Does your primer color matter? Some say the primer color does not matter, and it doesn’t if you put enough coats over it. However, that can get costly, and many people don’t want to spend more money on paint than they have to. Spray primers (in aerosol cans) and surface primers (which you can airbrush or brush-on) come in many different colors. Colored primers help you save time by allowing you to skip the base coat steps of your miniature paint job. But, colored hobby primers also cost a lot more money!
Does the color of your primer matter, and are they worth their expense and limitations? In this article, I share my thoughts on whether it is worth buying and using a colored primer.
What is a Primer?
Here’s a quick definition of what a primer is used for in painting miniatures or scale models.
A primer is a product that painters use to cover the surface of an object, such as a building or a model, to make it ready for painting by filling in imperfections in the surface and providing a surface that the paint will stick to. Primers are used by professionals and novice hobbyists alike.
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Who Makes Colored Primers?
- The Army Painter
There are three popular companies that make colored primers for miniatures: Citadel, The Army Painter, and Vallejo.
Citadel or Games Workshop makes a bunch of colored primers that match the colors of their main paint layer colors, e.g., Macragge Blue, Retributor Armour gold metallic, and many others.
Army Painter also has a broad range of colored primers. They are designed to help you skip the base coating steps when painting miniatures.
Vallejo colored primers are surface primers, which are polyurethane-based formulations. They are not aerosolized with a spray can. Instead, Vallejo color surface primers can be applied with a regular paint brush or used in an airbrush.
Vallejo color primers are geared more for scale modelers, which more realistic tones with military themed colors, e.g., Panzer Grey, Russian Green, and others. Vallejo also has a line of Mecha colored primers with specialized use on plastic model kits, e.g., Gunpla, Gundam models.
Mecha primers work exceptionally well with an airbrush and are more resistant to bumps and scratches. They take about 24 hours to fully cure. But, Mecha primers have a flexible surface that make your paint jobs extra durable, which is great for both display and wargaming models
Best Colored Primers for Painting Miniatures and Models?
The purpose of a colored primer is to give you a head start on painting your miniatures. Instead of a two-step process of priming then painting your base coat of your model, you can use a colored primer to paint that first base layer on your model.
The best colored primer is going to be any primer that comes in the color you need for your miniature painting project. Not every brand will have the color you want for your miniature. For example, The Army Painter has great flesh tone colored primer. If you’re looking to paint a lot of humanoid miniatures with flesh tones, then The Army Painter line of flesh color primers may be your best choice.
As mentioned, colored primers aren’t cheap. They are more expensive than a primer or a paint alone. However, what you get in return for paying more is the ability to paint your models faster with fewer steps. For those who are frustrated with applying a solid, even base coat with a regular brush–an important step in any painting–a colored primer can simplify this process.
What About Metallic Primer Colors?
Painting a good coat of metallic paint is more difficult than painting with non-metallic colors. This is because metallic paints are more transparent than non-metallic paints and take more layers to create an even coat.
To get a nice coat of metallic paint, you will have to apply several layers of paint. You’ll also have to do so without thinning the metallic paint too much. Over-thinning metallics can make the reflective metal pigments spread out and make the layer appear splotchy.
It can often take a lot longer to paint models well with metallic paint.
To speed up a miniature paint job with metallics, a number of paint brands have metallic colored primers. These are spray primers that have a metallic finish.
Games Workshop has the Citadel Leadbelcher Spray primer, which is the same model color as the Leadbelcher base model paint. The Army Painter has a similar steel colored metallic primer called Plate Mail Metal. There are also a lot of other metallic primers for things like gold, copper, and other metal surfaces. These metallic primer undercoats will let you prime and paint your models in a single application.
How Close Does Colored Spray Primers Match Original Paint Color?
When you’re using a colored spray primer, you’re probably choosing a primer color that matches the regular paint you’re trying to skip.
You expect the color of your primer to be the same as your regular paint, right? In my experience, this is often true if you’ve got a fresh can of colored primer, shaken well, and apply a solid coat on your model.
