Thursday, November 17, 2011

Primer: My Brand of Choice and Rules of the Road!

Old School here with a post on primer. I know primer is part of the hobbyist "Holy Trinity" of Glue, Primer and Varnish - those things for which each hobbyist has their own brand they swear by, no matter how well/terrible it works for others - but I am here to talk about my personal favorite primer; Valspar. Why this and not one of the Hobby brands? Good question, let's talk about it.
This post was inspired by a post at Miniature Tim in which he asks what kind of primers people prefer and it seemed like certain hobby primers were a fan favorite.

Hobby brands in this case include Army Painter, GW, Armoury and P3 canned primers. I can tell you from my personal experience that Armoury is canned garbage and that I have never had a friend use it who didn't regret it as he scrapped and stripped the gritty, black sand off his models. Army Painter and GW both have good sprays, which I have used extensively in the past. Army painter has a ton of color-matched primers that provide an easy means to base an army while priming, while GW is the perfect place to get an actual Chaos Black Primer (which is good since most non-hobby brands no longer make primers in black).

With the obvious advantages listed above, there is a disadvantage: Price. I know this is an expensive hobby, but to pay $15+ per can for primer is a little steep for what I use it for. I don't paint my army with primer, I lay a foundation with it, so it seems absurd to pay so much.I willl also say that I have heard horror stories about GW and AP primers. These may be from genuine bad cans or from improper storage. Either way, not worth my money, IMHO.

Non-Hobby brands include Valspar and Krylon along with any other canned primer that isn't labeled for use on your minis. These are going to be less expensive than your average hobby primer and readily available at hardware stores. Just because they are less expensive doesn't mean you should be a cheapskate though; most stores have a generic canned "black primer" which is usually a bad can of trashy paint that ends up leaving sandy residue on your models.

Another pitfall is buying Spray Paint instead of Primer - there is a difference - spray paint is generally not friendly toward being painted over, is thicker or turns into crap when the varnish hits it.

With that being said, you get a couple of brands that are universally recognised for a degree of quality. Krylon is the big one, which runs in red, white and grey primers and also carries Fusion flat black, which some people swear by. I used to use krylon, but even with careful storage, I got a few bad cans, which I caught on test models (thankfully). That was enough for me.

Then about two years ago, I stumbled upon Valspar while shopping at Lowes, which seems to be the exclusive carrier (they offer a military discount too). These cans cost me just over $3.

Go ahead and blow this photo up if you'd like, you will see that the coat on this model is smooth, even and consistent without obscuring any of the details, while providing full coverage over the rough basing material too.

Same from the front too.

Now, what has really turned me on to this paint is its consistent performance even when priming in inclimate weather. Unlike any other primer I have used, I have sprayed models in the trunk of my car in extreme heat and humidity, in my garage in 12 degree weather and everything in between and never had a model get gritty or bumpy on me. Now, I'm not just whipping my paint out from a dusty corner of my trunk or garage and spraying away - no matter what you prime with, there are rules to canned primer that can help you never mess up another model ...

I always store my spray cans in a controlled environment. For me, this is either my hobby closet (which stays between 68 and 70 degrees in my house) or under the kitchen sink, locked up for the kids' sake. The controlled temperature keeps the paint consistent. Storing cans in the garage, basement or outside will expose the paint to changes in temperature and humidity that, when compounded by the conductive surface of the can, will cause inconsistencies in the paint and therefore, terrible results on your minis. So whip the paint out and spray it wherever, but take it back to its home in the closet immediately after use.

My next rule is to always have a test model. This is obvious, but often overlooked. I don't care if you test on an actual mini or an action figure. As long as there is a smooth surface you can see and feel later to ensure the paint is ready to use on your models.

The bottom line is that you spend enough money on these models and you should respect the materials you use to paint them so that you have great looking miniatures on the table, which always enhances the fun of the game!

A last note for those interested in Valspar: It dries slowly and the surface will be sticky for about 4-5 hours. Don't handle the actual model as you will leave finger prints during this time. You can wait at this point (which I recommend) and come back when the paint is done being tacky - or you can wash the model (usually Badab Black) to bring out the details and seal the surface - either way, you will end up waiting. Once it is finished curing though, you will have a great surface to paint on.

Well there is my take on priming models and my personal drug of choice for priming. Let's hear what your experiences with primers are, what you use and your opinions. What's your take on this member of the "Holy Trinity?"


