Tool Tips 05 – Priming

Tool Tips 05 – Priming

Last week (Tool Tips 04) was about customizing minis by adding in some magnets. This week we take a look at the very important step of “Priming”!


Priming is basically applying a layer of paint on your ‘naked’ metal/plastic miniature to give additional paints something to bind to. It also helps with adding a base color layer which you can build off of. Sometimes people will use a primer that matches the major color of the mini, so they will have less base-painting to do. Priming is also sometimes referred to as “undercoating”.

For priming, you can use various spray can (aka ‘rattle can’) primers, brush on primers, or an airbrush.

From my experience, I had no luck with brush on primers. Too thick and streaky or not enough coverage, and application takes a lonnnnng time. There are some people who seem to like them though and do just fine. I do keep a bottle of brush on primer for touch-ups. I used to use it quite a bit when I spray primed with rattle cans, as there always seemed to be spots (especially on the undersides) where the spray would miss.

I used to use spray primers, as it was the only thing I knew of. Just last year, I discovered airbrush priming after dealing with a series of spray priming mishaps. You can read all about my experiences going from spray priming to airbrushes, starting: here.

I ran into the same problem too frequently, where the paint ended up with a grainy or lumpy texture after spray priming. At first I tried different paint brands, Armory, Citadel, Army Painter, Tamiya, etc. Tamiya seemed to be the best (and most expensive), but even with Tamiya I ran into the problem at random. It could be that weather changes or humidity might have been a factor. Nevertheless, I ended up with a solution that works 100% of the time for me.

Airbrush priming.

It works.

End of blog.

Haha! Seriously, it was worth it to me to spend (a large amount of change) to finally get past the hassle of dealing with botched rattle can priming. As I mentioned, it was random and cost me a lot of hours to strip minis and re-prime.

If you go this route, it will cost you. I have an airbrush, an air compressor, a spray-out pot, a quick-release adapter, airbrush cleaner, large jugs of distilled water, and of course airbrush primers. I’ve only bought and used one airbrush and compressor so far, so I can’t give too much detail on the *best* one out there. There are more expensive and cheaper ones out there. I feel like for the money I paid, this one seems durable enough and suits my purposes. Again, check out my previous blog entries for more details. If you live in an area with bad weather and are having issues with priming, or you just want more control over your priming in general, it might be an option for you.

For me, the advantages I found in airbrush priming are:

Greater control in direction and amount of spray

Better coverage (can spray areas that you wouldn’t be able to get to with a rattle can)

Can apply even thinner coats of primer (or thicker if you wanted)

Variety of color choices (especially if you mix your own)

Not as weather dependent



Possibly longer cleanup time (though I spent more time cleaning up the garage after rattle can priming, than I ever have with airbrush)

Slightly longer time to prime individual models (though I think thoroughness is worth it)

Airbrush (Iwata-Medea Eclipse HP)

Air Compressor (Iwata-Medea Studio Series Ninja Jet)


Spray-out pot

Airbrush Cleaner

Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner

Airbrush Primer

Iwata Airbrush – As mentioned above, this is the only one I’ve used, but for the price it seems to function pretty good.


Iwata-Medea Ninja Air Compressor – I mainly got this one, because the reviews seemed to indicate relative quietness. It’s also a pretty compact size and supposed to have fewer cleaning issues. I originally envisioned using this in our office/room, while the toddler was napping. The noise isn’t bad, but it is still noticeable. Again, more details in previous blog postings, but this one seems to do the trick. I sometimes feel like I want a little more air to crank through, but I don’t know if 1) That would mean a lot more noise 2) If that is even a possibility.


Quick Disconnect adapter – simple little device that just reduces wear and tear on the screw connection of your Airbrush. Instead of screwing/unscrewing your airbrush from your compressor hose constantly, you just give a little push/pull. Worst case, the cheaper adapter part wears out and you have to buy a whole new disconnect instead of a new airbrush. You will need to make sure to get the right one for your airbrush though.

