Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adventures In Undercoating, Part I

When I first started building 40K models, I had little idea where to start. Bryce had said that I needed to prime/undercoat the models and then paint them the desired color(s) using acrylics. Although I had built model airplanes until I left for college in 1997, I had never used any sort of primer or undercoating technique. Since the polystyrene used in most model airplanes is typically an acceptable final color, I rarely painted large portions of a model. The idea of spraying the entirety of a model and then painting the whole surface was completely new to me.

Testors Spray Enamel
Although not an actual primer, I used a 3oz can of Testors flat black spray enamel ($5.19 at the local HobbyTown USA) that Bryce gave me to undercoat the Space Marines provided with the Black Reach starter set. My experience was that the paint gave decent coverage without obscuring too many details. It gave a nice matte finish that was easy to paint over. However, the coat seemed somewhat splotchy (this was mostly taken care of by two to three coats of Mordian Blue paint), and tended to rub off with some handling. The most troublesome part was the time it took to dry. I live in Idaho, so you'd think the extreme lack of humidity would have taken care of this. Instead, it took days to even be able to lightly handle the models. In the end I was forced to put them in a food dehydrator for 18-24 hours to fully cure the coat (this works great, by the way). The cost of the small 3oz can and the time needed to dry the paint turned me off to spray enamels as an undercoat.

Once the Black Reach Marines were done, I began looking for a different undercoating spray. My next model was to be a Vindicator and I wasn't looking forward to hand painting an entire vehicle. I had read somewhere that spraying The Army Painter's Ultramarine Blue color primer over a dark undercoat would closely approximate Games Workshop's Ultramarines Blue. Although I paint all my Marines Mordian Blue, my vehicles are Ultramarines Blue so there's a slight contrast between infantry and vehicles (photos of Ultramarine armies in the Space Marine codex also show a distinct difference in color). I immediately scoffed at buying GW's $15 Chaos Black spray since I had heard that it occasionally has quality control issues and because I refuse to pay $15 for a simple black paint that can be obtained from other manufacturers for a lot less. I therefore purchased a can of Armory Black Primer ($6.49 at the local games store) and a can of Army Painter Ultramarine Blue ($14.99).

Armory Primer
Unfortunately, I had a poor experience with Armory. Despite thorough shaking and nearly ideal spraying conditions, the paint gave the surface a sandpaper-like texture. Upon handling the pieces, much of the paint simply shed off like grains of sand, while the paint that did stick gave the model a horrendously rough surface. I have read of similar things happening to other modelers in several forums. I had to wash and scrub the pieces to get all the paint grit off. Once everything was dry, I sprayed the parts with the Army Painter and hoped that some of the roughness would be smoothed over with the blue paint. Of course any spray paint that would go on thick enough to hide that degree of roughness would be worthless for detailed models, so I ended up trying to scrape the roughness off with a knife edge.

The Army Painter Color Primer
As I began touching up areas with GW's Ultramarines Blue, I found that Army Painter's Ultramarine Blue is a close copy, but not so close that you can use both paints side by side without noticing the difference. The Army Painter leans more towards the green side of the spectrum whereas GW leans towards the red. Additionally, as has been noted by others, the Army Painter color primer produces a near-satin finish whereas GW paints are more matte. In the end, I had to hand paint the entire model with Ultramarines Blue. One positive that came out of this whole process was that once I had scraped the surface of the model and added several coats of sprayed and hand brushed blue paint, I had achieved a slightly rough surface that is more appropriate for a combat vehicle than the smoother surface I had originally hoped for. Now if only I can figure out how to deliberately achieve this effect...

I was reasonably pleased with the Army Painter Ultramarine Blue as an undercoat. Although Army Painter was a bit too shiny to be a final coat and didn't quite match the GW color, I was easily able to paint over it and only needed one coat of Ultramarines Blue to fully cover it. I'll probably use the remainder of the can as the undercoat for my Razorback and/or Land Raider models without bothering with a preliminary black coat. My only complaint is the price; do I really need to spend $15 to get good results? In my mind, every dollar spent on supplies is a dollar not spent on enlarging my army. I'm willing to spend the money necessary to be able to produce as good a model as I can, but it's even better if I can do so for a fraction of the price.

Next time: can a spray purchased from Walmart do a better job than the specialist stuff?

[Go to Part II of this series]


  1. I'm digging around tonight to find solutions to spray ultramarine blue on my models (made more difficult by the fact that GW doesn't produce it anymore). Google keeps pushing me towards your blog. So, hopefully you don't mind me coming right out and asking: have you found a good solution for this now? Are you still using the army painter product?

    Thanks in advance....

    1. I don't mind at all. I've not found a closer match for Ultramarines Blue, so I'm still using Army Painter as the undercoat. Unfortunately, that means that if you are a purist and really want to match GW's color (as I do), and if you need to do any touch up by hand, you're going to have to hand paint the entire surface of the model. The good news is that Army Painter's Ultramarine blue is close enough that you should only have to do one coat. I was able to hand paint my Vindicator in a single night.

      If you want to save a few dollars, and if you're having a hard time finding it at a local game store, usually has Army Painter Ultramarine Blue for $11.99.

  2. Ironically, it wasn't until after reading your reply about "touching up" that I'd realized that I'd not only tried it before, but I'd actually written a blog post about it ( I concurr that the difference is noticable. Thanks for the insight. :)


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