Friday, February 10, 2012

Primer Fail

Darkness.  Then light. A door is opened and warm fluorescence cuts into the shadows.  A figure appears at the door, staring for too long into the freezing London night.

Unnoticed even to him, a low groan starts to emanate from his throat, imperceptible at first but growing louder each second.  He holds aloft an impossibly small plastic figure with both hands and at last the groan becomes a shout -"WHYYYYYYYYYYY ME?"

Yes folks, it's a primer fail. Read on...

The Scratch Test

It was all going so well, the spray booth was working well, the airbrush was a joy to use.  The Darth Vader impressions still needed work but the Bane voice was coming along nicely.  How could it all go so wrong so quickly?

This afternoon 'after' base coating 36 Tau Fire Warriors, 36 separate shoulder pads and 72 individual arms in Olive Drab I idly decided to do the 'scratch test'.  The scratch test will be familiar to those who want to see how tough their primer and paint job is and it goes like this:

  1. Pick up a primed and base coated miniature
  2. Very lightly scratch your fingernail across a bit that no-ones going to see
  3. See what happens
What should happen is 'nothing'. Absolutely nothing.  Paint should resolutely stay where it is, you mentally give yourself a little pat on the back for doing a competent job, you put the miniature back with his mates and you get on with your life.

What shouldn't happen is "Oh f*@&! I can see the bare plastic!" followed by a panicky scratch test of 12 other random miniatures that give the exact same result.

What next?

After going through all of the emotions that failure brings (anger, sadness, frustration, denial) I decided to rationally try and find out what went wrong. I reckon it's either because I didn't shake the Primer (I'm using the Vallejo Surface Primer as described here) or I should have applied two coats instead of one or a combination of those two things.  I hope that's what it is, I would hate if this primer wasn't up to the job, given my enthusiasm for it.

So I'm faced with a choice:

  1. Pretend nothing happened
  2. Strip the mini's (arms and all) and start again
I have to say I was tempted not to post about this at all, to just say 'oh well' and get on with the rest of the models I'm putting together. After all the paint job would 'look' the same and it wouldn't be 'immediately' noticeable to whoever used the mini's...

...but I'm just not that person.  I'm planning to sell these mini's and it wouldn't be right selling these to someone, knowing that I hadn't done the best job I could, which could then come back and haunt me later.  The other thing is, this could help someone reading about this so they can avoid making the same mistakes I did.


So I've resolved to strip the mini's and try again.  This time testing as I go rather than after I've finished.  The worst case scenario as I see it is that I have to ditch priming by airbrush and stick to aerosols exclusively.  I haven't lost my enthusiasm for airbrushing in general, it'll still do an amazing base coat job and as long as the priming is good the finish will be as tough if not tougher than a bristle application.

Knowing what the worst outcome could be means I can take a step forward.  I still have some faith, after everything I've read, that the Vallejo Primer is a good product and that I've done something wrong. Weirdly, I hope that's the case, I'm still new at all this and making mistakes is a (essential) part of learning anything.

And after all, let's not forget, it's only paint.

Let me know your thoughts.


In the end, I got the Vallejo Surface primer working perfectly.  Read about it here.

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  1. Ouch! That's a bummer. On the up side I imagine you could still utilize your spray booth whilst using canned spray primer. Better safe than sorry with the strip and re-prime though, it would be a crying shame to have your hard work slough off due to minor abrasion in shipping or gaming!

    1. Yeah, I have to do the right thing here. To add insult to injury I just notice a major mould line on the foot of the mini in the picture (holds head in hands). It never rains but it pours...

  2. Ahh, that's really unfortunate, but as you said, it's only paint. On the other hand though, I tested out Army Painter primer for the first time earlier this week and managed to melt half of my shoulder pads

    1. I don't think I would use the army painter stuff again, it just seemed too heavy for my liking, although I must admit 'melting' wasn't an issue for me... You weren't holding a lit match up to the aerosol were you? : ) Just goes to show how crucial the priming stage is to the whole process. Tomorrow I'll be starting to strip all of the mini's in preparation for priming again (grit's teeth). I'm also going to get some test models, like some old space marines, to apply more airbrush primer. Wish me luck!