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  • Review -- 4 White Primers

    I learned the hard way how important it is to use the right primer under the right conditions. It's soul-crushing to practically ruin a $30+ box of 24 miniatures in which you already invested the time to assemble and base. Take it from me, humidity is your enemy! Humidity (and other factors) will cause your primer to lay down with a grainy texture, destroying the detail and soaking up paint like a sponge, making washes nigh impossible. In my experience, Games Workshop White and Armory Black have been the worst offenders and I no longer use those brands.

    Regardless of brand, I now always spray in humidity that is less than 70%. Temperature is a factor, too, so I strive for a temperature that is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. And the primer itself is a factor -- not only the brand, but the can temperature, its age, the amount left in the can, etc. And different brands have varying levels of sensitivity to environmental conditions.

    So I've always wanted a side-by-side comparison of primer brands to guide me. As it turns out, I accumulated a variety of brands to try out, and I happened to have a large collection of recently assembled minis that needed priming. So, hey, I figured I'd try my own comparison and share my results with everyone.

    So the four brands I tried are shown here:

    The Armory can is standing in its cap, because the bottom dents and bellows out if you "shake vigorously" like I do. By the way, I shake primer for a minute and a half to two minutes before I start using it.

    The Armory can had about 1/3 to 1/4 of its contents remaining. The other cans were brand new.

    Note the nozzles. They make a difference in paint flow and diffusion. I'll speak more to that as we go along.

    I tried my experiment in less than ideal conditions. The temperature was about 90 degrees. The weather report said that the humidity level was 45%, but I'm very skeptical that was the case. By the time I was done, I was sweating like a Malifaux Warpig. In any case, I tested the primers first on spare sprues to make sure the project was a "go", before I risked any valuable miniatures.

    Going into this, I expected the Tamiya to be the best performer, based on comments I've read in forums. I looked forward to having a "go to", super-reliable brand when I just couldn't afford to fail, like priming my new Freebooter's Fate minis. The results surprised me, as it turns out. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    So here are the results of the sprue tests, in the same order as the cans are shown above. The paint may appear a little grainy, but that's only because the photos are so close up. From normal distance, the primers were more or less smooth. The speckly effect you're seeing is more indicative of general coverage and paint thickness.

    The Army Painter primer shows very even coverage.

    P3 goes on very light and thin. I could barely see it coloring the sprue when I started.

    Tamiya shocked me. You can see where it pools around the letters. And the coverage was uneven. Parts of it heavy and parts of it light.

    Armory showed even coverage, and you can see how differently the paint adheres around the lettering, not pooling at all and keeping the edges sharp. However, it seems to be the coarsest looking of the set.

    OK, on to the cool stuff. Here are some of the test subjects, again shown in the same order as the cans are shown above.

    I don't expect you to see too much difference in this group shot, but it is worth mentioning that the results are usable for all 4 brands. The devil is in the details....

    After the sprue tests, I felt most comfortable with Army Painter. So that's what I used for my Freebooter's Fate minis. One word sums up using the Army Painter brand. Control. I felt like I had the right amount of coverage, not too thick and not too light. Light enough that I could lay down multiple layers if I needed too, as is recommended by many experts. The flow was not too light and not too strong, and the dispersal remained in a cone-size that was appropriate for the subjects' size. The pressure was even and reliable. The detail on the mini is preserved wonderfully. I am going to enjoy painting this figure!

    The P3 paint flows from the can in a silky-smooth fashion that stands out from any spray can I've ever used. It screams quality. That said, though, it felt really weird to me. The coverage is extremely light, too light for my taste. And the dispersal is very wide and vertical. It probably helps in hitting the model at a variety of angles, but it probably wastes a bit of paint in overspray. Very interesting approach, and it shows that Privateer really cares about their product and about differentiating themselves in the market, but, unfortunately, it's not my cup of tea.

    Tamiya flowed very fast. It pooled in the crevices of the model in an instant. It's a little glossier than the other brands, too. You can see drips on the side of the base. Yeah, maybe I could increase the distance at which I spray, but, next to the other brands, Tamiya gave me the least control.

    Armory performs well, and it's good value. But it definitely demonstrates that you get what you pay for. The pressure was uneven (and I think that is independent of the fact that I was on the last third of the can), and the dispersal was slightly "cloudier" than the others. It lays down SOLID. You can definitely see what parts of the mini are covered and which parts aren't, as you go along! All in all, it's a respectable performer, but you can see that there's a touch of texture in the results. Good enough for army hordes in tabletop games, but not sufficient for display painting or tabletop centerpieces.

    So there you have it. I hope you found this helpful. After I recover from inhaling all the fumes, I'll compare the hallucinatory effects between the brands!

