Primer on Priming

I realized that I know a lot about priming. Knowledge from having researched, experimented, talked with other painters about it, knowledge that not everyone seems to have access to or know where to find. Or people think they already know everything about priming and are shocked to realize that maybe they don't

This last sentence is why I start out each one of my 2 Day Intensive courses with priming. Now, I usually get very confused messages from a handful of people signed up saying, "Meg, c'mon, we've been painting longer than you've been alive. We know how to prime! Surely we can skip this step?"

Not so. And here's why: most people actually over prime their models. That's right *over* prime! I'm getting ahead of myself though. So, let's back up and cover some basics. 

*Disclaimer* This is all based on my experiences. You may get wildly different advice from another painter. That's ok. This is just what works for me. I am also in no way endorsed by any of the brands and manufacturers recommended in this article. I get no monetary compensation from them. What is Primer?

Primer is a type of paint used in the preparation of a model's surface for further painting. This is probably the most important step to painting, in my opinion, because not having a good primer coat can adversely affect the painting process later on. 

Primer is designed to create a more permanent bond between paint and smooth, non-porous surfaces such as metal, plastic and resin. It is typically an acrylic paint that can either be brushed on or sprayed on (either out of a spray can or airbrush). 

Not only does the primer bond to the material of the model but it also provides a slightly rough texture, allowing the paint to adhere to the model better. Primer can mean the difference between a perfect paint job and ending up with a lot of chips on your model after being handled. 

How to prime properly

This is the step where everyone wants to tell me they already know how to do it. Then . . . I blow some minds. So, here we go. 

I was at CanCon 2014 in Australia in January. Someone sat down with me to ask about some painting tips and techniques. Of course, I was happy to help him and asked to see his primed model he brought so I could demo a few things for him. When he handed it to me I looked at him and asked, "Why did you gloss coat your primer?" He responded, "I didn't. Why?" He had applied so much primer to his model it was actually glossy and no paint would stick to it. We then had to discuss priming for a bit. 

Most people completely, utterly and unabashedly over prime their models. And they don't even know it. Have you ever assembled a model on a black gaming base and then applied so much primer to it that it's completely white and there is no hint of a black gaming base on the model anymore, just a white disk? Yeah, you've WAY over primed your model. 

You can't see any hint of black on the base after it was primed white. This is an example of too much primer

Right, so why is this important? Well, let's discuss what paint and primer is for a second. Any acrylic based paint is liquid plastic. And what happens when you apply layer after layer of plastic to something? It gets smooth, glossy and nothing sticks to it

This leads me to another question I get a lot, "Do you have problems with paint chipping?" Nope, I don't. And it's all because I prime my model properly and I use a brand of paint that is really durable. But let's get back to priming. 

What is considered priming properly, then? A very light dusting of primer. Even for tabletop models I don't worry about covering every little nook and cranny on a model. Most people are so worried about getting primer in some of the deepest recess of the model. If it takes that much effort to get primer in there, are your fingers really going to touch that area of the model? Probably not. Which means that the paint there is not likely to be touched and well, you don't need to go that far to douse your model in primer. 


I was taught to prime by Jeremie Bonamant-Teboul so I can't take credit for this technique. He taught me to hold the mini out at arm's length in your non-dominant hand ( I use my right as I'm left handed), then take the spray can in your dominant hand off to the side of the mini. Do a spray test away from the model. Spray cans can sometime become clogged and you don't want one to explode on your model.

After the spray test, with the can still off to the side you will start to spray and then bring the can *across* the model with a light dusting. Continue to do this while also turning the model in your hand. This will create a light dusting, allow the layers of primer to dry quickly because it isn't being applied too thick and it's easy to control the spray. 

I apply until I can see primer on most of the model, not worrying if I see some metal through the primer in those deepest recesses. It's okay. Like I said, you probably aren't going to touch those areas so there's not much to worry about.  



Tamiya Fine Surface Primer is the best of the best. It goes on smooth every time, no issues if you live in a hot or hot and humid area. I have used Tamiya in the scorching deserts of Phoenix, Arizona, the humid lake area of North Texas, the ever rainy area of Seattle, WA. It's performed extremely well in each location. I've never had a problem with it chipping either. 

It is a bit spendy but if you want top quality for your models, this is the stuff to go with. It's about $12/can and I've seen it available in white and gray. 

P3 Primer

Available in Black or White spray cans, P3 Primer is some of the most reliable primer I have ever used. It's affordable at $7 , comes in a larger spray can than some other brands, lasts me a long time (I can use one for about a month which is pretty good considering how much I paint), I've never had it create a fuzz or dust when it's been humid outside (again, impressive considering I live in a rather wet area) and it even goes on well when it's raining outside. The spray can is comfortable in my hand and the nozzle is easy to use, doesn't need a lot of force. 

It's also extremely durable! I would have to be extremely rough on a mini to get any sort of chipping on the primer. 

Vallejo Airbrush Primer

Available in many colors, this primer can be brushed on by hand or used through an airbrush. It's not very expensive at $15 for 200ml, goes on really well by hand or by airbrush. The only downside is that if too much is applied it will start to get a glossy or satin finish and that means paint will have a harder time sticking. I have some of the small dropper bottles as part of my travel kit just in case I need to touch up primer or prime something with a brush. 

Common Questions

What if you find a mold line after priming? 

I just cut or file it off then start painting. Unless it's a really big swathe of primer you just removed, don't worry about applying more primer. If you are really worried about it, this is when the Vallejo primer will come in handy as it can be brushed on. 

Do you dilute primer that you brush on? 

A little bit but it will greatly depend on the brand of the primer you are using and how thin it is already. 

What about running it through an airbrush, do you dilute it then?

Again, this depends on the brand of the primer you are using. I dilute the Vallejo just a little bit with some thinner as it makes it flow more smoothly applying a much more even and well prepared surface for painting. 

What about GW or Army Painter Primers?

I don't care for them. The GW primer is actually just spray paint and thus doesn't bond well with the model material. Ever notice you get a lot of chips and nicks with that stuff? Yeah, stop using it. Army Painter goes on WAY too thick too quickly for my taste. It also has a really bad tendency to "fuzz" in humid weather.