Afrika Korps Panzer Painting Guide

Bryan’s Step by step painting guide

Welcome to another step by step painting guide, this time for German panzers of the Afrika Korps in the Second World War. I’ll be trying to recreate the iconic desert tanks for the gaming tabletop, not a scale model for display. This guide employs basic techniques using acrylic paints with no airbrush required. I will be using some enamel washes and weathering pigments towards the end which may not be familiar to you, but I hopefully explain things well enough for you to give it a try, they are a lot of fun! I am using a 1:48 scale resin vehicle but these techniques will work across almost all scales. You could also use this tutorial on your Afrika Korps soft skinned vehicles as they were painted mostly the same colours.

Step 1 - Coloured shaded Primer

To keep things straightforward and accessible I am not using an airbrush, although we don’t want to paint the tanks hull with a brush either as this take a very long time and it’s hard to get an even coat. For this job I make use of coloured spray primers by Army Painter to lay down a primer and base coat in one hit. First, give the entire model an even coat in the Desert Yellow spray, I find it’s good to spray the model on the top and sides, let it dry and then flip it over to spray the bottom and any places I missed.

This is then followed by a bit of zenithal shading with a quick blast of a lighter spray colour over the top, in this case Skeleton Bone, also by Army Painter. Zenithal shading is a fancy name for a shaded spray base colour that somewhat mimics the way light behaves at the sun's zenith, so it creates some basic shadows and highlights. To do this with the spray can simply spray the model lightly from directly above and use a sweeping motion so you don’t let the paint build up too much in one area.

Coloured Primer: Desert Yellow spray (Army Painter)

Zenithal highlight: Skeleton Bone spray (Army Painter)

Step 2 - Tracks

Once the hull colour has been sprayed on and shaded, it’s time to paint the tracks. I paint the tracks now as the drybrushing on them may require clean up, so best not to waste time re-applying other base colours this could accidentally go over. I use a large, old brush with slightly watered down paint to apply the base coat to the tracks as their texture is rather rough and can damage your nice brushes. This is then followed by a highlight using a drybrush.

Tracks base coat: Flat Brown (Vallejo)

Drybrush highlight: Leadbelcher (Citadel)

Step 3 - Base colours

This next stage is very simple, you just want to complete any other basic colours the panzer needs using a good brush and slightly watered down paint to avoid mistakes on the hull area.

Rubber road wheels: German Grey (Vallejo)

Machine guns, tools: Leadbelcher (Citadel)

Tarpaulins: Yellow Green, Russian Green (Vallejo)

Exhaust: Flat Brown (Vallejo)

Step 4 - Chipping, decals & gloss varnish

In this next stage we will begin to add some weathering to the hull, in the form of some paint chipping. The panzers sent over to Africa still retained the grey hull colour from the European campaigns, so the DAK crews set about adding a layer of sand coloured paint once they arrived. To simulate the effects of the harsh environment and crew scrambling over the vehicle, the original dark grey paint underneath will be exposed in some areas.

One fun and easy technique to achieve this effect is to use a sponge to dab on the dark grey paint, simulating the look of chipped paint. To do this I took some foam you would find in a blister pack or figure carry case and ripped off a small piece. This was then dabbed in some dark grey paint (Vallejo German Grey) and then some of the paint was removed by dabbing the sponge onto some paper cloth. You don’t want a lot of paint on the sponge. Once you have your sponge with paint on it, you simply dab this onto the areas of the hull that would be beaten up the most; corners of the hull, track guards and anywhere the crew would be climbing up into the turret. The sponge creates a random effect, so has a very organic look. You can build up the effect to your taste by simply continuing to dab the sponge on in areas and see how it looks.

With the sponge effect complete, I now suggest adding any decals you plan on using. I use a brush on gloss varnish to paint the rough area underneath where each decal will go. I do this to create a smooth surface, which is much better for the decal to apply too.

