Sunday, September 27, 2009

Primer and You

[Blast From the Past]: I was totally going to post this article about 2 months ago. Never got around to polishing it off. I think I had initially wanted to add in a picture and the computer I was using just didn't ave the photo manipulation tools I needed. Here's the article without the picture but has some new info since the original writing.

I wasn't felling to creative when I titled this one, but not so much that I'd use the old "primer on primer" joke. Blech.

Initially I had planned on writing a series of articles in a kind of "one model: start to finish" pattern. I think I'll abandon that and just write about stuff that strikes my fancy while still writing for the beginners

Today Its Primer.

For you new guys, primer is one of the most important steps of your model preparation. Ultimately, it brings out detail, gives the regular paint something to grab on to and makes the paint job tougher (more durable, not difficult) in the long run.

If you aren't priming, then you should start. Now.

The basic technique and information is covered in these two Brushthralls articles.
- Priming
- Basics of White Primer

I'll be focusing this post on the two things that the Brushthralls don't spend a lot of time on: color and paint brand. Mostly on spray primers. Basically, this post is just some info to get the new guys started, hate on Armory and maybe hit some of the vets with new info.

Primer Color
The two options most people pay attention to are black and white. Some people will swear by a particular color and use only that. I tend to be more utilitarian and will use either depending on the job at hand.

I take a look at the paint job I want to do and take note of the colors I want to use. Lots of metals and dark colors get black and lots of yellows, whites and other such bright/light colors get white. The particular reason for this is that the color of primer you use will have an effect on the colors you paint over it. Black primer will tend to darken the paint and white will brighten it back up. Additionally, certain colors of paints have a much harder time covering certain colors of primer.

Metalics don't do very well over white - the white can make it hard to tell if you have complete coverage. On the other hand, yellow and white (in particular), as colors that often have coverage problems, make for an extremely hard time over black primer. Again, take a look at the job at hand and use the best color for the job.

Other colors of primer exist, notably gray and red. Gray tends to split the difference between white and black, but I dislike attempts at one size-fits-all problem solving. I find that for most things, gray is good, but still gives me too much trouble with metalics and not enough help with the thinner pigmented colors. Red is one of those odd-ball specialist things that people who are doing a lot with red will use. Same rule here as well, take a look at the job at hand and select the appropriate tool.

As usual, multiple thin coats as needed for best results. Remember, thick paint obscures details. Don't rush the priming stage because you think it wont be visible on the miniature. Often times it is. Especially with airbrushing.

Primer Brand
Right after you determine the color of primer you need, its time to select a brand and then buy it. First things first: generally speaking, if the can doesn't say primer, then its not a primer. Gw's Chaos Black being a notable exception. Please note that primers often have specific qualities that make them very different from regular paint.

There are four brands that I feel are the most common:

Games Workshop's Citadel Sprays: GW's spray paints are a bit complicated. I mention them first since they're the thing that most GW hobbyists see in the store. The two colors they sell have their merits and their flaws.

What GW is simply calling black spray is often promoted as a black primer. I honestly can't tell if it is actually a primer or not. The can just does not have the word primer on it, but it did at one point in the distant past. If it IS primer, than the GW black primer is actually pretty good. According to the GW online store, the white spray is still labeled as primer.

Now I know that it might seem a bit weird to say that the black paint is only a good primer if its actually a primer, but there IS a reason for that. Chemically speaking, there is enough of a difference between primer and regular paint to cause potentional problems. On some applications, regular black paint will work, on others its not so great as a primer.

In any case, you should stay away from the GW paints for two reasons: It may not be primer (especially important for metal and resin models) and its 15 fucking dollars a can. At best, its another example of GW being a bunch of price gouging sons of bitches. At worst, they actually need to sell the primer at this price to make a profit - which makes them idiots.

[EDITING NOTE]: This GW section has changed a bit due to some good and important observations from a reader going by AoM. Thanks!

Krylon Primers: Another good quality paint. I haven't used it in years, but its held in high regard and extremely easy to find. Hardware stores and art stores carry this stuff. Both are easier to find than a gaming store. Not to mention a damn sight cheaper than the GW spray.

Duplicolor Sandable Primer: My personal favorite. Pretty much the same level of quality as the GW stuff at a third the cost. Also pretty easy to find. Most car parts stores carry it. It dries evenly, sprays smoothly and costs less than 5 bux a can.

As added bonuses: Duplicolor dries extremely fast and you can paint over it in about 30 minutes if all goes well. This is a humongous help in not wasting time and especially if your in a time crunch. Duplicolor also has a tendency to shrink as it dries. This means that its less likely to obscure detail. You can overspray quite a bit AND get away with it.

I can't recommend this enough - especially with the price factored in. Its readily available, easy to use and just overall super great. If Duplicolor sandable primer was a person, I would take it to a nice dinner.

Armory Primer: Is garbage! Do not waste your money on these cans of crap. I, personally, have had it ruin miniatures with it's tendency to 'fuzz' (leave a distinct texture on my models). So have my friends. So have a lot of people. I've even heard stories of Armory primers melting plastic miniatures.

