Now that you’ve gotten your miniatures glued and assembled, you’re ready for painting right? Nope. Simply put, there is no point in painting your miniatures if you are not using primer. Primer is formulated to bond tightly to a surface. Alternately paint has some similar properties, but is mainly designed to provide a uniform color. Especially for metal miniatures, it’s possible to rub off paint that is coated directly on the figure. To ensure a better and more uniform bond of paint to the model, you need to prime it first. Priming will also allow for more consistent color over the entire figure, particularly in open and smooth surfaces of the miniature.
So using a primer is important, but what color should you use? It will depend on the overall base colors you are using. Generally white is good if predominantly the model will be painted using bright colors. Black primer is good for darker or more muted, neutral tones. While gray primer is a good middle ground if wanting an all purpose primer color.
Black primer can also be used for speed painting miniatures. You can cut corners using black primer as it can accentuate the details of the figure (by leaving a trace about of black between sections of the miniature). This can be expanded by using colored primers to help reduce painting times. Companies like Army Painter have a variety of shaded primers which essentially work as a base hue for the figure and is great if painting a lot of miniatures using a similar color scheme. While there are plenty of miniature paint primers out there, Krylon also offers good primer sprays which work well and are easy on the wallet.
Working with primer spray cans, you want a well ventilated area and in weather that is dry and not exceedingly cold. Make sure to mix the primer well. I hold the spray can upside down initially hitting it against the flat of my hand, and then continue shaking upside down letting the ball bearing inside mix the paint. Don’t skim on shaking time, you want to shake for a good minute or so at least.
While spraying primer you want to shoot for an even coat, spraying about a foot away from the miniatures. Spray in short even bursts, about 1-2 seconds using a smooth sweeping action. You want to avoid a static position while applying spray as this can cause too much primer to pool up on parts of a model. I like to placing figures on an old pizza box, so I can angle the primer at lower angles to ensure good coverage. Once primed, as you’d expect, let the primer dry completely (most spray primer will dry in an hour or so). If you’ve found areas that aren’t covered, you can position them with the exposed area up and give a quick primer touch up.
Alternately you may want to use paint on primer such as Reaper’s paint on primer. I would consider at least investing in a bottle to have handy. You might see a spot on a model that didn’t quite get any spray primer and need a quick touch up. The other plus is you aren’t dependent on the weather if wanting to prime a model. But between a paint on primer and spray, I would use spray primers to save time and get more uniform results.
Mind you, some figures may not need to be primed. Reaper Bones are created with a particular plastic which the manufacturers claim primer is unnecessary. However using a primer won’t hurt, and can provide a better foundation for certain colors.