Priming is probably the singular most important part of painting a model. Highlights, drybrushing, washing, these are all important, but without a good undercoat, you’re going to struggle. The science, as I understand it, is that a primer allows the other paint to ‘stick’ to the plastic or metal. So you build or strip a mini, then prime it, then paint it. The other reason to prime a model is to add depth to it, and save yourself a bunch of time. The colour that a model is primed in a will drastically affect how the final model comes out. A black primer will give a dark, grittier looking model, and a white primer will usually give a brighter final finish. It’s obviously not as simple as that, but that’s the gist. It’s also much harder to paint light colours over a darker undercoat, though a dark undercoat is great for models such as necrons or skeletons. Prime it in back, drybrush silver, bone, whatever over the top… And you’re done!
Anyway, priming can be done in a couple of ways. Arguably the simplest way is to buy a pot of primer, such as Imperial Primer from GW, and paint your model with it. When it’s dry, it’s done. Anyone who has done this, though, will tell you how bloody long it takes. Imagine having to paint a black coat of paint on 40 Termagaunts by hand before being able to actually paint them by hand. Even if it takes you 1 minute to apply a coat of primer, it’s the better part of an hour before you can actually start. I’m sure there are some people out there who will sing the praise of hand-priming, and how it’s the only proper way of doing it, but they’re also probably the kind of people who insist on washing their hair one hair at a time and handwriting their emails. The only possible argument for hand priming as opposed to spray priming is that it is technically better for the environment, as aerosols are hideously bad for the ozone layer. But that’s it! Well, some people might say its cheaper. Not so! More on that later.
The other two ways involve sprays. The first, and probably the most common, is buying a can of primer from a hobby shop and spraying each model that way. The paint is available premixed, so you just pop the lid and go for it. This is vastly more efficient than hand priming, and can be cheaper, too. I’ll get more into this in a mo. The second method is using an airbrush. These are pieces of equipment that basically act as the nozzle in an aerosol can. You add the paint or primer and compressed air yourself, mix them, and spray them onto the model. Many top-tier painters utilise airbrushes, as there are several techniques only really possible with them. This is most probably true, and if you’ve ever watched a video of someone airbrushing a model, it’s damn impressive.
So why don’t we all go and get airbrushes now? Well, I’ll try and let you down gently. They cost an arseload. An actual airbrush is useless without compressed air in some form. Almost all airbrush enthusiasts will tell you that buying cans of compressed air individually is pointless and expensive. The majority of people use compressed air generators. Machines of various sizes that provide a constant stream of compressed air, they are basically an essential part of the airbrusher’s arsenal. The problem is, they cost an arseload, and you need to add the cost of the paints and the thinners, too. Now, I’m not saying airbrushing is bad at all. It’s awesome. But for the wargamer with the modest budget, they just aren’t feasible. I can’t justify spending £150+ just to paint my models. I also live in a terraced flat, so don’t really have a huge amount of space for a generator.
So, spray cans. A can of GW black primer will cost you £10. When I talked to the gent in my local shop, he assured me that the can would reliably prime the entire contents of the Dark Vengeance box. That’s 48 models or so, including some bikes and a hellbrute. Not bad, I suppose, but hardly brilliant, especially if you collect a swarms army, like Skaven or Tyranids.
I’m going to let you into my secret. It’s called Mean Machine Auto Spray Paint. It’s meant for priming cars, allegedly, and it comes in a variety of colours. I get the black matte finish for my Marines.
It costs me £1.29 a can and it’s just as good.
You have to be a little careful, but no more than normal. Spray from about 25-30cm away and spray in short bursts. If the paint ever does collect in an unsightly way (gasp), just either shake the model of possible, or blow on it. Seriously. Just blow it, hard, for a few seconds. And, done. Well done, me old mucca, you’ve just saved yourself £9 a week/month.
There is a word or warning, however. As it’s a primer, it’s sticky. It’s not once it’s dried, but is is while it’s drying. I spray them wile wearing gloves, and after about 4 models the glove fingertips start sticking to the model. Bear this in mind, and be careful, and you’ll be fine. I don’t know if this is unique to this brand, as it’s been so long since I used any other primer. If you spray by blu-tacking models to a stick, then this isn’t a problem, but I would recommend doing them one at a time.
Will it ever be as good. airbrushing? No, but it’s much, much cheaper. Only when I’ve gleefully thrown away my 150th can will I regret not buying an airbrush.