Even if you are brand new to miniature paitning, you have probably heard that you should “spray”or “prime” your miniatures before you paint them.
But you might still wonder “why is it I spraying miniatures before painting them is a good idea?” or “how do I prime my miniatures in the first place?”
I will answer those questions and more in this article.
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Why is it important to apply primer or spraying before painting miniatures?
Most paints for miniature painting are acrylic paints. It is non-toxic and is easy to use.
But, acrylic paints do not stick well to most materials a miniature can be made of. So if you were to paint acrylic paint directly on plastic, resin or the metal of a miniature you would not get a good result. In fact, you would have a hard time getting the paint to even stick to the surface of the miniature.
If you do not prime or spray your miniatures before trying to apply paint, you will find that the paint in no way “bonds” to the miniature.
So the reason why you should prime or spray your miniatures is to give the paint something to adhere to when you paint on it. If you do not, your miniature will look awful and the paint won’t stick to the miniature.
This not only means that it is much easier to apply a smooth layer but it also means that there will be less chance of rubbing the paint off once it is on the mini.
While it certainly is possible to get paint to stick to an unprimed miniature, you will find that you need to apply the paint very thick. In fact, it needs to be so thick that the coat of paint will become very uneven and not look very good.
I made a short video below, where you can see the difference between painting on sprayed plastic vs painting on primed plastic.
Video showing the difference between painting on bare plastic and painting on primed plastic
How to prime or spray miniatures
So you get why you should prime your miniatures. But how do you do actually prime or spray miniatures??
Yield: A primed miniature
How to prime or spray miniatures
- Your miniatures
- Something to put them on while spraying
- Sticky Tac to make sure the miniatures do now blow over when you spray them
- A spray can primer
- Make sure you have your assembled and cleaned miniatures ready to be primed.
- Make sure it is neither very hot or very cold, nor very humid.
- Place the miniatures on a surface you can hold in your hand, but where you avoid spraying primer on you.
- Shake the spray can (a lot).
- Gently spray the miniatures from a distance (about 20-30 cm) in short bursts. Move the spraycan while spraying so you avoid spraying in the same area for long.
- Avoid getting too much primer on the miniature in one go (you can let it dry and spray it again if you need a very even coat all over).
- Turn the minis over and do the other side
- You can either make sure the cover the miniature totally in the primer or just lightly dust it.
- Let the miniature dry without touching it (touching it will leave nasty fingerprints).
Always test your spray can before using it!
The nozzle should work, so the paint comes out evenly. You can ensure this by cleaning the nozzle after each use: Hold the can upside down. Then keep spraying until no more paint comes out.
Another important thing: Keep the distance that is instructed on the can. Most spray-on cans have instructions printed on their side. They tell you what you need to do and what not do. This includes the distance at which the can should be held. The right distance is about 20 to 30 cm (about a foot). If you hold the can too close, the primer will be spread unevenly or still be wet when it lands on the miniature.
The instructions also tell you how long you need to shake the can before starting to spray. You should probably shake it longer than you think.
Most companies recommend shaking it about a minute before starting to spray, and always in-between spray works. Most cans also have a little metal ball in them to ensure the paint is evenly mixed. You should be hearing the click-clack sound of that metal ball when shaking the paint can.
Another trick lies in spraying before the nozzle is pointed at the miniature. This way, you can control the air and paint flow a lot better. You can also make sure that any build-up that was stuck in the nozzle got out before it landed on your miniature. Use quick and short sweeps for spraying.
Once you covered one side like the front, you can turn your miniature around. Gently do the other side.
You should avoid touching the miniature at all. I stick my miniatures on something with sticky tac or on a metal plate with magnets.
A holder tool can also be useful for doing this, so you avoid touching the miniatures at all.
If you missed a spot while layer-primer, that is no big deal. If you want to, just use another layer of primer to cover everything.
There is also another method for really heard to reach parts. You can just leave them be with spray primer. Just cover them up later on with some paint, before starting your actual paint works on the figure.
Some of those hard to reach spots can be on the underside of the mini. These can include feet, bag bottoms or the rather non-visible side of the arm.
Always check if your miniature has those tricky parts covered. You may even lay it down to check, but only when it is completely dried. You really don’t want to get nasty finger prints on wet paint…
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What colors should I use for priming or spraying miniatures?
Black or white is recommended for beginners, or so the general saying is.
Some do it like this: using a color that matches your miniature. So you’re painting an orc? Why not use a green primer – this way you already got some of the orc hide colored.
Or you could use a red primer for that nice dragon miniature you are currently working on. Keep in mind that some colors might not cover as nicely as others. The primer provides an undertone for the paint color.
