Some notes on painting the models #1: Spraying (A response to Tool Tips 09 – Paints)

I just read the latest post from my mate Faust over on his Double Down Dice blog – Tool Tips 09 – Paints. I saw that Lionoversuskingkong had posted something about Army Painter paints, and replied, and then was going to go on and reply in some detail to DDD and his post – and then had the thought – I’d talked about a lot of this in the past – in the comments section of Luke’s Start Your Meeples board game review blog. So then I decided to just copypasta the stuff I wrote in Luke’s blog, “Remix” my thoughts, and turn it into a “response video”-type post to DDD’s post, as an entry on my own blog.

Now everything I write here is completely 100% correct and true. I’ve been painting for a long time now, and I know what I’m doing, while still being open to learning new techniques and continuing to improve. I’m not going to win any Golden Brush or Crystal Demon awards anytime soon, because I don’t paint in the “competition” style. Maybe I could? I’m sure I could go down that path, but I’m not actually interested in competition painting. I’m interested in good quality models for my own table, use and blog. I see some amazing work from pro painters and people who strive to make each model better than their last – and that’s awesome for those who choose to go down that path, but many painters of that type often finish a dozen or fewer models per year. Which for me is not going to get me a game of The Warhams with two fully-painted sides clashing.

So like I said. Everything I state here is true. But it’s true for me, in my own experience. In one particular Tabletop Minions video, Adam asks a bunch of Pro Painters for tips on improving. Which is an interesting 10 minutes, but if you watch it, you’ll see that a lot of these Pro Painters offer contradictory advice. Some only use cheap, disposable brushes, others swear by the Pure Sable, Windsor & Newton Series 7. What they state in that video is also 100% true, and factual. For them. It’s a kind of different thing to opinions, in that they (and I in this post) aren’t talking about favourite colours, but actual, factual things and techniques that work. For each person. Watch it, or don’t!

So here we go:


Always, always wash resin and PVC models before priming or assembly. I probably should theoretically wash metal and HIPS plastic as well. I read that some people swear by doing so, but I’ve never had a problem not doing so in 30+ years. I’d also wash Mantic’s crap “restic” and especially Trollforged’s shitty “Trollcast” (this is what Raging Heroes’ “resin” models are made from. That shit is the worst production material ever.)


Spray prime your models – don’t do it with a brush if you can avoid it. Black and white paints that you paint on with a brush are radically different to using a proper brush-on primer, and again different to using a spray. Just use the spray. Sprays stick to the models much more effectively than painted-on primer or undercoat.

Get three cans of primer (cheap spray paint from the hardware shop works – you don’t need GW’s expensive cans).
Black, White, Grey. Make sure they’re all matte, not gloss. I use hardware shop cans for most models, and have some Tamiya ones for “extra special” models.
Unless you’re going to pre-shade with zenithal highlighting (and you should try it sometime, anyway).

Just choose the colour most suited to the dominant base colour paint you’ll use. White for bright and light colours, black for dark colours and metals, grey for “in-betweens” and… you’ll get a feel for it. Reds and pinks get white.

It’s probably also worth having some “good” primer as well for those special models. I use either/or Tamiya or Gunze or Mr.Surfacer from “normal” model shops. At the same time, most models aren’t “special” and don’t need it.

If I’m painting a whole lot of something in particular, I’ll often follow up on a black or white initial coat with a coloured (or metallic) coat. It’s a hell of a lot faster, and gives you a pretty decent base coat that you can still touch up and continue to paint over. I’ll use another cheap can from the hardware store if they have an appropriate colour – but if they don’t, I used to buy a can of Tamiya Spray, or Citadel, or another hobby brand. Now, I go to the local paint specialist store (Paintaway is my local) and go through their book of colours, and choose the exact shade of custom colours that I want. Sure, the cans cost AU$30 each, but so do the Army Painter Sprays, or the Citadel, or the Plastic Soldier Company, or…  and the Tamiya ones are cheaper, but tiny. Also, I can always go back and get the same mix and don’t need to worry about them discontinuing the colour that I’ve been using (unlike GW/Citadel).

Great Unclean One

It seems to work pretty well.

Or to put it another way:

This is how I prime and base coat (when I spray a base coat):


I personally don’t like Army Painter sprays. They sandpaper your models’ surface too easily if you spray from too far away, and I’m just not into spray can brands that need special snowflake instructions in order to function as well as the cheap stuff from the local hardware store. Other people find the Army Painter sprays to be perfectly fine, and so, you know, good for them. Genuinely. I can’t and won’t personally recommend them though – as I have better options available and feel that anything that doesn’t require special snowflake instructions is a better option.

Over many years I’ve seen a lot of people complain about GW sprays being inconsistent or sandpapering their models and such. I was always fine with them, but don’t bother anymore – because as I’ve noted, I can just get custom cans from the paint shop which is much closer than a GW or any GW stockist.

Here’s a couple of great videos from Luke of Luke’s APS on how to use Spray Cans properly. Including the cheapest brands he could find in the UK.

I use this one.

