Ask the Corps: Primer Colors

Today it's time to take a look at one of those very subjective parts of the hobby, Primer Colors. Everyone has a different preference on the question of what color to base coat your models. So to start the conversation off, let's see the email that has sparked today's post!

Ryan Writes:

Thanks for all the tips and insights to painting miniatures. Your sight has significantly increased my skill. I do have a question: Which color of primer works best, white, black, or grey? I know that much of depends on your style but if you could give a pro/con of each that would be great! I did white when I first started painting and while it brightened my colors, it also showed my streak/paint lines (didn't know how to dry brush at the time). So then I went to black, which worked wonderfully but the colors for many of them were so dark that it's almost black! I had ultra blue look like very very dark purple and olive green be almost black. Now I did see the grey primer and I haven't tried it yet. So it may give me the best of both worlds. Thanks again for all that the corps have done!

Pros? Cons? Different ideas? Let's hear em!

And if you have a question you'd like to see us bring to the community here, hit us up at ThePaintingCorps@gmail.com!


  1. Primer, color doesnt really matter its the quality of the primer more then anything else.

    The only point that primer really matters ( color ) is when your base coat is meant to be a really bright color, or if its a semi-translucent color...yellows and reds from vallejo/GW/ and in general would be a good example.

    You have to look beyond the final color of RED, you need to also look at what type of Paint your using and its pigment content. That will also help in determining what kind of primer to use.

    IF you want to do an all wash colored model, use white. If you want to do an all metallic colored model , use black.

    I can paint a blood angel with a black base coat, and have it be as "bright" as a white base coated model...it just takes more time to paint and a few more coats of red.

    A quick recap...Primer color doesnt matter, its your paints that matter. The pigments, the colors, and what you want the final product to look like, as well as the time you want to put into painting the model.

    - Mr.Awesome

  2. Agreed. Even if you want to paint white, using a white primer will not give you an easy job of it. You still need to layer the paint on in thin, even coats.

    The only time primer colour matters is (1) when you want to paint a very light or very dark model, choose white or black respectively, and (2) when you want to colour match another paint job, in which case you should use the same colour primer you did previously.

    Army Painter coloured primers are a good shortcut, however. I am using them to lay down primer and base colour in one go, but that is a special case.

    Most confusion I see is about what primer actually is. I have seen people paint their models with black paint and think they have primed them.

  3. A primer color you didn't mention, but show in the picture is Krylon Ruddy Brown. It is actually a reddish color and looks a bit like the troops have been rolling around in West Texas dirt... It works great for me on sand and khaki models. Also doesn't hurt that I found it on sale for $.95 a can. (Krylon Ruddy Brown for $.95 or Chaos Black for $13? Hmm, tough call...)

  4. I have gone round and round with different primers. I usually prime my models back because it makes them much faster to paint. If I miss a spot it isn't noticeable like using white primer.

    The best black primer that I have found is the Rust-Oleum Dark Grey Automotive Primer. Don't be fooled by Dark Grey - it is really black. That stuff is awesome. I have not had a fuzzy prime or bad can yet.

    Now white primer - geez. I have had more trouble with it than anything else in the whole hobby. I am constantly getting fuzzy primes - to the point that I have swore off of using it. Try as I might though I always come back to using it. Right now I am doing a lot of yellow and have been using GW's white primer. I just have to watch the temp and humidity. I keep looking for a cheaper replacement and what I have found to work the best is the generic Wal-Mart flat white primer.

    I tried using a grey primer under my yellow but it just turned out too green for me. Other than that I have not had any experience with a true grey primer.