Anyone who says that they have never had Armory fuck up on them is lucky. This is a crap product that costs more than very superior Krylon and Duplicolor options AND is much harder to get. Sometimes you run into apologists who make some claim about needing to be extra careful with weather conditions, making sure you shake it well and so on. These are the flaws of an inferior product no matter what anyone tells you. Don't waste your money on something that isn't even very good when all of the conditions are perfect.*

Other Stuff: The above four are really just the tip of the iceberg. Various military model paint manufactures have their own brand as well. Even, Privateer Press has there own in-house brand. I have nearly zero experience with things like Tamiya surface primer, Mr. Surfacer or even the more common Testors sprays. My only advice here is that you should check out a modeling book and see what the author uses. Remember, military modelers are sticklers for detail and smooth paint. If the primer is good enough for them, its good enough for you.

Important Note: Remember, "keep it thin to win".** Every primer will dry weird if it's sprayed on too thick. Cracking wrinkling, runs and obscured detail are all indications that you put too much paint on.

Another Important Note: If the can of paint you're thinking about using doesn't say 'primer' on the can, then it probably isn't. You should consider a different option. The chemical natures of primers are different enough from regular ol' spray paint to make a significant difference in terms of things like detail lose, paint sticking to the primer and durability.

Another options
There are other options for priming as well. But they just aren't as economical and/or quick as the spray options.

Gesso: Gesso is an art material that is used to prime canvasses prior to painting. It's also pretty handy on miniatures as well. The same primer color guidelines apply here as well.

Note: I had intended to link to an actual Wee Toy Soldiers page, but the account appears to be suspended. I found this re-post on the Screaming Alpha. Looks to be complete and from a pretty decent painting site.

You could also get a regular brush on primer and do that as well. I find that this takes to long and is really dependent on how smooth a coat you're capable of getting on the miniature. My guess is that its not as smooth as a spray can.

Beyond even all this, there's even more ways to prime your miniatures if you look around.

Further Reading:
- Here's a brief article I found on a larger-scale primer test. Some interesting results. Notably, that Armory sucks camel dick.


*Armory is such a shit brand that I have a hard time fathoming why people would recommend it. Yet, here are the BoLS crew implicitly shilling for Armory.

Which leads me to a mini-rant. Normally, I don't feel that the Bell of Lost Souls needs to be ripped apart. They have their own mission and idea about the hobby that fits in with a lot of other peoples preferences. They are also a great rumor aggregating source - they read the forums so you don't have to.

Despite their fervor for the hobby, they often do more harm than good. As to the competitive play and strategy aspects, I can't and won't speak on them. Not my mission. But on their painting articles? They are often absolute shit. I understand the desire to cater to all aspects of the hobby and I think its laudable. However, I can not stand the painting articles.

They always seem to be some dumb-downed version of something the Brushthralls posted years ago. Always written by someone who either has problems grasping the concepts or is trying to cram 6 pages of info into 4 paragraphs. In the end, its just bad advice that seems aimed at mediocrity.

So, as a new painter: Never go to the Bell of Lost Souls for painting advice unless someone competent starts writing for them. However, their archives on other peoples finished models or WIP stuff is definetly worth a read.

**I cribbed this little gem from a poster that was hanging in the prep room when I used to work in a produce department. Stupid, but memorable.


  1. I've had that exact same experience with Armory primer. I ruined an entire box of scouts. The problem is that you can't paint a "test model" and see if it works because it's so random. Sometimes it's fine and sometimes it totally goes ballistic. Not recommended.

  2. Good stuff; I'd rather read about how something's worked than screw up a new model. I've had to learn the hard way about painting with metallics and such; they get a bit bitchy. Though, gold can do fine if you do white and then brown over the white. Or, at least my standards of 'fine', which is...well, somewhat above tabeltop but not by much.

    Second you on GW primer. Good stuff, but I'm more inclined to think it's a price-gouging thing. Their corp strat seems to be to try to make their GW stores a one-stop place. 'Oh, sure, get the model, the Citdal stuff, the Green Stuff, AND the primer!' When I can get twice the amount of Green Stuff (...actually, I think more) for the same price elsewhere? Nah. Screw it.

    I have to add two things:

    1) For plastic models, I've been pretty pleased with Krylon Fusion paints; it bonds to the plastic or some such. Then again, I've used it to coat my mostly-black space marines from back in the day.

    I've also used it on my Eldar (...well, the stuff in that range that's actually plastic) and I'd still use the stuff.

    2) While Gesso is a bit time-consuming, I'm giving it a whirl. This experiment was in part brought on by the fact it was raining for about a month straight, though. Gesso's real benefit is that while it might be a bit time-consuming, you don't have to worry so much about the weather and a spot to use it outside.

  3. yeah, I love doing brown as a base coat for gold. It really helps since most gold paint has shit for coverage.

    A buddy of mine recently had some armory fuck up some of his models. He kept the can to use for terrain since the Armory primer adds more texture to his terrain pieces than the citadel rough coat.

  4. GW doesn't actually sell a primer anymore. Ever notice that they switched the name of the product from "Primer" to "Chaos Black/Skull White Spray"? Primer is primer. spray paint is not. Right about the time they switched to the cheaper product (spray paint) is when they also switched to the $15+ per can. When you're "priming" plastic models, it doesn't matter nearly as much, but for metal and resin, a true primer is pretty important.

    I'll agree with you on duplicolor. It's the best. And another thing about it that you didn't mention is that is dries very quickly, and will shrink slightly as it dries if you're prone to heavy priming. Depending on the model, I'll over-prime a bit because I know that the duplicolor will not fill in my details.