Friday, May 03, 2013

A Primer, on, priming when the weathers not prime ^_^ And How to avoid the pitfalls of Fuzzing, Running & Stickies!

Since I've posted my priming tricks & tips on several G+ and FB posts over the last several weeks,  and some people seem to be trapped in a winter that will not end :o,  I figured I should just go ahead and do a quick blog post about my priming methods.

First, so I can just link the blog and save myself from retyping it over & over!   And,  also so I could attach some pictures and add in some additional details that sometimes get missed when I post it over & over in different spots.

First I'll start off with what I've used to prime 99% of my miniatures since probly 2001.    I give you the humble can of Walmart Colorplace Flat Spraypaint.  Retail price of roughly 1 dollar.  Sometimes .89 cents(stockup!  lol)  And occasionally Ive seen it as high as a 1.14$.

This is not the stuff you will paint your car, house or boat with.  Its cheap paint, that works fine for scale miniatures, it adheres well to plastic, resin and metal(provided you have prepared them properly by removing any mold release or oily residues!)   and like any good primer they have just enough 'tooth' to give some traction and pull the paint off your brush without making the surface look rough.

Is this stuff 'Better' than the 15$ a can brands from big names we see at the game shops?  In my experience- absolutely.  Heres why:

  1. You're not going to treat the Walmart stuff like liquid gold.  You're free to experiment and practice with it on the side of a soda can to see how its going to perform before you spray it on your miniatures.   The expensive stuff people do not want to 'waste it'  like that,  so they spray it right on to the minis with not testing whatsoever-  and theres quite often poor results.
  2. This is more like a 1-b than a second point.  But its about experimenting with the stuff.   Its not that the other sprays are bad.  The horror stories attributed to many of them are almost always along the lines of "How many cans have you used of that brand?"  'Err, well just that one'   Which means they never got to practice with the stuff.  No feeling out process, no debugging/troubleshooting.  Just bitching about bad results.    So its basically almost always operator error- they dont know the product, they bought what was on the shelf because thats what the dude selling them the miniatures told them they were supposed to buy.
  3. Because the game brand primers are 10-15$ a can,  sometimes they have an extremely low turnover rate at some shops.  Ive seen some shops where cans sat on the shelf for years.  Some responsible shop owners will rotate the stock, and get rid of those cans-  but many wont.  And will sell that old can.  Now, imagine that can which has maybe sat there for- lets say only 5 years without ever being shaken...and you only shake it for a minute before spraying it on some minis-  think its going to get good smooth results?   
Now we compare it to the Walmart stuff, they aim for having stuff sitting on their shelf for what,  less than 30 days at a time for dry goods- so at the worst you can of spray paint might be a few months old.  And you can buy a case of them,  in a few different shades for the same cost so you can prime your whole army, your friends army, and his two friends armies-  and still pick up a decent lunch on the way home with the price difference.

I know someone is going to make some reply about some game brand being magically formulated to be better for miniatures.  And, Im sure it is,  they go out and grind up unicorn horns and fairy wings just so that brand of paint works better for our little plastic elves.   And that other brand over there uses super nanotech binders to make work better for our space dudes to have extra pew pew lasers!  

Basic spray paints are all pretty much the same- and that's what the game brand primers are- flat spray paints.   Krylon and rustoleum have some fancy stuff,  the metallics have some nifty applications(but that's a different article) and theres custom colors from artists lines like Plutonium,  Liquitex, and Montana.  Montana being a curious company since it has a huge color array and catering mostly to the graffiti type crowd.  I haven't picked any of thier stuff up yet,  but I hope to eventually.    Montana and Liquitex also have an acrylic spraycan which I hope to review- since its indoor safe and next winter could help some of you folks up north with some different options.

Another useful option for those of us with airbrushes,  is Vallejo Surface Primer.  I didn't mention this as a main basis of my article,  as airbrushes are still just a fringe tool for most wargamers even though they are alot more common than they used to be(10% of us using them vs the 1% it was several years ago!).   But-  If you are planning on doing a display or competition level piece and you want the highest grade of primer finish possible-  an airbrush layer of Vallejo Surface primer is probably going to be the ticket.  If you dont have an airbrush yourself and want the super smooth prime this stuff can achieve- its liekly someone at your local shop can help you out.  Learn the fine art of bribery,  the cake does not have to be a lie.

