Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Matter of Opinion: Primer

Once again, a comment in a recent article of mine prompted me to express my opinion about something intrinsic to our hobby, primer choice. In "A Matter of Opinion: The Glue that Binds", a poster who shall remain anonymous, *cough* OldSchoolTerminator *cough*, mentioned that I shouldn't even get him and his group started on the opinion of what primer works best.

Now who am I to pass up an opening like that, hmm?

In order to remain focused, this won't include a tutorial on how to prime your models. I'll be limiting this strictly on how I chose the primer I use the most. That doesn't mean I won't pen a tutorial on how to prime in the future, just not in this post. If I don't remain focused on the topic at hand, I'll get off on a tangent, and that won't do us much good, now will it?

I've actually had a good amount of exposure to different primer brands across the hobby spectrum. I even did a test across plastic and metal figures to see what worked best with what about a year ago, the results of which greatly influenced my current primer of choice.

Armory Primers
They have a low price-point, which was the original attractant for me to this line, and I picked up a can of their white spray. After a good 5-minute shake, I tested it out on a spare plastic and a spare metal figure. It snowed them both. Perplexed, because the conditions were fine, I grabbed a plastic cup, gave it another good shake for a few minutes and tried again…yielding the same results on the cup as I did on the figures. Trying not to discount a brand on one bad can, I bought another to try. After giving it a good 5-minute shake, I tried it out on another spare plastic figure. While it didn't snow the figure this time, it did leave this gritty residue that made it seem like very fine sand particles hit the figure at odd places. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I gave this brand a honest try, twice, and will never do so again.

Army Painter Primers
The first time I tried this brand I was trying to save time, and bought their Skeleton Bone colored spray to quicken the painting process on my Centurions vehicles. I also bought their Red color for a Storm Raven. Both times the brand performed admirably, with no snowing of the models, and they both had very consistent coverage on the larger surfaces of the vehicles. I'd consider giving them another try using their white or black for standard figures if given the chance, I just haven't yet. I'm very pleased with their color choices and if you're looking to give yourself a leg up on your base coat color for a quicker, smooth first coat, and they have the color you're wanting to use, then try it out.

GW Chaos Black and Skull White Spray
There's debate back and forth whether these are actual primers, or just paint in a spray can. For the sake of this article, we'll address them as primers because that what I've used them for. These aren't cheap, and the 15 dollars a can price tag is what drove me to try other primers in the first place. Price aside, however, they do the job nicely. Coverage is good, I've never had a problem with snowing a model with them and the new nozzles on them are really very nice. A nice bonus is that you can always touch up the primer with either paint from a pot of the like color from the GW range.

On the recommendation from a friend at the local shop, I decided to give Tamiya a shot. I specifically have used their black primer, and over the course of an Imperial Guard Platoon's worth of plastic models, I was pleased. The coverage was good, and the base coat was nicely even when dry. I did notice some inconsistencies when I primed a metal test figure, though and wasn't thrilled with that result. Considering the product I bought is specifically for plastics, I wasn't surprised. While I did enjoy success with this brand, I prefer a primer that can work on multiple surfaces.

Formula P3
After the epiphany I had with this line's standard paint pots earlier this year, I just had to try out their primer. They didn't disappoint. The coverage was even and nice, and the nozzle they have on the can helps greatly with this. After perhaps two passes, I had the proper amount of primer on the figure, and was pleased with the 'grip' it lent to my paints. The price-point is slightly under GW, and that's always a plus. Again, a bonus is that you can always touch up your primer with the like color from their paint pot range.

So who wins the attention of my wallet and the respect of my brush? Honestly, it tends to be a three-way tie. If I need to quickly give a model a base coat that is a close or similar color to the first coat of paint that will go on it, I go with one of Army Painter's colored sprays. Otherwise, I split my attention and money between GW's Skull White, and P3's White Primer. It just depends on what the local store has on hand when I need to buy a can.

I've heard wild rumors and speculation that some members of our esteemed hobby community enjoy the use of Krylon Primers. While I may scratch my head in a perplexed state at that, who am I to judge? What do you guys use? Speak up!

After all, It's just A Matter of Opinion.

- Tim


  1. For GW I've found that the black primer is usually very good but I've been dissapointed with the white (used several different cans over a period of many years).

    Army Painter coloured sprays were a disaster for me but I think it's down to me not using them properly (since they should be used quite differently from normal spray cans).

