Using primer on your miniatures is an essential part of the hobby. It’s something everyone should do prior to painting their models. So, let me walk you through what to buy and how to prime your models.
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Miniature Primer is Essential
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. Not priming models is one of the most common mistakes new painters make.
What Miniature Primer to Buy?
So what primer should you use? I’ll cover that below, but I also wanted to talk about what color to use.
Also note, I’m in the United States. So, access to some of the items mentioned are subject to your location.
The most forgiving color you can prime your models is black. It can be hard to put light colors on it (white, yellow, orange, etc), but the nice part is if you forget to paint in an area, then it just looks like a shadow.
Using black will also make your colors a bit desaturated (dull).
You will also commonly find grey as a choice as well for a primer. Grey, unsurprisingly, is somewhere between using black and white. It’s an easy color to paint over for darker and lighter colors, making is pretty ideal for most stuff you’re doing.
White primer will give you the most saturation (brightness) on your colors. It’s great if you’re working with a lot of very bright colors. It’s more difficult if you’re using darker colors, but still not the worst thing in the world. Dark colors over white is easier than light colors over black.
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 of things. However, I never had any issues using Krylon. It sprayed well, adhered well, and didn’t wear off. I’d definitely recommend this one.
The one downside with Krylon now is it’s a paint and primer, which isn’t ideal.
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 the cost for a can for Krylon, I started looking at primers again. I found this one at an automotive store for less, tried it, and haven’t looked back since.
How to Prime a Miniature
Time needed: 1 minute
You’ve got your miniature, you’ve got primer, so it’s time to get to it!
- Attach the Miniature to Something
A little tip is to attach your models to a stick or piece of wood. You can do this using Blu Tack easily.
By attaching the model to something like a stick, you can turn the model as you’re spraying to make sure you cover it from every angle. It’s hard to do that when the miniatures are standing on a box or something.
You can also buy a Citadel Colour Spray Stick. This is a very handy tool that lets you attach multiple models to the stick with bands. There’s a handle so you can easily tilt the miniatures at different angles to get full coverage.
- Shake the Can
Shake the living hell out of the can. You want to spend around 30 seconds shaking the can before you use it.
- Spray from 10-12″ Away
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.
Fuzziness from the spray drying before hitting the model.
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.
- Swing the Can Back and Forth
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.
Dave from Wargaming Tradecraft has a great little video showing what I’m talking about.
How to Fix Fuzzy Primer Issues
It happens to everyone eventually. Whether you’re new to the hobby, or a veteran, fuzzy primer happens. In my case, I was priming from too far away. When you do that, the primer begins drying before it hits the model, and in turn leaves a fuzzy coat. I know better, but we all mess up.
Thankfully for me, the fuzzy areas are not in very obvious spots, the underside of the models. I tried to get a shot of it, but it’s really hard to show fuzzy primer on such a small scale, especially since it was minor in the grand scheme of things.
In this situation where the fuzziness is minor, and it’s not in a very obvious spot, I have a trick I like to use to fix it. You don’t need to strip the models either.
Get yourself an old toothbrush.
Take the toothbrush and scrub the areas that have fuzzy primer. The process effectively buffs the area, and in turn smooths it out.
Now, it’s not going to completely remove it, and make it perfect, but it will make a noticeable difference. How well it works will depend on just how built up the fuzziness is.
You can see the shiny spots now from where the toothbrush buffed the primer. If you wanted, you could go ahead and use a brush on primer, or spray prime, in these areas to remove the glossy sheen to give you better adhesion for your base coat. However, I don’t typically bother. I find even buffed as it is, the primer still takes the base coat well enough, and I’ve never had any issues as a result.
That’s it. A really simple way to deal with fuzzy primer without having to strip your models.
I admit that I don’t airbrush, so my suggestions are based on the experience of other hobbyists.
Now, I have done some airbrush priming in the past though. A fellow author here, Kamui, showed me how it’s done. I admit, it was fun to do, quick, no toxic smells, and worked well. This would be my preferred method for priming if I had an airbrush.
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!
There’s a few options available for brush-on primers, but I only have experience with one of them.
My general opinion of brush-on primers is that I don’t like them. I don’t find they give you the same surface to work with that a spray primer does or an airbrush primer. It just feels less like a primer and more like black paint.
However, that could just be my experience with my limited use of them.
There is a Citadel one called Imperial Primer. It may be no longer in production though. Anyway, 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.
The Best Miniature Primers
Here’s my top 3 picks for primers of those I’ve covered above.
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.
The primer you choose is up to you as well. Try some different colors and see what you think. Try the spray, airbrush, and brush-on if you like. They all have their use and one of them will suit your needs.
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.
If you’re a new hobbyist, and are looking for other supplies you need, then definitely check out our article on essential miniature painting supplies.
What do you use for primer?
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