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"What Primer Colour" Topic

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693 hits since 18 Aug 2017
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AC196318 Aug 2017 6:45 a.m. PST


I've just joined TMP. Apologies if this is not the correct forum – it was the best one I could spot.

I've recently got my first metal miniatures, both WWII, some in 20mm that will be for a skirmish game (CoC) and some in 15mm that will be for a company level game (PBI).

I'm not so young any more – you can probably guess from my user name – and my eyesight is beginning to struggle.

So I need to work on figures through glasses and magnifiers.

I appreciate that everyone has their favourite colour primer, white promotes bright colours, black helps with shadows and then there is grey.

But because of my eyesight I want to approach it from a different way.

What colour makes detail easier to see for painting and makes imperfections (like seams) easier to spot for clean-up.

Basically, I do as much clean up as I can first, but I find it sometimes hard to see on the bare metal. So when I prime I would like to be able to see the bits that I have missed.

Will one primer colour do that better than the others?



GurKhan18 Aug 2017 6:56 a.m. PST

Personally, I find detail easier to see with white primer than black – I haven't tried grey – though the difference isn't as great as I thought it might be.

skipper John Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 7:00 a.m. PST

White shows up everything.

Like you, I spend a lot of time cleaning up flashing and mold lines. Invariably, once primed white, I find places I've missed. Then I prime the many "spots" I'd cleaned. You could prime this second time with another color… I guess.

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 7:19 a.m. PST

You might find it helpful to dry-brush (or wet-brush) white over black-undercoated figures. Or the reverse – prime in white, cover up all the spots you missed then black wash the whole thing.

Either method will accentuate the raised bits and put them in sharp contrast.

Mugwump18 Aug 2017 7:26 a.m. PST

Use white then do a very thin wash of black to pop out the details. Then you can see what you're painting.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 7:34 a.m. PST

You will get almost every possible combination as suggestions because it really is a matter of what suits a particular painter best.

Personally I use grey primer as I find that both black and white make detail more difficult to see. I'm 67 and paint details wearing glasses and using a magnifier so similar problem. I do mostly work on scales 10mm and smaller so find that a black ink wash helps me to spot details.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 7:56 a.m. PST

I'm 64 and pending cataracts surgery, so our problems may not be all that different.
Period matters as well as scale In your case, For 1914 forward, and in 15mm and 20mm, I'd black prime, black wash (in case I missed anything) and then dampbrush white before I painted to bring out details and enhance shading. (Hmm. Worth noting that I only use acryli8c paints.)

If the castings were in brighter colors--or the castings themselves were larger--something to be said for white primer, white wash--and then a thin wash of burnt umber to bring out the detail. This brings out detail pretty well. In fact, it brings out deficiencies so well I'm fixing some of my own mistakes this morning.

Word of advise: none of the counsel you will receive is wrong. Goals and expectations matter in painting too. And so does mass effect, especially in 15mm and smaller. Don't get so concerned with crooked belt or a bad seam that you don't get a proper army on the table. A hundred castings covers a multitude of painting sins.

Timmo uk18 Aug 2017 8:44 a.m. PST

I think details are easiest to see when using white primer. You could prime three figures, one in black, one in grey and one in white and see which you find the easiest to work with.

I also happen to find white primer gives me more flexibility when it comes to choosing how to paint the figures but YMMV on that.

Really there is no right or wrong in this just what feels most comfortable to you.

Vigilant18 Aug 2017 8:50 a.m. PST

As said above, there is no right or wrong. I have used all 3 different colours and have settled on grey or white depending on the final colour to be used – yellow is a particular pain to use, so I undercoat white then base coat with a sand shade initially. I suggest you try all the suggested techniques and decide which works for you. The other suggestion I would make is to get a good light source. I bought a magnifier with a ring light daylight bulb this year and it has really helped.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 8:50 a.m. PST

Agree with the general thread above – I also find that some colours (bright red, yellow) do not do well with a primer other than white or a lighter version of the desired colour

Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 9:03 a.m. PST

Good suggestions here. I wouldn't worry too much about using a magnifier--I have for the past couple years (Optivisor) and it's really helped my painting.

Titchmonster18 Aug 2017 9:53 a.m. PST

I second the Optivisor. I had to go to one a couple of years ago and it's way better than the Ott light with the magnifier.

