The figure represents an US Army soldier in Iraq, taking cover behind a parapet wall while reloading his weapon. This is the first large scale figure on the market wearing new Army combat uniform with pixilated digital pattern, new style Interceptor Body Armor and Deltoid Shoulder Protectors. Although I really looked forward to painting ACU digital pattern, I was also a bit apprehensive about recreating such a difficult pattern realistically in scale.
Finding references on ACU is not a difficult task because of the enormous quantity of ACU related information and photos available on the Internet. I have listed some links I found useful at the end of this article for your convenience; utilize those references to study the digital pattern not so much to get the exact color match, but to get the general feel of the ARPAT.
ARPAT close-up. Pixilated uniforms do not have typical shapes of different colors like traditional camouflage uniforms making the digital pattern repeat almost invisible. The pixel groups are scattered throughout the repeat in horizontal manner bearing resemblance to horizontal tiger stripe patterns.
I paint camouflage uniforms using Humbrol enamel colors. Although the acrylic medium has become very popular among figure modelers over the last couple of years, I still prefer enamels as they are ideal for blending and offer the perfect flat finish camouflage uniforms need.
Before we start with the Step-By-Step proper, you should bear in mind one thing: my recipe is definitely not the only way to mix ARPAT colors. You should try combining different colors on your palette and use the tones you feel are the best match to the references. Trying to find the optimal color match can be frustrating, but remember that no two uniforms are completely alike. The references I gathered on ACU show that pattern colors can vary greatly due to different factors: the age of the uniform; its wear and tear; and even the lighting conditions the reference photo was taken. With all this in mind, I really think there is no such thing as the correct uniform colors and no secret recipes for getting those colors. Start mixing the tones, compare them to your references, use whatever you feel is right. And, most importantly, have fun!
I started painting ACU by base coating the entire uniform using mix of Pale Stone and Matt Ochre (picture 1). Adding a touch of white to the same mix and painting the highlights can help to accentuate uniform details. After the sand color was dry, I mixed the light grayish-green color using Pale Stone and Matt Olive Drab. The references can help to understand the placement of pixel groups in the pattern; ARPAT is a horizontal pattern bearing resemblance to pixilated form of tiger stripes. Painting digital camouflage is not an easy task; particularly in the 120mm scale where you can actually see individual pixel on the uniform! The trick I employed was to paint bigger pixel patches with the thin brush (picture 2) followed by small pixel groups and individual pixels painted in irregular fashion by a very sharp toothpick (picture 3). Placing single pixels on the border of bigger color patches breaks up the pattern and adds realism to digital camouflage uniform. The final dark green color was mixed using Pale Stone, Matt Olive Drab and Matt Olive. This tone should be a bit darker than the previous pattern color and pixel group placement again mostly horizontal. One should also notice there are much more pixels of the light grey-green color than those of dark green tone; I used toothpick exclusively for painting the latter to get as close to the real thing as possible (picture 4). The final touch was toothpicking small groups of base color pixels in the darker areas in order to break up the dark pixel patches and create the digital effect (picture 5). Using sharp toothpick for painting pixels makes the process very tedious but the final result is well worth the trouble.
After the uniform was painted, the figure was left to dry completely for couple of days before proceeding with shadows and highlights. I used almost transparent brownish filter followed by thin black wash to create shadows in the recessed areas. After this was dry, base color was very subtly drybrushed to accentuate the raised details. Weathering was kept to the minimum, as I wanted to depict a new uniform. The whole process of weathering digital camouflage uniforms should be very delicate; heavy washes and drybrushing can easily ruin your pixilated pattern! Try to be patient and follow the clichι: less is more. I used powder pigments as the last weathering step; weathering powders are a great way to slightly blend the pattern colors together. I really like the subtle color changes powders make and I strongly recommend experimenting with them on your figures as well. One thing to bear in mind though; weathering powders must be applied after the figure is completely finished and placed on the base to minimize the possibility of leaving accidental fingerprints on the figure while handling it.
Desert boots and the MOLLE pouches were painted in several shades of Matt Ochre and Matt Desert Yellow following the references. The weathering was a bit heavier here to suggest wear and tear of the fabric.
Groundwork was kept to the minimum this time. I used the base supplied with the kit, added some more debris and a large amount of Mission Models .50 cal spent shells. The calculation of the scale difference revealed an almost perfect correspondence of 1/35 scale .50 cal shells to 1/16 5.56mm small arms shells.