It’s no secret that wargaming is an expensive hobby for most people, so we’ll continue to review budget-conscious alternatives for gamers and hobbyists.
One major budget killer for large projects is primer. Primer, (also known as that one part of your hobby that forces you outdoors,) is an absolute necessity when painting acrylic paints over plastic or metal surfaces. Why? Because metal and plastic are smooth, water-resistant surfaces that not only repels paint, but paint that does dry on these materials will not adhere and slide off your model like those dried scrambled-egg flakes that collect around the edge of your non-stick frying pan.
The first primer we’ll look at is the one we’re all most familiar with, because it was pushed on us when we bought our first blister pack of miniatures. This is Citadel brand spray primer. I only included on this list to give a sense of comparison.
With an average price of over $15.00 per can, this is by far the most expensive hobby primer you can readily buy. But is it worth that hefty price tag?
Yes and no. The first thing you should know is that Citadel Primer is simply enamel paint with a little solvent, like most spray primers. The real difference is that the pigment strength is extremely high, meaning that with just a couple of passes you can completely cover your model, without any bare material showing through. It also tends to spray “lightly” meaning it sprays a fine mist instead of a bold spray. This is really good for painting miniature figures, where you don’t want paint to build up in repeated passes, possibly obscuring detail.
But when you’re painting something like a Realm Of Battle board set, with a lot of deep textures or custom made terrain features, you can easily burn through a half-dozen cans of this stuff, setting you back a large chunk of money. Also, you’re not likely to find this for sale in a retail location outside your Friendly Local Gaming Store. For terrain making, Citadel sprays are not ideal at all. Keep it on your shelf for your figures.
Tamya Fine Surface Primer
Tamya primers are formulated for model builders and professional hobbyists. It’s a synthetic lacquer that dries with a very smooth finish, sometimes too smooth if you’re not using an airbrush to apply your base colors. It also comes in a whopping two color choices, grey and white. Tamya primer is easy to find general hobby shops that sell plastic models and RC toys. As far as price goes, it can vary greatly between $5.00 to $12.00 a can, depending on where you buy it and what size can you get. Because of the super-smooth finish, the lack of black, and steep price-tag, I tend to keep this on the shelf only for special purposes, such as priming materials that other primers have a hard time sticking to, but even then I prefer to use the next brand on our list…
Now we’re getting away from the specialized hobby paints and into the realm of hardware store primers. Rustoleum Auto Primer is my go-to primer for large projects with a combination of different materials. There is very little that Rustoleum won’t adhere to, and the solvents tend to create great bonds, even with Urethane resin, which can be notoriously hard to find a good primer for. The mixture is a little on the thick side, but only slightly. For the most part, Rustoleum is good for just about any project and runs between $5.00 – $7.00 a can. It comes in several different formulas and colors, but Auto Primer has the best adhesion and only comes in brown and dark grey. I use this stuff when all else fails.
Krylon paints are sold just about everywhere, and because of this we’ve made quite a few 2:00 AM runs to Wal-Mart to pick up a few cans, ignoring the funny glances from the cashiers. A relatively recent addition to Krylon’s line is Fusion, which is advertised to bond easily with most plastics. While I rarely encounter problems using other spray enamel primers, this could potentially be a benefit, as sometimes spray paints can compatibility issues with different plastics, either not bonding well or taking an extremely long time to set.
Fusion paints run between $5.00 – $7.00 and what really makes them a good choice is they have a special line just for camouflage, which means it’s super flat. This is by far the flattest toned spray-enamel around. This is great for just about everything hobby related, because flatter base colors means better paint adhesion, and more realistic shadows in your finished work. I rate Krylon highly because it’s cost-effective, has high-quality coverage that works great for miniature figures, plastic models and mixed-material terrain pieces.
Plus, if you have any leftover, you can always spray paint your pickup truck camouflage so that the.. er, deer can’t see it.
If you’re really in a bind, and you’re not priming your Crystal Brush entry piece, there are cheaper spray paints out there which will still do the job. In most hardware sections you can find a large selection of generic, store-brand paints, most between $1.00 – $2.00.
So what’s wrong with these bargain paints? It depends on the store, but sometimes these paints tend to be a bit weak in pigment, taking many coats to get good coverage. For example, you might need to use two cans instead of one half a can to completely cover a 2′x2′ terrain board. But that still comes out to a lower price, so if getting the most paint for your money is your concern, there’s no shame in buying the cheap stuff. Most brands tend to bond well to most surfaces, including resin, metal and plastic, but always, always test out a primer you’ve never used before, some brands don’t stick well to anything, others work as good as any more expensive spray enamels on the same shelf. I recommend Generic Rust Primers, which are very close to the name brands in quality but cost no more than about $2.50.
Since this is not a specific review of any one product over another, I have to give a score to primers in general, which for being so important to my work over the years, have earned: 4 Fire flowers and 2 Screaming Macaulay Carson Culkins.