Painting miniatures: Priming is important


For the second entry in painting miniatures we are going to talk about priming.  It’s important and doing it right will help prevent frustration during painting and detailing.

 Priming is the application of a base layer of paint which is used to prepare the miniature for further detailed painting.  You want to apply a base coat of paint to the miniature you’re painting. I use matte paint for this as it tends to hold other colors really well. Basic options are black, grey, or white. However if you’re main color scheme is going to be green or blue or another color, it may help to prime in that color instead.

 Be aware that if you are going to use a lot of light, bright, or pastel style colors then black is going to be a terrible primer for you. Just as the opposite will be true that if you’re using a lot of dark colors, white may be a horrible primer for you.  If you’re going to have a mixed color scheme (say black and a bright yellow) then usually a good neutral like grey will work best. The reason for this is that to cover a black primer coat with a bright or light color will take several additional coats of the color, where a white primer coat may only take one or two coats to get the color right. Ultimately, what color you use will come with experience and again, as last time you will decide what works best for you.

Primer image 2

You can purchase whatever type of paint you like to prime. For me, I buy the cheap stuff from where ever I can find the cheapest can of matte paint.  Occasionally if I want a model to look really good I might buy a higher quality primer. Frankly this part isn’t going to make much of a difference, so spending high amounts of money on the primer isn’t a great use of your funds.  If you’re in an area that is particularly prone to issues however, it may be worth the extra spending to get the coat right.

 Areas that are at the extremes of weather will have to take some additional measures into consideration for a good primer coat. Excessive heat, cold, moisture, dryness or wind (or a combination of these) will affect the priming process negatively.  Try to mitigate those issues as much as possible  I’ve never done extreme cold so I don’t actually know what happens with that one, but the paint cans I use all have a warning about excessive cold somewhere on the label. Don’t spray them in the rain, I know that should be a given but I want to make sure no one tries that.  I have sprayed in high humidity with high heat areas, which usually works as long as you’re not in direct sunlight.  Excessive heat or sometimes just in direct sunlight will provide a powdery coat that builds quickly. This is because the paint is almost completely dry by the time it hits the miniature. Wind, well good luck even hitting the miniature with a proper spray. I’ve tried and I can tell you it’s a horribly frustrating effort in wind.

Primer image 3

Just like most normal spray painting you want to spray a light coat on. An all at once heavy coat will create drips in paint and also cover up details. A second coat is sometimes best when conditions aren’t perfect, but again make it light. As you get better and more used to it you’ll figure out exactly how much you can put on in one coat and if that one coat is enough. Remember that you will want to move the miniatures to different positions to ensure the paint got to each of the spots you need.                                                                                                                                                                                                                
I am usually good with 2 or 3 passes; Front and top, back, and from the bottom and possibly the sides. Depending on the number and setup I can usually get front, top and back in one go.  Then I let them dry and check from the bottom upwards. You’d be surprised how many crevices these things have!  On a sunny day once the paint is on you can set them in the sun for a quick bake to speed up drying.

 I use a lot of cardboard for setting my miniatures on. Easy to transport, easy to maneuver, cheap or free, and can also be used as a detail painting surface. Use whatever surface works best for you. Sometimes it’s a piece of wood that I don’t need for anything else. Again, I don’t recommend sidewalks or driveways unless your driveway is gravel, grass, or already the color you’re using.

A quick note: some of the more recent miniatures are a polymer plastic that doesn’t do well with certain aerosol sprays requiring a higher quality paint, or in some cases no primer at all.

Now that they miniatures are primed and ready for detailing we will discuss paints and some techniques in our next article.

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