their decks were noticeable darker, so a medium brown or tan-earth would probably be more accurate than using the light deck tan typical on other ships.
Peacetime: Typically a Black hull with White or Silver Grey (883) upperworks. The transition between black and white could be along the edge of the main deck, or sometimes down the middle of the amidships bulwarks/casemates. The funnels and masts were commonly painted ochre, and in some cases - such as vessels like Italia or Andrea Doria - the lower half of the funnels would be white and the upper half would be ochre. In vessels with superheavy guns, the gun barrels were sometimes painted black or dark grey. Wartime: Unknown, probably Dark Sea Grey (991) all over.
Peacetime: As with other European fleets, a Black hull with White or Silver Grey (883) upperworks and funnels. Unlike the rest of the upperworks and funnels, the ventilators, gun barrels and masts were commonly painted black like the hull. Turret tops seemed to be dark grey. Wartime: Reported by Jane's as being Sea Green. The best combination for this seems to be a 1:1 mixture of Medium Sea Grey (870) and Grey Green (866), although straight Grey Green also works while giving a greener but darker appearance.
Peacetime: Black hull with white upperworks and ochre funnels. Wartime: Same hull color with the white and ochre painted over with neutral grey (992).

Cleaning and Painting Tips
WTJ Naval miniatures should be cleaned before painting. Rapid prototype models will be shipped to you already having been rinsed once in warm water with liquid detergent. There may be a slight residue of mineral oil (appears as an oily sheen in places) and possibly a few bits of support wax back in the nooks and crannies. But the main part of what you're looking at on your new ship is the bare plastic of the model itself.

It will be best to wash it again with warm water and liquid detergent, using a synthetic brush to help clean the surfaces and flush out the corners. For my own 1/1500 models I actually use a hog bristle brush, but I'm accustomed to handling them and you might want to stick with something a bit softer. Soaking for long periods in the detergent will not usually be necessary, normally a minute or so of brisk swishing in the water accompanied by a thorough wet brushing (brushing the model while still immersed in the warm water) should suffice. If the liquid detergent still doesn't do the job for you, I've also used alcohol, which is a bit stronger and only turns the very outer surface white in places (which detergent also does). In some cases you might have to wash it a second time if you discover some overlooked spots. The important thing is to make sure the model is clean before priming and painting.

Stronger cleaning materials like Bestine solvent work well, but they are somewhat expensive. It should also be noted that in addition to being highly flammable, in some cases, heptane solvents (like Bestine) may weaken medium-sized standing features such as funnels by as much as 20%, although even at 80% strength our 1/2400 scale test pieces withstood at least 16 ounces of side loading force which is still very good (the best was HMS powerful, whose rear funnel pegged the force gage at a 36 ounce side-load without breaking!). Thorough testing has demonstrated that smaller features such as gun barrels and ventilators are not weakened by Bestine and in some cases may experience a 5% gain in resistance to shear forces. So actual effects on the model are somewhat of a tradeoff in exchange for the excellent painting surface offered by the solvent (which BTW, turns the surface of the model almost pure white). Again, the important thing is that the model be thoroughly cleaned before painting.

Once you are ready to primer the model, select a fine, high quality spray primer. Thicker primers will blunt the details of the models. Once you are all finished painting the model, be sure to spray on a final matte sealer in order to prevent loss of paint later-on (due to handling during games, etc.). Our best experience has been with Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Acrylic Coating, which routinely leave good flat seals.

Base and Mounting Tips
Most common base materials are styrene plastic, acrylic, balsa wood and sheet metal. The easiest to work with for smaller scales is .020" sheet styrene, which cuts easily and remains flat during gluing and texturing. Plastic Putty can be applied with an artist's spatula or orangewood stick to give a realistic looking sea-surface texture on the top of the base. Paint the dried putty surface dark sea blue and seal it with a gloss sealer. Use white paint both before or after sealing to add the foaming water at the ship's waterline.

For players who want to add details to their ship castings, masts will usually be one of the first things that come to mind. The fabrication process itself only allows heavier military masts as part of the models, and any lighter pole masts need to be added afterward. The materials and steps required to add masts are fairly simple and requires only a bit of extra time. Below are a few guidelines for adding masts, spars and rigging.

Photos – There were many different mast configurations for ships of various periods, so it is best to have at least one photograph of the ship you want to customize. Other than on-line sources (which are plentiful), the Conway's Fighting Ships series is the best single source of images as well as being a goldmine of information about the ships themselves.

Rods & Wire– The first and most important item to buy will be the rods or wire used for mast building. The heavier bottom part of the pole mast will always depend on ship scale. For 1/3000 scale ships I use .020" wire rod, but for 1/1500 scale ships I predictably use .032" to .04" wire rod. It is important to remember that different ships had different types and weights of masts, so researching ahead of time should help establish what type of wire rod to use for the main pole. For the topmasts and spars I use finer Tie Wire like that used for floral arranging. If the only fine wire you can find is that wound in paper, the paper can easily be stripped away.

Adhesive – The best adhesive to use is a rubber reinforced instant glue, one of the better brands is supplied by Superstition Hobbies. A more widely distributed adhesive that also works well is Loctite brand Superglue Gel, especially in the Control bottle.

Tools – For clipping wire, the best tool to use is a nail clipper because of its ability to shear a clean, flat end on the wire. Using diagonal cut pliers is not as good because of the V-shaped tip it leaves after cutting. Also required will be a pair of wide tweezers for holding the wire pieces in place while the instant glue hardens.

Mast Construction
The first step in mast building is to make sure the ship casting is clean and free of any primer coating. Make sure your mast segments are pre-cut and ready for gluing, and have a small flat of aluminum foil with a bit of SuperGlue squirted onto it. Grasping a mast with your tweezers, dip one end in the glue - enough to leave a small blob of it on the end of the mast - and then quickly but firmly plant the glued mast-end onto the ship's deck. Most rapid prototyped WTJ Naval ships have small holes formed into the hull which will accomodate the most likely mast size for that ship, so the mast can be run through to the interior (at smaller scales the hole may not form completely, but the plastic should be easy to drill). Remember it is always best to test fit things ahead of time. Cast pewter WTJ Naval miniatures usually have small dimples in their decks in order to allow a pool of adhesive to form beneath the mast (the dimples also serve as center-drill points for those who want to drill holes for ultrasolid mast building).

It is usually better to install main vertical masts which are taller than required. The masts can be trimmed to length after the adhesive cures.

Once the main vertical masts are installed and trimmed, the topmasts need to be installed. Using the same general method as above, grasp the pre-cut topmast segments and dip the side of the wire at one end into the SuperGlue. Quickly and gently hold the wire against the existing upper side of the main vertical mast for several seconds. You will need to make sure the topmast is being held vertically and not at an angle to the main vertical mast. Lightly blowing on the bonding area probably helps. Once the glue seems to be taking effect, let go with the tweezers and manually do any quick, last second adjustments that might be necessary. As with the main vertical masts, installing long topmasts and then trimming them to length is usually best. The image above right shows a partially painted battleship Borodino with her main vertical masts and top-masts in place. Note that most top-masts were attached to the front of the main masts. This model does not yet have any spars installed.

Spar Construction
Spars are the cross-beam type structures that rest across the masts. As with the masts, grasp a pre-cut spar segment and dip the middle of it into a tall, slender glob of SuperGlue (the superglue gel is easy to pile up). Then hold the spar against the appropriate position on the mast until it has set. As with the topmasts, you may need to let go of the spar before the glue has fully set in order to make some quick adjustments. If the glue sets firmly with the spar slightly askew, let everything dry completely and then use two pairs of tweezers to trap and bend the spar lengths into position. The glue is so strong that it will usually accommodate such prying. At left is a photo of Borodino's freshly glued topmasts and short spars, not yet painted.

Tips and Hints
Make sure the tip of the wire does not have oil from your hands on it, the contamination may weaken or prevent the adhesive bond - this is the most common reason for a failed bonding attempt. Sometimes you may tack an item in place and then add a heavier layer of glue to strengthen the bond. If a section of mast breaks off of a ship that has already been painted, you may very well be able to glue the mast right back into position. If you primer a model before trying to glue masts into place, the glue will not stick. However, you can use a first round of gluing to pull away the primer, thereby leaving a small spot for the mast to be attached. You may want to use a jig for attaching topmasts by cutting a notch into a piece of heavy balsa wood. By using a block of balsa wood as a kind of bridge over the model, hold the topmast wire against it and then slide the entire setup until the topmast wire is against the main mast. This may allow for a more stable installation of topmasts.