  5. I've had lots of success recently using flat black spray paint. The GW foundation paints go on great, and layering up gives me nice bright highlights no problem. I use reaper paints for reds, and again, works great. The black is great because anything I don't paint still looks ok, and I can get away with being a little quick. With white everything needs to be painted, and usually anything translucent needs to be touched up anyway. I'm giving dark red a try right now for my fantasy army, so hopefully that will be as successful as black has been

  6. I use Vallejo grey primer which is superb. For me anyway. Before that I used Tamiya fine gray primer, which is perhaps even better, but comes quite expensive and in a ridiculously small canister. Inbetween I used black, but now I only on minis I buy strip and resell on ebay

  7. I'm going to disagree with the people saying that primer colour doesn't matter. If you look at the physics of colour and techniques like under painting of contrasting colours, it certainly does matter.

    I'm a big fan of grey primer for a very simple reason. If you prime with an excellent grey primer like Tamiya's Fine Grey primer and then wash the miniature with black ink, you have created a monochrome representation of the painted miniature. It helps to plan out how you plan to paint the miniature.

    If you're after a very subtly coloured miniature you can just build on from this point by doing colour glazes over the shaded miniature.

  8. I've used black mostly... on occassion, I'll use white for a specific purpose.

    Now I like to use muted colors like browns and greys as a primer/base color.

  9. I've always been of the mindset that your scheme determined the color of spray to use.

    When I painted my Grey Death Marines, I used black. The grey covered easily, giving me a nice shaded miniature from the get go.

    When I'm painting the Sons of Medusa, I've used a white primer coat, followed on by a green tamiya spray (which I have to give tooth by using purity seal over that!). The white primer gives my tamiya something to bite onto so it doesn't flake away as well as making the color true, and the green makes my scorpion green that much more vivid!

    When the colors are going to be brighter, on the whole, using white is usually your best bet. When they're darker, go with black. When most of your color is the same color, find a spray that matches, or makes the color easier to paint.

    I've never worked with grey primers, but I do know that Lunchbox, a painter out of Texas and multiple Demon winner, used grey sandable automotive primer for a long time to good effect! So it has to have SOME merit!

    Any primer you aren't used to is going to take practice. Don't go into a project thinking you'll know exactly what color to use without testing it out first. Prepare and execute!

  10. I'll agree with grey_death that the color you paint dictates the color of primer you use. However with Foundation and other high pigment paints now a common thing on the market. It all comes down to preference. Personally I like grey Primer, it is the best of both world providing depth for dark colors but is light enough to get bright colors without a lot of work.

    However since Duplicolor's amazing primers have gone the way of the doodoo bird I am current struggle with what primer to use. Current I use GW Black and Rustolium Painters touch x2 sandable white primer depending on what I am paint. Orks, Blood Angels, Nurgle Daemons, or Mortal Chaos - Black Primer. Howling Griffons - White Primer.

  11. The answer is that it really depends on the skill level you are aiming for. If you have been painting before, and you use the GW style of multiple layers (I am tlaking say 4-7+) of paint mixing up to white you should not really notice much of a difference. I have used both white, black and green and honestly I cannot tell the difference much.

    Now if you are looking to paint your army to a table top standard as quickly as you can then the color primer 100% matters.

    Example If you are painting Dark Angels you'd would definately primer in black, throw on a quick layer or two of green and call it a day. The black underneath will be more forgiving to missed spots than white will.

    General rule of thumb when painting for speed primer in black, unless you have a brighter color scheme as an exception.

  12. I've used all types (black, white, and gray) and I still usually prefer white unless I'm painting something that's primarily dark-themed or has a lot of metal armor on.

    But then again, I prefer my models to be bright instead of looking gritty or dingy, so that may just be a personal preference.

    I used a light gray automobile primer and it worked fine- covered well and ended up not messing with light colors painted over it too much, though it ended up as a fuzzy prime, so I haven't tried it again out of hear.

    On a related question, has anybody used the "straight to plastic" spray paints to prime models of a certain color? I bought a royal blue one of these to try on an Alaitoc army, but am a bit afraid that it won't work well and I'll end up regretting not just priming white and going from there.