  1. I love army painter primer. Its my sweet sweet cocaine for painting. I have started using an automotive flat black primer that we actually sell cheap at Autozone. It goes on great and takes paint very well. The big thing is it did not go on thick and i did not loose any detail. it even cleaned up my armoury black lapse in judgement.

  2. I'm finally moving away from the rustolleum 2 coat that has been my bread and butter primer for years now.

    It just doesn't hold on to airbrush or dry brushed paint. I'm feeling the pain with my wolves as they are a dry brush base and while I paint them and handle them that base coat is rubbing off the edges.

    I used the valspar before and I don't mean to poop in your cheerios but I'm not a fan. Waiting 4-5 hours to paint just isn't for me. I don't plan that far ahead. I really like what I've seen with krylon and have yet to get a bad bottle. Plus, at Micheal's (again, i swear I don't own stock) its like 5 a can but you can use a 40% off coupon on it and get it pretty cheap, so long as you're buying one at a time.

    But like you mentioned, it doesn't come in black and I'm a black base coat painter, so its hard to give up my rustolleum.

    And finally I really have to agree with you that there is a lot more to be said about the storage of your cans over the conditions when you spray.

  3. And there it is ... The "Holy Trinity" in effect. You have never had a bad can of Krylon while the ONLY can of it I used this year was bad!

    I do feel the pain of models where the Rustoleum is falling off since I ended up with some of your old models through trading. The few models I still have will randomly have sections of primer lift off of raised edges.

    I think the big thing with primers, is the storage and care, but after that, you just need to find a brand you are comfortable with. For me, the Valspar is great, for others it will be a hobby brand or Krylon, either way, if you follow the rules, you will have much less trouble.

  4. You and Captain Obvious both said that about the rustolleum. I think you're crazy because I'm on my fourth army primed with it and its never 'fallen' off any of my models. I think you guys are just messing with me to buy into valspar as some global conspiracy.

    Next time I'll draw a penis under the primer so when you eventually get my models (like the used car salesmen you are) and the primer falls off it'll be awesome.

  5. Nicely Done! Since you moved to Krylon though, you'll just have a model texture like a burnt peanut instead of falling primer, so i would never see what you drew. Hopefully, Valspar reads this and starts sponsoring me like a NASCAR driver! I want a jacket!

  6. I have been using colorplace flat black or white for my priming and have never had an issue once I learned some if the basic techniques. First off you need to spray your models at a distance of around 6-8 inches. You should avoid spraying your models during times of high humidity or extreme cold. After learning the hard way with that am good with my $1 a can. But I have never tried anything else so maybe theres a whole another world out there I ain't seen

  7. Valspar? Now there's a brand I would have never thought to try! I've got it down to try Duracolor, and now I've gotta add Valspar to the mix... I'm still a little iffy on the Krylon thoughts.

    Heh... Though I see what you mean, OST, about the fierce opinions on brands amongst the lot of you :)

    I'm glad you talked about the storage and care of the primer too, by the way. It's extremely important, and I know I've ruined many a can, and lost many a dollar on improper storage.

    Solid Article, OST, and you've given me more to try out myself :)

  8. General Chaos, I'm gonna show you a whole 'nother world on the 3rd.

    But seriously, I think it goes to show that there are solid painters all commenting saying they use various primers, none of which even come close to touching the 'pro' GW primers in price.

    Just because it's expensive doesn't mean its the best. GC plays orks, which you know end up in piles and his army hurts...great...

    Damn its hard to compliment your stuff.

  9. Maybe I'm not out of luck just yet. I tested a can of Valspar White (65054 is the part number on the can) on some metal minis with resin bases.

    Did this yesterday around 2 pm. It's been over 24 hours and it's scraping off the metal and resin with a fingernail easily. I washed the minis and bases so I don't think that's the issue.

    I tested the same can on a plastic Mantic zombie with results like you described- worked great. One of this batch is actually on a metal insert in a plastic base- the plastic base is in great shape.

    Is Valspar simply no good for resin or metal? I suspect that part of the issue has to do with drying delays (I put them back in my case and they have been in there for probably about 12 hours) or maybe just a bad mix due to temperature (my car was probably ~80 degrees when I took it out, but it was at room temperature for a couple of hours before I used it).

    Will it eventually dry and stay put or am I going to have to try again?

    1. oh, and mine does not have the funky spray nozzle- it's very normal. Maybe that's it?