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"Boxing Your Paint" Topic

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Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Jan 2019 6:49 a.m. PST

I got a question about the technique of boxing paint on this project discussion thread TMP link
and thought it might be a relevant discussion here, too.


boxing the paint is a technique for painting large areas whose name comes from using a large box in which to store and mix your paint.

In industrial environments, like the US Navy where I learned the technique, you often have to paint large areas, like, say the sides and superstructure of an ammunition ship. And you want it all haze grey. Despite quality control mechanisms, every can of haze grey paint isn't the same colour.

You can't visually tell the differences up close. But when you apply paint from different cans, or God forbid, different batch runs and look at the ship from a long way off, where you used different paint, you see the contrasts. This effect is called "zebra striping". It is not black and white contrast, but it is obviously visually noticeable.

(You can also see differences in colour when you touch up an area with different paint of the same colour or when you touch it up at a later time after the original paint has aged. To avoid this, you use a technique called "walling" where you repaint an entire area up to a joint or bend in the "wall" (called a bulkhead). This technique is used with intentionally slightly different colours in interior design to emphasize corners and wall to ceiling transition. It's like doing an accent wall, except with a subtle change of colour. This is also useful for wargame buildings to emphasize wall transitions. Paint parallel surfaces with one coulour, then add a teeny bit of light grey or dark grey for the perpendicular ones. But, back to boxing …)

So, to avoid zebra striping when you paint your ship, you "box" your paint. You get a large metal box that will hold ten or so five gallon cans of paint. You put eight cans in in and mix them up. Now you have a composite colour that is the average of all eight cans of slightly different haze grey.

Start at one end of the ship and paint one direction. Don't use multiple teams spread out to get it done faster. Once you use about three cans of paint, the box is about half full. Dump another three cans in and mix. Then keep going. You now have a slightly different colour haze grey, but it is 5/8 match to the old colour. Since these colours are only very subtly different, your eye will not see the transition. Since you are painting progressively, you actually slightly recover the last bit of still wet paint and you mix a transition on the surface. The result is what looks like a constant colour, but really is a subtly transitioning array of colours, with no harsh line borders between them.

But in my case, I was not trying to get the same colour, but different colours. But what I did want was the smooth transition. I didn't want a band of blue green on the bottom, a band of green green in the middle and a band of yellow green on the top.

I started my box (a large container cap) with metallic green mixed with a bit of metallic blue and started painting from underneath. Once I had used a bit up I added some more metallic green and kept going up progressively. Once I got a little over halfway up, I started adding metallic gold to the paint instead. This migrated the colours on the top toward yellow green.

Kropotkin30306 Jan 2019 7:10 a.m. PST

A very good idea. I can see it being useful for me if I am painting large modular boards perhaps with rivers or sea on them. Thanks for the input.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2019 11:39 a.m. PST

I used to lay floor tile professionally. We did the same thing you describe in painting ships. And I've used a technique similar to your in painting large areas of a wargame figure.

But watch out on the blended colors. Start with the lemon yellow underbelly of a thoat and start adding slate gray as you go higher, and you wind up with a green band on your thoat. I'm pretty sure the Warlord would have mentioned that.

Personal logo gamertom Supporting Member of TMP06 Jan 2019 6:59 p.m. PST

I have done this with containers of flocking material as I've discovered no two containers have exactly the same green color. So I buy several containers, mix them all together, and then place them in gallon sized storage bags.

ScoutJock11 Jan 2019 10:54 p.m. PST

I have to do this with some Vallejo Model Air paint. I have two bottles of field drab that are not the same color, one is definitely greener and the other browner. Mixed together they should be fine but they are distinct enough that you can easily tell the difference.

Sir Able Brush16 Jan 2019 5:55 a.m. PST

I like that – helpful idea

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