True Metallics vs Non-Metallic Metals

True Metal Metallics vs Non Metal Metallics

By Meg Maples

For those who have taken painting classes with me, you know my feelings on Non-Metallic Metal (NMM) techniques but I wanted to have a wider discussion and I actually hope this article helps influence others because I would like to see some change in how people look at and think about metal painting techniques.

First, lets define each technique:

NMM or Non Metallic Metal is the technique where you use flat, non-metallic paints to create a metallic looking shine. This is done by using really bright highlights and really dark shading, the high contrast between light versus dark is what gives something the appearance of being reflective.

TMM or True Metallic Metal is where you use paint with mica flake in it, which is already shiny and reflective. The mica flake is suspended in the medium and the mica flake overlap in subsequent layers when painted on creating a solid shiny surface. You then use non-metallic paints for shading to kill some of the shine of the paint, add contrast and create artificial shadows. You highlight with successively brighter metal paints.

My thoughts on NMM . . .

So, when I teach my classes, inevitably I get asked to go over NMM. I can paint the technique but I don't enjoy it because it takes me so much longer than TMM. I will recommend painting tutorials and DVDs other painters have produced that cover NMM though. Check out any of the Painting Buddha videos and Marike's DVD produced by Dark Sword Miniatures is also a great one if you want to learn how to paint NMM. I am just not your girl when it comes to teaching the technique.There are so many other people out there who are better at it than I am, so I'd rather recommend them.

There is a widely held belief that NMM is superior as a technique to TMM. This is a perception I would like to challenge. Both techniques are equally challenging and there is nothing wrong with doing either technique as long as it is painted properly. I prefer TMM because I find it easier to paint a reflective surface as a reflective surface. NMM takes me ages longer, it tends to always look more cartoony when I paint it and I am currently trying to embrace a more European paint style in my own painting; a style that is a bit more gritty and that seems to suit TMM.

Example of NMM. This was the last time I painted the technique. The piece took a Best of Show at ReaperCon 2010. 

Example of True Metallic Metal paint this year, took 2nd place in GenCon Large Figure 2014. 

Example of True Metallic Metal paint this year, took 2nd place in GenCon Large Figure 2014. 

One of the reasons I'm not a huge fan of NMM is because it is a technique developed for 2D art such as paintings, looking at the Classical Era of painting and The Masters, all of their metal is painted with non-reflective paint. They are the original proponents of NMM.

Miniatures are 3D so I never quite understood the reason for using a 2D technique on a 3D subject. It just doesn't make sense to me. Beyond that, most painters don't push their contrast far enough in order to make something look shiny or reflective. It ends up looking like ceramic or a brushed satin finish on metal, instead of a reflective metal and it tends to only look good from a few limited angles.

Most NMM is also devoid of a horizon line unless you are looking at an example of what is called Sky-Earth NMM, then that specifically has a horizon line painted in with the sky being blue and the earth being brown usually. The horizon line is important if you are trying to convey something is incredibly highly reflective like a chrome surface. However, one of the issues with the way SENMM is taught and painted is even if it reflects a horizon line, when I've seen it painted on models, the technique doesn't include what the model's surroundings would look like or what other individuals may be around the model.

To explain my meaning let's look at some works by Julie Bell which are fantastic examples of NMM. She is a 2D artist, married to Boris Vallejo (whom we all know I'm sure). She is a body builder and painter and her painting reflects her interests. She is fantastic at painting skintones and metal.


Colossus here is an example of SENMM. You can clearly see the horizon line on his silver metallic body, blue for sky and brown for earth. And we can also see that he is in an environment where there are mountains and it is very rocky. He doesn't seem to be battling an enemy, just his surroundings as if he's been trapped and is busting his way out. If he were battling a foe that was out of the picture's range, you should see a reflection of his foe somewhere on him since he is so highly reflective. Like a mirror with contours. 

Let's go to the next image of Julie Bell's to explain that last sentence. 

This lady is riding a mechanical shark (something I never thought I'd write . . .) and you can see the reflection of the sea on the underside of the shark and a reflection of the woman on the top side of the shark. This is something missing from most SENMM pieces. Usually you just see the horizon line but otherwise there is nothing else about where the model is located such as an enemy combatant or the image of a camp or the opposing army. Instead, they appear to just be sitting in an empty field with no one else around. Or at least, that is what is conveyed when you just have the horizon line but nothing else of the surroundings painted in. I guess I just would expect to see more painted into the scene that may be reflected by a Warjack's armor. That could just be me. 