And that- brings me to the second portion of my post- the first having gotten alot longer than intended O.o  Stupid paint ranting!!

How do you use the spray paint when its humid or cold outside? Or maybe even raining/snowing a little?

Well, I didnt have the huge snow problem some people did.  But it still rains here in the winter ;)   And like everyone else I like to keep painting.   And even though I'm a nut,  and a I stash a bunch of pre-primed squirrels to paint- wait... nevermind, close enough...

So,  even though I always have primed stuff to paint, I inevitably have a mood swing to paint something else. Something thats obviously totally unprimed(and usually unassembled and needs a bunch of converting too).

What do you do when its like 3 am in the middle of  December and you just have to prime something RIGHT then?  And its raining?

I did some laundry.  Yep.  A big fat load of laundry.   Now before you think- neurotic!- theres a method here!

I could either try to prime my minis and stand out in the freezing cold and dry them with my heat gun-  or- after I put my laundry in the DRIER!!!  I could put a box in front of the vent to make a pocket of warm dry air ^_^

And in that pocket of warm dry air- my genius of winter priming was born.

For the technical side- get a box big enough to catch the out flowing air, and not tip over.    Set it at an angle so you get a little bit of swirling-  but you don't want the vent blowing straight into the box-  if you try that you get like a crazy vortex-  I didn't try spraying paint into that-  but I don't imagine the results would have been pleasant unless you want to paint yourself.   So,  just get some warm air in the box  then spray the minis.  once you get the paint on them-  THEN put them into the full air flow from the vent to dry them.  It doesn't take very long.  One last tip-  when you take your minis outside to do this-  don't spray the primer onto cold metal miniatures.  That will almost always cause the paint to turn gummy and if it does ever dry it will usually take days(and it usually doesn't ever dry right.  If your drier blows lint out the vent(mine doesn't) you might wanna do something about that before putting sticky paint covered minis in front of it.  Otherwise- there shouldn't be anyother complications :D

For me the biggest bonus of this whole method- was I could trick myself into doing some laundry in order to prime like 5 or 10 miniatures.  Otherwise it was often 'Its too cold out- I'll do laundry tomorrow!!"

Here ends part one- I'll edit in dealing with humidity and heat later,  but right now Im too hot and I need some tea.  Was like 95 frikkin degrees today! O.o

Added May 5th, 2013

In Part I we covered some pointers on what sprays you can use affordably and some simple tricks on how to work around cold and wet weather.

In this addition, (which I will also add to the original article, I just added a new blog post to make sure those that wanted the additional info had a better opportunity to see the fresh post )   I'm going to also go over the more general environmental effects of humidity/dry air,  and heat- since summer time should eventually be coming to the northern hemishpere those of us in North America & Europe should shrug off the snow and finally get some sunshine!  And hopefully my winter priming tips will help out the blokes down under!

So,  everyone has heard that high humidity causes untold havoc with spray can primers right?  That it makes it go on clumpy,  or turn 'fuzzy'  or all sorts of stuff.  I cant even really keep track of all the absurd claims Ive read on the forums over the years.

What it comes down to, is pretty simple-  you have to be smarter than the paint.  Almost every single case of bad primer FUBAR is operator error.   Yes, bad batches of paint do happen,  but its pretty rare,  quality control on modern manufactured goods these days is at a reliable standard.   So, with the understanding that the spray primer you are using has been stored properly,  is of relatively recent purchase,  and was shaken thoroughly before use- if theres a problem when it hits the surface- whats the cause?   You!

People like to blame thier tools when something doesnt work out right.  But lets be honest here- how many cans of that paint have you sprayed?   If you were a video game character,  and that can of paint was a consumable item you character gained a skill proficiency in- would you even have a basic skill achievement unlocked?     Spray Can: 20    Maybe?   If you dont use the stuff for DYI purposes or other craft projects maybe not even 20  lol

Some people might be thinking "How hard can it be?  You jsut shake the can, and spray the stuff by pushing the nozzle!"  And  those steps do seem simple,  I mean, they're actually the instructions printed on the cans label right?

Wait- you guys do read the instructions on the cans right?  And realize that different brands have slightly different instructions?    Like some only need to be shaken for a minute,  some say 3-5 minutes for the first use.   Some say hold 12-16 inches away.....some say let dry 10-15 minutes between coats,   some only 5 minutes...

