Another exciting edition of “What color is that?”

German soldiers on the move during the Battle of France, 1940. Credit: Bundesarchive
Previously on this blog I have published articles about the true color of dunkelgelb here and olive drab here. Are there any other colors people in the scale modeling scene have debated? There is at least one, the real color of feldgrau (field grey).

This is a World War 2 German uniform color and it’s been debated many times on forums and web sites. I think all these debates start when a modeler is ready to paint their figures (or tank, truck, what have you), they look at the kit instructions that call for certain paints from a certain company. They look at the color, then some color photos of wartime uniforms and say “that’s not the same color!” 

Understandable. They go on the internet and ask what the “real” paint color should be and other modelers give them a short history lesson. The basic reasons are: wear and tear, colors fade, old photographs can shift colors and dyes using during manufacturing uniforms varied. There are surviving World War 2 German uniforms that give one a great perspective of all this. Here’s a link for an example. 

That’s a lot of uniforms for comparison. Take for example the above photo, showing German forces on the move into France. I have no idea how accurate the colors in the photo are or whether it has been retouched or modified in any way. The casual viewer doesn’t either. Assuming there aren’t any problems with the photo, the uniforms do look greenish. This is early in the war and they presumably haven’t dealt with much wear or fading yet.

German WW2 Officer’s uniform – photo credit : Author

The photo to the left is a WW2 German officer’s uniform, and under the museum lighting, it does look grey. How much difference there is between this example and enlisted men’s uniforms, I cannot say.

 I am not an expert in military uniforms or photography and film, so I’ll let someone who is speak on the subject.

Steve Zaloga is a author of many books on modeling various military subjects and he wrote an article (found here) addressing all the factors that influence the color of olive drab. Fortunately for us, the same factors affect the color of feldgrau. Fading, unofficial dye lots, wear and tear, weather conditions, dirt and dust can affect the uniform directly and the photographic record can affect what we see as “feldgrau.”

Zaloga states the problem of film in his article.


I have worked with honest-to-goodness original WW II colour film, and the condition and colour quality of the film varied considerably. To begin with, wartime colour film was notoriously subject to colour shifting due to chemical instability. Secondly, if extreme care with colour balance is not taken during the film-video transfer process, changes result in the colours. During the editing of the tape, further colour variations are introduced unless colour balance is precisely set.

He also describes how color photos from World War  2 can be deceiving. 


Many of the same sorts of problems exist with colour photos. By the time they are printed in a book or magazine, they are several generations removed from the original, and with all the care in the world they will differ from the original. The colour photos reproduced here are for general reference only and are not intended for colour matching!

So that’s another factor to consider when selecting a paint. The photos should act as a guide, not indisputable fact. So how do we find an acceptable paint color to use? 

Notice the key word above, “acceptable.” Not everyone will agree on what looks right or authentic. People will have many opinions and variations on what color they use. 

Zaloga reviews some stock paint colors from different companies at the end of his article and that can serve as a starting point. Ask other modelers what they have used, whether stock colors or custom colors.

Look at all the colors available and decide if one or two are acceptable or a custom mix might be better. Read forums dedicated to scale modeling and get involved. This is where the modeling community shines.

There are some hobby paint companies that sell sets of colors specifically for different uniforms, like Andrea’s offering. The sets usually come with several shades of the basic color for base coats, shadows and highlights. Paint sets can also be a good starting point for beginners or those who do not want to mix their own colors.

Really, the colors are up to you and should depend on time period (early, mid, late war), use and terrain conditions and other factors. Spend some time on blogs, websites or forums and you’ll probably find what you need.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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.