Painted by dims on CMoN

This example pulled from Cool Mini or Not uses SENMM. It is a good example showing the sky, horizon line and then dark reflection of the earth. Taking a closer look though, with the information that is painted on the armor, this guy seems to be sitting in a valley somewhere, by himself. There is no reflection of his comrades or an opposing force. Considering the miniatures most of us paint are depicted as being ready for battle, I would expect to see more information in the reflection. This is something I'd like to see change with the way SENMM is treated and painted. Include more information in the reflection and you can end up telling one hell of a story!

Most painters don't paint SENMM though. They just paint a NMM effect on their models and as I said earlier, it tends to look a bit ceramic, the contrast isn't pushed high enough. This is a good example of what most NMM looks like when I've seen it painted on models. It looks cool, cartoony and graphic in style but it doesn't look like metal, not really. 

Jeff Bowden 2009 Chicago Slayer Sword Winner

The model above looks pretty cool but the metal doesn't look really super shiny. The shadows need to be much darker and the highlights need to go up to a pure white in more areas on the model. I would like to see a bit more work done on the metal surfaces including using more cool colors in the shading process to up the contrast even more. 

One of my favorite NMM pieces I've seen is from Tommie Soule, He got the equation right but it also took him over 100 hours to paint the pieces (see what I mean about it being time consuming?). 


Flower Knight by Kingdom Death as painted by Tommie Soule of Golem Painting Studio

This Flower Knight is amazing! Tommie got everything right about painting this technique including areas on the sword reflecting the color of the ground and the color of the sky, reflections of the vine wrapped around it and the highly reflective points all over the armor defining the contours even more. It actually looks metallic and it looks correct from all angles. If you want to paint NMM and get it right, this should be the model you have up as your reference when you are painting. And to paint it well it does take a lot of time and you have to make sure your blends are as smooth as possible. 

You can see the level of contrast Tommie was able to get in this piece too. Just looking at the feathers on the side of the helmet you can see the darkest areas go down to black it looks like and the highest points look to be pure white. It's that level of contrast and placement of the light versus the dark points that make something look reflective. 


Now moving on to TMM . . .

In order to paint TMM well you still need to apply all the same theory as NMM, you need to paint in shadows with non-metallic paint but you highlight with metallic paint and you don't have to worry about blends being as flawless as in NMM. Why? Well, you do for the shading process. The smoother those blends are the better but when you are highlighting you have a bit more freedom as the paint is reflective and that quality tends to be more forgiving in regards to highlight blends. 

If you are new to the technique it still takes a lot of time to learn. Shading can be tricky to get just right and knowing where to place your highlights and shadows can also be tough but my "shortcut" for this is to use your lamp to see where the light falls on the model once the basecoat is applied. Keep checking your progress under your lamp to make sure they are still in the correct areas. 

Most people I've taught TMM to usually only wash the metallic surfaces of a model or try to shade using darker metallics but, as Allan Carrasco taught me when I sat down to learn TMM from him, "You don't want shiny shadows!" And he's right. If you are wearing a metal ring take it off and stick it under a bright lamp. What makes it look so reflective? Do you see nearly black shadows and bright white hotspots? That is what you should see, you may just need to look really close and concentrate to see this. We usually take what we "know" for granted and we all know what metal is supposed to look like. It's harder when you are trying to paint the effect though. 

Here's a fantastic example on what TMM should look like when done well. It's dark shadows, bright highlights and you can see that it isn't completely smooth. It's okay to have a little bit of rough paint to make it look more interesting and worn.

Again, I find TMM to be much easier to paint because you can see how the paint reflects on the surface it's painted on. That way you know where place the highlights and shadows and it looks more realistic to me. You also have a lot of freedom with TMM but I find most people box themselves into a neat little corner and only paint silver and gold. You can use inks to tint your metallics any color you want. I've created green, teal, purple, pink, and blue armors by using inks and silver or gold metallic paints. And you can also layer inks and paint over a metallic surface to make something look enameled. 

There is no "right" or "superior" technique though. In order to get them right, both take time and practice. I, personally, would like to see painters, specifically in the US circle, get away from the idea that NMM is the better or more superior technique. I want to see all paint styles embraced and I'd like to see people feel comfortable using the technique they want to use. Instead of feeling like they "must" learn one technique over the other because it will win them competitions. Be true to you, your style and your preferences.