Whats the point?   Know your material ;)   Since in the first portion of my article I wrote about the Colorplace spray paints,  for the rest of my article I will be writing using those as the 'generic'  basis for spray paints since they're what I use.   (I have used many others, notably Krylons and Rustoleums- so if anyone has questions about a specific type that you already have and need help with,  feel free to drop your questions in the comments below).    In this example pic is a nice smooth 2 quick, but even layers of black over white styrene.   This wasnt the first spray- this was after I had shaken the can-  the first spray was for the Streaks pic below lol.   But This is the 'base' picture you can compare the others too so you can see whats wrong with them-  if you need the comparisons.

So- lets define the Runs,  Fuzzes, Streaks and Stickies for anyone who's not familiar with them yet.   And so I dont scare anyone off- they're not scary forms of intestinal distress that result in Nurglings flying out of anyones ass(or other orifices).

Runs- this is what happens when you spray too much paint too close to the surface- it actually pools up and will run down.   This is hard to do on infantry minis, so we usually only see it on tanks- usually Rhinos and land raiders that 'Little Timmy' got and very enthusiastically tried to paint(ironically its usually full grown adults that dump a whole can onto a single tank...)

Streaks- you lazy bastard.  You didn't shake your paint enough.  Know how I can tell?  Primers arent supposed to be translucent!  That means the pigment didnt get mixed into the thinner,  so the stuff that sprayed out came out streaky.  It also means you got lucky-  the opposite of Streaky- is chunky,  and that usually blocks the pickup tube or nozzle and ruins the can of paint.  Shake that stuff.  Especially if its not the 1$ stuff.

Stickies- So lets say you did shake it just right, and you're laying down good even coats.   Whats this 'Sticky' deal?  Its about you being impatient!  Spray on that layer of paint.  Go eat a sammich.  Go look check out my freinds at the just do something for 10 minutes while that paint dries.  If you spray another layer of paint,  over a layer of wet paint-  you get the Stickies.   Which is paint that might not ever cure properly.  It might take 8 hours to dry all the way.   It might still be sticky.   If it does dry to the touch,  it might still be soft underneath because the stuff inside cant dry right.    It usually means you have to strip the paint off and start over.   Its closely related to the Runs-  but its a little worse-  because it shoes you have the skill to put the paint on properly- jsut that you werent patient enough and you FAILED!!.    So dont do it.   Theres no picture for this one,  I didnt see the point of piling up paint on something for a demonstration pic....

And now the FUZZES!!!   Sounds almost cute,  like kittehs and teddy bears?   Its not really,  at least not when its something thats going onto your miniatures and makes their once smooth features look like they are afflicted with some sort of gangrenous or rusty skin affliction!

See the fuzzy residue where I rubbed it with my finger? 
You see,  the common myth behind the Fuzzing,  is that its all about evil humidity.  Ive read numerous forum posts on it and its the #1 culprit.  And,  while I do concede that humidity is a factor,  its not the cause of fuzzing.  Sorry humidity conspiracy guys.  I can recreate Fuzzing, at will, in Arizona, with 15% humidity on any given day.   See,  I watch the weather alot due to my migraine being triggered by weather fluctuations.  And it just struck me as odd that humidity would shut down spray painting so completely,  so I researched a few other industries that spray in humid areas- like New Orleans and Seattle-  and no reports of complications.  Which indicated they just used the stuff different because those where the conditions they were used to.   So-  thats the key folks.    Humidity CHANGES.    If you're used to spraying one way- and try to spray that exact same way when the humidity has shot up or down 40%- the results are likely to be considerably different.   Its also worth noting- that somtimes the the fuzzing paint wont even stick to the miniatures- when that happens you know for sure its a case of spraying from too far away!

The Mechanics of Fuzzing:  So what really causes Fuzzing?  Simple, really simple.  Its dried paint!  If you're getting a grainy/gritty finish on your models you are holding your can TOO FAR away from the surface of your minis when spraying them.  By the time the paint gets there some of it has already started to dry,  it mixes with the paint thats still wet, and it clumps up, forming a rough textured paint.  FUZZING!!

