Painting Zone Mortalis Tiles

Full set of tiles finished.

Painting a gaming table is always an intimidating prospect. We're used to painting little 28mm people, although the game boards are at the same scale, they're a different magnitude of project!

I'd already taken on a couple of game board painting commissions this year (one for the old Citadel Realm of Battle boards and another for the Sector Imperialis boards). It was time to do a project for myself.

I've been planning a Necromunda campaign with some buddies for a few months. A project to keep everyone occupied during Covid and to look forward to once things ease up, so what better project to work on than Zone Mortalis!? And if I'm going to all the effort of a Zone Mortalis set, I might as well up my game to make a full size gaming table (See Uncle Atom's wisdom in this regard here) or as my old manager would put it - go big or go home - I think he was being rhetorical but I never tested it by actually going home.

After years of being a GW addict, I've learnt the hard way that terrain is always limited edition. I am not entirely sure why this is but I suspect they don't sell nearly as well as regular models and rotation is the only way to make it worthwhile. I knew I had to get all the items in one go, sadly it seems I was right to do so as this line seems to have been stopped already.

I am actually not a big fan of the 2D style of play that ZM tends to encourage so I opted to supplement my tiles with a lot of platforms etc from 3 sets of the Dark Uprising set. (This doesn't seem to be nearly enough though having laid it out!)

Industrial aesthetics is not something I had really worked with. In the past I'd just spray everything with a metal spray, wash it and call it done. This time I wanted something with a little more life. I knew weathering powders would help but that was only going to be part of the solution. After some searching online I found a few handy tutorials but then a few days into my planning GW themselves gave me a helping hand with a tailor made tutorial:

The only problem was that the product was a little basic for what I wanted to be a really stand out gaming board. Still it provided a starting point so let's get cracking!

Unprimed tiles laid out ready to go.

As you can see a 6'x4' table is made up of a LOT of tiles, although this makes for a daunting task, it also gives a ton of options and variety for the finished thing. Terrain tends to get hacked about a fair amount and for that reason I much prefer to prime them with more aggressive rattlecan primers that will give a better bond with the plastic. From there I actually worked on the tile highlights rather than the metal edging as done in the GW tutorial. I used Stynlrez Grey primer for this as I have a decent sized pot which wasn't getting used for anything else.

One of my issues with the GW tutorial is that the hazard stripes are glossed over, yet this is possibly the most striking element of the finished tiles - as well as something I know from past experience to be a real challenge. I wanted the metal to show over the hazard markings so I pushed this stage back to later in the process. There are positives and negatives to this but generally I think it was the right thing to do as it helped unify the overall look of the tiles. Stencils are tricky, slow and cumbersome to apply. They are prone to seeping paint which can ruin the effect but you won't know until after the whole process is finished.

Basecoated tiles, masked for hazard stripes

After masking the area but before masking the stripes, I sprayed a thinned black ink to darken the black of the stripes slightly more than the surrounding tiles but still give them a similar look. I strongly recommend getting masking tape of the correct width to begin with - generally the stripes I used are 1/4" although one square was done with 1/8" stripes. I actually didn't have access to precut masking tape and ended up cutting it all myself with limited success. It is very important that all the stripes are perfectly even - the human eye is very good at pattern recognition and any unevenness or crookedness will be spotted easily. Use a couple of small pieces of tape to space the stripes evenly. 

Example of narrower stripes.

To really get vibrancy in the yellow stripes I did a three stage process - Putting yellow straight over black will give a green tinge to the colour so first a layer of brown was airbrushed down (I used a cheap craft paint, with terrain I do for myself I will generally use cheap paints as they work almost as well at a much much lower price point). Next I did a similar tile spot highlight but with white ink, this gives a very bright base for the yellow to help it pop. The final stage is to apply the yellow itself - I used a Yellow Ink.
Unlike with the source guide, I painted the metal after the hazard stripes. To me, this seemed more realistic and easier to achieve than painstakingly marking each square off to give the same effect. One of the things about terrain is that often the impression of something is more important than precision. Not true for hazard stripes but where the metal edging is soft, washes and weathering will obscure most of that. The metal was a simple, loosely applied Vallejo Metal Colour - Steel along the lines and over the gratings. It looks rough at this stage but smooths out with future applications.

Selection of tiles with Hazard stripes

Getting the letters done proved surprisingly difficult... because I really struggled to find stencils of the right size. Eventually one of my local hardware stores did have stencils that I wanted and I was able to get them done. I intentionally went with large letters here. These aren't health and safety warnings for the denizens of the underhive but rather area designations to assist the authorities hunt down their targets. I used 1" and 2" letters that I pre-assembled with masking tape to hold them together and then taped to the board. The white is Windsor & Netwon Artist Acrylic - Titanium White sponged over the stencil. Sadly because the stencils are cardboard - taping them together rendered them difficult to reuse in any other combination however I think it was worth it for the effect they produced.

Stenciled Letters sponged on

The next step is to lay down a wash. I was using a house blend of water, dish soap and craft paints which is my go to cocktail for terrain. I created three different washes - green, brown and black. The process was pretty straight forward - slather on black, then while it's still wet, splotch on greens and browns selectively to mix in and shade. I saw a little whiting from over stretching the medium in some places but that will be fixed with later stages in any case.

Starting to look a little more lived in.

Final paint application stage before weathering pigments is rusting. I start with a red-brown and sponge it on fairly liberally, focusing on the areas where rust would be likely to accumulate. Each time the sponge was low on paint so it created a very disperse, faint speckling - I'd apply it to middle of some panels to reproduce pitting in the metal plates. This is a great point to mask more grievous mistakes in the washes or other stages (masking bleed for example) - just target those spots along with everything else. With the brown done, I repeat the process with a really vibrant orange - orange gives a 'fresh rust' vibe so you want to be cautious with how much you apply. This is particularly true for game boards as you don't want vibrant tones to distract from the models on the boards. Lastly a light drybrush of Necron Compound over some parts of the board. I often focused on the gratings but also a few streaks elsewhere.

Yeah, that really is a skate ramp.

It's that time - Weathering pigments!!! I used three colours with a dry application for a quick and dirty effect. I have Secret Weapon Miniatures pigments and used Green Earth for the bulk of the surfaces with touches of Terracotta and Dark Earth for some tonal variation. I'd tap out the pigment onto select areas as lightly as possible and then with a soft brush in circular motions just dust it around the board. A little goes a VERY long way in this process so be light with the pigment.

And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain...

A coat of matt varnish and it's done!

- Raggy, signing out