Dead Simple – A quick zombie painting tutorial

May 3, 2009

The coolest thing about zombies for the wargamer? There are lots, so they look lovely on the table.

The worst thing about zombies for the wargamer? There are lots, which equates to a lot of work.

This tutorial will provide a quick and easy way to paint zombies to a good gaming standard. It leaves the painter room to embellish, too, while being easy enough for even a budding painter to produce fine results. So there’s a bit of something there for everyone. This style of painting is especially useful for some of the cheaper and rougher zombie miniatures on the market, but with a bit more attention works just as well for the classier ones too.

The principle? Zombies – whether you’re painting modern or fantasy models – are just regular people, with the notable exception of being dead. Hence, their clothing and equipment will paint up just like it would on any other model. Where the whole zombie-thing kicks in, is the whole ”dead” part.

For this tutorial I picked one of the Mega Miniatures zombies, a true flower child who has found himself a juicy leg and is now literally one of the Grateful Dead.

Unpainted model

Unpainted model

Step 1: Pick up your favourite zombie model. Or, if you’re just starting on your zombies using a tutorial, one that you don’t really like that much.  Clean the model as usual, and prime it black. We are looking for a finished zombie that’s dark and menacing, and a bit dirty. A black basecoat will help you with that.

Step 1: Basecoat the model black

Step 1: Basecoat the model black

Step 2: Paint the zombie’s clothing and equipment just like you would on any other model. Don’t touch the skin yet. I like to experiment on zombies’ clothing and other details, using different techniques. If something looks awful, you can just slap some blood on it. The mini will be lost amidst your horde, anyway.

Step 2: Paint clothing etc.

Step 2: Paint clothing etc.

Step 3: Paint the skin with the palest skin tone you have. You can go as far as ivory (a yellowish, natural white). Don’t worry about the paint not covering the black basecoat all that well, and don’t paint too thick layers on. In fact, the black basecoat shining through will add to the skin’s blotchy, dead appearance. Doing this also saves you time, which is lovely when you have dozens of zombies lined up for painting.

Step 3: Paint the skin.

Step 3: Paint the skin

Step 4: Give the zombie’s skin a light blue wash, using either a very thinned down blue paint or ink wash (I use GW’s old blue glaze). Don’t overdo it, you want a zombie instead of a blue-skinned alien. You can also experiment with different shades of blue and green for different end results. Make sure the wash ends up all over the skin, especially on places you want to accentuate, such as the eyesockets.

Step 4: Give the skin a light blue wash

Step 4: Give the skin a light blue wash

Step 5: Use a very thinned down black ink (again, I use GW’s) to accentuate some shadows (as in step 4, the eyesockets are important, as are cheekbones) even further and generally ”dirty up” the zombie. The deeper shadows give the zombie a more menacing, gaunt and even deader look. If you want to use the black ink to add some splotches of dirt to the zombie’s clothing, now’s a great time.

Step 5: Use black wash to accentuate shadows

Step 5: Use black wash to accentuate shadows

Step 6: The blood. Yes, there’s always blood. I like my zombies bloody and gruesome, death by undead should never be too pretty. Take some brownish red paint (GW’s Mechrite red for me), and add loving splashes of it on the model. Use your imagination! How did he die? Throat torn out? Paint a lot of blood on the throat and down the front of his shirt. Has he eaten someone? Some blood around the mouth and chin. The zombie carries a weapon, did he defend himself before he died? And so on, you get the point. Again, don’t overdo it. You don’t want to end up with a walking clot of blood. Actually, if you do then feel free to overdo.

Step 6: Add blood

Step 6: Add blood

Step 7: Simple red paint won’t do. It just looks fake and too clean, doesn’t it? Paint liberally over it with dark brown ink (GW, surprisingly). Let the ink overlap the paint’s borders for a more natural and dirty look. You’re gunning for the gross-factor here. Messy, dirty, icky. Let your imagination run free. A lot of blood seeping into the zombie’s clothing? Paint a lot of brown ink on it for a darker overall effect.

Step 7: Paint over the blood with brown ink

Step 7: Paint over the blood with brown ink

Step 8: Dot in some black ink to represent coagulated and dried blood. By now your zombie should look fairly awful, in a good way. I also added some black ink to the eye sockets at this point, since that will make the eyes stand out more.

Step 8: Dot in some black ink

Step 8: Dot in some black ink

Step 9: Paint the eyes. I simply use a drop of very light grey, white’s fine too. Don’t bother with pupils, the full-grey eyes will look creepier and more dead. You can also pick out other detail, such as teeth. For once, don’t stress too much if the eyes end up a bit lopsided. They’re zombies, they don’t mind.

Step 9: Paint the eyes

Step 9: Paint the eyes

Step 10: Base the model to your liking, and you’re done!

Step 10: Base the model

Step 10: Base the model

And next? Just repeat this procedure a hundred times or so, and you’ll have a miniature zombocalypse on your hands. Oh, and if someone actually tries this tutorial out, I’d love to see the results!


  1. Heck of a good tutorial, Mikko. I wish I could paint designs as well as you can. Those flowers are first rate! Alas, my guys end up in a lot of solid colors…

    Nice job on the photography as well. An alarming number of talented painters try to show off their work with muddy, out-of-focus pics that don’t do justice to their work. These are nice and clear an make it easy to follow along with the painting steps.

  2. Thanks for the kind words! The flowers are really simple to paint, just a dot of yellow surrounded by small white stripes for the petals. Oh, and a smaller splash of red/orange on top of the yellow. All there is to it, really!

    I’ve been trying to get the photography right, so it’s nice to hear that the pictures look ok. I’m going with a full professional photo setup comprising of a cardboard box, a printed out blue background and two Ikea desk lamps 😀

  3. Mikko,
    Thanks very much for the tutorial! Well written and photographed…even a zombie could follow it!
    I’m ramping-up to paint a flock of 20mm zombies and was a little perplexed as to how to approach it. Got that problem solved, thank you very much! I never would have thought to use a blue wash on the flesh….looks ghoulish!
    Thanks much,

    • Hi Bob, and thank you for the comment. It’s great to hear that I could be of assistance! Do let me know if you take photos of your work, I’d love to see how they turned out.

  4. Ehm dude, how old are you? You paint like ur having some kind of issue…

    • As said, it’s a quick, simple tutorial. Apparently I’m not the one with issues, but thanks for the input anyway.

  5. […] Chewed Up Shambler from Recreational Conflict is a nice model. I usually give my zombies fast, rough paintjobs and it shows. Here, however, I wanted to try and paint a zombie to the standard that I use on other […]

  6. thanks for the tutorial! im using this technique on my zombie nurses- they look deliciously dead! 😀

    • Comments like this make writing these things worthwhile. I’d be happy to see pictures!

  7. […] as I think he manages to look pretty menacing and corpse-like. He was painted mostly following my general recipe for zombies. Click for a larger […]

  8. […] team took forward was me painting six zombies in pretty much two evenings. I pretty much used my basic zombie recipe, and I think it worked fine here. As usual, flat colours only for the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: