Hand painted hoplite shields are fun but can
overwhelm even the best painter's patience.


Test photo of decals/transfers in place.

Make your own home-brewed hoplite transfers

Often I paint my own shields, but it is a labor of love. I recently started experimenting with making my own water slide transfers. These can be printed at home with my inkjet printer. They can also be sent out to a service that has a finer dpi printer. So far my experiments are working out for me with home made materials. I find a lot of the commercially available decals are great, but are often mixed in with designs that are a bit too fanciful for my taste, or do not offer the design I want. I started making a set of hoplite test shields (below) from various web sources (Fig:1). They can also be seen on the "Old Hoplites Never Die" page. Then when those kind of worked I made a special set for (Fig 2) Agrianians (Alexander's famous light infantry allies) which emulate raised bronze designs of the period).

  Figure 1: Hoplite decal test.                                               
                   Figure 2: Agrianians decal test.

Spartan Shield Project

So I did some research in my personal library and online and found plenty of designs that are more “Spartan” looking. Vase art is the best source for realistic designs in my opinion. Reenactors have the cleanest looking shields. Plus there are plenty of artwork online to inspire one’s fancy.

Vase art is the best source for realistic designs:

This site has a plethora of shield ideas:
Hoplite shields Luke Ueda-Sarson

Reenactors have the cleanest and coolest looking shields.                                        Plus there is plenty of artwork online to inspire one’s fancy.



My first pass hoplite shield designs represented generic types, and since these are not meant for commercial release some of these designs were not retouched from their sources. But I wanted more of the designs above in this next group so I had to turn to Photoshop. The materials I used are available online, the decal paper by “Classic Mules” works great. I bought it on Amazon.com. (Note: this brand seems to have disappeared, so other similar brands need to be found online.) The transfer paper can be solid white as well as clear.
Once printed out the decals need to be coated with a clear coat waterproof varnish.
I use Krylon Crystal Clear spray varnish as it is very clear, doesn't yellow, and dries fast. Just spray it over the page surfaces of the decals. Two thin coats is usually best because if you don't seal the decals they will fall apart in the water. You can see I uses a template where each design is placed in a guide that I print out to make it easier to trim. It is wise to heat dry the sheet with a hand held low heat hair dryer. The key thing is to do as many on a sheet as you will need. This test sheet (below) has a gap in the middle where a bunch of Athenian designs are in progress. This template ultimately has room for 144 designs. If I decide to drop off the grey guides I can add some fancy meandering rims as well.

Printing and Preparing


The template serves as a place to drop in outside files, either created in PhotoShop (PS) as raster, or vector art done in programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer.
I like PS because of the layers process, but it makes big files on your hard drive.

In (A), the reference source design is scaled into a 512 x 512 image that serves as the “high resolution” version.
Once the design is cleaned up (B) it has a zeroed out background set and is saved as a .png file. This file is then placed into a PhotoShop layer and it stays a “smart object” which has a higher resolution than is shown. My printer will print a good 150 dpi image, but my file is set to 300 dpi just in case I want to try a higher resolution output someday.
Make sure your template page is set to A4 or 8 1/2" x 11" to match your output paper.


Prepping surfaces and applying the decals

The decals work like any others. Trim them tight and drop them in water, slide them a little then drop them on the surface. Press down with a soft moist cloth to blot them off. Generally it is best to do this without them being attached to the figure- as the shields will probably get broken off with any serious blotting. If you want a white background to set off the colors it is best to spray white the shield and paint the bronze. You can do it the other way as (below) but the paint may lump up a bit and make things less smooth. These decals are thin and conform well to slight curves. I have designed mine to not wrap around much, and fill in to the rims with paint. One can use decal softener to get them to wrap better.
I finish mine with a semi gloss clear varnish, some Mod Podge shiny mixed with flat does the trick. Once the decals dry you can touch them up with paint and enhance details.

You will also be able to scrutinize things better once you have a test in place. The Gorgon design (below) shows how thin the lines can get, so this one needs to be reinforced. One can paint over the decal much easier than "winging it" free hand.  Some details can be painted over to make this Gorgon pop. The red mouth and white teeth are easier to paint now, and so are the eyes. The end result has a more individualistic and hand painted look.


Spartans displaying their test run of homemade shield designs

This is very much a Work in Progress shot of Gorgon Studio's 28mm Spartans and other hoplites. There are a couple Wargames Foundry figures as well as one Vendel lurking in the back.
A few more skin tone and facial details are needed as well as more highlights on the crests and armor. Then I can finish the bases and then they will be ready for prime time.

Some touch up will help. One can see the resolution is good. Some pixellating  happened on the black scorpion. The red Dokana in back was painted over with white.
Somehow I messed up the snake a bit. The front row does not have mud or battle damage yet.

The Royal symbol on the left has some dots added with toothpicks. I'm not sold that it is good enough.
The centaur design is straight off a reenactor's shield and cleaned up, I like it on the plain bronze but white looks good too! There is some great reference shields there:

And the finished Spartans:

Old stuff with new to be added:

Giuseppe Rava paints some great inspirational hoplite art.
Check out his Military art prints, I have this one on my wall.

Find his work at:

Please send any comments to:



     Where do you want to go next? Click on:

Back to AncientBattles.com Index