Object Source Lighting

Wh39kBuildings (46)Object Source Lighting, or “OSL,” is the practice where you paint part of a model as if it’s being affected by a light source (most often on the model itself).  Generally speaking, something on the model that would normally emit a light (torches, lamps, plasma weapons, etc.) is and the surrounding area is painted so that it appears to actually be glowing.

There are plenty of tutorials online that can demonstrate how to do this far better than I can, so I’m going to refrain from posting a step-by-step tutorial as to how to create the effect.  Instead, I figured I’d go through a high-level overview of what went into it, what I think went right, and what I’d like to improve upon for future endeavors.

I should first make a disclaimer that this isn’t the first time I’ve attempted this effect.  Years ago, this style took over professional painters everywhere (Coolminiornot has OSL examples as far back as 2002).  I did try back around that time on a few models from my Descent boxed set with very mild success.  I should probably dig them out to take a picture.  Suffice it to say, they don’t look nearly as effective, which I chalk up in part to 10 years of painting, but most likely due to the fact that I didn’t have an airbrush.

Wh39kBuildings (10)So yeah, I haven’t had an airbrush for very long (which is an outright lie–since I’ve had one since not long after high school), but I haven’t really used it much.  I had very little success with anything remotely detailed, and have only used it for basecoating for the most part.  My recent terrain experiment was the first time I really used the airbrush on models.  So, when I had the buildings all painted up, I decided to have a go at OSL.

Part of the reason why I never had much success with the airbrush is that I didn’t really have the right paints.  This summer, Simon wound up buying a set of badger minitaire paints and he liked them so much that I bought them based upon his recommendation alone.  I wanted to paint up the terrain, so that would help, but I really bit off more than I could chew with those paints.  I had so many spare colors laying around, so why not throw in some extra colors on the terrain?

I started off with the blue lights and wound up using three different colors: Dark blue, light blue, and white.  As for technique, I didn’t do anything official, just a quick and dirty spray.  I tried to spray around the light and surrounding areas with the dark blue, and then gradually added smaller amounts of each of the lighter hues.  The white was saved for the center of the light and areas that the light fell directly upon (like a little spot right below the light).

Wh39kBuildings (13)Loading the brush three times for the buildings was a little tedious, so I wound up using blue lights for virtually every building (the only exception being the torches in a couple of buildings, which only got two colors: Orange & Yellow).

For those that are interested, the specific colors I used are as follows (all are Badger Minitaire colors):

Blue Lights:

  1. D6-148 Lagoon Blue
  2. D6-144 Sky Blue
  3. D6-104 Skull White


  1. D6-126 Pumpkin (orange)
  2. D6-122 Craven (yellow)

Wh39kBuildings (14)For the torches, I think I didn’t do a good enough job cleaning the water out of the brush before spraying, and the result was sort of a washed out color.  I really like the effect though, as it reminds me of flickering fire-light.  Sadly, the effect is more prominent on the side that I didn’t take pictures of.

So I know this wasn’t a tutorial, but I wanted to get it out there so that I remember how I did it, as well as how easy it was to do.  Hopefully someone who was on the fence about using this effect can be pushed over the edge and try it.  Trust me, it was really simple to do.

When I tackled this, I’d been using my airbrush for about two weeks total, and the only things I’d painted at all were these buildings.  So it really doesn’t take an exceptionally deft hand.  The whole process, including cleaning of the brush between colors took less than an hour to repeat this effect across all of my 14+ buildings.  It’s a really simple effect that I think helps make the buildings stand out.  Granted, I’m not going to win any golden demons with these pieces, but the extra effect helps make the table top really pop.

For people looking for more information on the subject, I’ve collected a few links you might want to check out:

10 comments on “Object Source Lighting

  1. All the cool kids are using airbrushes these days. Some day I’ll get off my ass and use one.

    Overall I think your effect is great. The light source against the building is spot on. The only area I feel needs work is on the ground. From such a height as the lamps are the light would be very diffused once it reached the ground. The effect would be a wider and duller light. Your current effect is too focused and bright in my opinion.

    Still, a great looking piece for sure.

    • You’re probably right on the ground. I figured it was a pretty intense light, and if it was focused it would shine on the ground like that–but then again if it was that focused, it wouldn’t be spilling out the sides.

      So yeah, you’re definitely right. It should have a wide footprint on the base–perhaps 10′ wide or so, and in my model it’s probably more like a 5′ circle. I guess I could redo it, but I wonder if that wouldn’t make the light an overpowering aspect of the piece?

      On Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 6:42 AM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


      • The effect on the ground would be lighter than what you did on the building side and be more blended. As a result I don’t think it would be overpowering. The source on the building will draw the eye more than on the ground and I don’t see it being too much currently.

      • Too many other projects to do at an incredibly slow and inefficient rate. I’ll chalk it up to a lesson learned and hope to remember it if/when I do more terrain. I do have a glut of spare light posts, so I’ll probably be doing some smaller pieces to include in the future. Maybe I can use the tip there.

        On Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 11:57 AM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


      • Can’t blame you. It’s still a great piece of terrain and I’d never suggest someone redo something anyway. Just a tip for the next time is all.

  2. Nice easy trick for OSL. Before painting it…grab a flash light (or pen light) and shine it where you want the light to be. Take a photo of how it diffuses (or until it gives you the look you want). Then paint to match.

    I’ve seen people do this with acrylic rods and laser pens to get an idea of how a glowing blue sword would diffuse on a model.

    I always find it easier to work from a plan then to do it on the spot! That being said, the three blues are working good, but I do agree they are a bit focused. Also don’t worry about them being all the same. The age of the light might cause one to be a bit darker, another to be brighter (newer). Nothing tends to be uniform in life!

    • That’s a pretty fantastic tip. It sounds terribly obvious, but for some reason I never thought of it.

      It might be a little difficult for light sources on the model (so they’d shine in 360 degrees), but for off model sources, it’d be perfect. Thanks for head’s up!

      On Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 7:05 AM, Warhammer 39,9999 wrote:


      • The only on model one I’ve seen was on faeit 212. Fellow used a green laser pointer, and shined it on the necron acrylic rods. They captured the laser light and exploded in brilliance. I thought it was a pretty neat trick for taking web photos. Hard to convince the judges to let you hold the laser pointer on them!!!

Have something to add?

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 )

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.