How to Prime Your Miniatures with an Airbrush: Learn the Basics of Priming

  • By: Richard
  • Time to read: 15 min.

Priming is an important step in the process of painting miniatures. Priming will ensure that you have a smooth base to paint on, and it prevents unwanted markings from showing up on your miniature’s face. You can purchase primers at any hobby store, but there are many different types of primers out there. In this blog post, we’ll explore the basics of priming with an airbrush!

Priming Your Miniature Figures – Airbrush Set Up

An airbrush is an important tool for priming your figures. You can purchase a pre-set-up kit, which includes the necessary items to prime with an airbrush, or you can set it all up yourself! To start, we’ll need:

  • A large container (or two if you’re doing more than one miniature)
  • A container for holding the airbrush
  • Airbrush holder or stand
  • Spray paint (you’ll want a type that is specifically labeled as “primer” to ensure it will do the job)

The next step in setting up your kit with an airbrush is filling up the spray can. It would be best to use a light coat of paint to help the primer not be too heavy smoothly. If you’re using more than one miniature for your painting session, it’s a good idea to divide up the priming between different containers so that each container can have its own airbrush holder or stand.

How To Keep Your Airbrush Clean

Primer spray will get everywhere, so it’s important to keep your airbrush clean and ready for priming. Primer can also clog up the nozzle of your brush, which makes things difficult when you’re trying to prime with an airbrush! To avoid this problem, we’ll need:

  • Airbrush cleaner
  • A paint thinner
  • A clean container
  • A clean cloth

First, pour the paint thinner into your container and then dip your airbrush in. From there, you can either spray it with a light coat of cleaner or soak it for about five minutes before rinsing off any leftover primer. There’s no need to worry if this seems too time-consuming since you’ll only need to do it once every couple of months or so!

Next, use your clean cloth and wipe off the airbrush. Next, you can either spray a light coat of cleaner on the nozzle for cleaning purposes or soak it again in paint thinner for about five minutes before rinsing off any leftover primer. This will ensure that no clogs happen while you’re priming with an airbrush.

Your kit is now ready to go, so let’s dive into the process of priming your miniature figures!

Tips For Painting Your Miniatures With an Airbrush

Your miniature may be primed, but it’s not yet painted! This is what you’ll need for this step in the process:

  • Paint color of your choice (always test out paint to ensure that the primer will allow it)
  • Airbrush and air compressor or other sources of compressed gas (consult your owner’s manual!)

A wide variety of brushes for painting details on small areas like eyes and feet. It also helps if you have some foam rollers handy as well. These can be purchased at any hobby store. It would be best to use these when painting large surfaces so that no brush strokes are left behind from over-painting with thin layers while using an airbrush.

Now that you’re ready to go, it’s time for the best part: priming with an airbrush!

Take your model and set it on a table. It should be sitting upright or laying horizontally. If you are doing more than one miniature at a time, make sure they have enough space between each other so that they don’t get paint on them from another primed figure. You may also want to put something down underneath your models like newspaper or paper towels to catch any excess primer spray before it goes onto anything else (or even worse – out of the room!). Now we can start painting our figures using an airbrush!

Start by placing the nozzle about three inches away from the surface of your miniature. Using small, circular motions, paint a thin layer of primer on the surface and then let it dry for about an hour before going in with another coat. Never spray too much at once, or you may end up with excessive coverage. Surprisingly enough, this goes against what I was taught when using a brush!

Repeat until you have covered all of your model’s surfaces that need to be primed (including many small details). Once those are done, put your airbrush away and start painting them as usual. Have fun!


Can You Prime Minis With An Airbrush?

Yes, absolutely. Priming a miniature is the process of painting it to create a uniform base for color and texture to be applied on top of later. Primers are usually made up of gesso or another type of acrylic paint, so they have some grit and can stick better onto your mini’s plastic, metal, resin, etc., surface. Some primers also contain UV coatings which help protect the painted area from further damage from the sunlight without changing how the color goes over the top.