    Now on to painting. Yay!

    Comments 15 Comments
    1. Darklord's Avatar
      Darklord -
      excellent and interesting comparison. Priming is such a key aspect of mini painting but is often over-looked
    1. Ulfgrimr's Avatar
      Ulfgrimr -
      Totally agree Brett, good priming sets the foundation for the rest of the mini. Would've been interesting to see GW's primer as part of the comparison as well as a really cheap alternative (e.g. Halfords - UK) but a very good review Shades and really helpful.
    1. mercius's Avatar
      mercius -
      Awesome article...I also would have liked to see GW brand and a cheaper auto primer also, just to add a few more varieties....I loved the review though and my local game shop carries Army painter primers now, so this is definatly making me want to purchase that instead of GW now!
    1. shanerozzell's Avatar
      shanerozzell -
      very good article and I agree with the others; I would have likes to see GW's there as I think its gonna be the most popular primer in our hobby.
    1. Shades's Avatar
      Shades -
      Thanks for the comments guys. I omitted GW because GW White has ruined my minis on more than one occasion, and I now boycott it. I allude to that in the article, but I wanted to avoid unleashing my utter distaste for the product and risk contaminating the article with unnecessary GW-bashing.

      I forgot to mention using Krylon. Krylon behaves similarly to Tamiya in my experience, but with a little better flow control.

      Should I add these statements in the article? I can make a stronger statement about GW, without going overboard.
    1. shanerozzell's Avatar
      shanerozzell -
      I vote yes!
    1. precinctomega's Avatar
      precinctomega -
      Great comparison and good to see Army Painter getting the thumbs-up. I might switch to that from Citadel. I've never had trouble with Citadel, but I do like Army Painter's coloured primers and they're a bit cheaper than GW.
    1. War Griffon's Avatar
      War Griffon -
      Even though you have had a bad experince with the GW Skull White Primer I think you should have put it in to back up your point about it, not everybody has had a bad experience with it and without going through the full range of white primers available I feel the article is biased towards the ones you prefer/wanted to try.

      Nice article all the same though it does feel incomplete.
    1. Coneman's Avatar
      Coneman -
      Nicely written article.
    1. Iacton's Avatar
      Iacton -
      No point in spending hard earned cash on GW spray that likely WILL just cack up your model(s) too

      Good article. I might have to look into the AP spray, especially as they appear to have a few different colours too.
    1. Shades's Avatar
      Shades -
      Quote Originally Posted by War Griffon View Post
      Even though you have had a bad experince with the GW Skull White Primer I think you should have put it in to back up your point about it, not everybody has had a bad experience with it and without going through the full range of white primers available I feel the article is biased towards the ones you prefer/wanted to try.
      That's a good point, War Griffin. You're entirely right, I admit that the article is biased towards the primers I prefer/wanted to try. Writing the article was a target-of-opportunity, given the variety of primers that I had on-hand, something I decided to do on the spur-of-the-moment. So it's more of a "sharing my experience" article with fellow hobbyists than a professional and fair review.

      Maybe I'll amend the article one of these days, if I have a chance to use one of my friends' GW primer. But even when GW primer works well on a good day, when compared to the competition, it offers no additional benefit over other primers to justify its $15 price point, IMO.
    1. poots's Avatar
      poots -
      I HATE armory spray paint. Texture drives me totally insane and I ended up having to scrub all the paint off of the models I based with it. Just YUCK.

      Even tho GW spray is double or more the price, I have come to really trust it. With one exception of getting a "chalky" can. It has provided the most even coverage and the least texture for me. I like both their white and black over the other brands I tried.
    1. Captain Sprout's Avatar
      Captain Sprout -
      I wonder if the temperature had an effect..I use Tamyia a lot now and I don't get those problems with it. I do find you have to spray it more like you would an airbrush than a paint can though, in short sweeps a reasonable distance from the model. If you spray it like a can of car paint it comes out too heavily.

      Nice examples though, I'd like to try a can of the P3.
    1. einarolafson's Avatar
      einarolafson -
      Thank you for your "review". Has been very useful. Im having ploblems with the GW primer since I live in UK and maybe its because off the temperature. I never use white primer but the black is better for my painting style. When the prime coat is dry the black turn gray with a very thin dust and when you seal with the final matt varnish a lot of white spots are revealed in all deep zones . Its horrible. Id been using GW for fifteen year and for the past year Im having this problem on and off. I used to live in Spain where the temperature was higher and the humidity in my town was very low.
    1. Ulfgrimr's Avatar
      Ulfgrimr -
      I consistently have problems with GW primers. They seem great when first purchased but if stored for any length of time their performance deteriorates rapidly, I find their spray varnishes even worst.