It still amazes me how many hobbyists forgo primer and will instead either paint directly on the surface, or will use a matte spray paint as their base coat.
I’m no expert. I can’t tell you the exact science of what makes a primer effective at what it does, but I can tell you that it does make a difference. The short of it is that it adheres better to your models than normal paint, and it also gives you a better surface to paint on. Primers are created to stick to the surface you’re spraying and to receive paint. It is its job.
By not using a primer you are only hurting yourself. Your paint is less likely to stick to the model, and in turn more likely to come off either through handling, or by dropping the model. This is especially true on metal models. Oh god, if you don’t prime a metal model first then your paint is not staying on there at all. Trust me.
Most of us seal our models. Sealing helps protect all the work you’ve done. Still, even a sealed model can take damage. If you didn’t prime the model then it’s way more likely to chip down to bare metal/plastic than a model that is primed; even if it’s sealed.
See, if that first layer of paint is not adhered well to the model (no primer was used), then the impact of a model falling will cause that first layer of paint to loosen up and chip. However, if you used a primer then the paint is stuck on there well and it’s way less likely to chip off.
Do yourself a favor, prime your models.
What Primer to Buy?
So what primer should you use? I prime all my stuff in black, and so my experience has been pretty much in that area alone.
Also note, I’m in the United States. So, access to some of the items mentioned are subject to your location.
The first one I used that I liked was by Armoury. Armoury went out of business years ago though, but you can still find it at some gaming stores. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s a larger can and it goes on well.
I have used Dupli-Color, which is an automotive primer, and had great success with it. They have a bunch of specialty ones so be careful what you get.
I used their sandable primer, basically their run of the mill one. Don’t get their filler primer or anything like that, bad things will happen. Dupli-Color also has their primers in white, that lovely rust red color, and gray.
My experience with Dupli-Color was that the first half of the can is perfect. It goes on as it should and creates a great surface to be painted. That first half of the can is probably the best primer I’ve used ever.
The second half of the can? Yeah, that’s the problem. It seems no matter how much I shake the can, how often, the temperatures, and humidity I work at, the second half of the can goes on watery and coverage is terrible. So, a bit of a mixed bag there.
For a good many years I used Krylon’s black primer and had very good luck with it. The problem I had was that it’s on the expensive end at over $6 a can last I bought it. However, I never had any issues using Krylon. It sprayed well, adhered well, and didn’t wear off. I’d definitely recommend this one.
What I’m currently using is Brite Touch. It’s another automotive primer and also by Dupli-color, but a different version. This one works great. The Brite Touch I’ve been using for a few years now.
Like I said, I liked Krylon but it was getting too expensive. When I couldn’t justify $6 a can for Krylon, I started looking at primers again. I found this one at an automotive store for around $4, tried it, and haven’t looked back since.
Quick Spraying Tips
1. Shake the living hell out of the can. You want to spend around 30 seconds shaking the can before you use it.
2. One of the biggest issues people run into with a spray primer is by spraying too far away from the miniature. If you’re too far back spraying then what happens is the spray starts to dry in the air before it hits the model. The dried spray hits the model and leaves a fuzzy coating on there. I do have a trick for dealing with that though.
So, you want to remain around 12″ to 10″ from the miniature when you’re spraying. If you’re too close then it will pool up on the model, and too far will cause the drying/fuzzy issue.
3. When you’re spraying, start the spray beside the model so the spray doesn’t hit the miniature. Drag the spray over the miniature and stop spraying when the spray is no longer on the model, like how you started. Just one swipe like this.
Doing this will avoid the primer building up where you start and where you end with the spray.
I admit that I don’t airbrush, so my suggestions are based on the experience of other hobbyists.
I’ve heard great things by fellow hobbyists about a primer from Badger. Zab mentioned it below in comments, and Shaun on Facebook also suggested it. Thanks for the tip, guys.
Also, and you’ll see this one below in the brush-on primers too, is the Vallejo primer. It’s a brush-on primer, but of course you can use it in an airbrush as well, which is what Cylde does.
There’s a few options available for brush-on primers, but I only have experience with one of them.
There is a Citadel one called Imperial Primer. I use this from time to time to do spot priming, like if I missed a spot spraying, or I have to repair damage. To that end it works pretty well. However, for covering an entire miniature I would not recommend it. I find it separates too much. You have to shake the hell out of the pot, and stir it around, just to get something halfway decent for coverage.
Often you’ll be doing two coats as well, which I’m not a fan of. It’s useful to have on hand, but I do not recommend doing full models with this.
Another option, not one I’ve used by one another author here has, is Gesso. It’s an acrylic primer used by canvas painters, but I know Kamui (author here) has used it with great success.
I do know it’s super affordable, and a nice feature is you can add a drop of paint to the Gesso to create a colored primer.
Another option, which I know virtually nothing about, is from Vallejo. The only reason I’m mentioning it is to give another option, and I’m a big fan of Vallejo products in general. Anyway, it’s a brush-on primer at a great cost, so it’s worth checking out.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot of worthwhile primers you can find at varying prices. The point is to make sure you’re using one. Seriously.
If there’s one piece of painting advice I can give anyone it’s to use a primer. The second piece would be to seal your models after. If you do those two things then you’re going to have models that will last you forever.