  2. I'd really like to see a review of some the non hobby-specific primers like Krylon. Those are readily available and generally cheaper.

  3. I've been using Army Painter for the tanks I've been painting up recently Seen here .

    I've been happy with the coverage, however, I've had issues with the colour consistency across different batches. This is annoying because other than that they are perfect. I can't say whether the colour consistency is troubled across the whole range of colours, as I've only been using Desert Yellow.

    Still, I'd confidently recommend Army Painter, but with the warning that if you are dead set on a perfect colour match you should order enough to do everything you want.

  4. Hands down the GW black primer is the best for plastic models. It covers well, it covers smoothly and most importantly... It's consistent. To address the mention of it not being a 'true' primer... Whom ever said that has discredited themselves as a knowledgeable hobbyist. There's a reason it does not strip off of plastic and that's because it bonds to it at a molecular level. It does not merely sit on the surface (with the exception of metal). GW white primer I have had very good success with as well. They both however aren't the greatest for metal models, they do rub off quite easily.

    Armory primers... You pretty much hit the nail on the head; they're garbage.

    Army Painter... They're difficult to use until you familiarize yourself with how they spray on, but they primarily fail at being worthwhile because the quality and most importantly the color are inconsistent.

    Tamiya products are overpriced for what you get in my opinion.

    P3... I have no opinion because I have not used it.

    Krylon 'primers'... These however are not true primers; at least not for plastic because it doesn't bond with the plastic. It does in fact just sit on the surface. I find that they are good, but are best suited for terrain. The lack of bonding to the plastic makes constant handling an issue. They give a nice even coat and are well costed for the amount needed doing large terrain projects.

    1. GW Primer DOES NOT BOND. It can be easily removed after soaking in Simple Green or similar cleaners. Bonding primers are horrible because they can not be chemically stripped from the model later.

  5. Nice article. The hobby specific primers have their share of advantages and disadvantages, which I think I will cover soon in an article review of my personal favorite primer.

    The Armory primers are all the same and everyone I have seen use them has regretably either ruined models or had to perform extensive stripping (a cetain Seer I know just trashed a Razorwing with sandy paint. That being said, I strongly advise ANYBODY against using them.

    While I have never tried P3, I have worked with GW and Army Painter Products, which both were pretty nice to work with, though not so nice on the wallet.

    Both, along with Krylon Primers need proper care and testing before use. Letting your primers sit in a garage or unfinished basement is a sure path to disaster. Primers need to be stored in a controlled environment like your home. I store mine under the sink (locked) or in my hobby storage closet and take them to the garage only when it is time to use them and after about a minute of shaking. I then test them on some poor "old School" beast men models I have.

    Once they are deemed Good to Go, I will then spray my models.

    Also keep in mind that some primers are more tempermental than others when it comes to the humidity and conditions they are used in as well.

    I typically base color my models with the airbrush or with a good old paint brush, so I tend to use primers to cover the model in a color that will compliment the base colors' intended brightness or darkness.

    The subject is way more complicated than it appears on the surface when quality is the goal and just like the glue, everyone believes that what they use is the "good dope" based on their experiences.

    I will introduce my primer of choice in an upcoming article on my blog based on this inspiration you have provided. Thanks for bringing these kind of things out as it is these basic steps (just like the glue) that really make or break a model in the early stages of its life.

  6. I did a lot of trial and error with Army Painter. They gave me a bunch to test. While I had some beautiful effects with it, and it did change how I painted BA tanks, I have to say that the paint itself is tricky to use and inconsistent at best. I just got a new can of Dragon Red, and it is a very different color from the Dragon Red I used last year. So much so that I could not use it to finish my last army and thankfully found a nearly empty can with a little bit of life. I got a lot of emails from people having problems with AP sprays filling in their models, and I have seen some of the horror story results.

    Plus I just used an AP black that is more grey than black and covers in a rough ugly surface. Not a good thing when doing a Black Templar commission! Sad too, the previous AP black I used was absolutely perfect in coverage, surface and hue.


  7. Thanks for interesting article, lots of products to try!

  8. Tim- great article!
    Like many other- Army Painter has been a bust for me. There have been a lot of color inconsistancies. However, I still use it for terrain pieces where detail and consistancy isn't as big an issue.

    Armory is horrible. Everything that touched it ended up being very rough and some bubbling no matter what I did. My bottles are in a land fill somewhere.

