Behind every good Gunpla paint job is a solid coat of primer.
Paint primer, or primer for short, is a solid-colored undercoat you paint before you paint in order to make sure the paint sticks to and looks great on your finished project.
If you’re serious about painting Gunpla, you’ve probably heard people talking about primer. Here at Gunpla 101, when we have questions we turn to our contributor Milky. Milky is a Gunpla builder in Texas who is so talented, she builds commissioned custom Gunpla for clients!
We asked Milky to tell us a little about her paint priming process. It turns out that the way Milky does it, primer doesn’t only make the paint stick better, it can also affect the hue and vibrancy of the final paint coat. Here’s her introduction to primer:
“Why should I use primer?”
That’s the most common question I get when people start painting. Today, I hope to answer this question and explain how priming can benefit your future projects.
But what is primer? A primer is a preparatory undercoat put on materials before painting. Priming ensures better adhesion of paint to the surface, increases paint durability, and provides additional protection for the material being painted.
In short, primer is a sort of paint that bonds to the material, making other paints hold on better. There are many different types of primers and many different brands for hobby painting. For this tutorial I will be focusing on Vallejo primer, as straight out of the bottle it can be used for airbrushing. However, if you don’t have access to Vallejo, the results tend to be the same from other companies if you follow the steps on the can.
When it comes to modeling, not only does primer help paint better stay on the kit, but it also influences the top coat’s color. In this tutorial, I’ve painted some ordinary plastic spoons (great for testing paint and primer before using it on your models!) in the three main colors of primer that modelers use: white, grey, and black.
It should be noted Vallejo has around 20 different colored primers, more than any other hobby paint company, but these are the ones I use for modeling.
White primer: I use this for very light colors. I may also use this to give a matte look to the topcoat (because white reflects the most amount of light of all the colors, giving it a duller, or more matte, look). Also helps to show a paint’s true hue.
Grey primer: A neutral color that gives paint a semi-gloss finish. Makes colors painted over it look more natural.
Black primer: A primer that absorbs light, making colors brighter. This brings out intensity and shine in the color that is painted over it.
Black gloss primer: The best primer used for metallic colors, has a gloss finish to help metallic colors stick better and reflects the colors. In the photo at the top of this article, I use a black gloss primer before painting metallics on the thrusters for the Perfect Grade Gundam Mark II.
Why did I put two kinds of black primer? Because black gloss primer saves you a step when you’re working with metallic colors. If you want metallics to look their best, you want to either use a black primer followed by gloss black paint—or just black gloss primer to save time.
Personally I tend to use grey primer for my parts as it’s the most flexible. It works for both light and dark colors.
A few tips:
- Black primer is great for character models and miniatures as it gives a natural shadow to crevices and corners that are hard to reach.
- Pearlescent paint (that’s shimmery) works best with a white primer.
- No matter what color primer you’re using, ALWAYS make sure all your parts are clean and dry. This is especially important for resin and metal parts—otherwise paint will just rub off. I put them in a sonic jewelry cleaner with a little dish soap.
Primer creates a porous, “sticky” surface on top of the smooth plastic of most Gunpla parts. Without primer, paints will not stick to parts as well as they can, and over time the paint will chip off and become damaged. With primer, your models are not only protected, but your paint job is as bright and beautiful as it can be.
Painting is hard work. Why not go the extra mile and make sure it lasts longer? It may be a little more effort at first, but using a primer always pays off.
If you’d like to commission Milky to build a custom Gunpla kit for you, contact her here.