Spray Out Pot and Airbrush Cleaner – these kind of go hand in hand. The spray out pot is used to quickly spray the airbrush into to help clean out the nozzle inbetween. I’ll typically give it a few blasts every now and then during a session. Works decently. I also use it as a resting place for the airbrush if I need to set it somewhere temporarily. There seemed to be a strong chemical odor when I first got the Airbrush Cleaner, but I haven’t noticed it during the last few sessions, so it seems it might have gone away. If I’m changing paints, I’ll sometimes run a bit of cleaner through. When I clean the airbrush, Ill rinse out the cup with some airbrush cleaner and add some to the tub of the Ultrasonic bath.

Ultrasonic Jewelry Bath – yea, I’ve mentioned this one a lot. I have two now. One for stripping minis (which has gotten quite dirty) and one strictly for cleaning the airbrush. Take the airbrush apart, rinse with distilled water, add the parts carefully to the tub, fill with distilled water, and a few squirts of airbrush cleaner. Let it run through it’s cycle, three times, and you have one nicely cleaned airbrush!

Airbrush Primer – and finally, we get to Airbrush primers. Well, plus Blu Tack or mounting putty, which is always useful and somehow made its way into this picture!

Mounting Putty – I don’t think I have mentioned this previously, but it bears repeating. I use ‘mounting putty’ a lot. It’s a putty that sticks things together, but also easily comes apart. Kind of a non-stick adhesive. I’ve used it to hold parts of a mini together while photographing them. You can also use it to stick parts together temporarily during a conversion to get an idea if the pose looks right. I use mounting putty to hold the miniature on top of a surface while painting and also to stabilize the miniature while spraying it with primer. The putty can pretty much be used over and over. I haven’t experimented too much with different brands yet, but the cheaper brand I used above has been “interesting”. It is very sticky and worked nicely when using a big clump of it to hold a miniature to a painting surface. Better than the (I think “Loctite”) brand I had used in the past. However, on some smaller parts that I primed, with a small amount of mounting putty, it got really sticky and it took me a good 5 minutes to get all the little bits of putty unstuck from inbetween the fine details. [EDIT] I crossed out a couple things, as the generic mounting putty I had picked up recently, has proved more troublesome over time. It was nice at first for making sure a mini stayed put on a painting holder while painting, but removing the putty afterwards has been really challenging and seems to become the consistency of chewing gum over time. This was particularly aggravating when I used some to hold small parts in place for priming…then had it remove some of the previously primed paint afterwards. I’ve since ordered some Loctite and Blue Tac name brands so I can do a comparison later on.[/EDIT]

So, this is where I might get a bit wordy again. Oh, no! Oh, yes.

I originally bought two brands of primer “Vallejo” and “Badger” (aka “Stynylrez”, which I can never spell from memory!). The Badger primer came in a pack with different colors (white, grey, red brown, olive green, and neutral yellow). For Vallejo I got white, black, and grey. Originally I thought I would be using Badger’s different colored primers a lot more, but I haven’t too much. I also originally had no preference between the two. And here is where I launch into more of a tip or ‘shared experience’.

Priming Color Choices – My revelation for 2017. I, like mostly everyone way back when, primed everything in black. Black is all right, but it can be difficult to apply lighter colors on, requiring many, many, many layers of paint. Black is really great for metals, but not so good when doing skin, etc. So along the way I learned of “white primer” and somebody must have said that it is “super cool”, because that’s what I’ve been using strictly for the last 180 years! Possibly out of laziness, partly because I read that it was better than black, etc.

On my first try with the Dwarves, I attempted using a red primer, thinking it would save me some time since I planned on painting their armor red. Unfortunately, the spray primer got botched. Then I tried Badger’s Red Brown airbrush primer, but I couldn’t figure out how to apply lighter colors to it. I think partially because I was using really thin Vallejo paints. So I redid the Dwarves and primed them in …. wait for it…. White! And once again I returned to the wonderful world of white priming. It was all unicorns and candy canes and daffodils. Or was it?