Matte is completely fine as long as you don’t go too thick. You want a bit of tooth for your brush paint to get onto. Gloss is only good if your first step is going to be to wash the models, but can have its place as a coloured undercoat that is also a basecoat. Satin is my go-to. You can also cheat with a gloss base spray by then going over it with a satin mid-coat, and then continuing to paint.

Some people live in places where spray cans don’t work very well, due to humidity or temperature which may or may not be seasonal. I often see airbrushes recommended here, and I’d probably agree, but I’m hot garbage with an airbrush and I find it a massive pain in the arse to set mine up, especially for priming a few figures, and so I just never end up doing it – so I’d suggest that they’re right, but can’t speak from personal experience. I suspect that airbrushed primer would be a bit less hardy than sprayed-on stuff, which is another reason that I just don’t bother. But then the climate that I live in means I don’t need to worry about it. In winter, it’s a pain in the arse waiting and hoping for a weekend when it’s going to be warm and dry enough to spray. The weekend because I’m usually still at work during the warmest part of the day, it gets dark early (and spraying at night time, even with a porch light isn’t the greatest), dry because I spray outside and can’t do it in the rain (obviously). Sometimes this means I build up a backlog of a couple of weeks worth of stuff to varnish and undercoat, and so on those rare days, I seem to be out there constantly, spraying this and that. And then leaving them to dry forever. Yeah, I can see the appeal of using an airbrush!

This has now gotten a bit longer than I’d anticipated, and I haven’t even gotten onto the paint that you paint on with a paint brush yet. So I’m going to call it here and do a follow-up post on that in the next couple of days. Otherwise I’ll be here all day, and I’ve got pressing stuff to do.

22 thoughts on “Some notes on painting the models #1: Spraying (A response to Tool Tips 09 – Paints)

  1. Awesome, curious what you have to say tomorrow. I did quite a few posts on airbrush priming on my blog. I don’t recommend it for everyone. I went through all the name brands of Spray primer beforehand. Tamiya was the best, but I even ended up having occasional mishaps with that one. For myself, I’ve had to redo too many prime jobs due to weather. My hobby time is too limited to play ‘prime the minis over and over again’. That’s what really pushed me towards the airbrush. I’ve found it takes less time than cleaning up the garage, and it’s pretty easy to do. Perfectly thin primer coverage, that even I haven’t been able to mess up. It does make more time per mini overall, but less than it would have taken me overall. But like you said, to each his own.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Probably a few days before part 2 of this. I have a couple of other posts I want to get up first, and unlike last month, I don’t have SO much stuff to post that I need to post every day AU time (and I don’t like multiple posts in a day).

      Because of my own space and layout issues, setting up the airbrush requires me to dismantle my light box and move everything, so it basically just doesn’t happen. Plus cleaning and all of that sort of thing becomes a whole production that would take 20 minutes to an hour to move the stuff, do the things and then out it all back again, so I’d need to be doing an awful lot to make it worthwhile.

      Using a spray can is much, much quicker and easier. Basically get the can, shake well, spray the things, move them into a spot with good sunlight or a safe place in the War Room. Go back into the house and let them dry for an hour or three or twelve, depending on what I needed to spray and the weather of the day. Active time is less than five minutes.

      But then Australian Weather > UK Weather for that sort of thing (and let’s face it, it’s just better here almost all the time!)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Weather wise, we’re very similar to UK weather. Doesn’t bother me that much, but not so great for priming. I wouldn’t recommend spraying inside. I guess some people do it, but with a toddler in the house…noise factor would be an issue with “Nap & Hobby” time. Airborne chemicals probably aren’t the best for either of us as well. I’ve actually had headaches after airbrushing in the big open garage at times, so it’s probably time to look into exhaust venting. Certainly not for everyone, but I was just thinking about this as I primed minis last time…I have to wonder if anyone who has gone the way of airbrush priming has ever gone back. Personally, I can’t imagine. Fighting the weather was the biggest challenge, but I also really love the control I have with the airbrush.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I use a dust mask, large open area, but I also have bad allergies. That could be a factor. I think I might have a respirator somewhere in the garage though…good call!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Krylon Fusion or Camo (NOT regular Krylon) are my go-to sprays. What made a bigger difference than any change in primer brand I’ve made was switching from priming things on top of a box to using sticks with the models blu-taced to them. Way easier to get varied angles without having to tilt the spray can. I find it’s given me much better coats, even in sub-optimal conditions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve done that, and I agree it’s better for the spraying part, but then you’re left with models perched on sticks that need to be taken off without dropping the model or touching the model or anything else. Which (again, for me) is too much hassle compared to models on a piece of wood that I spray, then move the wood into the sun and give another coat from another angle later. I’ve done it, and it works (using spare pieces of Venetian blinds), but I find I gravitate back to putting them onto a piece of wood. Then again, I still paint a lot of metal models as opposed to plastic, and I weigh my most of my plastics down as well with a washer under the base, because I prefer the weight, stability and feel of metal models – so that could have a lot to do with it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve got a cheapo IKEA plant stand out on my balcony that I just leave the sticks sitting on, same as I used to do with cardboard boxes or a bit of board. Using broad enough sticks is helpful, too. But yeah, they just stay on the sticks for a couple of days until they’re completely done offgassing.