Kevin C Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 10:06 a.m. PST

I use grey for most things, but I use whites if I want colors like yellow or red to be a little more brilliant. I rarely use black, but will on miniatures (or more often buildings) that I want to look a little more gritty. I have also used red-brown for Caucasian figures that show a lot of skin (like Celtic fanatics). One thing that I would caution against is using white if you want to paint figures that use a lot of dark blue (Prussians, French, Yankees, etc.). Also I would not recommend using black if your figure is going to have a lot of yellow. One last comment. You may want to avoid using black primer, if your eyesight is not that great because black primer will make details on the miniatures hard to distinguish.


TonicNH18 Aug 2017 10:20 a.m. PST

As other folk have mentioned there is no right or wrong it's whatever suits you.

My eyesight isn't what it used to ne so I prefer white or light grey primer (possibly with a darker wash to bring out the details)

for what it's worth I'd also suggest a good light with a daylight bulb like the "Betsy" from


likewise I've found a head magnifier a real help. Try this if you don't fancy forking out for an optivisor


Hope that helps

Personal logo Ooh Rah Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 10:41 a.m. PST

I am using white, gray, and black primer on different sets of 28mm figures in order to try out different painting techniques. To answer your specific question, I think the white-primed figures show details the best, gray-primed figures a close second, and black-primed figures are the worst for showing detail. This is without any highlighting or dry-brushing. Just primer.

jwebster18 Aug 2017 10:46 a.m. PST

+1 on optivisor
+1 on lots of (daylight) lighting

With this combination missed cleanup is not due to not being able to see the miniature clearly enough

personally I prefer white prime, but have seen outstanding results from black primed so …


Personal logo herkybird Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 10:50 a.m. PST

I am a 1958 model! I use white, it works alright!

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 11:35 a.m. PST

I am 66 and have used the Optivisor for over 15 years. That and a lot of good lighting keep me going. I have usually used black primer in the past but I am looking at Army Painter colored primers for my newly arrived Picts 25's and maybe also for the newly arrived Late Roman/Arthurians. Less to paint if the primer can take care of some of the painting, for me. Have fun and good luck!

Hlaven Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2017 2:26 p.m. PST

Always had the optivisor. Many years primed black. Tried white. Didn't like it. For a couple years now I only prime with gray. I am 67. Oh and gray is American and grey is English if anyone gives a hoot.

goragrad18 Aug 2017 3:09 p.m. PST


Have some that I acquired primed black, brown, or gray and so have had the experience of painting over those and still prefer white.

Also use a primer with a satin finish – gloss is hard to paint over.

14Bore19 Aug 2017 3:57 a.m. PST

I have always used white but my artist niece tells me use gray. And prefer flat overcoat sprays but that is so up to taste.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2017 4:07 a.m. PST

I've gone back and forth between white and black (and occasionally others). I now mainly use white.

I'd recommend the same as Flashman and Mugwump: to see the details, white is generally best but you might find a wash would help to pick out the detail. You could even vary the wash according to the main colour of the figure.

T Corret Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2017 7:38 a.m. PST

I like gray also if using spray cans. No one mentioned gesso,used thinned as a wash. So little is used that it is dirt cheap. I use a gray mixture wash, clean up errors, recoat if necessary, and put on a pure white dry brush.

hindsTMP Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2017 4:42 p.m. PST

I am 65, and my painting eyesight has been bad since the mid-90s. To compensate, it's not so much primer as the following:

1) Head-mounted magnifier (you're already doing this).
2) Architect-type adjustable desk light (like this link )
3) Work area at chin-level (low chair or raised table via box, etc.).


davbenbak Supporting Member of TMP21 Aug 2017 6:58 a.m. PST

I may have gotten to this post too late but I've started using white spray on gesso. I'm really pleased with how the gesso soaks up acrylic paints especially if you thin them a bit first. Not for everyone but I would recommend giving it a try.

Doomweaver21 Aug 2017 9:14 a.m. PST

Hi guys,

I am also of the older generation and use a daylight illuminated magnifier.
For base colours, it all depends what I am painting. I use a spray paint that reflects the primary colour of the figure. Always brown for horses, red for napoleonic Brits, blue for nap French, white for my carthaginians etc

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