Half-ass Your Way to the Top with dethtron: Prime(r) Time

Well, I told you this series was going to be sporadic, didn’t I?   Anyhow, today it’s time to discuss one of the single most important stages of getting a model onto the table for those of us that want to half-ass our way into the gaming universe- primer.

A good base of primer will save you tons of time on painting later down the road.  Conversely, using the wrong primer or doing a shitty job will open you up to an unending, torturous journey through painting Gehenna. 

To break this whole thing down for you, I’ll show you a quick how-to on primer and then give a brief discussion on what primer is doing for you, what kind/color to use, and why everyone is stupid.


Today I’ll be using the Fallshcirmjaeger that I’ve featured in the rest of this series, but the basics of priming apply to pretty much any scale and material used in miniature gaming.

To begin, I arrange my assembled models on an old box top.  I make sure to wait to do this until all glue and basing materials have had a chance to dry.  In most cases, 3-4 hours is probably enough, but I generally let things sit overnight- my workshop can be a bit humid.  Note that I’m not using a painting stick or anything stupid like that (more on that later).  Also note that I’m priming a whole unit in one go to save time.

Here’s an exciting action-shot of the minis on a box:

Now, if you’re some kind of millionaire or something you might have a painting hood in your workshop.  Given my current lifestyle, that’s not how I roll.  Shit, you should have figured that out when you saw me using a recycled box top as a spray platform.  Short story long, the upshot of my not being fantastically wealthy is that I don’t generally like to do any spray painting in my poorly ventilated workshop, so have to go outside.

this is what happens when you paint inside

When painting outside be mindful of the temperature and humidity.  If either are especially high, don’t paint until conditions improve.  Those 2 variables will change how your primer works or doesn’t.

It’s time to spray.  I hold my spray can (more on this later) about 6-10″ away from what I’m painting.  I then make a quick, light pass across the entire frontage of the models.  I’m not concerned with full coverage on this pass, so may have to do a second one later.

Next I rotate the box about 60 degrees and do another pass.  This step is repeated until you’ve done a full 360.  At this point, having hit the models from six angles, I’m usually happy with the level of coverage, but if I do see bare metal/plastic showing, another light coat will certainly not hurt anything.

This is what black primed models look like, in case you were wondering:

And that’s basically it for my “technique” on spray priming.

Now for the more important stuff.  Here are some hints and rants to help you half-ass your way through priming and later painting.

Buy real primer– if your can doesn’t say “spray primer” or at least “primer” on it somewhere, then it’s just spray paint.  Primer helps subsequent layers of paint adhere to your model, spray paint does not.  Primer will help create smooth even layers of paint later on.  Spray paint won’t really help with this.  In some unfortunate cases (I had a nasty run-in with some Testors), spray paint can even be hydrophobic, meaning water runs off it.  It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that if you’re using acrylic paints (water based) you’re pretty much fucked when this happens. 

Use spray primer-  brush on primer is not only slow to work with, defeating the whole goal of this series, but it’s also prone to leaving a streaky, uneven base to work with.  So it’s a longer process resulting in a shittier final product; sounds like a win-win to me!

Pick the right color of primer– For me and my half-assing ways, black is the only color of primer that exists.  As I tend towards a darker look for my models anyway, this works just fine.  It works best with darker colors like greens, deep blues, browns, and unsurprisingly black.  Black is really forgiving when it comes to half-assing.  If you’re using thin coats of paint later, it helps provide a pseudo shading effect for you.  Plus if there’s a part of a model you can’t reach, it’s going to look like shadow 9 times out of 10 if you wind up not painting it- this doesn’t work out with other primer colors.

Now if you absolutely must paint your army white or yellow or some other horrible color like that, then you probably shouldn’t be reading a series about half-assing paint jobs, but you’ll need to use white primer.  This way getting that smooth coat of yellow will only take you 30 coats instead of like 90 or 100 over black primer.  Great use of your time there, but hey if you want an army that absolutely sticks out in every kind of cover known to man, then go for it.

As an in between there’s also grey primer.  I don’t feel as bad about this one as I do with white, since it’s a bit darker.  It tends to work well with tricky colors like red (but again probably shouldn’t be using red if you’re trying to speed paint) and works ok with lighter colors.  It’s not quite as forgiving as black, but you can still get decent results with it.

Take care of your cans- store them in a cool, dry place like the label says.  When finishing a project, turn the can upside-down and spray until nothing comes out.  If you’ve ever gotten a fuzzy primer coat before it’s due to paint drying in the nozzle of your can and flying all over your model.  By flipping your can over and spraying, you’re clearing the nozzle and preventing fuzzing down the road.  Painting over a smooth primer coat is way easier than the Herculean task of trying to paint evenly over fuzzy primer.  This same advice applies to varnishes as well.

Do not apply thickly– If you spray on too much primer, you’re going to kill all the good detail on your model and have a bad time.  Tiny details in models will help you later on in painting since dry-brushing, over-brushing, and washing all need sculpted details to work.  I’ll talk more about those time-saving techniques next time though, so until then keep your priming light.

For further reading on priming, Lauby wrote some good articles on what type of primer to buy back in the day here and also here.

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