  3. This article and the one by Double Down Dice are both worthy of more thought, particularly in general terms rather than the specific merits of one product versus another. I did watch the video and thank you for the link. With conflicting advice, none of which is wrong, it is clearly a case of each to their own but experimenting and practice are to be encouraged. I also warmed to the guy who said you cannot create the perfect model, now I wonder why I liked that!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Argh! Lost my reply. Stupid wordpress. So yeah – a “perfect” model is pretty much impossible, and that’s without taking into account all of our own personal aesthetic idiosyncrasies.

      As for conflicting advice, just looking at the two comments above, Faust is all about the airbrush, and Alexis uses a different method of spraying than I do. Aside from that, Krylon isn’t readily available here in AU, but I’ve heard of it being discussed many times by Americans and it seems to be a very useful product.

      Again, three sets of somewhat contradictory advice, but again, none are wrong and all are correct because they all work. The best one for each individual being defined by themselves. The important thing is really being exposed to other ideas, so we can try them and then see if they’re an improvement or worthwhile option for us.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, the conflicting advice is a weird thing. When I started painting again, I was looking at techniques and tools that were out there. There was a lot and not all the advice seemed to match up. So I’ve ended up trying a lot of things, and discovering what works for me. That inspired me to share with people my own travels. And you’re right, some works for some people and some won’t. Things will also change over time. At first I was really liking my synthetic brushes, but after using my W&NS7 brush, I’m starting to wish I had more of them.

      It’s too bad there wasn’t an easier ‘one size fits all solution’ for beginners, but I think that’s life. If I had been one of the painters interviewed in that video (haha, dream on!), that would be the advice I think I would give. Start basic, don’t fret, and just keep painting and trying. There is no perfect solution that someone can hand you.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sounds to me that you achieved your goal with the posts you’ve written. When I started getting back into the hobby I checked out quite a few pro modeller articles but rather than inspire me they nearly put me off. It was the realisation that I would never be that good so why bother? Then I thought about it a bit more, took more notice of articles such as those you have written and realised it wasn’t about being the best but enjoying the hobby and being the best you can. That was how I came up with the “The Imperfect Modeller” tag. Just an opinion but I think more people will relate to your articles and experiences than the pros who are light years away from people who are starting out or simply looking for Tool Tips.

        Liked by 2 people

      • That’s a great nick, by the way! Yea, this truly is a hobby for me. I spend more time with my kids than painting, so it’s doubtful that I’ll ever be anywhere near the level of a pro painter. The Pro Painter might as well be a star 70 billion light years away.

        I also experienced what you went through, back in my teen years. My brother (5 years younger) and I used to draw together. At some point, he sky-rocketed in ability. It was frustrating to see him draw the same thing that I did in 1/10 the time and it would be 50x better. I quickly decided that I didn’t have the talent to be an artist, and basically grew up with that. I just had to accept that fact that I would never be as good as him (or others) at it. However, I came to the conclusion that I could still do art for my enjoyment, and that’s why I do what I do.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Good thought-provoking discussion. I do agree on washing the minis first. Of course, many of mine are my own castings and I can attest that they are dirty. Adhesion of primer can only be improved by washing, and if any residue remains from production, it will inhibit that process. How much? Who knows, I just don’t want to take that chance.

    I have moved to using Vallejo airbrush surface primer. The key to using that product is to allow for adequate curing as it needs to harden. Usually 24 hours. I have been very impressed with it, and the airbrush works well with it. If I need to prime something that is not amenable to spraying, I dilute Citadel Imperium Primer with Testors Universal Acrylic Thinner, and make sure it is not lumpy, but wet. Then use a brush and spread it all over. Then I can use an ink or wash over that and paint will stick well. I know you said that you were bad with an airbrush, but priming and varnishing with it are easy, as long as you have adequate thinning and air pressure. The most important thing is to keep the airbrush clean! In New England, weather is an issue. I use a Masterbrush spray booth, and it allows me much better priming and varnishing than a rattle can ever could.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yup. Unless I’ve just stripped a metal model, I don’t bother washing them, and the primers that I use work just fine. If I were casting my own, I’d probably be more likely to wash them as well, though if you think about it, you don’t know what commercial (or even worse – secondhand and eBayed) models have been exposed to.

      I use a variety of Vallejo Airbrush Surface Primers, but as I’ll get to in the next installment, I use them with a brush as base colours – essentially as paints over an already-primed model. I’ve got a pot of the Citadel Imperium Primer, but I haven’t used it at all yet. But then, I rarely brush-prime.

      I do agree – I think priming and varnishing with an airbrush would be pretty easy. The problem with it for me is – as I noted above replying to Faust – the space issue, in needing to set the thing up and then break it down to get my photo box back, and then clean the bloody thing – as opposed to shaking a can and then going back inside. One I can do on the spur of the moment, while the other is a lot of work. But then, my climate is mostly-amenable to that.

      Liked by 2 people

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