The question then becomes, what kind of primer should I use? That largely depends on what material you’re using as well as where you intend to take this project after finishing:

  • If you’re using metal or resin, a light gray primer is usually recommended. This idea is to create a surface that will be less noticeable on the finished product and provide more contrast for darker colors to show through later.
  • For plastic models – which are probably most common these days – many people prefer an “off white” color because it won’t change how the final paint job looks and provides enough texture for things like battle damage and rust effects to stick well. It’s worth noting that not everyone has success with this approach as some plastics can react strangely to primers, so make sure you test your chosen type first before going all-in if possible!

Do I Need To Prime Before Airbrushing?

Yes, but it depends on what you’re going for and the material your mini is made of. If you want a really smooth finish with a minimal texture that will react well to light coats of paint, then priming first would be essential! But if you plan on painting something more detailed or using chipping techniques where there are rougher patches in areas like metal armor plates or textured surfaces – such as leaves on an old tree – then this isn’t necessary because those textures won’t show up once the final coat has been applied.

That’s not to say, though, that all miniatures have different types of surfaces: many models still come pre-primed in their factory box, so it’s worth checking before you buy. If that doesn’t work for you, it might be easiest to start with a light coat of primer on your mini and see how they react in the next few steps!

What Do You Use To Prime Miniatures?

It really depends on the surface of your model and what you’re trying to do. Primers come in various varieties for various materials, including acrylics with varying degrees of texture or even pre-mixed paints designed specifically to create a rough or sleek finish before applying paint. The most important thing is making sure whatever you use leaves plenty of time to dry if it contains acrylics, so they don’t build up on top – something which can happen quite easily when airbrushing due to how thin the layers need; to be!

When priming plastic models, we recommend using an off-white color because this will not change the final look but still provides enough texture for battle damage effects without being too noticeable. Metal miniatures should have a light gray primer to make the surface less noticeable and provide more contrast for darker colors to show through later.

Primers also come in varieties with UV coatings which help protect painted areas from further damage from the sunlight without changing how the paint goes over the top. However, this can sometimes change the color of your final product depending on what it looks like before being airbrushed. It’s worth noting that not all plastics react well to priming materials, so make sure you test any type beforehand if possible!

For metal or resin miniatures – which are usually best primed with acrylics due to their texture – many prefer a “light gray” shade because this provides an opaque base for dark-colored paints while still allowing some details to show through. It’s worth noting that not everyone has success with this approach as some types of metal can react strangely to priming agents, so make sure you test your chosen type extensively before going all-in if possible!

A note about “off white” – for most models, we recommend using a color like off white or light gray because it won’t change the final look but provides enough texture for battle damage effects without being too noticeable. But there is one exception: when primed first, plastics and other similar materials will sometimes appear less glossy than normal (though still more shiny than bare plastic). If you are looking to create something where the miniatures appear dirty or grimy, then using a slightly darker primer might be a good idea so that the surface will show more dirt and grime when applying paint.

Do You Need To Thin Primer For Miniatures?

This really depends on what sort of primer you’re using and whether or not it’s acrylic. Acrylic primers typically don’t need to be thinned, but some people prefer this, especially when airbrushing for the paint to flow better from the nozzle. If your chosen type is water-based, make sure that any mixes are sprayed onto a test piece before going all-in because they may have different drying times than normal!

  • A note about “water-based” – if your priming material is water-based like tinted varnish (another common choice), there will likely be no need to thin it with anything else as these types can already react poorly with other substances like alcohol which could ruin them altogether. These primers are typically sprayed onto a test piece before going all-in and should dry in about 20 minutes.
  • A note about “acrylic” – for most models, acrylic priming material will not need to be thinned with anything else (but some prefer this, especially when airbrushing). If you’re using an acrylic primer that’s been tinted, make sure it dries for at least 24 hours; otherwise, you may end up applying paint too soon after, which can cause uneven coverage or other problems depending on what sort of substance is being used!

Make Sure Your Priming Material Is Safe For Miniatures? Acrylics have become very popular because they make painting so much easier, but there are a few types of “primers” that you should avoid, like the plague. If your chosen product is water-based, then make sure it’s scorched before spraying on any other products, or else you may risk ruining them. If they’re oil-based (the most common example), this will likely not work for miniatures because these materials are incompatible with each other!

