Thursday, May 31, 2012

Painting Miniatures Declassified - Priming Models

Last post I laid out the painting process.  Over the next few posts I wanted to talk a little more in depth on each of those steps.  Today I wanted to take a minute to talk specifically on how to prime your models.


- Well...Have you ever walked on a sheet of ice?  Your feet are slipping on the ice because you don't have traction with the ground...Friction isn't there to give you that traction.  The ice is smooth...much like the surface of your model...whether that model is plastic or metal it is pretty smooth.

- Priming your model first is like throwing salt or sand on a sheet of ice.  Primer gives a slightly rougher surface and helps the paint adhere better.  If you don't use primer then your paint has a much greater chance of rubbing off at the slightest touch.


- There are lots of different methods and colors you can use that work effectively.  These break down into 2 main camps...Brush-on or Spray-on.

    - Brush on.  Here you use a brush to apply your primer.  There are many different types of brush on primers "specifically" formatted to be a primer and to stick to bare plastic/metal.  They also help make a surface that is "rougher" than plain paint so your follow-on coats will stick better to the model. It is easier to get it on too thick and clog detail, but you can be more precise on where the paint goes and get better coverage.  Thinning the primer helps...but too much and you can run into trouble and not get the benefits you are looking for.  Can you use "regular", paint that is not a specific primer as a primer?  Yep, in fact that is what I do.  A TRUE primer does make a better bond with the metal/plastic of the model and a good surface for the paint to adhere.  A regular paint adheres OK, and will survive normal handling once varnished and sealed.

    - Spray on.  This is where your airbrushes and spray cans fit.  Airbrush offers more control than a spray can.  You need good ventilation for the spray cans and special equipment for the airbrush.  You also don't leave brush marks when you use a spray on primer.  This is important if you want a smooth finish on vehicles where you have large flat areas where brush strokes cant hide.  Both take a little more prep time than using the brush on method but require much less drying time.  I use an airbrush for bulk priming...things like vehicles, infantry mounted as teams on a base, etc... This justifies the additional set up time in my mind.

    - Compromise.  For my infantry that I base individually for painting, I use a mix of the 2 methods.  I brush on black Vallejo thinned to 1:2 (paint:water) and get good coverage...and then I blow off the excess paint.  This forces the paint into the deeper recesses of the model. and leaves a nice thin coat of the paint on the model and acts as a primer for the next coat.  I came up with this technique when I was watching a history of airbrushes somewhere and saw that the first airbrush was some guy blowing paint off of a stick onto the canvas.  This hit me at a time my airbrush was acting up and...VIOLA!  The rest is history.   The first ever posted video in the Painting Miniatures Declassified series is HERE and it covers this priming technique.

- Colors.  This is a touchy subject and there are many diehards in 4 main camps supporting their favorite.  The main color choices are basecoat, black, white, or grey. The key is what effect do you want to acheive with the you want it to be your basecoat?  Help in shading/shadows?
Make colors brighter?

    - Basecoat.  Here, you use a color that will be your base coat and you shade/hi-lite from there.  The benefit here is that you save a step in the painting process by combining your prime and basecoat.  Slight downside in that your shadows/shades don't show up as well.

    - Black.  If you use black as your primer, your colors appear darker and you have to build up additional layers of paint to get that "brighter" color.  This is very helpful if you have shadows or deep folds that need to be darker.  I tend to use black primer for the vast majority of my work.

    - White.  A white background will make colors does tend to make it more difficult to create shadows and shades in the folds/deeper sections of the model.  I will use white if the force will have brighter colors and where I need shade/shadows I will paint that area black first and then build up colors from there.

    - Grey.  Not my favorite.  Its in between black and white and, in my opinion, it doesn't have the benefits of both.  Sort of like drinking luke warm water...bleh.

Experiment with the effects of the different primer colors and methods.  One great thing about our hobby is we ALWAYS have some extra models lying around that we can play with and experiment on.  Have fun and Happy Painting.

Again the link for the video on Priming :  Priming Video


Based on a conversation in the WWPD Forums, I wanted to make it clear to the reader, especially new/inexperienced painters, that a TRUE primer, as I mentioned above, does make a stronger bond with the model and is preferable.  I have been using regular paint as a "poor man's" substitute because I didn't like what was available to me at the the time when I came up with the "compromise method" of brush-on/blow off excess I described above and in the video  (close to 10 years ago now) .  The conversation in the WWPD forum got me to thinking about looking for a TRUE Primer that will fit my needs.  It has been 10 years afterall.

What are "my" needs in a true primer...first and foremost is what I discussed above regarding the needs for a primer...something that bonds to the model and gives a base from which to build paint from (any TRUE primer will do this) but something that still gives me control and preserves detail.  Finding a primer that I can use the "compromise method" of brush-on/blow off excess method should give me that.  10 years ago I didn't get that from spray can TRUE primers and the available brush-on TRUE primers were a pain.  Not sure why I didn't see and try this earlier, but Vallejo makes primers, in different colors as well, in their handy-dandy-easy-to-use dropper bottles. Going to try these out and will give a report back.

As I say in almost every tutorial...EXPERIMENT and don't be afraid to try something new.  Everything is has its costs and benefits.  Its weighing what you get out of it to what you lose and the only way you know for sure is to experiment. 


  1. Post edited based on recent conversatiosn on WWPD Forums.

    Also wanted to mention 2 things from those forum posts that add to theis discussion:

    - Preparation of the models (namely washing the models) helps enhance the benefits of your primer...if you leave the residue from the modeling process on the model the primer wont' have a good base to stick to and it defeats the purpose of the primer.

    - Red Oxide is another popular color choice....almost along the lines of using a basecoat color. This is good for WWII Germans as they used a red oxide color for their primer and this simulates this and allows you to build up from there as the Germans did and saves time on tracks/battle damaged areas if the red oxide is left to show.

  2. A good read. I will say that using grey helps with determining detail as well as highlighting any flaws in the cast. Something which can easily be overlooked on a white or black primer.

    I will see if you my comment appears this time, my last comments were lost to the ether or the spam bin ;)