    The GW sprays are very nice, and very expensive.

    Krylon primers from Hobby Lobby and Home Depot are more than 50% of the GW bottle and are just as good with proper priming techniques. I use the white and black primer exclusivly . Also, I use their Matt Finish without any frosting or other issues.

  9. Jumping Jiminy Cricket on a pogo stick! (Okay yes, I was thinking something else, but I'm trying to curb that talk, I've got a 4 year old) Never thought I'd open that can (pun intended) and get this kind of response!

    I'd respond to everyone individually, as I try to as much as possible, but you folks have darn near written a full post each!! I will say that I'm indeed looking forward to reading the article you mentions, OST :) As well as the assured controversy from your own crew over your opinion there!

    I'm glad everyone has chimed in here because you've all had a much different experience with the Army Painter line than I have, and it appears you've gotten that experience with a much broader range of experimentation as well. The feedback is much appreciated and will make me think twice about a continuing investment of that line, as well as investing in an airbrush for that type of basing as well!

    The feedback on the Krylon brand is a welcome bit of knowledge too as I've been very curious on that.

    Ultimately, I'd love to use GW and P3 until one finally wins out over the other. Then actually learn how to, and use an Airbrush to put a first basecoat on my armies with.

    Anyone have any good Airbrush articles they've already written or read they'd like to share?

  10. I used to use gaming specific primers, mostly Armory (my FLGS sold Armory and GW, and GW was too dang expensive), but after I met some of the pro-painters at Privateer Press and talked to them I switched to what they use for all their catalog models: Duracolor black auto primer. Yep, automotive primer. In fact I am about 99% sure that P3 Primer is just repackaged Duracolor. I bought a can of the P3 and it goes on as smooth, is the exact same shade of black, and has the exact same nozzle as the Duracolor you buy down at O'Reilly's Autoparts (or Schucks or wherever). It just costs three times as much. So that's what I use these days.

  11. Oh, and I meant to add: I had tons of snowing problems with Armory cans as well, and have had to strip a lot of models over the years.

    As for Krylon...eh. I used their Ruddy Brown primer for some Post-Apoc terrain pieces and matching figures, and it worked pretty well, and I've used their white as well. But I find Krylon's quality control leaves a LOT to be desired, and maybe one in two cans don't work or fail after the first few sprays. If you use Krylon primers always test spray first and keep you receipt. I've had so many problems with Krylon that I test spray them in the parking lot of wherever I buy them just to save me the aggravation of driving back and forth from the store.

    The Krylon Fusion paints aren't technically primers, but that bond extremely well with plastics and I've had some good luck using them as primer/base coat with Chaos Marines. I used their Burgundy as the base coat for my Khorne army and was quite pleased with the results.

  12. Great article. One primer venue to consider is using your airbrush. I've gotten great results from using Vallejo Polyurethane Primers. They're sold in squeezie plastic bottles that are pre-thinned and can be put straight into your airbrush. Results are great, and since there's no propellant other than air involved you get great consistency and the ability to spray indoors. It's also wicked cheap compared to buying spray cans.

    I know a lot of folks don't have an airbrush, but for those that do or are interested it's definitely something to consider.

  13. After trying a bunch, I too settled on Krylon primers as my number 1 choice. I've never had any problems with them. They've had a new nozzle design for the last couple years which is also TONS better than a normal one.

    I use their indoor/outdoor primer:

    I've never used their "fusion for plastic" line, but I've also never had a problem priming plastic minis with their other stuff.

    I tend to prime with a single medium coat rather than a couple light coats, and don't lose any detail either.


    GW Primers are WAY too expensive and I used to get a lot of frosting. Most other mini brands I found also gave the surface a stubbly texture and hated it. It had to be a common thing because I knew people who swore the rough texture on primer was a "feature" but I could never stand it.

    Krylon is a flat untextured finish, but not shiny/glossy/smooth in that the paint has trouble sticking.

    I've also got a bunch of airbrushing articles on my techniques page:

    Though if you mean in relation to priming, I haven't tried running gesso through it.

  14. I use Vallejo grey airbrush primer. I've not used spray on primer in years. The airbrush is just incredibly consistent and smooth. Nothing comes close honestly.

    After 10 cans of gw primer you've spent the cost of an airbrush. A compressor will set you back another 10-15 cans. In other words not terribly pricey.