Priming is essential. You are painting metal or plastic with
a water-based acrylic paint which will not stick well to either
material. Primers bite into the material and provide a surface
for subsequent layers of paint to adhere to. There are multiple
approaches to this. In all of this, your goal is this:
***Provide good adhesion of your paints without
This information is in addition to that already contained in
the minispaint FAQ. I am assuming
that you are painting with thin water-based acrylic paint.
Table of Contents
Is Primer Just Paint By Another Name?
No! Acrylics are water based and will not adhere well to metal
and plastic on their own. A primer "bites" into the
material and provides a solid foundation upon which further paint
layers can adhere.
What Color Primer Should I Use?
Usually, this discussion involves the choice of white versus
black primers. The fact is that you can also commonly find gray
primers and you can actually prime in any color you like, or none
at all, if you are
Brushing on Primers Using Glass and Tile Medium. The discussion
is pretty simple.
White will make subsequent colors brighter, black will make
them darker, and (you guessed it) gray will be a happy medium
between the two. Many folks have very strong opinions about using
white vs. black primer.
White primer is easy to see, so you will know for sure if you
reached every spot. It is more obvious if you do not have a complete
coat. When you paint it, the colors will be brighter and as you
paint it will be readily apparent if you have missed a spot. A
very specific reason to use white primer is if you want a light
yellow color scheme or really any very lightly colored scheme.
Yellow is ideal because it can be lightened directly with white
without losing its color (see Shading
and Highlighting Colors).
Note: In general, red and yellow paints from most lines
have poor coverage compared to other colors so you should strongly
consider using white primer if these colors are the basis of your
Black has the advantage that if you are using a dark color scheme
or you want blacklining, black lines separating regions of color,
without actually having to paint the black lines, it is quicker
and easier to accomplish with a black primer. Also, if you miss
a spot, it probably won't be all that obvious with a dark color
scheme and hard to reach spots are likely to be cast in shadow
anyway. However, if you are using light colors, the need for multiple
coats due to poor coverage over the black paint could be problematic
and lead to obfuscation of details. One final comment is that
if you are going for a "dark" look then black is the
ideal primer. Regardless of coverage, the colors will look a little
darker in the end, although you would have to hold two identical
minis with white vs. black primer jobs to tell the difference.
Compromise: However, if shading crevasses is your desire,
priming in grey or white, and then washing with black can accomplish
the same effect. Then you have the dark crevasses and still should
be able to achieve bright colors on the raised surfaces.
Advanced Technique - Shading and Highlighting with the Primer
This is a cool idea, but I have yet to try it. Basically, prime
your mini in black and then pick the point of illumination and
spray white from that angle. This should create highlights from
that point as if the miniature is illuminated from that spot and
can create or accentuate highlights and shadows. Ideally, you
could then just paint on some basic coats and have instant shading
and highlighting from the primer coats underneath. This would
probably work better with lower coverage, perhaps thinner, paints.
I have not tried this. I have heard it tried with an airbrush
or spray paint. Obviously, once the primer black is down, the
subsequent gray and/or white paint coats would not have to be
primer, they could simply be normal paint.
Spray or Brush?
This is a personal decision. The simple answer is that spraying
will be quicker and dirtier than brushing. Here are some factors
to help you decide:
||About five minutes for a single 25-28 mm miniature
||A few minutes for a set of miniatures, but will typically
require multiple thin coats
||Your normal painting area
||A well-ventilated area with good lighting and somewhere
that overspray will not be a problem
||Complete coat; if care is not taken to thin the primer properly,
some detail might be obscured
||Usually, there is no way to insure a complete coat without
spraying so much paint that you obscure details.
I may be prejudiced by my own preferences. I do prefer to brush
on primer in general. However, when it comes time to pain a hundred
or more models or miniatures at a time, spray may be your only
option. An airbrush should be able to get a smoother coat than
a spray can, but you need a good airbrush, air supply, etc.
on Primers Using Glass and Tile Medium
This is a cool trick I learned from the mini-painter
Yahoo! group, specifically, Deane P. Goodwin (of Goodwin's
Painting Services). It allows you to cheaply brush on a primer
with a color of your choice.
The technique exploits Folk Art Glass and Tile Medium, an agent
with a lot of "bite" that makes it an excellent priming
choice. However, it is clear and difficult to tell whether or
not you missed a spot. So you can add paint to it for color to
know where you have painted or not. More importantly, you can
add any acrylic paint color you like. This allows you to prime
a miniature in a chosen color. For speed painting, this can go
a long way, as you can paint in the base coat, highlight, then
wash with the shading color. A simple paint job, but fast and
adequate in appearance.