I do not recommend using black primer on a miniature that you intend to paint with lighter colors afterwards. Imagine you are painting an ice elemental or something, mostly in white and light blue.
You would need an almost endless number of layers to actually achieve the bright colors you want.
But there is also an upside to black primer: You can easily see if you got full coverage of every spot.
For me, I go with light grey or off-white colours. I also really like the Wraithbone spray from GW (the shade is nice, I can use contrast paint if I want AND it is the spray-on rattlecan that provides the most finish in my opinion).
If you want to go with colours, I would recommend the Army Painter spray-on primer. I think the cans are easy to use and the color range is just great. I think they have about 12 or more different colors to choose from. They have a color match system. That means, you can also buy the same tone of color as regular brush-on paint.
Just be aware that even though you are priming and painting with the same colour, they might look a bit different. That is how acrylic paints work (slightly transparent).
How much primer is enough primer on miniatures?
You need enough primer to cover your whole miniature in an even layer.
This way, your applied paint will nicely stick to the miniature.
So, here is the deal: Less primer might lead to chipped paint. Too much primer might cover up fine details.
Also, too much primer might make the surface of the miniature too smooth. As mentioned beforehand, primer helps the paint to stick on your miniature. This works, because the primer kind of roughs up the surface of the figurine.
If you apply too much primer the roughness can turn into smoothness again.
What to do, what to do?
To keep it simple:
Apply enough primer to cover everything, but do not fill the details.
You can achieve this by applying several layers of primer. This way, you can decide after each primer if you want to stop.
Another good way is to spray in short bursts instead of long ones. That way you can keep turning the miniatures around and avoid accidentally covering details in thick spray paint.
What weather conditions are the best for priming or Spraying miniatures?
There is not THE best time to apply primer.
But you should keep a couple of things in mind when planning to spray your miniatures:
If it does not feel too warm or too cold, you are probably good to go.
If it is too hot, the paint might dry mid-air while spraying. This may leave a bubble-like effect on your miniature. To get rid of it, you would have to strip the paint and start all over again.
Cold temperatures are no good either. Because at some temperature point, nearly every type of paint will freeze.
The temperature and air pressure also have an effect on the can itself. The liquid primer is compressed within the can.
Any change in air pressure also leads to a change of the pressure within the can. Low temperatures decrease pressure. So there might be less primer coming out of your can.
The right weather
Never ever prime in the rain or with high humidity. The paint might look washed up on the miniature or even diluted. Also never leave your spraying can standing in direct sunlight. The heat might cause combustion.
Also be careful if it is too windy.
The wind might take the paint on an unplanned journey – in the worst case away from your miniature and onto the wall of your house or on your jacket.
To make sure that this never happens, keep two things in mind:
Test the wind. If you think it is too windy, pick another time to spray your minis.
Prepare your work place. Use card board or scrap paper to cover anything that might get dirty. This includes walls, floors, tables, and anything else.
If you are inexperienced, why not cover yourself up too? Wear old clothes and gloves. If you want to be really be on the safe side, you can wear mouth- or eye-protection as well (but that might be over the top).
Is it possible to prime miniatures in the winter?
If you really want to prime your figurine during winter, that is possible. But if you are able to prime your miniatures in a warmer weather, that would be better.
Butt normal winter temperatures of up to ‑15 °C are still okay in terms of paint freezing. It is the humidity that is the real killer in winter.
Good planning is key for priming in the winter: Set up everything in advance.
Take your miniatures and the spray can only outside when you are actually ready to go. You also might want to prepare the can inside.
Shake it well and use a water bath afterwards (or place it on the radiator). The water should be lukewarm, but not hot.
Let the can bathe for about five to ten minutes before taking it outside, and dry it off before going outside. This way, the difference in temperature and humidity does not affect the can too quickly.
You should test your primer on a not-so-important miniature first.
In worst case, you can cause condensation because of the fast temperature changes. Always make sure to be quick, but thorough. Leave your miniature outside to try, but make sure it is sheltered from the weather. The paint or primer should ideally be fully dry before you take it inside.
The best alternative would be – of course – trying to seek shelter. If you own a garage or a shed, try setting up a corner for spraying and painting there. You should just make sure that the area is well ventilated.
If you have the option, you can also setup a ventilated area inside your workspace. Opening a window is not enough here, you need some sort of suction to make this work.
There is also an alternative to spraying on primer:
While spray-on primer is recommended, there is also brush-on primer. This kind of primer is handled like paint: It is liquid and needs to be applied via paint brush. But I have not found good results with it.
Your best alternative for priming in winter is probably to get yourself a good beginner airbrush (it also gives you several other options for painting miniatures, so can be a really good value).