  • A note about “Oil Primer” – while some people prefer to use an oil primer as their first coat for metal models, this won’t be compatible with miniature painting, which means you’ll need to choose another material type instead. Acrylic priming agents have become popular due to how easy they make painting so long as it dries within 24 hours. It would help if you also avoided using water-based primers as these may not work well for metal miniatures depending on the type you choose or how they’ve been tinted.
  • A note about “Varnish” – if your chosen primer is an acrylic varnish, then make sure that it completely dries before applying anything else. Otherwise, this will likely lead to uneven coverage and other problems when painting with another substance (like oil paints). Water-based types are less common, but partially due to their tendency of being too thin or running out quickly!

Does priming material need a 24-hour wait between coats?

Some people prefer waiting even longer to allow the paint time to dry properly, especially if it’s acrylic-based. But this really depends on the type of primer you’re using and what sort of substance it is being mixed with. If your chosen material dries within 24 hours, then this may not be necessary, but if it doesn’t, then wait at least an hour might be enough to ensure that both layers have fully dried before applying paint!

Can You Spray Clear Coat With An Airbrush?

Yes, but not all clear coats are compatible with airbrushing. If your chosen type is water-based, make sure that any mixes are sprayed onto a test piece before going all-in because they may have different drying times than normal!

If you’re using an acrylic primer that has been tinted, then it needs to dry for at least 24 hours; otherwise, the paint won’t fully stick, and this can lead to uneven coverage or other problems depending on what sort of substance is being used (like oil paints).

  • Clear Coat – Clearcoat primers work similarly to latex in how these materials react poorly when exposed to alcohols like those found in some substances like nail polish remover, thinner/solvents, cleaners, and degreasers. Always make sure to test any clear coat primer before spraying onto miniatures, or you may end up ruining them!
  • Clear Coat – Clear coats are made from the same types of liquids that dry into a thick plastic-like substance. As such, they will react poorly if exposed to some substances like alcohols found in nail polish remover, thinner/solvents, cleaners, and degreasers because these will cause it to peel off prematurely. Make sure this is tested on a piece first before applying it all over, so you don’t ruin anything else by mistake! Acrylic primers work well with airbrushing but need at least 24 hours for best results (though other materials might only take an hour). Water-based primers might not work well with metal miniatures depending on the type chosen or if they have been tinted.
  • Oil Primer – Oil-based primers are compatible with miniature painting because these materials don’t react poorly to each other. However, it would be best if you still waited at least one hour for it to dry before applying any paint (unless this is a water-based acrylic primer which needs 24 hours). Acrylic varnishes need an additional 24 hours of drying time between coats instead of only waiting 30 minutes, so make sure that your product dries fully before spraying anything else! Water-based acrylics may run out quickly, and their coverage isn’t good either since there’s no protective layer leftover from an oil-based material.

Is Flow Improver The Same As Thinner?

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked is whether Flow Improver and Thinner are interchangeable. The short answer is no, they do not function the same way, but both can help your airbrush work better. They each have different properties that you should consider before deciding which to use with paints or spray gun conditioner…

​You may be wondering why it’s important to prime miniatures first if a primer isn’t essential for painting them? Priming has many benefits, like protecting from corrosion and rust and filling tiny cracks on surfaces so the paint will adhere correctly to the model itself.  Primers also provide an even surface finish, meaning there won’t be any bumps on the surface even after priming.