But, it is also possible that a colored spray primer may have a slight sheen or tonal difference than the regular paint. This is because spraying any color will produce a different appearance than if that same color was applied with a paint brush.
To achieve a better match of your colored spray primer with your model paint of the same color, e.g., Mechanicus Standard Grey primer vs the base paint of the same name, you’ll want to use an airbrush with your model paint.
Of course, you may have to live with the possibility that a colored primer will not match the color of your regular paint. This is another potential risk of speeding up with your workflow with a colored primer.
You may need to lower your expectation for how much you can do with a colored primer. To achieve high quality results you may need to avoid relying on colored primers.
Are Colored Primers Worth It?
If you’re painting a horde army, e.g., a collection of Warhammer 40k Tyranids, and the miniatures are similar in color across a lot of models, a colored primer can save you a lot time.
However, if you’re painting a small number of miniatures, and each model needs to be painted with different colors, a colored primer is probably not worth the cost. I don’t think it’s worth using color primers for most paint projects unless there is a significant time savings.
The consensus among miniature painters is that you should only use a colored primer when it’s going to save time or improve the quality of your final paint job.
Speed Painting: The Best Reason to Use a Color Primer
A word about speed painting or batch painting a lot of models. As I mentioned above, painting a lot of the same models in your collection, e.g., horde armies in AoS or 40k, may benefit from using a colored primer.
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In fact, I think speed painting is the best use of a colored primer. When you want to paint a lot of models quickly without worrying too much about overall single miniature quality, a colored primer is a great tool!
What is the Best Color Primer (If You Could Only Choose One)?
I’m of two minds when it comes to recommending a “best color primer” for painting miniatures. I think the best color primer is the one you like the most (it’s a favorite color) or a required color for your project. I also think the best color primer is one that’s already in your collection. If you’re not picky about primers, then I would say just use what you have on hand.
Simply, you don’t need to fret about what colored primers you’ll need for a particular project. If you’re on the fence about using a colored primer, you probably don’t need one.
The reality of painting miniatures professionally with speed painting or batch painting methods is that you’ll probably already have several colors of primers in your arsenal. That’s because different colored primers will produce a unique appearance and quality, e.g., gray vs black primer for Warhammer 40k Tyranids or red vs black primer sprays for Age of Sigmar (AoS) Orruk armies.
If I had choose just one colored primer for all of my miniature paint jobs, I’d pick gray. It’s a neutral color tone that lets me see contrast on an unpainted model. A gray base tone will allow me to see natural highlights and shadow areas under my hobby lamp.
Here are my 3 favorite gray primers:
- Games Workshop Mechanicus Standard Grey (Aerosol)
- The Army Painter Color Primer, Uniform Grey (Aerosol)
- Vallejo Grey Primer (Surface Primer)
When applying paint over a gray tone primer, I’m better at seeing how my color works on the miniature. A gray undertone doesn’t distort the hue, shade, or saturation of my overlying paint job. At the same time, I can also see whether I’m achieving a good coat of paint because gray primer is strong enough to show through thin paint layers.
For a high quality paint job, the ability to visualize light and shade is essential. Gray primer helps me do that. Overall, for my highest quality paint jobs (not speed painting), I’ll choose a neutral gray primer color every time.
If you are painting a horde army with multiple models of the same type, then it is worth using color primers because the time savings will outweigh the primer’s additional cost. For speed painting models for a tabletop quality paint job, e.g., battle ready, a colored primer will help you paint miniatures quicker and more reliably.
For higher quality paint jobs, I recommend choosing a neutral gray color for your primer color. It’ll be more work to paint your miniatures because you will need to paint your base coat layer; but the end result may be better because you’ll have the opportunity to bring additional paint application techniques to your workflow.
The most important thing when determining whether to use a colored primer for your project is what you want out of it–speed vs quality paint job?
Well, what do you think? Does using a color primer matter, and are they worth the extra cost? Leave a comment below!