Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Painting Basics: Priming

I know a lot of blogs do these sorts of things but it keeps getting asked so I thought I'd throw my hand into the ring when it comes to addressing the basic elements of painting. I've been really busy with school so instead of neglecting my blog this will hopefully allow me to update it when I can't get around to working on something.

How to Choose Between White and Black Primer

There are several factors to consider.

Are you decent at painting? White is harder to paint from since you need to make your own shadows and generally have to be neater. That being said if you are a really good painted then white can give your model a cleaner look, which even Nurgle Plague Marines can benefit from.

White primer lends itself to brighter models, black primed models tend to be darker although with enough layers this can cancel out.

Organics are nice with white if you plan on using a lot of washes to paint them instead of layering the skin.  Black can also be a good base for organics if they are a darker color pallet. Things with fur for example benefit from the black primer since fur is primarily painted by drybrushing, and with black primer the deepest recesses are already done. Black is also really good for building simple metallics off of, since most people dry brush their metals. (I personally find drybrushing metals to be too messy and am trying to work out a good mixture of washing and highlighting to make my metals stand out.) If you are painting gold or bronze it will not cover with one coat and you'll probably have to base it brown/orange/yellow first to get decent coverage.

Depending on the colors you are painting white can make it easier or harder. As above, metallics can be harder to do with white. Yellows, reds, and whites are easier to paint on white primer. P3 paints and Foundation paints have a pretty high pigment count though so painting them up from black generally isn't an issue as long as you thin your paints, which you should be doing regardless of what primer you use or your level of painting.

I've seen very bright whites painted over black primer so it is possible to achieve a very bright tone to the model regardless of the primer chosen.

Personally I prefer white primer but I do still use black, it all depends on the metal.

There is also the possibility of using grey as a primer, which is a nice middle ground between white and black. It allows for reds and whites to be built up in fewer layers but it still provides a dark base for the rest of the model and the metallics. My Menoth scheme fits this niche very conveniently, although I don't think I'd use it to paint everything.

When in doubt, prime black.

How Much to Prime

Normally when I prime, I only take a couple passes at the model from about 12" away. A lot of this can be contributed to the fact that I'm hasty. Here's the thing about primer though, it doesn't have to be everywhere. I know, this probably goes against everything you've ever heard about priming, but here's why:

If you want complete coverage over a model, you'll definitely need to make at least three passes at the model. The problem with this is that most people don't want to let their first coat dry before their subsequent coats. I know I'm guilty of this. When you do this, your paint will have a tendency to pool on the highest surfaces and then begin to run down the side of the model. You do not want this to happen at all. Your details will become obscured so you should probably strip the model and start over. (Stripping models is simple, just let it sit in Simple Green for 24 hours, take out and scrub with a toothbrush and if it's not clean repeat. Yes you can leave plastic models in Simple Green.) The moral of the story is that it's hard to prime a model and get complete coverage without obscuring detail unless you want to wait for paint to dry. It seems like after each subsequent layer the paint takes longer and longer to dry so this can be frustrating.

The primer is important because it's what holds the paint to the model. This is mostly important with metal models, as paint tends to stick a lot better to plastics. I'm not sure about resins since I've never worked with them. Most of your model will never ever be touched. The folds underneath the cloak, the inside legs, the sides of the chest, and the lower neck. What will be touched is where it is important to have primer, so that when handled, and everything will be handled if you're using it for a game and not just a display piece, the paint won't easily come off. You should be base coating everything before you paint it anyways, even black or white, so inner areas will be safely covered in paint, even if there was some metal showing through the primer.

I know some people don't repaint black after they prime it if they want black to be the primary color of the model. In the process of painting Black Templars I realized that black primer is a lot duller than an actual black. Painting black over the black is a simple step to improving the quality of your paint job.

When priming, don't hold the spray can in place but make passes over the model. The first coat should be a broad sweeping pass and the second coat should just be little bursts when needed. If you hold the primer still for more than a second you start to get the pooling of paint that I discussed earlier.

Two coats should do in most cases.

Also under "How Much to Prime" is the question of how many models to prime at once. It depends what you're priming your stuff on, but eight is a pretty good number of 28mm models, while larger models should be primed in smaller batches or individually. If you are priming a model by itself I would prime it entirely using little bursts of paint.

What Primer to Use

Some people swear by brush on primer. Like most things, it takes too long and you'll need multiple coats. It is nice to have a small bottle handy in case the paint wears away from where you frequently touch a model while painting, such as the head or the tip of a weapon.

Don't use Armory spray primer. There is a good chance that the primer will dry before it hits the model, something known as frosting. Frosting on a model requires it to be stripped and re-primed, since the surface will be uneven. Also, the nozzle only sprays a very small area.

P3 spray primer is very nice. The coverage is great and the nozzle makes the paint come out in a wide cone, leading to less coats of primer for total coverage, not that it is necessary. I've never had any problems with P3 with the exception of the price. P3 also only comes in black (the last time I checked).

Krylon Indoor/Outdoor Primer is almost as nice as P3 for a fourth of the cost. The difference in quality is almost negligible. The nozzle is the same nice wide cone spray. The paint also comes in a variety of colors. I have black, white, and grey; they make more that I have no use for. If you are buying a Krylon primer make sure that whatever you are buying isn't a gloss or a satin spray. It must be a flat acrylic primer. If it is gloss it will likely say it in very big letters which are hard to miss.

Games Workshop Chaos Black/Skull White, contrary to popular belief, is not actually primer. It's just black or white paint in a spray can. This makes the black a nicer black than most black primers, but it doesn't stick to metal nearly as well. Being even more expensive than the P3 spray (like all other GW paints), the spray primer is not an investment you should be making. If your army is entirely plastic and you want a nice black base coat and don't mind spending the money, go for it. Otherwise avoid this.

There are other priming options, a popular one is gesso. I haven't actually tried it but I have heard nothing but good things about it. It's relatively cheap which is always good and similar in price to Krylon. It's brush on which can be a pain if you're eager to get started with painting but when it's cold outside or raining outside, and it often is, this isn't such a bad thing. If you're into this sort of thing give it a shot, a lot of people swear by it so you won't be taking any risks.

When priming, pay attention to the instructions on the can. Shake well, use outside or in ventilated areas, don't use when it's too hot/cold/humid/raining/snowing, and try to keep it off your fingers. I only wait a few minutes between coats, if that, depending on the weather. I let the final coat sit for roughly ten minutes in my kitchen underneath my stovetop hood to suck up all the vapors and smells and then I get to painting. Some people say you should wait 24 hours for best results, but if you're going to wait around for a day anyways you might as well brush on some Gesso.

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