  • The first step is to clean your model! This will remove any oils or debris that may be present and ensure a smoother finish when painting.  To do this, you can use soap and water with an old toothbrush. Just wipe it down all over, making sure not to miss anything – then rinse thoroughly in cold water and dry off completely before proceeding (if possible).
  • Now put your airbrush together by screwing the needle into the nozzle, putting some paint into its cup if necessary, tighten up everything securely so there’s no leakage of fluids from anywhere, and secure the cap tightly against the barrel should there be one. Fill any remaining space around where they meet with Flow Improver or Thinner.
  • The next step is to use your airbrush!  It’s best to get away with using a few light coats rather than one heavy coat, as this will ensure that the paint covers evenly and doesn’t create any runs or drips from having too much at once. You’ll also want to start in an area with fewer details, so it’s easier for beginners – like on flat surfaces of buildings and such.
  • Once finished priming all areas, you’re ready for painting! Remember not to overwork the surface because this could cause problems later when doing detailed work on top of everything else. And don’t forget about some thinners or Flow Improver in between applications if needed, so the paint moves smoothly.
  • Finally, you’re done!  It’s important to allow the primer to dry before applying any other coats of paint – and don’t forget that a second coat may be necessary for those trouble areas like door hinges or car engine compartments where there are lots of nooks and crannies.

What About The Compressor Noise?

A lot of people wonder if the compressor noise is annoying or distracting.  It’s totally understandable because airbrushes are such sensitive instruments, but it does not need to be a problem at all.

Some models have an inbuilt fan which can help significantly by blowing away any particles that may cause clogging or other irritation with your paint flow and application quality. Others might experience their own form of relief, like wearing earplugs while using the airbrush – this will certainly make for a more comfortable time overall!

The most important thing you should do as far as comfort goes is finding out how loud your particular model is before buying one so there won’t be any surprises later. It really only takes about two seconds on Google to learn everything you need to know about the compressor noise for your desired model.

How Much Space Does A Compressor Need?

A compressor needs to be stored in an area with room and a few feet of open space on the sides.  It’s not something you want to store right next to your airbrush because they may overheat or cause other problems with how sensitive everything is when it comes time for use!

The specific measurements will depend on what kind of compressor you get, but this article goes into more detail about which type will work best for different people.

Do I need extra equipment besides my airbrush?

An airbrush by itself isn’t enough – there are many things like paint cups, spray guns, masks, and more that should go along with any purchase. You can find these items separately, and in kit form, so it’s really up to you what kind of experience and setup you want for your airbrush.

Are Citadel Sprays Primers?

No, Citadel sprays are not primers – they’re a type of paint that can be used to prime miniatures, but it’s not the best option for this purpose.  You’ll want something more like an acrylic primer or spray specifically designed with some clear coat in mind so you don’t have to worry about pesky things like bringing out base colors and other issues that may arise from using one product as both.

The only time Citadel paints would work is if someone wants to do their whole miniature without dealing with anything else beforehand because there are no worries about messing up base colors or any of the other potential problems mentioned before. It takes longer on average since each layer has to dry completely before proceeding onto another (assuming all other necessary steps are followed).

The easiest way to prime miniatures with an airbrush is to use a specific primer.  This will be the best option for beginners because it takes care of all the basics and those who want something easy on them when they’re first starting. And once you’ve gotten more comfortable using one type of product over another, then you can start experimenting with other options like Citadel paints or clear coats – which might require some extra equipment depending on what kind you’re looking for!

How Do You Use Tamiya Surface Primer?

Tamiya surface priming products are used on models with clear plastic parts or molded details like weapons, tanks, and other items.  The primer is designed to give these pieces a more glossy finish when they’re painted, so you can see the colors better with certain types of light.

It’s also worth mentioning that Tamiya spray cans don’t actually come pre-primed – it has everything in there except the acrylic sealer, which needs adding before spraying anything onto your model! It’s not too difficult, though, because all you need to do is shake well, mix thoroughly as per instructions, then apply directly from the nozzle until desired color coverage is achieved (don’t forget eye protection!).

Additionally, this article details how many layers of paint are necessary to get a nice, durable finish.

The best way to prime miniatures with an airbrush is by using acrylic spray paints or something similar like Tamiya Surface Primers – which you can find on Amazon!


I hope that this post has given you some insights into prime your miniature figures and airbrush them. If there are any other questions about priming or painting miniatures with an airbrush, please feel free to ask us in the comments below!

Hi! I'm Richard Baker, a miniature painter who has been painting for about ten years. My website is packed with great advice that I've learned from both books and personal experience on building and painting miniatures.

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