So,  why is it worse when its humid?  I wondered that too.  I even sat down and sprayed paint through the mist from a humidifier to experiment.  And talked to a freind thats a chemist.  My working hypothesis is that with higher humidity levels, the fuzzing is likely more noticeable because the paint particles bond with some water vapor in the air-  this makes the paint 'chunks' of pigment alot larger than the normally are in terms of surface area.  Then the fluffier water-saturated  'Fuzzy' pigment pieces adhere to the miniature just like they normally would.   But the fuzzing is more pronounced-  think of it sort of like breakfast cereal, a normal pigment particle is supposed to be like, a grain of salt- but if it gets fluffed up and instead is like a Rice Crispy because a bunch of them get stuck together- its a little easier to see why the surface of your miniatures get a little rough and lumpy instead of nice and smooth.

So- how do you slay the Fuzzies?  We have the technology....we have the knowledge....we have the 1$ spray paint...(I do anyway lol)     Its how close you hold the spray can.   On humid days you have to adjust, spray closer.  Yes,  think means you have to also spray faster- if you dont you you will get 'Runs' from spraying too close.   But you can spray quick close layers, and let each dry thoroughly.

You need to practice.  Its really that simple.  If you only spray prime something once every few months you just are not proficient with one of the tools you use.   Primer is the paint layer on which you put all your other work- some of us have a hundred of dollars of vallejo, GW, P3 and Reaper paints on our shelves.  We spend hours watching youtube tutorials on how to wet blend, use oil washes,  airbrush,  highlight and a bunch of other techniques-  all of which rely on a layer of primer.

Practice using some spray cans,  it doesnt have to be on miniatures.  Its actually better to NOT practice on miniatures until you get good at it.  I always tell people to practice on garbage- if you're going to throw it away-  and its a plastic material similar to a space marine tank- spray some primer on it before tossing it out.

What should you do if you already have a batch on miniatures that are BeFuzzled? Well, sadly we have limited options here. If they are dry dusty fuzzies- washes tehm off in hte sink with some good dish soap and a gentle brushing- if you're lucky it all comes off and theres nothing left sticking and you jsut learned you hold your spray at least a foor farther away than it needs to be!    But,  if you have the stuck on clump fuzzies-  hopefully they are metal- if so you can grab a cheap brush and try brushing on some paint thinner or mineral spirits.  Ive been able to break down the fuzzies on some metals like this before, the thinner can dissolve the fuzz into paint- but be careful- after it gets brushed on and soaks in its sticky just like wet spray paint!  Some times the texture smooths out, soetimes it doesnt.  You could try that technique on plastic and resin, but you would have to be very cautious about letting the thinner pool in any crevices.  And it might just be better to strip the miniatures and start over- if you go that route will strip of the Colorplace stuff.  And its cheap, also available at walmart- and its not stinky.

Another thing, when you're priming, whether you decide to go with Black/grey/white,  you do not have to completely coat the miniature in a solid layer of primer.   Example- a black primed mini does not have to be pitch/solid black all over.   If theres still bare metal peeking out in the crevices-  thats ok!!   If you try to cover every possible surface with a spray you will cover and obscure some fine details.    The important parts to prime are the raised areas, especially ones where the miniature will be touched/handled sinces thats where the paint is most likely to get worn off-  thats where the primer needs to be to give the paint a foundation to adhere to.  As thats what primers job is-  to give the paint a way to stick to the miniature.  The parts in those recesses-  those areas dont get worn down- so they dont need the primer to hold the paint on them.  If you're worried about the colors not matching- its not a huge issue- most quality paints- even when thinning your paints,  are color fast enough that a layer or two and you wont notice the difference.  And add in a wash to shade the recesses, and you're on your way.

I think this pretty much covers most of the basic 'evils' of Priming.  If theres enough interest I might do an advanced priming article.  Cover 'Zenital'  or two-tone priming for speed painting with washes & glazes,  and priming with non standard colors,  and where to acquire them.  That would mostly be for those in the US,  its hard to source things for the European readers,  especially since shipping prices have gotten so absurd :/


  1. Very nice! Never would have thought of the dryer vent.

  2. I live by this stuff. Colorplace fo' life. Great read.

  3. Thanks for the paint tip.

    Seems like the dryer vent blows out humid air. But you've tried it and it work...shows what I know. I live in an area that can be very humid in the summer. Have to pair early morning.

    1. Please make note of my very last sentence, specifically:

      "I'll edit in dealing with humidity and heat later"

      Don't worry, I'll get to that ;)

  4. I've just installed iStripper, so I can watch the best virtual strippers on my desktop.

  5. Thanks for all the information about primer..You shared such a wonderful knowledge here with us..

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