Modeling U.S. Olive Drab — harder than I expected


WWII U.S. Olive Drab should be simple, but it's really not.

It was composed of just two pigments: ochre and black. However, the word "ochre" is not a precise one at all.

In his Military Modelling magazine article back in 2002, Steve Zaloga went into the subject in reasonable depth, and the pre-mixed colour he recommended above all others back then was Tamiya XF-62, with no others even coming close to the WWII-era paint chips he was comparing against.

I figured that mixing it from VMC acrylics would just be a matter of getting the right proportions of yellow ochre and black, but all of those mixes ended up much more grey than the sample swatch of XF-62 I sprayed, which has a perceptibly warm brown cast. Of them all, the 3:2 yellow ochre : black mix seems to be closest in tone, but as I said, it's too grey.

The Vallejo surface primer described as "US Olive Drab" is actually much closer to the 5:1 mix, which is a long way from XF-62, and a long way from WWII colour photographs I've seen.

The search continues.

A bit later...

I found a bottle of VMC 889 USA Olive Drab, which is much browner than the Tamiya, more like a burnt umber. However, it might do okay as a base coat, with panel shading airbrushed over the top in 887 Brown Violet, which was recommended to me. The 887 is pretty good in hue, though it's considerably lighter in tone, which is probably a good thing when it comes to scale effects and the general effect of dust and sun on the paint.

Even later...

I tried a base coat of 889 Olive Drab, highlighted with the airbrush with 887 Brown Violet, and it gave me a result I quite like. So I think this will be my process for US equipment, which might come in handy for  Battlegroup:Westwall when it finally appears.

I did the stars with Tamiya masking tape, laboriously cut out with a scalpel, and if somebody was to provide sheets of die-cut masking tape stars and roundels, that person would get my money. Oh yes they would.

The model is actually a British Mk.I with sand shields and turret bustle, so not 100% right, but it'll do me for testing purposes. When I need them, I'll print some proper Yank tanks.

Much later....

It's probably a bit pointless, since I've found some pre-mixed paints that work for me, but I thought I'd try a mix with a different ochre and see how that turned out.

In this case, I used Maimeri Polycolor (gouache acrylic) Raw Sienna and Black, and got tones that seem a lot less grey than those I got with yellow ochre. The proportions are quite tricky to manage with tube acrylics though, especially with small quantities of paint.

The left-hand swatch is roughly 1:1, but the others are all rather indeterminate. I think the right-hand one is around 4:1, but I'm really just guessing.


  1. Is it for vehicles or clothing? With clothing there will be great variation due to the influence of repeated washing and exposure to the elements.

    1. Vehicles. Even with vehicles the range of variation was huge, so I'm mainly looking for something that feels right to me.