Afrika desert paints color

i am hoping someone here with more dio experience can suggest what paints to use to make this base look more realistic for African desert? this is only my second attempt at making a diorama

it’s unpainted and more yellow tinted in real life. Vallejo desert sand with some pebbles i mixed in.
while on the subject, a suggestion on paint to use if i decide to make it a pacific island sand too.
Thank you, Joe

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Hi Joe. Good on you for going after this diorama! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with. A consideration is the Vallejo model air set 71.208 German WWII Europe and Africa kit. Great color palette for these scenes, as you may know the model air line is ideal for airbrush and washes. It has all the colors probably needed and/or can be mixed to find the perfect ones to suit your needs.
Best wishes with your build.

You can start by looking for modern color photos of the battlefields online. Here is one of Tobruk.

Google Earth also has limited ground view images of several areas in the N African desert. Zoom into an area and drag the little yellow figure icon onto a photosphere hotspot or blue highlighted road for a ground level view.

Remember that most desert areas are not all sand, but mainly small rocks. Try to vary the texture of your diorama groundwork to depict this appearance.

My rendering of the Tobruk area, with an actual Tobruk photo backdrop photoshopped in.

I like to make several batches of slightly different colored rocks and sand. Each batch is painted a single color, in various shades of dark brown, ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, Naples yellow, buff, rust, etc., and then spread them out to dry in an old plastic container. Once dry, I mix them together in varying ratios to approximate the colors and textures of the desert area you wish to replicate. I apply them to an already base-color painted groundwork, (to hide any gaps in coverage) using diluted white glue. When dry, the finished piece can then be subtly blended with dry brushing, washes, pastel chalks, etc.


your main problem is that Africa is a large land mass with many different soil and sand types and so there won’t be a generic colour. what you need to do is specify which area of African you are interested in and look at images and geological information about that area.
i see similar issues with people build dioramas set in Vietnam, most people use a reddish brown colour but that soil type was more common in the highlands but not on the coast regions, so i wouldn’t get to hung up on thr perfect colour of paint for ypur African diorama.

hope this helps


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thanks for all you suggestions guys but i am looking for basic colors to start off with. paskas work is amazing and realistic (how do you paint sand though?) but i already have the ground set i just need to paint it. i am thinking buff is one color, do i use tamiya’s desert yellow or a a different sand color, do i mix some shades. i’m not trying to go crazy on this base. it will be a base for a BF 109 and i also have a german halftrack i would like do show on a similar base when i get to building it. then i also built a pacific dio and do not like the color of the sand and want to airbrush it but again i would think pacific sand would be different color than africa


For this one I used Celluclay, because it dries to a nice rough surface texture, and liberally sprinkled with a brand of kitty litter. The Celluclay was pre-colored with cheapo arts/crafts acrylic. This is 1/72 scale:

:smiley: :canada:


ok but what color did you use?

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A note about my sand. You can spread it out in an old model box and spray it with an airbrush, stirring it to coat evenly and busting up any clumps after it dries, then sifting it through an old window screen. Being a geologist in a former life, I collect rocks (preferably poorly indurated ones, like crumbly sandstones, siltstones and the like), for modeling projects. I also collect beach sands of various colors and compositions. I have a particular orange-yellow sand that I like for desert scenes. It has numerous multi-colored minerals that give it a nice speckled appearance. I also collect pieces of coal, since it occurs in outcrop fairly close to home. It is great for making rock outcrops. Those rubber mold sold by Woodland Scenics, used for casting rock outcrops, are made by using pieces of coal as the masters.
I used the same techniques for making large amounts of rubble for city dioramas as well, mixing in cast bricks, roof tiles, scrapes of wood, plumbing pipes, etc.

As for colors, a good basecoat is something that approximates RAL 8000 Grün-braun, since it was one of the colors used by the Germans to produce the Tropen I camo scheme. It all depends on what area you wish to depict. As Claus stated above, Africa is a large place, decide where you want to be, then we can work on colors and textures.

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A mix of “brown” and “beige” colors. I can’t be more specific as I just mix whatever colors look like what I want.
:smiley: :canada:

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Neat. Is that a personal photo from Tobruk? I would love to go there some day…

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I would too, except I never go anywhere. Egypt for the Roman stuff those damned “Egyptologists” didn’t destroy to get at the stuff underneath. Or all the stuff trashed while the “Freedom and Justice Party” (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood) were briefly in power - too briefly to implement the demolition of the pyramids… I’ve heard tales of fantastic stuff in more remote areas (in the Eastern Desert, Roman fortlets left as when they were abandoned, with all the documentation still in the office cubby-holes!). There’s always weird stuff being found in Egypt: about ten years ago excavations of the Temple of Isis compound at Taposiris Magna found both Graeco-Roman mummies and New Zealander casualties from the 2nd Battle of El Alamein…



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Okay, the bridge over the trench or wadi — I remember a similar photo from when I was 12.

What was that original photo, by any chance?

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Alas, no. Merely an internet snag, but fairly high resolution, surprisingly enough.

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The Tobruk antitank ditch. Taken from Ballantines Afrika Korps, copyright 1968.

I actually tracked this location down using Google Earth and some old maps, the antitank ditch still exists, so do the oval-shaped British defensive “boxes”. There are very few places where the ditch is crossed even today. I’m pretty sure this bridge was built close to a pre-existing road nearby. I have another photo with the Hedgehogs and an antitank ditch on the Egyptian border, so a little artistic license is in order. :wink:

I think this is the same area I found before, but I don’t remember the other maps I used to find it.

There are 6 defensive “Boxes” visible in this image.


That’s the photo! :sunglasses:

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Hi Joe,

One way to make ground work more realistic is to vary the tones you paint with. Don’t use just one colour. If you have a look at the picture posted by Pasca, for example, you can see tones of grey, pink, orange and brown. The rocks are a different tone to the underlying ground too. Try to forget what your brain tells you should be there (our brains like short cuts e.g. sand = dull yellow) and let your eyes see what actually is. Of course, the tones are subtle but look closely and you’ll see them. And, If you want some great inspiration and tips then check out ‘Uncle Nightshift’ on Youtube.

I hope that helps, and good luck.


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it does but everyone is telling me what sands and stones to use. i just want a starting point for base colors and i can take it from there with help from the tips here and photos. i don’t think i am being understood so i will have to figure it out.


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Give this a quick look. Fast forward to about 4:50 where he starts applying his colors.

Is this what you’re talking about? This kind of help?

I put these keywords in YouTube: ‘how to make a desert diorama base’


I was sort of satisfied with how the dust cloud turned out, but to imply motion, there should be sand, etc. falling off the tracks at the front. As it is, it looks like the tank is motionless with a dust cloud coming from it! Any ideas how to simulate falling sand?
:smiley: :canada:


I made a small desert diorama with 1/76 Fujimi Pzkw. 1s and some Airfix figures when I was a teen. I don’t remember what colors I used — just whatever looked good.

I added a little bit of aquarium gravel — these, I highlighted slightly with a lighter color.

To get some variation, I also brushed in various tones of pastels.

I thought it looked good. Unfortunately, it’s long gone. One more thing my “Get a garbage bag and start pitching!” mother tossed. :confounded:

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