Tinting board game tokens

When I got my  Space Hulk set, I was pretty excited for it on several levels. I’ve been getting more into board games lately, and I liked the idea that I could play this with folks who aren’t into Warhammer games. I had looked up a bunch of reviews from non-40K players and they seemed to like this game just as much as anyone else.

I spent some time on board game sites looking for information about tinting or coloring the edges of the cardboard tokens, counters and tiles in the game, but couldn’t find a whole lot of advice. Some people mentioned painting or using permanent markers, but that was about it. I really wanted to color the raw cardboard, so I decided to experiment with the leftover sheets or sprues I had popped the tokens out of. After that, I was off to the races on the most expensive board game I owned…

What you need to tint cardboard game tokens.

Coloring board game tiles with permanent markersI bought the 24-pack 80’s Glam set of Sharpie markers, and mixed it with a bunch of Bic markers my wife kindly supplied. Between the two sets I had a couple of gray tones, a bunch of oranges, purples, greens, etc. I got to work, armed with caramel corn and dry-roasted peanuts (if you haven’t tried it, you should) and went nuts–er, no pun intended.

Bic permanent markers for tinting board game tokens

Click to find them on Amazon

Here’s the set I already had laying around, but I think some of the colors were missing. I did have the light gray, which I used for the genestealer blips, overwatch and guard tokens. It’s the one on the far left of the middle row. I tested a few other colors as well but that’s about the only one I used out of this set. Partially because I was concerned that I might run out since it had been sitting around for a couple years. There was nothing wrong with the colors, and if you bought a new set I bet you could get it done with just these.

Sharpie markers for coloring board game tokens

Click to find them on Amazon.

And this is the Sharpie set that I purchased for the project. I used a bunch of these ones. In particular, the dark gray on the left of the top row saw heavy use (I actually ran out and had to buy more). I tinted the heavy flamer tokens mostly with the orange in the lower left, with streaks of the bright orange in the middle top row and the golden yellow in the lower left. The genestealer entry arrow tokens had the fuchsia center-right of the top row, blended with the dark purple to the far right and the light pink in the center-right. The green space marine tokens had a layer of the green in the lower left, and then a layer of the pale tealish green in the center-left of the  top row.

How to do it.

As for technique, really it’s pretty straightforward. I tested both styles of markers on the sprue extensively, and it’s hard to mess it up. The color soaks into the sides of the game tokens, but isn’t damp enough to deform the cardboard. There are a couple of keys to doing it right.

First, go as quickly as you can. If you go too slowly, the marker bleeds in so far that it can actually discolor the printed graphics from below, as they’re translucent.

Second, try to get just one layer down without going over the same bit more than once. If you go over the same spot more than once, it will deepen the color. You can use this to your advantage for blending, but be mindful of the effect. Most tokens just need a single, steady swipe on each side.

Your board game tokens will have little bumps on the side where they connected to the sheet. I use these as start and end points. Usually I’ll run the marker from one bump to a conspicuous edge. Doing them in shorter, controlled swipes allows you to follow the first two steps more easily. Fast, and one swipe only. Also, the bumps are a weak spot, and you’ll see the most bleeding there if you try to actually color them. Usually if I start and end on a bump, the color will bleed into it enough to color it on its own but you might need to put a quick dot on it if it didn’t get enough.

Once you’re feeling comfortable… Advanced techniques.

Since the markers soak in, you can use layer effects to blend two markers together or deepen the color by applying it more than once. With just the light Bic gray and the darker Sharpie gray, for example, you can make, like, 50 shades of gray. Or fewer if you’re not kinky. I only used black sparingly for very minimal accents. Instead, I added two, three or even four layers of the base gray markers for gradients.

Since they’re semi-transparent, you can also blend colors together by layering them. Take a look at the Librarian’s psychic barrier token below, where I blended blue into the center of the gray sides. Also, I was able to add rust streaks with a peach marker on some tokens. It’s worth playing around a bit to get the effect you’re looking for, and there’s a fair bit of trial and error going on. I mostly used scrap first (don’t throw away the cardboard sheets from your tokens), but some of them I just played around adding more gray to shade until it looked right.

What to look out for.

If you’re into Warhammer, chances are you already have a sense of how colors will tint and blend into each other, as well as an attention to detail. I was actually surprised how familiar it all felt once I started working on coloring these cardboard tokens. Even though I’m not much of a board gamer, this particular game is sort of a bridge or gateway to it.

My fiancé and 8-year old daughter had a little tougher time with it. They’re struggles with coloring the tiles principally stemmed from going too slow. There was a lot of under-bleed (where the color actually bled under the printed artwork) since they might go over the same spot a few times before it dried. They did their best work on tokens that had nice, clean lines so it’s good to start practicing with square or circle tiles.

The other suggestion I have for beginners is to use the sides of the marker tip. When they started, they were using the very tip because they were worried about slipping and marking the sides. If you do get some on the sides you can wipe it quickly with your finger to catch it before it dries. This, ironically, caused them to slip and mark the sides more. If you use the wider side, you can just rub it across the edge and it won’t touch the top or bottom of the printed art at all. This also allows you to make one clean, quick swipe.

The gallery.

Tinted Space Hulk command tileFirst up, the turn counter tile thingy. I just followed the pattern that was already there. I used a lighter gray around the top of the unit, and a darker around the bottom. The areas that look like grips are light gray with some dark gray shading, and then I continued the lines down the sides with dark gray and then a thin streak of black towards the back or bottom. This piece also has a nice variation in the artwork, so around the sides I tried to add some smudged areas by just going over some spots with the same color again, which deepens it a bit.


I’ve done a few more board games now, and I’ve since finished Space Hulk. Have a look.

In summary.

To be fair, this is a really subtle effect on most of the gaming tokens and counters, but in my opinion it adds a level of polish and some of them just look great, especially if they’re black or a strong, dark color. If you just don’t want naked cardboard edges on your board game tiles, you could probably do all of them in black and it’d look better than nothing. Now that I’ve done the same with other board games, I can tell you it makes them feel so much more finished to me. We now do almost every game we get, and it makes box prep a lot more fun.

How about you? Are you planning to tint or color your Space Hulk counters, tokens and floor tiles? How about some other board games? I know some purists frown on this sort of thing because it will tank resale value, but if you read my blog you’ll see I can rarely let anything go unconverted or stock. It’s just the way my brain works. I don’t care much about reselling. If you do, maybe try a game out a couple times before taking the plunge.