Try this out on a spare bit or sprue first!
Do not experiment on a good miniature!
- Obtain a clean palette
- Put some G&TM on your palette - try a few drops at first.
How much you need will depend on how fast you paint.
- Mix in the desired paint color - this can be a drop of ink
or acrylic paint, play around and see what you like.
- Thin with water - add just enough water to get the mixture
to flow well; excess water can generate nigh-intractable bubbles.
- Brush on the mixture.
comments: The ink is added to the GT on the palette, not in
the container. It takes some practice, but what I am trying to
accomplish is to lightly tint the metal and create a deeper tint
on the shadowed areas while maintaining the transparent qualities
of the medium. Yes, it is there to accent the shadows and recesses,
but also to ensure that I have in fact managed to apply it to
the entire figure. Using this stuff straight from the bottle is
an exercise in guesswork as it dries dead flat and makes absolutely
no alteration to the appearance of the bare metal. I find that
with different colored inks I can have an effect on the finished
product, and use this to my advantage. For example, if I am painting
a Middle Eastern flesh tone, I generally use green ink in the
priming stage as this aids in getting the darker "olive" tones
appropriate to that region. Of course this as an exceptional situation
used primarily for "display" paint jobs, not some guy's table
orcs. :) Use only enough water to get the entire mess to flow
freely. Excess water in the mix will tend to produce foam and
bubbles which are a PITA to remove, especially if they dry first.
(Been there, done that)
Since then I have tried this out. I went ahead and
mixed the paint for the darkest shade of my primary desired
basecoat directly in. I used a 1:1 mix of G&T
medium, usually about fifteen drops of each and then thinned
not use glycerin:water because I was painting small groups of
minis, cycling through them with two different colored basecoats,
and the slow drying due to glycerin
would have been a problem.
I used Delta Ceramcoat paints.
I thinned the paint/GTM mix enough to get them to flow without
obscuring a noticeable amount of detail. That translated to five
to fifteen drops of water, depending. I simply thinned until I
could stir the paint with my glass stirring rod and not leave
a furrow in the paint behind the rod.
With this approach, the coverage required two coats, but two
coats was quite good. I was riding the razor's edge though,
the coverage in some areas was not quite enough on my Biovore.
However, I still have to highlight and then likely wash one
time with the basecoat color, so I am sure that it will be more
than adequate. It takes some willpower for me to resist the
to get perfect coverage with the base coat, even though I know
it's not necessary
am going to be painting on a lot more layers anyway.
I fear that maybe I was not using enough GTM, but so far it seems
to be working OK. I am not sure what would be a good test, to
Spraying on Primers
This is a reasonable choice if you have a lot of miniatures
to paint and you are not as concerned about the quality of an
you are painting a miniature for a competition and
you are good at brushing on primer, you might want to stick with
However, if you become
skilled at spray painting, this can be better than some folks'
ability to brush-on prime. Some
important do's and don'ts:
- Do have good ventilation and protection
- Do shake the can well (usually at least 60 seconds after the
mixing ball starts to rattle freely)
- Do not try to finish a can (quality falls off)
- Do not try to prime in one thick coat, use multiple light
- Do not try to prime in an area with a lot of dust, dirt, pollen,
- Do not spray too close
- Do wash your miniatures before priming
- Do stay upwind of the spray
Ventilation and Protection
See my page on spray painting in
Colored Spray Primer
Coat d' Arms is the only company I know of that has true color
matching of their brush on and spray on primers, but not all of
their colors have such a spray/brush pairing. Check before you
make any plans around this. For colored priming, there is always
on Primers Using Glass and Tile Medium trick above.
Melting can occur if the solvents in the paint attack plastic
miniatures. For some primers, this can be solved by simply spraying
a little farther away.
Also see my page
on spray painting in general.
Specific Primer Brands
|Citadel Colour (Games Workshop)
||- A little more expensive than most.
- The spray colors do not match the brush on colors.
- Easy to come by in stores that stock Games Workshop products
Personal Experience - Their black primer works well.
||- Harder to find (see my Buying
- Color between spray and brush on matches, but not all colors
have matching pairs.
||- Rumored to be what GW uses anyway (unconfirmed)
- I have had good experiences
Air Brushing Primers
I have been told that with skill and a double action airbrush,
you can get very good results priming. I have yet to try it as
there are so many other issues to deal with in setting up and
maintaining an airbrush. Some day, though, some day.