  13. I have recently (w/in the last year or so) started airbrushing my basecoat on to speed up army painting. A trick that was taught to me is to prime black, then drybrush white over that before you use the airbrush. Doing that gives you instant shading and very slight highlights as a guide to putting on a layer or 2, then your details and your done.

    If your wanting really bright colors but have trouble reaching the deep areas, prime in white and then do a thin black wash (or 2) over the figure before you paint, then your deepest areas are black like a black primer, and the rest is a really light grey to white color.

  14. @ cp66701

    Those are some great tips I'll have to try them :)

    I'm sold on the Krylon indoor/outdoor paints at Walmart and Home Depot. I prefer their flat white over GW's white lol.

  15. I've been painting minis since the mid 1980s, and always used a white undercoat back in the day. I had a few years off and on returning to the hobby I discovered that everyone was using black. I tried it and really couldn't get on with it. I did find that GW chaos black was a lot better to paint over then generic car primer though. GW Skull white is very "toothy", which is OK if you intend to use a lot of dry brushing but not so good for two-brush blending - it's too rough.
    Recently I've tried priming with black, then once that's dry spraying a very light "ghosting" of skull white so it catches the high points, almost like a wash in reverse. This makes the details much easier to see and brightens lighter colours.
    For my Blood Ravens I prime with Halfords red primer, which seems to work pretty well and comes in a huge can. As an added bonus they don't look too tragic if you have to play a game with them in primer!
    I "prime" a lot of metallic models such as bridges and the inside of my drop pod doors with Halfords Peugeot Cossack Grey metallic. It dries slightly glossy, but a really thinned coat of P3 pig iron left to dry and washed with P3 armour wash mixed with a drop of brown ink and lots of mixing medium looks great and is really quick.

    Finally, I think I've discovered a primer which actually sticks to resin models. Give them a good scrub with washing-up liquid, rinse and prime with Halfords plastic primer. I used grey for my Forge World IG tanks, but they also do red and white. I've tried the white on my Warmachine Menoth Bastions and it seems to have taken alright.

  16. The tip about using a grey primer followed by a badab wash is really good. I am using GW white followed by a two washes on a Space Hulk terminator and it is working really well.

  17. Most Recent Anonymous:

    Where do you get the Halfords brand you mentioned? Are you in the US or UK? It sounds very interesting.

  18. Wow! Thanks for the comments. They have given me some things to think about.

    I've just started painting so I'm at the very basics and all of your suggestions have helped. I am wondering: Is there a particular color that works better with a certain style? (ie. drybrush, wetbrush, etc...) I do like the idea of priming for a certain color palette. What I'm starting to do is take some cheap minis (for me Hobby Lobby plastics and the ones that I wouldn't use for gaming) and experiment with them on priming and painting styles.

  19. Now that I've found Montana Gold spray paint, I don't limit myself to black or white anymore. Most of their paint colors spray on like a perfect primer and leave all the detail. Just pick the color you want your base color to really be and head over to the art store for the Montana Gold section. I'm sold from here on.

  20. @mortal888

    Thanks for that tip off on the Montana Gold sprays. I've been looking for a spray that'll act like that for a while now.

  21. Where does one buy Montana Gold spray paint? I don't recall ever seeing it for sale.

  22. They sell it at Jerry's Artarama.

    I haven't seen it anywhere else yet.

  23. Here's an online store, but they're a few bucks more expensive plus shipping.

    Still cheaper than the GW stuff though.

  24. Dupli-color Sandable Primer is great stuff. Comes in black, white, and grey. Very smooth coats and a nice spray cap. Cheaper than GW as it comes in at about 7USD and is sold at most automotive parts/accessories stores.

  25. I use multiple colors for priming. First is a dark gray for the whole mini. Then a khaki color for the first zenithal pass. Then a very focused and light white pass for the strong highlights. There, all the highlighting is pretty much done. Now just shade with diluted inks and you got instant blending.