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 obscuring details***

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

Primer Fundamentals

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 color scheme(s).

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 Coat

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:

Property Brush on Spray
Application time 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
Workspace needs Your normal painting area A well-ventilated area with good lighting and somewhere that overspray will not be a problem
Coat 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.

Brushing 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!


  1. Obtain a clean palette
  2. Put some G&TM on your palette - try a few drops at first. How much you need will depend on how fast you paint.
  3. Mix in the desired paint color - this can be a drop of ink or acrylic paint, play around and see what you like.
  4. Thin with water - add just enough water to get the mixture to flow well; excess water can generate nigh-intractable bubbles.
  5. Brush on the mixture.

Deanne Goodwin's 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)

My Experiences

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 with water. I did 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, because the coverage in some areas was not quite enough on my Biovore. However, I still have to highlight and then likely wash one final 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 urge to get perfect coverage with the base coat, even though I know it's not necessary because I 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 be honest.

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 individual miniature. If you are painting a miniature for a competition and you are good at brushing on primer, you might want to stick with that. 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 coats
  • Do not try to prime in an area with a lot of dust, dirt, pollen, etc.
  • 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 general.

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 the Brushing on Primers Using Glass and Tile Medium trick above.

Common Problems

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.
Coat d'Arms - Harder to find (see my Buying Paints page)
- Color between spray and brush on matches, but not all colors have matching pairs.
Krylon - Rumored to be what GW uses anyway (unconfirmed)
- I have had good experiences with it

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.

Questions? Comments? Please let me know via my questions/comments form!