Friday Quick Tip: Priming with Gesso

I love Tamiya Fine Surface Primer. Not only does it prime well, but it has a great grey color that I love to paint over. I've found the grey helps me see the model details and shadows better than black or white. The one thing I don't love about it is the price. That, and the rest of the hassle of spray priming.

So when I read about priming with gesso I figured it was time to give it a try. My local art store even had a nice shade of grey that was just a hair browner than the neutral Tamiya grey I love. Plus it was cold and rainy outside, so it was a perfect time to try out a spray primer alternative.

Yup, under $4. And that's probably enough gesso to prime a dozen Space Marine Chapters or Eldar Craftworlds and maybe even enough for an Ork army.

Here's our favorite Librarian, ready for a prime:

After reading WeeToySoldiers, I was careful not to glob it on too thick. Even as "miraculous" as gesso is supposed to be, I didn't want to have to strip it all off if it obscured some details. Here is the first coat when wet:

And when dried:

You can see it is a little splotchy with bad coverage in some areas (bottom of the robe, toes and wrist). Reading the comments on the gesso posts I've found that there is a big difference between the white and black gesso. It seems that you get much better coverage with the black. Not surprisingly the grey is probably in-between. To get good coverage you need two thin coats. With the black, one coat is enough. With the white liquid gesso, you might need multiple coats.

I also did a quick prime of one thicker coat on some plastic Scouts. The thicker coat covers better, but obscured a little of the fine detail. If you are doing a big horde of Orks, one thicker coat will be fine.

And not all gesso is created equal. The stuff I got was fairly liquid, about the consistency of syrup. The gesso in this tutorial looks to be quite thick, almost like paste. I am sure that any type will work well, but you'll need to get it to the right consistency first.

So the bottom line on gesso: it is a good alternative for black primer for single or small batches of models. But like anything else regarding painting, it takes some practice to get used to. Believe it or not, priming is a painting skill just like any other: the more you do it the better you get at it. So get out there and get priming! (That's one step closer to being fully painted.)

Have you tried gesso? What color did you use and what were your results?


  1. Sadly, my favorite non-GW hobby shop here didnt have any gesso when I went looking, I think I might have to go further afield to find some. Im seriously wanting to give this stuff a try!

  2. Very very cool tip this week Jim. I really dig the gesso a lot, and might have to go out and pick some up. First I'll need a suitable project for it though ^_-. Like I need another one of those....

  3. I'm gonna have a look around for this stuff, as i hate undercoating metal models with usual paint as you always get those bits of metal showing. Grey_Death one easy project is to find a model you really like, paint it up nice and post the picture behind your blog title, and seeming as everyone will see it you'll have to do a good job :P

  4. I keep reading positive reviews about this stuff and it does look like a decent alternative, but I'm not sold on it just yet.

  5. I tried it on the Forgeworld Nurgle Sorcerer that I'm working on as a commission and I found it to thick when it dried and it covered most of the smaller detail Forgeworld stuff is known for.
    I had to strip it off and start over with something else.
    I used the Liquitex kind of Gesso.

  6. I've been working with Liquitex Black Gesso mixed with Future Floor Polish. The result is much more wear resistant then straight gesso, but still shrinks tight like pure gesso.

  7. Well it's no secret that I love gesso even more than I hate rattle-can primers. :) Glad to see someone else hopping in and trying it out...also interesting is the differences between white, grey and black gesso (being a black gesso man myself).

    I tried thinning it once as an experiment and that...well, not so much. I wasn't as happy with the results as I was just plain ol' gesso, right out of the jar. I will look in to that Future Floor Polish/gesso combo, though, as it does seem intriguing.

    One thing I have had to learn about using gesso, though, is just "how thick" is "too thick". Yes I love to just glop it on but I did have one case where I over-glopped and had to do some stripping. I use a wide, flat brush and can usually get a mini completely primed with two thin(ish) coats.

    Gesso = Awesome (Yes! Re-use that phrase one more time!), at least for my purposes, and the more practice I get with it the happier I am with the results...and the super extra added bonus of much less time spent jackin' around with priming AND escaping the tyranny of the damned rattle-can!

  8. Like I said - I havent had problems with the gesso being too thick with my gesso/future mix. But all the models Ive been primering have been Battletech and Tau, so I think they might be a little more tolerant of the extra gesso.

  9. I saw the Liquitex gesso at the store, but it was three times as much as the stuff I ended up buying.

    I wonder if there really is a difference between the brands, and the thicker, paste-type gesso that comes in a tub.

    Really though, I'm not a fan of gesso and after spray priming over 200 Orks, I've found that I'm pretty damn good at spray priming with the GW or Tamiya primer. Just don't switch cans on me!

  10. My Liquitex is at worst as thick as Foundation paints. With the Future added its on par with Vallejo paints, maybe thinner as it tends to sink into detail.

  11. I like my rattle cans. I even base coat with them. Mostly because I haven't fond a good spot to learn how to airbrush. I'm not good enough to do NMM but the finish on stuff like Testors' metalizer is amazing.

    All that said. Having some Gesso on hand for when you can't or don't have the time for your favorite spray can seems like a good 4 buck investment.

  12. I bought and used Grey Liquitex gesso and I thought it worked great. Coverage was good, no loss of detail after 2 coats. I was painting space marines so it was pretty straight forward. I did, however, experiment with mixing in some Citadel green ink because I was painting Dark Angels. It takes quite a bit of ink to get a good green. I would just leave it grey, it's dark enough IMO.

  13. I love how older 'Friday Quick Tips' cycle at the bottom of the page... :)
    I've been using Holbein Grey Gesso to prime my minis (metals & plastics) and my scale models for the last two years. I can brush it onto minis straight from the tub, or thin it up to 50% with water and run it through my AB to spray a smooth coat onto a model.
    Gesso is like any other product we rely on for good results, we get what we pay for. I get a good price on Holbein at a local art supply, so I buy it, but Liquitex is a great choice too.
    As for spotty coverage, I get the impression that this is a result of oils or other impurities on the mini, a result that is all too common with any water-based product.