Priming Figures and Zenithal Priming Tutorial

So if you have read some of my other tutorials you have probably seen me mention zenithal priming but iv had a few people ask for a more in depth explanation of the process!  I also thought I would take this opportunity to talk about priming in general.

First I do all my priming with an airbrush and I highly highly recommend you get one for no other reason than the time you will save priming figures.  If you cant justify an airbrush you can get aerosol rattle cans of primer but they are sort of expensive and can be a pain to work with.  I don’t recommend brushing on primer.

One thing to note before I get into the tutorial is priming, like painting in general, has a lot to do with what works best for you so keep that in mind.  This is what I like doing and what works well for me but there are hundreds of other ways to do priming and hundreds of different opinions on which one is best.


Why even prime a figure before painting?

Primer serves two main purposes:

  1. It gives paint something better to stick to which helps with paint rub and general adhesion.
  2. It gives us a consistent undercoat for our colour paints to be applied over.

I cant stress enough how important it is to prime your figures so the paint will go on well and then stay like that.


What primer should I use?

Marvel Legends Custom Action Figure Toy Painting Miniatures Priming Tutorial
Badger’s Stynylrez Primers and Vallejo’s Gloss Black Primer for Metallics.

The brand I like is Badger’s Stynylrez line.  This is hands down the toughest primer iv ever used and can even be sanded after it dries.  Unfortunately you need an airbrush for this primer as it doesn’t come in an aerosol can.

Primers also come in all sorts of colours but the main primer colours people use are black, white, and grey.  Paints being applied over primer all react a bit different.

Light colour paints are far less opaque than darker ones and are effected more by your base coat so applying a light colour paint over a black primer is a pain. Whereas painting a dark colour paint over a white primer will go on easily but it can be very difficult to cover all the white in detailed areas and deep nooks leaving you with white areas showing up.

Painting over white primer will also give you bright vivid colours where a black primer tends to ratchet down the saturation giving a more realistic end result.

Grey primer is right in the middle and is nice because it is pretty good for both light and dark colours.  You wont get super vibrant colours like white but your lighter colours will still cover well.

So each of these have there positive and negative qualities but which single colour you use to prime sort of depends on what you are painting and what you want your final look to be.  You should 100% experiment a bit with different colour primers to see what works best for you.


What is Zenithal Priming?

Marvel Legends Custom Action Figure Toy Painting Miniatures Priming Tutorial
Some heads done with Zenithal Priming.

Zenithal Priming is a method of priming where you use three colors instead of just one.  You apply black, grey, and white primers in a way that creates a gradient effect adding depth and shading to your base coat.  You then lightly apply your base colours over your primer to very quickly add a ton of natural shading and highlights.

This also solves some of the problems with single colour priming helping light colours show up in areas that should be light and darker areas are naturally darker.


How do you do Zenithal Priming?

So we will need Black, grey, and white primer then the primer will have to be applied with an airbrush or aerosol can.  Im going to show the general workflow with just a head but I use this same method for everything.

Marvel Legends Custom Action Figure Toy Painting Miniatures Priming Tutorial

  1.  Here is our base head.  The first thing you want to do is wash the head with a slightly soapy water then make sure it is totally dry.
  2.  Prime the whole figure black.
  3.  Using thin layers spray the grey primer all around the figure about 80 degrees downwards.
  4.  Again with thin layers, spray the white primer all around the figure about 40 degrees downwards.

And thats it!  You can see the amount of natural shading this gives us and the whole process takes less than 5 minutes.

Now one thing to keep in mind with figures is obviously they are pose able so normally I prime them in a default straight pose and I dont let the blacks get too too black on areas that may not always be pointing downwards like arms and legs.

This method also works best on figures that have a lot of detail like Beast here or the Daredevil at the top of the post.

Some figures I just prime with one colour because their isnt enough detail but I almost always do heads like this no matter the figure.  Its amazing for bringing out details on a head.


So once our figure is primed we just lightly use our base coat colours over top.  Like we talked about earlier the white primer will let the paint show up more than the dark primer so we will very easily get shading and highlights.  Again, light coats because it still is possible to be heavy handed and wipe out all of our shading.

Thats it!  Thanks for reading and let me know if I didn’t explain anything well enough or if you have any additional questions!

This is a great technique that I use this all the time now.  I even used it for the base on my Vulture figure!

Thanks for checking out Action Figure Toronto!

Marvel Legends Custom Action Figure Toy Painting Miniatures Priming Tutorial


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