Mini Tips Tuesday #2: Primers

For this Mini Tips Tuesday we’re going to be talking all about primers.

“What is a primer?”

Primer is a coat of paint that allows your subsequent layers of paint to adhere better. It will help keep your paint job more durable as well. Without primer paint will easily chip off and ruin your paint job.

“What kind of primers are there?”

There are many different types of primer but, for miniature painting, it can be broken down into three different types: spray-on, brush-on, and airbrush primers.

Spray-on primers come in rattle cans. They are very helpful for priming a lot of minis at once or priming something large. 

Brush-on is a primer that you use your paint brush to apply. Primers for an airbrush can, in most cases, be used as a brush on as well. 

Airbrush primer is designed to be sprayed through an airbrush.

“Do they come in different colors?”


Black is generally considered the standard color to go with. I, personally, have trouble seeing details with black primer so I will generally go for white or grey. Another reason I prefer white and grey over black is because I paint a lot of difficult colors. It is really hard to paint a solid yellow, red, or white base coat over black primer. 

However, hobby primers have come a long way as there are a plethora of other colors out there. Army Painter, for example, makes a whole line of colored primers meant to help you get your base coat done at the same time. 

Colored primers are good for models that have the same base color. This is especially good for things like armies of minis that will be based the same. It’s much easier to start with your base color on all of them than to use a black, white, or grey base and paint over that a thousand times. It saves time and paint. Along with colored primers there are metallic primers. These are exactly what they sound like, a colored metallic primer, it serves the same purpose as any colored primer.

Airbrush primers are made to be sprayed through an airbrush. These however are also usually a good enough consistency to be used as a brush-on application as well.

How do I get the best results from a primer?

Spray on primers generally have instructions on the can. You want to follow these very closely. If it’s too hot or too humid it will affect the way it dries. If you spray too closely you risk clogging up details. If you spray too far away you risk the primer drying before it hits the model and you’ll get a rough surface. You may want to spray in a box or something similar to avoid getting primer all over everything in the area you are spraying in. 

Brush-on primers don’t need special conditions to prime. It should be fine to just pour some out on a palette and use it. There are a couple things to note when using. Shake thoroughly before using and work at a steady pace. If you go too fast you run the risk of getting bubbles in the primer and it will create bubbles on the models. 

If you use too much primer, spray or brush-on, it will obscure details no matter how thin your coats are. 

“How do I choose a primer?”

You want a primer that will adhere to the material you are going to be painting. So if you’re painting plastic make sure you get something that notes it will stick to plastics. It’s even better if you know what kind of plastic you’re working with but it is not usually required. This applies to metal miniatures as well.

In any case, you will want a matte primer. Paint does not stick well to glossy primer. 

“What is Zenithal priming?”

Zenithal priming, or highlighting, is priming that gives the effect of the sun shining on the miniature at different angles. It helps you pre-shade a model. 

You will start with a mini primed in all black. Then from above use a very light dusting grey primer at about a 45 degree angle. Then from the very top you do a spray of white.  

When painting over a zenithal highlight you don’t want to use super opaque paint. Doing this will ruin the effect. While it is generally done by spraying it is possible to achieve a similar effect with dry brushing.

“What about Bones minis? Should you prime them?”

Before I give my answer I will preface this by saying this is what I do and suggest, personally. It is a hugely debated topic.

First, it is possible to paint Bones without priming but it can be difficult due to the hydrophobic nature of the material..

Second, I do not prime, kind of. I use the liner paints that Reaper Miniatures makes as a primer. I like brown and blue. You can use these straight out of the bottle or with a drop or two of water without issue. Any more water than that and you run the risk of the chance of it beading up and running off.

I do not recommend aerosol primarily for one reason. Some, not all, of the spray-on primers will cause the mini to become tacky and sticky. This may or may not ever dry. It can also cause the mini to seem to be dried well at first but then later on will become tacky sometimes after you’ve already painted it.

I highly recommend that if you feel you must prime Bones to either use a liner paint, brush-on primer, or primer sprayed through an airbrush. 

But, to each their own I say. 

As always happy painting,


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