Once the decals are all applied I give a coat of gloss varnish to the entire model. This is available in spray cans or bottles to paint on. This gloss varnish is important for protecting the decals and paint from the weathering techniques that come next. Note: Matt varnish is not a good enough layer of protection and does not produce a smooth enough surface texture. It must be gloss.

Step 5 - Apply a pin wash

This stage will create most of the weathering and shading on the vehicle. I am using an enamel product by AK Interactive called Afrika Korps wash, to work into all the recesses of the miniature and create depth as well as some grime for a weathered look. This is a premade wash consisting of white spirit and enamel paint, so pretty strong stuff. Applying this wash (and cleaning it up later) will strip your acrylic paint underneath if you haven’t coated it in gloss varnish to protect it, so just another reminder to do so before starting with the wash.

To begin applying the wash, start by shaking the bottle well as the paint tends to separate and settle. I use an old, cheap brush with a decent point to apply the wash as the enamel products are very harsh on your brushes, so don’t use any brushes you want to last long. I apply the wash to specific areas I want darker, in a ‘pin-point’ way, and not washing it over the entire hull. You will find the smooth surface created by the previous gloss varnish really helps the wash flow directly into the areas you want. Don’t worry about being perfect with the wash, just put it in the vague area you want it – in the next stage we will clean it up. After the wash is applied it should look like the picture above.

This is an enamel product, so you will need some artists turpentine or artists white spirit to thin this down and clean your brush out after. As the names suggest, you can pick this up at any art supply shop. Leave this wash to dry for about 40 minutes to an hour.

Hull pin wash: Afrika Korps wash (AK Interactive)

Step 6 - Clean up the pin wash

Using two different tools I now ‘remove’ some of the wash. First I take a makeup remover stick dampened in some artists turpentine and rub it over the raised areas of parts of the model that are ‘busy’ with lots of rivets and crevasses. This should take off any wash on the tops of these little details, like the picture above on the left.

Next, I use a wide flat brush to work on the large flat armor panels. Again this is ever so slightly dampened with artists turpentine. Drag the flat brush over the wash down the flat areas of the hull away from the recesses. This will soften the wash effect and also create a streaking grime effect in one go. See the detail picture above on the right for an idea how I use my brush to do this. You should use hardly any thinner as it’s pretty harsh…better to go back several times and remove more and more wash with each one until you are happy with the effect.

Step 7 - Dust effects

With any desert vehicle it’s a great opportunity to add some dust effects. Using a similar technique to the pin wash above, I now apply a dust effects product. Again it’s from AK Interactive and it’s called Dust Effects. Pin wash it into the recesses or where you think dust would build up, let it dry for an hour or two and then soften the effect by using a rag or brush and a tiny amount of the thinner to rub some away.

Dust effects: Dust Effects (AK Interactive)

Step 8 - Carbon scorches

Another cool looking weathering effect is to add some black scorches to the gun muzzle and the rear engine deck and exhaust. For this I used a pigment in powdered form. It’s very easy to apply and rather fun to play around with. Use an old brush with a rather splayed out bristles (an old drybrush is perfect) and simply dip this into the powder and then dab it onto the areas of the model you want to give the effect. I used it on the muzzle of the tanks main gun and put a few patches on the rear engine deck and exhaust as you can see in the photo above. Make sure to not get it all over your fingers as you will stain other parts of the model or your clothes! Also keep in mind this powder is easily rubbed off until the model is given it’s final coat of varnish.

Carbon scorches: Weathering Pigment- Exhaust Black (Secret Weapon Miniatures)

Step 9 - Finishing touches

To complete your Afrika Korps panzer all that’s left is to glue in any crew models (which I paint separately) and give the entire model a coat of matt varnish to seal in all that weathering work. I use a spray can of Testors Dullcote.

Matt Varnish: Dullcote (Testors)

And there you have it, a completed panzer of the vaunted Afrika Korps! Hopefully this tutorial has given you a few new techniques to try out and a relatively easy pathway to getting all your minis painted for the tabletop. Here are a few of my other German desert vehicles as examples using the same painting process.

If you have any questions just comment below. Happy painting!