Sunday, May 05, 2013

Primer on Priming Part II- Primary Principals to avoid the dreaded "Runs" "Fuzzes" and "Stickies"

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 jsut 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. You can get "fuzzies" from very low humidity, too. When it's really dry and hot out in the summer, some of the paint dries on the way to the miniature, creating a chalky/fuzzy white texture on the miniature. I know this from the experience of painting a full 20 Wood Elf Dryads on a dry, 100+ degree day last summer. Thankfully, once they were washed and painted, the effect works for the Dryads and adds something to how they look. I lucked out and learned a valuable lesson.

  2. I've never understood the fuzzies until now, despite being visited by them innumerable times. Thank you! You almost make me want to abandon my abandonment of all spray primer. Almost.

  3. Can you please make the advanced priming post? Especially if you are willing to highlight the use of Montana Gold spray paints. Thanks.

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