One day I saw a deal on Ebay for some partially painted Orcs. The person who was selling them, said they had ‘given up on painting them’, and just wanted to get rid of them. Sure, why not snatch them up? I didn’t care that they were painted, as I could just strip them. When the Orcs arrived, I looked them over and noticed that one was completely finished and actually looked pretty good. Admiring the little guy, I set him on my painting supplies drawer. It was kind of fun to look at him from time to time as I worked on my Dwarves. Sometimes I would start to wonder what techniques or paints this person might have used. I actually messaged them, but never got a response. Funny enough, someone once asked me what paints I used on some minis I ebayed as well (yea, I did try to help them as best I could). Anyways, since I didn’t have an Orc team painted at the time, and this person had primed several of the other Orcs, and half painted a few….when it got around to Game Time with my Son… made sense to just expand the team that was kinda started.

Attention Shoppers! Would the Owner of a Red Orc, please return to the Service Desk!

(Seriously though, if you know the original owner, I’d love to give them credit on this blog!)

I’ve been using Vallejo paints (more on that when I finally get to Painting), so I wasn’t very familiar with the colors that were used. I looked at some GW paint guides and figured out what Citadel colors were likely used, and purchased some. Then set about to priming the other minis in….GREY. Yes, these minis had been primed in grey. Weird, huh!? I wanted the colors to match as closely as possible, so I followed suit.

I get out the primers, the Badger grey primer is kind of separated and watery. Meh. Hulk go with Vallejo primer! Hulk prime! So priming away….but then I discover that the Vallejo grey primer is really light, like nearly white. That’s not good, as the grey primer on the Orcs is much darker. So next time around I switch to the Badger primer. Shake it up, and spray, spray. The color matches better, more dark. It also tends to have a better consistency and smoothness post-priming. That pretty much sold me on which brand of primer I will be buying in the future. It was kind of fortunate to have the opportunity to test the same color primer from two different brands in such a short time. Previously I really couldn’t tell a difference, and a lot of that had to do with just not paying enough attention and too much time between priming jobs.

Painting wise, I found it was pretty easy to apply the Citadel paint over the grey. It didn’t take anywhere near as many layers as I thought. The grey primer also helps hide mistakes way better than white. If you’ve primed with white, and you miss a spot in a crevice, it will glint out at you like a miniature star. That can be really aggravating. Similarly, grey works really well at blending areas in shadow. At first I thought “Wow, maybe I should paint everything in black?!?”. When painting the Blood Bowl templates though, I quickly learned that black primer can be pretty unforgiving if you’re painting light lines on it. Grey seems to be the happy medium inbetween the two, and likely what I will be spray priming my minis with for the next 180 years! Well, not completely. I didn’t practice this, but I’ve always sort of known that black is best in certain circumstances, like if there is a lot of metal/armor. I primed a minotaur model recently with black, because he will mostly be dry brushed. I will also likely go back to white, once I start painting an Elf team, as they will have light skin and armor colors. But for a lot of others, it will be grey now. I’ll also be more mindful of switching it up, when the job really calls for black or white.


Okay, we managed to get through priming, which has been quite the topic for me over the last year. Next time around, we will launch into Painting!

Next up: Tool Tips 06!

4 thoughts on “Tool Tips 05 – Priming

  1. If you’re up for Valllejo airbrush primers, I would suggest investing in a few of their different colour options as well. They have quite a nice range, and the black has become my go-to standard black paint decanted into a dropper bottle for the last few years now…

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  2. Actually, I’ve found Badger’s primer (in different colors) to be my preferred primer. It might be the batch I picked up, but the Vallejo primers have not gone a smoothly and I seem to have had more problems with clogging. Dropper bottles is a smart move! I should go that route myself, as I sometimes create a small mess with the bottles I have.

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